New email draws positive feedback after initial rollout

The welcome screen for the Mac-based Outlook email application.
The welcome screen for the Mac-based Outlook email application.

Microsoft Office 365 is working its way across campus.

After the first roll out of accounts in December, an Information Services team led by Amy Metzger is delivering the new Office 365 email system to UNL faculty and staff.

As of Feb. 1, more than 400 of UNL's 6,600 faculty/staff email accounts have been upgraded from the Lotus Notes system to Office 365.

"We've had a tremendous response from across campus expressing an interest in migrating to the new email system," said Metzger, infrastructure and telecommunications manager for Information Services. "We hoped to be further along at this point, but the team continues to make progress."

The first to migrate to the new system was the offices of the chancellor, vice chancellors and the related support staff. With the assistance of departmental information technology employees, the Outlook team also just completed migrating the majority of UNL employees who work with MyPlan, the new electronic system for documenting advising sessions and tracking student success.

"Overall, the response from employees who have migrated has been positive," said Metzger. "Chancellor (Harvey) Perlman attended a launch meeting in December and he said the new system was one of the best Christmas presents he's ever received."

The move to a new email system is a universitywide transition. The system was selected in a competitive bid process. Microsoft's systems better met the needs of faculty, staff and administrators at each NU campus. It will also reduce annual email costs by as much as 50 percent.

"The bottom line for us, and why we're excited about this project, is that we get to provide a product that is a better email and calendar solution, while saving money in the university system," said Mark Askren, chief information officer.

The migrations are being completed by campus units rather than by individual employees. The mass migration at the unit level helps reduce confusion between coworkers trying to communicate and schedule meetings through the two systems.

To further ease the migration, members of the IS team are working with information technology representatives from campus units.

"We are meeting with a lot of good people and finding out who makes this university's IT tick," said Gary Caster, a project manager for IS. "It's been a very rewarding process. And these folks are helping campus units prepare for the migration process."

When migration occurs, faculty and staff have two options — a "fresh start" new account, or to migrate existing mail and calendar items from Lotus Notes.

Employees who opt to migrate data to Outlook are asked to "clean up" old messages and calendar listings. Any email attachment larger than 25 megabytes should be archived separately and deleted from the mail file. Old calendar listings that are no longer needed should also be removed.

The "fresh start" option is faster, but Information Services officials feel it is important to give a migration option to faculty and staff.

"We want to provide as much flexibility to faculty and staff as we can," said Askren. "It has taken longer in terms of migration than we originally planned. But, our view on what is important is to provide excellent service and to get it done right rather than to get it done quickly."

Outlook does offer a variety of improvements over the Lotus Notes system. Those include a storage space upgrade to 25 gigabytes per user (Lotus Notes allowed one gigabyte of storage); a user-friendly calendar; and an online client that offers full access to email sending/receiving options. Users can also choose a personalized email name through the upgrade.

"I was named 'maskren2' when I got here, but through the change to Outlook I was able to choose 'mark.askren,'" Askren said. "That's in line with more conventional naming standards that you see at other universities.

"We are providing that preferred name option and it's just one of a number of things we are looking at to improve the user experience here at UNL."

Askren expects additional features and functionality added by Microsoft in the future, including an integration of Skype and Facebook.

"We are very fortunate to have an outstanding program that is very much 2012 in terms of technical abilities that are continually being improved," said Askren. "From that perspective continue to provide faculty staff and students with a state of the art communications tool."

UNL is also on the leading edge of higher education institutions opting for a cloud-based email system. In a cloud-based system, a third party (in this case Microsoft) provides the applications via the Internet and stores the data on their servers. Multiple copies of individual account data are stored for redundancy purposes.

"About a quarter or so of our peer institutions are either adopting the cloud for faculty/staff email or considering it," said Askren. "And, I think, those numbers will continue to increase."

All data in a cloud system is encrypted when accessed from the server. The online service offers better reliability and security than an on-campus server.

In the coming weeks, the email migration team expects to implement an automated tool that will speed up the data migration process.

Faculty and staff interested in upgrading to Outlook are asked to work through administrators or IT departments. Campus units ready to transition to Microsoft 365 and begin planning/scheduling the migration should contact Information Services at

For more information on the email migration to Office 365, go to

— Troy Fedderson, University Communications

More details at: