Help Desk Eases Computer Blues

November 18, 1999

Nick Marinello

The bad news is that sooner or later your computer is going to give you trouble. The good news is that-more likely sooner than later-help will be on the way. In the last three years, Technology Infrastructure Services (TIS) has revitalized its computing help desk by adding staff, updating its methodology and changing its mission and attitude.

"In July we received 1,577 calls," says Adam Krob, director of end-user support services, "and, of those, we answered 1,541. That means 97.7 percent of calls were answered. Of those calls, we resolved between 85 and 90 percent at the initial point of contact." Krob, who has been at Tulane for two years and has led the help desk for more than one of them, likes what the numbers are telling him.

"According to industry standards, if you pick up 95 percent of calls and resolve 90 percent of the questions at the point of contact, then you are doing an excellent job," he says. "Only three years ago, the help desk was staffed by one full-time analyst," says Krob.

Today, the help desk comprises seven analysts and Krob is looking to add another position in the near future.

"We've adopted a different mindset," says Krob. "Over the past three years, one of the changes that has occurred is the increased emphasis on centralized support rather than decentralized support. We've gained efficiency by putting our resources into a centralized help desk with well-trained staff." Another change, says Krob, is that the help desk is now a customer-service oriented organization.

"Analysts at the help desk," says Krob, "must not only have problem-solving skills, but also be friendly and communicative on the phone." "That's a sea change," says Krob, who cites an industry-wide trend. "Five years ago you would call up and get a programmer who was unwilling or unable to communicate a solution. Now we have the ability to explain technical solutions and walk someone through a solution."

According to Jim Crews, a help desk analyst who has been with Tulane since January, the solutions are often simple. A typical problem is one related to being unable to connect to a network or the Internet, he says. Solutions may be as simple as hitting the caps-lock. According to Krob, part of the increased efficiency at the help desk is due to the use of two new software tools.

The first is the Automated Call Distributor that allows Krob to monitor all calls as they occur. "It allows us to get a very good and exact report on desk activity," he says. "This gives us a sense of how many calls are coming in and how many are waiting."

The other tool is a call-tracking software called Remedy. With this system we are able to take information about any given call, put it into a database and track it to its resolution, says Krob. The tools become most useful, says Krob, in problems that cannot be resolved during the initial call.

Using the software, Krob can assign an unresolved problem to field workers either in TIS or to in-house support staff located in other schools and departments around campus. Currently the help desk has service agreements with several offices around campus, including those in the business school and medical center. Krob hopes to enter into similar agreements with more technical support groups across campus.

"The great thing about the Remedy system," says Crews, "is that all the information we've taken down at the help desk is routed to the appropriate person. It reduces the frustration of our clients who don't have to constantly explain and re-explain their problems." Students comprise the largest base of clients, and Krob and his crew in the midst of their busiest time of year when as many as 150 to 200 calls come in each day.

During the start of the 1998 school year, the help desk received 621 calls in one day. Anyone interested in meeting the analysts on the help desk and seeing how computer support at TIS operates is invited to an open house on Oct. 1, 3-5 p.m., on the first floor of the Richardson Building.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000