Tuesday, October 15, 2013

ConnectED IT

Technology has been around for quite a while.  And with it, technology support.  So has the inherent conflict with frustrated technology users and technology support staff .   What can be done to improve the sometimes strained relationship?

As a former classroom teacher turned technology support, I have a very biased attitude about technology support in education as opposed to tech support in other sectors.  I believe that when educators are caught with a technical support problem the downtime affects more than just the teacher, administrator or support staff person.  Students and their learning are affected detrimentally.  In contrast when school technology is dependable due to the availability of quality, sufficient, and reliable technical support, educators are the most effective.  School technology departments and technology staff that believe they are a vital and crucial part of a student’s education have a desire to put forth the best effort possible.

My personal experiences have led me to the conclusion that healthy communication between technical support departments and school personnel is an important key to successful school Information Technology (IT) departments.  Even when major systems are down and disrupting the school environment, I have learned that time spent keeping end users informed is highly effective in earning respect and trust during difficult times.

The Excelsior Springs School District Technology Department incorporates several tools to stay connected with district staff and patrons.  With each tool, the department strives to maintain multiple levels of communication to foster a sense of trust that when a user reaches out to us for help the user knows we are listening and we will respond.

The core communication tool is the help desk request system.  We use BMC Track-It! which seamlessly integrates with our email system and network directory services.  More information about our help desk system may be found here and here.

Although the help desk request system is a powerful connectivity tool, it is primarily a one-to-one communication method.  The department uses additional tools to make information available to larger groups.  This blog hosted on Blogger coupled with a Twitter feed @ESSD40Tech  reaches out to the social media connected users with news and information for emergent topics.  And more traditional electronic connections such as district email and a web page are incorporated as needed.  In emergency situations when critical systems such as phones and email are unavailable, the department uses School Messenger, a mass notification system.

The journey to a connected IT department has been a challenge and a paradigm shift.  Each technician is expected to write help request ticket notes that are relevant to the problem, document the process as well as communicate with the requestor in a non-technical fashion when possible.  We are keenly aware that we don’t always meet this goal.  Troubleshooting, affecting a solution and resolving the technical issue are tough skill sets to acquire and maintain.  On top of that we are challenging ourselves to add communication skills for which IT staff are not stereotypically known.

Although I’m the director with administrative responsibilities, I’m also a technician who has tickets to close.  Becoming a connected IT manager has been a personal challenge as part of a push to improve my department’s level of service to the district.  So I have had to move outside my own comfort zone to make additional connections through blog posts, Twitter feeds, web page updates, email to staff, and maintaining documentation.

Response to the department’s efforts is encouraging.  Based upon the positive feedback from our staff  I think we are improving in our connections.  Blog post readership increases with each new post as measured by Blogger statistics.
 Including giveaways to readers of the blog may have something to do with the improved statistics.

These connections have also worked both ways.  Responses from our technology users to satisfaction surveys and questions that have risen from blog posts have been the catalyst for change to technology department procedures and policies.  Recently, the department clarified the definition of a closed help ticket because a blog reader asked a question.  Connections with our staff such as this provide valuable feedback that may not have occurred through just the help request system alone.

Modern IT departments everywhere are being tasked with doing more with less.  My hope is that a connected IT department can leverage simple but powerful communication tools that contribute to reliable tech support through maintaining healthy communication between IT and IT users.

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