Three Lessons in Unifying University IT Systems

On-the-ground perspective from an award-winning campus IT director.

GUEST COLUMN | by Tammy Jo Martinez

credit-cherwell-softwareLike with most public institutions, here at the University of New Mexico (UNM), our IT department has faced new challenges in recent years as operating budgets have continued to shrink, while demand for services has continued to grow. Not only is UNM the largest post-secondary institution in the state, it is one of New Mexico’s largest individual employers. Our service desk supports the needs of six college campuses and the university’s hospital system – around 38,000 users in all.

Our first contact resolution rate has risen to more than 70 percent (in line with industry standards), and we are now scoring greater than a 90 percent customer satisfaction rate.

Understanding that serious changes needed to be made to not only “keep the lights on,” but also to improve operations as demand for services grew, we came to a simple realization: it’s nearly impossible to do more with less, so we must find a way to use what we have more efficiently. To achieve this goal, we had to learn three very important lessons.

Lesson 1: “Un-Silo” Our Teams

The first and most obvious opportunity to streamline operations stemmed from eliminating unnecessary redundancies. Across the department and university system, we found multiple technology platforms that served very similar functions. Multiple platforms meant duplicating work and expenses, including:

  • User training
  • Administrative overhead
  • Routine maintenance
  • Development resources required to configure and customize
  • Multiple (and duplicative) user licenses

Having developed operations using different IT management tools, we quickly realized how siloed our teams had become. Our teams had grown apart and the customers’ experiences from one IT portal to the next were wildly different, a fact they were more than willing to share with us. We needed to bring our teams back together and improve knowledge sharing to enhance the end-user experience.

The resolution quickly became obvious: we needed to find an IT service management (ITSM) solution that could empower the entire IT staff to work from a single system, managing processes and managing data from one source.

Lesson 2: Remove Barriers from Transient IT Workforce

We recognized that our IT workforce, like any university setting, was rather transient. With 150 full-time employees and more than 200 student workers, training and consistency were problematic. Additionally, many ITSM solutions required a unique license for each user. Barring use of the often illegal (and security risk-prone) practice of sharing logins and passwords, 1:1 licensing models became cost-prohibitive.

To maximize productivity without sacrificing quality, we needed an IT solution that was powerful and flexible enough to meet a wide variety of requirements, but intuitive enough to use that a workforce consisting of part-time employees could quickly learn to operate it. We also needed out-of-the-box reporting and dashboards that provided the information needed by staff to prioritize work and identify bottlenecks to effective delivery of service. We discovered available options that had concurrent-use pricing models. This was vital so that student users, who make up a majority of our IT staff, could use the solution on a floating basis.

Lesson 3: Simplify Integration, Configuration, and Customization

We realized that the digital transformation of higher education (asynchronous virtual classrooms, distance learning, etc.) meant more of our systems needed to be integrated into our existing technology platform. Rarely did these systems come from the same vendor, and the resulting incompatibilities often led to increased ticket volumes. Our developers were spending so much time putting out fires that they couldn’t focus on executing against the longer term, more integrated vision.

We found the answer in simplicity – if there were no resources available to code, we needed a way to succeed without coding. Modern IT service management tools, we found, are codeless – that is, they don’t require a developer to write code to customize or configure the solution to meet unique organizational needs. For us, this meant spending less time dedicated to getting the new tools to work, and more time to improve operations across the campus.

Resolution: Streamline Solutions for Improved Outcomes

After considering these factors, we ultimately selected IT service management software from Cherwell Software, which has allowed us to consolidate on a single ITSM platform and greatly improved our department’s ability to execute our mission. Since the relaunch of our systems, our formerly siloed IT team are effectively collaborating and sharing information, we are vastly more self-sufficient, and we can address most needs without heavy reliance on vendor or development support.

Perhaps most important, we are more effectively delivering services to our end users and have dramatically improved the experience for all our customers. Our first contact resolution rate has risen to more than 70 percent (in line with industry standards), and we are now scoring greater than a 90 percent customer satisfaction rate.

We learned that when battling budget constraints while simultaneously facing workload increases, universities must accept that some aspects of their IT operations must change to keep pace. We recommend that universities make an honest assessment of their IT operations and the technology that supports those operations—and they must be prepared to adopt a more modern and streamlined approach to succeed in this changing environment.

Tammy Jo (TJ) Martinez is the Director of Customer Support Services at University of New Mexico Information Technologies. TJ has over 20 years’ experience in the public sector IT support industry. TJ’s passion is building bridges between customers and IT by focusing on best practices to improve service delivery.  TJ received the Women In Technology Recognition award from the New Mexico Tech council for her work improving service desk performance at UNM.

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