A hot topic for some time now in Higher Education is outsourcing. Generally, this has taken the form of using Google for e-mail. In fact, other than a handful that use Microsoft’s live@edu for e-mail…I can’t think of anyone else doing anything through outsourcing. No storage, no running of Exchange in the cloud, etc.
Having said that, this is a really heated and controversial topic for a number of reasons. There is the legal one – FERPA states, essentially, that an educational institution cannot provide student information to an outside organization. Whether having Google host your e-mail, which is relatively secure behind encryption, etc, is violating FERPA has often been based on interpretation by General Counsel. Second, I am convinced that there is a strong belief that university data should stay on university servers. Even more than what most companies feel at an emotional, possessive and perhaps maternalistic level, universities have this suspicion about letting data go. Academia is free and intellectually unbound and independent – to host data at Google is like selling one’s soul.
Personally, I’m interested in taking this a step further. Let’s talk about outsourcing as a strategy. Right now, universities that have gone to Google have done so out of cost savings. No storage servers, fewer admins, etc, and you save money in providing e-mail to faculty, staff, and students. This is often the end of the discussion.
But if one were to take the emotional aspect out of things, and presume (fiat power!) that the school’s interpretation of FERPA allows for off-campus storage of student data, then one can start applying more strategy-based approaches to outsourcing. (more…)