Evolving IT Support in a Post Pandemic World
When you think of technology support at the University of Arizona, the 24/7 Support Center immediately comes to mind. The pre-pandemic Support Center was housed in a small building where telephone and walk-in support teams were co-located. It was there that teams of technicians worked together to solve their customers’ needs with much success. However, much has changed in the past three years about how and where the Universities’ IT Support is conducted.
Today, the CIO Division’s 24/7 Support Center is much broader in scope and is staffed from multiple locations. There are 19 full-time staff at the service desk, the primary team where calls or chats are answered, and support request tickets are created and closed. Approximately 45 student employees support the 24/7 team, OSCR Computer Labs and the Student Success Center lounge, depending on the time of year.
The Service Continuity unit, formerly known as the Operations Center, handles system and application monitoring, urgent incidents, and overnight batch jobs, is also part of 24/7 Support Center portfolio. Before the pandemic, both 24/7 and Service Continuity teams had staff scheduled 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Creating this efficiency still provided for the nighttime staffing required to manage batch process running and system monitoring in the Service Continuity unit. Though the Service Continuity is hybrid and requires an individual to be on premises during business hours, the rest of the Support Center’s team members are mostly remote.
Clancey Dollard, support center director, explained, “I come from a background of being able to walk into a room, see everyone and talk to the team. I can deliver a message and immediately know everyone has it. So, getting used to a hybrid work environment has been an interesting transition for me.” He continued, “It’s not as simple to ensure everyone has received and understood the message. Because of this, we’ve had to over communicate when we have important messages to share.”
Rusty Martin, a help desk support analyst with the 24/7 Support Center, explains, “We are the first ones to hear if something goes wrong. We are on the front lines and will message others to help triage and escalate technical issues and outages if it’s a widespread issue. I find myself communicating a lot with my peers, even though we are all in separate locations on campus or in our homes.”
What could be a high-stress job for some is a delight to Rusty when he solves a person’s tech problem. “Getting acknowledgement back from a customer and knowing I have helped them is the best part of the job.” He often helps new staff with hands-on learning once they have completed initial training of the 102 applications and services they support. “I tell them using the customer’s name is important. I have a special greeting to every encounter. ‘Hello, my name is Rusty. Can I get your name?’ Then I use their name as often as I can. Remembering their name goes a long way.”
Rusty has been a support professional for over 20 years, with the past 10 being at the University of Arizona. He took a few months in another position, thinking it might be time for a career change, but came right back after realizing he finds tremendous enjoyment in talking with people and helping them solve technical problems.
Clancey refers to the mission for the 24/7 Support Center as, “Removing obstacles and providing information so whoever is in need can move on with the mission and purpose of the University, which is to educate individuals, explore new horizons and enrich life for all.” Whether it is a faculty, staff, or student, the team wants to solve whatever the issue is, “so the customer can get off the phone or real-time chat, and get back to going to class, studying, teaching a class, or preparing for a class.”
The Support Services work environment has experienced a seismic shift since remote work became the norm. Proximity of staff to share questions and resolutions in real-time is an important aspect of keeping consistency when multiple support requests come in. “Now, we have a Microsoft Teams channel where staff can post a question or ask about a situation from a customer. Everyone on the team jumps in and helps with messaging answers, which allows for a running log that is searchable.”
The Support Center was already looking into remote options before the pandemic, however. “Having everyone in the same place can be risky if something happens to disrupt the communications in that building, such as a power outage.” Clancey explains, “Working remotely gives us multiple layers of redundancy. If Cox has an outage, our Xfinity provisioned staff are still providing support. If Xfinity has an outage, our Cox provisioned staff can still be there for our customers.”
Because the team is remote, there is flexibility to load balance work shifts to match demand. In each week, high volume at the Support Center is unusually predictable, with Monday being the highest demand for support. During the daytime hours, 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. are high-volume hours. “Overall, the average answer time is about 45 seconds. But if you catch us during a high-volume time, you might have to wait 5 or 6 minutes due to the number of support calls coming in.”
As with many organizations, recruiting and retaining talent can be a challenge. When Clancey first came to the CIO Division, onboarding new support staff took a lot of time. This was remediated by expanding the Support Services with a team of three full-time staff dedicated to training under Self Service Training Leader Kevin Milton. The Self-Service and Training team is cross trained on the service desk and creates knowledge articles that can often deliver solutions to customer issues via self-service. FY22 saw a massive expansion of support options, with over 400 articles published in the Knowledge Base. Currently, Kevin’s team spends up to five days with new recruits to help them learn the most often used applications and services supported by the Support Center before they move into hands-on training with service desk support staff.
Technology continues to evolve and the need for support at the University is constantly changing with it. Because of this, Support Services and the 24/7 Support Center will continue to optimize services and take advantage of new ways to give customers the help they need when they need it.
By the Numbers
In FY22 the 24/7 Support Center received over 150,000 total interactions (calls, chats, self-service tickets). Of these, 106K were for technical support, 41.7K for non-technical support and 2.8K for classroom support.
Something many people don’t know is the primary phone number for University information, (621-2211) is answered by a small University Services team most of the time, but often roll up to be answered by the 24/7 Support Center staff, adding to the scope of knowledge needed to fully support the University.