IT Council recommends use of Google collaboration tools
The IT Council has unanimously recommended the selection of Google as the primary collaboration tool provider for U-M students, staff, and faculty. The recommendation now will be considered by the IT Executive Committee for a final decision.
The IT Council is a governance body established this year to help set campuswide priorities for IT services, resources and facilities. The panel's action confirms the recommendations submitted by the Unit IT Steering Committee, another governance group with representation from U-M schools and colleges.
The group that will make the final decision is composed of Phil Hanlon, provost; Tim Slottow; executive vice president and chief financial officer; Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs; and Stephen Forrest, vice president for research.
At the council's request, over the past six months the Steering Committee developed its recommendation on the future campus collaboration platform and environment. Based on its own research and investigation as well as considerable campus community input, the committee had narrowed the selection of a primary commercial vendor to either Google or Microsoft.
The adoption of a primary, campuswide set of cloud-based collaboration tools is designed to support U-M's core missions of teaching, learning and research by making collaboration easier, more convenient, pervasive and cost-effective. Under this proposal, some areas of the university may still elect to use Microsoft Outlook/Exchange collaborative tools in order to meet specific business needs — for instance where cloud-based information sharing is not appropriate. In addition, Microsoft Office and related desktop products will continue to be used extensively at the university.
The U-M Health System, for instance, has critical business reasons for its recent selection of Microsoft Outlook to replace Groupwise by mid-2011 for e-mail and calendaring on computers with the Health System's "core image" configuration. In an announcement to UMHS faculty and staff in mid-October, the importance of the Outlook transition to the system's information technology future was stressed — but so was the importance of collaboration tools that can link UMHS and non-UMHS computer users across campus.
"The IT Council was very impressed with the thoroughness of the Unit IT Steering Committee in formulating its recommendation," says Dan Atkins, associate vice president for research cyberinfrastructure and IT Council chair. "While we are very excited at the prospects of moving forward with this major enhancement of the U-M collaboration environment, we know there are important challenges — especially in the areas of user support, privacy and security — that we need to plan for carefully."
More than 15,000 students, faculty and staff completed a survey commissioned by the committee in October soliciting their experience and preferences regarding online collaborative tools, especially those products offered by Microsoft and Google.
Collaborative software is designed to facilitate communication and support the sharing of information, data, documents, and resources among two or more individuals or groups. Online collaborative tools such as e-mail, calendar/scheduling, document sharing, and instant messaging generally are fully integrated to improve productivity and efficiency.
As a result of developing a comprehensive inventory of U-M's current collaborative tool capabilities (part of the larger IT rationalization project), the university knows much more about the ongoing limitations of what it now offers and the collective needs of campus for collaboration tools. For example, there are multiple e-mail and calendar services in use on campus.
Lynn Johnson, assistant dean of dentistry and the Unit IT Steering Committee chair, says that the lack of standards across campus has resulted in costly repetition and duplication of essentially the same services.
"High-quality collaboration is the hallmark of a global research institution like U-M," Johnson says. "Identifying new collaborative tools for adoption across campus is just the first step in a larger initiative to improve the environment for collaboration in learning, teaching, and research."
Microsoft and Google were invited to campus earlier this fall to demonstrate their collaboration tool suites to both general and technical audiences. At the conclusion of the vendor presentations, an e-mail was sent to all Ann Arbor students, staff and faculty inviting them to participate in the survey.
"The great response rate showed how important this decision is for so many people all over campus," Johnson says.