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What's In, What's Out

Technology trends in the year to come
University Business, Sep 2010


At the start of each new year, we try to challenge conventional “business as usual” thinking with the question of how technology and other forces will disrupt “What’s In” as well as dictate “What’s Out” over the next 12 months. Disruption of the status quo via technological innovation can occur as a result of many forces, including necessity: we must change to survive; institutional budget realities; extraneous events; government and legal mandates; and new leadership. All of these forces are alive and well at Drexel University (Pa.).

The biggest disruptive technological force over the past decade has been the move from “assets to access.” One no longer needs to own assets?data centers, servers, storage, or applications?to take advantage of high-tech services. Access to the internet is all that is required, with resources and applications a “click” away.

Institutions, corporations, and even governments are busy following the lead of the consumer accessing new applications and moving as quickly as possible to the “cloud.” Interestingly, many university departments across the world have not yet adopted these “new realities” and still struggle in today’s resource-constrained environment, delivering e-mail, web-based services, and other homegrown applications as they have done since the late ’80s.

One no longer needs to own assets to take advantage of high-tech services.

Student consumers--yes, students are consumers--have led this technological revolution. Internet “whiz kids,” often in college, have understood access is all that is needed to invent and innovate new application services. The billionaire list (before they’re 30) includes Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google), Steven Chen (YouTube), and Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Hughes (Facebook). All have built consumer (and corporate) applications simply requiring internet access and a little intuition.

If you have ever used Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, or Travelocity to book travel; Amazon to buy books or eBooks; Hotmail or Gmail for e-mail services; or Google, Bing, or Wikipedia to research a topic, you have used application services via access without regard to the assets--where or how--to deliver them. Furthermore, the individual selection of application services quietly remains under the radar from those that may be “prescribed” by the institution.

So, what’s in as we move to the second decade of the 21st century?

Today’s students (and a growing number of staff) are digital and virtual natives. They expect 24/7/365 access to everything; instant availability of communication, information, and the social scene--wired and tired. They are expecting a quick response to anything asked and anything needed. Students will no longer rely on institutions or even colleagues to provide the tools to facilitate information consumption. The trend will be to expect the institution to respond to the priorities and choices that they, as individuals, have set.

Desktop machines have become anachronisms because place is no longer meaningful?the priority is having access to just about anything from anywhere. Today’s students carry fewer devices but enjoy increasing levels of interaction, connectivity, speed, and functionality. Their lives are integrated into the systems to which they enjoy instant and constant access. Their personal approach and unbounded mobility enable them to remain connected and engaged, almost without restriction?and that is the way they want it.

Smart phones, iPads, eBooks, and Netbooks have become the norm as numerous vendors (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and new upstarts such as Clear and LightSquared) compete to provide 4G access to support the exponentially growing demand for bandwidth. Interestingly, two years ago, we predicted the slow demise of Wi-Fi as EVDO, 4G, and other carrier offerings provided connectivity from virtually any place. Today, however, Wi-Fi is a normal offering on most mobile devices, including smart phones with carriers actually subsidizing “hot spots” as a strategy to offload traffic from their clogged networks.

It’s all about individual cafeteria-style application selection and consumption. A viable student question for 2011: “Will I be able to get my physics course as an app, and will it only cost me 99 cents?” or students will want it from Netflix University at $7.99 a month. Unreasonable request? Unthinkable? Not going to happen? Actually the business model, technology, and infrastructure are in place today. If Drexel does not provide it, maybe another institution will. Students will find the app they want somewhere and their app search could just as easily be about their courses as it is about their games and their music.

The exponential growth in the mobile app realm has been nothing short of astounding?and there is no end in sight. Apple’s iPhone and iPad have piqued the interest of consumers and developers alike -- no small feat in today’s multidimensional and globalized business environment. If consumers come, developers will build it. Though just over three years old, the iPhone currently has more than 200,000 apps (a number obsolete before it is even put in print), and there are already thousands of apps for the iPad, a device that’s a mere five months old.

Google has chimed in and launched the Chrome Web Store to distribute apps, and others will soon follow. Many mobile apps already exist for student services, information, course catalogs, and campus directories, to name a few. DrexelOne mobile was an early innovation in 2002 with class schedules, grades, and financial holds. This year will see a new launch of smart phone apps. With more and more institutions reacting quickly to heightened student expectations, the result will be a veritable smorgasbord of app choices where students will load up what they need and reject the rest.

With personal choice comes personal marketing. When individuals are empowered to install the apps and features they want and need, the marketers and new age marketing strategies cannot be far behind. When Apple’s iPad launched, makers of the Kindle, Nook, Slate, Kobo, Sony Reader, and Samsung eReader reacted swiftly; some exited the market while others discounted their prices and enhanced their devices. Every day, device owners are bombarded with e-mails and offers for additional downloads and uses.

The iPhone has stirred competition in the smart phone market with Google Android offerings on Motorola, Samsung, and HTC platforms. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile seem to have a new product offering weekly. The iPhone has already moved to its second-generation product.

To a growing extent, institutions like Drexel no longer make the choices about what technology assets will be provided to students. Students are mashing up their own personal device environments, and their capabilities are changing almost daily. Drexel’s role is to focus on strategies and features that facilitate access?ubiquitous, high speed, and always available.

So what’s in as we move to the second decade of the 21st century? Mobility, unlimited low cost, or free apps and choice. The individual rules!

John Bielec is vice president for Information Resources and Technology and CIO at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

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