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Posted on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 9:45 a.m.

University of Michigan plans to introduce Google collaborative tools this spring

By Kellie Woodhouse

With 2012 fast approaching, the University of Michigan has finalized an agreement with Google to bring collaborative digital tools to campus and significantly reduce campus-wide information technology costs.

The university will begin rolling out the new tools, including a new email system, this spring.

"Having us offering Google services to the entire community is going to make it a lot easier for our students, staff and faculty to work collaboratively on classwork and research," said Bill Wrobleski, U-M director of infrastructure projects.

Thumbnail image for Larry Page at University of Michigan.JPG

Google co-founder and 1995 U-M grad Larry Page gives a speech after receiving an honorary degree in 2009 from U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.

The deal has been in the works since 2010, when IT officials publicly acknowledged the need for a streamlined campus-wide online communication system and U-M’s IT Council endorsed Google over Microsoft.

Both technology giants went head-to-head for a contract to replace more than 40 email and calendaring systems the university currently uses.

During the decision process, U-M invited students, faculty and staff to give input on which provider the school should go with. The university held several town-hall meetings and surveyed the entire campus during October 2010.

The results were clear: The U-M community preferred Google.

"Number one was just its collaborative capability. The Google products are really designed to have multiple people working collaboratively," Wrobleski said.

"Google has already got a high footprint within our student body," he continued. "And there is a big use of Google among a lot of higher education institutions."

U-M chose Google in January but just recently formalized their agreement. The switch to a new digital tools system has been dubbed the NextGen Collaboration Project.

The university’s switch to one collaborative system will help facilitate faster communication. It will also drastically reduce IT costs at the university by eliminating redundant and inefficient systems.

In 2010, U-M announced a goal to reduce IT costs by $7 million by 2012. The new program comes with a start-up budget of $1.8 million and an anticipated yearly savings of $750,000, according to Wrobleski.

While the U-M community can expect several changes in the look and functionality of their email, addresses will remain despite the switch to the Google platform.

Students will be phased to the new system first, followed by faculty and staff. While students at U-M Dearborn will switch to the new system, students at the U-M Flint campus will keep their current e-mail systems but receive access to the new collaboration tools.

The new system will be linked to existing online lists and servers.

For example: "We’re going to be able to integrate with the university's online directory system so it will be easier for groups to share a document with a certain group of people without having to know everybody’s ID number," Wrobleski explained.

The Google-based tools can also be adapted by students, thus allowing innovation.

"People can build add-ons to the platform," Wrobleksi said.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 7:23 p.m.

I just graduated from U of M's Computer Science (engineering) program, and I have to say, I'm very excited for the students who will get to use these tools; Google makes some fantastic collaborative software. I'm sure it'll streamline communication at the university. Kudos to U of M for making the switch!

Max Peters

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 3:24 p.m.

You could also argue that Larry Page is a product of the U of M.

Ron Granger

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

And here I thought this was a university that developed technology, and whose students and graduates operated that technology. Didn't I just read that the endowment is flush with a record amount of cash? Is that what makes it more important than ever to stamp out technological development and diversity in favor of the lowest common denominator? I suppose @umich doesn't mean nearly what it once did.


Tue, Jan 31, 2012 : 7:15 p.m.

This is going to save the U, $750,000. How can someone complain when the U wants to save money?

Rod Johnson

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 4:05 p.m.

(COUPLE decades, not "could"--darn spellchecker.)

Rod Johnson

Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

Email and collab tools aren't exactly cutting edge technology--it's a huge drag to administer, a money sink and increasingly a lawsuit magnet. I'm not super happy about this, but it's no different than outsourcing food service in the dorms really--let specialists with the infrastructure do the work cost-effectively. Over the last could decades, there's been a huge shift in how we (faculty) work. Most of us don't have a lot of clerical support--we do our own document creation, editing, printing, copying and communicating with students. And now many of us are doing some our techier things outside the U infrastructure anyway--web hosting, wikis, courseware, web applications, chat and discussion software. For the U to support the incredible diversity of things we can get for free on the web would be a nightmare. This is a trend in industry too--companies are questioning their need to have large IT operations and mandated software, special cellphones, etc. A number of companies are letting their employees use their own phones, webmail, etc. There are all kinds of issues surrounding this--security alone makes it a hot debate--but it's clearly a strong trend in cash-strapped times (and make no mistake, endowment notwithstanding, these are cash-strapped times for the front-line troops at the U).


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

Sure this is a university that develops technology, but sometimes you've got to face the fact that a huge corporation with hundreds, if not thousands, of developers is going to produce a better, more innovative product. Have you ever used the current e-mail system? Gmail is leaps and bounds better... We develop all sorts of cutting edge technology, its just a few steps removed from the end-user.


Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

To develop their own system would take lots of money and time away from other projects and would prevent them from integrating with other systems. UM should focus on developing new technologies instead of just reinventing the wheel.