Case Study

At U Richmond, Remote Support Cuts Costs

65 multimedia classrooms get remote access

Case Study

At U Richmond, Remote Classroom Support Cuts Costs

By Linda L. Briggs

One of the challenges of multimedia classrooms can be supporting them in an efficient, cost-effective manner. After all, each element you add to a classroom means another piece of equipment that can fail.

At the University of Richmond, a private liberal arts university in Virginia, Director of Telecommunications Doug West has put 65 multimedia classrooms on the university network for remote access and support. The effort is saving the university significant time and money, because the vast majority of calls can now be handled remotely, without dispatching a technician to the classroom.

The support effort, which has been ongoing for several years and which West and his team continue to refine, involves multimedia classrooms that are typically equipped with computer system, audio/visual projection system, a large electronic screen at the front of the class, media DVD/VCR playback device, sound amplifiers, digital display camera, and recently, an AMX touchpad controller for users. The pad controls the multimedia devices and room lights.

Part of the top-notch classroom support West’s team provides includes a phone system with response guaranteed from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Each classroom contains a PBX-based telephone with clear instructions to the user. Any call flagged as coming from a classroom support phone is specially routed through the support system, going to either the help desk or a multimedia technician.

“It d'es not go to a voice mail; it d'es not go to an automated attendant,” West says. “That number rings until someone picks it up.” If a call isn’t answered, it can eventually be routed up to West himself. “When we see that ring, we know it’s a special call from a classroom.”

The phone system is just part of the support equation; remote support over the network is the other component. Last summer, West and his group moved to improve tech support response time from the previous five to ten minutes by bringing 65 of the campus’s 100 multimedia classrooms onto a network for remote support. Technicians answering support calls now have the capability to remotely control every aspect of the room’s equipment. That saves tremendously on dispatch time, West says, because “about 80 percent of calls we get are some form of user error. Usually, that’s just pushing the wrong button, or thinking you’ve got the VCR turned on when it’s the DVD.” Those sorts of mistakes can easily be corrected remotely.

“If we do have a computer problem, we will still dispatch a technician to the site to look at it,” West says, “but the vast majority of the calls…are simple usability [issues].”

To maintain its classroom support levels, the university employs four multimedia technicians and nine help desk technicians, West says. He has emphasized cross-training technicians on both AV and computer support for the past several years, something made easier by the fact that both organizations report up through him. “Often, the computer technology and the AV technology get lumped together,” he explains, “and you’re not really sure what the problem is. So you have to look at it [as a whole].”

Because the university is using the existing computer network, no new cables had to be installed to initiate the remote support system; because the system is Web-based, no special application was needed. “[The software] didn’t cost a penny,” West says. The only expense: running additional data cables to the closets in each building housing a network router. Much of that additional cabling was added in the summer of 2006, using available technology funding. The cost of that additional cabling, West estimates, was about $150 to $170 per location.

The other expense, he says, has been simply the soft cost of setting the system up, organizing the classrooms, and determining how technicians will respond. For that, West has used the university’s existing HEAT help desk support system, from FrontRange Solutions.

Support information all ties into HEAT, West says, allowing him to create tracking tickets for each support call. “Not only d'es it help us track our work flow,” West says, “but we keep historical data on it as well.” That allows him to continually monitor what types of calls require remote support versus a classroom visit, and arrange technician support correspondingly.

Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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