Collaborative IT Support at the University of Reading

Joel Bomgar, CEO of Bomgar & Gordon Roberts, Customer Services and Communications Manager, IT Services for University of Reading
Joel Bomgar, Founder & CEO of Bomgar with Gordon Roberts, Customer Services & Communications Manager, IT Services for University of Reading

Since 2012 British Universities have been able to charge £9,000 (about $15,000) per year for tuition fees. I wrote last year, following the itSMF regional at the University of Exeter, that this charging policy shifts the relationship between undergraduates and institutions and further elevates students to ‘customers’ with buying power. Students have new expectations and demand higher standards of their Universities, including IT services.

This is sentiment echoed by Gordon Roberts, Customer Services and Communications Manager at the University of Reading, who I met with Joel Bomgar, CEO of the $50m enterprise remote support company that bears his name. Joel was in the UK to visit the EMEA office and talk with clients including the University of Reading (UoR) who have recently joined the ranks of around 8,000 other Bomgar customers.

Gordon stated his team were under increasing pressure to increase service levels: both to satisfy their staff and students but also manage external reputation. Bad vibes about support spread like wild fire amongst prospective IT savvy students.

The UoR team admit that they stumbled across Bomgar whilst on the search for a new service desk (Recently replacing BMC with TopDesk), Gordon said “All the ITSM vendors we spoke to during our ITSM tool selection process said they integrated with Bomgar, but we’d never heard of it. However after researching further we immediately saw the value and have been using it since May”.

IT services at UoR act as a central point of contact for all IT requests and incidents, even for those faculties that may have their own IT support resources. Gordon stated that the lines between first and second line support had begun to blur as the first line support team were encouraged to learn more. “There has been an effort to move away from log and flog and increase the skill levels of frontline staff”

Bomgar facilitates collaboration between support teams by:

  • Allowing 1st and 2nd line to collaborate in real time on issues and learn from each other during calls rather than passing batons between teams with no real increase in knowledge
  • Recording calls and clipping the video to a knowledge base article for future reference
  • Doing all this whilst meeting their security and regulatory requirements. An audit trail of Bomgar activity records all interactivity.

I was surprised to hear that anyone in IT support can use Bomgar; it is not restricted to a few specialists. In fact Bomgar is also used for hands-on 1-2-1 training sessions outside of IT support, for example when training staff on tips and tricks with Microsoft Office, CMS systems or Blackboard.

Once upon a time we pushed plugs in a telephone exchange and called the operator to make a phone call – now we click on somebody’s face in Skype and talk to them immediately on the other side of the planet via a free video link. Bomgar paints a vision of a similar immediacy. Service request portals have provided scope for great steps in automation; remote support of this type allows the human touch to return and vastly accelerate support by allowing collaboration in real time.

University of Exeter Students Choose Twitter for IT Support

Given the choice, University of Exeter Students Opted to Receive IT Support Updates via Twitter

The itSMF held their UK South West & South Wales Regional meeting at the University of Exeter this week.

The theme of the day was processes and toolsets with a big emphasis on member interaction and discussion.

In a nutshell: A good day. Recommended.

Two presentations really stood out for me during the day. Firstly Deborah Pitt, Configuration Manager at Land Registry Information Systems in Plymouth, gave a compelling talk on how she managed to convince various IT teams within Land Registry to buy-in to their CMDB. In short, Deborah recalled her strategy of badgering, evangelising and more badgering.

Winning Friends and Implementing CMDBs

Deborah shared with us that she increased engagement and adoption with the CMDB by farming out responsibility for configuration items to various IT teams. For example, the team responsible for management of blackberry devices were assigned ownership of Blackberry data within the CMDB, a great strategy for building confidence in the system and getting users to let go of their precious excel sheets.

“Although process and tools have both been important in getting buy in from consumers and owners of the data that goes into the CMDB, another, often overlooked factor has been a major plank of getting the message across.   This is building successful, communicative relationships with both consumers and owners.  Through selectively targeting the audience and tailoring the message, Land Registry have been able to build enthusiasm for CMDB, such that there is now a widespread take up of CI use and ownership.” Deborah Pitt, Land Registry.

Bring Your Own Pot Noodle?

However, for me the most interesting talk of the day came from the hosts: Zach Nashed who runs the IT Helpdesk at the University of Exeter.

Zach shared how the IT support team at the University were coping with the changing demands of students. It was interesting to hear of the changing attitudes towards IT support since tuition fees were abolished. Since students will be paying £9K per annum out of their own pocket from 2012, this was beginning to translate into higher expectations and demands of IT support (e.g. If I’m paying £9K a year to study here I’m not paying extra for printing).

The IT team are also under increasing pressure to provide 24/7/365 IT services for multiple devices per student. For example students are arriving on campus with a laptop, tablet and phone with all flavours of platforms and expecting instant compatibility and high-speed ubiquitous WIFI access.

Fish Where The Fish Are

To provide higher levels of support at the University and align closely with current requirements Zach and his team hold focus groups with students. As a result the University has begun to explore Twitter as an IT support communication channel. When given the option, students at the University chose Twitter as their preferred update mechanism.

I think this is an important point for anyone considering implementing social channels into their support infrastructure. When considering implementation with a particular channel we need to consider:

  1. Do our customers actually use this social media channel?
  2. And do they want to hear from us when they are using it? (Zach noted that although students spent a great deal of time on Facebook their preferred update mechanism was Twitter)

If students of today are recruits of tomorrow then this initiative paints a picture of IT Support in 2015.

The University of Exeter are a long term Hornbill customer and are exploring a module from Hornbill specifically for twitter integration. Want to know how they get on? Follow them here.