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Help Desk Is Spelled: R-O-I

You finally got those funds for new technology. To achieve your best return on investment, let your help desk 'market' technology smarts to users.

Help Desk Is Spelled: R-O-I

LSU'S 'DON'T BE A TAD' campaign encourages students to use technology wisely and better utilize campus resources-- which, in turn, means a higher ROI for the help desk.

PROTECTING YOUR INSTITUTION'S TECHNOLOGY assets and resources is all about maximizing return on those investments-- and that means driving users to take full advantage of new technology rollouts, and not sapping or overburdening help desk resources because users are not fully versed in and encouraged to use the new tools. That means you'll need to consistently push effective technology use to your technology users. In other words: Get your help desk behind ROI!

More Than a Tad of Help

That's just what Louisiana State University IT help desk pros have been doing-- sending a message to students. And their mantra is: Don't be a Tad. That message, which implores users to learn from bad examples set by a bumbler named Tad, appears in cartoon advertisements on buses, billboards, and posters all over campus, and implores students to use technology wisely. Two recent ads, for instance, have highlighted Tad's experiences after failing to install antivirus software on his laptop, and the consequences he faced from his involvement in a phishing scandal. (LSU's Don't Be a Tad campaign was recognized with a 2007 Campus Technology Innovators award.)

According to Brian Voss, the school's vice chancellor for IT and CIO, the campaign was designed specifically to get students to take advantage of an outsourced creditmonitoring service from Equifax and antivirus technology from Symantec, to keep endpoints secure. "In order to make the hardware and software pay off, we need to add a critical third element: 'humanware,'" says Voss. "This is delivered via a variety of means, but in the end it stands for employing efforts that inspire others to make effective use of IT." Voss is not alone in his mission: In fact, this kind of help desk marketing effort appears to be a growing trend on campuses across the nation and around the world. With national economies everywhere hitting new lows, now more than ever it's vital for higher education institutions to demonstrate that technology investment in the help desk is providing a positive return on investment. Schools such as National-Louis University (IL) and the London School of Economics in the UK recently have launched concerted marketing initiatives, as well.

Still, perhaps no campaign anywhere in the realm of higher education is as creative as LSU's, where the effort launched in 2006 when one of Voss' colleagues in the IT department suggested that the help desk devise a cartoon character to market new technologies and promote more responsible behavior online. The campus icon "Tad" was born when the first advertisement debuted later that year. Since then, the LSU help desk has run nearly a dozen Tad ads. Voss says the campaign has "worked wonders" raising awareness about new services.

London School of Economics technologists organized Virtual IT Assistance (VITA) 'introduction days' for faculty and students. Participants each got a VITA stress ball to push the idea that instead of getting stressed, they can get help.

And it turns out that Tad has friends. As the school has added numerous tools and technologies, the IT department has built help desk marketing campaigns around other cartoon characters, too. Moodle, the school's new course management system, is now depicted by a cartoon bison in a Superman costume, while cartoon monkeys have become symbols for general technology problems. Late last year, the school even printed T-shirts emblazoned with, "Fear the Monkey, Don't Be a Tad."

"The whole idea of these efforts is to make students stop and pay attention to what technology is available to them," Voss says. "The more they know about, the more they'll use, and the better our ROI will be."

Learn While You Lunch

While LSU's in-house help desk marketing efforts focus on students, a new campaign at National-Louis University is targeted at staff and faculty. The initiative, dubbed "Lunch 'n' Learn," comprises a series of monthly get-togethers during which faculty and staff members can receive tutorials on emerging learning technology areas such as blogging, social networking, and podcasting, to name a few. The sessions take place both in-person and online; on average, about 30 users show up for each. Those users who attend the in-person sessions on NLU's main campus in Wheeling are invited to bring lunch. Online users, who follow along via Centra Web conferencing from Saba, are encouraged to eat lunch while they watch, as well.

CIO Bob DeWitt explains that the sessions are designed to familiarize users with new technology-- a process that usually begets higher usage levels and therefore greater ROI. "We're trying to ensure that faculty members are so comfortable with the technology that they'll use these tools every day," says DeWitt (who, as an outsourced resource, receives his paychecks from SunGard Higher Education). "The more people using a particular technology, the more the total cost of ownership goes down."

This past December, for instance, a Lunch 'n' Learn lesson detailed new developments in podcasting. During the session, participants learned how to use applications like Audacity and other audio editing software in which NLU has invested. Beginning with that session, NLU began offering podcasts as a third medium of distribution for Lunch 'n' Learn pointers and marketing messages. Users can now download this content on-demand.

Help From Afar

Overseas, even international institutions are thinking of ways to maximize help desk ROI. At the London School of Economics, for instance, help desk services revolve around remote assistance technology from software-as-a-service vendor LogMeIn. During a 2008 CT webinar about delivering real-time IT services (see "Web Extra," below), Amber Miro, the school's assistant director of IT services, explained the process by which the institution markets this service.

First, upon implementing the technology, Miro and her colleagues branded it "Virtual IT Assistance," or VITA. Subsequently, the IT department has called attention to the service with colorful advertisements in an IT Services newsletter, and has promoted user groups and demonstrations across campus. At the beginning of the 2008-2009 academic year, London School of Economics technologists organized these demonstrations into an series of "introduction days" for faculty and students alike. Everyone who participated in the demonstrations received a VITA-branded stress ball.

"The whole idea was to tell them that instead of getting stressed, they can get help," Miro quips. "There's no point in having good service if nobody knows about it so that they can use it!"

Webinar: How the London School of Economics Delivers Real-Time IT Services to Remote Users Anywhere. This CT webinar, sponsored by LogMeIn, deals with the subject of delivering realtime help desk services, and marketing the technology to do it. Access the archived event on-demand here.

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