How it’s Done: Redesigning the KSUMobile App

By Jordan King
Dec. 01, 2017

By now it’s clear that Systems Development and Innovation is hard at work developing new products at what seems like a nearly impossible rate. With over 4,000 people using the KSUMobile app on the Apple iOS and Android platforms, in particular, and with an average 70 new users each day, it’s also very clear that people across campus rely on these products as the dependable utilities that they are.

Yet, SDI feels it’s time to update the KSUMobile app for one outstanding reason.

Historically, SDI’s Mobile Applications Development team has had to work through native development for the KSUMobile app, meaning that for any new changes, features, or functionalities they wanted to add, they would have to develop the app twice--once for iOS devices and once for Android--and traditionally one of the two has lagged behind on featuresets as a result.

But since switching all web application development to the new Outsystems platform in late 2015, SDI’s Mobile team will soon be able to make adjustments to the app in one spot that works for both iOS and Android formats. And, as SDI can attest, the effects of such a switch will be nothing short of game-changing.

“This will allow SDI be more agile in our releases and respond more quickly to change requests,” provides Michael Papania, Project Manager of Team Rapid Applications and Mobile within SDI.

As the Mobile team explains, this new accommodation will allow them to develop more quickly, share new features more rapidly, and provide updates at a rate that was just not previously possible--all the same areas the OutSystem platform has delivered on, via other various projects.

“This will allow SDI be more agile in our releases and respond more quickly to change requests.”

The Process

As for how to specifically implement this, Sameer Jaleel, Interim Executive Director of Systems Development and Innovation and Product Owner for KSU Mobile, explains, “It is vital that we streamline our major systems of engagement, such as the FlashLine portal and the KSUMobile app, ensuring that they complement each other in functionality and that users can take similar actions on both, depending on their preference of device: their desktop, their laptop, their phone, or their tablet.”

“The process is that we will bring over all our current functionalities that we want to keep, but we also have a backlog of any new functionality that we want to put in on the new mobile app,” adds Papania.

In addition to four distinct teams of SDI working on this project (Data Management, Platform Administration Team, App Development Team, and the UI/UX Team), these new functionalities will be developed with the help of other entities on campus, as has historically been the case.

For instance, on the current KSUMobile app, Parking Services worked alongside SDI to implement a new parking lot counter feature on a number of parking lots on campus--including the Student Center and C-Verder lots, with more expected to arrive this fall. Although these functionalities exist on the current app, users can expect to see even more of these kinds of collaborative effort features within the newly redesigned app when it is released.

"As requests like that come in, we want to start to put them into the new app. We're just starting to learn what the Outsystems platform can do," explains Papania.

However, the challenge comes with taking a lot of information from its web format and bringing it to tiny-screened mobile devices in a way that makes sense for people to use.

User Interface

For this reason, the look of the app will get a makeover in the process.

“While we’re doing the technical transfer onto the new platform, it’s also a great time for us to look at the current UI features that are in it and bring them up to more modern standards,” adds Jason Dunfee, Senior Applications Developer of Team Rapid Applications and Mobile.

Moreover, as RaviTeja Bandaru, an Associate User Experience Designer who is heading up the design of the new UI for the app, explains, “[It’s] going to look a lot different than it currently does. We’re trying to make it more user friendly by organizing by categories.”

That is, users can expect a more organized profile screen that will cater to the needs of students and employees alike, as well as a new home screen display that will include such features as upcoming campus events, the latest Kent State University tweets, and an updated version of the Live Bus Tracker feature that will enable users to track GPS locations of the buses more quickly--all within a new look that can best be described by the team as “slick.”

This change comes about in part because of the increasing sentiment that the app is due for an update to a newer, more modernized look, which the team reveals was inspired by user feedback. In the current version of the app, users have the opportunity to provide feedback through a direct email link in the About section, a feature SDI insisted on providing in an effort to showcase very clearly what is and isn’t working for users. And the results are always very telling.

In fact, this type of user response to the product is not only welcomed, but actually encouraged moving forward.

“We’re building this hand in hand with our users,” adds Jade Gamble, User Experience Designer, of the new app. “We’ve done two rounds of usability testing on prototypes as well as parts of the application, and we conducted a satisfaction survey on the existing app for users to discuss what was and wasn’t working.”

“We’re building this hand in hand with our users."

Based on data collected from that satisfaction survey (from iOS users only) in the spring of 2017, 72% of respondents reported using the application once per week or more, noting such features as checking class schedules, meal plan balances, grades, e-mail, and the Live Bus Tracker as the most useful.

Additionally, the usability tests for prototypes of the new app have provided valuable insight as well. For instance, a recurring issue users reported was that some information was difficult to find on the app because of the sheer volume of content available. Therefore, the UI redesign is intended to enable users to easily find what they are looking for.

What’s Next?

For now, the Mobile team tells me they are still in the discovery/planning phase of this project, though they are close to the development phase.

“We’re going to be able to be more agile in our releases, meaning we can release more often and respond more quickly to change requests,” Papania reiterates. "It’s a new platform; it’s not the old technology that we’ve been on, so there’s a lot more opportunity. Everyday we’re finding more stuff that’s out there that we can use that we didn’t know.”

“We’re still learning,” Dunfee adds with a laugh.

“But we are applying what we are learning very rapidly into our prototypes,” Jaleel explains. “And by engaging real users in testing them, we are very quickly soliciting and receiving feedback, and refining our approach in the process. Essentially, this is how we are practicing innovation. The fact that we are doing it while also collaborating with various business units is simply icing on the cake!”

If you are interested in participating in this testing process yourself, keep an eye out for a FlashLine notification in the near future regarding SDI’s new Pioneer program. Members will receive access to beta versions of cutting edge applications as they are being developed by the team, as well as the opportunity to provide feedback based on their firsthand experiences!