Jun 10 2013

Colleges Go Mobile on Multiple Fronts

Robust wireless networks support a range of mobile apps and digital learning opportunities.

Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., has been on a path of mobile computing since 2009, the year Phil Komarny came on board as CIO.

That year, Komarny and the IT staff upgraded the network from the edge to the core and rolled out Enterasys wireless gear. The faculty also began a rigorous training program on how to use mobile technology. The next year, all students, faculty and staff began using tablets, setting Seton Hill’s mobile strategy into action.

“The college took a major leap into the mobile world, where today 98 percent of the college’s traffic runs over wireless,” Komarny says. “But the big difference was that by the time we rolled out the tablets, the faculty already understood the basic concepts of teaching with mobile technology.”

Komarny adds that the college’s cloud strategy, which uses Amazon’s cloud service for most of its Active Directory, file server and disaster recovery systems, dovetails well with the university’s mobile strategy.

“This past year, I budgeted $50,000 for Amazon, but only used $18,000, so I was able to plow that extra money back into mobile app development,” Komarny says. “It’s the first time I can ever remember where I’ve cut costs and wound up with a better environment.”

Komarny has written more than 100 mobile apps in the past few years, all geared toward having students, faculty and staff leverage the mobile tablets. For example, one app lets a professor email other professors about a problem student. When one or two other professors confirm that in fact there’s a problem, the email response also goes to the dean of students. “We’re able to foster collaboration and really use the mobile devices,” he says.

Chris Silva, an industry analyst for the Altimeter Group, says today organizations are often more focused on what they can do with mobile technology, rather than which platform they’re using. He says Seton Hill University’s experience deploying mobile apps is a case in point.

“What’s stood out to me the past several months is that we’re moving away from caring about the device and are focused more on experiences and services,” Silva says. “People want to access the information that’s critical to them, regardless of screen or location.”

Facilitating Collaboration

Ohio State University’s Digital First strategy is another example of how organizations can focus on the mobile experience. “It’s not about the device,” says Digital First Director Liv Gjestvang. “It’s more about adapting to today’s environment.”

The university rolled out the initiative about a year ago to fully engage students with mobile technologies. “We saw that students were coming to campus with a collection of smartphones, tablets and notebooks, and we needed to support that — so step one was upgrading our wireless network,” Gjestvang says.

62% The percentage of executives and IT managers who say better communications and knowledge sharing are the primary benefits of mobile technology

SOURCE: “Business Technology Innovation: Six Key Trends in Optimizing IT for Competitive Advantage” (Ventana Research, December 2012)

Ohio State’s Digital First team works closely with faculty to develop digital courses and help faculty develop skills in lecture capture and transition to e-textbooks. What’s more, several colleges have rolled out tablet pilot programs, says Cory Tressler, a Digital First educational technologist.

“What we’re looking to do here at Digital First is build a community within this very large university community — there are more than 55,000 students here at Ohio State,” says Tressler. “We want the Digital First initiative to create an environment where students and faculty can share ideas and push out information about best practices.”

Digital First strives to prepare students for the future. “We want our students to use technology at Ohio State in the same ways they’ll be expected to when they graduate,” says Gjestvang. “Our goal with Digital First is to help students become more engaged, more collaborative and more creative. Mobile technology helps us do that.”

6 Mobile Data Management Trends

As mobility permeates the enterprise, the following trends are shaping deployments, according to Jesse Lipson, vice president and general manager of data sharing for Citrix:

1. VPNs are disappearing. It’s clumsy and inconvenient for users to connect via VPN, especially when more organizations store their data in the cloud.

2. Active Directory integration is tops. Lipson says organizations use an average of 30 software as a service apps, which are most commonly integrated with Active Directory Federation Services.

3. Physical tokens will go away. Client certificate authentication will replace traditional two-factor authentication as mobile device management software makers increasingly provide these certificates. Many organizations also use text messages for the second factor of authentication.

4. Autologin takes hold. Most enterprises realize that it’s unreasonable to ask users to enter their credentials at every login of their smartphones or tablets. Four-digit PINs are acceptable to users and offer some added security when autologin is enabled.

5. On-premises storage survives. Organizations see this as a way to maintain security, compliance and convenience. They also have a considerable amount of legacy storage that needs to be accessed via mobile devices.

6. IT groups debate the “open-in” question. The IT team must decide whether to let apps open data in other apps and strike a balance between security and convenience.

<p>Natalia Silych, ThinkStock</p>