Service on the Front Line: The IT Help Desk in Higher Education

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1 Service on the Front Line: The IT Help Desk in Higher Edcation Mark C. Sheehan, ECAR Volme 8, 2007 Research Stdy from the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

2 This research stdy is available online at the ECAR Web site ( The content of this stdy is restricted to athorized ECAR sbscribers and to those who have separately prchased this stdy. The sername and password below are reqired to gain access to the online version and are to be sed only by those who may legally access the content. Username: ERS0708 Password: HELPDESK Walnt Street, Site 206 Bolder, Colorado

3 Service on the Front Line: The IT Help Desk in Higher Edcation

4 EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher edcation by promoting the intelligent se of information technology. The mission of the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research is to foster better decision making by condcting and disseminating research and analysis abot the role and implications of information technology in higher edcation. ECAR will systematically address many of the challenges broght more sharply into focs by information technologies. Copyright 2007 EDUCAUSE. All rights reserved. This ECAR research stdy is proprietary and intended for se only by sbscribers and those who have prchased this stdy. Reprodction, or distribtion of ECAR research stdies to those not formally affiliated with the sbscribing organization, is strictly prohibited nless prior written permission is granted by EDUCAUSE. Reqests for permission to reprint or distribte shold be sent to

5 Contents Foreword...5 Chapter 1 Exective Smmary...9 Defining the Help Desk Methodology Key Findings Conclsion Chapter 2 Introdction Importance of the Help Desk The IT Spport Challenge This ECAR Stdy Chapter 3 Methodology and Respondent Demographics...23 Research Approach Classification Schemes Analysis and Reporting Conventions Overview of Respondents Stdy Organization Chapter 4 The Instittion and Its Central IT Organization...29 Central IT and Its Partners Central IT s Goals and Strategies The Impact of Instittional Cltre Smmary and Implications Chapter 5 Methods of Implementing Help Desk Services Help Desk Organization Help Desk Services Otsorcing Help Desk Availability Smmary and Implications Chapter 6 Fnding and Staffing the Central IT Help Desk...57 Help Desk Fnding Help Desk Staffing Alignment of Expectations with Resorces Smmary and Implications Chapter 7 Help Desk Tools...65 The Atomated Help Desk Client Spport Tools Smmary and Implications Chapter 8 Service Level Agreements Service Level Agreements on Camps Constitencies for Service Level Agreements What SLAs Address Smmary and Implications Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Setting a Corse: Goals for the Help Desk...85 Help Desk Goals Service Improvement Drivers and Barriers Strategic Planning for the Central IT Help Desk IT Service Management Practices Smmary and Implications Evalating the Help Desk...99 Basic Help Desk Metrics Assessing Satisfaction Commnicating Costs and Vale Help Desk Matrity Smmary and Implications EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

6 Chapter 11 Sccess of the Help Desk: Assessing Otcomes Sccess in Meeting Goals Positive Impact of the Help Desk Overall Service Qality Smmary and Implications Chapter 12 On the Horizon: The Ftre of the Help Desk The Client Commnity The Technology Environment Spport Tools and Methodologies Management Practices Smmary Appendix A Instittional Respondents to the Online Srvey Appendix B Interviewees in Qalitative Research Appendix C Bibliography

7 Foreword A mechanical engineer, a chemical engineer, an electronics engineer, and an IT help desk administrator are riding together in a car when sddenly the engine dies. The mechanical engineer sspects a drivetrain failre. The chemical engineer thinks it mst be a problem in the fel system. The electronics engineer is sre that a control chip is defective. The IT help desk administrator simply asks, Why don t we all jst get ot of the car, then get back inside and see if it works again? Actally, in most versions of the joke, the forth occpant is a compter scientist. Bt it wold be a rare compter scientist who spent his or her day telling dozens of people to reboot their PCs. The joke is fnny in part becase compters sometimes get balky for no clear reason and then retrn to normal for reasons that aren t mch clearer. It s also fnny, thogh, becase many of s most of s, probably call an IT help desk from time to time and know exactly what the first piece of advice will be. Maybe the joke isn t so amsing to help desk professionals, who often have to trobleshoot a sbtle problem while exercising the skills of a diplomat, a psychologist, or, occasionally, a saint. Bt it shows that the work they do is prominent enogh to earn a place in pop cltre. And that s a reminder that of all the services that make p the IT portfolio, none has a more direct cstomer-facing role than the help desk. IT organizations have provided technical spport for as long as there s been a distinction between administrators and sers of compting technology. Technical expertise, of corse, is a core competence of ser service organizations. Bt the ser service domain has expanded as mch with compting s sociology and cltre as with its technical demands. In early data processing days, the interface between information systems experts and their bsiness department clients was fairly intimate and manageable. That changed when personal compting and mass Internet adoption broght two consective qantm leaps in ser demand, trning technical spport from a conversation between near-peers into a large-scale exercise in cstomer service. The many challenges of keeping a college or niversity s enormosly diverse range of sers prodctive while they se an enormosly diverse range of technology inspired this ECAR stdy. In some ways, ors is a story of grace nder pressre. Despite the challenges of managing technical spport spply and demand, or srvey respondents seem almost cheerfl in their self-assessment of overall help desk service qality. More than half rate it as very good or excellent, and many others 2007 EDUCAUSE. Reprodction by permission only. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

8 thoght it was at least good. Where they set goals, as they often do, they tend to say that they meet them. Or stdy clearly reflects respondent pride in help desk organizations that feel they have rolled with the pnches, kept p with demand, and made qality spport available where it s needed. Yet we fond signs that the exhilarating task of responding to a whole commnity s IT needs has also kept many help desk organizations tactical, conservative, and focsed on tried-and-tre methods. We fond only spotty adoption of the IT service management frameworks that many organizations in the commercial sector have sed to achieve tighter IT alignment with strategic goals. Self-service tools were not as widespread or nmeros on average as we expected them to be, and perhaps for this reason instittions were ambivalent overall abot their effect on redcing help desk demand. We fond commnications methods srprisingly traditional for an era in which the stdent poplation is known for its fast-changing commnications cltre. And, perhaps explaining mch of this, 56 percent of or respondents characterized help desk fnding as less than or mch less than adeqate. A certain wary focs on proven methods is nderstandable for an organization that is all too often called on to clean p the mess when gee-whiz technologies prove nreliable or ser-nfriendly. Help desk administrators and staff freqently find themselves, in principal investigator Mark Sheehan s apt phrase, on the front line of higher edcation IT. Bt all is not reaction and constraint. As Mark details in the following chapters, we fond a complex of practices that tended to move together among the most matre and high-performing help desk organizations. Among or respondents, implementation of service management framework practices (exclding service level agreements), se and commnication of performance metrics, and the existence of strategic plans all proved to be associated with higher reported service qality levels. And what s more, high service qality levels tended to be associated with higher evalations of the central IT organization s reptation within the instittion. Acting as scot and intelligence officer in or foray to IT s front line was ECAR Fellow Mark Sheehan. In his initial mission as principal investigator of an ECAR stdy, Mark has crafted a broad and deep assessment of higher edcation help desk practice that reflects his long experience as a CIO and IT professional. The meticlos data presentation and clear, lcid prose of the following chapters testify both to Mark s scientific training and to the writing skills for which he was already known before joining ECAR. Mark has been aided by ECAR s talented and collegial fellowship. Bob Albrecht, Jdy Carso, Jdy Pirani, Don Spicer, and I helped with qalitative interviews and took part in creating the for case stdies that accompany this project. Gail Salaway participated throghot, advising on srvey design, data preparation, and analysis, and condcting the bddy check of qantitative findings that we perform on all ECAR stdies. The incomparable and invalable Toby Sitko broght it all together as sal, from coding the srvey instrment for Web presentation to needling the interim director to finish the Foreword on time. Richard Katz, ECAR s fonder and director, helped conceive of the project, broght it to frition, and was its steward throghot its initial phases. Finally, transforming ECAR s digital prose and charts into polished pblications has depended on the professionalism, and often the patience, of or EDUCAUSE colleages Nancy Hays and Gregory Dobbin. Appropriately, given the topic, we have also had a great deal of help from higher edcation colleages and other professionals. The seed for this stdy was planted by Betty Leydon, Vice President for Information Technology and CIO at Princeton University, when she sggested at an EDUCAUSE

9 conference session that we take on IT service management. Proving the principle that no good deed goes npnished, we also asked Betty to review the stdy prospects and srvey draft, and she graciosly did so. We are also indebted to the ser services professionals who assisted s with a review of preliminary findings: Vivianne D. Johnston, Help Center Manager, Regis University; Denise Schette, IT Cstomer Spport Services, Metropolitan State College of Denver; and Herb Wilson, Director of IT Spport at the University of Colorado, Bolder. We are also indebted to HDI (formerly the Help Desk Institte) and its higher edcation form steering committee for valable discssions and observations. In particlar, we thank HDI s Leslie Cook; Mark Fitzgerald, Boise State University; Bill Vriesema, Calvin College; and Jon P. Garvin, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Pblic Health. Likewise, we are gratefl for the assistance of Ann Lamanes of the IT service management conslting firm Pink Elephant. The fondation for this stdy, of corse, is the 454 respondent instittions that took part in or srvey, identified in Appendix A. We are profondly aware that a srvey invitation from ECAR can hardly help bt impose on or respondents time and patience, and we are constantly gratified that so many colleages see enogh vale in or work to respond. And we are all the more indebted to the IT professionals who agreed to qalitative interviews that contribted greatly to nderstanding and interpreting the srvey findings. These colleages 36 individals at 24 separate instittions are named in Appendix B. Other higher edcation colleages opened their doors and generosly donated their time to collaborate with s on the for case stdies that accompany this stdy. We are especially gratefl to Bowdoin College and Colgate University for showing s two different bt eqally compelling ways to optimize the help desk s strategic vale; New York University for sharing with s the details of its IT Infrastrctre Library implementation; the University of Alberta for giving s insight into ways of improving the help desk s self-service applications and optimizing stdent workers contribtion; and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which provided a model for creating and sstaining a highly distribted fabric of IT spport services. We are prod to deliver the first in-depth stdy of IT help desk practices in higher edcation, and we firmly believe that the findings here will be of interest and vale to IT leaders and line staff alike. One theme rnning throghot these pages will srprise no one familiar with the topic: the commitment of IT professionals to deliver excellent services that spport their commnities and advance higher edcation. We thank them for their contribtions and dedicate this stdy to them. Ron Yanosky Bolder, Colorado EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

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11 1 Exective Smmary Service on the Front Line: The IT Help Desk in Higher Edcation is the final report of a research stdy initiated by the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) in Jly 2006 to explore higher edcation information technology (IT) spport services. The stdy investigated many aspects of the central IT help desk throgh a qantitative srvey of 454 EDUCAUSE member instittions in the United States and Canada, condcted in Janary and Febrary of We later spplemented the srvey throgh interviews with chief information officers (CIOs), help desk administrators, and others selected from or membership. In higher edcation, the central IT organization s help desk is on the front line in at least two senses. First, in many ways, it is the face of central IT. Help desks at instittions of all sizes receive thosands of assistance reqests every year, and those contacts represent most or all of their clients experience of the central IT organization. The impression the help desk gives of technical competence, cohesiveness with the rest of central IT, and cstomer service sbstantially impacts camps perceptions of central IT. Second, the help desk represents the IT organization s first line of response to the client commnity s demands. The CIOs, help desk managers, and others who made p or srvey respondent pool often expressed a sense that client demands were escalating so rapidly as to impact the qality of help desk services. Even as they face growing external demand, help desk staff find themselves on nstable grond as technology changes rapidly and as their back-office IT colleages change familiar systems and services and release new ones. These pressres challenge the help desk to change and adapt; those that can t may become reactive and enter a destrctive downward spiral. IT service organizations in general have begn to address the management challenges this sitation poses by a proliferation of process frameworks and best practices that can be lmped nder the heading of IT service management (ITSM). Foremost among these, and the framework pon which most are bilt, is the IT Infrastrctre Library (ITIL), a trademarked prodct of the United Kingdom Office of Government Commerce. While ITIL is familiar to IT spport managers in Erope and in the U.S. private sector, it is less familiar in U.S. higher edcation. It was partly with that knowledge gap in mind that this stdy was conceived. Defining the Help Desk The central IT help desk has traditionally been the place to visit or the telephone nmber to call when one is stmped by some 2007 EDUCAUSE. Reprodction by permission only. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

12 aspect of IT or needs information abot the instittion s IT environment. Typically, camps IT help desks serve all comers in these ways, so the variety of problems they confront is wide. Most help desks attempt to resolve their clients qestions on the spot bt escalate thornier problems to specialists, sally staff reporting elsewhere in the central IT organization. Some higher edcation organizations otsorce the first tier of help desk spport, bt we fond this to be rare among or higher edcation respondents. The help desk goes by many names; we chose to se this term in or stdy becase we felt it wold be most recognizable. Instittions also refer to it as a spport center, call center, or hot line. Some se the term service desk, bt that has taken on new meaning as the ITSM literatre grows: the ITSM service desk embraces help desk fnctions as well as the responsibility for first-line client contact abot all central IT services. The matre service desk is proactive as well as reactive in that it pshes commnications abot the IT environment and central IT services to the client commnity. While we know many campses are moving their help desks in this direction, not all have done so, and not all wold recognize the fll implications of the term. We measred help desk sccess in several ways: the nmber of goals the help desk prsed and the freqency with which it met them, overall service qality and perceived client satisfaction in specific service areas, and the help desk s perceived positive impact on the instittion s varios constitencies and mission. Becase of the help desk s niqe position in the IT organization between central IT systems and their sers we agree with the ITSM doctrine that the help desk mst be integrated into central IT organization planning and management activities. While commnication is necessary to the help desk/ central IT partnership, alone it is not sfficient for the partnership s sccess. Help desk management and staff are niqely aware of the conseqences to the client commnity of central IT decisions, and ths their involvement in central IT decision making is essential. We were gratified to see that so many of or srvey respondents said the help desk was adeqately inclded in varios central IT planning and management activities. Methodology ECAR applied a mltipart research approach to this stdy, which involved a literatre review to identify isses and establish the research qestions; consltation with a select grop of CIOs to identify and validate the research qestions; a qantitative Web-based srvey of IT administrators (mostly CIOs and help desk administrators) at 454 higher edcation instittions among the EDUCAUSE member base; postsrvey qalitative interviews with 36 exectives and staff members involved in help desk management at 24 instittions; and for case stdies examining help desk and service management practices at a total of five higher edcation instittions. Key Findings The central IT help desk is a complex enterprise operating within a dynamic environment. For this reason, or stdy looked at many aspects of the help desk, inclding the central IT organization, its goals, and its cltre; the help desk s scope, resorces, and services; service level agreements between help desk and clients; 10

13 practices in place for evalating and improving help desk services; and perceived sccess of the help desk organization. Throghot or analysis we related or findings to principles and practices represented in the ITSM literatre and soght reinforcement or reftation of their vale in the higher edcation context. In the following sections we smmarize and synthesize or findings. The Instittional Context Among or respondent instittions, IT services are still highly centralized. At most of them (88.5 percent), there is only one central IT organization. As Figre 1-1 shows, at most of or instittions, central IT provides nearly all IT infrastrctre and three-qarters of IT spport services. In all instittional size categories, as measred by FTE enrollments, independent IT organizations exist otside central IT bt are mch more common in large instittions (90.5 percent) than at small ones (21.9 percent). For jst over two-thirds of central IT organizations, the primary goal is to provide infrastrctre and services that frther the instittion s strategic goals. At only 4.0 percent of instittions is it central IT s goal to provide infrastrctre and services to create instittional competitive advantage; at sch instittions the pace of adoption of new technologies is higher, and bdget increases in the past three years have been more common. Only 10.4 percent of respondents characterized their instittions as early adopters of new technologies. Abot twice that many felt that description fit their central IT organizations. Abot 70 percent characterized both their instittions and their IT organizations as mainstream adopters. Late adopters made p the remainder in each category. The Help Desk and Its Resorces As is the case with IT services in general, help desk services are highly centralized within or respondent poplation. Abot threeqarters of respondent instittions provide all 100% 90% % 75.5 Percentage of Instittions 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 19.1 Figre 1-1. Providers of Infrastrctre Elements and Spport Services (N = 220) 10% % Mostly central IT Roghly eqal mix Mostly nit-specific IT Infrastrctre Spport services Provider EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research 11

14 help desk services from one or more central IT help desks; abot three-qarters of these have only one. Only abot a qarter of or respondents help desk managers report directly to the CIO; most of the rest report to the head of a central IT service area. Majorities of or respondents help desks spport a wide range of infrastrctre and identity-related services and common instrctional, administrative, and personal prodctivity applications. Least spported are privately owned hardware, programming langages, research applications, and applications hosted off camps. In traditional fashion, the help desk is most likely to ply its trade over the telephone or via . Walk-in interactions and assistance delivered at the client s location are also very common. Srprisingly, help desks se interactive text commnication (chat, instant messaging, and text messaging) infreqently or not at all to provide spport this despite the fact that 84.1 percent of stdents in The ECAR Stdy of Undergradate Stdents and Information Technology, 2007 said they sed instant messaging applications, with half that nmber sing them at least daily. Althogh the commercial sector increasingly offshores cstomer service fnctions, few of or respondent instittions otsorce any of their help desk services. Only 2.6 percent otsorce 75 percent or more of their services; 13.7 percent otsorce between 1 and 75 percent of them, and the remainder (83.7 percent) otsorce none. Larger instittions have a lock on the practice of providing help desk services 24 hors a day, seven days a week; jst nder 5 percent of respondents help desks are this available, and more than half of these are at instittions with more than 15,000 FTE. Abot two-thirds of respondents help desks are available beyond standard camps bsiness hors, while a srprisingly high 30.5 percent are available only dring standard bsiness hors. Reassringly, only 1.3 percent report less availability than that. Most of or respondents were nenthsiastic at best abot help desk fnding. Over half (55.7 percent) rated fnding as less than or mch less than adeqate; only 3.2 percent said it was more or mch more than adeqate. For almost two-thirds of respondents, fnding for the help desk is at or below 10 percent of the central IT bdget. Despite ser poplations in the thosands and tens of thosands, help desks provide their services with remarkably few staff. At small instittions the mean nmber of fll-time eqivalent help desk staff is abot seven, at medim-size instittions it is abot 10, and at large instittions it is jst nder 18. These figres inclde stdent employees. Instittion size, Carnegie class, and instittional control are all associated with the nmber of FTE stdents served per FTE help desk staff member. Overall, the mean is 1,264 and the median is 861. Even with their generally larger nmbers of help desk staff, larger instittions served more stdents per staff member than small ones. Each help desk staff member at doctoral and associate s instittions serves a mean of almost 1,800 stdents, three times as many as at bachelor s instittions; the nmber for master s instittions is arond 1,100. On average, each pblic instittion help desk staffer serves twice as many stdents as those at private instittions. More than two-thirds of respondent instittions are sing an integrated site of help desk atomation tools. Web-based help docments are common for both help desk staff and sers, bt the many other tools we asked abot were in mch less common se. Opinion is fairly evenly divided abot the effectiveness of the help desk s se of self-service tools to redce help desk demand, thogh it is significantly more positive among instittions where more sch tools are in se. 12

15 Adoption of ITSM Practices We asked abot five representative ITSM practices: capacity planning, availability planning, change management, release management, and service level management as represented by the se of service level agreements (SLAs). Except for service level management, a majority of respondents se each of the five practices. Only 20.5 percent of respondent instittions se SLAs, and a srprisingly high 38.1 percent of respondents said they had no plans to implement them. When we asked why, the most common reasons given were that the practice is incompatible with instittional cltre and that help desk staff have higher priorities than developing SLAs. We also learned that over 90 percent of SLA development projects now nder way have neither fnding nor completion dates, sggesting that these projects have low priority. On a more positive note, well over threeqarters of respondents have adopted at least one of the other for basic ITSM practices. While jst over a third of the entire respondent pool had adopted all for, among those who had adopted SLAs half again as many (52.7 percent) had done so, spporting or assmption that organizations often adopt ITSM practices in concert. The practice of strategic planning for the help desk is also more common where the for ITSM planning and management practices and SLAs are in se. Above, we emphasized the importance of active help desk participation in the ITSM activities of the central IT organization. Or findings spport this by revealing that the priority central IT places on deployment of easy-to-spport systems is significantly higher where respondents agree that the help desk is adeqately inclded in ITSM activities. As we will see, the qality of help desk services is closely associated with the insti- ttion s perception of the central IT organization. For this reason we were srprised that only 18.4 percent of or respondents had implemented cstomer relationship databases; while another 42.0 percent had implementations nder way or in the planning stages, the remainder, nearly 40 percent, said they had no plans to do so. Measring Performance We did not find widespread se of help desk performance metrics. Overall, those most commonly reported are demand for help desk services and the time it takes to resolve clients problems. These metrics are typically reported within the IT organization; fewer than 40 percent of respondent instittions report them to non-it senior administrators and only 20.1 percent to deans. Overall, only abot 40 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their help desks se these metrics effectively to improve ser services. However, among those who report their metrics more widely, agreement is more freqent, as it is among those who have adopted more basic ITSM practices. Or respondents assessment of their help desks matrity enabled s to ncover a constellation of practices that appear to be associated with matrity level. Most respondents (40.0 percent) characterized their help desk s matrity as standardized, the middle level in or five-point scale. As Table 1-1 shows, those who chose the higher levels of managed or optimized tend to have adopted more basic ITSM practices. They also agree more strongly that the help desk is adeqately involved in basic ITSM activities, have a strategic plan for the help desk, reglarly analyze more metrics, and agree more strongly that help desk costs and vale are well nderstood on their campses. Evalating Sccess As one measre of sccess, we asked respondents to evalate their help desks positive impact on varios service areas. By a EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research 13

16 Table 1-1. Nmber of For Basic ITSM Practices Adopted, by Help Desk Matrity Level Matrity Level N Mean Std. Deviation Initial Repeatable Standardized Managed Optimized Total wide margin, the two areas of greatest positive impact are, in a sense, self-serving: More than 80 percent said the help desk had high positive impact on camps perception of central IT services vale and of its reptation. While these good pblic relations indicators sggest the help desk is doing things right, other findings from this series of qestions raise some dobts that it is doing the right things. Following a theme that began in the earlier section The Help Desk and Its Resorces, respondents rate the help desk s positive impact lowest for research spport, with only 8.1 percent saying the help desk has high positive impact pon that aspect of the instittional mission. Thogh considerably higher for two other strategic areas, instrctional activities (53.4 percent) and administrative activities (68.2 percent), ratings still significantly lag those for the more tactical pblic relations areas. Respondents are pbeat abot overall help desk service qality; more than half rate their service qality as very good or excellent. Asked for specifics, they tell s their clients wold rate help desk service qality highest in technology areas sch as identity management, desktop compting essentials, and commnication applications and lowest in three core areas of higher edcation: instrction, administration, and research. This finding, in concert with the reptation-oriented positive impact findings reported above, sggests that the help desk s importance to the instittion may be more tactical than strategic. We saw earlier that the goal of most of or respondents central IT organizations is to provide infrastrctre and services in spport of the instittion s strategic goals; the findings introdced here sggest that the help desk s services, while thoght to be of generally high qality, may be too far removed from the instittion s core bsiness processes to be of more than tactical vale. This distinction aside, within the help desk s sphere of inflence we find service qality to be positively associated with central IT s adoption of and inclsion of the help desk in basic ITSM practices, the se of metrics to docment help desk performance, and the existence of a strategic plan for the help desk. Finally, as Figre 1-2 shows, service qality varies dramatically with help desk matrity level. Conclsion As the face of the central IT organization, the camps IT help desk plays an important role in enabling, facilitating, and spporting the se of technologies in prsit of the instittion s mission. While they may not be crcial to the sccess of every help desk, the practices and fnctions otlined in the IT service management literatre appear to be consistently associated in or data set with the positive impact the help desk has and with the overall qality of its services. Similarly, respondents who report a higher degree of help desk matrity are more likely not only to have adopted ITSM practices bt also to report sbstantially higher overall service qality than less matre organizations. 14

17 Mean Overall Service Qality* Figre 1-2. Mean Overall Service Qality, by Help Desk Matrity Level Initial (N = 35) Repeatable (N = 125) Standardized (N = 178) Managed (N = 78) Optimized (N = 30) Matrity Level *Scale: 1 = poor, 2 = fair, 3 = good, 4 = very good, 5 = excellent Or respondents main message is that they feel good abot the qality of their services. Their help desk organizations set goals and, more often than not, meet them. Nevertheless, many respondents tell s the help desk feels constrained in its prsit of improvement. The barriers that most concern them are ever-increasing client expectations and less-than-adeqate resorce pools. While most help desks have adopted integrated atomated toolsets for managing their operations, their client commnications and service technologies are behind the times certainly behind the adoption crve of ndergradate stdents, their most abndant clients. This conservatism may be nderstandable as a reaction to the pressre-cooker atmo- sphere of the help desk dring the first week of classes, bt it may also be one of the factors that limit the help desk s strategic impact. As Web 2.0 applications case paradigm shifts in information sharing, the help desk that limits itself to traditional, hierarchical cstomer service modes cold find itself eclipsed by a camps IT spport wiki. As mobile compting, virtal classrooms, and asynchronos learning liberate higher edcation from time and space constraints, the help desk that is available only from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. cold find its relevance evaporating. Whatever changes the ftre of IT brings, one thing is certain: The coming generation of help desk leaders will have their work ct ot for them. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research 15

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19 2 Introdction As higher edcation information technology professionals, we re tempted to look at or organizations IT resorces and services from the inside ot. In this networked age, or connections to the Internet and more specialized networks sch as Internet2 and the National LambdaRail are or mbilics, the cord that connects s to the world beyond the camps. On or campses, radiating from this nexs along the network backbone, are the infrastrctre elements on which or services are based the servers, the local area networks, and ltimately the workstations by which or clients connect with s. When we think abot secrity, as we so often do these days, we bild or first lines of defense arond the core systems and data managed by central IT. Most of s are members of a central IT organization, with a ncles of exectives, directors, and managers participating in a web of internal relationships and leading the teams that manage or IT infrastrctre and applications the teams that ltimately interact with or clients at the periphery of or organization. Bt that s jst s. Unless we ve broght them inside as, for example, members of or advisory committees, or clients see s very differently. To them, the center of the IT organization is the point at which they contact it. From their workstations, they see a web of connections to services sch as or administrative applications. Throgh their browser software they connect to a niverse of possibilities information, interaction, entertainment on the network. And when they contact s directly, either electronically or face to face, the person who responds becomes the center of the IT organization for them for the dration of the contact. The lines of information and inflence that or clients see within the central IT organization radiate from that central point. Importance of the Help Desk On most campses, the central point of contact for clients with IT problems is a formal client service organization. These organizations go by many names, among them help desk, spport center, call center, service desk, and cstomer hot line. 1 Here we se the term help desk to refer to the entire array of IT client service organizations, following conventional IT sage in higher edcation and elsewhere. For or clients, the help desk is the face of central IT, its eyes, ears, and voice on camps, and when it is effective, it is where clients direct their attention when they need spport EDUCAUSE. Reprodction by permission only. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research 17

20 It wold be difficlt to overestimate the help desk s importance in the higher edcation context. Dring ECAR s 2007 stdy of ndergradate stdents IT sage and attitdes, stdent respondents offered hndreds of comments abot the help desk. The stdy report smmarizes those comments as follows: While there were some positive comments abot the helpflness of staff in fixing technical problems, negative comments were far more freqent. These pointed most often to a lack of cstomer service orientation, bt also addressed problems with help desk availability, wait times, and fees. This sggests that the help desk fnction appears to be relatively high priority for many stdents, and is an important finding for IT leaders. 2 At a more general level, Samel J. Levy, vice president and CIO at the University of St. Thomas, observes, At some instittions, I sppose, the help desk is not a high priority in the instittion. Either the commnity does not vale it or they don t need it or the leadership simply says there are more important ways to direct their resorces. For me, it is the single most important thing. I can t imagine anything of greater vale that we can bring to the instittion. The IT Spport Challenge Like pblic and private sector enterprises everywhere, higher edcation instittions contine to place increasing reliance on information technology. Whether IT spports administration, instrction, or research, complex webs of hardware and software resorces nderlie an even more complex web of services. As complexities in these environments increase, service providers often find it challenging to maintain high cstomer satisfaction levels. Becase spport resorces do not always keep pace with spport demands, service providers can find themselves spiraling downward into a reactive operation mode, adapting to new challenges only with great difficlty, and missing opportnities to enhance the variety and qality of the services their constitents reqire. The help desk is on the front line of the strggle between spport demands driven by rapidly evolving information technologies and the central IT organization s efforts to mobilize the resorces necessary to meet that demand. Often the help desk finds itself in a kind of crossfire, pinned down from the otside by seemingly insatiable client demand and threatened from the inside by changes to central IT systems and services in which the help desk may have had no voice and of which, in the worst case, it may not even have been informed. Until recently, IT organizations have had few resorces for resolving these tensions. They can temporarily offset growing ser demands by investing in additional IT staff, staff training, and new technologies to help staff perform more efficiently. Enlightened leadership can facilitate better internal commnications between the help desk and the rest of central IT. Help desk managers can establish forms in which clients and service providers work together to agree pon reasonable expectations of and limits to help desk services. At some instittions, these agreements are codified internally in the form of operational level agreements and externally in the form of service catalogs and service level agreements. Otside assistance with help desk management isses has long been available throgh the conferences and pblications of professional associations sch as EDUCAUSE and the Association for Compting Machinery s Special Interest Grop on University and College Compting Services. Both organizations encorage practitioners to share their sccesses and lessons learned with their higher edcation colleages. Another resorce is HDI (formerly the Help Desk Institte, a membership organization whose training events, 18

21 conslting activities, and pblications assist help desk managers throghot the pblic and private sectors. In spport of its higher edcation members, HDI has established a Higher Edcation Form made p of representatives from 25 U.S. and Canadian colleges and niversities. Recently, nmeros strctred, formal IT service management models have become available and inclde sections specific to help desk management. These are dominated by the United Kingdom s Information Technology Infrastrctre Library (ITIL), now codified in the ISO/IEC docments of the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission. These docments provide a framework for integrating an instittion s IT services with its strategic directions; for constrcting an agile, proactive, sccessfl IT service infrastrctre based on docmented best practices; and for ensring that sstainable, high-qality IT services remain available as the technology landscape evolves. Many organizations ranging from high-profile IT companies sch as IBM, Microsoft, and HP to niversity bsiness schools to small private conslting firms have developed instrctional and consltative services to help IT service organizations implement ITIL strctres and practices. The blanket term IT service management (ITSM) has emerged in the literatre to identify the sperset of IT service-related standards and best practices of which ITIL is an important component. 4 This ECAR Stdy Colleges and niversities worldwide are incorporating ITSM elements into their central and distribted IT service organizations, bt with the exception of occasional conference papers 5 and trade-pblication articles, this work is going largely ndocmented among their higher edcation commnity peers. To help fill the gap, ECAR has ndertaken this stdy to docment the crrent state of the higher edcation IT help desk, investigate the extent of adoption of certain key ITSM practices, evalate their costs and benefits, gage their sccess, and provide gidance to instittions that may be considering implementing them. The detailed qestions that framed this stdy inclde the following: What are the respective roles of centralized and decentralized IT spport organizations? What are the goals and strategies of central IT and the central IT help desk? How are help desk services organized and provided? How is the help desk fnded and staffed? What spport tools are available to the help desk, and what tools does it make available to its clients? What are the drivers of and barriers to improvement of help desk services? What is the adoption stats of service level agreements and other basic ITSM practices? By what means does the help desk measre its performance and what does it do with that information? What are the otcomes of the help desk s efforts to improve its practices and its services? Stdy Scope and Objectives Becase relatively few higher edcation IT organizations are formally implementing ITIL practices, a stdy focsed on those practices per se wold have borne little frit. To inclde the largest nmber of instittions in or stdy and gather the most broadly applicable findings abot their help desks, we elected to coch or qestions in general terms that wold be recognizable to respondents familiar with the ITSM literatre bt also have meaning for those who weren t. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research 19

22 Within the ITIL framework, the help desk entity is referred to as the service desk. A service desk differs from the traditional help desk in that it serves as a single point of contact between the client and the IT organization. In the higher edcation context, this implies a role that goes beyond that of resolving compter sers technical problems. For example, the service desk s role also incldes commnicating with sers abot the IT organization throgh newsletters, Web pages, or blogs; cataloging and promoting all central IT services; and accepting and handling (or roting) sers reqests for assistance of all types. As defined in the ITSM literatre, 6 the service desk operates as the interface between clients and central IT throgh five basic processes: incident management, in its traditional reactive role in dealing with clients technology problems; configration management, by verifying or recording information abot the client s IT resorces; change management, by facilitating or trobleshooting IT environment changes; release management, by participating in the deployment of new or modified software and hardware; and service level management, by representing the central IT organization in matters relating to the service agreements it has made with the camps. In framing or srvey qestions, we asked abot two of these ITSM processes by name: change management and release management. We also asked specific qestions abot availability planning and capacity planning. Each of these for processes profondly impacts help desk clients, yet the central IT organization sometimes condcts some or all withot the help desk s participation. We hypoth- esized that help desks in more matre IT organizations wold be inclded in these for basic processes, and so we based or ITSM qestions arond them. Finally, we asked a series of detailed qestions abot service level agreements to investigate the service level management process. We did not se the term incident management in or srvey. Instead, becase this process is at the core of the traditional help desk s responsibilities, we asked many detailed qestions abot the help desk s processes for dealing with incident-related service reqests. We omitted mention of configration management as well, except to inqire abot the help desk s se of a configration management database. Despite or qalitative interview findings that formal ITSM implementations are not standard practice among higher edcation IT help desks, many of the reslts we present in the following chapters show that progress is being made. Most respondent instittions have implemented one or more ITIL-derived processes, and planning for others sch as service level management is well nder way. Or respondents clearly take pride in the qality of their services and in their ability to meet their many diverse goals. They are aware of at least some of their shortcomings in research compting, for example. Nevertheless, on the whole, they are concerned abot rapidly growing demand for their services and feel somewhat constrained in their responses by the cltral contexts in which they mst operate. In a field of shifting bondaries and at a time of constant change, the help desk is expected to be both stable and agile, and becase it is the face of IT on camps, the stakes are high. If or findings sggest that the help desk is a somewhat conservative organization, we need only look to these stresses to see why. 20

23 Endnotes 1. United Kingdom Office of Government Commerce, Service Spport (London: The Stationery Office, 2000), Gail Salaway and Jdith Borreson Carso, with Mark R. Nelson, The ECAR Stdy of Undergradate Stdents and Information Technology, 2007 (Research Stdy, Vol. 6) (Bolder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2007), available from 3. International Organization for Standardization, ISO/ IEC :2005: Information technology Service management Part 1: Specification (Geneva: International Organization for Standardization). And ISO/IEC :2005: Information technology Service management Part 2: Code of practice (Geneva: International Organization for Standardization). 4. When we began this stdy, the crrent version of ITIL was version 2. Dring the smmer of 2007, version 3 was released, with many sbstantial changes. In this report all references to ITIL are to version For example, R. Ben Maddox, ITIL in the Real World: NYU Leverages ITIL Best Practices to Enhance IT Organizational Processes (EDUCAUSE 2006 conference presentation), 6. Jan van Bon, Georges Kemmerling, and Dick Pondman, ed., IT Service Management, an introdction (Zaltbommel, NL: Van Haren Pblishing, 2002), 109. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research 21

24

25 3 Methodology and Respondent Demographics Grown-ps love figres. Antoine de Saint-Expéry, Le Petit Prince This ECAR stdy sed a mltipart methodology to gather qantitative and qalitative data abot or respondent instittions practices srronding IT help desk management. We investigated the state of college and niversity help desk organizations, services, tools, resorces, and management practices, and how these and assorted other measres relate to desirable help desk otcomes. Research Approach Or research proceeded along for major pathways: a literatre review, a qantitative Web-based srvey of IT leaders at higher edcation instittions among the EDUCAUSE member base, qalitative interviews with IT exectives and other staff from selected instittions, and case stdies. The literatre review helped identify and clarify isses, sggest hypotheses for testing, and provide spportive secondary evidence. Besides examining articles and stdies from jornalistic, academic, and IT practitioner sorces, we relied heavily on IT service management standards and frameworks to develop stdy objectives and srvey qestions. Among these sorces, we relied especially on the U.K. Office of Government Commerce s Information Technology Infrastrctre Library (ITIL) service delivery gidelines 1 and the pblications of the IT Service Management Form. 2,3 Also important was Barbara Czegel s Rnning an Effective Help Desk. 4 With inpt from CIOs and IT staff, the ECAR research team designed the Webbased srvey for IT administrators. We sent invitations for the srvey to 1,649 EDUCAUSE member instittions and received 454 responses (a 27.5 percent response rate). Appendix A lists respondents to this srvey, which can be fond at ECAR sed qalitative interviews to gain deeper insights into findings from the qantitative analysis and to captre ideas and viewpoints we might otherwise have missed. We interviewed 32 individals involved in IT help desk concerns, inclding higher edcation CIOs, help desk managers, and others. (Appendix B lists the interviewees.) We condcted most interviews by telephone and several at the 2007 ECAR Symposim hosted by HP and EDUCAUSE. The event was held in Bolder, Colorado, in Jne The case stdies that accompany this report provide an in-depth look at several topics that emerged from the research as particlarly interesting, inclding the challenges and rewards of two approaches to transforming camps perceptions of IT at Bowdoin College and Colgate University; 2007 EDUCAUSE. Reprodction by permission only. EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research 23

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