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It’s becoming increasingly clear that Lync  can be a real game-changer for universities. Among the higher education institutions we’ve talked to about this recently is De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester. There, the Information Technology and Media Services (ITMS) team, led by their Director, Michael Robinson, is engaged in a Lync implementation that will enable staff and students to engage and work more productively, efficiently and cost effectively. To the existing choice between a phone call an email and a visit, will be added the possibilities of audio and video conferencing , instant messaging and desktop sharing, all from within each user’s familiar software, at work, home, or with a mobile device.

Driving change

De Montfort University is strategically committed to enhancing teaching and learning and management through technology. There are, though, two immediate drivers of the current adoption of Lync 2010.

One is the approaching need to replace the University’s current telephone system, which is nearing the end of its life. The other is the move, completed in 2011, of the University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery from an outlying site to a new home at the Edith Murphy Building on the main campus. This has involved a major building refurbishment and rather than commit budget and resources to equipping the new premises with the existing telephone system, the decision was made to install Lync for about 100 users, at first for phone service only, working in parallel with the legacy system. This first installation, completed in September 2011, was the first step leading towards a roll-out of full-feature Lync across the whole institution completing in August 2012. Leading the project is Michael Robinson, Director of Information Technology and Media Services.

Planning the roll-out

The preliminary installation in the Edith Murphy building was designated as Phase One of the University’s Lync implementation. It acted as a pilot for Phase 2, the full roll-out.

Phase 2 is organized into a number of workstreams, individually led but closely inter-related, covering all technical, training and project management aspects of the Lync adoption and its integration into the overall management and leadership of the University.

Two of the workstreams will deal with, respectively an upgrade from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010  and the setting up within Lync of the University’s Contact Centre.

The Exchange upgrade is necessary in order to gain the full functionality of Lync including voicemail, but will also provide improved email archiving and integration into SharePoint.

The Contact Centre, taking calls from outside, has to meet considerable variations in demand at the time of university clearing for example, when anxious students (and schools and families) phone in. It has to be robust and at the same time capable of returning detailed statistics. DMU’s Contact Centre, the key first point of contact, will be up and running by April 2012.

The core mission

The main drive of the Lync project is to successfully introduce Lync to several thousand users across the campus.

The need here is for flexible response to varying needs.

“It’s not just about deploying technology. We need to consider how to communicate changes to staff that things can be carried out in different ways.” For example phone call forwarding and pickup is now configured in the Lync software client rather than directly on the phone. Another would be to collaborate on documents on-line rather than sending them around via email.’’ Michael Robinson

A key preliminary is a comprehensive audit of the way the current telephone system is used. Users will rightly expect that they’ll be able to do what they did before, at least as well and preferably better. They will, though, also need to be shown, by training and example, that Lync is much more than a straight replacement for an existing phone system. It has the potential to streamline working practices – instant messaging instead of email for example, and the possibility of collaboration through web conferencing or the sharing of documents.

In all of this, some users will need more help than others, and training plans encompass a wide range of approaches, including the deployment of “champions”, lectures, online help, demonstrations and one-to-one sessions.

“There’s a balance.  It’s about working with people and not frightening them. It’s possible to throw too much technology at people, too soon. We want to bring them along, to give support.”

In this, the ITMS team is able to build on a number of growth points, supportive groups and individual advocates or champions. The University has a Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology CELT, along with eLearning champions within the faculties, all keen to support ITMS in making the most of the Lync rollout.

Crucially for innovation and change is the degree of enthusiasm and tangible support coming from the top.  Michael and his team are pushing at an open door, because the Vice Chancellor (on Twitter, @DMUVC) and the Executive Board are entirely signed up to the potential of technology in general and Lync in particular.

“The Chief Operating Officer has Lync on her PC and she’s looking to use it to improve the way the people use meeting time.”

Benefits

Lync is seen as a ‘‘game changer’’ as not only  does it support existing patterns of learning and collaboration with virtual meetings, document sharing and one-to-one contact but also creates possibilities for entirely new kinds of connections and encounters between individuals and groups.

“Once you start the deployment, people will find creative ways of using it, ” says Michael.

So, for example, there’s the prospect of using Lync for contact with students away on year-long placements. Lync, with video and desktop sharing could improve contact with both employers and students.

Cost saving

“The structure of our Microsoft Campus Agreement means that the cost of deploying is approximately fifty percent of the cost of a traditional PABX system.”

There are also some savings to be made through not replacing handsets one-to-one.

“Many people are happy to use laptops with Bluetooth headsets, or mobile phones.”

Lync can reduce the need for travel, saving time, money and carbon emissions. So although DMU is housed on a compact campus, the conservative estimate is that it will save 10percent of current travel costs.

There are also clear efficiency savings by reducing misunderstandings, shortening the time spent in meetings and making draft policies and documents more widely and quickly available for consultation.

“Integration with Outlook and with SharePoint will bring huge benefits as we move to a more collaborative working model.”

Lync working with strategic change

We’re seeing profound changes in the way that higher and further education institutions are led and managed. There’s a move to the use of project teams working across hierarchies and between departments.  Technology, creatively used, will both support and encourage such developments, reducing the need for face-to-face meetings, and providing easier access to draft documents and policy papers. DMU is no exception to this.

“We’re seeing more multi-disciplinary and collaborative working, with virtual teams sitting across the structure. We’re looking at modernising many systems to go along with that. putting Board papers on SharePoint for example, and using mobile devices in meetings. “

The same kind of change is affecting the way students work and communicate.

“People don’t work alone on courses. There are group projects and assignments, and Lync is fantastic for supporting that.”

Microsoft education team are going to have both presentations and demo area’s dedicated to Lync and how it can be effectively used in learning in the classroom. If you would like to find out more, ask questions and see for your self, we are at BETT 2012 on stand D30 and D40 where we would love to see you!