New Home Base for Tech Help

Information Technology Services
Honoree: 
Fairfield University
Program Category: 

Until the summer of 2013, the primary sources of technology support services at Fairfield University in Connecticut were the reference librarians and circulation staff at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library—not the technology help desk. Questions about software, using campus printers or accessing the university’s wireless network were most commonly answered by the library professionals who were within earshot.

Over three months, nearly 750 technology questions were fielded by library staff, representing approximately 20 percent of their total contacts. Meanwhile, staffers at the technology desk, located at the far reaches of campus, were ready, willing and able to assist—but waiting to be asked.

When Paige Francis, the university’s first CIO, was hired in 2013, one of her initial challenges was reducing the time and effort library staffers spent on student technology questions. “They were deluged with questions,” says Francis. “Nine times out of 10 they could help, but it was taking up a large portion of their time.”

The simplest solution seemed to be to locate the technology help desk, referred to as ITS4U, within range of the library. The only problem: Other departments had been vying for prime library real estate for some time. Francis wondered how she might be able to convince any building owner to give her department space.

She needn’t have worried. The head librarian, Joan Overfield, approached Francis almost immediately and pitched her on the idea of moving the technology help desk into the central library.

Last summer, it happened, with a seamless transition led by Help Desk Director Marie Ernye, Francis says.

With new policies for handling support requests, fewer students are needed to staff the help desk. The number of students needed to work the technology help desk has declined from 17 in 2013 to 11 at the start of 2014 and just a handful by July 2014.

“We’re saving money, improving coverage and increasing the number of hours students work through improved scheduling,” says Francis. All told, salary savings alone total $30,000 annually. Traffic has increased, but questions are often resolved more quickly, reducing the need for help tickets.

But it also became evident that most students needed more entry-level software training. Rather than attempting to provide one-on-one support to every student, Francis purchased a site license for Lynda.com, which provides access to video training on a wide range of programs and applications. In three months, 1,268 members of the campus community used Lynda—and 78 percent of them were students. They viewed 501 hours and 7,681 videos.

Tech support staff are now more available and visible, and can answer true support questions. “I get stopped by faculty members all the time thanking me for our department’s improved service,” says Francis. “The move seems like such a simple idea and yet it made such an impact,” she says.