The following is a case study from Hable, an education technology consultancy founded by Mark Reynolds, a former member of the Microsoft UK Education team. Hable deliver expert consultancy and learning experiences, helping academic institutions to innovate, while making technology feel natural and useful, delivering modern experiences for teachers and students. If you visited the Microsoft stand at BETT 2015 you may well have seen Mark during the Theatre Sessions, talking about project based learning with the Microsoft/BBC Earth joint venture the ‘Enchanted Kingdom‘.
To find out more about the Office 365 Pro Plus Benefit available within education, and to check your own eligibility for Office at no cost, please visit Office.com/getoffice365.
Radley College is an independent boarding school for 690 boys aged 13-18, set on a beautiful 800-acre estate, close to Oxford. It was founded in 1847 by the Reverend William Sewell, fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. More importantly, its just down the road from my house – and most importantly of all, they “pushed the button” last month and went live on Office 365.
I first visited Radley when I was working at Microsoft, to meet Ian Yorston – their Director of Digital Strategy. He was kind enough to tell me when we first met, that he “hates Microsoft” and I’ll always remember the introduction he gave me when preparing to present at an IT event which the college were hosting. I had the unenviable task of presenting Windows 8, not long after it was released – and Ian was on before me. As usual his presentation was interesting, funny and all of the things you pray people are not going to be when you’re up next. As he finished, he said “Mark from Microsoft is up next, to tell you about Windows 8. I’d just like to say before he starts: don’t touch it with a barge pole.” I’m not sure if he’ll remember this, until he reads my blog – but needless to say rather than putting me off working with Radley, I instantly knew he was someone I could get along with and have continued to enjoy the banter (“great bantz” as my 12 year old would say) ever since.
Despite Ian’s natural aversion to the Microsoft Corporation, Radley choose Office 365 for cloud based email and collaboration services and the “go live” date for was March 3rd. Jon Buzzard (Radley’s Network Manager) told me he was going to push the button at 11am, making their old “First Class” email system read-only and moving the live email feed across to Office 365. The school has used First Class for over 15 years and this was going to be a big change for the staff. If you’ve not done a big IT project before, you may think that days like this come with big fan-fares and firework displays at the historical moment when the button is pushed. What I witnessed that day was a very well planned, well executed and therefore very uneventful morning. The button was pushed, it all worked, and we could get on with helping Students and Staff get used to the new platform – which was also, well, quite easy.
At 10.58am one of the Radley boys came into the room where I was stationed, clutching his iPhone. He said “Hi Sir” (they’re very polite) “my email isn’t working on my phone – can you help?” I had a look, finding that he had the Outlook app installed, his username and password were correct, but sure enough – his email wasn’t coming through. I went in to see Jon – and this was the only moment he looked even mildly flapped. “Sorry Mark, you’ll have to see someone else, its 11am”. I then realised that the boy was 2 minutes early logging his support call. I stood there, Jon pushed the button, I went back to see the boy and said “try now”. It was 11.01am by then, and his email started flowing in from Office 365. Right on schedule.
I spoke to Jon later in the day, about how calm things had appeared on what was a big day for the school and for his team. He explained that they had done a huge amount of work to get ready for the 11am switchover, to make sure it went as smoothly as possible:
“We were in a position of using a product called FirstClass to make a clean break and do things differently. We were being encouraged by Finance and Admin staff to move to Exchange to make their lives easier, teaching staff and students needed an up to date web based system. We started to look at Exchange with a view to going for a hybrid solution staff on premise and students in the cloud. After many discussion with Mark he convinced us to go fully 365 for all, “this was very good advice”. We have tried to keep things as simple as possible and decided to do the setup fully in house, considering we had no experience of exchange and PowerShell this was a steep learning curve, but fully worth the effort. Many of the changes we made to get ready for 365 were organisation (extending and tidying AD) Setting up O365 is well documented so fully within the capabilities of most IT depts, with some external advice as needed.
The process of keeping it simple was in my view the reason the change was so trouble free, we made the decision early on we would not move all the old email data to 365 as it was almost impossible to do from FirstClass, we have kept the old system as a read only archive. We organised drop in training session most afternoons for 6 weeks before switchover where users get 1-1 tuition if they needed it. We only trained users on OWA and we are fully promoting the use of web and tablet versions for almost all users (a few admin users use full blown Outlook).
Using Directory Sync allows us to manage many of the setting internally in AD. We decided to fully populate all user photo from day one and don’t let users change them themselves. This makes identifying users easier for all. From day one we gave basic instruction on the use of OneDrive and left users to it discover at their own pace, we are now starting the process of setting up official shared areas.
My advice if you are thinking of moving to O365 Plan, Plan again, Train users informally, keep it simple, Lock down only the bare essentials (in our case personal info, photos and disabling the creation of user based Groups by non admin users).”
The fact that schools like Radley are choosing Office 365 really shows me how far the service has come. They have a very mixed estate of school owned PCs, Mac’s & iOS devices – plus Students and Staff who often work on their own devices. Whilst the main driver was the replacement of their email service, the staff I met on the day were already coming up with great ideas for the use of OneDrive, Lync and other Office365 components to change the way they do things. The ability for people to mix the use of Microsoft Office documents across the desktop client, iOS apps and browser is really starting to sink in for schools and the high levels of customer satisfaction I saw on the day was a great example of how IT projects should be done.
If you would like to know more about the Radley College Office 365 project, please get in touch.