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Listening to users

At today’s meeting of the project board for the Office 365 for Students project, the main topic of debate was when to switch over from the old mail system to the new.  All the technical work is currently progressing well and we expect to be ready by the start of the new semester, so this shouldn’t be a constraint.  The issue is when would be most convenient for the student community.

The message from the school and student representatives on the board, backed by the User Support Division, is that we should wait until the new (calendar) year.  At the start of the academic year, students are focussing on settling into their new accommodation and their new courses.  For first years in particular, they will have more pressing concerns than a switch to an new e-mail system.  They will be using the student e-mail system already to receive important messages from the university and we don’t want to disturb this communication path.

The next option we considered was switching over in the middle of the semester, after students have settled in and before exams.  This could work but again the representatives felt that students would be too preoccupied with their academic work.  Also, if anything did go wrong in the switchover, this would impact their work directly.  We’re not expecting to see problems in the switchover but we do have to manage the risk.

So the preferred time is the first week in January, if possible.  This will be a quiet time for students, with plenty of time to tell them about the plans in advance.  We expect to switch to the new system in the week before the start of the semester, giving us enough time to sort out any minor problems before the students start using the system in earnest.

This shows the value of a project board.  As technically minded staff, the project team (myself included) would probably have pressed ahead and brought the service into operation as quickly as possible.  Instead, there will be a four month gap between finishing the build and actually starting the service.  This should give a better experience for the people who actually matter – our students.

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