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U.S. Naval Academy goes mobile with Google Apps for Government

Posted by Lou Giannotti, Chief Information Officer, U.S. Naval Academy

Editor's note: Today’s guest blogger is Lou Giannotti, CIO at the United States Naval Academy, the undergraduate institution of the United States naval service.

The United States Naval Academy (USNA) has graduated more than 78,000 young men and women to serve in America’s naval service since being founded in 1845. The technological landscape of the country has changed dramatically over the past decade, and USNA has kept pace by providing its students, called midshipmen, with the educational resources required to be effective Navy and Marine Corps officers upon graduation.

Similar to other top educational institutions such as the Ivy League schools, Stanford and MIT, USNA is in constant flux and continuously trying to stay on the technological cutting edge. Thousands of midshipmen enter and depart each year, all requiring mandatory and standardized email addresses and account changes. This presents a significant challenge of ensuring old email accounts are properly deleted and new accounts created quickly. Faculty, staff, and midshipmen rely on a wide array of smartphones and tablets for communication and collaboration.

For years, USNA employed an appliance-based email solution that offered secure communications, but proved to be expensive and limiting over time. USNA paid a hefty license fee for every mobile device accessing email. With the exploding mobile component of the environment, we sought an alternative solution.

During an analytical review of alternatives, USNA discovered the bulk of the 4,400 midshipmen were using personal Gmail accounts. USNA embarked on a trial of Google Apps for Government, providing midshipmen Gmail while allowing USNA to protect school data from uncontrolled exposure to the public domain. It provided a full suite of communication and collaboration tools such as Docs and Calendar. Coincidently, Google Apps for Government also provided universal mobile access with no additional licensing costs.

USNA began with 100 users putting Google Apps through its paces, including testing much needed capabilities like using Calendar to schedule resources like rooms and equipment, and sharing documents for collaborative efforts. Following a successful trial, phase two included applying Google Apps to all faculty, staff, and midshipmen. Today, Google Apps supports approximately 7,200 users at USNA.

We use Gmail the most, with some faculty using its chat feature to communicate with midshipmen for official purposes. USNA maintains roughly four terabytes of mail without the burden of operating onsite storage and backup systems. More and more users are also taking advantage of Docs and Calendar. In fact, the midshipmen and faculty create an average of 5,000 Google Docs daily. Users enjoy the sharing capabilities, enabling greater collaboration. This is enhanced further as Google Apps allows access on any device users choose.

Google Apps provides USNA with flexibility and enables management of the constant change of midshipmen turnover at a lower cost than before. The mobile access alone makes Google Apps a worthwhile investment at $50 per person. It lets us make better use of the taxpayer’s dollars. The greatest value is the ease of creating and sharing information between midshipmen, faculty, and other institutions making Google Apps a core collaborative asset in the educational process.