If students, faculty, and staff know how to request the help they need when they’re experiencing a tech-related problem, IT staff can save a lot of time. Support personnel wouldn’t have to spend countless hours getting to the bottom of each user’s needs.
And if users know how to find their own answers to IT questions, that’s even better. Think of what IT departments could do with all the time they’d recover if users took full advantage of self- service options.
This was the goal of Kelly Webber, support desk coordinator for Grand Rapids Community College, in using human-centered design to improve how stakeholders interact with IT support.
By watching how users interact with the college’s IT service portal, Webber and her colleagues have gained insights they’re now using to improve their site and make it more user-friendly. She hopes these efforts will double the use of the service portal over the next year — allowing IT staff to spend their time more strategically in support of the college’s objectives.
IMPROVING IT SERVICE MANAGEMENT
Looking to engage IT users more effectively has always been Webber’s goal while she’s led the college’s support desk. This desire prompted the college to switch to TeamDynamix as its IT service management platform in 2017.
“Our previous system didn’t have a support portal that users could engage with,” Webber explains.
TDX ITSM allows Webber and her staff to do many things they couldn’t do before. Using the platform, the college was able to build an IT portal organized by service categories. Each category dynamically links to outward-facing knowledge base articles related to that area of service.
If students or staff can’t find the information they need to resolve their own IT problems, they can initiate a service request directly from the portal — and their request is routed automatically to an appropriate technician for a response.
“We can meet our immediate IT service needs and grow into other options as we were ready. Users can also submit questions without opening a full support ticket; we have so many ways to engage with users.”
In its quest for continual improvement, Webber’s department held focus groups with students and faculty twice a year to see how they might engage with users more effectively. The nature of these focus groups changed dramatically when IT support staff began applying human-centered design principles in 2018.
ITSM & HUMAN-CENTERED DESIGN
Human-centered design is an approach to problem-solving that involves the human perspective in all steps of the process. It focuses on users’ needs and requirements by researching and observing how stakeholders use certain services and how their experience can be improved.
In human-centered design, it’s important to drop any preconceived notions you might have about users and their needs, Webber says. Instead, you learn about users’ needs and challenges by observing and talking with them. Rather than having a specific outcome in mind, the human-centered design calls for keeping your mind open to a variety of possible solutions.
When Webber learned about human-centered design in a professional development seminar, she immediately saw its potential for improving IT service management, and how users interact with the college’s service portal in particular.
Establishing an IT service portal was supposed to make life easier for tech support staff because they wouldn’t have to spend as much time on the phone trying to understand the nature of users’ issues. However, Webber and her team found that fewer than 5 percent of support tickets were being initiated through the service portal, while 60 percent still originated through phone calls. They set out to redesign the service portal and service catalog to make it more user-centric so that more stakeholders would engage with it.
To do this, they shook up the format of the focus groups. “We had users sit down at a computer, and we watched them interact with our IT service catalog to see their reactions,” Webber says. “We realized many users didn’t understand the verbiage or icons we were using.”
For instance, the service portal had a category for “Telephony Services,” but most students didn’t understand this term. “They thought it was a made-up word,” Webber says. The newly redesigned portal will use the service catalog category “Campus Phones and Conferencing Services” instead.
What’s more, end-users didn’t know they should choose the service category “Software Requests” if they had a problem with their mobile campus app, because they didn’t realize apps and software were the same thing. “We had an old-school mentality that it was all just software,” Webber says. The redesigned portal will change the name of this service category to “Apps and Software” to make this clearer to users.
But the biggest lesson to come out of the focus groups was a reminder of why it’s important not to make assumptions. Webber and her team thought that simply redesigning the service portal would lead to greater use — yet they learned many students weren’t aware of its existence. “We never stopped to think whether students even knew how to get to it,” she acknowledges.
PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE
Using what they learned by observing and talking with users, Webber and her staff worked with the college’s web development team to create a prototype for a new IT service portal that is much more user-friendly. In addition, they are collaborating with the college’s communications department to develop strategies for raising awareness of the portal among students, faculty, and staff.
Webber hopes these efforts will increase the use of the service portal by at least 5 percentage points within the first 12 months — and she hopes to have as many as 20 percent of service tickets originate through the portal within two to three years.
Encouraging stakeholders to use the service portal “will allow us to have more tickets routed correctly from the get-go, so we can devote more time to technical training and focus on becoming more proactive instead of reactive in our IT support.”