Introduction to Southwest Allen County Schools
K-12 school districts have a lot of ground to cover. Faculty, staff, and students all count on reliable infrastructure, solid security, and effective apps and services. Yet they typically do so with small IT teams. Southwest Allen County School District, near Fort Wayne, Indiana has been running lean for years. With the help of Enabling Technologies, Southwest Allen County Schools set and executed a plan to migrate to Exchange Online, even during 2020.
Motivators for Moving to Exchange Online
“For me, it was reliability and redundancy,” explained Don Chase, Director of Technology “and the ability to have a reliable email system that was not affected if our Internet pipe were to go down. With Microsoft and their many pipes and internet connections, the event of them going down versus us going down was far less. That reliability factor was huge for me."
What were your concerns about moving to the cloud?
>“Part of my concern moving to the cloud was security and data privacy,” said Chase. “In school districts, email is a form of public record, so making sure that data is held private was an area of concern. I think I am comfortable now that it is secure. If our administration, passwords, and security measures are in place, then it is a secure location to keep our email.”
How did Enabling Technologies help?
Explained Chase, “The first thing that became quite apparent to me was their organization. The number of people involved, not only the engineer that was to do the work, but also the planning person, and the project manager. That was huge for us. Enabling provided a plethora of people and information and knowledge to make this happen seamlessly.”
Said Mark East, Network Administrator, “Enabling’s staff made it really easy, going through our environment to make it a lot easier for the migration to take place. Enabling’s engineer was able to do more than he would have in a complex environment. That eliminated some work and let me focus on the smaller details, or specific user accounts that needed a little more tweaking and adjustment.”
What did the project process entail?
“One of the major factors was the plan that was developed by our team and Enabling,” recalled Chase. “We identified the steps that we were going to take in this project to move all email over. Enabling initially suggested moving the heavy hitters first. I'm probably the biggest heavy hitter with email in our school district, so we decided to do the tech staff first and learn from our experiences. Then we created a training plan and then migrated another 10, 20, 30 people at a time before we started handling the masses. We started doing an entire school one at a time as we progressed and ended up moving all the middle schools together and all the elementary schools together. By the time we finished, we were able to take big chunks to the cloud.”
How did you communicate the plan to your users?
“Our end-users primarily used the Outlook client on their Windows 10 device,” explained Chase, “and some go into Outlook on the web. The beauty is, the experience is the same. We didn't need to do any training because for the end-user, once their email was migrated, it was “Carry on!” The fact that it was just all there, and nothing changed, and nothing was missing was huge.”
“The biggest thing I learned with this process,” disclosed Chase, “was to over-communicate to let people know what is happening, and the timeline. Let them know that we were migrating this weekend and that they aren't going to have email for a period of time. Do that a day before their migration so they are aware. Overall, I would just have over-communicated the process.”
Have you received any feedback from faculty and staff?
“We have not, it's one of those things; no news is good news,” said Chase. “Their user experience didn't change, they were using Outlook before and they're using Outlook after. Things are the same and that's a good thing in schools especially in 2020, with everything else going on this year.”
Have there been any user benefits?
“We have had some positives,” claimed Chase. “There's less spam, and what Microsoft thinks is spam is ending up in the junk folder, so users have access to the emails that may appear to be spam, but are not. They can go to their junk email and put them back in their inbox. We had been using a separate solution for spam, and we did not provide any access to what was designated as spam. So that's been a benefit and users have made some positive remarks.”
What other benefits has the district seen?
Network Admin East likes that, “Now everything is in one location for management. We don't have to manage our spam filter on a separate box, it's all within one cloud management source. The interface is the same as far as the end users go, so it really wasn't a change there which is always helpful because that's always a big hurdle when you're making any type of migration or major change like that.”
“For me,” said Chase, “it’s the Integration of mobile devices including Microsoft Teams and being able to do things on my mobile device that I was not able to do before. For example, Microsoft has a task list product and I can now integrate that with Exchange. We also replaced our phone system and there is some integration with our new phone system with the online version of Exchange. Moving our emails to the cloud has opened up more functionality that we just simply would not have had before, and that was a key factor in the decision to move to the cloud.”
How was it working with Enabling Technologies?
“The staff we worked with at Enabling was very responsive,” said East. “I worked with an engineer, John, quite extensively. He is very knowledgeable was available pretty much 24/7/365. When we had migrations going on Fridays and Saturdays over the weekend, I could shoot him a quick email and typically within an hour or less I would have the response back and we’d move on, correct the issue, and keep going.”
Network Admin Trevor Hanson had a similar experience. “I sent email to John and within a half hour I was getting responses back from him. He was a very responsive and answered our questions and was coming up with any solutions that we needed.”
What advice do you have for others?
The entire team chimed in by saying, “Go ahead and do it!” Chase continued, “Talking from an IT perspective just do it. Yes, there are concerns, but if you plan it right and if you communicate the timeline and if you over communicate the process and those affected by the process, the functionality and the features far outweigh any concerns. It's been a good benefit to move email and Exchange server to the cloud.”
How important is it to have an expert to guide you?
“It's not something I would tackle without somebody's help,” explained East. “There's just too much on the back end. In a school system, we are required to do so many different things and nobody specializes in one area. So, to have that person on the back end that you know, this is what they do every day, to rely on and guide you down that path. It’s invaluable, and I wouldn't hesitate a bit to do it again.” have done it on our own, but it would have taken five times longer. We would have to research solutions, and it is not something we have ever done before. We wanted an expert to come in and do it for us. Yes, there's going to be some cost involved with that, but I highly recommend hiring, in this case, Enabling Technologies to make that transition. The time saved in doing it along with everything we do is a huge benefit.”
What's next for the District?
“Our next step is to expand our use of Microsoft Teams,” Chase predicted. “We're just now starting to use its capabilities now that that email is in the in the cloud. It’s our next big initiative with Microsoft products, and hopefully we’ll carry that out to other users.”
See the Video Case Study
Chris Stegh, CTO at Enabling Technologies and Don Chase CIO of Southwest Allen County Schools discuss moving their email to the Cloud with Exchange Online.