SaaS meets Old Skool

I was in a meeting recently between Google and the OU implementation group involved in the rollout of Google Apps. Google has flown in Gabe Cohen, Google Apps Product Manager and Sam Peters, Business Development Manager (Europe) and the OU had representatives from all the big areas of the organisation. I’ve had meetings like this several times in the past but I was struck by the chasm between the Google view of Enterprise change process management  for implementing SaaS (software as a Service) technology versus the ‘old school’ view of implementing services and systems with paid for 3rd party service suppliers.

For example the OU would like to spend a period working with a senior technical person from Google about how the Google suite gets implemented against existing technologies. Sitting around a table and whiteboarding scenarios and coming up with a implementation plan. With Google it’s a case of switching it on. They say they can provide eight weeks of technical support around the launch window ‘but we’re unlikely to need that’.  I visited the University of Westminster when they had just ‘switched on’ the Google suite and I can testify that Google make the process painless. UoW’s head of ICT said that they spent ten days internally with Google mapping their authentication services and sorting our the passthrough of information to their Google Apps environment and that was it!

At the meeting on Friday I was struck by the different world views. The people from the OU (myself included although I may think of myself as a little more enlightened) were discussing about how you’d provide a stable environment for students and roll out tools. Google said they just add ‘feature sets’ and have a quarterly release cycle so it’s a case of benefitting from new things and providing them as you see fit. The OU has however a different demographic to other UK higher education institutions and we have a fair share of ‘silver surfers’ and some technophobes to consider.

I think it’s a very different mindset coming from a more traditional 80’s or 90’s style view of systems and services where you have total control, holding you full architecture stack within your business in a single place (or multiple places within your control) and having a total internal structure and staffing mechanism to keep things going to moving to allowing things to be controlled by others and to have services that are provided for you (and that you don’t even pay for) but that your organisation benefits from.

This lack of control is obvious and moving to the cloud is undoubtedly a very positive step but when it finally starts to become reality you can almost smell the fear. Knowing that Google provides services to governments, pharmaceuticals and other organisations that have serious data control concerns doesn’t make it any easier. Our students ARE our business and even a 1% drop in students would make a huge impact so we need to make sure we do this right. 

Yes lets just switch it on…but after we’ve planned and made sure that our students will be switched on to it.

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About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

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