City of Westminster College is a leading Further Education institution based in central London. Offering over 250 academic, vocational and professional courses to students aged 16-18 and to adults wishing to re-train or improve their skills. The state-of-the-art Paddington Green Campus, a world-class £102m building designed by leading architects opened in January 2011 and has the capacity for over 3,000 students. An inspiring location providing formal and informal learning spaces for studying in the heart of the capital.
As a leading academic institution with a Microsoft Campus Agreement, using the latest versions of Microsoft software makes good sense. The College wanted to upgrade their current installation of SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 to not only keep up with software releases, but also to take advantage of some key new features within 2010. SharePoint provides an essential collaboration platform for staff and students as well as providing central file and record management across the College. Prior to implementing SharePoint all student correspondence was paper-based and stored in filing cabinets, the resulting ‘paper mountain' was creating a storage problem coupled with the difficulty of trying to locate particular documents. The College uses SharePoint as a document repository for all student correspondence and this is linked to their central student database. For example, student data stored securely on SharePoint can include documents related to prior qualifications where the original is scanned and then held on SharePoint electronically. This makes finding the documentation in future a lot easier as it is fully searchable by name or reference ID because of the links to the central database. It removed the need for keeping paper records and the physical storage space required.
Upgrading to 2010 was a daunting project because so many of the College's services depend on it and around 450 staff members access it on a daily basis. The Online Services Manager knew they needed some IT consultancy for the upgrade and so evaluated a number of SharePoint specialists to allow them to showcase their skills and expertise. With so many people depending on the system, it was imperative that downtime was minimised and that the upgrade could take place at a time convenient to the College.
City of Westminster College selected Parabola to provide the technical consultancy necessary to upgrade the SharePoint installation. Yves Bozzo-Rey, Online Services Manager, commented:
"It was immediately clear from our meetings that the Parabola team has an in-depth understanding of the academic environment and the differing requirements from a purely commercial organisation. Their technical competence is outstanding and we found the team to be very responsive."
Working with Parabola, the College planned for the SharePoint 2010 upgrade to take place over the Christmas period when it was closed and the least disruption would be caused. The initial review and fact finding of the current landscape, the planning of the upgrade and the design and build of the new farm took place in the three months prior to the Christmas period. To further minimise disruption the first step taken by Parabola was to freeze the current SharePoint 2007 deployment, this allowed ‘read only' access to files and information during the upgrade process and as such reducing the downtime window. Having worked with the College and meticulously planned and tested the upgrade process, Parabola was able to complete the migration over the Christmas period, in fact the upgrade was completed within just four days.
Richard Gray, Managing Director, Parabola explained:
"In an organisation of this size people become heavily dependent upon SharePoint and its therefore vital to design the new 2010 farm for their future needs and to mitigate the risks to minimise any downtime. However, having been through the 2007 to 2010 upgrade process several times before, we knew what to expect and how to resolve the issues that inevitably arose."
Parabola supports City of Westminster College's SharePoint 2010 which includes both staff and student intranets and the College public facing website. Having worked with Parabola since 2009, the College is delighted that they have not had one day of downtime in over three years. This remarkable record provides insight into the meticulous planning, robust approach and technical understanding the Parabola team has to ensure the system was implemented optimally and continues to run at its best.
Since the upgrade, College staff members are enjoying a faster system and many have commented positively about the new interface found on SharePoint 2010. In the coming months, the College team is aiming to implement intelligent workflows to continue to make current processes even more efficient and continue to get best value from the system.