Build the architecture for mobile

Scenario: Creating an interactive mobile environment that will last
Vince Kellen, CIO at the University of Kentucky

Our goal is to take the interactions our 26,000 students have with the university and enable as many of them as possible on a mobile device. We created a three-year mobile strategic plan, and we think this will enhance student engagement, leading to improved student retention and academic success. Today, students can use devices to access static information about campus life. Soon we will add access to grades, course registration and other interactions. We will also develop an app to make the learning-management platform accessible via BlackBerry, Android, iPad and iPhone.

Many IT teams take an existing portal and then enable it for mobile. Due to the sheer quantity of interactions, we are planning to do the opposite–design a portal that meets the needs of mobile users and then scale it for use on a PC. We feel that this approach could result in a much better interface for the mobile user. We also need to identify the right balance of what we do in a mobile Web interface versus a mobile installed application, and how to best integrate transactional data from ERP and other back-end systems. Skill development is another priority; we need to make sure that we have the right knowledge in the right roles to foster success in the mobile arena.

Advice: Secure the back end, Evaluate intensive tasks
Dennis Stevens, VP of Digital Solutions and Connectivity, Diabetes Franchise, Johnson and Johnson

Mobile apps are an important part of our disease-management program for diabetes patients who are monitoring blood glucose levels and need to get information anywhere at any time. When integrating our back-end systems, especially medical databases, we put a lot of effort into understanding requirements around data protection and security, and then confirming that they are in place for mobile. We look across the entire application architecture to make sure that our bases are covered on access points like Web browsers, PCs or mobile devices.

I agree with Vince’s idea of approaching mobile portals differently than simply taking the PC version and making it accessible on mobile devices. The user interface just doesn’t have the same amount of real estate, and you have to be much more selective about what you show and where you position it on the screen.

We start by creating one GUI for the Web, and then do that again to get the mobile version right. To determine which apps are client-installed and which are accessed via a browser, we use a decision matrix. My team considers things like the target user base and what they plan to do with the data. Viewing class schedules or checking sports scores could be done with a website; more UI-intensive tasks, like GPS, would require an installed app. The downside of installed apps is that you need to have a software-update and change-management strategy in place.

Advice: Secure the back end, Evaluate intensive tasks
Dave Corchado, CIO, iCrossing

Our company has a long history of building technology that runs across multiple platforms. We’re fortunate in that we have a mature Web development organization that has been very successful in the transition to mobile development. Having this expertise on hand is invaluable–all of our mobile work, including the work we’ve done on iPad and Android, is done by our internal teams. And skill development is not very difficult. The best part is that while there are many creative design elements to consider within mobile, a lot of the code will be built on familiar standards. Most of our work is currently being done in HTML5. For Android, we do a lot of Java.

We’ve tried a few ways to create portals for end users, but the best approach we’ve found is designing for PC and mobile access at the same time. We start by building our site for the Web while creating a design for mobile. This dual perspective ensures that you do not get caught in any design corners or dead ends when looking across platforms.

I have someone dedicated to these types of projects: Shiva Vannavada is our VP of rich media technology. He has established a model for creating a portability framework, which is essentially a content hub. The hub supports multiple frameworks for its output, but doesn’t contain any services itself. This hub can have any number of outputs, including mobile. This model scales well for any number of device types.

Kellen, Stevens and Corchado are all members of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO’s publisher. To learn more, visit

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