Pearson integrates Google Enterprise and Office 365

Publisher Pearson – which owns the Financial Times – uses cloud-based collaboration using Google and Microsoft products

Publisher Pearson, which owns the Financial Times, book publisher Penguin and Pearson Education, has introduced cloud-based collaboration using Google and Microsoft products.

The cloud-based IT platform uses a charge-back system to provide desktop IT software for 45,000 employees.

The system replaces Microsoft Exchange and Office 2003, which were limited to the Windows platform. This meant Microsoft software did not support multiple OS platforms.

Graham Calder, chief technology officer, global platforms & services at Pearson, explains: “We wanted the coffee shop model.” He says the company wanted a new platform that could support any device, being used at any location and at any time.

The project and deployment demonstrates how an IT department can remain relevant to users. “It has been a long time since IT at work was better than at home. We wanted to challenge traditional IT, and make mobile, social and cloud prerequisites. We wanted to build a vibrant environment where the stuff at work would be better than home PCs.”

User choice was a key requirement, which meant Calder and the Pearson IT team had to offer both Microsoft Office and Google Apps, and the products needed to be integrated. However, 80% of the users chose Google over Microsoft. Calder adds: “I do not regret doing the integration as a mechanism to engage users. Giving them choice was more important.”

Pearson even partnered with Outsourcery to extend Office 365 with extra functionality the company needed, although Calder says the current version of Office 365 now includes these functions.

He says legal, financial and HR people are heavy users of Microsoft Office, representing the 20% that choose the Microsoft option over Google. However, he says the take-up of Google is higher because it costs less.

Pearson uses Lean UX to rethink accounting education product

Pearson is using the best practices from Lean UX and Lean Start-up to rethink its education content strategy. Such methodologies are normally avoided in traditional businesses that generally have a set way of developing products.

However, following feedback from students, faculties and prospective employers of students, the company started to brainstorm how it could make learning material more relevant. The company ran a workshop event organised and hosted by software development consultancy Neo, to develop the ideas to take its education products further.

Paul Gentil, vice-president and director of digital strategy & assessment at Pearson, says: “We knew the type of product we wanted to build but we wanted to pull out different points of view and optimise the approach [to developing ideas].”

Neo ran a lean-process, hands-on design workshop, which enabled the company to develop a workable prototype in 5 days.

“We got more out of the workshop due to the communication style of Neo,” Gentil says. The approach meant that participants were not susceptible to “group thinking”. He says: “People vote with sticky notes and shared ideas through whiteboards. The internal teams interacted in a way we don’t do on a day-to-day basis.”

Pearson is adopting Lean UX and Lean Start-Up to develop the product. “We are using the best practices from these approaches to obtain from feedback from our market on a regular basis.” Gentil says this means Pearson can spend the least amount of development time used in the most productive way to get confirmation that the product is on the right track. “You build iteratively and get feedback in a short cycle.”

The approach has been used to improve its accounting education material, to incorporate interactivity. Initially, Pearson considered building virtual worlds and augmented reality. Gentil says: “This would not be an optimal experience for accounting students.”

Before Neo, Pearson staff had attended other brainstorming sessions, but these were dominated by virtual reality ideas. Given that students use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social network feeds, Neo suggested an interface that could integrate pre-built social network with the educational material. Rather like a game, the student needs to react to these feeds while role-playing accounting scenarios, such as the figuring out the impact from an accounting perspective, of a fire or flood in a clothing factory.

Among the big challenges for IT was how to migrate users smoothly onto the new platform. “We had a huge legacy of messaging systems so we needed to clear up domains.” With help from Google and Microsoft, Pearson developed a number of tools to support this migration.

Initially, the team engaged 50 users in the business, running show-and-tell sessions to explain the benefits of the product. “We then industrialised the roll-out to scale up and migrate 2,500 users per week a low error rate of a day. We took a lot of time to make sure [the deployment] was slick.” This meant tackling interoperability issues, migrating Microsoft Exchange InBoxes via staging servers and test back end integration with ERP and sales automation systems. He added: “There is no easy path from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010 or to Google so we needed to developed our own tools to get it right.”

The company offers users Google Docs, Gmail, Calendar, Google Talk, Google Drive and Google Hangouts.

Pearson's content is platform-neutral. Calder wanted to create an environment rather like a college campus. Users access the applications via a portal called My Cloud, which contains all applications that have passed the company's security requirements.

All the company's primary networks are wireless local area networks (LANs). Wi-Fi is globally connected, so a user can walk into any office and connect to the LAN.

The company has switched networking from MPLS to internet connectivity. “Our policy is to be cloud-first and that includes hybrid cloud.” Commenting on the switch away from the MPLS wide area network (WAN) often used to connect offices, he says: “If you partner with the right companies you get fast connectivity.” He also negotiated fixed price telco costs.

In terms of device support, Pearson supports Blackberry, Windows, iOS and Android smartphones. Calder says: “We are now extending this to bring your own computer.”

The company has two people in IT who are dedicated to looking at new smartphones coming to market and provide users with recommendations.

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