This morning's session looked at one University's experience of outsourcing their student email service to Google. Very good session - lots of questions, reflecting the interest in the sector. Overall the implementation had gone very well - the technological side had been a success, and overall student satisfaction was high, particularly as all students got 2Gb storage, and access to Google calendar. However there were issues, and it wasn't all plain sailing. I was quite disappointed that some of the issues identified when I attended a presentation at EDUCAUSE last year still hadn't been satisfactorily addressed. Change control is a particular problem with Google releasing updates and changes with no notice at all - students finding out about them before the University did. In some cases instructions for using the service were rendered useless, and in one case the service was lost as the integration with the University Directory service was broken. But, overall the service was much improved on what was being offered before.
It is something we need to consider carefully - isn't student email now just a commodity? Why are we running a service which can be provided free of charge by a service provider? All students come to us with an email address now anyway, and we can't give them the storage they want and which Google can give them. Issues we will be looking at carefully as we decide whether to roll out Zimbra mail and calendar to all members of the University, or roll it out to staff only and go with Google for students.
Will any University be running an email service at all in 5 years time?