One of the themes from the UCISA conference this year, from the first keynote on, was the possibility of massive upheaval in the higher education sector in the UK. Tough spending reviews, new ways of doing things and the very imminent possibility of multiple mergers and acquisitions between universities in the UK. And from an IT perspective, there’s been discussion about the mix of services between university run, outsourced and shared services – and what direction things will go.

Put a fluid mix of IT services together, and mix it together with a fluid organisation structure, and it sounds like the potential to create ‘the perfect storm’. And we’re involved in discussions with a number of universities about their future IT strategy, and how they effectively mix cloud-based and on-premise services. There are plenty of case studies on our global customer evidence website that describe different implementation strategies, but the one from Taylor Woodrow is particularly relevant.

After VINCI acquired Taylor Woodrow last year, they had the challenge of merging four different IT systems, and creating a single IT infrastructure. Across four countries, they were using Google Apps, Exchange, Lotus Notes and Novell Groupwise for their email and collaboration services. You’ll be able to guess what they concluded the answer was Smile, but there is a lot of detail within the case study that explains why, and especially why they decided to switch the Taylor Woodrow business back from Google Apps to Microsoft Exchange.

Tina Parfitt, the Head of IT at VINCI, puts it succinctly:

Many of the things you normally expect to be able to do at an enterprise IT management level were not available with Google Apps—things like the ability to easily manage groups and users. We need a system that makes it easy to transfer e-mail and accounts as part of selling a business. And we need to be able to connect new users quickly when we acquire another company.

I’d recommend reading the full VINCI/Taylor Woodrow case study, even though it isn’t specific to higher education, because some of the lessons that they have learnt may well be absolutely relevant to the next 12 months in UK universities.