A project that ultimately could unite computer users universitywide under one integrated e-mail, calendar and contact program is under way and gaining momentum.

The project is designed to improve electronic messaging, encourage collaboration and provide a seamless, integrated, intuitive, communication system to all departments.

This project, titled CONNECT!, centers around the launching and expansion of the Microsoft Exchange system, which embraces Outlook — a full-service e-mail client, shareable calendar and contact program. In addition to e-mail services, it permits users to propose and verify scheduled meetings on multiple calendars. Plus, users will be able to securely access their own personal information and files from virtually anywhere via networked (wired or wireless) computer, smart phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) or a Blackberry (a versatile wireless device).

As individuals and departments choose to migrate to this system, it is believed it will phase out the use of similar programs that operate independently from each other. For example:
• Microsoft Outlook can be used to replace Eudora, Pegasus, Thunderbird, Outlook Express and other e-mail clients.
• Exchange’s shared calendar and contact system can be used to replace Meeting Maker and various contact/directory systems.

Not my e-mail client!
Mary Doyle, chief technology officer and vice president for Information Systems, is well aware of the affinity many people have for certain software clients and programs.

“Departments and individuals don’t have to change systems,” said Doyle “but we’re confident that they will want to make the move. People who elect to continue using other e-mail clients will not be able to take advantage of the ability to integrate their programs, share files and folders, and work with others in this environment.”

People who are interested can begin moving now to Outlook as their e-mail client. Later this year, the shared calendar and contact management portion of this project will begin to be instituted on the WSU Pullman campus.

The goal is to have the complete Exchange system ready for use on the WSU Pullman campus by fall semester 2005. This transition will involve faculty, staff and graduate students in the summer. The next phase of the project will start in the fall to build up the service to support all undergraduate students.

Other WSU campuses and offices statewide will be invited to join in the process during 2005.

Some colleges and departments, aware of how Exchange can make their operations and communications more efficient and collaborative, have already made the switch to Outlook and Exchange. A few leaders in this movement include the College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, WSU Extension, and the College of Business and Economics.

Remote information access
Remote access to e-mail and computer files via your Web browser, cell phone or PDA “can be a very helpful and valuable service,” said John D’Aleo, Information Technology consultant and project manager of the CONNECT! project. “If you’re on the road heading to a meeting, your office can contact you with urgent messages, like your flight time has changed or your meeting was moved to another location.

“In addition, the shared public folder function that Exchange offers can improve overall productivity for individuals and departments. For example, let’s say you had many people from different departments and areas on a committee and had information or documents that needed proofing and editing over time. With shared public folders, each person on the committee can access that information through their client.”

Along with the advantages, however, come some additional risks. Because Outlook is a Microsoft product and used so widely, it is “likely to be the target for more hackers and viruses,” D’Aleo said. “So, computer system managers and users will need to exercise a higher level of diligence in maintaining their desktop systems.”

Make it easy on yourself
To make the transition as smooth and easy as possible, Information Technology Services is encouraging computer support personnel, departments and individuals to begin the transition process this spring.

To make that first step as fiscally painless as possible, the university will offer Exchange and Outlook at no cost. (Other Microsoft Office programs such as Word and Excel are not included in this project.) People who currently run Microsoft Office 2003 have access to Outlook and the rest of the Office suite through that package.

Departments that phase out MeetingMaker will eliminate the current monthly user fee for that program.

In addition, IT will offer a variety of live and online training sessions in the spring.

CAHNRS half way there
“Our college began working to implement the Exchange system in January 2004,” said Tony Wright, computer coordinator at CAHNRS/WSU Extension. “In the last several months, more than half of our people have been put on the server. Ultimately we hope to have about 1,500 people from CAHNRS and WSU Extension on multiple Exchange servers statewide.

“Our perspective is that departments should make the move to Outlook first, so they are not trying to make the entire transition all at once this fall. I would suggest that a college, campus or center start with a core group including department chairs and administrative staff, since they are the primary people who have the greatest need for sharing calendars. Then move out from there.

“We’re trying to do it by teams, so an entire office may make the move all at once, allowing people to work together as a collaborative team. That way they can mutually support themselves and plug into the mutual calendars and contact lists.”

Informing departments
Doyle will be presenting more of the details of this project in a PowerPoint presentation to the university’s Cabinet on Jan. 25, to be followed by presentations to other university groups throughout spring semester.

For more information, including a list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions, go to http://www.wsu.edu/exchangeproject OR http://office.microsoft.com and search for Outlook or Exchange.