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Mobile Strategy for Business Schools

June 2014

By Evanna Hu, CEO, g.Maarifa

Business schools understand the importance of mobile strategy in giving them the competitive edge in this ever technologized world. Especially in regions like the Middle East and Africa, where the mobile penetration rate is more than triple the Internet penetration rate (96% v. 29% in the Middle East and North Africa and 63% versus 16% in Sub-Saharan Africa), mobile is the de facto and most common platform to reach and educate students, faculty, and prospectives outside regular classroom hours.

Yet, despite knowing that business schools need a mobile strategy, many do not know how to do so, especially since mobile tech in business and management education is a very nascent, though growing, field. This was one of the main themes at the African Association of Business Schools Connect conference in Nairobi, Kenya last month, which gathered the deans and senior management of business schools with particular interest in Africa. We learned that before business schools jump into implementing a mobile strategy, they first need to ask themselves three main questions in the feasibility stage, some of which are region—and context—specific:

1. Local context: How is the local Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure? Are students commuting to school from nearby urban areas or do they spend a fairly large proportionate of them in rural/ "upcountry" areas? How expensive and accessible is mobile data for the target end users? In many developing countries, especially those on the African continent, these are vital questions as they can potentially exclude a majority portion of the target end users. These questions are necessary to determine the platform of the mobile strategy. Should the platform be SMS, Android app, or tablet app? Or a combination of the three based on segmentation?

2. Mobiles are complement, not supplement: We encounter a lot of business schools that shrink away from digital technology because they view it as a threat to their current in-person model. They see it as a replacement for classroom rooming. This attitude needs to change. In order to survive and thrive in the next few decades, business schools need to see mobile technology as a complement to their current model and structure. Beyond communication purposes, mobile devices are especially helpful as training and monitoring and evaluation tools for students outside the classrooms.

3. Monetization: when b-schools are thinking about mobiles, they want to use them to reach two critical groups of people: their paying students, i.e. internal, and the public who are not paying. It is when thinking of reaching out to the latter that monetization of the product becomes crucial. B-schools want to create a mobile product that will help them achieve their outreach goals but at the same time be able to charge the users to offset the costs of creating and maintaining the technology. How does one do so without sacrificing too many users who may not be able or willing to pay for it? B-schools need to ask themselves: What do they already do uniquely and well, or can do so cheaply, that can monetize through mass communication?

Most importantly, successful mobile technology involves all stakeholders. Mobile strategy impacts the entire business school ecosystem, and if the b-school is a part of the university system—the entire university ecosystem. In the feasibility study, b-schools need to include all stakeholders and players, from the IT department to the target end users, for as much of the process as possible in order to a) make them feel like they have ownership which increases usage of the tech once it is built; and b) to lower cost. Target end-users' need to be included in testing samples and beta tests in order to make sure that the user experience is optimal. Faculty needs to be included, especially if an open online model is an aspect of the strategy, since they are the ones entering in the content and evaluating the end users. Even engineering students from other parts of the university system should be asked to participate as they can give feedback—and even build—the technical side of the strategy.

Parallel to inviting participation of stakeholders, business schools need to determine if there is actual demand for the type of mobile strategy they wish to implement. This is the biggest and foremost question b-schools need to ask themselves. Do the target end users actually need and will use this mobile platform? What are their biggest needs and does the potential mobile strategy fulfill them? If so, what kind of technology do target end-users prefer? Only when the b-schools are sure there is need for specific mobile technology should they move forward to the next phase.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me at evanna@gmaarifa.com.