Google collaboration tool will enhance U-M’s interdisciplinary approach
U-M students, faculty, and staff are one step closer to being able to collaborate anytime, any place and with anyone in the world with Internet access.
Executive officers approved the IT Council recommendation that the university select Google as the primary collaboration tool provider for the Ann Arbor campus. This represents the most significant foray for the university into a campuswide computing service not hosted by U-M.
Even more significantly, the IT Executive Committee endorses U-M moving to a unified and inclusive collaboration platform. Campus community members, regardless of role or unit, will be able to leverage a Web-based collaboration suite to enhance U-M's core missions of teaching, learning, research and patient care.
"This university prides itself on work across disciplines. A common set of effective collaboration tools will enhance our ability to carry out interdisciplinary collaborations in research, teaching and learning," says Phil Hanlon, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Committee members who made this decision include Hanlon; Tim Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer; and Dr. Ora Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs.
There are more than 40 e-mail and calendar services currently in use across campus. The lack of standards has resulted in costly repetition and duplication of essentially the same services, which the selection of Google is intended to productively address.
The selection of Google as the U-M collaboration tool suite is one of the most important actions to come out of the IT governance process established in early 2010. It is an "essential step in the advancement of U-M's global research and educational leadership," says Dan Atkins, associate vice president for research cyberinfrastructure and IT Council chair.
The NextGen Michigan Program Office, under Laura Patterson, chief information officer, will prepare comprehensive implementation plans to be executed in phases over the coming months. University officials now will turn their attention to finalizing a contract with Google.
The U-M Health System (UMHS) began a transition to Microsoft Exchange/Outlook 2010 last year, with June as the expected completion date. Executive officers have charged UMHS and campus IT staff with facilitating Google and Microsoft cross-platform compatibility as a top priority. Removing barriers to a unified campus collaboration environment is critical since there is so much interaction by health science faculty and researchers with researchers in other U-M units.
U-M's transition to Google is part of a growing trend toward cloud computing — applications and services provided on-demand over the Internet instead of by locally operated servers or data centers. Google offers a suite of integrated online collaborative tools such as e-mail, calendar/scheduling, document sharing and instant messaging. Google tools will encompass all of these features, among others, when fully implemented. U-M will continue to use Microsoft Office products for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.
The experience of other campuses strongly suggests, "that adoption of cloud-based services, like those offered by Google, will result in much faster deployment of technology innovation than we can ever achieve with U-M-specific collaboration tools," Patterson says. "What is especially exciting is that we look to a long-term strategic partnership with Google where together we become leaders in the cutting-edge use of collaboration technologies and processes."
Patterson stressed that she is aware of some faculty and researcher concerns related to data privacy and security, which have occasionally generated negative publicity for Google. In 2010 a U-M task force on cloud computing data privacy and security issued a set of detailed recommendations that will be incorporated into the implementation planning to ensure that these concerns are satisfactorily addressed.
The executive officers' decision was preceded by almost a year of intensive solicitation of campus input and research by the Unit IT Steering Committee, including on-campus presentations by Google and Microsoft during the fall.