A Technology Support Model for Challenging Times
Technology support requirements in higher education are escalating, but the
resources available to meet these needs are not. How d'es a campus balance these
In many ways, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania has typical issues and challenges
regarding support: more requests for service than people and time available
to address them, less technology than demanded, and increasing sophistication
and expectations of the client community. In searching for answers, it looked
as if no one good idea or best practice would address these challenges. Many
approaches would have to be adapted to Edinboro's environment and culture.
With a new president in 1996, a new campus priority emerged—enhancing
technology campuswide. By many measures, Edinboro University was considered
"behind" in providing a comprehensive computing environment for students,
faculty, and staff. With this new priority came the resources and an expectation
to improve conditions at the university. As a result, the support structures
for information systems, desktop and lab computing, networking, telephones,
and distance education were organized under one umbrella dubbed Technology and
Communications, which was responsible to the president through an associate
vice president. As a new, and integrated, support structure, it represented
an opportunity to change the orientation of both the staff and the perceptions
of the user community. Before that time, although there were many good individual
efforts by staff, the organization overall had a negative reputation. Thus,
the challenge was to develop a support environment that responded to the needs
of the campus (by both deploying new technology and supporting it), improve
the perception of the user community, and restore the morale of the technology
support staff members.
Assessing the environment, particularly its culture, leadership, and values,
was a key component for developing a successful strategy. With the new leadership
came new a new paradigm for change—one that articulated a vision embraced
by the campus community. It was within this new environment that our model was
A New Support Structure
We began by organizing into three teams: Enterprise Systems (centralized information
systems), Networks and Telecommunications, and Desktop Systems and Learning
Technology (DSLT). To provide some focus and shared understanding, a wide-ranging
task force was established, with both internal and external members, to develop
a mission statement for Technology and Communications. The mission statement
continually orients our work toward our "reason for being" and overlays
our planning and implementation of initiatives.
With the bulk of the support calls coming into the staff members from DSLT,
and no organizational tool to address these support needs systematically, a
help desk solution was sought by that team. A student employee phone bank was
put in place to field the initial calls, and PHD help desk software was deployed.
As a Web-based tool, we were able to add extensions to allow campus users to
look up the status of their calls. Eventually, PHD was replaced with an application
created by a team member that allows individuals to submit their help desk calls
via the Web. The use of the help desk was expanded by its adoption by the Networks
and Telecommunications staff.
The help desk's greatest value is that of a tool to manage the flow of
work into the operation. Before its use, campus employees called anyone and
everyone in the office to try to find someone to help them. If they did not
receive a satisfactory answer, they often called back and tried someone else.
By directing the campus to contact the help desk, and assuring them that their
problem will be addressed, staff members can now spend more time solving problems—and
finding ways to prevent them—with less redundancy and overlap. Since boundaries
have been established for the campus community, its members better know what
to expect and how to access services. It is no longer a matter of who you know,
but a standard protocol that everyone understands. A department liaison program
is now being piloted to offer yet another dimension to technology support.
Communication and Customer Service
Similarly, the range of services offered by Technology and Communications were
not well communicated. A set of Service Guides is being developed to address
this deficiency. Also known as Terms of Service, this approach provides a documented
explanation of what the service is and how it is offered. Again, by defining
the boundaries of service, user expectations are not out of line with the resources
available to support them.
Along the lines of communication, committees for each team were initially set
up with a broad range of employees installed as members. The difficulty, we
found, was that the committee participation varied widely and there was rarely
an opportune time to hold the meetings. This approach was abandoned in favor
of holding open meetings, once per semester. Any member of the campus community
is welcome to attend and hear an update on the progress of initiatives as well
as to ask questions or make comments. Student input is sought and received at
periodic presentations by the Student Government Association. A Teaching and
Learning with Technology Roundtable was established to bring together faculty
who are interested in sharing ideas about technology integration, and provide
them with a forum to help Technology and Communications serve them better.
A customer service emphasis has been placed on all staff interactions with
our client base. As a "student-centered environment," it is stressed
that our students should be treated like customers. Similarly, staff who access
our services to assist students are indirect customers. A variety of staff were
sent to customer service training, and they in turn held customer service sessions
at our monthly staff meetings. To reinforce this emphasis, a two-dimensional
survey has been conducted to assess the satisfaction with a variety of services
we offer, including interactions with our employees.
Meeting the Community's Goals
The model used by Edinboro University to transform its technology support structure
is not based on any one mode of support. Rather, the university seeks to find
ways to leverage the resources it has to meet its goals within the culture,
leadership, and values of the institution. It is the responsibility of the chief
information technology officer to continually communicate this to both the staff
and the campus community. It is understood that the resources available for
technology support are limited, but are being put to the most productive use
possible. By connecting students, faculty, and staff to one another and to the
resources and support they need to function effectively, people better understand
limitations if and when they encounter them. The support organization is not
trying to be "all things to all people"—a recipe for failure.
Rather, it is positioned as a responsive, involved component of the university
that is striving to provide access to the technology and tools that help members
of the campus community reach their goals.