Pete is a VP of Technology at ThreeWill. Pete’s primary role is driving the overall technology strategy and roadmap for ThreeWill. Pete also serves as ThreeWill’s Hiring Manager and is constantly looking for new talent to join the ThreeWill Team.
Clearbox Consulting – Employee Apps Report V1.0 – The buyers’ guide to employee apps
Transcript for ThreeWill and Clearbox Consulting Discuss the World of Employee Apps in 2021.
|Pete Skelly||Welcome back to the ThreeWill Podcast. Today is Wednesday, February 10th, with Suzie Robinson from ClearBox Consulting. And today’s topic is about employee apps. Some of the buyer’s guide report that came out in November I believe, Suzie?
|Suzie Robinson||Yes, it was towards the end of last year. Now that seems like a long time ago.
|Pete Skelly||I’m a relatively new host, my name is Pete Skelly, I’m the VP of Technology at ThreeWill. My other host is Tommy Ryan, Tommy do you want to give a quick introduction?|
|Tommy Ryan||Yeah. I’m one of the founders at ThreeWill the role I play is the President. But in my day-to-day, it’s helping our clients understand how we can help them be successful in the Microsoft Cloud. And very excited to have this conversation today with Suzie.|
|Suzie Robinson||Thank you very much for having me.|
|Pete Skelly||And our guest is Suzie Robinson, Suzie, you want to give yourself a little brief intro?|
|Suzie Robinson||Yeah, sure. So my previous life before I worked for a company called DevOps Consulting, I was Internet Manager and Internal Communications Manager at a variety of different companies. Most of which actually had frontline workers. So retail workers, chefs, and hotel people across a variety of different jobs. So I had a lot of experience in that field and was talking to Sam Marshall, who is the owner of ClearBox Consulting, who I now work for. And we had lots of chats about frontline workers, and he started to talk to me about this new report and the fact that he wanted to create it. And we started to explore it together. And I moved across to work for ClearBox Consulting about 18 months ago now. And I looked after the three reports that we published. So that’s the SharePoint Intranet-In-A-Box, the Employee Apps Report, and also a new one called Independent Intranets, as well as doing consulting for different businesses in the world of digital workplaces. So quite a varied role, but I spent probably well over a hundred hours researching the employee mobile app field. So it was a big part of my life for a good few months.|
|Pete Skelly||So the Employee Apps Buyer’s Guide Report, that’s a new category. What prompted that category? What’s maybe a little background on the why?|
|Suzie Robinson||Yeah. So it’s been a category that’s been slowly emerging for the last few years. The mobile phone revolution happened about 10 years ago now, but smartphones really became much more popular kind of the middle of the 2000s. So it’s only been about the last five years or so that people have been more commonly carrying around in their pockets and using them for more and more things. And the number of apps that are available just generally for general download is huge now and was back then. And that’s when these products started to emerge, but they are still relatively unknown. They do crop up and you do see some of the vendors that we’ve covered in this report.
You see them sponsoring conferences. And something that we found is we were doing the initial research into this, was that even the customers that have chosen to go with some of these products hadn’t necessarily thought that that’s what they wanted to do. They had Googled a variety of phrases and found all these different products and went with what they felt was best, or maybe went with the first thing that they found. And there wasn’t really that place to do a comparison between the different products that wasn’t generated by customer stories. So in the way that any company could potentially artificially improve their online schools for things.
There are those reviewing websites that will do that for software, but obviously, it can be swayed quite easily in one way or another. Or if a company is just not bothered they won’t get any reviews and then they fall quite low down, even if certain products are particularly good. So we wanted to go about finding a way to give that information to people and make it widely available for people to access and make the right decisions for their business.
|Pete Skelly||Okay. So we’re familiar with a few of these apps living in the Microsoft 365 space. So Microsoft Teams is on that list, Yammer is on that list. There is a whole host of other apps, obviously, but these seem to touch not just on collaboration and communication, or they seem to touch on both. ThreeWill has the concept when we discuss digital workplaces with customers of three C’s and that’s communication, collaboration, and coordination. Communication, that kind of one to many or small group to many communication styles the intranet or the surfacing of news content, collaboration, that interaction with small teams, special interest groups, et cetera. And then the third coordination is the tools, rules, and processes that make integration flow between those applications.
Do you find that these are targeted towards a specific use case or are these… I hate to call them point solutions because Teams is much broader. I know Workplace from Facebook is much broader, but are they focused as this report, kind of focusing on one specific area? What is that kind of that balance between focused versus broad?
|Suzie Robinson||When we were doing the research, I think I came up with a list which is still growing, is around 80 different products that we’ve only scratched the surface of some of the ones that we found that we thought did a particularly good job of being slightly broader in the areas that they were trying to focus on. But as I was doing that research and looking into the different products, I realized that they were as different as they were similar. So one app that approached something like direct messaging or chat feature of some kind would be quite different from the next one that was doing the same thing. So if you think about consumer-orientated tools, if you use WhatsApp for something, you may use WhatsApp in a very different way to Facebook Messenger for example.
And so these apps were doing the same kinds of thing or different kinds of things at work. And so, we devised what we call the product focus, but it is like a wine chart. So it’s a way to work out what would be kind of woody or fruity to apply that particular focus to an app. And we worked to four areas actually. So communications was one which covered as you say, the kind of central and outwards, but also ways for people to share their own news or to work in a more localized way as well. But then that also kind of merged into the secondary, which is operations. So yes, the working locally does kind of cover on the operational very functional way of working, but it could also be things like health and safety forms have been digitalized and part of the app.
So that kind of form that second part. Then the third part is kind of linked to that again, which was Digital Workplace. So that was more our how the apps can integrate with other systems. So the health and safety forms was in the example of an operational app could be built within the app itself, but the Digital Workplace one could be linking out to a health and safety system actually bringing that through. And then the fourth area was an HR and people area, which was more around e-learning or performance management or pulse surveys, that kind of thing. And we found that no app was a full bar in each of those, we gave her three bars for each one. And none of them were a complete solid circle. It just wasn’t possible to do that.
So we marked each one out of these three bars to give that kind of sense of which direction the app was trying to lean in, or which directions in fact. And that we hope helps people to think which areas of the business need some help? Where are those gaps in our digital workplace, as it stands now that maybe we need something to fill those or to just give an extra edge or to provide a mobile version as well, so people in the front line won’t be sat at desks for large portions of their day. They won’t want to go through really heavy index processes. They want a much lighter and leaner way of doing all sorts of things, including training. So actually, if that’s something that’s an area that’s missing or needs a different approach than a business knows they could lean more towards the HR and people flavor of app.
So, to kind of answer your question in a shorter way, we found that they really varied from app to app. And we quite liked the fact that that market was quite varied so that it can be tailored to a business’s needs.
|Tommy Ryan||Suzie that’s interesting as you’re talking through that, and I’m trying to tease out in my mind of the history of our conversations were ClearBox where we talked about intranets and the intranet was the platform and all the services within the platform. And as I hear about employee apps, it sounds like, and maybe you can correct me if I’m wrong, you’re trying to find elements within these platforms that in a sense can stand on their own, that have purpose that are not as generic as an internet platform. That’s not necessarily solving the problem, it just gives you the framework of you either taking a generic approach to the problem, or you build on top of that to address a business need. So are these employee apps would have emerged as pieces of other platforms that can almost stand on their own, or how did you kind of tease out to say, this is an employee app versus this is functionality of an intranet?|
|Suzie Robinson||Yeah. So the way we chose the first batch of products to include was to look at, first of all, we say, we’re targeting internal communications and communications generally. So lots of the products that we’ve included, we’ll have more bars in the communications element because that’s the kind of the market we’re more used to. But then it was also looking at that mobile first approach. So there are plenty of internet platforms that have a mobile app or a progressive web app, or spend another approach. We weren’t interested in those for this report, that formed part of the other reports that we’ve published. But for this one, we really wanted that mobile first approach. Where a customer could choose to have this without needing a heavier platform in the background.
So a lot of them do have a desktop version and have admin only screens that are on a desktop because that kind of makes sense. But it’s that end user experience, which is completely mobile first and understands those devices, whether that’s a mobile phone or a tablet, of course it could be either one, but just using smaller screens well, understanding how to approach menus, if that is a document library of sorts, how they can approach that. And it’s all about that kind of lighter and leaner ness and making it much easier and quicker to use than an intranet system. That’s actually quite large and broad. It’s like an intranet being like a big toe or something with, with all the different bits and pieces. It’s quite a large and squat and does all sorts of things and don’t get me wrong. Still love intranets as where my heart flies.
It kind of originally, but employee mobile apps, just give that kind of more like a minnow experience. They’re just lighter and quicker. And they allow that kind of facilitation of frontline workers doing their jobs and doing their jobs much quicker and easier, which is always the intention of an intranet as well. But the device difference just means an app can give that quicker experience than an intranet can.
|Tommy Ryan||Very interesting. So who do you see as your customer now for this report, is it the same customer that would get the internet-in-a-box type of report? Or is this expanding to a totally new audience for you?|
|Suzie Robinson||It’s in part the same, because what this is doing is giving people another option to explore that maybe they hadn’t thought of before. And actually I spoke to a potential client last week, who’s just starting their journey on looking at a new intranet. And as we were talking, Steve was saying that actually they have locations all over the world and they have very large sales teams. And I’m talking about other kind of positions where people just aren’t at desks. And I said to her, have you thought about this, and this is the way that they work. And it’s just not something that she’d even considered or really heard of.
So I think this is still… Although they’ve been around for a few years, they’re still emerging and people don’t necessarily think to target, or I think I need to get an employee mobile app. It’s better for us and an intranet. And we can work out the balance of things. So it’s existing people, but then it is also potentially newer people or your audience that maybe are thinking more along a kind of general communications lines, or do you know that they need to do something for frontline workforce, but they don’t know what that is. And so they can come through us via the knowing about maybe the old product or two, and then wanting to explore in that way.
|Pete Skelly||There’s been an industry-wide focus on frontline workers from multiple vendors. Do you find these are focused and you mentioned the four areas before communication, operations, digital workplace, and HR and people, are they focused in a particular area? Do they shine in one area better than others?|
|Suzie Robinson||There are certainly some that very obviously lean in one direction or another. So HR and people, for example, Actimo who is part of Kahoot!. They are very focused around e-learning and bite-size training. And also performance management actually. And they do things like pulse surveys, and they also do communications as another bit, but their main drive is the bite-size kind of mini learning training courses. And so they’re very much geared in that direction. Whereas something like Groupe.io, I think probably is a good example of a… sorry, OurPeople is a good example of a more operational app because their interface is all based on swiping technology.
So their home page is a series of cards, which is the different activities or the different bits of information for the employee to know. So the employee can say all those health and safety training I’ll sign up for that and then swipe the card to get rid of it. And so they just get rid of everything off of their screen, and they know that they’re done is that really kind of operational focused, how to go around the jobs is very kind of in that direction. So it tends to be broken by that a little bit more than the whole industry being geared more in one way than another. They really do vary. There’s a huge amount of difference between the different products. It’s quite incredible. It’s one of the reasons why we’re three eight at that focus chart was to try and wrap our heads around how they all worked and how they could work alongside each other.
And that’s probably how they do is that the way that they are so different compared to maybe intranet products and intranet vendors that have that kind of slightly more thread of similarity running between them and then its features on top of that, that make them different or the UX, it makes them different. Whereas this is the entire flavor of the app that is very different.
|Pete Skelly||It kind of helping clients work together better. And when we started we were in that intranet space. And so, I’m going to date myself, but on on-prem SharePoint, web apps that were business-focused, and this really just speaks to almost a consumer-style dedicated app. So I’m very focused when I’m in that app, I’m performing a task or I’ve got, that you just described that focus of, well, let me get rid of this and kind of focus on clearing my plate. So to speak as someone who’s got something to do. And it’s just very interesting that this is moving enterprise apps and employee apps into that kind of commercial arena of, I have an app for… There’s an app for that.
It just seems to be very much focused on, okay, then let’s give users the ability to find that app in their respective mobile device, whatever that is, Android, iOS, and then be able to achieve their goal and move on rather rapidly. It really was interesting just to kind of read through some of the things in the report and say, “Oh, wow, this is the way other vendors are going. This is the reason this exists is consumer… The consumer mentality is a very familiar approach. Why not do it in the enterprise?” Did you find that that really kind of each of these apps is self-focused, were there issues with integration or were there are challenges that some of these apps have to address? Immediately the technologist in me thinks security. How do I make those things play across security boundaries or search boundaries, those types of things? Were there are challenges across that? Even though I’m bringing an individual app that’s focused, how do I kind of make it part of the digital workplace whole?
|Suzie Robinson||We found actually they played very well with other bits of technology. So the vast majority of them will work with Active Directory, for example. So if you want to use something like that or an HR system, then they will absolutely draw all that data through. But actually one of the challenges around getting people onto an intranet if they’re a frontline worker, is that they don’t have a company email address. And if they are in an HR system, then you may just have a phone number for them. You may not have a personally manned address or even any kind of more detailed information. And if they’re a part-time work or seasonal worker, or even actually if they work shifts and they work night shifts.
The cost of getting them an account in Active Directory, or to get them a Microsoft account is actually more prohibitive than it is something to explore. So the apps craft ways of getting people onto the system without the need to have those background directory set-up. But it’s all done very securely. So for example, I can’t remember which one it is now, but one of the apps allows a line manager to bring up a QR code on their own phone that the employee can then scan, and then it recognizes they’re all part of the same company. And then the employee can sit there and fill in the details. And then they’re added into the system or the bookkeeper will allow you to print a QR code, and that can go out with a paper payslip or paycheck. So then that’s a way for, again, an individual to get up with paper and scan it and get into the system and to go through the checks with line managers and things, to make sure that it’s all secure.
So you’re right to be concerned because it’s something that people would worry about, but actually, they are all very vigilant and have thought these things through very well to make sure it works well for people to get into the system, but then the security side of things. And they do things like pen testing and all of those things the bigger systems that do as well.
|Pete Skelly||Wow. Interesting. I know we try to keep these relatively brief. I think that covers most of what would be in the report, right?|
|Suzie Robinson||Kind of, yep. That’s it. It’s good… I think it’s 400 pages I lost count or just over and each one of the reviews that we’ve done for the full reviews for the products are about 20 pages each. And for each one, we go into the product focus. So we give that indication, but we also have taken each one through a series of business scenarios. So those will address those things that people within a business maybe want to resolve. So things like the company communications, approach that they take, or the way that they deal with training and e-learning. So there are nine different scenarios that we take each one through and then write it up. So that’s why there’s a good 20 pages or so on each of them and lots of screenshots and things.
So each one takes out plenty of time to write up and to check through. So it’s quite a hefty report with a lot of detail and yeah, really interesting fields as well. So we’ve tried to give some information in the introduction, just the things that we found and things that are interesting. So hopefully if anybody’s interested in that, it would be useful. It’s a business case, which is always a difficult thing to argue because they will be arguments against these sorts of technologies, but we’ve tried to resolve some of those in the introduction.
|Pete Skelly||And how can folks get in touch with you or get the report?|
|Suzie Robinson||If you would like to visit our website. So that’s www.clearbox.co.uk. We have a site which is called reports, then it’s just forward slash reports. And then the different ones that we have that including the employee apps one. So that’s how you can get hold of a copy of the report. Or there are bundles if you want to buy more than one. And then also our contact form is on there. So if he wants to get in touch and talk about anything to do with employee apps, we’d very much like to hear from you.|
|Pete Skelly||Awesome. Well, thanks for your time today, Suzie. It was a pleasure learning a little bit more about this, and I’m going to throw this out there, but I’d also like to have a conversation in the future about the independent intranet report. Maybe we could swing that sometime?|
|Suzie Robinson||Yeah. Sounds very good to me.|
|Pete Skelly||I think that’s a wrap we’ll close here and thanks Suzie for your time. And we look forward to talking to you in the future.|
|Suzie Robinson||It’s a pleasure. Thank you very much.|
|Pete Skelly||If you liked this episode, please let us know with a review on iTunes or tweet about the show. All of our podcast episodes, including transcripts, conversations, and questions can be found on threewill.com by searching for podcast. Follow us on Twitter @threewill and subscribe to us on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast player. We’ll see you next time on the ThreeWill Podcast.|