There were many benefits the college experienced because of their switch from Google to Microsoft, including peace of mind regarding privacy.
“That was one of the problems with Google,” said John Brennan, chief information officer. “If they’re subpoenaed by anybody, they’re very likely to just hand over data to governments or police agencies… where as Microsoft fights it a lot more and will work on that institution’s behalf rather than just on the user’s behalf.”
There is also a program called AdWords that sends users ads based on what is found in their email accounts. Brennan said that there was no way to know who was looking at the information from the emails that was running through the databases.
“That did not sit very well with a lot of faculty about is it just a computer that’s scanning it, or are there people who are scanning it? They felt like there was a lot of privacy concerns there that were not present with the Microsoft agreement,” he said.
There are other major benefits in addition to the increased privacy. One of these was getting students and faculty on the same email platform. Previously, faculty and staff were all on the Zimbra email platform, while students used Gmail.
Another perk was that the college was able to provide Microsoft 2016 to students for free on up to six devices. Without the new contract with Microsoft, the college would have had to pay a significant amount if they wanted to purchase the license for students and faculty to use.
Most SUNY schools use Microsoft as well. Though Hudson Valley does not lean on those schools for support, the state contract with Microsoft was already in place so there was no need to negotiate additional agreements.
Despite the perks, getting the system running smoothly after the switch took time. One problem was the computer asking users to log back in after they had already done so.
This is the result of a change in the way Microsoft does its licensing. In the past, if an organization bought a license for Microsoft products, it was given a software key code to pass on to its employees. However, this key code model is easy to pirate.
“If someone gives that sort of a key code to their friend and it gets posted online, now everyone on the internet is using Hudson Valley’s license,” said Brennan.
Microsoft switched to an authentication model where the licenses for individuals are validated by accounts and email addresses to a specific institution. The second login screen is just confirming that the user is actually a member of the Hudson Valley community and, according to Brennan, is supposed to be more informative than it is.
“We’ve been beating it into people over the last few years that you must be wary of everything. Don’t trust anybody that asks you for your password; we will never ask you for your password,” said Brennan. “That’s something we’ve been drumming into people, but we get to this, and it’s like shooting ourselves in the foot. Now we’re putting out emails that say, ‘Don’t worry, this one time it’s okay.’”
Despite students having to learn how to navigate a lot of new technology over the summer, including the new email platform, Brennan said that he has found students are very adaptive when it comes to getting used to such changes.
“They’re technology natives; they’ve grown up with this technology, and change is kind of ‘par for the course’ for technology,” he said.
He also said that the college needs to be better at providing training for teachers when new technology is introduced to campus.
“That’s partially a problem with the university providing training for the teachers and documentation in a timely fashion, and that is being addressed, though probably not as readily as it should have been,” said Brennan. “But with some user education and training workshops, we’ll hopefully get through any of those challenges.”