The UM-Flint campus has utilized Microsoft Exchange / Outlook for email and calendar services since approximately 1999. Additionally, both the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses used Microsoft Exchange and, to a lesser extent, other email and calendar systems. In 2012, in order to reduce costs, increase collaboration, and advance technology, the Ann Arbor Campus transitioned to Google Gmail and Calendar with the Dearborn campus following their lead in 2014.
M-Flint ITS has strategically supported and maintained our Microsoft Exchange infrastructure until now in order to maximize the value of the significant initial capital investment made in the physical infrastructure. Our current email and calendar infrastructure is now nearing end-of-life, and either a new capital investment or a strategic change in direction will soon be required.
Technical Strategic Changes
ITS intends to follow the successful lead of the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses and also transition to Google services. The implementation of Google Apps is a change for the U-M community, and like all changes, it will have bumps, challenges, and frustrations. There are five “big picture” reasons why U-M has pursued this strategy in the past, and why it still makes sense now:
- Collaboration– Google will help make it easier for our faculty and students to do their research and learning together and with colleagues around the world.
- Innovation– Google provides a platform that we can extend and enhance.
- Common Tools– Having a standard tool set available to the entire university, will make it easier to perform routine activities that support our mission.
- Access– Google is a “cloud-based” solution that is designed to be accessed from different devices and different locations.
- Savings– Google will allow us to reduce our costs by approximately $200,000 at the same time we provide state-of-the-art tools.
Project Plan and Timeline
The project plan focus is on staff and faculty. Because the vast majority of young people have been using Google services for many years, most students today are very comfortable with Gmail and other
Google services and are expected to self-transition. The Ann Arbor campus used this same strategy successfully. A comprehensive timeline is shown below, and relies on the following strategic tools:
- Communication– It will be crucial to inform campus of this transition via emails and town-hall events. Key points will include the transition plan, and the benefits of Google services. Support from Ann Arbor and Dearborn ITS staff will be utilized where beneficial.
- Training– Training for all users will be important, and a multi-prong approach will be used by the ITS training team. A strong initial focus will be to provide in-depth training for administrative assistants so they can in turn provide strong internal unit support.
- Support– All users will receive support from ITS via in-person training, web-based resources, and Helpdesk support, all to help ensure a successful transition. A key part of this support will be the “Google Guide” program which will give UM-Flint students the opportunity to provide broad support across campus to help users and units better understand how to use Google services.
- Key Technical Strategies– A strong advantage to following successful implementations on the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses is the opportunity to benefit from lessons learned. The strongest points of advice received from these implementations are to leverage MCommunity groups to control access, to use the authentication portal provided by UM-Ann Arbor ITS, and to embrace the greater University of Michigan community by primarily utilizing @umich.edu email addresses.