Software as a service has been one of the key disruptors of technology in higher education. The ability to move applications and services into the cloud frees up IT staff to focus on infrastructure and classroom technology. In the case of Google Apps for Education, it also relieves some of the pressure on colleges’ budgets.
Available at no cost to students and faculty, Google Apps includes cloud email, storage, hosting, word processing and collaboration tools. Previously, colleges were forced to invest millions in these services and struggled to modernize outdated technology, not to mention maintain email servers and data centers. Microsoft has followed suit with their Office 365 solution, and the cloud revolution is in full swing on campuses.
Notre Dame is a great example of a university that has benefited greatly from cloud email. They moved 18,000 users to Google Apps and realized the benefits in a big way:
The team noticed immediate results in user satisfaction. People increased their use of email, had 20% fewer questions for the Help Desk, and indicated a 36% increase in IT satisfaction since the migration to Google Apps (data provided by IT annual survey). What’s more, the IT team determined that by switching students over to Google Apps, they were able to realize $1.5 million in savings.
EDUCAUSE examined the benefits of Google Apps in a 2008 white paper, but the advantages are the same today as they were then:
Particularly for higher education, the notion of providing software to constituents as services rather than as products offers several key benefits. Such an approach transfers responsibility for software updates and maintenance away from the institutional IT department, freeing IT staff from a considerable amount of software support. The resources saved can be directed at making the IT department more innovative and agile, attributes that are increasingly important in responding to rising student expectations of technology on campus. Sharing content is as simple as granting someone access, which facilitates collaboration without having to transfer files or worry about software compatibility.