Higher education in the digital age requires both students and staff to maintain close connection with their university beyond the classroom. Kingston University implemented Microsoft SharePoint 2003 to provide a single point of access for information important to both students and staff. The platform was adopted quickly and became a vital part of the institution, currently holding more than one terabyte of data. Kingston’s server farm consists of two web front ends, one SQL server, one index server, and one application server.
Students use the SharePoint platform as a student intranet which provides information on University life while also acting as a gateway to key systems and services available on and off campus. This “StudentSpace” communicates to the entire student community and provides a wide range of information from current news and events in the local area, to helping students with their studies by providing access to past exam papers and e-resources.
Staff and external collaborative partners use SharePoint under the “StaffSpace” banner for document management, communication, and collaboration. Important documents on human resources, university policy, staff guidance, and legal information are all accessed from this one convenient location. Faculties and departments also use StaffSpace to publish information available for all staff, and restricted workspaces enable collaborative working within their own departmental area.
As well as relying on SharePoint for Student and Staff portals, Kingston also uses the platform for its admissions process. The university receives approximately 40,000 applications every year and accepts 7,000 new students. All applications are stored and managed in SharePoint and each application is ultimately accepted or rejected and sorted using the platform.
Due to frequent use of the platform, Kingston administrators knew the institution would benefit greatly from upgrading to SharePoint 2010. The new version offered social computing functions that would be especially useful to students, allowing better connection through enhanced features such as blogs, wikis, communities, discussion boards, and tagging. Given the ever-increasing use of smartphones by both students and faculty, SharePoint 2010’s mobile integration was also of great appeal. “Since the introduction of tuition fees, students are increasingly demanding greater levels of service,” said Dena Lawson, SharePoint Project Manager at Kingston University. “We knew the new features offered by SharePoint 2010 would significantly improve the students’ experience.”
Upgrading directly to SharePoint 2010 from SharePoint 2003 is not possible with Microsoft native tools. In order to upgrade natively to SharePoint 2010, Kingston administrators would have needed to upgrade to SharePoint 2007 first, and then perform a subsequent upgrade to SharePoint 2010. This would have required additional hardware and software and would also have required Kingston to hire additional consultants to carry out the task. Since the native migration process would have been far too time-consuming and resource-intensive, Kingston administrators sought a third-party solution for the job. ”After making the decision to migrate to SharePoint 2010, we were aware that we needed an infrastructure management solution which would minimise resourcing requirements at the back-end, while also ensuring that service levels were kept high, particularly during important times in the academic year such as exam periods and admissions,” Lawson said.