The JISC published four case studies on Friday concerned with ‘outsourcing email and data storage’. They are quick reads and straight to the point. Pulling together all the ‘Lessons Learned’, we are told the following:
- Handle the beta mentality – expect things to change, ask not how you can control change but how will you respond to it.
- Web 2.0 is as much an attitude as any technical standard.
- Ensure that your contractual and procurement processes allow for the provision of a free service. They may be designed for a traditional system of tendering with providers bidding to provide the service, and may not cope with a bidding system based on a ‘free’ service.
- Ensure that students and staff are aware of the reasons behind the change.
- Who is a student and who is a member of staff? If you have a high proportion of graduates who undertake various jobs and duties for the University, will they need a staff or a student email account, or both?
- What emails and data do you need to keep private and confidential?
- Are you aware of the jurisdiction that any external third party servers are under?
Useful observations. For me though, what the reports didn’t address was why each university was providing an email address to students in the first place. Isn’t the issue less about ’email and data storage’ and more about having a trusted and portable university identity? Providing a GMail or Windows Live hosted account still doesn’t guarantee that the majority of students would use that email address as their primary address (prior to outsourcing at the University of Westminster, “96% of students did not use the University email system”). I’m assuming that the new, third-party managed email addresses are still *.ac.uk accounts – this wasn’t clear to me from the reports. Having a *.ac.uk account is useful, primarily for online identification purposes.
Personally, I think that the benefit of having Google or Microsoft manage a trusted university identity for students, is not the email service itself (yet another address that students wouldn’t necessarily use for messaging), but the additional services that Google provide such as their online office apps, instant messaging, news reader (all accessible from mobiles) and, most importantly, the trusted identity that is used across and beyond those value-added services. Furthermore, as both Google and Microsoft embrace OpenID, that trusted identity will assume even greater ‘value’ beyond their own web services. Email addresses are well established forms of online identity and most people are happy to have that identity managed by a third-party.
I like the URI approach that OpenID currently uses although I think that adoption will be slow if users can’t alternatively use their email address (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org, rather than http://johnsmith.id.google.com or whatever Google settles on). Some services do allow that option using Email Address to URL Translation, which highlights the value of having an email address, not for the communication of messages but for the communication of one’s identity.
Anyone with any thoughts on this? It’s pretty simple to get a message across these days but harder to manage our online identities.