Friday, 3 April 2009

University take the (inevitable) next step into the Cloud…

I was very interested to hear from James Lappin’s recent conference report that the University of Westminster has not only outsourced its student email to Google, but its staff email too.

When we were putting the briefing paper together providing guidance for those institutions considering outsourcing their email towards the end of last year all of the examples we could find seemed to be limiting the scope of their projects to student email only – the belief being that doing the same for staff email opened up just too many legal and practical cans of worms. Though I must admit that even back then I was pretty sure that it would only be a matter of time before this changed (even if this was as part of a deliberate 'devils advocate' role – and so it has proved.

I’m sure many other institutions and organisations are going through a similar thought process at the moment – hence our interest here at JISC infoNet in seeking to provide some guidance in this area (as members of the records-management-uk@jiscmail.ac.uk list will be aware). As this development indicates, the challenge will be to provide guidance that is both comprehensive and definitive, but at the same time flexible enough to keep pace with the rapid rate of change. I’ll be discussing this and related challenges with colleagues later this month as we start to plan our approach.

3 comments:

DaviMack said...

The University of San Francisco did so for its student email (and alumni email) several years ago.

Worrisome.

James Lappin said...

Hi Steve

I have checked on the University of Westminster's web site to see what they have provided staff with.

This is what they say:

''Staff Google mail is provided for the purposes of collaborating with colleagues or students in the Google environment, Exchange/ MS Outlook remains the official staff email system.

University records and IP policy requires that all calendar, teaching, research, legal and employment information must be mastered and available on University owned systems but Google can, at an individuals discretion, be used for collaboration and working drafts.'' (source: http://www.wmin.ac.uk/page-16602)

So it looks like I have been slightly misleading when I wrote that the University had 'decided to turn their student and staff e-mail over to a cloud based providor''.

It is true that they turned the student e-mail over to Google apps. It is also true that they have given staff an e-mail account on Google apps, for use in collaborating with staff and students. But they haven't gone the whole hog and tuned all staff e-mail over to Google apps: Staff retain their Microsoft Outlook e-mail address (hosted internally) for ' official ' e-mail correspondence.

It will be very interesting to see how that plays out: 'collaboration with staff and students' must account for a large chunk of staff work anyhow: I wonder which of the two e-mail adresses staff are gravitating to, and using in practice.

Steve Bailey said...

Hi James and thanks for the important clarification. It looks like we still await the first institution to take the full plunge!

That said, it would be interesting to hear more about the theoretical and practical differences between staff continuing to use an internally hosted Outlook service for 'official emails' and their staff Google Apps email account for 'collaboration'.

When do 'collaborative' cross the line and become 'official' and what does this mean for the management of information across and between systems I wonder?