The academies programme has shaken up schools’ traditional support systems, particularly in ICT. However, this reorganisation has created opportunities for the most innovative tick chains to cultivate new infrastructure models. Switching to a cloud-based system has revolutionised AET, the largest multi-academy trust

With more than 45,000 staff and student users, our organisation has many challenges around how to ensure we have the best technology across the trust. Under our previous systems we did not have the capacity to cope with the demand and had significant issues with availability of web-based services.

What did we do?

In 2012, the AET board decided to move our ICT infrastructure platform to a cloud-based model to help to reduce costs and to overcome capacity issues.

The board set new criteria for a provider: scalability; reliability; value for money; simplicity; accessibility; cross-platform availability; user empowerment and collaboration potential.

What did we find?

Using these criteria, the board adopted Google’s Apps platform, which lets our users gain access to their content from anywhere, on any device, therefore cutting the need for expensive home-access servers and systems.

What happened next?

Implementing a cloud-based ICT platform across 68 schools was a logistical challenge. We had to ensure ICT support teams were equipped to manage new systems, and students and staff could deal with a less familiar platform. Good training was vital. Online learning communities built on Google+ provided ongoing technical support and shared best practice across academies.

How did we win people over?

The central ICT team met with the academies’ senior leadership teams to share the benefits of the migration to Google. This included greater
collaboration, home access for all, improved mobile access, reduced service costs and improved reliability and security.

The technical team then created new profiles for users using either a Google Apps Directory Sync tool or CSV imports. This was quick and easy to setup, and typically took no more than a day.

The existing content was migrated into the Google system using GAMME, a free tool that transfers all emails, contacts and calendar entries, and is then synced regularly. The speed of the transfer is dependent on the amount of content, but for an average secondary it took three to four days.

On an agreed date, the schools’ email settings were changed to Google Apps. Increased face-to-face and remote support included advanced workshop sessions and Google Studio events, showcasing best practice from other academies and organisations

What went wrong?

There were minor glitches — for example, a user may have been missed from the migration list and therefore did not have any content in the new system. We simply ran the migration process for that individual again.

And the outcome?

We are now one of Europe’s largest users of Google Sites. And what started out being driven by the board and ICT department is now led by teaching staff.

We have no doubt that it has had a positive impact on our schools, their budgets and the co-ordination and management of ICT. We expect to save around £900,000 over five years.

But it’s not just about Google. The move to a “cloudy” way of working has inspired us to review how we can move other services to the cloud, such as Microsoft applications. We are now moving to a cloud-based finance system and are procuring a cloud-based HR system.

Google is now our “digital glue”, accessible from any platform, and supporting teaching and learning across the trust.