Authored by: Andy Hinton, vice president, ethics and compliance at Google, and Ted Banks, partner at Scharf Banks Marmor LLC and former chief counsel, global compliance at Kraft Foods.

It wasn’t too many years ago that people would have scoffed at the idea of spending most of your waking hours looking at a small device in your hand. But that is our reality today. The significance for compliance professionals should be obvious: the smartphone may be a great way to communicate with their employee base.

One of the goals of your compliance program is to make sure that every employee knows how to do his or her job with integrity. To do this, you need to make sure that the employee can get to the relevant information as conveniently as possible. So, rather than forcing employees to seek out information, you should come to them. If smartphone use is pervasive in your organization, you can use it to get your employees the right-on-time compliance assistance they need.

Compliance professionals can identify the substantive content to be included, but you should identify an IT partner to get the coding done right. There are programs that will convert an existing internet or intranet site to a mobile device version (easily found with a Google search like “converting websites for mobile devices”), and that could be a viable solution. However, it’s likely not optimal, since just converting a webpage doesn’t take advantage of the smartphone’s attributes, or overcome its limitations (basically the screen geography).

So, give some thought to building a compliance app with the assistance of a technology partner. You can provide the substance, as the technology partner builds the app. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:

  1. Make your key information on a particular topic fit on one screen. Lawyers like to ramble on, thinking that the more information you provide the better. No! Identify three to five key points for the subject. Not only will a few crucial points fit well on a smartphone screen, but it is pretty much what you can expect most employees to remember.
  2. Develop simple e-learning. Tell a story related to the employee’s job that includes a compliance challenge. Then, present two (remember, we’re keeping it simple) choices to deal with the problem and have the employee choose. The correct answer will reinforce the correct principle; the incorrect answer will explain why it was wrong, in turn also reinforcing the correct principle.
  3. Tailor the presentation on the smartphone to the job or role of the employee. There are certain subjects that should be accessible to everyone (e.g., conflicts of interest), but others may depend on the nature of the job (e.g., sales needs to know about antitrust and anti-bribery) or the employee’s role (e.g., a front-line production worker may not need to see information about business gifts and entertainment). If the login is tied to a personnel system that has job information, you can program specific items to come up first on the phone. If you have a compliance or law department site on your intranet, you may be able to determine from the usage data which pages are accessed most frequently. You can use this data to choose what information to present on the smartphone, where access to the screen landscape is at a premium.
  4. Enable employees to use the app to search the company’s compliance information — by voice or keyboard. Although you (hopefully) will have a menu system for employees to use in finding information, you should supplement it with smart searching tools.
  5. Include success stories about how employees (at all levels) confronted compliance challenges, did the right thing, and benefits for the company. Also, incorporate messages from top management about the importance of compliance and even add direct messages from an employee’s manager on the subject (tied to the login).
  6. Always provide ways for employees to get more information, such as links to policies and background information and contacts (e.g. lawyers or experts) for any additional questions.
  7. Provide a link to the hotline phone number, and unless prohibited by law, to the vehicle for anonymous reporting.
  8. Finally, look into “gamifying” some of your compliance training and communication. After all, playing games is what many of your employees are already doing on their smartphones. A few vendors have developed compliance games — see if it would make sense for your population.

As far as we can tell — and this is not based on anything more than informal checking around, the numbers are still small for companies with compliance apps. But it is an opportunity that should not be missed. You want compliance resources to be a natural, seamless, convenient, and on-demand part of your employees’ business lives — not something that is foreign, hard to get to, and out of their business flow.

For further reading, click here to download “The ACC Guide to Knowledge Management”, which explains the full life cycle of implementing legal knowledge management programs – from knowledge creation to storage, sharing and utilization.