4-page Case Study
Posted: 5/18/2012
Rate This Evidence:

Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Commerciales Cost-Effectively Connecting Administrators, Faculty, and Students in the Cloud

Belgium’s Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (EPHEC) wanted to prepare its business students to work in a world where more and more activities take place online and in virtualized settings. At the same time, EPHEC needed to do this without making huge capital investments in technology. With help from Brussels-based IT consultant ICT7 and from Microsoft, EPHEC found the perfect solution to this challenge: Microsoft® Office 365 for education. Office 365 for education is a free cloud-based service that EPHEC could adopt quickly and that provides all the services needed to help prepare its students for the virtual world of work, including Microsoft Exchange® Online-based email, Microsoft Lync®-based instant conferencing, and Microsoft SharePoint® Online-based file sharing and collaboration services. Faculty and student acceptance of this new solution has been rapid and enthusiastic.


The Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (EPHEC) is a university college renowned for its business curriculum. More than 4,700 students are enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs in accounting, law, marketing, international trade, insurance, electronic, automatic and information technology, and related business fields. The university college occupies three separate campuses in and around Brussels, and its staff of more than 300 faculty members and administrators ensures that students gain a top-flight education that prepares them to take leading roles in the international business community.

* Today’s students are mobile, flexible, and impatient. We wanted to use technology to communicate and interact with our students in new ways—and Microsoft Office 365 for education is the perfect solution. *

Vincent Fievez
Lecturer in IT,

For all its focus on modern business, though, administrators at EPHEC knew they had a fundamental disconnect. The school relied on a communications infrastructure that was out of step with modern business. The university’s email infrastructure consisted of a single aging server which provided email support only to the faculty and administrators. EPHEC did not offer its students any formal email services. Nor did it offer any kind of electronic collaboration infrastructure. While faculty and students discussed the move to cloud-based business infrastructures, online collaboration, and other forms of instant communication—from anywhere, at any time—the students still turned in their work on paper, met face-to-face for classes, and, in short, conducted the business of education in much the same way that it was conducted a long time ago.

EPHEC administrators knew this could not continue this way. “The world is changing,” says Jean-Guillaume Lahaye, Director of EPHEC, “the students are changing, and the way of working is changing. Students want to work from anywhere, anytime, even in the middle of the night, and they want to be permanently connected with the world. And it’s not just our students—our younger teachers want the same things.”

The administration reached out to Vincent Fievez, a lecturer on the IT department faculty who also works for ICT7, an IT consulting firm based in Brussels that specializes in the deployment of modern communications infrastructures. Could Mr. Fievez recommend a modern communications infrastructure for EPHEC? Something that could connect students, faculty, and staff? Something that could enable more flexible and efficient interactions? Oh, yes, and something that would not cost too much? Mr. Fievez knew just the solution: Microsoft Office 365 for education.


Microsoft Office 365 for education provides secure, anywhere access to email and calendars, Office Web Apps, web conferencing, and file sharing. It combines the familiar Microsoft Office desktop suite with online versions of next-generation Microsoft communications and collaboration services, including:

  • Microsoft Exchange Online for email, shared calendars, and shared address books.
  • Microsoft Lync Online for instant messaging and online video conferencing.
  • Microsoft Office Web Apps for online access to Microsoft Office files.
  • Microsoft SharePoint Online for collaboration and resource sharing.

These cloud-based services run in data centers owned and operated by Microsoft, which maintains the servers and the software on a day-to-day basis. At EPHEC, this alone would free up the three IT personnel that had been supporting the email infrastructure to devote their time and attention to other activities that might be more strategically valuable to the university college. Moreover, because Microsoft keeps the Office 365 for education software up–to–date on the back end, students, faculty, and staff are always working with the latest software releases—without the EPHEC IT team having to oversee server migrations and upgrades.

Building out Windows Azure-based Services in Parallel

Mr. Fievez also pointed out to EPHEC administrators that creating an email and collaboration environment through Office 365 for education would complement a project that EPHEC had already engaged ICT7 to create using Microsoft Windows Azure™. That project, the ePerso portal, would enable students to access their assignments, course materials, grades, and more—any time and from any location with Internet access. ICT7 was already planning to use Microsoft Active Directory® to manage single sign-on and access rights to ePerso—it could use the same single sign-on system for secure student and faculty access to the resources and services of Office 365 for education.

After getting the green light from EPHEC, ICT7 created the ePerso platform and connected it to Active Directory—it then connected that infrastructure to Office 365 for education, paving the way for a smooth transition to the system after a brief pilot deployment. ICT7 ran a pilot deployment of Office 365 for education with a small team of faculty and staff, and that experience helped define what steps could make it easier to move all the remaining faculty members into the Office 365 for education environment.

After several weeks of putting both ePerso and Office 365 for education through their paces, officials at EPHEC approved the solution for broader deployment. New accounts were created in Office 365 for education for nearly 4,700 students and more than 300 faculty and staff members. Then, one weekend in early 2012, EPHEC flipped the switch and its faculty, staff, and students all gained access to ePerso and the new Office 365 for education-based communications infrastructure.

Since then, nothing has been the same.


Because Office 365 for education is offered at no cost to educational institutions, the move from its old email infrastructure effectively eliminated the expense of maintaining that infrastructure—saving EPHEC some €7,000 each month. Such a saving is always welcome, but Mr. Fievez is focused on other benefits

“Saving money each month is great, but that was not the primary motive for moving to Office 365 for education. The primary reason was to adapt to a changing world. We needed to provide an infrastructure that would help prepare our students for the world outside of EPHEC. We needed to have them using online services, shared calendars, online collaboration tools, and more. We wanted to show them how services like ePerso and Office 365 for education could interact in the cloud to do things that simply were not easy—or in some cases possible—off line.”

* SharePoint Online is also a key component of this solution for EPHEC. Faculty members can put course materials up on SharePoint Online, and all the students in the course have instant access to those materials. *

Vincent Fievez
Lecturer in IT,

At the same time, he continues, there are some very practical benefits that come from this, too: “We can move calendar information between a student’s mobile device and Microsoft Exchange Online, for example, so what’s on a student’s device and what’s in the shared calendar are immediately and transparently synchronized. Everyone is always up to date, and that’s a huge benefit in an educational environment.”

Connecting horizontally as well as vertically

Office 365 for education makes it easy, now, for students and faculty to communicate—using email as well as online chats and instant messaging through Microsoft Lync. Students and faculty members alike have online access to their contact information, so it is always easy for a student to contact a faculty member and vice versa.

But the connectivity benefits are not just vertical. Students can now easily interact with other students in the class using Microsoft Exchange Online and Lync. They can chat in real time without having to find one another on campus—without, in fact, even having to be on campus. Moreover, students have quickly discovered how easy it is to chat with multiple students simultaneously using Lync. This has facilitated study groups and discussions in a way that required careful planning and physical proximity before.

“SharePoint Online is also a key component of this solution for EPHEC,” says Mr. Fievez. “Faculty members can put course materials up on SharePoint Online, and all the students in the course have instant access to those materials.” Faculty members are also creating subsites within SharePoint Online, notes Mr. Fievez, and students can meet online in small groups to collaborate on projects, raise questions, find answers, and more.

“Both the students and the faculty have embraced Office 365 for education and the ePerso platform very quickly,” says Mr. Fievez. “There’s a high acceptance rate and an eagerness to do even more with it. We’re getting a lot of requests for additional features and functions—the students and teachers alike are pushing the system. They see what they can do now, and that gets them thinking in new ways, which makes them want to do still more.”

Building out the virtual classroom

The fact that students and teachers want to do more with this cloud-based communications infrastructure is good because EPHEC is going to try offering some online classes in 2013. Entire courses will be delivered using the tools and technologies behind Office 365 for education. Lectures and discussions will take place using the whiteboards, audio/video conferencing, and desktop sharing features of Lync. Course materials will reside in SharePoint Online. Papers and projects can be delivered electronically. Students can collaborate on projects from any location.

“Today’s students are mobile, flexible, and impatient,” says Mr. Fievez. “We wanted to use technology to communicate and interact with our students in new ways—and Microsoft Office 365 for education is the perfect solution.”

Microsoft Office 365 for Education

Microsoft Office 365 brings together cloud versions of our most trusted communications and collaboration products—Microsoft SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online—with the latest version of our Office desktop suite and companion web applications for education institutions.

Office 365 helps save time and money, and it frees up valued resources. Simple to use and easy to administer, it is financially backed by a service level agreement guaranteeing 99 percent reliability. Office 365 features robust security, IT-level phone support, geo-redundancy, disaster recovery, and the business-class privacy controls and standards that you expect from a world-class service provider.

For more information about Microsoft Office 365, go to: www.office365.com 

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:www.microsoft.com

For more information about ICT7 products and services, call +32 2 675 61 75 or visit the website at:www.ict7.com

For more information about EPHEC, visit the website at: www.ephec.be

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview

Organization Size: 300 employees

Organization Profile

The Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (EPHEC) has three campuses in Belgium and is renowned for its bachelor degrees in business. It has more than 4,700 full-time students and more than 300 faculty and staff.

Business Situation

EPHEC had an aging email infrastructure that only the faculty could use—it wanted to expand its use of communications technology to attract students and facilitate interaction more effectively.


EHPEC adopted Microsoft Office 365 for education and now uses Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft Lync, and Microsoft SharePoint Online to connect students, faculty, and administrators.


  • Reducing monthly IT costs.
  • Connecting students and faculty.
  • Facilitating new teaching modalities.
  • Preparing students for today’s business world.

Software and Services
Microsoft Office 365

Vertical Industries
Higher Education