ITS prepares for Office 365 rollout for undergrads

Moving day will come early this semester for thousands of Western undergraduates – only there’s no need to pack up their personal belongings.

This weekend, Western begins the process of moving undergraduate students from the current university email system to Microsoft Office 365, a web-based collection of programs, including email and calendaring services. Currently, Western’s email system is managed ‘in house’ by Information Technology Services (ITS).

The move follows a successful pilot last month involving 1,800 students who used Office 365 as their primary email and then offered detailed feedback on their experience.

“We were pleased with the pilot – the group came back with positive things to say about Office 365,” said David Ghantous, ITS associate director. “The Office 365 experience is much easier for everyone – greater stability, greater capacity and, from a user experience standpoint, it’s a far richer experience.”

Pilot participants were surveyed following the month, and reported generally positive experiences. In fact, 94 per cent rated their overall satisfaction with Office 365 as a 4 or 5 out of 5.

“We do like hearing that,” Ghantous said.

The migration involves all undergraduate students, including the affiliated colleges.

Among its benefits, Office 365 increases individual mailbox storage from 50 MB to 50 GB, and integrates far more seamlessly with mobile devices than the previous service. Both these changes were in direct response to student feedback over the years. In addition, the suite offers free access to Microsoft’s Student Advantage Program, which includes access to MS Office Pro applications – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneDrive and Lync – on up to five different personal devices.

“That can be a savings for many students right there,” Ghantous said.

The change, for many users, cannot come soon enough.

“Our old tool is outdated; it can no longer support the needs of our campus,” Ghantous said. “We had to move away from it. If you look at higher-ed across Canada, there is a huge shift to Office365. We’re not trailblazing but we hope we are providing significant benefit for students.”

Beyond Calgary, Queen’s and other Canadian universities, all institutions in the QS World University Rankings Top Five – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Imperial College of London, Harvard and Oxford – have adopted the system as well.

To assist in the transition, ITS started communicating with students in January, and asked them to keep the changes in mind. They plan to continue communicating with students up to the day of migration – and beyond.

In fact, ITS established an Office 365 kiosk in the University Community Centre this week. There, they offer on-site, face-to-face help for any difficulties that may arise.

“We know this change will have impact on their lives as students, on their day-to-day routine at the university. If we can be out there, interacting with them and talking with them, I think it will make the change so much smoother, the experience so much better,” Ghantous said. “We’ll be able to know what their challenges and problems are – and there will be problems, as we’re dealing with 31,000 or so mailboxes – and getting them fixed.”

Beyond undergraduates, nothing further has been decided about the migration of graduate students, faculty or staff.

“Right now, we’re focused on getting the undergraduates moved – successfully. There’s a lot of bang for the buck in that big group. As for what happens to the rest of the campus down the road, that hasn’t been determined yet,” Ghantous said.