Whether in the home office or in the office – there seems to be no way around a collaboration platform like Microsoft Teams. The central function is the chat with colleagues. But even large organizations do not have to use a proprietary SaaS package for this – as the University of Innsbruck has proven in practice.
iX: It felt like the whole world switched to Microsoft Teams in the wake of the corona pandemic – and the university decided on a free matrix chat in cooperation with Element. How did the decision come about?
University of Innsbruck: The topic of real-time communication and collaboration became one of the most urgent challenges at our university within a few days thanks to online teaching and home office.
However, we were fortunate that our project was already in the middle of the selection process for the implementation of a real-time communication platform. In the course of the evaluation of the various systems, test installations of possible solutions have already been made.
With all of the systems that were available, the possibility of operating local servers was important to us. We consider a chat server to be a potentially very central element of a communication infrastructure. The importance of digital sovereignty is also emphasized in the strategic university development plan. The desire for local systems was a logical consequence for us.
An essential criterion for us in the selection was the possibility of integrating the chat system with the existing infrastructure – from the learning management system to web conference systems to development systems such as GitLab – and, for example, using existing local authentication systems (Shibboleth / SAML). Aspects such as a complete and well-documented API were essential here.
For us, the possibility of open and distributed collaboration with other organizations or people (via organizations’ own servers or public servers such as Element itself) was very important. The basic approach at Matrix / Element convinced us here: The unconditional focus on open, distributed and secure structures and protocols was an important factor for us.
At the same time, we saw that a number of large public organizations (from government organizations to universities) had relied on Matrix / Element or were starting to look into it.
Based on our criteria, it has been shown that Matrix / Element is the most suitable for the introduction of a new chat system. In the end, it was probably a combination of all these things that convinced us: Really open concepts / protocols / systems, an emerging strong momentum in the selection in favor of the matrix / element and a very positive development in the speed of development.
The developments at other universities in the German-speaking university environment seem to prove us right: While Matrix / Element was not represented here a year ago, we have seen a very strong dynamic here since then – more and more universities and colleges are using Matrix / Element or at least experimenting with it.