Enterprises can learn from Facebook Home and Google Now
Facebook Home has polarised industry commentators. Some love the idea of Facebook feeds taking over the home screen of their smartphone, some hate it.
But the concept of highly-relevant, real-time information being pushed to a smartphone's home screen is basically sound and should be more widely adopted by enterprises. Highly-selective updates pushed to employees could take friction out of many organisational processes.
In time, such systems could become a standard part of an enterprise mobile solution, but they won't be easy to implement well. Consumers' reactions to Facebook Home and other attempts to push timely and personlised info, such as Google Now, will give some pointers as to how this might be done effectively.
First let's look at the value proposition from a CIO's perspective. The beauty of a Facebook Home style newsfeed is that it overcomes inertia and laziness - rather than requiring employees to log into an IT system and search for specific data (a pull approach), it pushes info to the employee. In some respects, the concept emulates the effortless elegance of the original Blackberry experience - your emails came to you.
Removing friction in the field
For a field engineer working for a utility, live updates on how the overall electricity grid is performing could help him or her tackle a specific outage. Their personalised newsfeed could also alert them to the location and telephone number of another engineer working on the same problem. In the public sector, health workers could get real-time updates on health scares, flu outbreaks and vaccination programmes, while police officers could benefit from status updates on the whereabouts of colleagues and which cases they are working on.
The home screen newsfeed for CFOs, CMOs and their staff could include regular updates on key performance metrics - how many orders for a new product or the footfall in stores. Ideally, the newsfeed will link to some kind of data visualisation system, such as that built by startup Captain Dash, that clearly shows the trends behind the figures. If they bump into the CEO in the lift, the CMO will then be able to give him or her a snappy update, rather than saying "I'll get back to you."
Relevant, very relevant and even more relevant
Of course, these kinds of home screen newsfeeds will only work if everything on them is highly-relevant - they can't be like email, Twitter or Facebook, where a few valuable nuggets can be swamped by dross. The analytics engines behind these newsfeeds will need to be very, very selective and their timing has to be spot on. For a sales representative, breaking news on a client they are about to meet is valuable, but real-time info on a client they are going to meet tomorrow could distract them from the client they are meeting today.
Moreover, the analytics engines will need to learn, prioritising items that the employee clicks on and demoting those that get ignored. Different employees work in different ways - some people are information junkies, while others will only want three updates a day - these newsfeeds need to adjust to that.
All this won't be easy, but Google Now, in particular, shows how cloud-based systems can draw on many different data sources to provide people with relevant and timely info. Google Now pulls in data from WiFi, GPS, search queries, email, calendars and other sources to provide people with timely information, such as the time of the next bus or train or the exchange rate when you arrive in another country. It is far from perfect, but Google Now is a pointer to the future.
Must have mobile security
Finally, in an enterprise context, mobile security will obviously be key. The newsfeed will be carrying sensitive info - it shouldn't be appearing on the lock screen, where anyone might see it. The feed should be on the home screen, protected by a PIN. Smartphones may also need to be equipped with cases that obscure the screen to anyone not looking at the device square on. Highly sensitive newsfeeds may need over-the-air encryption and there should be a remote wipe feature in case the handset is lost.
The actual implementation is also going to depend on the smartphone operating system. While Facebook Home has shown how it is possible to completely take over the home screen of an Android device, Apple isn't going to allow a third-party to hijack the iPhone experience. Still, I suspect consumer and enterprise demand will mean iOS is going to have to provide better support for real-time newsfeeds on the home screen.
Done well, push can be better than pull.
This post is sponsored by the Enterprise Mobile Hub and Blackberry