As far back as 1995, Sacred Heart University (Conn.) was requiring all full-time undergraduates to purchase a laptop; as early as 2002, Sacred Heart students, faculty, and staff enjoyed campuswide Wi-Fi.
Yet this self-described "pioneer in mobile computing" spent years outsourcing technical support to an off-campus call center.
Limited hours of operation, unpredictable wait times, and lackluster customer service frustrated university officials; the expense and lack of reliability and accountability were drags on the institution's bottom line.
As anyone working on a campus can attest, each generation shows itself more comfortable and adept with hardware and software than the one preceding it. Sacred Heart leveraged that truism in developing an in-house solution that relies heavily on its students.
Known as The Factory, the university's tech-support center has grown from 22 student workers managed by a graduate assistant to six full-time technicians, 26 students, a graduate assistant, a technical support services supervisor, and a mobile computing services manager. The support they provide for both hardware and software problems includes walk-in requests to the help desk and a call center for those in residence halls and offices.
Leslie Roggen, manager for mobile computing, says she's heard of service requests taking up to a week. "Sometimes things were lost. They didn't track anything. We had no control over it." In-house control is important, she adds, "because that's how we can keep our professionalism and all of our processes in place. We make things happen. It just happens."
With multiple ways to assist users, The Factory has greatly reduced the wait time to resolve issues; some are taken care of immediately via telephone. And no longer does tech support weigh down the bottom line—the work of 2.75 students equals that of one full-time technician at a third of the salary. "We're saving huge amounts of money by going with students," Roggen notes.
The students tapped to work in The Factory are recruited during on-campus fairs and in classrooms. They receive two weeks of paid training that cover customer service, team building, and technical skills. Once on the job, they work up to 15 hours a week not only earning pizza money, but also getting hands-on experience that supplements in-class instruction and preps them for post-graduation employment.
Initially, Roggen notes, faculty and staff viewed The Factory with some trepidation. No more.
"They weren't thrilled, because they felt some of their information would be compromised," she says. "But we have proven ourselves to be professional. We don't let one student go by [himself or herself] anywhere. When there's sensitive data, we have it brought into The Factory. Now faculty and staff feel very secure in the fact that nothing underhanded is going on. We keep it professional, and we're good at what we do. It has proven to be a great experience for everybody."