The tipping point that got this music school to adopt iPads

A member of Berklee College of Music's World Jazz Octet performs at the 2011 DC Jazz Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. Credit: Slasher-fun via Flickr

The Berklee College of Music in Boston gets about 7,200 applications a year. To figure out which prospects are most qualified, a team of recruiters travels around the globe to some 120 sites to interview them and evaluate their talents and promise.

Starting late last year, those recruiters ditched the laptops they previously lugged around in favor of iPads. The switch has streamlined and modernized their recruiting tasks, said Damien Bracken, the dean of admissions for the school. But it didn't happen until a key database app already being used by the school -- FileMaker -- became available for the iPad.

The story is a good reminder of the importance of a solid app ecosystem, not only for consumers, but for business uses as well. This is one of the iPad's biggest advantages, and one place where Microsoft's Windows 8 has a lot of catching up to do.

The college, which was founded in 1945, has produced a long string of talented musicians among its graduates, including pianist and singer Diana Krall, jazz star Branford Marsalis, and Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen. Perhaps its most famous attendee, however, was Korean pop star PSY, whose "Gangnam Style" music video recently became the most popular video of all time on YouTube, with more than 800 million views.

The iPads became the go-to devices for the school's recruiters when FileMaker became available with a mobile cloud-based version, Bracken said. FileMaker Go meant that Berklee's recruiting team of about 30 staff members could go out on the road, do their recruiting, and then return to the office and download their files back into the main database effortlessly, according to Bracken.

"Prior to FileMaker Go, which was designed for the iPad, we used some other products but they weren't up to par," he said. "We needed something at a very professional level. As soon as this application came out it was like the sea parting for me, seriously. Having that available on a mobile device is huge for us."

Berklee has been using Filemaker products for some 20 years, making the new mobile application a drop-in fix that helped transform its operations, said Bracken.

"It just gives the students the feeling that we have our act together in terms of the data," he said. "They are checked in using the iPads when they arrive and the whole process is conducted using them."

The school has as many as eight two-person recruiting teams on the road at any one time, with one team member handling applicant interviews and the other focused on the musical auditions that are part of the process. Both team members use iPads with local versions of the database application files for their evaluations. The completed records of the interviews and auditions are uploaded to the main database when they return to the Berklee campus.

"Every month of the year I have one or more teams out on the road recruiting" and interviewing as many as 300 applicants a day, said Bracken. The staff shares 20 iPads which are also used for email, Internet browsing and other essential tasks.

Overall, the iPad deployment has been a boon for the recruiting process, said Bracken. "From a management point of view, as the dean of admissions, I can be sitting anywhere and review applications," he said. "We continue to see increases in the volume of the applications we get so anything that lets my staff get to the data faster and get to the decision making faster is better. The majority of them are using them because they love the advantages of the technology."

He continues, "When you are someone who travels constantly, which most of my staff does, anything you can do to reduce the weight factor is huge," said Bracken. "Another primary factor is the kind of image that we show to our applicants when they see that we are using cutting edge technologies. That is impressive."

The only complaint Bracken said he occasionally hears is that they don't like the virtual keyboard, and would prefer a traditional laptop or desktop keyboard. "It's a question of personal taste," he said.

The school's IT team has been supportive of the iPad deployment since the school uses Apple hardware across its campus. Berklee has about 4,300 students and about 1,000 staff and faculty members.

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