Monday, February 17, 2014

On Google and Cloud

If you search my blog, you'll find I've talked about "Cloud" for many years. I used to say "Cloud is coming" but as of a few years ago, I now say "Cloud is here." Cloud has shifted the balance for IT governance. A few years ago, IT may have delivered services locally … Some of these things used to be what IT specialized in. But there are a lot of things now where a local IT shop just can't deliver value. And email and documents are examples where we don't add enough local value, and it makes way more sense to outsource that.

Institutions have moved to different cloud services for this space, but in general most universities are moving to Cloud for office productivity. Microsoft's offering is Sharepoint and Office365. The U of M is using Google Apps for Education (also "Cloud"). Google happens to be free for higher-ed, so that's nice—but it is also really great for office stuff. We started a pilot program for Google Apps (Gmail, Calendar, and Google Docs) around 2008, and started moving all faculty, staff, and students into Google starting in 2009. We also have Sites (for making websites), Groups (for discussion & email lists), Blogger, Books, Photos, YouTube, and a bunch of other Google things. A few months ago, we were finally able to sign a Business Associates Agreement with Google, so now our health providers can use a special "BAA" instance of Gmail and Calendar (but not Docs or the other stuff).

When I moved to Morris in 2010, I wrote almost all of my work documents in Google Docs, including spreadsheets (budgets, etc.) and presentations. My "holdout" document was a "dashboard" of our 5-year IT program, and it was important to me that column labels be vertically-stacked—which Google can't do. But eventually, I just got over it and did it a different way. Today, the only time I fire up Microsoft Office is when I download a Microsoft Word form that I need to fill out.

Google Docs makes it really easy to share stuff with others, as viewers, commenters, or co-authors. You can even have lots of people in the same document at the same time - and they can all edit at the same time, great for collaboration! For example: In our IT Director meetings, all of us share and open the same Google Doc, and we make edits during the meeting to make notes or add agenda items.

I'm also using Google as a student—not just as an administrator. Throughout my M.S. program, I've done everything in Google Docs (except one class that was about how to use Word for technical editing—for obvious reasons). Whenever I write a paper for a class, I always "Share" the document with my wife (our home email is through Google, so we have Google Apps at home too). I only give her the ability to "Comment" which is basically the same as writing notes in the margin of a printed draft. So while she can insert comments, I'm the only one who can actually edit the document.

If you haven't accepted the conclusion yet: Cloud is the future—and as Microsoft feared, the browser is the new platform, not the operating system. It no longer matters if you're using Windows, Mac, Linux, or some other thing, as long as you have a standards-compliant web browser.

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