Collaboration: why we outsource email and calendar

Information Systems recommends that EMU outsource email and calendar systems to either Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365 for Education. Both systems provide more space, more capabilities and more opportunities for collaboration.
We’re interested in faculty, staff and students’ opinions on this recommendation and on the choice of Google or Microsoft.

Introduction

Latham Sholes' keyboardIn 1876 Christopher Latham Sholes filed for a patent on the typewriter he had invented. In addition to a new typing mechanism, Sholes developed a new organizational scheme for the keys–the QWERTY layout we’re all familiar with. Over 140 years later the keyboard Sholes designed is ubiquitous on our desktop and laptop computers. It’s even used on tablets and smartphones–devices that have no keys and no intrinsic reason to favor a keyboard layout designed for a mechanical typewriter.

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Office at Microsoft, says the Sholes keyboard layout is an example of the way our experience with technology in the past shapes–and sometimes constrains–our expectations for technology in the future (see Coplin’s presentation, ‘Re-imagining work‘, for more). That’s why we’re excited to recommend outsourcing EMU’s email and calendar systems: it gives us the opportunity to re-imagine the ways we work–and work together.

Features

Outsourced systems are more capable than the systems we currently use for email, calendaring and mobile access. We will have more email space, calendar clients on Windows and Macintosh platforms, built-in mobile access, real-time document sharing and the ability to chat via instant messenger, voice or video from anywhere in the world.

But the advantages go beyond just capability: Google and Microsoft’s solutions integrate these features in ways that allow new kinds of collaboration to take place. Imagine a professor and student working on a document together, simultaneously editing and discussing over a video link the best way to present their data–while the professor is at home and the student is in their dorm room.

Systems

Both Google and Microsoft offer outsourced solutions that provide this level of functionality: Google through their Apps for Education product and Microsoft through Office 365 for Education. Both work well with the campus-standard Microsoft Outlook and Office though Google provides more consistent service on Macintosh computers and mobile devices. We’re interested in faculty, staff and students’ opinions on which would be the best fit for EMU.

Others’ Perspectives

We’re not the first or the only institution to consider outsourcing email and calendar services. Of peer institutions who responded to the 2012 EDUCAUSE information technology survey, 43% have outsourced students’ email and 36% have outsourced faculty and staff accounts (presumably in addition to students’). A further 11% are considering a change in the near future.

Reliability and Security

Both Google and Microsoft have been serving educational institutions for years: Google first offered Apps in 2006 and Microsoft released Office 365 in 2010 (and offered Live@EDU before then). Both systems have proven themselves reliable and secure with minimal service disruptions and no security breaches. And both guarantee the services they provide to education customers.

Cost and Advertising

Google and Microsoft offer their products to educational institutions free of charge. Further, neither serves advertisements to educational users or indexes those users’ data. Both are committed to the privacy of user data, within the constraints of the law and institutional policy.

You can read further details of Google’s and Microsoft’s policies regarding educational users’ data at the following pages: