This article in the Economist Consumer technologies are invading corporate computing (via George Siemens) outlines how some universities are effectively outsourcing a lot of technical development, using the Google Apps for your domain bundle. The guy says that "Compared with the staid corporate-software industry, using these services is like “receiving technology from an advanced civilisation”, says Mr Sannier."
A couple of things on this – firstly there is often a delay between the rhetoric and the reality when new ideas come along. The whole service oriented approach was one of these. I found myself wisely telling everyone to think of everything as a service, without really being sure what this meant. Google have continued to demonstrate what this really means, and this is a good example. It’s not about buying a big bit of kit for your IT guys to install, you simply say ‘all our students get the Google services.’ Secondly, it really does mark something of a watershed that universities are now formally recognising these consumer, real world apps and not insisting that somehow education is special and needs to develop its own tools. Thirdly, what sort of impact does this have on institutional practice? As a small example, at the OU we have struggled with a calendar project for a while (partly it isn’t a calendar project but a multiple database problem), but at what point would it be effective to say ‘hey, go with Google’. What the institution needs to concentrate on then is making data available in the right format. It’s kind of analagous to educators needing to shift their focus from creating content to supporting understanding.