Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Now to sort out staff mail....

Following our transfer of eMail and calendaring for students to Google we now have to decide what to do for staff. We have several options of course - do nothing being one of them. That would leave staff with a calendar with good scheduling functionality but without the ability to subscribe to different calendars, and with a clunky webmail client and nowhere near as a much storage as the students have. Or we could implement an integrated calendar and mail client such as Zimbra for staff. This would give a better user experience in both mail and calendars, but wouldn't solve the filestore problem, and there would be a cost to us for licenses, hardware and support. Or we could move staff to Google. That would give staff and students the same experience, reduce our support and licence costs, and give staff the same filestore as students. But, currently the calendaring functionality for scheduling meetings is not as good (although we're told improvements are on the way) and there are some data security and privacy issues which will need addressing.

So, pros and cons for all options (and many more than above - I've just summarised the main ones), so we've just started a quick review of the options with a view to making a decision in time to implement for the next academic year. One of the most difficult tasks if we decide to move to a different calendar will be to transfer existing diary entries. Fairly straightforward for your own individual calendar, but not as straightforward for meetings in multiple diaries, repeating meetings, multiple attendees etc.

My own personal view, and I must stress this is a personal view and it might not be shared by all members of the team, is that the Cloud is the way to go. Yes, there are issues, but they are not insurmountable. But, there's more than just me on the group so we'll see how things go.

11 comments:

Gareth said...

What are your views about the (possible) legal issues/ramifications of moving staff email to 'the cloud'?

Scott Mallinson said...

Not being familiar with Zimbra I cannot comment on their products. Google on the overhand I use extensively; Docs, Reader, Apps, Analytics, Webmaster Tools to name a few. They've got me covered.

What I particularly like about Google is that they continuously develop their products including support for mobile devices. I'm able to access my email, read blog posts and collaborate on documents all on a 3" screen. I could see mobile access being particularly useful in an emergency.

I partially agree with your sentiment about Cloud services. They are great when they work/have access to an internet connection, not so great otherwise. It's always nice/reassuring to have your data stored local.

pj said...

One major ramification of moving away from Oracle Calendar is that you could never be sure that you could see anybody else's calendar. A lot of people don't like that but a lot of people think that its very useful.

Scott's point about mobile access is misleading as mobile services tend to become overloaded in an emergency.

Chris Sexton said...

The legal/privacy issues are interesting. I think we have to move from a risk averse culture to one of risk management. There's a user education/change in culture which will have to take place. Most of us have no idea where or how our data is stored yet we happily give our credit card details to Amazon, or our bank details to Vodafone.

The issues are there, but not insurmountable with good contracts and policies in place.

Andrew said...

If it's good enough for the LAPD?

Chris Sexton said...

Forgot to mention the LAPD in this post - The Guardian and The Telegraph have also got all of their mail in the cloud with Google

George Credland said...

Is another option to switch email and stick with the existing Calendar until the alternatives improve? There's little dependence between the two other than being able to email notifications from the calendar.

If taking on Google mail and calendar would we also look at taking the applications as well (shift from Microsoft Office on the desktop)?

Anonymous said...

Or shift from Microsoft on the Desktop altogether? That would surely save a few £££s.

Anthony said...

I've been surprised by the hostility I've heard from some friends/academics in the departments regarding moving staff email to Google…. Even the prospect of gigs worth of space doesn't win them over.

It's a matter of trust - CiCS are directly accountable to the University for email provision. We control who has access to the data, under the UK/EU data protection laws. Protecting the integrity and security of that data is our job. Google is an advertising company, operating under US laws. Why should I trust them with my data?

Who has access to the data - Google employees/US government? How long is the data kept by Google? Is the data secure/encrypted? Do they remove the data when the account is deleted? Do they index/profile/scan the emails?

The University's business is it's intellectual property - and research data can be highly sensitive (industrial, medical, defence research, etc). I'm sure that you're already considering these questions (and if it's good enough for the LAPD, then clearly these concerns can be addressed….), but convincing the wider University that their data is in safe (trusted) hands might be more difficult…..

Chris Sexton said...

Good comments - thanks for them. In terms of money, I'm afraid we'll only save any money if we take the windows operating system off all of our desktops across the University because of the terms of our licence.

The apparent hostility of staff is something I haven't encountered yet - just the opposite. I've had loads of mails from staff asking when we're going to move them to Google because that's what they want.

Of course we didn't move the students without addressing many of the issues you raised including where the data is held, who has access to it, whether or not it's scanned (it isn't), and all the issues relating to back up, deletion etc.

I'm not disputing that there are issues, but I maintain that they are not insurmountable, and in fact if we don't start looking to the cloud for our storage, we're going to be left behind.

James said...

Agree with you Chris - most staff just want a good service. Providing that we have agreements in place about data security there isn't an issue. As you say- how many of them give out really personal details to companies over the web without even thinking about it.