Apple Apps on Mobile Campus Services, Reviewed

What does it really take for a college to create a mobile app? If you start with a pre-existing template and experienced programmers, two weeks ought to cover it....

When Amarillo College CIO Lee Colaw heard during an executive forum in September 2010 just how easy it was to set up Datatel's freely available Mobile Access (MOX) platform, he called up his IT staff during a break to ask how come they hadn't implemented it yet. After all, the institution had obtained the software in June. Their response: "It looks pretty challenging."

After all, only five other campuses had implemented the free app, which delivers school information on mobile devices. "Well, jeez. I want us to be the sixth in the country to do it," Colaw responded. That particular dream didn't quite come true; but just two weeks later, the college did complete its first generation of campus app with no real expense other than the value of the time of the in-house programmers who worked on it.

At the Heart of the MOX Mobile Platform 
The college has been a Datatel customer since the mid-1990s. Datatel Colleague, the company's flagship product, is a mission-critical application for enterprise resource planning of business transactions, including financial aid, enrollment, admission, and student records.

In mid-June 2010 the vendor released MOX, an application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that provides a number of campus apps, including a directory of campus services and departments; events and news; maps; and a function through a third-party app called DUB that allows users to exchange information with other users, keep contact details up to date, stay linked via social networking sites, and back up the mobile address book to a Web site. For users who can authenticate on the network, the app also integrates with school applications to provide more private information, such as details about courses; deliver notifications; and provide a directory of students, staff, and faculty.

According to Wayne Bovier, senior product manager for teaching and learning and mobile at Datatel, building mobile apps isn't nearly as difficult as the post-development work: distribution, maintenance, and upgrades. That's why, he said, he expects colleges and universities to adopt platforms such as the one from his company to address campus mobile needs. "Getting an app built the first time is fine," Bovier said. "Getting it out on phones and making sure it runs properly, on all the types of devices, then porting it to other devices, upgrading it when new versions of the operating systems come out, and 'QAing' it again, the question is: Does the school want to be a software company?"

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