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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

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.

Bragging about our Mobile Portal

iGFU Main Menu

We were one of the earliest institutions to release a mobile app, iGFU, back when the iPhone was initially released. And we had high aspirations for doing much more with mobile development mostly because I had a talented developer who wrote the original version of the geocaching mobile app for Geocaching.com (see previous post). Well, shortly there after we started implementing PeopleSoft and there was no time to think about mobile apps any more. However, now that we are making great progress in utilizing our PeopleSoft portal we found that it was extremely easy to use that as a foundation for a new and improved iGFU mobile app.

iGFU is similar to all the other university mobile apps or portals, but I do have to say that ours offers exceptional content and value, even though I would be prejudiced. The reason I believe this is because I feel that it leverages the critical needs for a customized portal and we produced it essentially for free thanks to my developer squeezing it in to task list and the acquisition of icons from a recent graphic arts alum. The key is that we provide information that is useful to a mobile university user such as news, course catalog, food menus, campus events, mapping, etc. But the kicker is the access to our PeopleSoft ERP data as this student view shows.

MyGFU access from iGFU

Now for some details: this is just a web app written in PHP with the different functions called from PeopleSoft. The functions are setup pretty much as you would for the PeopleSoft Portal. Presentation manager creates the structure drawing from an oracle table holding the specified data. And then it is called and presented by the PHP code. Since it is all controlled under PeopleSoft we can easily toggle a function on/off and designate the security access roles. When lists are involved like for a professor to see their class roster, that is also an easy call. Because we auto-create our course identifier in Moodle we can also grab whatever we want out of our LMS for students and faculty. The most interesting function may be the survey tool that allows a professor to easily solicite response from class with results displayed live. This is all made available because we are working with an advanced ERP solution built upon today’s web principles.

Responseware for Class

I’m not trying to promote iGFU as the greatest mobile portal but I do think it is important to put development of a mobile portal into proper perspective. It should be a web app so that it runs on all devices and can be centrally managed. Keep it simple, what is not accessed from institutional data sources, should be easily maintained by content owners such as with a shared document. We use a simple spreadsheet layout to allow conferences to build their schedules out.

iGFU is a very young service and we are quickly becoming aware of the desires for enhancements and content placement. So now the real work begins in deciding just how we want to manage this service. Probably best to let everyone assume that modifications are difficult. Maybe that is the real advantage of an commercial version.

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