Thursday, March 5, 2015

As I See It: #7 on Providing User Support in 'The New Normal', 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced last fall at the Educause conference in Orlando and officially released in January to the public [http://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/research/top-10-it-issues]. This entry is my seventh in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #7: Providing user support in the new normal—mobile, online education, cloud, and BYOD environments.

On the path to my first college degree, I took breaks now and then to 'experience life'. On my final break prior to earning my B.A. in Communication (technology, who knew?), I worked for a bit at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas, TX. Certainly a wild time, but a pervasively transformative time for me as well. The Hard Rock spirit and mantra truly stuck. Throughout my career, all levels, all times and all situations, the 'Love All, Serve All' spirit prevailed and continues to prevail.

For anyone that knows me, it is immediately apparent that user experience is my 'sweet spot'. I get the majority of my enthusiasm for technology from knowing how impactful technology should be to the user. Any user. All users. Yes this topic is on 'user support' and not necessarily 'user service', however the two are intertwined.

User support begins from the 'glimmer in the eye' point. As we are identifying need and conceptualizing solution, the support aspect should be ingrained throughout.

Example: We need to implement a virtual desktop environment to facilitate stronger classroom support while offsetting student responsibility for high-cost, specialized software fees. Great plan. How are we going to support that? 
  • If you remove the installation of specialized software on the student device, the accessibility ownership no longer resides with the device. 
  • If you remove requiring the student to visit a particular campus computer lab to access the specialized software, you remove both the boundary/location of support and the established supported device. 
Discussions about support should occur before the solution delivery stage because it can oftentimes streamline the decision process itself. 

So from the example above, the bullet-points tell me that we can go one of two ways: build the solution on campus or choose a hosted solution. As this ties directly in to coursework, we want 24/7 access and support. Can I staff for that? Do I want to staff for that? Do I want to invest significant dollars in the hardware to initially build then continuously improve an environment sure to rapidly change? Do I want to secure budget going to staff and materials to support this offering or would I prefer my staff focus on more strategic, innovative directions and outsource the service altogether? Can a hosted solution provide better 24/7 support for their product at all tier-levels than I can provide at the same price-point?

In the end, we chose to hit the cloud for this. Guaranteed up-time, competitive contract term, solid technology, and better support than I could build in-house at a reasonable cost. I can mark this one complete (for now), the service and support is great and the delivery is absolutely agile and nimble, enabling responsiveness should needs change within the next year.

Support for technology should be a part of every level of discussion. As we all know, technology is only as successful as the act of using it, which relies on support.

Part of the vision statement for Information Technology Services (ITS) at Fairfield University states:  
We envision a future in which Fairfield University's dynamic living and learning communities have limitless access to individualized information, unfettered by reliability issues, distance and choice of device.
Well, that future is now. 99% of our students BYOD, over 60% of our campus rely on Mac over PC,  we are 60-70% in the cloud, our students print wirelessly from whatever device they choose to a multitude of printing kiosks placed across campus. In response to this landscape, we've relocated our Help Desk (ITS4U) - yes picked it up and placed it - from the ITS building to smack-dab in the middle of the campus on the main floor of the DiMenna-Nyselius Library. We've improved our online knowledge-base resulting in significantly decreasing numbers of help tickets, while our help ticket turnaround time has decreased thanks to improved responsiveness. We support and our campus knows it.

It can't be stated enough - support as a priority directly impacts efficacy of technology. If there are any lingering old-school thoughts of, 'Well I don't need to support THAT...' - wipe that out of your mind. Yes you do. Because: IoT. The Internet of Everything is here to stay. If it isn't one device it's another and as technology department team members - it's love all, serve all time. Not if but when something new pops up, if you aren't looking at this as an opportunity to learn something new you might be in the wrong field.

User support in 'the new normal' is what user support should always be - targeted, comprehensive and responsive support to your user devoid of limitation to environment. It's better to say, 'I'm not sure let me figure this out' over 'We don't support that'. Every time.