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Posted: 9/4/2012
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University of Toronto University Improves Student Services, Saves IT Costs with Cloud-Based Email

The University of Toronto (U of T) wanted to provide students with an email service that befitted its reputation for academic excellence. It chose Microsoft Live@edu. Students are more productive and the university is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in IT costs. Thanks to best practices developed during the migration and a supportive relationship with Microsoft, U of T is recognized by its peers as a leader in successful IT outsourcing.

Business Needs
The University of Toronto (U of T) is Canada’s largest university, recognized as a global leader in teaching and research. With more than 18 million holdings, it maintains one of the largest research libraries in North America.

Until recently, U of T did not offer students an email service commensurate with its reputation. Its complex organizational structure was mirrored by disparate email systems that served different communities. Some faculty and staff use Microsoft Exchange Server for email, while others use various in-house mail systems. Students used an in-house email service for official communications, but many had additional email addresses, based on their campus activities. “Students were frustrated by the 100-megabyte [MB] inbox quota and the outdated interface compared to what they could get on the open market,” says Robert D. Cook, Chief Information Officer at the University of Toronto. “We didn’t want to continue expending resources on an aging service that didn’t meet students’ expectations, and that posed the risk of failing infrastructure. But the cost of upgrading our solution was prohibitive. We began to think about outsourcing our student email to another organization.”

Transitioning from an on-premises email solution to an outsourced email service for more than 80,000 students would be a major undertaking. “We listened to students’ concerns about privacy, and we conducted risk assessments and privacy impact assessments to ensure compliance with our privacy officer’s directives for outsourcing,” says Marden Paul, Director, Planning, Governance, Assessment & Communications, at the University of Toronto. “We needed to find a partner that could work with us to a satisfactory conclusion.”

The University of Toronto found that partner in Microsoft. It evaluated Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Live@edu, a cloud-based, no-cost suite of communication and collaboration services hosted by Microsoft. Live@edu includes Microsoft Outlook Live web-based email; Microsoft Office Web Apps; and Windows Live SkyDrive storage technology. “We chose Live@edu because its feature set was consistent with student expectations,” says Cook. “But it was the availability, willingness, and interest that Microsoft showed in working with us that made the difference.”

“We wanted to understand Microsoft security processes and the logistics of having our data stored in the United States. Microsoft was great at working through our concerns,” adds Paul. “They provided technical resources to develop an authentication technique that didn’t require use of students’ personal data.“

* The Live@edu project exceeded our expectations. When I talk to my peers, I use this project as an example of successful outsourcing that delivers great value. *

Robert D. Cook
Chief Information Officer, University of Toronto

U of T began staged migrations in June 2011, focusing first on students entering the university in September 2011. By June 2012, U of T had migrated 68,000 student mailboxes, and it expects to complete the rollout to more than 80,000 students by October 2012. “The migration to Live@edu has been the smoothest major initiative I’ve seen since joining U of T,” says Cook. “Credit for this is due to our communications with the students and the support we got from Microsoft. The multidisciplinary team of staff working through the details was the key to U of T’s successful implementation.”

The university hosted student meetings and town hall sessions at each campus; launched a project website; and posted notices on its learning management system and student web service screens. “We turned to the libraries, registrars, student life professionals, and communications staff to help us educate the students,” says Tamara Adizes, Portfolio Communication Officer at the University of Toronto. “This collaborative approach was an inexpensive and effective way to reach the students. We had a contest to encourage students to migrate to Live@edu, resulting in faster adoption. A communications and marketing project leader from Microsoft helped us tailor the Live@edu marketing materials to a Canadian university environment. Microsoft was a major presence at the university for orientation week and helped us showcase a new and exciting service for the students.”

Since deploying Live@edu, U of T has provided students with the email service they expect from a leading university, and it has reduced costs. Along the way, U of T assumed a leadership role for other Canadian universities eager to see the benefits of subscribing to Microsoft cloud-based services.

Reduces IT Costs
When U of T retires its on-premises email solution, it will recover a significant amount of IT resources to devote to projects directly connected to academic program delivery and research. “With Live@edu, we can avoid hardware acquisition and maintenance costs, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars annually,” says Cook. “And help-desk support costs are down because the solution is so easy to use.”

Improves Student Services
U of T is providing students with a modern email and calendaring service accessible on PCs and mobile phones. With easy access to 10-gigabyte mailboxes and the ability to send 18 MB attachments, students are working and collaborating more productively. The service will be extended to alumni, with the 2012 graduation class being the first to keep a Live@edu university email address. “We expect to upgrade to Microsoft Office 365 for Education to continue to offer students the latest in online collaboration tools from Microsoft,” says Paul.

Boosts Reputation for Academic Leadership
With the migration of Live@edu nearly complete, the University of Toronto has broken new ground for other Canadian universities. “We had followed closely the University of Alberta’s conversations with Google. They were 14 months into the process when we decided to go with Live@edu, with the expectations that our project would establish the model for outsourcing communication services between Microsoft and other Canadian universities,” says Cook. “The Live@edu project exceeded our expectations. When I talk to my peers, I use this project as an example of successful outsourcing that delivers great value.”

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Solution Overview

Organization Size: 20000 employees

Organization Profile

Established in 1827, the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, serves more than 80,000 students across three campuses. It offers more than 700 undergraduate, 215 graduate, and 63 professional programs.

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Online Services
  • Microsoft Live@edu

Vertical Industries
Higher Education


Business Need
  • Cloud & Server Platform
  • Unified Communications
  • Identity and Security

IT Issue
Cloud Services