Oxford University Computing Services are now leading a major project to implement a new University-wide 'groupware' solution. This will establish a series of new services for the University, supporting collaborative working such as enhanced email, public and private calendaring, and contact list management, all accessible over the web and on mobile devices.
The project was initiated by the Office of the Director of IT (ODIT) and considerable background information regarding committees, panels and the selection procedure for the the prefered supplier can be found on the ODIT web site.
On the 4th July 2008 the Groupware Project Board endorsed a recommendation made by the Groupware Short-Listing Panel that Microsoft Exchange/Sharepoint be the preferred software system to meet the University's Groupware requirements. This decision was made after more than 6 months of work by a team of representatives from across the collegiate University which gathered requirements and evaluated a number of possible solutions.
1.1. What is Groupware?
Groupware is a suite of programs that help people work collaboratively together and share documents and other forms of information. This includes sharing calendars, email applications, shared documents, document storage etc.
The Exchange/SharePoint Groupware solution chosen will have the following functional components and interfaces:
- An email system conforming to current industry standards and including a rich set of features.
- A contact list / address book facility which is searchable, exportable, importable, and shareable
- A calendaring and resource booking system, supporting sharing of data and synchronization
- A shared data repository enabling individuals and groups within the University to store, retrieve, and maintain documents flexibly and securely across different platforms
- Access to Groupware functions available from any system within the University network, and also by remote access from standards-compliant Web browsers across Windows, Apple and Linux operating systems
- Mobile Access to Groupware functions for at least the most common handheld computing platforms
- The Groupware solution will interact with other University systems, such as the Student Information System and WebLearn.
1.2. Expected Development Timeline
The project specification has been agreed by the Project Board, and the project has now been fully transferred to OUCS for the implementation stage. As of January 2009 the project team has been successful in some recruitment of staff, the hardware has been selected and ordered. Some of this has started to be delivered, and we expect all hardware to be onsite by the end of February. Once all the hardware has arrived and software installed, the team expects to have the first working trial for Exchange sometime in early Spring. There will then be a number of phases of piloting which will incorporate individuals initially, then small units and gradually increasing prior to a full launch over the summer. The SharePoint implementation will follow in parallel but slightly later.
2. Project Background
The project takes the term "groupware" in its more modern sense as meaning applications for "computer-supported cooperative work" or "collaborative working".
The deployment of integrated applications to support group-based working has the potential to relieve the administrative burden on staff; to help facilitate intra- and inter-institutional research; and to assist communication and group working between students and between students and their tutors.
2.1. The bodies involved
In order to select a solution, the project established and/or relied upon the following groups:
- Groupware Requirements Panel (see the ODIT web site)
- Project Board (active throughout the project - see the ODIT web site)
- Short-listing Panel (active from March to late 2008 - see the ODIT web site)
- User Consultative Group(s) (active from March to December 2008)
- Technical Evaluation Group (active from March to Oct 2008)