IT Trends | Interview

GWU Ups Investment in Help Desk Support

The George Washington University's Division of Information Technology recently unveiled a 24/7 help desk to assist the institution's community with issues that include password and access problems, hardware setbacks, and software incompatibility challenges. The Washington, DC-based university's new IT Support Center opened in June 2011 and serves as an extension of its existing IT support offerings.

CIO David Steinour said GW developed the original plans for 24-hour support several years ago. During that time he said the need for around-the-clock support has grown along with the numbers of students, faculty, and staff who use computers and mobile devices on campus. The growth of GW's distance learning and executive education programs compounded that need.

"Many of our students do their work after hours," said Steinour, whose team previously provided IT support until 10 p.m. nightly. "It got to the point where those hours weren't meeting the needs of our campus population so we decided to take the 24/7 route."

The institution already had several staff members in place to offer IT services around the clock. For example, Steinour said that the console traffic team provided phone services support 24 hours a day while the data center operators handled production control and server and system monitoring at the school's Virginia campus. Additionally, GW's student technology services team provided extended hours of service to meet the needs of students who required support for their academic and research pursuits outside of normal business hours.

By taking staff from these existing resource pools and centralizing them within a single support center, GW tapped into its current personnel pool to expand tier-one support for faculty, staff, and students around the clock. "Doing that allowed us to expand to 24/7 service without having to add additional resources," said Edward Martin, deputy CIO.

All levels of IT staff, from part-time hourly employees to senior managers, were involved in the design of the new center. The school's IT team partners across the university provided input and assistance, and GW's Office of External Relations, Office of Human Resources, and Gelman Library also provided feedback and assistance. "This was definitely a cross-divisional initiative," said Martin.

Most of the maneuvering required to open the new center involved employees, some of whom were moved from their current shifts to new ones. The IT team ran several boot camp-like training sessions for the individuals who would be working in the new IT support center. Tech-savvy staffers were trained on customer service tactics, said Martin, while those with customer service training were given in-depth instruction on how to handle IT calls.

The center's existing physical location was refurbished and equipped with state-of-the-art campus IT resource monitoring equipment, a new phone call tree, and a revamped Web site meant to accommodate more self-service requests from users.

Also upgraded was the division's support workflow. Previously untracked repair tickets, for example, are now captured and distributed according to the various technology support tiers.

"We've gained better control over what comes in and goes out of our division," said Steinour, who added that the system is still being perfected. "We're on the right path with this new support center."

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