At Pepperdine University, G Suite helps faculty, staff, and students work and learn beyond the campus


Pepperdine University is committed to the highest standards of academic excellence. With its renowned Malibu campus, facilities throughout California and in Washington, D.C., and international campuses in South America, Europe, and Asia, the university enrolls approximately 8,000 in its undergraduate college and four graduate schools of law, business and management, education and psychology, and public policy.

It’s the idea that all of your files have a place in the cloud, and you can access them from your phone, laptop, or any computer. That’s been hugely impactful in getting more people interested in using G Suite.

Jordan Lott, Manager of IT Training, Pepperdine University

Eliminating the pain of old-school, high-maintenance email

Pepperdine’s mission—to prepare students for lives of purpose, service, and leadership—informs every department and function, including IT. “We take that call to action very seriously,” says Jordan Lott, Pepperdine’s Manager of IT Training. “And it goes beyond the basics, ensuring that the network is stable and that technology works. We want to go several steps beyond so that everyone is using technology as effectively as they can, in a way that improves the classroom and business experience.”

However, the campus’s productivity tools—including email, file storage, and conferencing systems—were not meeting the IT team’s high standards. In particular, their prior email system used by faculty, staff, and students was “nickel and diming everyone’s time,” explains Scott Bolan, Pepperdine’s Senior Director of Enterprise Information Systems. “It was an old-school way to do email,” Bolan says. With limited storage, users had to continually delete messages to make space—and the IT team stepped in regularly to help users archive messages. “People told us it took about 30 minutes a week to clear out inboxes,” Bolan adds. “Then they’d lose that archive if they moved to a new device, because email wasn’t in the cloud.”

Other Pepperdine systems, like its clunky video conferencing technology, got in the way of work, and because it was only available in conference rooms, access was limited to a small group of faculty and staff.

G Suite brings cloud storage and access-from-anywhere email to campus

As the IT team pondered options, they agreed that switching to a new email would require a lot of preparation for a smooth transition. “We take change management very seriously,” Lott says. “We have to do our part to make sure we roll out tools properly and that we are providing avenues for people to tell us what support they need.”

In early focus groups and town halls with faculty and staff, the IT team focused the conversation on email, since that was one of the university community’s biggest pain points.

“Over and over again, people brought up the storage issue,” Lott says. “And they told us they wanted to access email on their phones as easily as they did on their computers. They reinforced the direction we were heading, which was G Suite.”

Before the go-live date, ample time for listening and for questions

Once Pepperdine’s IT team settled on G Suite to replace Outlook, change management plans kicked into gear over a six-month period before Gmail’s go-live date.

Training sessions. Lott told users that, considering how much time they’d been losing to email deletion and archiving, attending just one hour of training could help them win back several hours a month in lost time. “We had hundreds of training opportunities in the weeks surrounding the Gmail rollout,” Lott says. “We set up a Google Calendar with all the appointment slots and let people know about them.”

“All Questions Answered” Town Hall sessions. “The idea,” Bolan says, “was that we’d put one or two IT people in the front of the room, with the idea that people could ask us anything they wanted about Gmail and G Suite.”

The “Deciders.” This group was drawn from every Pepperdine IT department involved in the switch to Gmail, and addressed any issues. “We told people that we’d be meeting once a month, and that we’d be making decisions,” Bolan says. “If you were in that meeting, you got a vote—if you didn’t come to the meeting, you didn’t get a vote.” As the name indicates, the group’s mission was to keep critical issues from becoming roadblocks to the rollout.

White glove migration for early adopters. For high-level users like university vice presidents, the IT team created a hands-on “white glove” transition to Gmail just before the wider rollout. “They’d realize the migration was not that big of a deal, and the message would trickle down to their teams,” says Bolan.

Clear expectations and a narrow focus. “We tried to stay completely focused on Gmail and Calendar, so as not to overwhelm the community,” Lott says. “We peppered in messages like, ‘You’ll have unlimited storage in your inbox, and that also means unlimited storage in Google Drive.’ But we tried to keep it focused, so that people could manage the significant change that was happening.”

The go-live walk-around—with doughnuts. The day Gmail went live, the entire IT team wandered department halls to troubleshoot user issues. “We had everyone assigned to a floor or department,” Bolan says. “We brought in 1,100 doughnuts, with the idea that if someone was having trouble with email and was frustrated, at least they’d have a doughnut.”

Shepherding the community to switch to G Suite and Gmail

Thanks to the groundwork done by the IT team, the switch to G Suite was relatively painless. “The feedback we got from users was overwhelmingly positive– I think they were ready for the change,” says Lott. Three years after go-live, the trainings continue as a way to help newcomers, as well as some late adopters from the previous email system, start using G Suite and Gmail effectively.

“Even three years post-switch, I occasionally have people holding onto Outlook,” Lott adds. “It’s always a win when, after a training class, one of those people says to me, ‘I think I might try Gmail.’” Once users realize they don’t need to go through the time-intensive process of deleting emails—and discover that old emails can be searched for and found in just a few seconds—they’re glad they switched, Lott says.

The thorough change management process also surfaced issues that, when addressed by IT, helped speed up adoption. For example, Lott didn’t realize that many staff and faculty members relied on Outlook’s mail-merge feature to send bulk messages. Before the Gmail rollout, he found an add-on tool for G Suite that performed the same function. “The only reason we were able to do that, and easily transition people from one tool to another, was because of that extra groundwork we set up to get feedback from users,” Lott says.

Google Meet creates a remote-work transformation

The IT team expected that Gmail would free people from the headaches of the prior system. What they didn’t expect was that other G Suite tools, like Google Meet, would have just as great an impact on how faculty and staff worked. Before G Suite, working and meeting remotely wasn’t practical for faculty and staff, since video conferencing hardware was limited. Now that Google Meet is available to every user, working remotely is part of everyday life at Pepperdine.

Most Pepperdine students study abroad at some point and need to be able to coordinate with professors and staff on the home campus. “With Google Meet, it makes it much easier for faculty and staff to provide the same level of service to our students studying abroad,” Bolan says.

Faculty and staff are also discovering the quality-of-life benefits that remote meetings can provide. “Anyone can easily jump into a Meet from home or a remote campus, and that gives them back time for their families, their children, and their health,” Bolan says. Meet and all the G Suite tools help the campus stay up and running in case of weather or natural disasters, such as seasonal wildfires in and around Malibu. “It means we have redundancy, because email, files, and meetings are all in the cloud,” Bolan adds.

Just as faculty, staff, and students now rely on Gmail and Google Meet every day, they’re now discovering how Google Drive also helps them work flexibly and remotely. “Drive takes away that physical dependency on having just one computer,” Lott says. “We saw that last year with the wildfires in Malibu, people realized that they didn’t have to worry about not having access to their primary computer, because they could work from any device.”

Since the earliest days of G Suite’s adoption, Pepperdine’s IT team has worked to spread the message that working in the cloud with G Suite is much more suited to the active lives of faculty, staff, and students.

“We’re always reinforcing what we initially said about Gmail, and now what we say about everything from Calendar to Drive,” Lott says. “It’s the idea that all of your files have a place in the cloud, and you can access them from your phone, laptop, or any computer. That’s been hugely impactful in getting more people interested in using G Suite.”

At a Glance

What they wanted to do:

  • Increase storage for email
  • Eliminate time-consuming email archiving
  • Broaden access to video conferencing

What they did:

  • Adopted G Suite for 8,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff

What they accomplished:

  • Saved 30 minutes of weekly email management time per user
  • Increased work-life balance with remote working capabilities
  • Improved disaster recovery planning with cloud tools that can be accessed anywhere

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