Coalition for Networked Information
Institution-Wide Information Strategies
TECHNOLOGY SUPPORT PROGRAM
University of California-Davis
Distributed Computing Analysis and
Support Information Technology
The University of California, Davis has experienced a rapid, exponential growth in distributed computing over the last 10 years with the installation of over 15,000 personal computers on desktops throughout the organization. Earlier attempts at providing centralized, technical support were only marginally successful. A completely new approach is required to meet the growing needs of the campus community. A new type of support, the Technology Support Program (TSP), which is distributed in nature and in alignment with the campus culture, has been successfully implemented at UCD.
The University of California, Davis is one of 9 University of California campuses. It is a land grant University with 23,000 students, 1,700 faculty and 9,000 staff. Founded as the “University Farm”, UC Davis has emerged as an acknowledged international leader in agricultural, biological, biotechnological and environmental sciences and is gaining similar recognition for excellence in the arts, humanities, social sciences, engineering, health sciences, law and management. U.S. News & World Report, for the second consecutive year, ranked UC Davis among the top 10 public universities nationally and according to the National Research Council, more students receive Ph.D.s in the biological sciences at UC Davis than at any other university in the nation.
Campus Style and Culture
The culture of the UC Davis campus places high value on collegiality and collaboration. The campus policies and its formal and informal practices encourage this style of interaction among the members of the campus community. Moreover, the campus selects leaders who reflect these values. The campus culture predisposes the key players to prefer strategies that encourage and reward collaboration. Consequently, we have been conscious of designing our distributed architecture to support the dominant cultural attributes and preferred style of interaction. Clearly this is an iterative process. It is as much a philosophy as it is an architecture.
B. Problem Statement
UCD Information Technology has struggled for many years to find organizational structures and support programs which serve the needs of the campus community. The UCD Computer Center set up a telephone and walk-in consulting center in 1987 to deal with the increasing number of calls from faculty and staff for assistance with personal computer configuration, software installation and use and troubleshooting. This service was staffed by about a dozen programmers and Instruction staff who rotated part time shifts in the center. Even in its earliest days, the Hotline struggled to keep up with the workload.
Between 1987 and 1990, call volume rose from 5,800 calls per year to over 11,000 and staff resources were stretched beyond their limit. Discussion began within the Computer Center about how to handle the increasing demand for consulting. At the same time, a new Associate Vice Chancellor for Information Technology was hired. The issues raised by the Computer Center Hotline were incorporated into a larger strategic planning effort initiated by the new AVC. The result was the recommendation for a larger support organization with a new structure and approach to consulting.
Information Technology Campus Access Center (IT-CAP)
The IT-CAP centralized consulting and instruction staff into a single location to provide consulting services. The structure included a client advocate, permanent front-line consulting staff and a number of rotational consulting positions which were filled by staff from other areas within IT. This center was able to meet the demand better than the previous hotline but it was just an expansion of the previous model and did not meet the growing and changing needs of the campus faculty and staff. In addition, it became the first point of contact for students for computing services, which grew in number exponentially from 1992 to 1995. This new, larger population of customers was often overwhelming for the IT-CAP.
From its inception, the IT-CAP was planned as a short term strategy for customer support with a 3 year lifespan. A planning session for the next phase of customer support was initiated in the Spring of 1995. The goal of the planning group was to create a new support system that was based upon the collaborative culture of the University and could keep pace with the increasing demands of faculty, students and staff. The result was a proposal to separate student consulting from faculty and staff consulting and to support the latter through the Technology Support Program (TSP). The Technology Support Program was tested in the Summer of 1995. Based upon its early success, the program is ongoing and expanding.
C. Objectives — Desired Outcomes
The development of the Technology Support Program was motivated by a desire to fundamentally change the way Information Technology interacts with departmental staff and to change the delivery of technical support. Three major objectives guided the development of the new service, the development of collaborative relationships with departmental technical support coordinators, the creation of a support mechanism based upon professional development and self sufficiency and a shift from a centralized to decentralized emphasis on support.
Collaborative Relationship with Departmental Technical Support Coordinators
The development and implementation of an institution-wide information strategy requires the participation of an informed constituency who can participate in the creation of the strategy and support its implementation. Continued participation requires a close association with Information Technology staff for ongoing coordination and technical support. The Technology Support Program was designed to foster these relationships in a manner consistent with the campus culture and through ongoing, bi-directional information exchange. An example of this type of effort is the “Recommended Solutions” process (http://it.ucdavis.edu/Solutions/) for defining campuswide hardware and software recommendations. This process allows any person on campus to recommend a technical solution, discuss it in open forums and if accepted, get I.T. sponsorship for publication and maintenance of the document.
Ongoing Professional Development for Departmental Technical Support Coordinators
The TSP provides the technical training and support that rewards participation in the design of, and decision-making that conforms with, our IWIS. A key component of the TSP is training in the development of a departmental technology plan, in close collaboration with Information Technology staff, that integrates departmental systems with institutional hardware and software infrastructures and conforms with institutional policies and practices. Online resources which support these activities are gathered from multiple sources rather than solely created by I.T. A few examples are:
Vendor Knowledgebases Departmental Information and Training Information Technology Information and Training Apple Support Professional Solution Series DaFIS Information I.T. Campus Services Guide The Vendor Software Library (UNIX, VMS & Oracle Consulting Services) Staff Development & Professional Services Technology Courses Network 21 Information and Publications Microsoft Knowledgebase Network Administrator Resources and Information Information Technology Training
In addition to a series of technical training courses, the Technical Support Program provides the following classes to foster self sufficiency and collaboration with I.T.
- Basic Techniques for Technology Consulting
- Delivering Technology Training
- Designing a Technology Training Curriculum
- Developing a Departmental Technology Plan – Working Session
- Needs Assessment: Hardware and Software
- Needs Assessment: Training and Support
- Understanding Information Technology Services
Campuswide, Distributed Technical Support System
The Technology Support Program is structured to encourage staff to look to on-line information or to communicate with other departmental Technology Support Coordinators (TSC) through topic specific electronic mailing lists before relying on central I.T. staff. The Network Administrator Resource Program and the Area Telephone Representative Program, two pre-existing programs for facilitating communications with campus departments, are subsets of TSP, and focus on providing support to the departmental people who in turn, support local area networks, facilitate their connection to the campus network, and handle telecommunication orders in their department. In many cases, the department’s Network Administrator or Area Telephone Representative is also the Technology Support Coordinator. If the distributed support system can not provide information to solve the problem, each departmental Technology support coordinator has a single point of contact within I.T. to assist with locating additional information and resources.
The distributed model of technical support requires a reallocation of resources to programs for staff development, rather than increasing staffing for a central help desk and training organization. The program design, staffing and budget for TSP reflects this shift in priorities.
The structure of the Technology Support Program, places the Technology Support Coordinators at the center of all technical support activities.
The Information Technology Representatives (ITR) serve as program coordinators and facilitators. They schedule training and planning sessions with feedback from the Technology Support Coordinators. They participate in, but do not dominate, online discussions and ITRs maintain the Web site based upon their understanding of frequently asked questions or current topics of discussion.The ITRs also serve as a single point of contact for Technology Support Coordinators for unresolved technical questions or assistance with finding the appropriate external technical resources. To ensure good customer service and trouble ticket management Remedy’s Action Request software is used to track calls from coordinators and to track question type. This data is used as feedback for program development and to track the time requirements for various program activities.
No new funds were required to create and deploy the Technology Support Program. Staff from the existing customer support organization, the IT-CAP, were reassigned to the TSP development effort and several of these staff members eventually became Information Technology Representatives. The current budget for the Technology Support Program is approximately $300,000 per year, which was allocated to the program through the reorganization of the IT-CAP. This budget does not reflect the full cost of instructional programs since a portion of the TSP courses are taught by the Information Technology Instruction staff as part of their normal staff development curriculum.
The Technology Support Program is staffed by four full time Information Technology Representatives who support between 50 and 100 Technology Support Coordinators. The ITRs are technically knowledgeable staff who are the first point of contact for escalated technical problems from the TSCs. The ITRs are also responsible for continual improvement of the TSP program, the production of all supporting documents and training. The program is managed by the Customer Support manager who oversees the Technology Support Program, the IT Express which is the help desk and printing facility located in the central library and the Instruction group.
The majority of the human resources committed to the Technology Support Program resides in the departmental Technology Support Coordinators.
Technology Support Coordinators
Technology Support Coordinators can be anyone in a department who has an interest in providing local technical support and has the concurrence of their supervisor to commit the time and effort to the program. A list of typical TSC functions are listed below, but TSCs are not expected to perform all of them The ITR provides this list of functions to the TSC’s manager and works with them to decide which of these functions his or her staff member can afford to do given the time and expertise available.
- Help the department set an information technology vision and plan.
- Act as the liaison between the department and the Division of Information Technology.
- Organize and maintain departmental computer records.
- Provide purchasing assistance.
- Full hardware and software installations.
- Answer technology-related questions and participate in technology problem-solving for individuals within the department.
- Local area network administration.
- Coordinate telecommunication services.
TSCs may attend many different informational forums each year, including training workshops and informal gatherings. In addition, the TSC will be asked to participate in an evaluation process to help to refine and develop future training courses and to improve the program. While the initial time investment for a beginning TSC will be greater, estimated time away from the department is 8-10 hours per month. The time TSCs spend within an individual department performing their chosen functions is strictly up to the department manager.
The Technology Support Program relies on the following technical resources which are available to everyone on campus as part of the centrally supported services of the campus computing environment.
- Electronic mailing lists
- World Wide Web
- A large software library and common desktop platforms in the Center for Advanced Information Technology
- Computer Based Training modules
- Computer teaching labs
In addition, ITRs track interactions with TSCs and document commonly asked questions through Remedy’s Action Request customer support tool. This system runs on a small Unix system with a part time systems administrator.
The Technology Support Program has been highly successful at UC Davis. A pilot program was used to test the TSP with departmental staff prior to the campuswide service rollout. This allowed the modification of program components to better suit the needs and time constraints of departmental staff early on. Since then, program modifications have been made in consultation with TSCs and their managers. This iterative, collaborative process, coupled with the flexible nature of the program, has resulted in a program that is widely accepted by staff, has active participation by many members and has not suffered from any significant problems or setbacks.
The Technology Support program continues to evolve as our Technology Support Coordinators gain technical expertise and experience in using a distributed model of support and our ITRs become more efficient in managing the program. This has resulted in fewer help desk calls and an increased focus on education and planning. As a result, current plans call for continued expansion of the program into as many departments as possible, and the construction of a similar support structure dedicated to faculty developing instructional materials and distance learning systems.
The Technology Support Program is a model program which can be successfully deployed on any campus but should be customized to accommodate unique aspects of the local campus culture, computing environment, and support staff technical expertise. The basic framework of the program, documentation and training programs should serve as the baseline for consultation with departmental staff and modified based upon their feedback. A pilot program provides additional opportunities to work with departmental staff to refine the program, to build support within departments and to assess ITR workload budget for full program implementation.