Office of the CIO

Office of the CIO and Associate Vice-Principal (Information Technology Services)
Office of the CIO and Associate Vice-Principal (Information Technology Services)

Faculty/Staff Collaboration Tools


Queen's wants to equip faculty and staff with a suite of contemporary e-communications services to support the academic and administrative activity of our University as it operates on a global stage. Investigation into our options began in Spring 2014.  

One of the options for our collaboration tools is a move of faculty and staff to the Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based service. 

The Associate Vice-Principal and CIO, Bo Wandschneider, is engaging the community in a dialogue about this option, and has already spoken with members of the Enterprise Information Technology Advisory Committee (IT directors from units across campus), ITServices' Faculty Advisory Committee, the Combined Provost and Deans Management Group, the Joint Committee on the Administration of the Agreement ( JCAA ), the Faculty of Arts and Science Faculty Board, and various department heads and directors from academic and administrative units at Queen's.  In addition there has been a response to questions from the Queen's University Faculty Association.

In August 2014, Bo sat down for an interview with Queen's Communications to talk about cloud computing. More recently there was an article on the graduate student email upgrade.  He welcomes dialogue and is happy to meet with any individuals or groups who have questions about this proposal.

In November 2014, the Operations Review Committee (ORC) and the Vice-Principals Operations Committee (VPOC) reviewed a proposal to move faculty and staff to Office 365, and agreed on this direction. Subsequently, there have been communications with staff and faculty on the move and more will come in early 2015.

What is Microsoft Office 365?

Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud-based e-communication suite that encompasses business-class email and calendaring, as well as online conferencing, secure file sharing and storage, and text and video chat capabilities, all of which are synced across multiple devices - desktops, laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

Why Move to Office 365?

  • Queen's needs to redirect the resources we currently use to provide in-house email and calendaring services for faculty/staff to services and capabilities that are more relevant to the University's mission. Our in-house (on-premise) services consume a great deal of time and resources that could be directed to other technology-based initiatives at Queen's.
  • Office 365 provides a much higher performance environment than the current on-premise email and calendaring environment, including functionality, uptime, capacity, and upgrades. The world is moving toward web-based services that offer continuous enhancements that keep pace with consumers' expectations and demands.
  • Office 365 offers better physical and software security than our current on-premise email system and is compliant with world-class industry standards, verified by third parties. 
  • After moving tens of thousands of undergraduate student accounts to Office 365 in 2013, satisfaction was extremely high. Graduate students requested a move of their accounts, which was completed in Fall 2014. We want to offer the same move to faculty/staff at Queen's.
  • There is a high risk in the current practices of many individual faculty/staff members who are using services such as Dropbox, Google Docs, and Amazon EC2 to store institutional information without proper contracts and risk mitigation measures. We know this practice stems from the fact that Queen's has not yet provided the modern, high-performance tools required to get our work done. Moving to Office 365 will help get people using services that have contractual agreements around enterprise information.

But What About Our Privacy?

  • ITS and Queen's are exercising extensive due diligence, in line with the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario's "Privacy by Design" framework.
  • ITS undertook a detailed and lengthy Privacy Risk Assessment (PRA), which included review and approval both by Queen's legal counsel and an external and independent legal authority, before moving undergraduate students to Office 365 in 2013.  This work, and new consultations, will inform discussion on moving faculty/staff to Office 365.
  • An opt-out will be offered to faculty who do not wish to move to the cloud. This same option was offered to undergraduate students in 2013, and was repeatedly communicated to the students, but no students chose to stay on-premise. Graduate students had 18 opt-outs.


Q. If I move to Microsoft Office 365, will I be contravening an interpretation on encryption from the Faculty of Arts and Science?

A. No. Last semester, the Faculty of Arts and Science shared an interpretation of a security and privacy policy that was designed to ensure we protect information around student grades. The interpretation was focused on ensuring individuals encrypted the devices on which they stored grades. Too often individuals lose or have their laptops and/or smartphones stolen. If they are not encrypted, then we have to notify all the students of a potential breech. This is a good position, and in alignment with the University’s Electronic Information Security Framework recently passed by Senate. When you use Office 365 to send email and/or store files on OneDrive for Business, the information is encrypted in transit and at rest. Information that was distributed to faculty in December was outdated in the suggestion that Office 365 and OneDrive do not use encryption at rest. More information on this encryption can be found below or in this document from Microsoft. As such, using Office 365 and/or OneDrive for Business is in compliance with University policy and with the interpretation from the Faculty of Arts and Science.

Q. Will I need to learn anything new?

A.  Most faculty and staff already use Microsoft Exchange for their email and calendaring solutions. Switching to Office 365 will be seamless for the majority of people. There are a couple of exceptions to this. If you use the web client to access your mail and calendar, it will be upgraded from the 2010 to the 2013 version we use on-premise. This is different, but it is an upgrade that would happen to the on-premise system as well. In addition, those people accessing their email on their smartphones will need to do a reset. This is straight forward as all devices work well with the Exchange standard. 

Q: Will data ownership be lost?

A:  No. The contract signed by Queen's specifically stipulates that ownership of any and all data will be retained by the University. Microsoft specifically states that its customers retain all rights, title, and interest in any data stored within Office 365.

Q: I am going to want to encrypt all of my email - are there tools that will allow me to do this?

A: Unencrypted information contained in email is at risk regardless of whether the email system is on-premise or cloud-based. If you are sending unencrypted personal information via email now, it is at risk, even though the current faculty/staff email solution is on-premise. There are tools to help you encrypt information regardless of the email solution you use, or will use in the future, as well as Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. If you have questions about encryption, please contact ITS for help.

Q.  How does encryption work in the cloud?

A. In Office 365, all email sent between your device(s) and Microsoft is encrypted by default. In addition to this, all information at rest in the data centre is encrypted. This applies to both your email and your OneDrive for Business information. Encryption is critical for our personal devices, as these are generally not physically secure. In other words, they are easy to misplace or susceptible to theft.However, our systems (servers) need to consider security beyond the data layer (and encryption) and we can group those into the physical and logical layers. The physical layer focuses on our facilities (data centres) and networks. Our data centres have physical security in place, such as access controls, alarms and security patrols. On the network side, we use firewalls, segmentations, intrusion detection systems and access control lists. The logical layer includes various controls such as automated operations, administrative  access, patching and change management. Security within these layers is critical, and in all cases, much more robust in the Office 365 environment than what we are able to offer on-premise. Office 365 includes such things as biometric scanning, two factor authentication, 24x7x365 monitoring, zero standing permissions, segregation of duties and just-in-time access and elevation. 

For more information, you can read through this Microsoft blog, which outlines what is in place and what is coming . In addition, there is a detailed document available from Microsoft.

Q.  What are other schools doing?

A. The University of Alberta moved the entire community to the cloud for email and calendering over two years ago. Other schools such as Trent and Dalhousie have more recently moved staff and faculty. Several other universities have moved students and are in the process of planning for the move of faculty and staff. Many schools in the K-12 sector have moved to the cloud. There are significant opportunities to integrate with our incoming students who are already familiar with Office 365.

Q.  I don't use a Windows machine, so how does this apply to me?

A. Most devices these days are very aware of the Microsoft Exchange protocol and integrate well. This includes Macs, iPhones, iPads and Android devices. Experiences may vary, but we are moving to an environment that is web-based and not dependent on your operating system.

Q: Will I see advertising when I use the email and calendar functionality?

A: No. Any contract signed will stipulate that no advertising is permitted.

Q.  What is the biggest risk in moving to the cloud?

A.  There is no difference in risk between hosting email in Canada or the U.S. The risk is associated with ensuring we do our due diligence on any cloud-based solution. As is the case for Office 365, we need to undertake a Privacy Risk Assessment and develop a strong contractual agreement with the vendor and we need transparency in the process.  We have done this, and will subsequently be offering a more secure, stable and robust environment in the cloud. Given the wide use of 'personal' cloud services by the community, the biggest risk to Queen's may be in not negotiating an enterprise campus solution.

Q: What about the U.S. Patriot Act?

A: Experts, such as the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and leading technology and privacy lawyer David Fraser, have commented on the Act and compared it to legislation that already exists within Canada. The Act should not change the current risk profile already applied to our collaboration tools. In fact, we believe the Office 365 option is more secure than our current environment.

…it is not realistic for organizations to take the approach of “locking down” their communications systems within a local or national geographical boundary. We live in an increasingly interconnected, Internet-driven global economy in which data is transferred and stored instantly on computer servers around the world.

  •     Anne Kavoukian (former Privacy Commissioner of Ontario)

What Have People On Campus Said?

The Faculty Advisory Committee passed the following motion:

The Information Systems and Technology – Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) have reviewed background information related to the provisioning of cloud-based collaboration and productivity tools for faculty and staff.  Discussion centered around the Office 365 solution, similar to what is being used by undergraduate and graduate students.  The committee has discussed various issues related to this service in particular, and the more general direction for cloud-based services.

With appropriate due diligence around Privacy Risk Assessment and contract negotiations, the individuals on the Committee support the University moving to the O365 environment for all faculty and staff, with opt out for faculty.  The Committee believes that this would provide significantly enhanced services for the community in a more cost effective way, while at the same time reducing risks in areas such as privacy, confidentiality and availability of service.

The Enterprise Information Technology Advisory Committee passed the following motion:

Statement of Direction - Cloud Based Collaboration and Productivity Services for Queen’s Faculty and Staff

Over the past two years, the Enterprise Information Technology Advisory Committee (EITAC) has reviewed and discussed background information, legal perspectives and recommended practices relating to cloud services in general and Office365 specifically. In multiple meetings the Committee has had presentations on Office365 services and functionality that would be of broad benefit for the Queen’s community, and was briefed on legal views regarding privacy, security at advanced data centers which host cloud services, and the importance of rigorous contract negotiations.  

With appropriate due diligence around privacy risk assessment and contract negotiations, the Committee supports the University moving to the O365 environment for all faculty and staff, with opt out for faculty.  The Committee believes that this would provide significantly enhanced services for the community in a more cost effective way, while at the same time reducing risks in areas such as privacy, confidentiality and availability of service.

What Are Other Universities Doing? 

The University of Alberta moved to Google Apps for Education in 2012. McGill University, the University of Toronto, and Dalhousie University are just some of the other institutions in Canada making the move to cloud-based collaboration suites, or discussing their options.

Additional Resources

To learn more, take a look at the resources below.

Last updated: January 2015