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Service Desk Challenges and Joys at Georgetown University Law Center

By | June 29, 2015 in Service Desk

Service desks in academic institutions

Georgetown University Law Center is home to high-profile professors who have served for the U.S. Supreme Court as well as graduate students streaming in from 67 countries. Situated just a few blocks from DC's Capitol Hill, Georgetown Law is a bustling hub for law-making and academia. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask the university’s Tier 3 Senior Technician, Dustin Nigro, about his insights into managing the service desk for a prominent educational institution.

What do you believe are the biggest service desk challenges and considerations for a university or any educational institution?

BYOD is one of our biggest challenges. Students, by nature, tend to be early adopters of technology and often use multiple devices and email addresses, so it can be challenging to track an individual, their assets, and their email history. Students also tend to use the latest devices and apps on the market, and they need all of these to function within their academic environment. We’ve been dealing with BYOD for much longer than most organizations – it’s magnified like crazy in the education sector.

Another challenge is creating the right service desk culture. Academic institutions often have a deep-rooted organizational hierarchy. At Georgetown Law, we’re providing services for a diverse group of people comprising of many VIP guests (members of the Supreme Court for example), internal university faculty, staff and graduate students.  The VIPs in our community prefer to interact with people that they are familiar with and prefer to receive a more personal service. They want to be treated as people, not handled as numbers – via predefined emails, phone trees, or self-service. These high-profile VIPs are often transient or adjunct professors, so we can’t rely on them being familiar with our in-house software. We’ve had to find ways to manage the service desk using technology that people are already used to (e.g. email). This also allows our service desk team to categorize incidents accurately and enter useful data into the system. It’s a win-win.

Then there is the challenge of security. Academic institutions are often the targets of large phishing attacks, so password security has become a huge priority. With this, comes the need to change passwords on a regular basis. SysAid helps us to isolate and resolve such issues.

How has your team managed to provide appropriate support for the diverse needs of students, staff, and high-profile guests?

The university distinguishes its members according to tier levels that include a ‘high-profile faculty’, the Dean’s level, internal staff, and graduate students. Many of the high-profile faculty members come from the U.S. federal courts, government, prestigious law firms, and the Supreme Court. As a result, our service desk priority tier levels reflect this distinction. It has been crucial for us to establish Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that incorporate priorities according to these tier levels, particularly regarding our response times. When it comes to ‘VIPs’ (such as members of the U.S. federal courts and government), the sky is the limit in terms of the extent to which we’re prepared to support them. SysAid has allowed us to set up priority levels that distinguish between users as well as incident types, all of which correspond back to our SLAs. For any given incident, the respective SLA triggers a timer according to the priority of the given user, and our response times range from five minutes to two hours.

Our support role, when it comes to our students, is to simply maintain the systems they’re using for studies (such as email, learning systems, and apps) rather than provide hands-on support.

What were your university’s key priorities when selecting a service desk?

We were looking for a reliable solution to ensure that staff and students could simply get on with learning and practicing law in an efficient manner without technological hitches. We needed a solution to centralize and manage all facets of IT – from network operations and web operations to AV operations and the service desk. Our service desk at the university is responsible for managing requests from 1,700 faculty staff plus 15,000 students and active alumni outside of the campus. We receive approximately 800-1000 incoming service requests a month and are required to track over 3,000 assets.

In addition, our CIO George Petasis, has always been passionate about the ITIL service delivery framework, and being that service desk/help desk management is one of its key components, it was crucial for us to find an ITIL-compliant service desk solution that would enable us to introduce and manage processes, such as change management, with relative ease.

How challenging was it to implement your service desk and what were the cultural implications for the university and staff?

We pretty much had to set up the service desk from scratch and we only had four weeks to get it up and running before the start of semester. Within this tight deadline, we had to establish certain ITIL processes and ensure that we were set up to track tickets, as the beginning of term is always a busy time for requests. Luckily, SysAid was easy and incredibly quick to implement and we received excellent support from the Professional Services team, which made it possible for us to rapidly integrate the LDAP and import all the data we needed into the system (such as SLAs and categories), as well as establish the definitions for the status and prioritization of requests. In parallel, we centralized all incoming requests into a single point of contact: the service desk.

We rolled out the service desk in stages in order to gradually integrate it into the university’s day-to-day culture. Naturally, there were initial fears and apprehension among staff – that the new system would pose a burden on them and take up their precious time. To help with these concerns, we explained the new processes through presentation and an email campaign, also conveying that the new service desk would provide help, rather than require additional work from staff.

For our team of admins, training has always been key to ensuring that the service desk is performing effectively. Initially, we conducted several face-to-face group Q&A’s for admins and we distributed a manual and several of SysAid’s videos (including some hosted by Joe The IT Guy). In our academic environment, it is common for lectures and forums to be recorded on camera, so we made use of these classroom resources in order to re-use recorded training sessions for admins at a later stage. We conveyed to our admins what essential data we were looking to receive in tickets, and we defined some crucial terminology such as “notes”, “pending”, and “resolution”, as well as clarifying contexts such as in what circumstances it’s necessary to add data to a knowledge base. We’ve continued to provide training sessions post-implementation so that admins can provide us with feedback on live processes including any flaws.

How do you feel the service desk responds to the needs of your university?

It’s our backbone for day-to-day operations – it allows us to manage all aspects of IT for the university. SysAid gives our department accountability as a business unit because we can track our performance and contribution to the organization. It allows us to see what’s going on day-to-day, monthly, and yearly. This is crucial for an educational institution.

We are also using the service desk’s escalation rules with priorities and categories. This gives us control over all processes and the ability to configure the system to our ongoing needs. For us, SysAid is a very robust system that incorporates everything we’ve ever needed and wanted for the university. In particular, it has significantly more value in terms of its ITIL capabilities, its flexibility, the fact that it’s easy to configure the templates and the interface, and the ease of use for non-IT end users.

Which processes have you rolled out so far and what are your future plans?

Everything we do is based on best practices. The benefit of SysAid for us is that we don’t have to put in a lot of effort when it comes to ITIL – the system takes care of much of the ITIL framework. We are running incident management and all of our SLAs are set up in SysAid. We’ve set up escalation alerts and we use multiple escalation rules to define how and what the alerts trigger, and who gets notified. We’re currently using SysAid’s Remote Discovery Service with LDAP, which we find to be a very convenient way to connect with the external server without the need to open ports.

In addition, we are now in the process of rolling out the service desk for our finance department, to manage their HR and payroll requests. They will be able to track all of their data and resolution times. SysAid enables us to manage processes across multiple departments by distinguishing between the “user permission groups” of various departments. It also allows us to set up automatic routing per department for requests to specific pre-determined groups.

Our future plans include rolling out asset management. This will enable us to identify the assets associated with each user from within their ticket and provide us with data about the specific software on each user’s machine, thereby assisting us to diagnose users’ issues. Other plans also include setting up change management with SysAid and implementing the self-service portal internally (as the culture of submitting tickets is becoming more familiar to our permanent staff).

How valuable is a service desk for non-IT departments?

Most university departments are in essence ‘service-based’ in the sense of needing to respond to the requests of internal clients. Non-IT departments are often keen to convert their paper documents into electronic records. SysAid allows any department to centralize and track its internal requests and data flow. This, in turn, means that the IT department can manage multiple organizational processes from a single platform.

Finally, what would be your advice to universities or schools wishing to set up or replace a service desk?

Do your homework, plan, and set realistic goals. Roll the system out in phases over time and make sure that you train those who will be using the system. Without training for your admin staff, your implementation will suffer. It is also imperative to ensure that you set up your definitions, SLAs, and categories according to your specific KPIs, otherwise the processes and technology will not serve your institution’s needs.

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Kim Haimovic

About Kim Haimovic

Kim loves capturing and telling stories, whether through music, photography, filmmaking, or blogging. As SysAid's Marketing Manager, Kim has the pleasure of catching up with customers across the globe to hear and share their eclectic and inspiring tales.

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