An Education In Google Apps: Northwestern University

March 8th, 2007 |
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Email and collaboration services were a frustration for Northwestern University‘s student government. The assembly brought the problem to the administration a year ago, specifically recommending Google Apps as a potential solution. The school, now partnering with Google to address the students’ needs, will offer e-mail, calendar and Google Talk, with mailboxes fifty times larger than their previous ones.

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Right now at Northwestern, we do not provide calendaring or instant messaging services to students or alumni centrally. We provide email services to students, but they’re rather limited in terms of their mailbox size, the features and functionality that are available to them and alumni today only have email — what we call Email Forwarding for Life, where they can forward their mail to another account, but we’re not providing email services to them. Our students approached us about a year ago saying that, we needed to improve our email services and our collaboration services. We actually had our student government say, we want you to implement Google Apps, they had heard about this in their early stages. So, we began an investigative process and through that process have identified Google as a good partner for us and as a result we are moving forward.

Our plans for Google Apps include launching services to our students and alumni, the primary services that we focusing on include email, calendar and Google Talk at this time. Fundamentally, it will dramatically improve the services that we’re providing to our students and to our alumni. Hands-down we are giving students mailboxes that are 50 times larger than what they’re getting today from Northwestern, they’re receiving functionality that we don’t even provide. Calendaring, students continually try to build their own calendars to facilitate connections. Well, here we’re providing that to them as well.

I think it’s interesting that as we begin this process we started to looking at our student data to see, what are students doing today with the email accounts we’re giving them and a large percentage of them are forwarding the mail off-campus and of those that are forwarding their mail off-campus and even larger percentage were forwarding to Gmail anyway. In some ways it’s an easy decision, I think the way that Google or the Gmail system is built on a standard space platform makes it easier or shall we say more palatable to us as central IT folks to think about possible future integrations with some of our other administrative systems.

Higher education institutions have the opportunity right now to focus on the core competencies of education and of supporting true education. Some of these other peripheral services, communications services if those are being done by someone else in the best of breed kind of fashion, why not take advantage of those.

We’re planning to make this a success, we’re looking to the future it’s going to make our students happy, it’s going to make our alumni happy and we’re going to provide such better service than what they have today. At this stage we feel comfortable recommending Google Apps to other institutions. I know that we’re on the docket to speak at a couple of institutional conferences this year, to share our experiences primarily around just the process of discussing this magnitude of a transition within the institution.

We really believe that this is where services are going, the whole software is a service platform; it’s the future and beyond the future it’s here today. I think that this is a neat opportunity to partner with a leading edge company like Google; someone who understands privacy concerns, someone who listens to their customers and develops products that are applicable and that are attractive to today’s market space. I think those are all good things.

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