T-Mobile: Giving Voice to Employees With a Mobile Podcasting App

Discover how a small—but mighty—team from T-Mobile Human Resources was able to build on an existing content management platform and create an app that feels native to mobile devices.

Prior to joining T-Mobile Human Resource, Stanci Soderstrom and Eric Madsen led a small software development team at Sprint. That is where the five-person team developed and deployed their content management platform, Clips.

After T-Mobile and Sprint merged, the team saw widespread adoption of Clips throughout the company. Today, the platform has over 4,000 pieces of content and gets on average about 100,000 hits per day.

While Clips has a YouTube-like interface, Eric Madsen, learning technology architect at T-Mobile, attributes a large portion of the platform’s success to its integrations.

Clips was deployed to not only be a central repository for learning media, but also to serve content to T-Mobile employees through various channels like Adobe Experience Manager, Microsoft Sharepoint, Cornerstone, and more.

But as the team quickly found out, it was their audio content that needed a more native feel, something that was a bit more intuitive to mobile devices. 

Clips was fine for long-form videos and presentations because most employees were viewing those on a computer. However, on mobile devices, the experience of audio is totally different. Some pain points Madsen recalls were difficulty navigating to specific episodes or continuing to play when the screen goes dark—all things T-Mobile employees expected when using Clips on their mobile devices.

The Challenge: Build a native app on top of an existing platform.

For the tiny, but mighty team at T-Mobile it was obvious what Clips’ big phase 2 feature needed to be—podcasts.

So, they were able to add a few features fairly easily. They brought in contributor capabilities and a “save as episode” function. But even then, as employees were using these they were posting and hosting their podcast episodes on a Sharepoint site.

The problem with this distribution is that it's not native to the mobile experience. You can’t easily download the episode, cue it up, or continue listening when you lock the device.

The team did their due diligence gathering requirements from the business and finding out what issues were mission critical and which ones were nice-to-have. They made their design comps and came to the inevitable conclusion that they would need to build a native mobile app themselves. The only catch—not one of them had ever done that before.

They knew that whatever this app would be would need to hook into Clips for its content, but that’s about where their knowledge ended.

Being so small and lacking the experience of previously building a mobile app, they reached out to other teams within T-Mobile. But, most of the teams that had the experience were much larger and had plenty of resources to do so.

“For us being a tiny team with several other responsibilities,we had to go with something that was a little bit easier and it was compatible with our existing experiences,” says Madsen.

Thanks to Ionic’s compatibility, we’re confident we’ll be able to roll out this integration in a future phase.

Eric Madsen, Learning Technology Architect at T-Mobile

The Solution: Ionic’s hybrid app development solution for first-time mobile app developers

Not only did Madsen and the team have to make sure this new app was compatible with their existing framework, but they also had to teach themselves how to develop a mobile app. To say they had their work cut out for them would be an understatement. That’s when they started to seriously look into Ionic.

Initially, they were hoping that another team within T-Mobile had some previous experience working with Ionic. But, again, those teams were much larger and were developing fully native apps for mobile devices.

A big win right off the bat for Madsen and the team was Ionic’s compatibility with React. Since Clips is built on the React framework, whatever mobile app they developed would be able to talk to Clips.

Ionic also offered the opportunity to give the new app the unique look and feel of T-Mobile, while still incorporating mobile features—allowing the app to be a truly mobile-first, T-Mobile branded app.

Madsen also praised Ionic’s Native Solutions for being the complete package and fulfilling all of their requirements. They were able to leverage Ionic’s cross-platform SDK, Secure Storage, Identity Vault, and Auth Connect.

But what really helped support the team throughout the entire process was partnering up with the Ionic team. Ionic provided support and training for the T-Mobile team every step of the way as they navigated into uncharted waters. They had a dedicated account manager who set up a 3-day personalized training course with an Ionic subject matter expert. Then, during the rest of development they had regular meetings along with code and design reviews. All of which Madsen’s team found incredibly beneficial.

Finally, the cherry on top of the Ionic sundae was that it allowed the T-Mobile team to future proof their app. Madsen says, “we knew the team would want to deploy Kronos to help manage user access controls. Thanks to Ionic’s compatibility, we’re confident we’ll be able to roll out this integration in a future phase.”

The Result: Something that looks, feels, and runs like a native mobile app.

In the end, Madsen and his team were able to build exactly what they set out to build. Their app, T-Mobile Cast, has all the native features you’d expect from a typical podcasting app. You’re obviously able to play episodes, as well as download them for offline use, rate them, and share them with other users. 

But, the one thing T-Mobile Cast has that maybe other podcasting-specific apps don’t is support for videos as well. Because it’s hooked into their content management platform, Clips, that means T-Mobile Cast is also able to pull in all of the video content as well.

Unfortunately, T-Mobile Cast has been delayed a bit due to new processes and compliance approvals within the company. So, there’s no results for how the app is performing or being adopted in their employee user base.

That aside, Madsen also highlighted and celebrated what his small team was able to accomplish with the help and support of Ionic. It was because of this support they were able to learn the Ionic framework as they went. And having no real guidance from other teams within T-Mobile, the partnership with Ionic was invaluable. 

And while they had hoped the project would move a little bit quicker, Madsen was realistic with the capabilities of the team. There’s really only three of them doing actual development and they were still needing to support Clips and a host of other tools already in the environment. Meaning if an issue arose, they would have to switch their focus away from T-Mobile Cast to support the existing products.

Learn more about T-Mobile on LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.

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