What's the best way to make Self-service Mobile? Responsive Web Design, or a Native App?

Self-service is arguably the strongest lever for transforming HR from an administrative support function to that of a strategic business partner.  Similarly, mobile access is rapidly becoming the strongest lever getting employees to use self-service. succeed.

Why Mobilizing Self Service is so important

In November of 2016, The Guardian reported that worldwide mobile browsing of websites overtook desktop traffic for te first time.  Mobile browsing accounted for 51.3% of traffic compared with 48.7% for desktops.  This trend toward mobile will only increase.  But you already knew that, right? 

What are your options for making your employee self-service mobile?

There are two primary methods for providing mobile access to a self-service portal.  They are Responsive Web Design and Native Apps.  (There’s another option called “Hybrid Apps” that we won’t delve into here.)

What is “Responsive Web Design?”

According to Lifewire, Responsive Web Design, or RWD is a method of designing a website so that the dimensions and content appearing will be automatically rearranged to provide the optimal viewing experience.  In other words, the web site will “respond” to the screen size of the employee’s device.   This assures it’s always easy for the employee to use self-service, regardless of the device they choose. The image below shows provides an example of RWD.

What's a “Native App?”

A native app refers to an application created with Apple or Androids tools and languages. They run “natively” on devices like smartphones without the use of a web browser. Therefore, they can access the capabilities of the smartphone, such as cameras, push notifications and alerts.

What are the Advantages of Responsive Web Design over Native App?

Complete Functionality.  All the content and functionality that you incorporate into your responsive web will be available on any mobile device.  An app usually lacks some of the functionality that’s available on the complete web site, because the App doesn’t “inherit” the content or functionality of the web site.  All the functionality must be built separately for each App.

Time savings.  When you build your employee portal using responsive design, all updates to the portal are immediately available on all mobile devices.  But that’s not all!  Nobody will have to wait for Apple or Google to approve your new App enhancements before your employees can use them.

Cost. Maintaining a single web site is more cost effective than maintaining the website plus an App for iOS, and App for Android.


What are the advantages of a Native App over RWD?

Since native apps work with the device’s built-in features, they can be easier to work with.  For example, if a manager needs to approve an employee’s request for vacation time, an App will use the phone’s capabilities to notify the manager through a vibration, or unique sound chosen by the manager.

Because these apps have to get the approval of the app store they are intended for, and don’t reside on the open Internet the way RWD does, some consider the Apps to be more secure.

The display time (or “loading time”) of an app is quicker than a responsive web page.  Once you’ve downloaded an App to your phone, each time you open the app, the information appears more quickly, because there is less “code” to download.  But with a good web connection, this difference can be negligible.

Which should you choose?

Choosing between  Responsive Web Design or Native App should not be based on the technology itself.  It should be based on the job that the end user needs to do.   For example, the employee and manager most typically use self-service to access policies and knowledge base content and call up and complete smart forms.  They also may submit questions, and check the status of an open request, and approve a request.

Comparing one technology to another is not unlike comparing a Sports Utility Vehicle to a sedan.  You can’t say which is superior without identifying the jobs the driver needs the vehicle to do.  The empty nesters living in Florida may be well-served by the sedan, while the parents of growing children in the northeast climate will be better served by the all-weather four-wheel drive and the extra storage room of SUV.

It’s never about the technology.  It’s always about make the user’s life easier.  Choose accordingly.