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IT Department phasing in changes to help serve students, employees more effectively

Sept. 16, 2013

Photo of IT department staff members. The Information Technology Department is phasing in changes to the IT Help Desk to create a new Service Desk format. Pictured are IT staff members Abraham Williams (left), Linda Vincent, Mike McNally and Beth Dowling.

As the fall semester gets underway, the Community College of Rhode Island’s Information Technology Department is letting students, faculty and staff know that it is at their service – quite literally, as it happens. Changes to its overloaded Help Desk function are coming, and all fall under the umbrella of what will be known as the IT Service Desk.

The new Service Desk changes will begin in a phased approach, said Director of User Support Dawn Lewis, who added that industry best practices were the biggest driver for the changes. Throughout the process – which will include implementing a more streamlined website, using quick-hit FAQ videos and pop-up windows for popular questions, changing the process of answering work orders, practicing a sort of triage with levels of user support and expanding the Service Desk to include all other campuses – Lewis and Executive Director and CIO Stephen A. Vieira hope that users will reach out to them with feedback as they and their staff move through this learning process.

Last semester, Vieira and President Ray Di Pasquale met to discuss the level of service the Help Desk offered, and what, if anything, they could change to increase transparency and user satisfaction with the services. The Help Desk functions under a deluge of up to hundreds of calls per day, depending on where things fall in the academic year. Vieira said that because of limitations with staffing and hours, there was a range of phone calls – about 20 percent to 35 percent – that were going unresolved. He and Di Pasquale looked at what could be changed while still accounting for budgetary limitations, and a reduction of call volume jumped out as the foremost concern.

“We knew we had to find a way of being able to improve the service. I want to reduce the number of calls we get, and I want to get rid of those abandoned calls as much as possible. If I reduce the overall number of calls, I’m likely to also reduce the number of abandoned calls,” he said.

To reduce the number of calls, Vieira and Lewis looked at what they saw as the strengths and weaknesses of the current system. They recognized that the IT Department as a whole was great as a reactive group, but there wasn’t enough being done to thwart relatively simple problems from clogging up the phone lines time and time again. Despite copious documentation for FAQs on the website, Vieira said they realized that the way that their constituents operate – mostly through mobile and tablet technology – means that “nobody wants to read a website. The expectation is for more immediate delivery,” he said.

With ensuring a more immediate delivery of solutions, as well as a more proactive approach, in mind, Vieira and Lewis set about first fixing the ticketing system that the staff members use to manage their workflow. Vieira explained that when the Help Desk gets a phone call, email or drop in, the staff person on hand must generate a ticket that is then passed on to the person assigned to fix the problem. From there, the only time that a user would hear back from the staff would be if the ticket is marked as “closed.” Internally, this not only presents a problem with creating delays through a middle-man, but the interface isn’t the most friendly or efficient, said Lewis, who is in the end stages of installing a new, cleaner, more efficient interface for IT staff. This new system will allow users to enter their own information and, in some cases, answer their own questions through pop-up windows, saving the IT staff considerable time.

“It’s really a self-service portal, like the MyCCRI portal,” explained Lewis. “It’s Web-based, so anyone can do it from anywhere.”

Vieira also said that the new system would group systemic problems – network shutdowns in a department or email issues, for example – into one ticket, rather than generating redundant tickets. Resolution messages would be grouped together as well.

The second phase of the approach will move the Help Desk itself, which only exists on the Knight Campus, out to the other campuses and staff those satellite Service Desks with student interns who are armed with scripts to deal with typical problems.

These student interns will be shown how to point people to resources for what Lewis called Tier 1 problems – username and password support, retrieval of account information, and so on – while the full-time members of the Service Desk staff will be able to concentrate on Tier 2 problems involving complicated desktop support issues. Vieira said this also would allow for the third phase, an expansion of hours such that each desk is staffed during times when the labs and libraries are open and students may have questions.

Finally, the fourth area of change is that the department will provide service level agreements for every problem. These agreements are essentially ETAs; they’re helpful for users in that expectations are managed, and they’re helpful for technicians in that they present deadlines. “We’re trying to be much more transparent and much more visible,” said Vieira, who added that he hoped the changes continue to integrate the IT Department into the college community rather than continuing its reputation as a more utilitarian, outside presence.

“The industry standard is changing from a Help Desk to a Service Desk model,” Lewis summed up. “We have to reinvent ourselves. It will not only help users, but our employees as well by making them feel more invested and valuable.”

Vieira said that he was inspired by recent advancements in the classroom, such as lecture capture and video for distance learners, as he was reimagining the documentation provided by the IT Department. “If we can keep these videos and lectures short and give them tons of them and point them to where they should go as opposed to sending them directly to the phone lines, we’re going to save time. And if we get this out in front of students, we’ll hopefully have some great word of mouth,” he said.

More information will be released regarding the timeline for the Service Desk changeover in the IT Department’s next monthly newsletter.



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Last Updated: 1/31/14