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No App for That: Going Mobile via the Web

Southeastern Louisiana University has launched an optimized website to provide its students with mobile access to records, finances, schedules, and more.

With the release of its Total Mobile Access service this summer, Southeastern Louisiana University made a clear statement of where it stands on the question of whether to go the app route or develop a mobile-optimized website instead. “It’s not an app; it’s so much more than an app,” said Mike Asoodeh, assistant vice president for technology of the 15,000-student university in Hammond, LA.

Using any smart device--or a PC for that matter--students at Southeastern can now access their grades, their tuition costs and fees, their financial-aid awards, class schedule, a future-class planner, and an enrollment shopping cart that enables them to add or drop classes.

"Our students expect to be able to transact business and communicate via their mobile phones and other web-linked devices," noted Asoodeh. "Access for the students must be very easy, it must be reliable, and it must be secure. And when they do access our system, we don't want them to have a long wait."

The new optimized website actually comes hot on the heels of an iPhone app that the university developed in-house and released only a month earlier. While Southeastern will continue to support the app, all of its features will be folded into the new web-based service. And Asoodeh does not appear to be in a hurry to add more apps to the inventory.

"The app method may now be seen as limited in what you can do compared with a web-optimized version," he noted. One reason is the management of updates and upgrades: The user needs to install an app and then download updates from the vendor's site as they are released. "The updates do not reach the user until the user physically takes action to update their version of the app." explained Asoodeh. "This creates the possibility of having users on multiple versions of the app."

On a mobile-optimized platform, on the other hand, updates are immediate and require no downloads. In addition, many app-specific features can now be leveraged through a mobile-optimized version.

Soon after rolling out its iPhone app in March, Southeastern began working with HighPoint Technology Solutions in Miami to develop its Total Mobile Access strategy, using a combination of operating and tech-fee funds to pay for the system. "We recognized the growing demand for this type of service, especially among our students," said Asoodeh.

HighPoint had already built its Mobile Application for PeopleSoft ERP Suite, and was on course to receive Oracle Validated Integration certification of its solution. "Since we run all three PeopleSoft pillars [Campus Solutions, Human Capital Management, and Financial Management], HighPoint was the logical choice," Asoodeh noted. "We felt using a product that was supported by a vendor, and validated by Oracle, was in the best interests of the university. We were able to deploy the first phase of the project in just three weeks."

Security Issues
Despite highly publicized concerns about security on a mobile-enabled campus, Asoodeh is confident that the new service does not increase his institution's vulnerability to attack.

 "Students and faculty have been using the web for years through WiFi to connect remotely to the same information," he noted, adding that Southeastern is expanding its WiFi coverage, working more with cell providers, and bringing WiMAX on campus through an agreement with Clearwire. "The privacy issues are, therefore, similar to those of a PC. We need to make sure the channels we use to exchange information are secure, and that the necessary steps are taken to prevent unauthorized access. This, again, is very similar to the theft or loan of a PC.

"The same standard protocols which already exist for web applications are in place for our web solution. Also, HighPoint has implemented web and product-specific protocols to maintain secure connections and deter hacking. Some of these protocols include SSL encryption, Force https, and steps to prevent SQL injection. Not many universities have implemented mobile access systems that address as many functions as we have, but using the web to access system information is not new. The biggest difference is the vehicle that is being used to display that information."

100,000 hits and growing
In the brief time that it has been up and running, the Total Mobile Access service has far exceeded even the university's expectations. "When we introduced our service, we anticipated it would be a popular feature," said Asoodeh. "We did not, however, expect nearly 100,000 hits from mobile devices in the one-month period from July 22 to August 21."

The most popular mobile device using the service during that period was the iPhone (55,300 visits), followed by the Android (with 32,800 visits), and the iPad (with 7,200 visits). And even with 100,000 hits and growing, the new system is able to handle the traffic "with little difficulty," claimed Asoodeh.

"This will be an ongoing project for us," he concluded. "The first phase--which includes the HighPoint implementation--will be completed before year end."

About the Author

Toni Fuhrman is a writer and creative consultant based in Los Angeles.

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