Smart Phones, Cars and UI for Campuses

by julia.hanigsberg | September 30th, 2013

I’m having a love/hate relationship with my car right now. On the love side, it really works for my life: big enough to haul kids, dog and gear; AWD for the barn and cottage in all weather; trucky feel without the trucky gas mileage.  On the hate side is the amount of money that it is sucking up on “routine” maintenance and the new and fancy doodads that the 2013s (never mind the 2014s!) have: keyless ignition; bluetooth; onboard camera and other safety (and fun) features.

My recent upgrade to iOS7 made me realize that we’ve been trained by our phones to expect change. We expect even our “old” (in tech that’s months not years right?) devices to get refreshed regularly. We have a pavlovian reaction to the icon that shows there’s a new app upgrade available on our phones: is it just bug fixes or some new cool feature that we’ll love/hate.

This new tech old tech divide is the problem with my car. There is no software upgrade that is going to rev up the user interface (UI) and when you plunk down the kind of money a car costs (even a relatively modest mom-mobile like mine) you want to drive it to the grave not to sell just to upgrade to something cooler. And gee, it’s now really THAT bad, right? So I’m stuck with legacy UI in my otherwise totally satisfactory vehicle. But I’m still not happy.

Have we become addicted to the upgrade?

University campuses epitomize legacy. We have old buildings, old facilities, oldish systems, oldish technology  and sometimes even old policies and old procedures. As I look at the ideas that Soapbox @ Ryerson surfaces to make us a better university, so many of them amount to a plea for better UI. For example, to paraphrase a bunch of ideas—can’t RAMSS be more like my Amazon shopping experience or my Starbucks app? Our researchers make different yet similar pleas—why is my state of the art one of a kind piece of equipment that is changing the face of x, y or z under a tarp because we’re repairing a ceiling after yet another Toronto flash flood?

As I try to develop solutions I’m faced with the problem of my car. Big sticker price, only minimal flexibility, and a certain nostalgic attachment—or maybe that’s just comfort with what I know vs a bit of fear of the unknown.

So what do we do? We attack the issues from a number of different angles:

  • we are looking at how to make ours a Smart Campus and Soapbox itself is an example—what can we explore in the DMZ that can make Ryerson better (eg Kira Talent, WhoPlusYou and others in the works);
  • we are expanding the capacity of RMobile (including thinking about how we can optimize with context aware computing to enhance accessibility);
  • we are pursuing the goals of our Master Plan by using landbanking and optimized density on the land we own to create more and better space and ensuring that what we build epitomizes design excellence and state of the art knowledge on the impact of design on people;
  • we are beautifying campus by taking moderately priced steps to make our university better looking as we explore longer term fixes;
  • we have made paperless process in our financial approvals, procurement and payment systems a priority and lead the way;
  • we are looking at how our technology and business process can be enhanced (eg the researchers portal we introduced last year).

Like my car, there are big, expensive, complex things that are harder and take longer to change but as we welcome a new Academic Plan this year, there will be more opportunities to see what we need to do to make RyOS 2, 3, 4 and on and on a reality.

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