Technical support in the trenches

Unlike the typical K-12 environment, where technical support often begins at 8:45am and ends at 3:15pm, comprehensive technical support in a university setting is a critically important service.

Marc Wagner
Unlike the typical K-12 environment, where technical support often begins at 8:45am and ends at 3:15pm, comprehensive technical support in a university setting is a critically important service.

I am sure that my colleague, Chris Dawson, gets his share of  after-hours calls from his principal, from teachers, and maybe even from his superintendent now and then, but the fact is that when his students leave for the day, his obligation to provide comprehensive technical support ends until he arrives at school the next morning. 

Working for a major research university, where most students live on campus, and administrators and faculty might need technical support from most anywhere on the planet -- at any time, day or night, the story is very different. 

Your ability to provide comprehensive technical support services -- especially to students -- 24/7 is under constant scrutiny.  So, where do you start?

The most efficient way to provide technical support information is, of course, on-line.  A comprehensive KB (knowledge Base) is invaluable -- but it can take years to develop.  Keeping such an on-line environment up-to-date is a major challenge as well -- often requiring staff dedicated to the effort.    

But what if the user cannot find the information s/he needs, or worse, has a problem which precludes him/her from reaching your on-line KB?  It is unrealistic to expect your students to wait until business hours to talk to someone -- especially during mid-terms or finals.  To support these students, a 24-hour support line is needed -- and someone with a thick Indian accent, living in Bangalore, simply will not do, so don't expect your students to call Microsoft (or any other vendor) for their technical support. 

Your technical support line needs to be staffed with some of your best and brightest student employees who know what your students need to do and who have a thorough knowledge of your KB.  Ideally, they need to have access to administrative systems as well so they can address problems related to a student's access to your network. 

If you have student computing labs around campus, having 24-hour student access to some of these facilities, and to consulting staff, is also an important component to your technical support model. 

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Does your college or university do something I overlooked? 

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