Officials to transition GW from Google mail, calendar services to Microsoft this year

Media Credit: Alexander Welling | Assistant Photo Editor

Officials said students will keep the rest of the G-Suite platform after GW switches to Microsoft Outlook for mail and calendar services.

Officials will gradually transition students, faculty and staff from Google mail and calendar services to Microsoft Office 365 in three phases over 2020.

Officials announced the move last month, which will leave the rest of the G-Suite platform, including Google Drive, unaffected. Officials said the new email and calendar system will provide “improved” security through an “enhanced” security toolset, which includes features to help users mitigate spam, phishing and other attacks.

“Our goal is to provide more access to the latest technology for our campus community, and provide students with hands-on experience with other tools they may encounter when entering the workforce,” University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said in an email.

Nosal said the project is still in its initial stages, and officials will take a “gradual” approach to familiarize the University community to the new system.

She added that officials reviewed the new technology with various campus organizations involved in making technology recommendations to their respective schools and departments to gain feedback, adding that this phase is “nearing completion.”

“Listening sessions are also occurring with campus partners to share what the project entails and gather specific feedback, concerns and considerations, as well as ideas on how to complete the migration with minimal disruption,” Nosal said. “GW executive leadership will continue to reach out to campus stakeholders throughout the course of this initiative.”

She said the migration to Microsoft Outlook is part of administrative efforts to put “people first,” a hallmark of University President Thomas LeBlanc’s institutional culture initiative. Officials hired a chief people officer to lead an overhaul of human resources and held culture training sessions for faculty and staff as part of the initiative.

But some faculty have expressed discontent with the change from Google to Microsoft, which they say seems redundant and was introduced with little community input.

Kim Roddis, a faculty senator and professor of civil and environmental engineering, said at a Faculty Senate meeting last month that the change is not collaborative – one of the seven values established as part of the initiative – because employees were not consulted on the change.

She said many faculty and staff she has spoken with feel “disheartened” because the GW community is accustomed to and already uses the same email system. She added that the reasons administrators have given for the switch seem identical to those given for the move to the Google-based email system a decade ago, Roddis said.

“This doesn’t make sense,” she said at the meeting. “It’s saying that something is being done for a reason that was the same reason we were given for transitioning to Google Mail, and there’s a lot of staff that are really upset and just feel like this stuff is coming down.”

She said officials should solicit feedback from more faculty and staff before making decisions that affect the way faculty and staff operate.

“It profoundly affects the way people do their day-to-day work,” she said. “Where are these things coming from? It seems like nobody knows until all of a sudden this announcement is out.”

Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Mark Diaz, who announced the switch to the University community in an email last month, said the move will allow all students, faculty and staff to share one email domain and platform. The alignment could improve teamwork and efficiency across schools and units, he said.

“Over the following months, we plan to migrate the community to Office 365 email and calendar in a phased approach, providing staff to assist with the transition,” he said in the email.

The Division of Information Technology’s website includes a frequently asked questions page with contact information for IT staff where members of the University community can share feedback and ask questions. The timeline for the migration is still in development, according to the website.

“GW Information Technology staff will assist with the transition during times that are the least disruptive possible for our GW community,” the IT website states.

Under the new system, users will be able to increase productivity by easily collaborating through integrating Microsoft’s email services and other applications, like OneNote. Users can currently integrate their files in Google Drive with Gmail and Google Calendar.

“With one set of credentials and many features of O365 applications and services, users can complete more tasks easily with fewer steps,” the website states. “This leaves more time for learning, exploration, creation and innovation.”

Officials also said the new service will make students more “workplace-ready” by equipping them with a service used at an increasing number of companies.

“Microsoft is investing in technology to meet diverse learner expectations, improve student outcomes, and drive innovation through investments in artificial intelligence, advancing research and innovation, and rethinking teaching and learning – all of which provide opportunities to learn and work with future-ready skills,” the website states.

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