Building the Architecture for Mobile

How CIOs are planning their strategy and development to provide a mobile environment that will last

Wed, July 20, 2011

CIO Executive Council

Scenario: Creating an interactive mobile environment that will last

Vince Kellen, CIO at the University of Kentucky

Our goal is to take the interactions our 26,000 students have with the university and enable as many of them as possible on a mobile device. We created a three-year mobile strategic plan, and we think this will enhance student engagement, leading to improved student retention and academic success. Today, students can use devices to access static information about campus life. Soon we will add access to grades, course registration and other interactions. We will also develop an app to make the learning-management platform accessible via BlackBerry, Android, iPad and iPhone.

Many IT teams take an existing portal and then enable it for mobile. Due to the sheer quantity of interactions, we are planning to do the opposite—design a portal that meets the needs of mobile users and then scale it for use on a PC. We feel that this approach could result in a much better interface for the mobile user. We also need to identify the right balance of what we do in a mobile Web interface versus a mobile installed application, and how to best integrate transactional data from ERP and other back-end systems. Skill development is another priority; we need to make sure that we have the right knowledge in the right roles to foster success in the mobile arena.

Advice: Secure the back end, Evaluate intensive tasks

Dennis Stevens, VP of Digital Solutions and Connectivity, Diabetes Franchise, Johnson and Johnson

Mobile apps are an important part of our disease-management program for diabetes patients who are monitoring blood glucose levels and need to get information anywhere at any time. When integrating our back-end systems, especially medical databases, we put a lot of effort into understanding requirements around data protection and security, and then confirming that they are in place for mobile. We look across the entire application architecture to make sure that our bases are covered on access points like Web browsers, PCs or mobile devices.

I agree with Vince’s idea of approaching mobile portals differently than simply taking the PC version and making it accessible on mobile devices. The user interface just doesn’t have the same amount of real estate, and you have to be much more selective about what you show and where you position it on the screen.

We start by creating one GUI for the Web, and then do that again to get the mobile version right. To determine which apps are client-installed and which are accessed via a browser, we use a decision matrix. My team considers things like the target user base and what they plan to do with the data. Viewing class schedules or checking sports scores could be done with a website; more UI-intensive tasks, like GPS, would require an installed app. The downside of installed apps is that you need to have a software-update and change-management strategy in place.

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