February 25, 2014

Sparking Innovation with Mobility – Using mobility as the catalyst for innovation in higher education

There are now more mobile devices on the planet than people. Think about that for a second. It happened last year, 2013. By 2015, 81% of the all US cell phone users will be using some form of smartphone. It seems as if we have freed ourselves from our wired constraints and have started to vision how our lives (and businesses) can be enhanced by mobile technology. That is where innovation lives today, at the intersection of mobility and work/life.

With mobility as the rally point for next wave of innovation, I submit the formula below as the way to drive innovation inside or outside of education.

innovation platform = (mobile + cloud + social) * devops / vision


Providing unfettered access to information when and where the user wants it, that is mobile in the context of education. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, any innovative catalyst has to be mobile, as it is the main ingredient of any forward looking technology strategy. By thinking mobile-first and aligning your offerings and strategies toward the user and their experience you begin to spark the change in thinking around IT. No longer is IT thought of as a ‘public utility’ but it now becomes a ‘strategic driver’ for the business.

Mobile phones are misnamed. They should be called gateways to human knowledge.” — Ray Kurzweil


In less than 5 years Seton Hill’s computer infrastructure went from physical hardware in our datacenter to virtualized hardware in the same datacenter to a cloud based infrastructure that was built inside of the AWS Cloud. As you can see, we went from wired, to virtual+wired to cloud. Many people today are choosing to skip the intermediary step of on premises virtualization and migrate their data and applications directly to the cloud. With that leap of faith, these brave souls are realizing benefits that simply aren’t plausible in a wired world. The best part of being cloud-based is that you control your infrastructure through APIs. This feature alone helps build a culture around the concept of DevOps.

“Ultimately, the cloud is the latest example of Schumpeterian creative destruction: creating wealth for those who exploit it; and leading to the demise of those that don’t.” — Joe Weinman, Senior VP at Telx and author of Cloudonomics: The Business Value of Cloud Computing


Once you have untethered your users, and have provided them access to their data, a social context is not far behind. A perfect example of this was our moving from Microsoft Office & Exchange to Google Apps for Education. The savings from the hardware alone was enough to make a real business argument for the change. The real benefit was the spirit of collaboration it gave everyone. From students to faculty and staff, this new social context is used daily to engage with each other around their data and business processes.

And you thought I was going to talk about twitter. ☺


To thrive in tomorrow’s technology world you must adopt a DevOps mentality. With the current rapid pace of innovation in the educational technology space, this method of management lends itself perfectly to our formula. You need to be super agile, hyper lean and iterate quickly to multiply the effect of the three previous variables (mobile + cloud + social). Through a DevOps culture, the underlying transformation will provide you with the ability to align with your users’ needs.

If DevOps is a foreign concept, or you would like to read a work of fiction that will convey this concept very well, check out The Phoenix Project from Gene Kim; A novel about DevOps and the effects of it on IT and the business. I have recommended this book to techies and non-techies alike and all find value in its pages.

“The end goal of infrastructure as code is to perform as many infrastructure tasks as possible programmatically. Key word is “automation.”


It all comes down to how clear and focused your vision is. Better yet, does your organization have one vision for the strategy behind the application of mobile technologies? That is the reason I divide the equation by vision, there can be only one. If you divide by anything more, the top speed of your value engine will be diluted into mediocrity. It is pretty simple 3rd grade math.

When I think of vision I can’t help but think of Steve Jobs. A documentary about the start of NeXT computers featuring Jobs’s leadership called Steve Jobs Keeper of the Vision shows it best. Watch the video below and you will hear first-hand why one vision, and the constant reiteration of it, is imperative for success.


Steve Jobs explains the importance of one vision and the constant reiteration of it.

The end result of the above formula applied to Seton Hill University was their Mobile Learning @ The Hill Program. It has changed not only the way they teach and learn but how everyone interacts with data and each other.

My favorite key performance indicator (KPI) is how the students rate our application of technology and the support of it. For the past two years the Mobile Learning Program and our Solution Center (a much nicer way to envision your Help Desk) have been ranked #1 by our students.




#1 in the eyes of our students



About The Contributor:
Phil KomarnyCIO of Seton Hill University

Phil Komarny has been vice president for Computer and Information Technology at Seton Hill University where he served as the institutional catalyst in initiatives which positioned the school as a leader in strengthening learning through the use of mobile technology. In this role, Phil also provided daily support of the University’s entire technology infrastructure, developing new software and website applications and managing institutional use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and podcasts. In 2011, Komarny was selected by the Pittsburgh Technology Council in the non-profit category as a finalist for the CIO of the Year. Next month Phil is taking on a new role as CEO of Robots and Pencils, Inc.

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