Friday AM LIS open meeting – Email/Collaboration Tools evaluation

These are notes from the 1st of our new biweekly “Friday Morning LIS” meeting series, open to any or all from within LIS.  The aim of these meetings is to discuss upcoming projects, decisions, issues, and opportunities relating to technology and libraries, as well as to ensure that those in our community most impacted by any given change have a chance to provide input/feedback.

What are we talking about?
LIS is investigating migrating our locally hosted email (Exchange) service (incl. calendaring, contacts, etc.) to a cloud-based service.  We are looking specifically at comparing Google Apps for Education and Microsoft’s own cloud-based service to our current local Exchange system.  Shel Sax is providing overall guidance for the evaluation.

Why are we considering this?
The experience of other schools who have migrated their email, etc., to the cloud indicate that using these services can provide …

  • Added functionality (e.g., collaboration tools such as shared documents, etc.)
  • Economies of scale –> save money
  • more staff time for Midd-specific tasks by reducing the burden of a maintaining locally-hosted email system
  • better disaster recovery/mission continuity services.

What are our evaluation criteria?
Based in part on our readings and conversations with Gartner Research, we propose to base the evaluation on the following factors:

  • Economic
  • Alignment with institutional mission/needs
  • Features/Functionality
  • Security
  • Ease of migration (we could consider, if just migrating students to a cloud-based service, to not migrate existing mail but to run both local/cloud services for students for 3 years)
  • Support
  • Mission continuity requirements

This list is not final, and may need to be modified.  Our initial idea for undertaking the evaluation is to assign an individual/team/workgroup to lead the process of filling out the details within each of the broad criteria, recommend additional criteria as appropriate, and evaluate the 3 systems (Google/Microsoft/status quo)

We also need to take care to be sensitive to campus culture and the community’s tolerance for risk.

When will we be doing this?
Our preliminary timeline is as follows:

  • Define evaluation criteria – by early February 2012
  • Evaluate – through April 2012
  • Preliminary decision/recommendations from LIS administration, with a report and proposal to President’s staff – through May 2012
  • If approved by President’s Staff, implement and go live for fall 2012 – it may be a fairly extended process to migrate all accounts or even just student accounts.

Questions/Comments (N.B.: some of these do not have answers yet)
Q: Will we migrate just students or everyone?
Q: Are we looking at email only, or the entire package of collaborative tools?

Q: Is implementing the collaborative suite of tools piece be contingent upon also implementing the email services?Q: What is the status of the current Middlebury/Google pilot implementation? What if we go with MS?  Do we turn this off?
A: Currently about 350 users.  We will need to develop a plan for dealing with this content if we shift to a non-Google solution.

Q: Will we be evaluating privacy?
A: This was investigated earlier at the request of President’s Staff.  However, we may want to revisit this, since products have changed since that time, e.g. the introduction of Google+ to Google’s suite of tools (Ian B).

Q: How will unified communications (GoogleVoice, etc.) fit into this process?
Q: What additional features will we need beyond the basic “free” services offered, and how much will they add significantly to the cost?  E.g. Shared calendars, linking users to the same mailbox, etc. may require additional fees.

Q: Would we keep our .edu identity?
A: Yes, as far as we know at this point.

Q: Should we include keeping the status quo in our evaluation?
A: Yes.

Q: Will the evaluation include pilots or testing?
A: Yes. We will have access to test instances of both google apps and MS Live (or whatever it is called)

Q: What is the process if we do wind up with two systems I.e. faculty on MS and students on Google?  How will this affect class email lists, etc.?
Q: How disruptive would the migration process to college business while it is in process?

Q: It seems like we will need to put an education component for users in place if we migrate.
A.: Agreed

Q: Should we also be looking at improving the current environment and adding functionality to the current model if we keep the status quo?   For example, should we start running a local version of sharepoint. One Gartner rep and our PriceWaterhouse Cooper auditors seem to think these services are not quite mature enough yet.
A: We can look at this.  There are definitely differences of opinion about the maturity of these services, even within the same organization, i.e. Gartner Research. It is also the case that the LiveOffice offering does NOT have a local option. The general trend seems to be that these sorts of collaborative services are cloud-bound.

Q: Will we be describing the evaluation process to the campus?  People may be more receptive to change if they are aware of what’s happening early on.
A: Agreed. We will have some sort of on-line component similar to what we did with the web makeover, and we will also have in our plan plenty of face to face meetings, email communications, and perhaps surveys to ensure we keep the community informed.

Q: Is the timeline too short, especially if we want to include a testing phase?  Also, rolling this out in September may not be the best time for faculty, as they are busy planning for classes, etc.  We saw some indication that this isn’t the best time when we rolled out Moodle.
A: The timeline, like most everything else at this point, is still in flux and may need to be adjusted.

Q: We need to make sure the right users are evaluating specific features.  E.g. Shared calendaring should be evaluated by heavy users of the shared calendaring system.
A: Agreed.

Q: Have the lead evaluators for each criteria been selected yet?
A: No.

Stay tuned, more to come.

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