Friday, September 4, 2015

Help Desk Request System

The Excelsior Springs Schools Technology Department is tasked with the challenging responsibility of providing information technology (IT) support for a broad range of users and purposes.  From the pre-school student to the superintendent, from the classroom to the business office, our mission is to design, implement, and support a technology infrastructure system that supports all the needs of the district.

The processes we use to reach this goal are not unique to this IT department.   We use the most current model of IT help desk support described in the frameworks developed by the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).  ITIL is a best practice framework for IT service management.  Think of ITIL as the standards for IT support.  ITIL frameworks are being used by organizations large and small such as Microsoft, IBM, Disney, and Yale University.

All our IT processes begin with the service desk, aka the help desk or a help request.  A help request is channeled into the tech support system through a modified single point of contact.  Users submit their problem via an email to an easy-to-remember address, .  In the case of a situation that does not provide easy access to email, a user can call 630-1280 or extension 8400.  A help ticket is then put in for the caller.  This help ticket triggers a workflow process that gives the requestor the greatest possible access to technology support resources.

Every help request is first evaluated by the Track-It help desk system for keywords in the subject line, cross-referencing the requestor to the network directory information and adding that to the ticket information.  The ticket is also viewed by the Help Desk Technician, and the Director for further processing and assignment.  Once assigned to a tech department member, he or she receives automatic email notifications of the new ticket.

During the processing stage, a help ticket is evaluated for two criteria, impact and urgency.  In general, impact is a measure  of how many users are unable to perform their responsibilities by the issue in the request.  Urgency is a measure of how quickly the district needs the issue resolved in order to continue with the primary goal of instruction of students.  The combination of impact and urgency is used to assign a priority to the ticket in the technician's work queue.  For more information about the impact-urgency description for each of the 6 priority levels used us, see the Service Catalog document.

Each tech department member works his or her queue first by priority (highest to lowest) then within each priority level, first received to last received.  Each of us try to move each ticket towards resolution focusing on the order just described.  At times we may process a few tickets out of order that may all be in one building to cut down on travel time, may be an incident with similar resolution, or we may recognize it as a "quick fix" while we are waiting on something to complete.  But sticking to the priority/earliest received method is the fairest system for everyone.

The statement "put in a work ticket for that" is not a brush off.  The tech department is not filing your request in a circular file cabinet!  Quite the opposite is the truth.  You are being asked to use the greatest leverage you have--short of paying for your own personal technician--to get your issue resolved.  This help desk system helps us provide the most efficient possible service to everyone in the district.

Quite often the question is asked why should someone have to put in a help ticket when a tech department staff member has been spotted in the building.  Can't the tech just stop by and take a look?  Or, can't we just call the technician directly?  The simplest responses I have are:  that wouldn't be fair to everyone who has already requested help and their tickets are in the queue waiting for resolution, and a help ticket puts your issue in front of the most number of people in the department.

Look at the idea of fairness from a different angle.  Turn the situation around and think about how you would feel if you had an issue that was keeping you from teaching, a tech department staff member finally shows up to fix your problem but is called directly by someone in another building, and leaves your room without finishing your problem because the other caller always provided a king-size candy bar when the tech staff member fixed her problem.  Understandably, everyone feels that their tech issue is the most important issue facing the tech department.  Multiply that feeling by 350 staff members to see what 7 people in the tech department face when trying to decide who's help request to complete next.  An objective decision-matrix such as the impact-urgency model provides that level of objectivity and fairness.

Even though a help ticket is initially processed at three levels:  Track-It, the help desk technician, and the director, when it is in Track-It it can be seen by all system admins in the event the help desk technician or the director are out of the office.  When the ticket can be automatically assigned by Track-It, the assigned staff member receives an immediate email notification.  Getting a ticket into the system guarantees the maximum exposure.  Calling a tech staff member directly without a help ticket guarantees the least amount of exposure and brings the response time down to the slowest possible speed.

The help ticket system also provides a consolidated system of communication and documentation which provides both the requestor and the tech staff member the best level of accountability.  When a requestor writes in a ticket that he has put in a ticket before about an issue, we can research past tickets and adjust accordingly.  Several times a requestor has told us about previous tickets for the same issue, we found we didn't resolve the issue, and made sure we resolved it to the requestor's satisfaction.  And of course that has gone the other way when we have had to refer to previous ticket documentation to prove to a requestor that the issue was resolved.

The statement "put in a work ticket for that" is not a brush off.  The tech department is not filing your request in a circular file cabinet!  You are being asked to use the greatest leverage you have--short of having your own personal technician--to get your issue resolved.  This help desk system helps us provide the most efficient service to everyone in the district.

Help ticket data since 2007 shows how effective this system is.  Prior to the implementation of this system department staff could not keep up with help requests and the number of unresolved requests continued to pile up.  After implementation, a building principal told me that because of our help desk system, he knew without a doubt that a tech department member in his building was actually there to fix a problem and not be pulled off onto something else.  Since then the department has routinely processed increasing numbers of help requests with no increase in staff since 2008.

The help desk ticket system is the best method at our disposal to help the district use IT services to realize instructional change, transformation, and growth.

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