With Barnet & Southgate College

Barnet & Southgate College is one of the largest further education colleges in North London, delivering a broad range of courses across both academic and vocational training. It is recognised as having some of the best facilities in the UK, which includes the £50 million Wood Street campus. The college maintains excellent contacts with local employers and regional industry, has many links with the local community, and participates prolifically within the 157 Group of the 27 most successful colleges in the UK. Everything that the College does revolves around the needs of employers and the employment prospects of students.

Barnet & Southgate College Logo
  • Sector: Further Education
  • Students: 21,000+
  • Alumni: 45,000+
  • Staff: 2,600

Organisational challenges and impacts

Barnet and Southgate College is a result of a merger between a number of colleges in North London, each of which had their own IT systems and processes. One of the major systems was a SharePoint 2010 intranet which came from Southgate college originally, but had gained traction across the merged college as a way to share content and documents, particularly with staff spread across many campuses.

One of the key objectives of the IT department was to make the SharePoint intranet available to users outside of the college, so staff could work from home and on mobile devices, but only if documents could be secured and performance improved. The 2010 environment was using a single front end server, connected to a single database server. It had a number of performance and configuration issues, mostly caused by its migration from one active directory environment to another.

Challenges Summary

  • 2010 SharePoint was inherited with many issues
  • Poor performance and availability problems
  • Need to secure documents downloaded from SharePoint
  • Preserve existing content
  • Limited IT training resources, so any solution must be familiar and easy to integrate

While SharePoint was the desired platform, due to its familiarity with staff and integration with Office, it was clear the 2010 system as it stood could not deliver the required availability or scale needed for a system that was intended to be the backbone of the college’s staff collaboration efforts.

Security was also a major concern. A lot of the intranet content pertained to highly confidential student and staff records, which requires the highest levels of data protection. While SharePoint was only accessible from the tightly-controlled campus PCs, the standard SharePoint platform security, operating procedures and good IT security practice were enough to ensure document security. Opening up the intranet to logins from devices off-campus, over the internet, represented a whole new set of challenges, that required guaranteed levels of security, regardless of how the document was treated.

Microsoft Rights Management Interface

The Microsoft Rights Management Interface

This add-on to Windows extends rights management beyond SharePoint and Office, to protect any files when shared with people inside and outside the organisation, in an easy to use interface. Using Azure Rights Management, College staff can share documents securely with anyone.

The Chosen Solution

Fuse began our engagement with the college in the spring of 2015 by building a new high-availability SharePoint 2013 farm. We split server roles and components across the college’s two datacenters, to ensure high performance across all locations, and resiliency in case of a datacentre outage.

The existing SharePoint 2010 intranet was then migrated to this new environment over the summer holidays, to allow the developers and content editors to take advantage of the new features in 2013, before the staff got hold of it in the autumn term. As part of the new SharePoint platform, we also set up an Office web apps farm, which allows devices without Office installed (such as Macs and mobile devices) to edit documents within SharePoint using just the browser.

To guarantee document security, Fuse integrated rights management services into SharePoint 2013, using the rights management service available as part of Office 365. The students at the college had been using Office 365 for a few years, but the staff never had. Our first action was therefore to synchronise the staff accounts in the existing Office 365 subscription, using the latest version of Azure AD sync – which has the added advantage of being able to synchronise password changes, eliminating the need for a complex Active Directory Federation Services set up.

This gave all staff an account in Azure AD that matched their on-premise credential, and enabled us to activate Azure rights management for the college. All that remained then was for us to set up a rights management connector within the on-premise infrastructure and deploy the configuration to SharePoint. This same connector infrastructure can also be used for extending rights management to the on-premise file servers and Exchange.

Benefits Summary

  • Office Web Apps enable editing of content on any device
  • Rights management protects all documents instantly within configured SharePoint libraries, with no changes to the documents themselves.
  • RMS protected documents maintain their security regardless of where they are saved, emailed or downloaded
  • Using RMS in Azure ensures service availability
  • Also means non-college users can be added to document security when required
  • Rights can include ability to read, but not forward or print, ideal for external sharing of sensitive documents
  • All staff now have an Office 365 account, including OneDrive for business and access to download software
  • Staff can now log into the SharePoint intranet securely from any location on any device and collaborate on documents as they would on-campus.

Results Achieved

With no additional infrastructure beyond the virtual servers required for the new SharePoint platform, Barnet and Southgate college now have a secure collaboration environment available to them 24/7 from anywhere on any device. Furthermore, they can share secure documents with partners and external bodies (such as employers) safe in the knowledge that they control how that document can be used. The solution is highly scalable, reflecting the rapid growth of the college, and maintains the ease of use and familiarity of the existing intranet. Going forward, all staff will be able to use the features of Office 365, and IT are all set to be able to exploit the hybrid features of Azure.