Mobile enterprise apps: Meeting the demand
When Baylor University hosted its semiannual open house event in April 2017, admissions staff used an enterprise mobile system to record attendance during check-in.
Anyone with a smartphone could scan a prepopulated QR code on attendees’ badges or look them up by name and check them in, says Ross VanDyke, senior director of recruitment for undergraduate admissions. “It was revolutionary.”
Before launching the mobile platform, staff manually checked in thousands of prospective students to the Texas campus—highlighting their names on a piece of paper and entering all of the data into a computer when they returned to the office. That process took hours. The enterprise mobile app gives staff more time to interact with prospective students and their families at the event.
Baylor’s CRM, Slate, has a mobile app that allows staffers to do event check-ins and other admissions tasks without being tied to their desks. Those tasks
include managing inquiries and sending email and text alerts with important information and deadlines, and helping students navigate the entire admissions process from application to enrollment.
Related session at UB Tech 2019: A Strong Mobile App in Front of an Aging ERP: Why Students Love It
The interest in mobile enterprise systems is growing at colleges and universities. A 2018 Educause report, “Higher Education’s 2019 Trend Watch and Top 10 Strategic Technologies,” found that 40 percent of colleges had access to their learning management system (LMS) via mobile. Twenty percent could access student information systems and 17 percent could get to admissions files via mobile devices. By 2024, Educause analysts believe remote access will be mainstream since 58 percent of schools surveyed had already engaged in mobile app development.
“The future is here, and schools are realizing they need to do something about it,” says Betsy Tippens Reinitz, director of the enterprise IT program for Educause, adding that demand from students prompted the foray into enterprise mobile apps.
Following are four actions campus administrators can take to facilitate the introduction of enterprise mobile access.
1. Start with students
Students drove the demand for an enterprise mobile app at Northern Michigan University, which launched the first phase of its new app last fall. Integration with its CRM (Salesforce) and LMS (Moodle) software allows students to add or drop classes, review exam schedules, receive notifications about class cancellations, and view grades on their mobile devices.
Demand for mobile access to registration documents, financial aid applications and academic advising led the University of South Florida to take a “students first” approach to rolling out an enterprise mobile solution in 2016.
“We can’t be telling students who live on their mobile devices to go to their [computers] to access information,” says CIO Sidney Fernandes. “Students should be able to access information from anywhere.”
Student demand for enterprise mobile apps has also forced staff to adopt the technology, says Felicia Flack, assistant vice president of information services at Northern Michigan.
2. Secure sensitive information
Some risk is associated with accessing data, from test scores to financial aid information, via mobile devices. In fact, Educause’s Reinitz believes concern over data security is one of the main reasons IT officials are reluctant to give administrators remote access to data.
The wealth of Social Security numbers, financial information and intellectual property stored on servers makes institutions attractive hacker targets. A 2018 Verizon report found that hackers often targeted educational institutions to steal personal information, which could be used to commit identity theft or to gain access to research.
4 questions to ask before investing in enterprise mobile apps
1. Have we solicited stakeholder feedback? Northern Michigan University surveyed students before creating its enterprise mobile app to ensure that it included everything students wanted to access on the go.
2. Who owns the code? While IT staffers at the University of Rochester in New York may not be managing the code for the school’s enterprise app, they still want to own it. If the developer is acquired, stops supporting the app or goes out of business, the team must be able to hand the code to someone new rather than start from scratch.
3. Can this grow with us? Investing in flexible tools is important to Felicia Flack at Northern Michigan. In five years, her information services department team hopes the app could be used as a virtual campus ID for building and event access. “We don’t want to have to find a new provider to do that,” she says.
4. Who else uses this platform? If Baylor University in Texas needed a new enterprise mobile app, admissions recruiter Ross VanDyke would speak with peers at institutions using the system—not just references the vendor provided.
Keeping information secure was one of the main reasons Fernandes’ team at South Florida developed an enterprise mobile solution. It uses Appian as a platform and Mulesoft to access information from systems such as Oracle PeopleSoft, Banner by Ellucian and Canvas from Instructure; all information is stored in the cloud, not on devices.
“We had to be thoughtful about pulling data and making sure it was secure,” he says. “Unlike a native app, where there was a risk that the developer might not do it right, pulling it from the cloud keeps it safe.” Data stored in the cloud cannot be compromised if a phone is lost.
In addition to storing all of its data in the cloud, the University of Rochester in New York introduced two-factor authentication, which requires an enterprise mobile app user to log in with their password, and then enter a passcode sent to their phone to access the app. “Opening up information for convenience and efficiency also puts us at risk from phishing or other [unauthorized access], so we added it about five years ago,” says Associate CIO Robert Evangelista. “In the future, we’d like to see the technology become sophisticated enough that we could use facial recognition or thumbprints to be able to access the data in the enterprise mobile apps.”
3. Pick the right provider
Some of the enterprise systems that Rochester uses, including Blackboard and Workday, have their own apps; UR Mobile, the institution’s own app, has “pointers” that give users access to multiple enterprise systems in a single application.
During the search for a provider for the university’s app, Evangelista asked about the back-end security protocols, including what would happen to the data stored on the provider’s system if Rochester cut ties.
Finding a provider that keeps data secure is just one piece of the puzzle. Administrators should also consider whether a potential partner could accommodate their needs.
When it came time for Northern Michigan to update its mobile app, Flack downloaded the enterprise mobile apps used at other state schools to get a feel for the tools and design options. She then contacted several providers before making a decision to sign on with a new provider offering more sophisticated tools than the university’s original platform provider.
Not long after Baylor launched its app for CRM access in 2014, the search was on for a new provider. The original tool couldn’t handle the volume of data the school needed to manage, explains Marissa Tiner, director of operations and technology for undergraduate admissions.
“Instead of loading the entire file of ACT or SAT scores, we had to break them up into batches of 250 at a time. We had to do the same thing with emails,” Tiner says. “We recruit hard and do a lot of campaigns and events, and it just couldn’t keep up.”
4. Consider future functionality
Baylor administrators believe their current enterprise mobile app vendor can help them achieve several long-term goals, including adding geo-sensing capabilities so that students who are on campus for events will receive text messages with links for self-check-in, says Tiner.
Fernandes was also thinking ahead when the University of South Florida launched its enterprise mobile app two years ago. An in-house digital innovation team was tasked with updating the system and introducing new features. The latest upgrade incorporates third-party application programming interfaces (known as APIs) to send emails and text messages to students.
“We’re not doing anything amazing,” Fernandes says. “We’re doing what students expect. As new things come up, we need to make sure that we’re constantly evolving to continue meeting those expectations.”
Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based writer and frequent contributor to UB.