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Consumerisation of IT in Education: Software as a Service

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Consumerisation of IT in Education: Software as a Service

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One of the key enablers for Consumerisation of IT in Education (COIT) is the growing number cloud based applications and services.

Much of the software available from Microsoft is now available as a cloud hosted service. A great example in Education is Live@Edu which provides free email, calendaring and collaboration functionality and is completely free to education organisations.

Office 2010 also embraces the cloud with a great combination of software and services. It is worth exploring this in more detail. As with previous versions, Microsoft Office 2010 is still installed locally on your PC, this provides all the rich functionality you have come to expect from Microsoft Office and works equally well with or without internet connectivity. In addition there are now Office Web Apps – which are lightweight web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The Office Web-Apps have the same look and feel as their fully installed counterparts (albeit with less functionality) but they work in the browser, with most major browsers supported. When we combine these versions of Office with a centralised storage service such as Windows Live SkyDrive or SharePoint, it opens up a plethora of possibilities.

Let’s look at an example…

As you are probably aware, Windows Live SkyDrive is a completely free storage and collaboration service which provides users with 25GB of online storage and the ability to create folders and share them by defining access permissions.

So let’s imagine 2 students, Peter and Jane who are working together on a project. Peter is working on his own laptop at home, running Windows 7 with Office 2010 installed locally. Jane uses a Mac with no MS Office installed.

Starting the project, Peter creates a new folder on his SkyDrive with and also grants Jane the read and write permissions on the folder.

He then creates an Excel workbook using his locally installed rich client, and uses functionality including pivot tables, pivot charts and sparklines. Peter saves the document to the project folder he created on SkyDrive.

Interacting with SkyDrive, shared storage is integrated into Office 2010. From the File menu, under Save & Send, there is an option to Save to Web. This connects directly to the users SkyDrive account and shows the file structure directly from the cloud.

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The file is now saved on SkyDrive and can be accessed by both Peter and Jane.

Working on her Mac, Jane accesses the Excel workbook via her browser – and importantly even though she is using the Excel Web App – with the lighter weight feature set, full fidelity viewing is preserved.

In the screenshot below, Jane can alter the cell values – and the Sparklines (in Column H) will update and reflect the changes made – even though Jane cannot create Sparklines directly in the Web App.

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The following day, they both need to work on the document at the same time. Jane is at home and opens the Excel workbook from her Safari browser. Peter is working on a shared computer in the library, Microsoft Office is not installed – so he opens up SkyDrive in his browser and opens the Excel workbook. They can now happily co-author this document at the same time across a range of technologies.

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Excel Web App – showing 2 people co-authoring a document

The future of cloud based applications is looking very strong. Office 365, a recent addition to the Microsoft Portfolio, includes Exchange Online, Sharepoint Online and Lync Online. An education specific version, aptly named Office 365 for Education, is expected soon and will add additional functionality to those found in Live@EDU. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is also available online which provides customisable and powerful relationship management in the cloud. Many Education ISV’s (Independent Software Vendors) are now providing their solutions as hosted alternatives to their on premise offerings.

We are passionate about the cloud and its ability to help institutions and students realise their potential.

To learn more about our thoughts around the Consumerisation of IT in Education, our paper on the subject is now available for download from our SlideShare account or can be accessed below.

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