ITS Looking to Bolster Users' Experiences With Exchange

February 21, 2012

February 21, 2012 — Information Technology Services wants a do-over.

Four years ago, the entity that oversees the University of Virginia's information technology infrastructure launched a new email and calendaring platform, Exchange. It was quite a change for users and perhaps a bit too ambitious, ITS officials acknowledge.

"We recognize that when Exchange was rolled out, it was not rolled out optimally," said Lauren McSwain-Starrett, a senior public relations and marketing specialist.

To make it up to the system's 7,000 to 8,000 users, ITS last fall created the Exchange Betterment Project, seeking to improve users' experiences with the Microsoft system that has become a business standard nationwide.

First, ITS worked with its local support partners – the information technology professionals embedded along the front lines of U.Va.'s technology theater – and reviewed Help Desk tickets to gather information about the common Exchange/Outlook problems users were experiencing.

Some of those problems were technical, and as a result, ITS worked with Microsoft engineers to make more than 85 changes to the "back-end" server infrastructure, McSwain-Starrett said.

But a lot of the problems had to do with user education, or the lack thereof, she said.

For instance, Outlook offers several different options for who can see and manage your calendar, ranging from total privacy to allowing a "delegate" to completely manage your calendar for you.

No one, McSwain-Starrett said, ever really sat down and explained the differences between the various levels of permissions.

To address those and other concerns, ITS has compiled a list of 30 "best practices," highlighting seven in particular that it says will make a major difference in performance for Exchange users:
1. Run the latest version of Outlook, on the same platform (either Mac or PC), on all computers that access your U.Va. Exchange account.
2. Grant others the lowest level of permissions required for your Exchange calendar. (The site has a chart explaining the various levels.)
3. Do not frequently change recurring meetings.
4. Schedule end dates on your recurring meetings, preferably no more than three months out.
5. Manage your mailbox size.
6. Do not process or edit meeting requests on your smartphone or mobile device unless they were created there.
7. Ensure your smartphone or mobile device has the latest operating system version and all patches before connecting to Exchange.

Those who follow the best practices "should see an improved, more reliable user experience with your U.Va. calendar and email," according to an ITS announcement.

ITS is scheduling training sessions to explain the best practices. Registration is encouraged, as the sessions are filling fast, McSwain-Starrett said.

The first, a half-day seminar held on Valentine's Day, drew more than 150 people. "That was a big success – there was a lot of enthusiasm," she said.

In the end, ITS said the project will lead to "better performance, increased reliability, greater availability and improved disaster recovery capa

– by Dan Heuchert