South African higher education improves collaboration with Microsoft technology
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
South Africa

The Association of South African University Directors of IT (ASAUDIT) needed to streamline collaboration and pool knowledge across higher education institutions in the country. Following a tender process, the association decided to implement Microsoft SharePoint 2010 to share information more effectively between universities.

BUSINESS NEEDS

ASAUDIT is an association to which all the South African public universities belong to. It has been founded to promote and advance the use of technology at these universities. The association focuses on the sharing of knowledge and collaboration to the benefit of all members and uses shared knowledge to provide strategic direction and advice.

"The major challenge we have had has been to plan and collaborate more effectively. Most universities face similar challenges. The questions we asked ourselves were how do we pull all the universities together and leverage off everybody’s knowledge to address the collective requirements without reinventing the wheel. There needed to be a way to streamline collaboration and pool knowledge across higher education in the country," says Val Theron, General Manager of ASAUDIT.

The association has several special interest groups who each focus on a different technology theme. The challenge has always been to collate the ideas and efforts of the special interest groups so that everyone participating in the association may benefit from the findings of the smaller groups. Making benchmark data, research, and information available as well as facilitating discussions on policy documents and governance matters are of prime strategic importance.

"With its members spread across the country, it was difficult for ASAUDIT to collaborate. The organisation needs to work together to improve the quality and relevance of higher education through the communal sharing of knowledge," says Ashley Sanichar, account manager at Microsoft South Africa.

Central information repository

For ASAUDIT, the most important thing was to have a repository of information on a private and secure site. With its dispersed model, it had to think of how it was going to achieve that. As with any association, security was of primary concern.

"Given the variety of projects and the different access rights required for our special interest groups, administrators, auditors, members, and so on, we needed a solution that would provide us with a centralised platform. This would enable our members to see what is going on and be aware of all our activities. Most importantly, the platform needed to be secure and had to provide different levels of access rights to our members," says Theron.

As the association is constantly looking for grants and sponsorships, it also needed a site where it could promote opportunities to provide support and get involved.

SOLUTION

Microsoft South Africa and its partner Dimension Data implemented the SharePoint 2010 enterprise collaboration platform at ASAUDIT to assist it in sharing information more effectively between member universities.

"Dimension Data had to provide ASAUDIT with a way to effectively and securely collaborate between the members. As Microsoft is familiar and favoured by many universities, it was only natural to look at rolling out a solution based on its technology. But we needed to consider the specifications and requirements very carefully and worked closely with the association to ensure that this was addressed," says Gordon Govender, client manager at Dimension Data South Africa.

With the heavy reliance on email to share information between the IT directors of the respective universities, the association needed to have a presence online to share information and collaborate on various initiatives.

"Once ASAUDIT saw what Microsoft SharePoint 2010 could do at an installation at the University of the Free State, the decision to move to the platform was an easy one to make," says Sanichar.

BENEFITS

ASAUDIT opted for a standard SharePoint implementation to keep things simple and get the project done as quickly as possible.

"We were operating without a collaborative environment which was becoming more challenging as we expanded our activities. The very nature of the association meant that the platform had to be as out-of-the-box as possible to cater for the different users," says Theron.

Dimension Data’s Govender feels that the roll-out went as smoothly as could be expected considering the number of users and the scale of the project.

"The implementation time of the SharePoint platform happened very quickly and in line with the expectations of ASAUDIT. However, as with any new technology, user acceptance and familiarity took more time," he says.

Theron agrees.

"We had a three-month window to complete the project so we had to be confident with our decision from the outset. From the time we decided on Dimension Data and Microsoft to the completed implementation, everything went well and it has been a great experience for us. As we already had a strong relationship with Microsoft, we expected no less," says Theron.

Testing before roll out

What was really beneficial for the association was how quickly it could start testing various elements without having to wait for the implementation to be completed.

"Halfway through the project, certain elements were visible and could be tested in a live environment. This really helped the association and Dimension Data to fine-tune things as they went along," says Microsoft’s Sanichar.

But to what extent has SharePoint helped the association meet its goal of having greater collaboration between universities?

"The solution has not only helped us to collaborate better, but it has been a boon for the organisation of our events. Before the implementation, ASAUDIT needed to create a sub-site at the university hosting an event and had to have a registration component built-in. Tody, SharePoint takes care of that management and we can focus on the content," says Theron.

Meeting collaboration requirements

With SharePoint, all the ASAUDIT information is in one place and members do not have the issues of the past with hundreds of emails going backwards and forwards, creating unnecessary clutter. Most importantly, the SharePoint environment means that important documents are never overwritten or lost in email exchanges.

"For us, what has been really important is that the collaboration deployment at the universities has been very well received by the association and its members," says Govender.

And it is this collaboration and using SharePoint as a content management solution that has suited the requirements of ASAUDIT perfectly.

Says Kabelo Makwane, Public Sector Director at Microsoft South Africa: "Our strategic partnership with ASAUDIT and education more broadly remains one of our priorities, supporting the vision of quality education for all enabled by technology. Collaboration between all the universities via SharePoint encourages universities to connect with each other and create their own sense of community, encouraging them to innovate collectively."

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