Software as a Service. Challenges in Higher Education: Google Apps Case

Mario Arias-Oliva, Alvaro Fuente,Teresa Torres-Coronas and
Mar Souto-Romero


Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been an integral element in the growth of diverse forms of open, online and distance education, which over the last 40 years, have brought new opportunities for lifelong learning in many countries (Thorpe, 2005). The UNESCO World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-first Century: Vision and Action (UNESCO, 1998) in its article 12 reflects the potential challenge of technology. Higher education institutions should discover the advantages and potential of new information and communication technologies, ensuring quality and maintaining high standards for education practices and outcomes in a spirit of openness, equity and international co-operation. The UNESCO declaration (1998) shows as well the need to create new learning environments, ranging from distance education facilities to complete virtual higher education institutions and systems, capable of bridging distances and developing high-quality systems of education.

In the XXI century just accessing to Internet is not enough to ensure quality in higher education. Universities are making important investments in ICT infrastructures as a keystone in their learning and teaching strategies. As a consequence of ICT dependence, trends in ICT are affecting in higher education institutions.

During the last years the IT infrastructure in business is shifting to an ASP based service. Delivering “Software as a Service” (Saas) was not reliable enough in the 90’s (Dubey, Wagle; 2007). But nowadays, quality of online software and reliability meets business requirements. According to IDC by 2009 almost 10% of the market for business applications will migrate to a full software service model (IDC, 2005). Instead of buying and maintaining hardware and software, enterprises move to a more flexible environment focusing on core competencies. There are several reasons to move from “traditional in-house applications” to “software as a service”, such us more frequent updates, higher level of services and lower cost. Mizoras (2003) shows that the main reason to move towards a “Software as a Service” strategy is to reduce IT costs. The study points out this reason as the first one: 46% of CIO changes to SaaS to reduce IT cost.

Within this new ASP environment, Higher Education Institutions must take all advantages of software as a service. Our research focuses on the development of online applications in universities. Two main categories can be found, depending on the availability of resources in higher education institutions:

  • Institutions with resources: universities with enough resources can improve their efficiency integrating new applications based on ASP technology and increase user satisfaction and services easily. We can justify the shift towards software as a service mainly with same reasons than in any other sector.
  • Institutions without resources: universities without resources can access infrastructures with a very reasonable cost that, otherwise, they could not afford. The UNESCO declaration cited above (UNESCO, 1998) includes this access to ICT as an important factor to take into account. In the integration of ICT for educational purposes, particular attention should be paid to removing the grave inequalities which exist among countries and institutions with quite different resources availability. “SaaS” applications can be a powerful tool to let many institutions access critical expensive applications.

A Google Apps is a “first mover” in new software as a service market for email and other related services. Enterprises as Capgemini, a provider of consulting, technology and outsourcing services, announced services supporting the adoption of Google Apps Premier Edition by large-scale enterprises (Wireless News, 2007). Google Apps have specific services for the educational sector. Any university, instead of setting up and maintaining an expensive IT infrastructure for email, online editing systems, calendar or instant messenger application, could use Google Apps services (Google Apps, 2008). No IT infrastructure is required, and just with an Internet access, students with same password and username can:

  • Work on the same document, spreadsheet or presentation (instead of emailing changes in multiple copies of the same attachment)
  • Publish documents and calendars for the team to view and update
  • Access information from any computer, even mobile phones

Several universities worldwide are using Google Apps Education Edition on their campus (Rosi, 2007). These Universities provide students and staff with customised Google e-mail accounts (Gmail) and other related services.

Our paper focus is on the potential impacts that Google Apps (as an example of SaaS) could have on universities. We will analyze the case of a Chile University that is moving to this new ASP environment. We will analyze the quality, reliability, security or privacy and other critical aspects of these new services. We analyze as well the opportunities that SaaS represents for institutions in less development countries.


Dubey A., Wagle D. (2007): “Delivering software as a service”, The McKinsey Quarterly, May 2007, p. 1-12.

Google Apps (2008): Web with information about Google Apps, online at, accessed 01.02.2008.

IDC (2005): Worldwide and U.S. Software as a Service 2005-2009 Forecast and Analysis: Adoption for the Alternative Delivery Model Continues. Market Research Report Publication, Mar 01, 2005.

Mizoras Konary, A. (2003): Competitive analysis: Worldwide Software as a Service 2003 Vendor Shares: SaaS and Enterprise ASP Competitive Analysis, IDC OPINION online at , accessed 01.02.2008.

Rossi S. (2007): Macquarie University rolls out Google apps, Computerworld (Australia), 13th September 2007, IDG Communications Pty Ltd.

Thorpe M. (2005): The impact of ICT on lifelong learning, in McIntosh C., Varoglu Z. Perspectives on distance education: Lifelong Learning & Distance Higher Education, pp. 23-32, Commonwealth of Learning / UNESCO Publishing.

UNESCO (1998): World Declaration on Higher Education: Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Vision and Action, Paris, 5-9 October 1998.

Wireless News (2007): Capgemini to Deliver Google Apps Via SaaS to Enterprise Clients, 12th September 2007, M2 Communications, Ltd.