Queen’s journey to a cloud-connected campus with Office 365

Today’s post about Office 365 was written by Bo Wandschneider, CIO and associate vice principal at Queen’s University. 

Queens U 3My team at IT Services at Queen’s University started our journey to the cloud in 2013 when we migrated all undergraduate students to Microsoft Exchange Online. I’m often asked how we fostered agreement among the faculty and other campus constituents to take this step. Exchange Online is the best place to begin because the business case for retiring on-premises email solutions is clear: you save money on infrastructure and IT staff are freed to work on projects that add value to the academic community.

These projects include introducing all the other great services you get with Office 365—provisioning unlimited online storage for everyone, and introducing video conferencing, collaborative team sites and social networking. All these capabilities add a unique virtual component to the residential experience that helps define a Queen’s University education. When these services are in full play across campus, students and faculty will have a connected learning environment where it’s easier to work productively, in groups or individually, anytime, anywhere.

Another good reason to start with Exchange Online is that it sets the cloud-computing dialogue with our academic community on a positive note. Having a dialogue with faculty is one of the most important components on the journey to the cloud. The students were easy: they love that they are working with a business-grade productivity platform. As soon as we offered Exchange Online to the undergrads, the graduate students were knocking at our door. Everyone was ecstatic when we introduced the Office 365 ProPlus benefit that gave all students the latest copy of Office to download on five devices—PCs, Windows-based laptops and tablets, Macs, iPads, Android tablets—whatever students owned.

But even with that groundswell of acceptance among the student body, the approach to faculty, staff and the broader campus community still required a careful dialogue. Everyone has their notions around privacy and confidentiality, and it was important to have answers ready to address possible concerns. I prepared for this by making a visit to the Microsoft Quincy datacenter in Washington. This was a real eye opener for us and I was able to confirm that our information is actually better protected in the cloud than it is locally. I could prove that we didn’t have the resources necessary to handle security threats the way I saw them being handled at Quincy.

There’s another point around security that helps us all understand the cloud value proposition: the risk is not so much in where the data is stored, it’s in how we deal with email and sharing information today. It’s important to point out there is a risk when faculty and staff use services such as Amazon EC2, Dropbox and Google Docs and to store institutional information without proper contracts and risk mitigation measures. With Office 365, we have online storage with OneDrive for Business, mail tips, information rights management, and data encryption capabilities that we can use to define security policies at the user level that meet our needs.

Queens U 1It’s always a good idea to do some benchmarking as well and talk to your peers in the academic community and bring their experiences to the table. I talked to the University of Toronto about their IT department’s discussions with their faculty. I talked to my colleagues at Dalhousie in Halifax to see how they dealt with security and privacy issues in a province that has stricter privacy rules than Ontario.

I tapped into Microsoft resources as well; watching videos from the Garage Series helped me educate the community about how we have access to our tenant 24/7. I attended a Microsoft technical learning conference and came back with references and ideas about innovation in learning that reinforce the reason why Queen’s is adopting Office 365 in the first place.

I encouraged a dialogue with the campus as a whole. I have pointed out how building a digitally connected campus reinforces the residential experience at Queen’s, a message that really resonates with our community. I have written Gazette (Queen’s internal newspaper) articles, blogs, and pieces published online under the Office of the CIO and associate vice principal banner that provide responses to common concerns. It’s not that Office 365 is a hard sell—we have support from all the students and everyone at a senior management level is a champion—but it helps to take the cloud discussion slowly and carefully, using research and peer experience to support your discussions. At the end of the day, I’ll reiterate what I’m experiencing to date: the value of Office 365 speaks for itself.

—Bo Wandschneider

Read the full story of how both the University’s staff and students use Office 365.