Category Archives: Mobile

Get Ready for WYOD

I kicked off the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD): A Summit for Decision-Makers (summary article) as the keynote speaker last week in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This Summit was put on by Merit, who provides the network service needs of higher education, K-12 organizations, government, health care, libraries, and other non-profits for the state of Michigan. It brought together public and private sector technology and security leaders, as well as experts from academia and a wide array of vendor sponsors, to discuss hot trends for employees who are bringing their own devices to work.

Keynote Address for BYOD Summit

Keynote Address for BYOD Summit

I was interested in presenting on this BYOD topic because I understand the concerns but I also feel we need to put the issue into proper perspective. BYOD is officially defined as the practice of allowing the employees of an organization to use their own computers, smartphones, or other devices for work purposes. This is the valid concern which causes us to question our preparedness for dealing with bandwidth and security issues associated with BYOD. But the acronym has become synonymous with challenges relating to the explosion of mobile internet access devices which tend to pressure our network management more than security risks. My Keynote entitled, BYOD: We just need to keep up, focused on the emerging concerns from Wear Your Own Device (WYOD) and the evolution of The Internet of Things (IoT).

Wearable devices today are not really pressing our infrastructure or security concerns, however, that is the calm before the storm. The focus for these wearables today typically points to some form of activity or health monitoring. Interaction with the Internet or local WiFi is minimal now typically because of power consumption issues. However, the stage is set for these small useful devices to interact with our personal Internet space. And the most significant use will evolve out of the NFC based authentication made popular by the Apple Pay entry for transacting purchases. The key here is the validation of mobile devices, typically today’s smartphones, as authenticators of our personal identity. Replacement of the credit card swipe for retail purchases will lead the way, however, we in IT will get to explore and support all of the other uses that will play off this technology. For us in higher education we will see this become our student’s ID Card for building access, attendance and even remote test proctoring. The technology challenge is not daunting, however, the shift of our support mentality may be difficult. We will need to protect the effectiveness of these activities along with ensuring the security. It will mean a lot more technology responsibility on our plates.

Cell Phone Authenticating our Identity

I was chatting with one of our professors and our conversation ventured into the importance of mobile devices. The topic related to why it was so important for Microsoft to gain a foothold in the mobile phone market and I explained to him the intricate connection between the consumer’s phone and their computing platform of choice. But I also told him that the mobile phone would someday be the most important component for authenticating identity which is critical for financial transactions. I’m not sure I knew exactly how that was going to play out but it is always fun to stimulate non-techies into imagining what the future might hold. I did tell him about how important cell phones were in Africa for providing a means of transferring money. So it was a natural assumption to connect the cell phone to the online or digital economy as a means of providing more secure form of authentication. And when you talk more secure you typically relate that to a dual form of authentication based on something you have and what something is better than cell phones. Anyways, this conversation led to being asked to give a talk on this topic for the local Rotary.

I relate this conversation as a lead in for the story today about how Apple might offer a means for how we pay for stuff. Apple is hinting that it may explore this territory of payment services and that the fingerprint authentication on the new iPhones was implemented with this in mind. But the real impetus may be that Apple has amassed the most impressive number of personal accounts, about 800 million, that are connected to a credit card. This number is huge especially when compared to the next closest, Amazon’s 237 million. And what was the trick to getting this many purchase ready accounts? Music Downloads through iTunes. Yes, the convenience of impulse buying for a song that I hear justified my synchronizing my credit card with my iTunes account. And I have been very pleased with the results; quick, efficient, receipt email, and trust. Yes trust, there has not been a significant security breach of Apple’s accounts.

So is Apple going to expand their payment services to include any online or even checkout counter transactions? Lot’s of issues that have to be worked out before that financial model is justified, but I would bet on it. I was originally thinking the mobile phone could provide an identity solution for verifying who you are using the 2 step authentication model. Apple has successfully expanded that to include biometrics which I think will inevitably be required in our insecure identity compromised world. Makes a whole lot more sense then offering a credit card and signing a receipt. Needless to say, control of the mobile phone market continues to grow in importance. The next authentication phase will probably involve scanning that chip they want to insert into our body, but I think for now we work from something that everyone wants to have on their body.

It is OK for BYOD to just be an acronym

It was not that many years ago that the acronym BYOD was coined to represent the trend of personal mobile computing devices being brought to the workplace. A few years ago as these mobile devices exploded onto the scene with close to the same computing power as our typical institutional computers, IT departments feared losing control of their technology environments. Mostly IT wanted to avoid the perceived increase in support required to help get these devices on our network. Then vendors seized the opportunity to sell us products that gave the illusion that we could maintain control. As we realized that support was not a real issue, those who still feared losing control or vendors who wanted to sell unnecessary solutions pushed a security angle. The security angle was based on the fear of what we don’t control could hurt us, again not an issue with today’s network security appliances and NAC strategies. The other security driving angle is the perceived need to manage what files these devices could store and walk away with. The reality of that argument is that USB thumb drives are far more dangerous. Mobile devices generally don’t have file systems so could be considered safer. Our security is still based on what we allow access to not what device is accessing it. So do we need BYOD policies? Probably not, we just roll them into our standard information management policies.

 

My short thought for the afternoon.

Good Look at our iGFU Mobile Portal

Our student News team wanted to do a story on our iGFU Mobile Portal. They tried to video record a demo off of an iPAD which was not going to work so iGFU author, Brian McLaughlin, made them a simple tutorial that we now use on our website. Checkout the tutorial if you have any interest in what a university mobile portal needs to be. Remember, our mobile portal is basically a skunk works project that leverages the flexibility and performance of HTML5 using Java and PHP to access useful data from general data feeds, Moodle and our PeopleSoft ERP.

The tutorial also highlights a couple of other useful tools. Brian made the video by using an App called AirServer that allows him to mirror an IOS device to his MacBook. He then records it with Quicktime and with a little editing on iMovie you get a very real view of a mobile app. Then we upload the video to our new ShareStream video distribution system which gives us total flexiblity to manage and distribute video (especially if we want to manage copyright). We are investigating if AirServer might offer a better path for iPad mirroring to projector in the classroom.

Year of the Mobile Portal

This year we realized that our mobile portal was ready for some real marketing. I guess up until now we were content to let our customers discover it and utilize it as they desired. What we came to realize was that way to many of our customers had never heard of our mobile portal. How could that be, isn’t IT and the services IT provides at the center of all that happens at a university??? Actually our mobile portal iGFU.georgefox.edu has received a lot of accolades mostly from Oracle Higher Education folks since we have done a great job in leveraging our PeopleSoft data for useful mobile services. So maybe it is better known outside of our university. Recently a couple of our iGFU developers were recognized by NWACC and given an Exemplary Practice Award.

This year we are actually promoting iGFU and usage stats this first week show us that most everyone may finally be using it. We have opted for some promotional gimmicks like allowing our food service provider or bookstore to offer deals that can only be redeemed on someone’s smart mobile device. This new IT Video promotes a number of services that IT provides including iGFU.The most common hits are for class schedule information right now but the administrative services especially for academics are receiving a lot of praise. The class roster service spawns options for a professor to communicate with their class, offer a survey, view photos of individuals or the entire class (on a Pad or Computer display), monitor Moodle Class Forums, show student’s major,  and academic advisor(s).

iGFU Faculty MyGFU Screen

iGFU Faculty MyGFU Screen

Information for a specific course provides all the normal course description, books required and the syllabus if available. Course schedules show you what you have today as well as for the rest of the week. Students can map their Moodle assignment schedules into their Google Calendar, and the list goes on. The real key here is that if a Professor asks for something we always seem to be able to deliver with limited complexity. The administrative side of iGFU has also grown with services. The live budget update service has generated the most praise but another useful feature allows our development officers to lookup their prospects complete with all of their notes. Zoom into the prospects house with the linked Google Earth and certain priorities can be considered.

The bottom line is that our mobile portal has redefined what efficient presentation of data should look like. The directory lookup feature is now a standard page open on most of our administrator’s desktops. A major advantage which makes the mobile portal much more effective is how we can easily use our role based access structure from PeopleSoft to customize what each user is presented. So that is enough bragging about iGFU.

Thanks to recognition from Oracle it is not uncommon to be contacted by another university asking about how we created iGFU. Why go with a web design vs. and app design? How were we able to approve features with typical university committees. How were we able to access so much data from our ERP?

Going with the web design is the obvious choice if you want rapid and flexible deployment and no hassle device deployment. If you design your data access efficiently then performance is not an issue. This more then justifies the loss of some native app features. But the real key to our success comes from the design and development strategy. The most important design strategy is whether we are create something that would be useful for someone walking from lunch to class. Also no committees deciding or designing features. My key developer happens to be my DBA, so in his words he is able to accomplish so much because he holds the keys to the kingdom. He would never let another programmer gain so much access to the database. I let my developers respond directly to feature requests. They crank out another feature and we decide within IT whether it is acceptable for release and then we get appropriate pilot feedback if it deals with access control. But mostly we quickly turn around requests and fine tune a feature based on real user feedback.

This all may sound to simplistic but that is the key to a successful mobile portal. Of course talented programmers with great development tools working from a clean ERP system designed for web clients makes the job a whole lot easier. But any university holds the data necessary to build an effective mobile portal, finding some development talent empowered by some creative freedom could also release these mobile services to your customers. If you do not have the resources to develop a mobile portal yourselves then you may want to consider a couple of commercial option focused on PeopleSoft: HighPoint or BASHmobile

How Important is our Mobile App Strategy?

I recently responded to a CIO colleague’s “Challenges and Opinions” about the need and importance of mobile apps. The jest of the presumptions confirmed that mobile apps were positive but with many opinions about how and who should be developing them. The following is my quick offering of my opinion.

Mobile apps are not critical to our success in higher education, but yes we need to have a strategy for adoption and development. As with many trends, higher education, at least with respect to EdTech, tends to jump on bandwagons mostly driven by the fear of competition and lost opportunity to boast. Yes we need a strategy for how we will offer mobile compatible information. This is not innovation, this is just adaption. The world is transitioning to simpler mobile devices and we need to adapt so that our information remains preferable.

I do believe that developing apps for the various mobile operating systems is valuable. Not because the app requires local code but because it is so easy; why not. I also believe this skill set opens the door for a generation of ambitious people to set themselves apart with an employable resume. Maybe similar to being proficient at using Microsoft Office a decade ago. But I hold on to my opinion that a web based mobile app strategy is the most practical. The more valuable contribution that a mobile strategy provides is the motivation it gives us to organize and utilize our vast repositories of data. The motivation to transform that data into usable information and hence be valued as knowledge. Data warehousing with a greater purpose. The IT consultants want to label it with new acronyms that we will again fear that we must understand. But the greatest value that mobility may bring us, is simplicity. I believe it is forcing us to reevaluate what is really important and present it in a form that all can understand.

Demand rising for Linux System Administrators

I have been meaning to post about an observation I have made in recent months concerning the need for Linux System Administrators. This observation has come mostly in the form of my industry contacts asking if I can help them find Linux expertise especially relating to system administration. Now I still sense that my contacts do not feel they need to pay whatever it takes to acquire Linux help, maybe that is from the notion that Linux expertise could be found in poor college CS majors ready to give up on college and make some much needed cash. This does worry me for a few reasons. First there just aren’t enough poor students possessing Linux skills. Yes they are being snatched up as soon as they are ready to give up on college and yes there are opportunities that do pay them well. Second concern for me is that my employees with Linux resumes may want to jump ship. Valid fear but I fight that with quality of life, professional freedom and as much opportunity as higher education can muster up.

Out of curiosity I did some simple research. Indeed.com is a fairly large repository of IT job opportunities. On their site do a search for “Linux Administrator” or “Linux System Administrator” match that up against the “Microsoft” equivalent. The hits come out about 600 to 15 in favor of Linux. I confirmed this on a few other job search sites which may be enough evidence to get our Computer Science department to push a bit harder to steer our students in the Linux direction. So why the increased demand for Linux. What are the important applications requiring higher level Linux support. And it is not just the Web although Apache Web Servers do control the Web presence on the Internet. No, it is mobile computing which every entity with a Web presence is scrambling to get a handle on. It just so happens that mobile computing requires manipulation of traditional web delivery primarily driven by performance. Simple translates to fast and Linux is simple compared to Microsoft. Of course the main demand for Linux is to fullfil the need for maintaining Linux Operating Systems that many critical enterprise solutions depend upon. So this increase in Mobile computing is just the tipping point.

The world is shifting to the Web which is being accessed more and more by mobile devices and the Mobile modified Web runs best on Linux. Now the world’s content providers need Linux expertise for a competitive advantage. This is over simplified but it is a simple fact that can’t be overlooked.

Mobile Budget Report via PeopleSoft

We just released a budget review module for our iGFU mobile site. Now that may not sound that impressive, but I don’t know of any other university mobile site that can give a budget manager a live view of their budget vs expenses complete with lots of presentation bells and whistles. The real story is how easy this was to do by utilizing the existing tools provided by our PeopleSoft ERP. The key as I have mentioned before “Bragging about our Mobile Portal” is the involvement of your DBA who holds the keys to the database and in this situation a programmer willing to tap the potential of the PeopleSoft Component Interface based Web Services via PeopleTools. The web services allowed us to leverage the existing user access security structure that allowed us to manage user qualified budget access. All we then needed to do was produce the WSDL repository which is then easily accessed and presented by our mobile web portal, iGFU.

If you are interested here is the tutorial for this Budget App.

Apple to Bing

Apple considering using Microsoft’s Bing search engine as the default for the iPhone is a fairly straightforward business move. Apple cannot overlook the importance of mobile advertising, which is a main business process of their new Smartphone competitor Google. The actual mechanics for how the iPhone would use Bing for advertising kickbacks will be interesting.

Most of the discussion on this switch has to do with the unfortunate parting of ways for Apple and Google who have carried the flag of innovation in recent years. But I think we are also seeing a transition of players. Microsoft is still a very powerful market share asset that both Apple and Google can find valuable partnering opportunities. I think Microsoft is starting to realize the importance of these new stars. It will be very interesting to watch Microsoft court new business partnerships with Apple and Google. It may mean that Microsoft gives up on any hope for being a player in the mobile market, but it could ensure their continuing success in the laptop and desktop market.

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