Mobile, Campus + Strategy (part 3)

As much as it looks like I have counter-argued, mobile as we know it today is still much rooted in the elements that define the Web. It consists of a number of different technologies that work together in harmony to exchange information, enable creativity, and enhance productivity via web services and cloud-based infrastructure. Similarly, mobile also moves at the speed of the Web and some may argue even moves faster. Consumers adopt new devices each day and expect applications and services to be available when they need them. And when a new technology or capability is introduced by a provider such as Apple, the public and pundits alike expect near instantaneous integration and adoption.

Unfortunately, tried and true higher education enterprise IT and service lifecycle management simply moves too slow to keep up with consumer expectations regarding mobile. Higher education IT has rarely followed the pace of commercial and consumer IT as it is generally locked into the pace of the semester, summer, and academic year rhythm of education. The Web established a pattern of major “website overhauls” punctuated by ongoing content updates that work in a sprint-like fashion. Consumer mobile, on the other hand, has settled into an iterative pace that is measured in weeks, months and quarters because a half-year or annual update approach likely spells commercial ruin, and major annual overhauls can frustrate users to the point of abandoning an app altogether. The old adage of “getting it done in the summer” just doesn’t apply anymore. To keep pace, organizations must develop their mobile agility to break free of the rhythms that defined education, shaped processes for the desktop-oriented Web, and embrace the patterns that students and faculty have come to expect as a norm in their day-to-day in-hand digital interactions.

Sports cars are often judged by two things: power and handling. Success in any race depends heavily on striking a balance between these performance factors. As such, car that has greater power won’t necessarily beat one that is agile under certain conditions. So by way of analogy, if the Web is a straight-line drag race, mobile is a road race on a twisting mountainous course. One won’t survive the mobile race with sheer power and speed; one needs to be both quick and nimble (or run the risk of flying off the track). Here, mobile agility refers to an organization’s ability to rapidly and appropriately respond to changing needs of mobile users, no matter whom they are or where they might be.

Agility doesn’t specifically refer to how fast and organization can get a mobile solution out the door, nor does it imply a specific project management methodology. Instead it equates to delivering the right apps and services at the right time in the most responsive manner. A rapidly developed app that doesn’t resonate with its intended audience is effectively a non-starter and in the worst case, generates negative user feedback and disenchantment. Alternatively, a well-designed app that is released too late runs the risk of being usurped by other services or apps because it missed the window of opportunity. Mobile agility is not merely about technology and execution. It is about recognizing mobile’s place in an overall strategy and becoming more nimble in designing, developing, and deploying services that are appropriate for the organization’s core users as well as its untapped communities.

Gartner accurately predicted that the industry would move toward a mobile-first paradigm of software development, which many organizations have adopted including the once Web entrenched Facebook. As Facebook itself has demonstrated, mobile builds upon the technologies and services many organizations already have and as such, should not be a side effort but be a central part of the overall enterprise IT strategy. Fortunately, the evolution of enterprise IT, brought about by applications migrating to the Web, has enabled the shift by employing loosely-coupled services and user experience models in application delivery. Wireless, single-sign-on, access management, learning management, messaging and notification, web services, content management, virtualization, cloud services and service-oriented architectures are all components that contribute to the success of mobile and an educational organization’s presence and responsiveness. Furthermore, enterprise application providers and organizations that embrace a mature approach toward continuous improvement should already be well on down a mobile path for offering services on demand and in hand to students, faculty and staff.

The mobile paradigm is one that has evolved over decades and only recently have the pieces fallen into place to bring it to the forefront of our connected global society. Educational institutions and organizations are well-positioned to embrace what mobile has to offer, provided that they embrace mobile as a platform and integrate its possibilities into strategic planning. An awareness of context-driven use of mobile technology, recognition that users desire access to information anytime and anywhere, and the acceptance of mobile as the personal productivity platform are characteristics of an organization on a path toward a holistic mobile strategy. Or to put it another way, mobile isn’t a bolt on supercharger for a muscle car, it is a hybrid that brings together advancements from across many different areas to deliver something entirely new, yet rooted in what we know.

A hallmark of an educational institution that possesses a high degree of mobile agility is its ability take a strategy and transform it into action, thus delivering the right services at the right times on the platforms users expect. Therefore, colleges, universities and schools should develop holistic approaches to mobile and integrated strategies across service delivery, communication, education, and technology to best connect with yesterday’s prospective students, today’s learners, and tomorrow’s alumni.

(Part 3 of 3, view Part 1 and Part 2)