Taking Push Email and PIM Beyond the Enterprise

I’ve become quite enamored with the BlackBerry and its email and PIM functions. While Sybase won’t open up their email system to me (I don’t blame them, to be honest), I’ve been manually inputting meetings and schedules into my BlackBerry. The ability to get a reminder of a meeting or task deadline is invaluable in the fast-paced and busy work day.

So it got me thinking – why not extend the convenience and usefulness of schedule management and push email to the university? I know many students are just as busy, if not busier than full-time workers. I already get my university email pushed to my BlackBerry, but I’d like to connect my calendar up as well. Waterloo is the hometown of a leading-edge university (University of Waterloo) and a pioneer in the wireless email business, Research in Motion. What better place for a trail deployment of a university BES for students? Here’s what I’d like to see.

The university implements a BES that manages the existing email infrastructure. Furthermore, course calendars would be synchronized and professors and teaching assistants can add assignment due dates to these calendars directly.

Now I haven’t quite nailed down how the project would be run – whether all students would have access to it or if only a subset of them would – there is an existing program at the Minota Hagey residence that gives students smartphones, replacing their existing land-line phone and boosting wireless usage and personal management, so recruiting a subset of the population can definitely work. The program would be far simpler to implement for a smaller group, so for trial purposes, that is probably the best solution.

What are the benefits? Let’s look at it from all parties.

  1. The University of Waterloo – the university has been on the forefront of several initiatives, some good, some not so good. PDEng, the Velocity residence, and the co-op program itself are some leading edge programs that the university has undertaken. In order to maintain its image of being a school of innovation at the forefront of technology, a student email/calendar system would be one more step towards this goal.
  2. Research in Motion/Microsoft – I mentioned a BES for students because I use a BlackBerry, but in reality it could be Microsoft Exchange and Windows Mobile devices as well, or any other wireless email + PIM service. This builds a large student population that is familiar with the product and service, and if they’re like me and find it useful, will continue to be users down the road, upon graduating from university.
  3. Wireless carriers – Data service is more lucrative for wireless carriers and is one part of the market that they have all been targeting to offset declining voice revenues. Just imagine entire universities filled with BlackBerry/Windows Mobile toting students. The revenue growth would be significant, even if some sort of cheaper student plan is introduced for the market. Again, if these students find the service useful, they will continue to use it after graduation, adding a whole new revenue group for the wireless carriers.
  4. And finally the students – Although the above-mentioned parties all stand to gain from this program, the student benefit is the end goal of the program. After all, this is something I’m conjuring up – clearly it’s to my benefit. 🙂 A student’s life can be extremely busy at university. Assignment after assignment are due and examinations seem to pop up without warning. The ability to have calendars with these events pre-populated pushed to a wireless device that is with the user at all times allows reminders and constant contact.

Hopefully something like what I’ve written about here will help students get more organized, plan their free time more effectively, and allow them to do better at their academic and extracurricular activities. I know in the past month with the BlackBerry, I’ve become more organized and event reminders have helped me at least appear more intelligent and on the ball to co-workers. Well worth the investment in my opinion.

3 thoughts on “Taking Push Email and PIM Beyond the Enterprise”

  1. PDEng… Forefront of technology? I don’t understand. 😛 Sorry, had to bring that one up.

    The biggest hurdle I see in this area is the financial commitment, both by students and the carriers. Rogers, at least, is making a killing off data fees at the moment. Why would they, and other carriers, want to jeopardize their stranglehold on data fees by offering students a cheaper price. I suppose your argument of locking them in for life is nice, but for someone like me (who already chooses the most basic phone plan on a pay-as-you-go system AND would use e-mail like no other had I had the option), I am unwilling to pay high prices for my data after I graduate.

    The second is the personal technological investment. I know plenty of friends that have the option of choosing a BlackBerry, but opt for a sleek looking Nokia or Sony Ericsson instead. These are the people that send ridiculous amounts of texts, but even a BlackBerry 81xx-series is too grotesque for their liking. Also, having spent $200+ in the past couple years on a still functioning phone, they are unlikely to ditch it for a smartphone, which, as mentioned before, is uglier.

    My 2 cents.

    Now if the school were to heavily subsidize the data rates AND the hardware… If schools in the States can give you free iPods and free laptops when you enter, why can’t RIM give us all free BlackBerrys? I wouldn’t mind whoring myself out to a corporate entity like that if they gave me a free BlackBerry.

  2. Scott – Yes you can definitely sync them that way, but I rarely connect my BlackBerry to my desktop. I’d like everything to be OTA as it should be.

    Richard – Haha, well whatever you may think of PDEng, you have to admit the school does push the norm. Be it good or bad, I won’t comment…

    Cost is definitely one of the hurdles to overcome, but I think it’s a little closer to reality than you might think. For example, at least Telus and Rogers offer unlimited personal email for $15/month (I’m not certain if Bell does, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t). And while $15/month isn’t trivial, I think it’d disappear into many students’ cell phone bills. And I doubt it’s a money losing affair for the cell carriers. I’m sure they have some room to wiggle on that, especially if there is some sort of university subsidization. Of course, I wouldn’t expect everyone to jump on it, but with the service there, I think there would be more people willing to pay for it.

    Personal technological choice is something a little more difficult to get around, and will really be up to the handset makers, be it a Windows Mobile manufacturer, or RIM itself – but if the iPhone or even RIM’s newer handhelds are any indication, the future should be bright for smartphones. Even ‘dumbphones’ like a sleek looking Nokia or SE are starting to incorporate many more features. As data use increases, I’d imagine feature sets will increase to the point where even those devices would suffice for the sort of thing I’m thinking about.

    And hey, who says the university can’t just build in a portion of the price for such a program into the semester fees? They did it with the bus pass….

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