IT Community Staying Informed and Finding Solutions
As we enter these unprecedented and challenging times, we strive to stay connected while staying healthy and safe. There have been many changes to our normal routines, and each individual must contend with unique challenges as they cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Finding ways for teams to stay connected while working remotely can have challenges, but the University of Arizona’s IT Community has continued their mutual support to colleges and departments across campus through a daily Zoom continuity meeting.
Campus IT Continuity Meeting
Tom Bourgeois, Executive Director of Campus IT Partnerships, has long held monthly campus IT directors’ meetings where information can be distributed and discussed across colleges and divisions. With the shift of campus staff working remotely, the once monthly face-to-face meetings moved online to Zoom and transformed into daily campus continuity coordination for things related to technology and more.
What has happened with this new meeting format is unprecedented in a most exciting way - participation and engagement has far exceeded expectations.
Zoom has helped to facilitate the large meetings. As host, Tom facilitates the meeting so each IT representative can provide an update from their college or division. With an average of 63 participants daily, this could seem like an overwhelming task for a one-hour meeting. Zoom’s chat room provides additional space for quick updates where contributors who have nothing new to report often post their units as being “green.” Others who have a question can post it in chat so anyone attending the meeting can respond, making the information exchange dynamic and continuous.
What makes this series of meetings work in a time when everyone has little time to sit in meetings? “It’s about information sharing,” Tom explains, “We’re creating a space where anyone can surface a problem, collaborate with those who understand what options may exist to solve it and get a solution.” Most of UITS executive leadership are present to lend their support to make the solutions happen, if necessary.
“The meetings have been great and even more importantly the follow-up has been day and night beneficial. What normally takes two or three days or maybe even a week to get done, if I give a callout a that I am having trouble with something at the Zoom meeting, people are emailing me even before the meeting closes.”
~Matt Rahr, Director, Cyber and Information Technologies, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
The report-outs during the meeting give IT directors a voice and give them an audience. They represent units from all aspects of the university who want to know what’s happening, and they get a first-hand opportunity to find out. Updates range from a college needing additional faculty laptops to verifying VPN capacity and coordinating authentication. Perhaps the biggest “ah-ha” moment was the discussion of campus call center continuation strategies.
Amazon Connect Call Center Solution
Amazon Connect remote call center is something UITS has been piloting for a year as a solution to the division’s 24/7 IT Support Center needs. Early in the first week of continuity meetings, other campus call centers surfaced along with the sudden need for providing phone support from remote locations. Having Susan Legg, Executive Director for IT Service Management, in the Zoom meeting to detail some of what Amazon Connect is and how it could be expanded to other campus call center needs, was an epic moment of opportunity realized.
Learning about Amazon Connect and the options it offered avoided a phone connectivity crisis for many. The College of Medicine was one of several colleges to set up and move its entire unit to Amazon Connect.
“The transition was very smooth and Amazon Connect has allowed us to continue to support our faculty, staff, administration and students without any downtime. We have even extended our service hours to accommodate all who are working remotely.”
~Michael Medina, Assistant Director for Desktop Support, College of Medicine
Tom Bourgeois defines his role as, “an advocate for campus.” But he doesn’t let that role get in the way or bottleneck the flow of information give and take. In the Zoom meeting, he equates to more of a host or conduit by which the communication channel is opened and maintained. He affirms that ultimately, it is the participants on Zoom that are UITS executive product owners and a constituency of IT directors and supporting staff that are surfacing challenges and finding solutions.
“The fact is, you don’t know who’s got a piece of the puzzle that you turn out to need,” explains Tom, “networks have emergent properties. We can’t predict what those emergent properties are going to be and what they’re for. But the meeting puts relationships to work in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise be called upon to work.”
Attendees agree that it is the relationships between the university’s IT Community that has turned this Zoom continuity meeting into a highly successful organic problem-solving channel that can and perhaps should be replicated.