Published on 2012/08/28
The process of developing a mobile web governance platform was a collaborative process that involved buy-in and participation from a number of key stakeholders. Image by iQoncept.

Evolving a Distributed Web Environment

At UCLA we have been forming, refining and evolving our campus mobile strategy for two and a half years. Very early on, we realized that we were going to need to allow our multi-faceted diverse community (prospective students, enrolled students, faculty, staff, alumni and emeriti) to continue to use the device of their choice to interact with the vast web and mobile web based resources that UCLA provides. This was long before the term BYOD—or Bring Your Own Device—which did not even exist in the fall of 2009. UCLA is a diverse and distributed environment where approximately only 20% of the IT staff report up to centralized campus units. According to a recent survey from the ISO (Information Security Officer)’s office, UCLA hosts sites at more than 1,500 independently-hosted Domains.

A Crowd-Sourcing Approach

Given our vastly-distributed web resources and IT culture taking a centralized approach to developing a centralized campus mobile presence seemed not only implausible, but almost impossible. Further, we realized that catering to specific vendor platforms was not conducive to our principle of embracing mobile diversity. Therefore we naturally gravitated towards the notion of crowd sourcing mobile development, enabled by a centrally hosted mobile web framework. This framework would be based on web standards (HTML5 and CSS3) and be available for any campus unit web developer that wanted to provide a mobile presence for their unit.

We studied the available frameworks in the winter of 2009 and early 2010, but found them to be too server-centric in application; only accepting data from disparate sources, but not embracing the notion of “networked” mobile web enabled sites linked together for a consistent user experience. So we embarked on creating our own such framework and called it MWF for Mobile Web Framework and were able to launch ‘UCLA Mobile’ (if you are on a web browser please click on preview to see the campus mobile web app) in the fall of 2010.

Organic Evolution of a Mobile Governance Process

Advocating for a campus mobile web strategy and building a Mobile Governance process at UCLA took a significant investment in resources and a healthy dose of patience. Our campus journey through this process illuminated three distinct stages in the effort required to establish a formal ‘Campus Mobile Governance’ process. The first phase is called ‘Engaging the Stakeholders’, the second phase is called ‘Forming a Campus Mobile Web Community’ and the third phase is ‘Defining the Governance Process’.

Engaging the Stakeholders

At UCLA, IT leadership has often involved forming a “coalition of the willing” with regard to moving forward into new technological arenas, especially when they are moving fast and rapidly evolving, as is the case with the mobile computing landscape today. Engaging campus stakeholders that have an interest in having a mobile presence, and advocating for a collaborative approach to a mobile web platform seemed at first a daunting endeavor. This early phase of the project, which can be categorized as “a planning phase” is a critical step in developing the pilot project’s goals and gaining project momentum, and is referred to as the “Engaging the Stakeholders” phase.

The stakeholders at each campus will differ as they are related to the organizational structure of each institution. However, for a first version of a campus mobile presence stakeholders will likely include communications, events, student affairs, the campus registrar and facilities, as well as housing & dining, the library, recreation and athletics. Keep in mind that timing of your effort is key and reaching out to each group—before a significant investment or commitment to an independent mobile strategy has been made—is critical.

In 2009, we knew that many of our stakeholders were considering what to do with regard to the creation of their mobile presence. The primary dilemma in this decision was whether to go native or mobile web. The pros and cons of a native mobile approach versus utilizing a mobile web framework were analyzed and many meetings were held with stakeholders to discuss this analysis and eventually we gathered broad support for a mobile web approach for the several reasons detailed below.

DEVICE AGNOSTIC: Taking an MWF distribution strategy leverages a BYOD culture and communicates to the broadest possible set of audiences.

TECHNOLOGY PLATFORM INDEPENDENCE: Campus stakeholders can leverage and utilize their already established websites (MWF is platform independent and works with Java, .NET, PHP, Ruby etc…)

GRACEFUL DEGREDATION: An MWF strategy provides browser code CSS libraries scripts and styling that take advantage of device-specific features, while employing the concept of ‘Graceful Degradation’ to sensibly and semantically serve the vast majority of devices (all that meet the least common denominator standard).

CAMPUS MOBILE PRESENCE: MWF enables and facilitates a Campus mobile presence, with one outward presence comprised of many individual modules. The framework shall provide resources that facilitate this unified identity, while leaving applications under the control of and hosted by their respective departments.

SECURITY: A mobile web approach provides web browser security (https), and is a proven way of providing formidable encryption protection for sensitive data.

STANDARDS BASED: Utilizing a mobile web framework approach (shared CSS code libraries) significantly reduces the maintenance of distributing content to mobile devices.

UCLA mobile launched in early September, 2010, and we have been evolving our mobile offering, expanding our collaboration since then.

Mobile Enabling Your Web Community

The second phase that emerged from this process focused on enabling a campus mobile web community where we worked to provide campus web developers with access to MWF development training. We invested in providing extremely detailed documentation on an open code repository (see the MWF github repository) and creating an engaging environment of open house sessions for developer camaraderie. We held MWF seminars and created a friendly environment for mobile newbies where developers could see demonstrations of how to use the MWF and be inspired to try to leverage it for their own needs. We also provided specialized training sessions when requested by data stakeholders but most importantly hosting a biweekly developers meeting that would allow developers to come together, collaborate and work on issues that they came across in developing and deploying mobile sites utilize the MWF.

As time went on, our efforts got shared across some UC events to our fellow UC campus IT teams, and by the spring of 2011, we were collaborating and working with more than half of the campuses in the UC System. We worked to share our experiences with establishing a Mobile strategy and governance process across our entire UC system and now meet monthly as the UC Mobile Collaborative Group or UC MCG.

The Evolution of the UCLA Mobile Governance Process

UCLA has a very established Academic IT Governance process. New academic IT initiatives travel through three layers beginning with the FCET (Faculty Committee on Educational Technology), moving on to the CSG (Common Systems Group) which includes an IT representative from each Dean or Vice Chancellor’s area and Finally ending up at the ITPB (Information Technology Planning Board).

The UCLA Mobile pilot project was well received by all three committees and moved through this governance process in the winter and spring of 2010.

Launching the ongoing phase of the Mobile Governance process actually happened quite organically at UCLA. Early on in our “Engaging the Stakeholders” stage we met with the current owner of the “m.” domain for the institution (that is to say m.ucla.edu). When asked if they would consider partnering with us to provide the campus with a mobile web set of tools that would live at the “m.” the group agreed stating that it was all ours if their organization could have a seat on our “Mobile Steering Committee”. Our answer was “Of Course” you can have a seat on our “just about to be formed” Mobile Steering Committee.

Rose Rocchio will be speaking on this topic at the Mobile Web Framework Conference at UC Los Angeles, running September 5-7. Please click here for more information.

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Readers Comments

Tyrese Banner 2012/08/29 at 6:14 am

I love the concept of taking the functional elements of an institution and putting them into a mobile system; on-the-go tuition payment and course selection should be available everywhere.

Do you think mobile learning is in the cards for the future?

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