What to Do When Everyone on Campus Wants to Make an App: Managing App Proliferation

Submitted by on Wed, 09/14/16

You know what they say – “There’s an app for that.”

The last few years have seen a proliferation of mobile apps across industries, market segments, and all areas of life. In fact, we now spend 87% of time our time on mobile in apps. Young adults are even more connected than their more mature counterparts – spending, on average, 90 hours per month in mobile apps. What’s clear is that with 86% of young adults owning smartphones, mobile apps are a must-have means of connecting with current and future university students.

A challenge that many schools face however, is that because apps are so effective for student engagement, everyone wants in.

Admissions staff want to share school highlights, details about various programs, and deadlines.

Student Affairs staff want to inform students about clubs, organizations, resources, and events.

Individual clubs and organizations want to promote their own activities and membership.

Various academic departments want to share department news and student accomplishments.

Alumni relations wants to keep former students connected to their alma mater and provide an easy way for them to give back.

Major events like New Student Orientation, Commencement, or Homecoming may all warrant their own apps to keep students and visitors organized.

The list goes on.

There are two likely results here. One is that each of these groups brings their request for a presence in the university’s campus app to it’s central managers—usually the IT department. The other is that each of these groups goes out on their own, seeking a way to create a standalone app representing their specific needs. Each of these paths has their own associated benefits and challenges.

One app or many apps?

Many Standalone Apps

Individual departments around campus may elect to create and deploy a standalone app representing only the information they wish to share with their particular campus community. This method is often seen as the quicker option avoiding the involvement or IT or other teams around campus. Additionally, this option is a way to create content for very specific types of users—such as new students or alumni—enabling campus stakeholders to communicate with these groups through highly targeted communications.

However this method will often result in departments purchasing template-based, quick-app builders that enable them to avoid requesting IT resources in order to create their app. Design options are limited, and content needs to be entered on a one-off basis. If the app was created for a specific event— such as Orientation—typically the app disappears when the event ends and can’t be referenced at a later time.

This option also brings challenges for generating app awareness: asking students to download multiple apps for one-off campus events or organizations will definitely take some marketing effort.

A Single Unified App

In lieu of many disparate apps across one school, the campus as a whole may decide to deploy unique modules inside a single campus app, representing the varying departments that wish to be involved. Ultimately, this option creates a seamless experience for students, who know that every campus resource they seek is available within the one campus app they already have and use.

In a single unified app, individual modules can easily draw on central data feeds and information that are already present in the app. Let’s say you want to reach prospective students with an app for admissions and you need to include campus maps showing the location of the admissions office and key campus buildings. With the admissions module integrated into the main campus app you can easily connect to the existing campus map and highlight your key locations, avoiding having to recreate a mapping feature as you would in a standalone app. The same is true of integration with any other campus data and feeds, such as shuttle schedules, indoor maps, social, news and calendar feeds.

Campus-wide apps also can contain multiple versions for different campus locations or user roles, such as current students, faculty, and alumni. Unique experiences can be created for each version, while utilizing the centralized data and content that already exists in the app. Push notifications or in-app banners can also be targeted just to specific locations or roles.

But what about that IT bottleneck we were hoping to avoid?

Today many app assembly platforms not only have the ability to delegate permissions so that stakeholders across campus can contribute to app development, but they also make it so easy that any non-coders or non-technical team members—even students—can participate.

Delegation and Governance

Delegation is critical to efficiency and success in the single-app model. By empowering each team that wants an app presence to be able to easily create their portion within the app, IT is not bogged down with requests for development or deployment.

With so many parties getting involved in app creation though, things have the potential to become a bit unruly. So, how do you manage it?

This issue, in part, harkens back to the early days of school websites. Everyone wanted to participate, and everyone wanted their interests front and center. The same issues are present in today’s university apps.

One way to handle the multitude of requests and competing priorities is by forming a governance or steering committee that can establish policies that determine which content exists where within the school’s app, while keeping the student’s needs in mind.

A governance committee can also bear responsibility for training other departments on how to use the app assembly platform, and work to maintain guidelines around design, branding, content, and styles.

One successful model for full campus participation in a single app is the University of Notre Dame. At the 2016 Kurogo Conference, Matt Willmore, mobileND Program Manager, at Notre Dame presented “Engaging Other Campus Stakeholders to Build a Whole Campus App,” where he shared how Notre Dame encourages app participation from around campus, while maintaining an organized process. For starters, it was important for the app management team to remind interested participants of the value of their participation in balance with the interest of the users—the students. From there, the app management team works with participating departments to construct a content plan, and build a skeleton structure for their module. This is followed by training each department on how to build and maintain their module, and ultimately the launch and promotion of the new modules. Their advice? Focus on how departments can better serve their users, and talk to the campus community – what do they want from their app?

Another school practicing the single-unified app model is Colgate University whose Communications Office creates modules for their many campus events, freeing up IT to focus on other things. Any student group or organization can request that their event be included in the app. In these cases, Communications will vet the event and determine which information to include in the app—primarily actionable and glanceable information that can be easily consumed on the go.

In Summary

While creating individual apps department-by-department may seem like the simplest, or quickest, way to get a variety of content into the hands of students, the benefits of investing in whole-campus participation within a single flagship app far outweigh the seemingly quick-and-easy option.

A single, unified campus app that encourages participation from around campus ensures that the end-users—the students and other campus community members—will be able to access all of the information and resources they need with just a few taps in one single place. Not only is  it easier to market one app, it also becomes a critical communication channel because the whole community is working off one one app.

By establishing a process, determining who will oversee the overall app development process, and choosing an app assembly platform that empowers users across campus, schools can create a deeply rich, content-varied, and extremely useful campus app.


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