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UC Berkeley Campus Mobile Computing Strategy

August 17, 2010 (v. 1.35)
William Allison

Mobile device and application use on campus will continue to proliferate whether or not UC Berkeley forms a strategy. Roughly 50% of students and faculty own Internet-capable mobile devices, according to recent surveys of the UC Berkeley student and faculty populations by the California Digital Library, and a survey of students in the Residential Halls. This matches a broad trend that will find mobile surpassing all other modes of Internet access by 20131 .


UC Berkeley could choose not to develop a strategic campus response to mobile computing. But in that case, the University community would respond to the opportunities and requirements of the new technology with ad-hoc investments. These will prove disconnected and uncoordinated, and as the 2010 Bain Diagnostic report clearly showed, this type of response increases future aggregate costs, elevates institutional risk, and misses the opportunity for real innovation due to lack of scale and funding in our approach.

It is time to engage stakeholders across campus now, and the UC Berkeley IT Strategic Working Group has established the following as the main pillars of the campus mobile strategy:

1. Leveraged Approach

By applying the key principle of taking approaches that opt for products and services with larger intended customer bases, and which federates the needs of larger groups of stakeholders rather than the more customized approaches in which each group chooses a custom solution tailored exactly to their perceived needs, the University will be able to do more overall, with less risk and lower costs. Whenever possible the UC Berkeley mobile strategy will be to achieve the best return on campus mobile investment by implementing work done by other UC campuses, provisioning our mobile services on existing open source or commercial third-party platforms, and by harnessing the power of established user and developer communities. The working group has studied approaches other universities and campuses have followed, and we believe UC Berkeley can build on successes while avoiding the often-subtle pitfalls.


When developing mobile services, UC Berkeley should use a consortium-based or cross-UC approach over local development. Explore cost-benefit analysis on the use of commercial mobile platforms, keeping in mind vendor lock-in and privacy/security considerations. The workgroup specifically recommends against device-specific developmentsuch as iPhone or Android applications in favor of use of broader, device agnostic standards such as HTML53 .

2. Pragmatic Mobile Presence

Any campus mobile strategy will require a sensible, cost-effective primary University mobile presence, which is a mobile corollary to the main University website, in the form of a portal or main entry point to which smartphone users are directed and which provides a set of services and information targeted to the mobile population. The mobile site should optimize the user interface to different classes of device so that users have a more consistent experience than they would viewing an organization’s main website, which is more optimized for a desktop browser4 .


In light of principle #1 (Leveraged Approach), the working group believes that UC Berkeley should explore a standards-based approach in partnership with other UC campuses5, coming to agreement on how to manage governance and roadmap so that all participating institutions' mobile sites share a codebase (localized/branded by configuration). This effort should be pursued via ITLC, in the context of the regental efficiency directive (pdf) for the campuses to begin using shared systems.

3. Web Application Mobile Requirements

In addition to the primary campus mobile website, campus should set clear guidance for when and how other campus websites and systems support mobile users. Enterprise (significant, critical, widely used) applications should be available where appropriate via a mobile interface.


The IT Strategy working group should begin to develop a framework for mobile requirements, and, in consultation with service providers on campus, assess how their applications should support mobile devices, and ensure mobile plans are incorporated into the service roadmaps for campus systems. Additional work should be done by the Office of the CIO's Strategic Technology Acquisition office and the campus IT Architecture Committee to develop common language as a part of current IT strategic sourcing work to use in technology and systems Requests for Proposal (RFP) to score applications based on mobile capability and to limit adoption of systems that do not meet minimum standards for mobile support.

4. Mobile Platform Innovation

As a campus, while it is important for UC Berkeley to have some basics in place like a primary mobile presence and application standards, with the intellectual and creative resources of our staff, academic and student populations, UC Berkeley is well positioned to go beyond this minimum. The question is how campus should innovate responsibly – within our means and without overreaching our focus to the point where we do not deliver the minimally required services adequately.


The partial answer to this is to establish a process for fostering campus innovation by making regular, small investments in emerging, exciting and potentially game changing technologies. Berkeley must plan to continually invest in implementing innovative platforms that can be provisioned and used as part of the academic and research mission or to engage the greater UC Berkeley academic, student alumni, or administrative communities in experimentation on the platforms. The Office of the CIO should act as a focal point for small innovation investment grants, to support the interests of campus stakeholders such as University Relations, the Office of the Registrar, Student Affairs, Cal Performances, Public Affairs, and academic departments (to name a few).

In addition to experiments with new technologies around mobile devices, UC Berkeley should be involved in the national and international discussions on the role of mobile computing, implications for privacy and security, and tying the campus mobile IT strategy to the University's academic mission, including engaging faculty and students in these questions.

5. Data Freedom Initiative

One of the most significant activities Berkeley can undertake to promote the development of third-party mobile applications that will benefit the University is to expand the availability of non-sensitive data sets and APIs. One of the largest barriers to third parties seeking to make mobile applications is lack of access to data, and/or data available via proprietary formats and reports which cannot be easily opened up to applications. Developing a program to expedite the release of such data will directly enable innovation and sustainable development outside the institution.


We recommend that a working group reporting to the Institutional Data Governance team be deployed to foster the release of non-sensitive, potentially interesting data sets that can be harnessed via mashups and by third parties developing mobile applications6.


Please send any feedback to:


1 See for example:
and the mobile section of Educause's 2010 Horizon Report .

2 Please consult with ITAC before engaging in device-specific development.

3 In addition to practical/sustainability concerns with supporting native device apps, it is likely that many mobile Internet users may not have the best phones, which argues in favor of an approach that supports high-end devices while gracefully degrading for lesser devices.  This is especially important for UC Berkeley if we're trying to be inclusive to underserved populations.  On this, see: .

4 The long-term trends indicate a gradual erosion the distinctions between mobile devices and the desktop experience.  Tim Bajarin of PC Magazine wrote a good article on this: Why Screen Size Matters .

5 UCLA presented their standards-based mobile site, and philosophy at the UCCSC 2010 conference, which is online: ; download the Elluminate plugin when prompted and then fast forward to about 22:05 which is the beginning of Eric Bollens' presentation.  The UCLA mobile team has written up their rationale and more background on the approach taken for the UCLA mobile website, including a demo mobile site .

6 The federal government ran a contest with $25,000 in prize money provided by Sunlight Labs to reward the best applications that could be built with data from We should explore similar enabling steps here, and push for more data to be released with standards about the format so it can be harnessed by groups like .