University Leverages Mobile App to Keep Students Connected
By Jeff Goldman
Stacey Bocard, senior programmer/analyst at ISU, says the university settled on Pyxis Mobile’s solution specifically because of its multi-platform approach -- ISU's biggest concern in heading into the process of application development, Bocard says, had been how to meet the challenge of supporting a wide range of mobile platforms. “If we’d had to do it ourselves, trying to do it across different operating systems, across different devices, we’d still be working on it -- and it wouldn’t have been maintainable,” she says.
The initial deployment took three months from start to finish. Thanks to Pyxis Mobile’s WYSIWYG interface, Bocard says, ISU is able to handle all maintenance and updates internally -- all changes to the app are now handled by students working in ISU’s communications and marketing offices.
Chris Willis, Pyxis Mobile’s executive vice president in charge of marketing and strategic alliances, says that’s a key differentiator for the company. “In the enterprise-grade mobile space, we’re one of the only ones that allows a customer to use the tools themselves,” he says. “And what customers get out of that is the ability to own and control their own experience, and to build agility into their process so they can listen to feedback from customers and users and build that into next builds without incurring huge costs -- and all of these things were what ISU was really looking for.”
The biggest challenge ISU faced during the deployment, Bocard says, was getting the app itself into Apple’s App Store, the Android Market, and BlackBerry App World. “We started in November of 2010, and the last day of January  is when we deployed for Android, then a few weeks later for BlackBerry -- and Apple followed,” she says.
Tara Singer, ISU’s assistant vice president for communications and marketing, says marketing the app to the students -- making them aware of its existence -- was also crucial. “Just because you have it, not everybody is going to immediately download it … so we issued a media release, we sent out a whole lot of e-mails, and we did several interviews with the student newspaper,” she says. “We also purchased an advertisement in the student newspaper, we announced it through ISU Today
, our faculty/staff system, and we’ve showed it off at practically everything we can -- it's in this year’s viewbook
for our prospective students, and it was talked about at new student orientation.”
There have been more than 4,300 downloads of the app thus far, Singer says, which means that well over of a third of ISU’s campus population has it downloaded to their mobile device. The next step, she says, will be to develop a new version of the app for prospective students and their parents. “It’s going to be two different apps -- they'll look and feel very similar, but the menu choices will be different,” she says.
Key app functionality includes the Place feature, which offers maps of all university buildings and administrative offices, along with access to driving, biking and walking directions. “We even have included the parking lots, which is unusual for mapping, since they don’t have an address, but we used the latitude and longitude and were able to pull that off as well -- and it appears to be used quite a bit,” Bocard says.
The Directory lists contact information for faculty staff and students, the Athletics section lists schedules and information on every sports at ISU, and the Courses feature allows students to search by school, subject and course to view course information, instructor and availability. “We also have ISU News, we have a Feedback section … and we have an Emergency section that, fortunately, we’ve seen hasn’t been used that much,” Bocard says.
The university recently added a new Links feature, which uses space on the app’s home page that was previously used for a university newsreel. “What we found, using the Pyxis monitoring tool, was that the students didn’t really use the newsreel so much -- so we put that behind the ISU News feature, and we added a Links section,” Bocard says. “That’s an area for items that have a short shelf life, like NCAA basketball. Back in March, we had qualified for the NCAA, and we wanted to put something out there -- but once NCAA was over, we wanted to remove it.”
In monitoring app usage, Bocard says the level of detail provided by Pyxis Mobile’s reporting services has been particularly useful. “It allows us to see by device, by user -- we can even get down to the user ID, see exactly where they’re going with the application, what they’re using, what the most popular operating system is, and what the most popular device is,” she says.