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Move to Google Apps and Gmail yields ongoing benefits for Abilene Christian

Free suite of online tools helps ACU abandon an outdated email system, save money and foster collaboration

At Abilene Christian University in West Texas, technology managers were struggling with an outdated email system. While providing basic service, it lacked advanced functionality and was time-consuming and expensive to maintain. in addition, the full-time email administrator’s position had recently become vacant.

Kevin Roberts, chief information officer at ACU, knew it was time for a change. “We were disenchanted with our current email system,” he says, adding that the system servers were outdated, expensive to maintain, and were running out of space.


Roberts solidified plans to move to an alternative solution that would provide communication and collaboration services at lower costs than the school’s outdated system. the school had already investigated, tested and been impressed with Google Apps education edition, having compared it against various server-based and hosted solutions.

“When we saw the tremendous functionality Google Apps included, the skeptic in me was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Could we really save all those dollars and get a better system?” recalls Roberts.

Google Apps education edition is a no-cost, no-advertising suite of hosted communication and collaboration applications for schools and universities. it includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google talk (instant messaging and voice over IP), Google Docs (online document creation and sharing) and administrative tools, customer support, and access to APIs to integrate Google Apps with existing IT systems.

James Langford, ACU’s director of Web integration and programming, and his team had been testing Google Apps on an internal domain and were impressed. “With Google Apps, the benefits are tremendous and costs are few,” says Langford.

"The adoption rate was astounding and training and support costs were zero."

According to Roberts and Langford, the decision to migrate to Google Apps was easy. The majority of ACU users were already familiar with the Google interface and expressed strong faith in the Google brand. “I really had no convincing to do,” says Roberts.

“As we looked for alternatives, we considered both open source and commercial software packages, including some that were sold as appliances, as well as commercial, hosted services,” explains Langford. “We found fine offerings in all these areas, but none that came close to matching Google’s combination of features, reliability and cost.”

ACU moved forward with a campus-wide “GDay is Coming” marketing campaign, which included t-shirts, video tutorials about how to migrate email accounts, and lawn posters. Within 24 hours of adoption, more than 3,000 users on campus had switched over to Gmail. “the adoption rate was astounding,” says Roberts. “Training and support costs were zero. Essentially, adoption was an organic explosion.”

In addition to the advantages of Gmail, the biggest productivity gain has been with Google Docs, explains Roberts. “People who take meeting notes are sharing the proceedings when the meeting is adjourned,” says Roberts. “This may not sound like a big deal, but in a campus environment, it’s a huge savings in time, effort, and paper use.”

Roberts notes that CIOs in higher education constantly struggle with allocating resources to serve a 365-day, always-on customer base. By outsourcing email to Google, his department has saved an entire full-time position. “We did not need to replace our email administrator,” he says. “I was able to reallocate those funds toward a developer position.”

Langford adds that one of the most obvious and quantifiable benefits has been freeing up of other technology resources. “We have been able to cancel contracts for spam and virus protection, licensing for software we no longer use and support and maintenance contracts for both software and hardware,” he says.

Google Apps has delivered additional benefits to ACU, as well. “We’re using it extensively in our mobile-learning initiative,” Roberts says. “For example, we use it to create calendars for every course. So as instructors add assignments and other events to their course calendars, students see updates for all their courses on a dashboard on their iPhones or other mobile device.”

For more information about Google Apps Education Edition, please visit

This article originally appeared in the print edition of University Business in January 2010 as part of a sponsored advertising feature from Google.