Northwestern University chooses Google Apps Education Edition to better engage students and alumni in campus life.
When Northwestern University opened its doors in 1855, the campus community consisted of 10 students and two faculty members. Today, Northwestern is one of the leading private universities in the central U.S., with more than 17,000 students, over 7,000 staff and faculty members, and nearly 200,000 alumni. Northwestern strives to provide innovative teaching and pioneering research in a highly collaborative environment. With 10 different graduate and undergraduate schools distributed on campuses in both Evanston and Chicago, programs and day-to-day operations are highly decentralized.
Supporting the ever-changing technology needs of such a diverse institution can be difficult and costly. In spring 2006, Northwestern began to notice a pressing need for better student tools; in particular, for a new email service and better tools for collaboration. "Students came to us asking for better communication and collaboration tools," says Director of Technology Support Services, Wendy Woodward. "They wanted centralized calendaring and a more robust email solution than the server-based system we offered." Woodward headed up the search for a solution in a process that ultimately involved dozens of stakeholders, from the board of trustees, to the legal team, to student government groups, to the alumni organization.
It would be cost-prohibitive to replace the university's old email system with a campus wide, full featured collaboration solution. Already, 90 percent of students maintained e-mail accounts outside the school's system; 67 percent of them were using Gmail. At the time, Northwestern did not provide live instant messaging, calendaring, or ubiquitous document creation or sharing tools for its students. When students graduated, the university discontinued providing emailboxes, making it much more difficult to maintain ties between alumni and their alma mater.
As a hosted software service, Google Apps topped the initial list of candidates. "From an IT standpoint, our initial goal was to leverage a external alliance to implement a wide range of self-service communication tools that would benefit our users without straining our existing IT organization," says Woodward.
Once Northwestern made the decision to partner with Google, the IT team worked closely with the institution's administration, academic leaders, as well as student and alumni organizations to plan the deployment. By June 2007 undergraduate and graduate students were invited to opt in to Northwestern's new Google-powered services. So far, she says, "Students are thrilled, and we feel comfortable that security and privacy issues have been met," says Woodward.
In addition to the improvement in student technology services, Google Apps is enabling students and alumni to interact in new and productive ways. Google Apps also has freed up strained server resources that are now being redeployed to improve faculty and staff email.
The Northwestern-branded student services include Gmail, Google Calendar for visible scheduling campus wide, Google Talk instant messaging, Google Docs, and a "Northwestern for Life" online connection for alumni. The school is also considering implementing a Google-enabled, Northwestern branded start page. "We are gaining tremendous service advantages at literally no cost to the university," says Woodward.
From a support standpoint, the new system is not only powerful, but also efficient to manage. The new system will automatically coordinate with the school's existing servers, synchronize with the university directory, and provide self-service functionality—such as changing passwords and creating aliases. All of this functionality was easily built with Google APIs. Google online help-centers and discussion groups will provide support for end-users, with ancillary support provided by the Northwestern IT department. The Alumni Relations office, if needed, will handle additional support for those who are no longer active students.
"Not only will our relationship with Google add value to student life on campus while reducing support costs, but also from a larger perspective, the solution will enable Northwestern to focus on its core competency of pursuing excellence in academics and research," says Woodward.
About Google Apps Education Edition
Google Apps Education Edition is a free suite of hosted communication & collaboration applications designed for schools and universities. Google Apps includes Gmail (webmail services), Google Calendar (shared calendaring), Google Talk (instant messaging and voice over IP), Google Docs (online document creation & sharing) and a Start Page for creating a customizable homepage on a specific domain, as well as administrative tools, customer support, and access to APIs to integrate Google Apps with existing IT systems.