Magazine article University Business

Closing the Ticket: Campus IT Departments Are Streamlining Helpdesks with Technology and Savvier Users

Magazine article University Business

Closing the Ticket: Campus IT Departments Are Streamlining Helpdesks with Technology and Savvier Users

Article excerpt

Students, faculty, and staff turn to campus helpdesks when their work has come to a standstill because technology isn't behaving as they think it should. IT support centers at colleges and universities across the nation are ditching paper and turning to software solutions to help get frustrated users back on track more effectively and efficiently.

Greg Franseth, director of support for University of Kentucky Research Information Services, says it's hard to believe his office was using a paper-based system for helpdesk tickets just about seven years ago. "With what we've implemented, that feels like decades ago."

In the past, when users experienced a technology issue, they would come into the IT office, fill out a form, and eventually have the problem fixed. The paper trail invited lost requests, and it was difficult to spot trends or larger issues related to specific departments or certain pieces of the technology mix, Franseth says.

University of Kentucky administrators turned to a software suite that expanded the functionality of its helpdesk to better support users. "The difference between our old system and our new one is light years apart," he says, adding that users are much happier with the digital system that's now in place. The process lowered resolution time and gave campus constituents more options for support.

There are an array of vendors making helpdesk support and functionality more efficient. Here are some main features that streamline a university or college helpdesk system:

Self-Help for Users

One distinctive aspect of many helpdesk technology suites is user empowerment. Since today's students can be deeply tech savvy, giving them the tools to solve their own issues can relieve the IT department of some basic helpdesk tasks. Allowing users to check the status of their support tickets can reduce the number of calls to the helpdesk.

"Certain problems can be solved if we just make the information available to users," says Alexander Milne, technical director of student support at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. "The more educated we make our user group, the more likely they'll be to try addressing their problems before they come to us."

In 2004, Wharton implemented a stronger help ticket system with software from Parature. Before that, the school had tracked IT requests via email, and sometimes up to six IT techs would be cc'ed and multiple people would answer a single query. Anna Kent, Wharton's senior IT project leader, says the volume of email for a single event meant it was easy to lose track of a particular message.

The switch to Parature allowed the school to implement a system where nothing gets missed, and tools like the self-help knowledge base have been folded in easily. Kent notes that students, who are used to self-help systems, can speed up the process by taking a first crack at a problem and eliminating several potential causes before contacting IT.

A key feature in the self-help portal is chat functionality, Milne says. Students can talk in real time with an IT support professional, who work to guide them through problem solving. The system gives students expert help, but still allows them to troubleshoot on their own.

"We're seeing an increase in usage of the self-help portion of the site over time," says Kent. "Students are relying on it more and more. That helps them become savvy in solving their problems and reduces the number of helpdesk requests for us."

Remote Control

Taking control of a user's computer can be a powerful way to resolve issues. Many helpdesk professionals use this function to catch small problems before they become larger ones.

Kathryn McTaggart, who handles support for the Child Care Resource and Referral Network for Mississippi State University Extension Service, uses BOMGAR'S remote software to support 14 sites across the state. …

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