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Saving money with Office 365 for education

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Guest post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft education blogs.

Office 365 for education is much more than a money saver. It has the potential to change and streamline communication and collaboration across the whole of an institution. It’s important to set that out at the start.

However, short term cost saving is high on the agenda in schools and colleges, and the fact that Office 365 for education is free (for plan A2) to academic institutions, needs no on-site maintenance, and has the strong potential to make considerable efficiency savings is bound to attract attention.

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So, even though it’s early days with Office 365 for education, IT leaders have to look ahead, and I decided to look at some of the stories and case studies that are already coming from early adopters.

Immediately, it became apparent that invariably it’s the availability of free cloud-based email that’s the initial attraction. For The Schools Network (formerly the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) for example, Office 365 for education solved the problem of how to replace an ageing email system in a climate of much-reduced funding. The removal of upfront server and licensing costs saved over £34,000.

But that’s only part of the story.

"We would have had to invest thousands to have ensured the level of uptime and support that Office 365 for education provides as a standard service," says Head of Information Services Julian Elve. "There was never a question of us matching that level of support ourselves. There was simply no budget to do that." http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?CaseStudyID=710000000494

It was a similar story at the 1,900 student East Norfolk Sixth Form College where IT Services Manager Eric Stone took the opportunity, with help from Microsoft, to be an early adopter of Office 365 for education last Autumn. They, too, faced the need to increase storage capacity for their on-site email system.

“One of the main drivers for changing to a cloud based product was the saving on storage and backup,” says Eric. “We believe we saved in excess of £5000 in capital expenditure for additional storage, whilst providing the students with an improved user experience, simply by moving the email accounts over to Office 365 for education.”

There’s a pattern emerging here which shows that Office 365 for education isn’t just a marginal cost-saver, a tweaker of the balance sheet, but is actually opening up new pages in the account books by helping institutions to make improvements that they otherwise simply couldn’t afford.

Take the story of the 5,500 student Kilmarnock College, for example. There, the ICT Service team had looked at upgrading the Exchange Server that was providing staff email and found they’d have to find £15,000 for hardware, £10,000 in deployment costs in the first year, and then an annual maintenance cost of at least £2,000 per year. None of this was at all feasible, so moving to Office 365 for education both eliminated those costs and vastly improved the level of service. http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?CaseStudyID=710000000987

But each of these innovators know that taking on Office 365 for education in order to reap the efficiencies and cost benefits of email is just a first step. All the other Office 365 for education applications are there to be used. At Kilmarnock College, for instance, there are plans to use SharePoint Online, included in Office 365 for education to complement and enhance their existing online content management system. IT Service leader Brad Johnston doubts whether, with their existing staffing levels, they could have deployed on-site SharePoint in the same way. And Brad’s also working on introducing users to Lync Online,

“We’re now telling our users that the emphasis on phones is no longer there because you have this whole communication tool built into Office 365,” says Brad. “It’s a million miles away from where we would be without it.”

Eric Stone, at East Norfolk Sixth Form College is adopting ‘one step at a time’ strategy, so although the whole of Office 365 for education will be available, from September, administrators in the College will stay with the familiar Office 2010 suite for now. As Eric says, there’s nothing to be lost by waiting,

“And students will certainly use Office 365, saving themselves some licensing costs.”

So is there a catch? Apparently not. Reliability of service, for example, is typically better than with an on-site system. Eric Stone says,

“I believe we’ve exceeded Microsoft’s best estimate. In the whole year we lost connection for just five minutes on one afternoon.”

More of these stories will emerge, and as they do it will become increasingly clear that the most significant cost savings of all will come from increased efficiency – better communication and collaboration, more effective deployment of technical staff, instant and effortless availability of the most up to date software. In this regard it’s well worth taking a look at a significant report on cost saving with Office 365 for education prepared for Microsoft in June 2011 by Forrester Consulting, looking at Total Economic Impact (TEI) of Office 365 on small and medium sized businesses. It reports dramatic savings, with a return on investment (ROI) of 321%, and while the many areas of potential saving that it lists aren’t all applicable to schools, many of them certainly are.

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