Monday, 26 October 2009

CampusM launch

Sorry for lack of posts - been away for a few days. Back today with a trip to London to the Apple HQ above their store on Regent St for the launch of CampusM. I've blogged about this mobile app before, and I was presenting a case study on our experience of the implementation so far. There were representatives there from oMbiel, the company who are developing the application who gave an overview of the product and some future developments.

I've been asked a lot of questions about this, including why did we decide to implement CampusM, why didn't we do it ourselves as webapps, how much effort did it take on our part, and what issues have we had. These were all things I covered in today's talk, so in summary.....

Why - well it fits with our strategy of delivering services in a way that suits the user, rather than one that suits us. Our last survey showed that about 15% of students had smart phones, and that number is steadily rising, so we will be getting information to students in a way that is familiar to them. Because it's based on Service Orientated Architecture and open standards it enables us to reuse functionality. We've had a student portal since 2003 and some of the development work has been reused in CampusM, and we will also be able to use the functionality in CampusM to plug back into our student portal. The other major factor is one of resources - we just haven't got the development resource to do this ourselves - we have too much else on. oMbiel are specialists in this sort of work, having a history of being systems integrators and are much better placed to do it. One other factor - it was a low risk project. At relatively little cost, we didn't tell anyone we were doing it until we had a working system, if it had all failed, nothing else was riding on it.

Why didn't we develop it ourselves as web apps is partly answered above - we could have done, but we just don't have the resource. This was done in a matter of weeks - it would have taken us much longer. Plus, we now have an application that has everything in one menu - pulling in information from many different sources but it is seamless to the user and they don't have to go to lots of different web apps to get it. The application makes a lot of use of location services, and its integration with other apps on the iPhone such as Google maps is something that would have taken us more than a few weeks to do. In addition, oMbiel are doing all the work in optimising it for viewing on different types of phone with different operating systems and browsers. It's a pragmatic approach - I'm into rapid development and deployment at the moment, and if someone can do it quicker than we can we should let them do it.

In terms of effort on our part - very little. We supplied the expertise on where the data was held and database views. We had a project manager at both ends, and ours liaised with different data owners and handled testing and rollout issues. oMbiel did almost everything else.

As for issues - there's not been many. A certain initial cynicism of whether this would work, decisions on what functionality to deliver initially and what not to, some difficulties with testing because we needed live student data (solved by getting a group of students to pilot it for us).

So, we now have a working application which should be available from the iTunes store in about 4 weeks, and we're using that time to get more data into it. By the end of the year it will be available on many more smart phones.

The location based features are for me the most impressive. Take something simple like PC availability - we can show students where PCs are free on a campus map or on Google maps, or they can locate the nearest free PC to where they happen to be. We're going to add more things like printers, value loaders etc to it. Just imagine the potential - someone suggested free car parking spaces! If only we had the data we could do it.

So - what next? Well, we will be oMbiel are developing an application targeted at staff, and we know from our limited testing with staff that they're very keen on having something similar, especially for the directory features. They're also looking at a version for visitors to campus such as on open days where I can imagine the location based features such as campus maps will be very useful. there's also talk of a version for prospective students and alumni - we'll have to take a decision on how far we want to go!


Jez said...

This is exciting stuff. It's great to see Sheffield at the forefront of lots of new technology: first uSpace and Google Mail, now this. I'm looking forward to whatever comes next!

Susheel Varma said...

I agree with Jez. Great Stuff.

Did you evaluate MobilEdu(, which would have automatically integrated with the our Blackboard System.

I personally, would have preferred it to be a HTML5 webapp, as this would support a wider range of mobile phones and negate the need to negotiate with mobile app store policies. Updates would also have been seamless.

Disclosure: I architected a similar web-app for two Universities in Dubai & India, which are to go live soon.

John Townsend said...

We're having a serious look at campusM - oMbiel were in a couple of weeks ago to do a presentation, back in again the week after next to pitch to a wider audience - so your comments are very helpful & confirm some of my thinking on this. Would be great to catch up/have a chat at EDUCAUSE.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your stats:**Our last survey showed that about 15% of students had smart phones**

This is new information, previously I have seen many statistics for the 'number of users hitting websites from smartphones' - and UK HE institutions that have reported on this are lucky if they reach 1% of total visitors using these devices.

If your potential users for CampusM are such a minority, and your actual users don't reach a round figure, you may at some point rethink your future investment.

If so what strategy is in place to make sure you can switch to new proviver, and/or a new Iphone or Android App, how easy will it be for you to switch to an alternate App, wait for its approval, and then persuade/force users to install it on their devices? Will you be providing a mobile-web alternative at some point?

Chris Sexton said...

Thanks for the comments/questions anonymous. The 15% figure is about 9 months old - chatting to a colleague at a similar University yesterday put the figure at 23%, and rising.

Most analysts are predicting that ownership of smart phones is set to rise, so I am confident that given our level of investment in this is so low, we have made a sensible decision. And if people aren't using them to access web sites, then that's confirmed our decision to go with an app rather than web based services is right as well. Don't forget, there is nothing available through this app (with the exception of the location based stuff) that isn't already there in our web portal.

I'm afraid I don't really understand your last point - sorry. New data can be added constantly without the need to download a new version. When a new version is released it will made available in the most appropriate way for the particular device - on the iTunes store for iPhones for example. Students will be free to download it if they want to. There's no intention to force them to do anything.
Hope that's answered it - let me know if it hasn't.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

How aware were / are you of a product called 'Mobile Central' that Blackboard are offering? It used to be called 'MobilEdu' and before that it was simply the iStanford App for iPhone.

It is very similar and was actually the first on the scene for this kind of mobile portal solution.

Did Sheffield strongly consider this alternative product before going with CampusM?

I'm sure at the time of you having talks with oMbiel, Blackboard had yet to acquire what was then 'MobilEdu'.

I came to the CampusM launch and was very impressed with the product, oMbiel seem to have got a head start somehow with British Universities whereas BB's Mobile Central is very much US based at the moment and I'm surprised to not have seen a Uni over here in the UK using Mobile Central yet.

They both have a similar subscription model too.

In summary there is very little to mark them apart and in my opinion with Blackboard's backing and a head start, Mobile Central, to me, looks a better option but only marginally.

One feature that does stand out that isn't in CampusM yet but that is in Mobile Central is a live Bus tracker using the GPS and map features.



Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

I'm a postgrad distance student (the MA New Literacies). Would the service be useful to me - e.g. would it allow me to participate in discussion boards and view course materials in MOLE?

Best, Tony (