Tech support is rarely fun—even, apparently, if it’s a lot closer than an overseas call center. Despite 24/7 help desk availability and in-person technical consulting, Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) staff at the University of Pittsburgh believed their services were being underutilized by the main campus’ 26,000-plus students.
And those employees thought they knew why: Walk-in consulting was available at some campus locations, but appointments were required for service and were not always available on the same day. Students had to remain with their hardware while it was being serviced. Commuters, in particular, had problems finding the room where their computers could be looked at. “Our campus is spread out,” says Chief Information Officer Jinx Walton. “Although we offered services in several locations on campus, students reported that getting to these spots was not always convenient.”
A bookstore renovation offered an opportunity to reimagine how technical support is provided to students. Eli Shorak, associate vice chancellor for business, notes that college bookstores have evolved far beyond just textbooks. “The methods that both professors and students are using to teach and to study are different,” he says. “As we were sitting down, putting pen to paper and designing what we wanted to see in our bookstore, we knew we wanted to have a technology presence. That was important.”
The new University Store on Fifth now houses a walk-in tech support location where students, faculty and staff can receive a variety of technical services without an appointment. CSSD staff can help connect devices to the campus Wi-Fi network, configure smartphones for Pitt email, and distribute and install software, among other services. Hardware also can be repaired, and students do not need to stay with their equipment while it’s being fixed. A similar support area was set up in the shared lobby of three high-population residence halls. Students can make appointments in advance, if they wish, by calling the technology help desk.
In the fall 2013 semester, CSSD provided support to 4,452 students, nearly double the number of students it supported in fall 2012 and more than it assisted during the entire 2012-13 academic year. “Every university CIO faces the same issue,” Walton says. “We offer a cadre of services, but ensuring that all students are aware of these services is a challenge. Providing our services in central locations is not only convenient, but increases our ability to market the services we offer.”
The new store opened just as nearly 4,000 freshmen and their families were arriving on campus, giving it the chance to make a big splash, Shorak says. “We don’t want the university store to be, ‘Oh, that’s that place you go to buy textbooks.’ We want it to be a hub of activity.”