Committee to consider outsourcing e-mail
By Michael Coburn, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, November 2, 2007
At the same time as many universities begin to outsource their e-mail systems to tech companies such as Google and Microsoft, at Dartmouth, Ellen Waite-Franzen, vice president for information technology, is planning to create a committee by the end of the academic year that will review the school's BlitzMail system. Outsourcing e-mail services is one option that the committee will likely look into.
For free, Google Apps Education Edition will run any university's e-mail services, and also offer students Google Calendar, Google Talk's instant messaging service and Google Spreadsheet.
Northwestern University is one institution that has made the switch to Google. Its new e-mail system is run under Gmail, but contains no advertisements and students' accounts end in @u.northwestern.edu.
The switch has allowed Northwestern's technology support services to devote more of its resources to other pressing needs. It also allows Google to expand its customer base because students who graduate will automatically switch to a normal Gmail account.
There are down sides to outsourcing. Dartmouth's Technical Services director David Bucciero said that it could be very difficult to send out mass e-mails under Gmail. Outsourcing would also mean that e-mails would be under the control of Google, and the college would not be able to offer students as much technical support as they currently do. In addition, some students may have trouble adjusting to Gmail's website-based user interface.
On most campuses the switch has been driven by the students. At Northwestern, 90 percent of the students already had a Gmail account and did not want to give it up. It was the student government that requested that the administration outsource. The University of North Dakota also switched to Gmail only after their student senate voted for it.
"So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive," said Wendy Woodward King, Northwestern's director of technology support services. "It's had a great impact on campus."
Google is not the only company to provide free e-mail services to colleges. Microsoft's "Windows Live@edu" offers a similar service that is being used by the University of Bryant in Rhode Island.
At Dartmouth, some have already moved away from BlitzMail. For instance, Sigma Nu fraternity uses Gmail for its in-house e-mails.
Sigma Nu member Alex Guyton '09 said the main reason they use Gmail is because it allows the reader to read one thread of conversation at once rather than click on each individual e-mail. It also prevents the in-box from being crowded by a large number of blitzes from the same thread. Nevertheless, Guyton said he had no problem with the College continuing to use BlitzMail.
"I like Blitz, it can just be difficult with long threads," he said. "It's really a non-issue for me."