That’s one of the things that’s transformed the campus the most — getting everyone on the same platform, using the same email and calendar.
NC State previously used legacy email systems, Cyrus IMAP and GroupWise, that didn’t meet students’ and staff members’ needs. Students couldn’t do much with email because of the small storage quota, and faculty had scheduling problems because they used different calendar programs. “You couldn’t easily schedule a meeting with someone if they weren’t using the same calendar — you had to call them up and send email back and forth to check availability,” says Stan North Martin, director of Outreach, Communications and Consulting in the Office of Information Technology at NC State. Students and staff also ran into barriers when trying to collaborate. For example, administrators struggled to efficiently take and share notes during staff meetings. “With Microsoft Word you never knew if the version you had was the latest version or not. It was a clunky process,” Martin says.
Because of the frustrations over email space and calendaring, as well as limited collaborative abilities, the CIO asked a team to look at hosted options for students, including Google Apps, Microsoft Live and Zimbra. They analyzed costs and benefits, then created student focus groups to narrow their options. After pilot testing the different tools, as well as receiving in-person demonstrations and feedback from students, the university decided to go with Google. The ability to integrate with different software and hardware played a significant role in NC State’s decision. “At the time the Microsoft solution really only worked with Internet Explorer,” says Sarah Noell, head of the Google Service Team and an assistant director in the Office of Information Technology. “We have a growing number of Macs on campus. For the students, many of whom were already using Google, it really was a no-brainer.” Meanwhile, the CIO asked another research group on campus to evaluate Google Apps for faculty and staff. Their main criterion was a solution that would require little change in processes. Moving from an on-premise solution to a cloud-based one does require some alteration, but the perception of change was greater than the reality. Most faculty members embraced the move to Google, having seen it used so successfully by students. While some staff members were initially reluctant, their complaints have pretty much gone away since they actually started using Google Apps, Noell recalls. Now, Noell’s team manages 180,000 Google accounts, around 75,000 of which are active. NC State graduates are able to keep their accounts indefinitely, and many have inactive accounts.