Three Questions Higher Ed schools should ask before building a mobile app

Building a custom mobile application and web portal for institutions isn’t a new solution. In-fact many higher educational institutions have been able to set-up their own home made mobile solutions to deliver their educational services to all their stakeholders; Students have mobile access to Virtual Learning Environments, instant Push Notifications, Platforms to facilitate student social communities and academic collaborations, alumni community to promote career development & networking, and much more.

The needs of a 21st century educational institution is numerous and keeps growing, creating an ever-expanding requirement of technology solutions. However, this creates multiple problems for the users who need these solutions but are burdened with the desire for an easy mobile access to these platforms, a single seamless experience weather they access the solutions via a mobile device or their computers and of course the ability to create their own custom experience while accessing these educational tools.

However, these institutions have come to face some critical issues that threaten a disruption of their mobile solution. In my encounters with IT leaders and technology directors of higher-ed schools, their concerns, questions and requirements uncover these problems before going headlong into development.

Here are three concerns and critical questions usually asked by forward thinking educational institutions who want to develop and deploy their own custom mobile app

  1. Single Sign-on (SSO) Requirement — We want our students to be able to sign into all our platforms with a single login.
    With various technology solutions (A previous post gives insight to the 3 core pillars of an education institution’s IT department) institutions do have the need to sign on once and to all other platforms, as a critical requirement.The solution to this is a cloud based SSO implementation which allows the user to navigate between several applications without having to re-enter his/her identification details. Building a mobile app with an SSO integration is essential requirement and solves the authentication request from multiple user management systems.
  2. How do we keep the App updated ?
    New Features: like any other app, mobile app for schools need to be kept up to date and relevant, but unlike other verticals, the edtech sector experiences rapid development and changes to solutions. This combined with the most dynamic age group of technology consumers results in the need to be up to date. If given feedback, the technical innovations department of a higher-ed school soon finds out that students require more specific functions for theirs school app or that some of the existing features are not useful.
    Re-coding and updating the app from the data back end can be expensive and there are chances for a lot of things to go wrong hence breaking the users experience.
    Secondly, Updates occur quite consistently and frequently on iOS and Android OS, from entire OS upgrades, to patches and security fixes. These updates can either break functions on applications or render them obsolete, if not properly managed.In response, a solution that employs the use of a middle ware cloud tools solves the problem with feature updates or OS updates. Middle-ware systems provides an architecture that puts a layer in-between the app back-end & data source and the final user of the application. This layer is robust and effective, delivering agility in updates, reducing long-term costs and improving cycle efficiency. The frequent updates to OS are also taken care of by the 3rd party service provider.
  3. Security — How are we protected from external threats?
    Security is a major concern which is usually glossed over as taken care of, however, over 83% of mobile apps fail in the test for 2 critical security risks -Binary and Transport Layer Protection Application — Arxan’s 5th Annual State of Application Security Report.The results of a less than ideal security measure implementation are app tampering, privacy violations and data-theft — most which an attacker can achieve if the app can be de-compiled into a readable source code. With binary protection measures in place — SSL Pinning, Code Obfuscation, Root Detection, & Tamper Protection an android mobile app can be secured. Transport Layer Security (TLS) is essential for privacy and data integrity especially in mobile apps for schools that require numerous transfer across different application platforms and servers. Since January 2017, Apple stores require that all apps be based on the Applications Transport Security (ATS) which requires a TLS 1.2. Also, the latest Android OS support TLS 1.2.

I find that each institution has its unique needs based on the type of technology solutions in place, size of school, number of campuses and custom solutions. However, the above three are common concerns to all institution looking to build a custom mobile application.


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