“Thank you for the information. I’m really excited!”
When sophomore Jason Mendries (pictured at right) sent an August 8 thank-you response to UMBC Residential Life’s main email address after receiving his resident assistant housing contract, little did he know that the email would help create a milestone on campus.
Mendries’ email generated the millionth ticket in UMBC’s Request Tracker, or RT, support tracking solution. In 2009, UMBC’s Division of Information Technology (DoIT) implemented RT, a free, web-based, open-source help desk solution developed by BestPractical Solutions. One of the benefits of RT is that the customizable software can be implemented in any department to support the help request process.
Collaborating on Solutions
Developing RT as a single user support ticketing system across a campus is a model that few, if any schools, seem to be using. However, Jack Suess, vice president of information technology and CIO, along with Joe Kirby, assistant vice president, realized RT’s potential to grow beyond a typical IT help desk and committed to finding collaborative ways to use it to support administrative and academic processes at UMBC. Now, most of the university has adopted it in some form.
While UMBC has used an IT support system in ways most schools haven't, Suess describes how the culture of quality service management has evolved and become an even more important driver.
"Ten years ago as we were preparing to go live with PeopleSoft SA, DoIT leaders such as John Fritz, Joe Kirby, and Mike Carlin convinced me that UMBC needed to think more holistically about support. When a problem occurs, students, faculty, and staff don't know if it is caused by technology or an inefficient business process, all they want is to report it, get help, and go on with their work. We cannot expect the community to understand how UMBC is organized to get support.
“This fundamental focus on the user’s perspective and support needs evolved over the next three years as SA went live,” adds Suess.
“Leaders such as Yvette Mozie-Ross, Ben Lowenthal, Connie Pierson, and Valerie Thomas all worked with Joe to move their support services over to RT, too. From there, John, Kevin Joseph, and Andrea Mocko developed the service management approach of using the campus’ Report Exchange (REX) data warehouse and created FAQ's to provide consistency and support self-service."
At UMBC, about 70 percent of RT tickets are now non-IT related. The system is helping to streamline everything from prospective student queries, hiring procedures, and travel requests to payroll management, exam scoring, and maintenance forms.
Mendrie’s email, for example, was sent to Wendy Crowe (pictured above), program management specialist in Residential Life. Residential Life has tied RT into its main email@example.com address, so whenever someone sends an email, it creates a ticket. Crowe says it gives students a central location so they don’t have to search for where or who to go to for help. In addition, it gives Residential Life a process for distributing queries and a helpful record for tracking processes, especially when they need to keep written documentation of a request.
DoIT’s success with RT is just one example of its longstanding commitment to leverage technology, working in collaboration with the campus community. Kirby says, “Our RT implementation reflects DoIT’s understanding of UMBC’s mission and how the university functions on a day-to-day basis. We’re empowering users to find ways to improve how they serve their customers - whether it’s a student, faculty, or staff member.”
About 90 percent of DoIT’s optional RT customer satisfaction surveys show an excellent or good overall rating. Fritz, associate vice president of information technology, says, “Our model is definitely increasing the confidence users have in our support systems on campus.”
Creating Customer-focused Practices
Drew Belcher, assistant director for campus card and mail services, worked with DoIT to bring RT to UMBC’s Bursar’s Office, one of the busiest service centers on campus. When Belcher first started working in the office, there were long lines of walk-ins and the campus voice mail system only accepted 30 voicemails. By mid-day, students who called with questions couldn’t get through.
After working with DoIT to tie RT to its voice mail system (and asking students to provide their campus ID in the message), the Bursar’s Office was now receiving nearly 400 voicemails in a day; however, staff were better able to organize and disseminate queries based on the topic, respond to students’ needs faster, and capture data on the requests for analysis of their practices. The number of walk-ins and voice mails dropped as staff began a campaign to share information on how students can handle their accounts and get help on the Student Business Services website.
Now in Campus Card and Mail Services, Belcher and the staff used RT to create a paperless system and are improving how they track workflow for such processes as ID cards, departmental mailings, meal plans, and vending machine issues. “Using RT gives us the full picture of what’s happening in our department,” Belcher explains. “It helps us make better decisions on based on facts and numbers and decide where we need to put support in order to improve our systems.
“I’m always asking, how can we do our jobs in ways that help people navigate their path?” Belcher adds. “At the end of the day, it’s about customer service and how we can make people’s lives easier.”
The outcomes in IT support are just as impressive. With RT, DoIT’s Technology Support Center (TSC) has seen a 35-percent decrease in calls, and its overall rate of ticket increase has leveled off. “RT allows us to handle a large amount of work, delegate work effectively, and we’re getting more positive feedback,” says Mocko, TSC manager.
Building on Success
By expanding the UMBC knowledge base for all campus topics, DoIT also hopes to help users help themselves by looking up an answer on a “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) page, which can decrease ticket resolution time even more, says Fritz. At the TSC, student consultants are able to recommend FAQs as an acceptable initial resolution that the customer can accept or reject by reopening the ticket. Now, 50 to 60 percent of TSC tickets can be resolved immediately. It cut down on the amount of tickets staff need to respond to and provides users with a place to start when they need help in the future.
Beyond the ticketing process, DoIT integrated RT with REX to provide valuable analytics about the types of requests being made, including which departments are receiving the most help requests and who is submitting them. Ticket data can be stored securely using box, a cloud computing service, and Google groups allow multiple people in an office to see tickets, a resource that comes in handy if an employee is out for a day or more.
While RT is a success story, Fritz says DoIT continues to explore ways RT and the knowledge base can support the campus community, and they are looking for ways to build a more sustainable model with better functionality and improvements in server administration. In addition, they are developing satisfaction surveys specific to RT users across campus.
As more UMBC faculty and staff see RT being used successfully, they look for ways it can improve their own systems. Kirby says, “Every time I think we’ve found all of the ways we can use RT, someone on campus comes to me with a question about it and I say, ‘Well, let’s see.’”
- Learn more about RT at UMBC - Background | Submit a Ticket
- Visit UMBC's FAQ knowledge base - Background | Search/Browse
- “Beyond the Help Desk” by Joe Kirby and Laura Lefavor, Educause Review (August 5, 2013)