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    Welcome to the Company! Here is your iPhone

    Abilene Christian University made news last year with an innovative and interesting program for its incoming freshman class in 2008; it provided free of charge a new iPhone or iPod Touch to each incoming student.

    The University developed a number of custom applications for the iPhone, ranging from homework Flickr - fanfan2145submission tools, to in-class polling and response systems, to checking campus maps and cafeteria menus.

    But more important than the specific applications and use cases is the underlying philosophy that fueled the decision to 'give' iPhones to all the new students.  Students expect to 'consume' content on the go, from any location, and when it is convenient (which is almost never the 8:00 AM lecture). The campus-developed applications can stream class notes, videos, and other interactive content to the students in real-time.

    And in another interesting twist, Abiliene Christian students are finding that they can leverage the iPhones in ways beyond the 'official' or expected uses.  One student observed:

    Kasey Stratton, a first-year ACU business student, said her favorite aspect of the iPhone program was how apps are changing the way students interact socially. Many Abilene students use Bump, a free app downloadable through the App Store, which enables them to swap e-mails and phone numbers by bumping their iPhones together. Also, the campus’ map app helped her become familiar with the campus quickly when she arrived.

    “At ACU it’s like they see [the iPhone] is the way of the future and they might as well take advantage of it,” Stratton said in a phone interview. “They’re preparing us for the real world — not a place where you’re not allowed to use anything.”

    There are two really interesting notes to take from those comments, both are applicable to HR and HR Technology.

    When given the opportunity, people will find new use cases for technology

    The school distributed the iPhones with some specific, and fairly modest goals. Let students participate in class polls, have access to some information systems, etc.  These were important and valuable benefits.  But the students proceeded to leverage the technology to better connect with each other, to facilitate their own projects and group activities, and ultimately to derive more value than the administration had ever foreseen.

    We see this all the time in consumer or public platforms, like how Twitter users 'invented' the concept of hash tags and '@' replies.  When technology is designed to promote adaptation, or is developed and consumed in ways that can support changes to configuration and flexible levels of personalization the opportunity for end users and employees to 'discover' new and better uses is significantly enhanced.

    In the 'real world' (your companies), entering employees have high expectations

    Before I get in trouble with Lance Haun, I am not going to the Gen Y/Millennial card on this.  Just simply noting the importance of this student's expectation that in the 'real world' tools and technologies like the iPhone, BlackBerry, access to social networks, and 25 things that have not even been invented yet will all be present and available in the workplace. Students that grow up with these tools absolutley will not understand why if indeed they walk into a new organization that is relies on ancient desk phones, MS Outlook email systems with limited storage, and have network file shares as the de facto 'collaboration' tool.  And not just new and younger employees, soon, and for the foreseeable future almost all of your employees will feel the same way.

    Abilene Christian certainly seems like an unlikely place to be at the forefront of an innovative, cutting edge technology-based project like this.  And it is.  But it shows that even from unlikely sources, ones without national reputations, and billion-dollar endowments, that fantastic innovations can arise.

    Maybe your company is also and unlikely launch pad for technology innovation.  Maybe you are small, not that well funded, or stuck in the 90's when it comes to technology.  But if Abilene Christian can do it, then so can you.

    How about next year, when your first batch of new recuits come marching in the door, you hand them a brand new iPhone, and encourage them to use it to connect, learn, share, and experiment?

    I know what you are thinking, where is the budget for that going to come from? I would bet the extra productivity you will get from the program will more than fund the phones over the year.

    Ask Abilene Christian if the investment was worth it, they have gotten more mileage as the 'iPhone College' than they ever bargained for.


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    Reader Comments (6)

    Thank you Steve for posting this. I get so tired of reading the SOS on various blogs. This is new, it's useful and it makes you think differently. I appreciate you for doing what you do.

    December 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Hite @sexythinker

    Very cool. We big believers at our firm in being early adopters and providing our team with the right tools to improve process and productivity.

    While we're not giving away iPhones to our employees, we did offer our sales team these as bonuses for sales goals. However, we are migrating new and old employees over to MacBook Pros - bye-bye PCs. Since we're such a virtual shop, we have to be able to work from anywhere, and Apple has the right alien technology that overcomes MS adversity. And then there's Google, but the jury is still out for me...

    Hey, what about queuing up some disco funkadelic for that "Bump" iPhone app?

    December 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKevin W. Grossman

    Steve - I LOVE this post because you connect the dots between education and business - enabling students to connect, engage, innovate and create solutions will translate into huge contributions when they enter the workplace. Savvy companies will get over being afraid of what MIGHT happen if they allow workers to bring new technology with them - to focusing on what CAN happen when they do. Do you offer virtual enrollment to your classes? I would love to take one! Thanks for the thought leadership.

    @Amanda - Thanks very much, I appreciate your comments and all that you do, you are absolutely awesome!

    @Kevin - You are the man, that is clear.

    @Joni - Thanks! I think trying to see ways to take the good ideas from the academic world into business, (and sometimes vice-versa) is a great way to find innovative approaches that may otherwise go unseen. I have been looking for ways to get more 'openness' in my course, and I will make sure that I post those ideas here as well. I really appreciate the comments.

    December 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Great post. As as avid user of an iPhone, I totally get the connection between productivity and the iPhone so I think this is a great idea. Wait, now I know who has been sucking up the available AT&T bandwidth and causing issues for the rest of us. Never mind.

    December 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Krupa

    Great post, Steve. I am a teacher and think the IPhone is great for students. I just met someone in a phone store who was purchasing an I Phone for her son who is Autistic. She said that the Apps are great for Autistic children.

    December 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

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