Over in Barcelona, vendors and enthusiasts are gathered at the Mobile World Congress to discuss the future of the mobile sector. There may be some implications for small colleges as some interesting items have emerged from this year’s conference:
- According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), cell phone subscriptions should hit 5 billion sometime this year world-wide
- Microsoft finally moved away from the “Windows on the go” graphical interface and debuted their new Windows Phone 7 Series, centered around their Zune interface
- Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt stated that his company’s focus will be driven by two simple words: mobile first
With my head spinning at the potential opportunities, I connected (thanks to Rebecca Davis) with Bill Edgette, Executive Director of Information Technology & Services at Austin College for a friendly exchange. Once I gave Bill a quick background of what I was exploring, he wrote back to me with a simple statement that caused me to stop and re-evaluate:
“Thanks for your response. So, it appears you haven’t standardized on anything yet, right?”
Standardization on mobile opens a floodgate of questions, but the most obvious is how should a campus move forward with embracing a common mobile strategy?
Let’s put aside for the moment the technical hurdles that are inherent to any mobile platform and purely focus on the philosophical questions of need, support, and sustainability. Does your campus really need to support mobile? The answer seems obvious at first, but beware of “fondling the hammer.” (Jeremiah Owyang)
Mobile needs of my campus
As technology evolves, there is a terrible trend in our communities to focus on tools and devices rather than strategic adoption. Mobile is no exception. Rather than letting your eyes glaze over at the myriad hardware platforms, the focus should shift on internal needs or requirements. The focus should steer away from tools. Here is what I mean: when thinking mobile, many make the mistake of just simplifying the tools they already offer through the web. Sure, the interface may be presentable on a smaller screen but sacrifices were made and the truth is, were the correct decisions made for functionality lost? This is where audience awareness is critical. I like what Jeremiah Owyang was eluding to about “fondling the hammer.” Focus on strategy and not on tools.
Josh Bernoff at Forrester Research put together a great acronym called POST (People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology). The POST method is linear, which is good: focus on people first and technology last. Though this method was created to support a social strategy, it can be effectively applied to mobile frameworks as well:
- People – Understand your audience. Just as you had to set requirements for your website to reflect the needs of your audience, the same must be done for mobile users. The audience may be the same physical individual accessing web resources, but a fundamental shift occurs when consuming content on a mobile medium. Immediacy vs. depth is a key factor to keep in mind for each audience type (current student, faculty, parents, perspective students, alumni, and campus visitors). The question you must ask is: what are the top requests of my audience in using campus resources? Remember: it is what your audience requests, not what you think they need.
- Objectives - What is the goal for the mobile initiative? Be critical here. It is not simply to support mobile users; that is too vague. What can be done by a mobile user that cannot be done in front of a computer? Think about a user walking on campus, away from campus, campus events, academic events, announcements, or contact information. Keep focusing on the immediacy of the here and now. Your objectives should be narrow enough that they can be measured.
- Strategy – This is not how you will deploy the mobile initiative but rather understanding what is changing. What will be different at the end of this task? Will students have a more engaging experience with campus staff/events/academics? You must seriously ask these questions and understand not only the final product to be created but the effect it may have with your audience and how that would differ from your current offerings. If you succeed here, marketing this effort will become immensely easier down the road!
- Technology – NOW you can focus on the tools! You basically have created a “request for proposals” for the technology. With audience defined, objectives created, and a strategic focus in hand, you can approach tools with a clear understanding of what they can and cannot do to support your proposal.
Support from within
A community’s strength is its desire to share and collaborate. That is the nature of the environment in which we work, and we must engage our community for support. Enterprising or curious faculty and staff members may already be exploring mobile technology to supplement classroom lessons or provide a tool set not available from the desktop. It is always a good idea not only to engage faculty’s desire to explore but also to assist with creating partnerships between departments. Cross-pollination of mobile efforts will help achieve strategic goals.
Do not forget the students! Students may also be exploring ways to simplify their lives on your campus. These explorations may be simply a mash-up of tools or actual application development. Reaching out to this population will help you understand their needs and how to effectively support their mobile requirements. Plus, talented students combined with strong faculty members can push exploration further through software engineering opportunities!
Sustain the mobile effort
Measure the effectiveness of your mobile efforts. These metrics should have been defined through your objectives and strategy. Remember, technology constantly evolves. That means whatever mobile solution presented should be an evolving process too. Keep it simple and launch with immediate needs. Disregard the “it’s not ready” fear. If you address the needs of your audience, see requests coming in, and then support more change, you have succeeded. Mobile users only want support for the here and now.
I guess my answer to Bill on standardization would be more philosophical. Focus on people, create engagements, and keep it simple. I love tools and my knee-jerk response would be to provide a tool if asked; however what I think you should use may conflict with what you may actually need. POST: bringing people, ideas, and technology together. I love it.