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Request Tracker creates organization out of help-desk chaos

University Business, December 2013
Todd Kelly, Vice President for Library and Information Services
Todd Kelly, Vice President for Library and Information Services

It was clear four years ago that Wisconsin-based Carthage College needed a new system for managing help requests from the campus community. The Library and Information Services (LIS) staff of 25 was manually handling nearly 12,000 questions each year from faculty, staff and students about everything library or technology-related. Additionally, many of the requests were sent made informally directly to technicians. That made tracking and follow-up nearly impossible, especially given the rapid growth the college was experiencing.

To centralize, assign and track all requests for information and assistance, the college implemented two open-source systems that enabled work scheduling, tracking and communication with campus community members: Request Tracker, and a self-serve password changing system. The changeover from the old to the new software was completed in August 2011, right before the start of the fall semester.

Request Tracker was very easy for staff to use, but consistency across the application was critical, so all employees participated in hands-on group training, as well as individual tutoring, according to Todd Kelley, vice president for library and information services.

Since everyone agreed that improved tracking of user requests was important, “achieving user buy-in was not a major challenge,” says Carol Sabbar, director of information and instructional technology services. However, “We don’t make people use the Request Tracker interface. They can still email their issue into the system or call us to have a ticket created.”

Where they did see some resistance, however, was with callers who were still reaching out to technicians directly rather than the main help desk. LIS found itself having to “insist more vigorously” that internal customers contact the help desk first, to enable the department to assign the best technician and for Request Tracker to record the contact in the log and provide updates back to the user as needed.

Once use of Request Tracker was going smoothly, Carthage added a new self-service password changer system. This has “cut back drastically on the number of password reset requests that require the attention of full-time staff,” says Sabbar—as much as a 90 percent reduction—permitting those staff to be assigned more valuable tasks.

Since installing these two solutions, the number of help requests has also been dropping. Kelley expects that by the end of the fiscal year, in August 2014, the number of annual requests will be 5,000-6,000—down to half what it was before the installation of Request Tracker. “One of our goals is to help everyone be self sufficient, so a steadily dropping number of requests demonstrates that we are doing that,” he says.