I and my colleague, PSU Alumni Director Joe Long, had an opportunity to listen to a University Business WebSeminar yesterday on the topic "Email for Life: The benefits , costs, and solutions for College and Universities" that was sponsored by Mirapoint, an email solutions vendor. The presentation was moderated by Tim Goral, Editor of University Business Magazine, panelists included Mike Briggs, Director of IT at George Washington U. Law School and Wayne Cozart, Dir. of Alumni Activities, Alumni Association, U of Virginia. I believe there were approximately 260 schools participating in the webinar. The panelists presented their current solutions, followed by a Q and A session. The Q and A was good and gave one a sense of where many of the participants are in their thinking about life-time email.
While this a "hot" topic, in part, because of the recent interest by Microsoft and Google in wanting to host Higher Education institution's email accounts for "free," it is too narrow of a topic. We have to consider all online services - our digital profile if you will. Additionally, as Higher Education insitutions chart the unfamiliar business models of Web2.0 waters, we are going to have to consider the relationship between institution supported services and the rapidly evolving suite of external online services as we strive to increase or even maintain alumni engagement. Of course, it's not just Alumni, but the entire customer life-cycle services and the engagement that comes with an online "birth-to-bequest" strategy.
Aside: I believe my colleague Joe was the first coin the phrase, "birth-to-bequest." I've heard "womb-to-tomb" and "cradle-to-grave," but I like Joe's. It has a better HEd. ring to it. Okay, enough digression.
As HEd. institutions engage in their strategic and long range planning processes, they will need to consider not only the impact that outsourcing services such as email has on IT budgets, but what the total impact of outsourced/ASP hosted services such as ePortfolios, learning management, websites, portals, prospective portals, library resources, etc. and various combinations thereof will or could possibly do to their online branding efforts. Additionally, future developments, specifically Federated Identity Management (IdM) potentially blurs even further the boundries of the institutional experience/environment as we begin to explore expanded trusted relationships with vendors, other insititutions, and the governement. In other words, what does it mean for HEd. branding and engagement, when a users creates an initial prospective student account at a third party portal, becomes accepted at the insitution, receives his or her Google/institution email (with no adversting), gains access to the institutional services, perhaps through an institutional portal with single-sign-on, the portal then provides access to third party hosted services such as: eportfolio, course management, and library resources, then, via the same Google/institutional email account, gain access to Google portal services? In short, where does the institution end and Google begin? Does it even matter?
While this is an extreme example of an potential future HEd. institutional online environment, it highlights how difficult it will be to maintain control over branding and the quality of service, let alone the integration challenges. We have a favorite saying around our shop "The good news is we're integrated, the bad news is we're integrated."
At PSU, the username and email account are interwined. All our new users have unique usernames that come with life-time email accounts. We created life-time email accounts for ALL our Alumns as well. The username not only provides email, but access to the Plymouth portal, myPlymouth, which is based on Luminis from SunGardHE. We have portal roles for students, staff, faculty and alums. We'll shortly have a prospective portal as well. In order for us to even consider outsourcing to a vendor for email services we will have to take a long hard look at the impact to the provisioning process and business processes that occur at our institution. Arguably, even more important, is the impact to long term engagement as these vendors are not only interested in the ad revenue that will occur from eyeballs using their email services, but those same accounts will most likely give them access to the vendors online portals or online web2.0 based applications. As a matter of fact, that is precisely where I believe Microsoft and Google are going. They not only want us using their web-based email client, but they want us using their online (Web 2.0) word processor, spreadsheet, social networking service, and so on. Need more tea leaves? Take a look at Groove, the collaboration software that was developed by Ray Ozzie of Lotus Notes now employeed by Microsoft and latest author of one of those notorious "internal" memos that sets the company on a new course. Groove, the product, is now being marketed to higher education. Put products like Groove and the potential of all online web-based services and you begin to get a sense of the scope and impact these technologies will have in defining the higher educational experience. Is that good or bad? It's neither. Like all tools, it is how you use them. One thing is certain, higher education institutions can't do it all. Adrian Sannier, from ASU, has pointed out that Higher Ed. institutions are on a linear development curve while industry is moving along on an exponential growth path. Institutions have some decisions to make. We're going to have to pick and choose who we partner with, examine our mission, values, objectives, and strateges, and carefully consider the implications of our decisons.
It's not just about outsourcing life-long email. It's about defining life-long relationships. Interesting times.