Learning about Google Apps from Higher Education

December 21, 2012 Appirio

By David Spangler
Traditionally, universities, colleges and higher education have been at the forefront of technological developments and advancements. From engineering to testing new technology, higher education has been quick to evolve their methods of communication over time to keep up with their biggest customers – students and educators. For this reason higher education’s push into cloud technologies for collaboration and communication comes as no surprise, as universities witness their millions of students and educators using cloud solutions in their personal lives. One area where higher education is leading the way is in Google Apps adoption. While educational organizations have collaboration requirements and demands that differ from those of the individuals they serve and from other industries, the lessons learned from their Google Apps migrations apply to any industry, especially large enterprise-level projects.

For any organization that has decided to roll out Google Apps, it’s critical to consider a number of factors during the migration process. From our experience with Google Apps migrations at universities including the University of Michigan (check out this week’s Google Edu Hangout on Air to learn more), Brown and the University of California offices, we’ve created a shortlist of considerations for the rollout process. 

Don’t Sell Email Internally, Sell Collaboration
It is possible to simply replace an existing email system with a new one and have users send and receive email with little changes to their current messaging habits. However, while providing the ability to send and recieve email is a critical milestone for the Google Apps migration process, the Google Apps suite offers a much deeper set of capabilities and tools to take communication beyond email correspondence. Also, if you focus on a feature-by-feature comparison with your source systems, it will be hard not to talk about collaboration and communication instead of tool functionality.

Systems Honesty
Too often, the driver of a Google Apps migration is a dying email infrastructure or the lack of hardware to support storage growth demands. The first few steps of any Google migration project is taking a few steps back before taking any steps forward. I’ve been part of many deep-dives to uncover any and all intricacies of existing, underlying technical systems. There is sometimes a tendency to minimize or cover up deficiencies of the source systems. This will not do! A successful Google Apps project demands honesty about the source systems and should expose these system to extensive testing to set you up for a successful migration.

Project Team Alignment
Lastly, before rolling out Google Apps, it’s critical to outline how the project teams will communicate. I’ve witnessed many of these conversations that sound more like negotiations, but it’s always exciting (and welcome) to find an organization that already aligns collaboratively. At many of the Universities that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, I’ve found that the University culture of collaboration is prevalent in their IT teams. In this alignment phase, it’s important to swiftly determine the existing project structure and strive to introduce (as early as possible) the very tools that the project is bringing to the organization. The sooner you can establish a Google+ hangout with the entire project team, the quicker you can dispense with the old-school method of sending document attachments via email. The benefits of of collapsing the collaboration cycle are realized the moment that Google Docs becomes the main tool for document sharing. This creates an agile, aligned team that can respond more quickly to issues as they pop up.

The migration to Google Apps provides a unique opportunity to evolve the communication processes within your organization. Take advantage of the special capabilities and all of the new collaborative process that will now be at your organization’s disposal!

David Spangler is a solutions architect at Appirio and is also a Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist. He has personally migrated more than 200,000 users to Google Apps across a wide variety of industries and educational organizations.

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