Preparing for Mobile: Supporting institutions in a mobile world.

I recently facilitated a workshop at the Institutional Web Managers Workshop (#IWMW12) entitled: Preparing for Mobile. This is a slightly delayed (by holiday) write up of the event and some of the things I took away from the session.

The aims of the session were:

  1. to share some of the resources JISC (and others) have developed for institutions attempting to understand, and adapt to ubiquitous mobile devices;
  2. give delegates an opportunity to share their current practice, experiences and tips, and finally;
  3. provide JISC with a perspective on how mobile is being addressed in institutions and its impact.

I began the session with a presentation of some of the resources and work JISC has done on mobile within a teaching, learning and research context.


Delegates were then invited to discuss the issues and experiences they have had in groups. The groups were arranged around four themes: content (this was a self-forming group by the delegates themselves); strategy; design and delivery; tools and techniques.

After a period of discussion, each group was asked to present back for 3 minutes on their discussions to the whole group, outline their top 3 tips for their area and their top disruptor for HE in terms of ‘mobile’.

Content (is King)

Content remains the bedrock of what web managers do in terms of their day-to-day job: The technologies and strategies may change, but delivering the content does not.

Content tips:

  • You can use mobile as a driver for content change; its another driver to push clean, consistent user friendly content.
  • Speed is no longer the issue, its the data. The costs of data access is high. Big images, fat videos, think carefully when delivering content.
  • Let your content be free! Rather than lock it away, do everything possible to make it accessible by the user through whatever device or entry point they choose.

Content disruptor

The seduction of delivery distracts us from the content. Content is King.

Strategy

It was generally agreed that any strategy development should look beyond just mobile to a broader e-strategy or similar. But there is an urgency in institutions getting this right – access via mobile devices is growing exponentially.

The strategy group were also very clear about the need to engage and understand users. It was clear any strategy needs to begin with an understanding of the user and work from there.

Strategy tips

  • Utilise responsive web design rather than native web apps. If your institution gives you lots of money for app development use it to train the team in responsive design instead!
  • Choose open formats
  • Give users choices between web or desktop – don’t assume they’ll only want the mobile version.

Strategy disruptor(s)

Unhappy being restricted to just one, the group came up with three!

  1. HTML CSS future web techs will remove need for most native apps.
  2. Network speeds, cost will change things
  3. Apples standards become the de facto standards; watch it carefully

Design and Delivery

It was clear that for most of the delegates mobile was something they were ‘dipping their toes into’. This meant that few had useful strategies for adapting to the growing importance of mobile access and most mobile delivery was being done on an ad hoc basis.

Design and Delivery tips

  • Understand and engage your users; understand what they use, how they use it;
  • Test on real devices, not just emulators, speed etc will be different;
  • There is a need for a clear and joined up strategy (that goes beyond mobile).

Design and delivery disruptor

Devices beyond mobile (the new desktop?): Impact of users accessing institutional content via plasma screens, Google tv (already get Xbox, PS3). What’s a TV anyway….?

Tools and Techniques

Much of the decisions being made on tools for delivering content are based upon the CMS that’s currently employed by the institutions.

The group also made it clear that as a sector we borrow from each other a lot (and there is always the need for those outliers and cutting-edgers). So it’s important to look out beyond the institution for support and advice, especially via blogs.

Tools and techniques tips

  • Share work early;
  • plug into the community, there’s lots of sharing between web managers;
  • Do well structured HTML and CSS if you’re going to do mobile.

Tools and techniques disruptor

There will be something cross-platform that will disrupt all our current tools – something finally to end the debates and disagreements about formats etc.

  Many thanks to my colleague Amber for helping facilitate the session and taking wonderful notes and photos!