Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Changing models of support

I'm in Aston at the moment for the UCISA Advisory and Support Staff Symposium, the theme of which is "It's not what you do but the way that you do it". The day started with me giving an introduction of what I think the 4 drivers are that are going to change "the way that we do it" over the next few years.

The first is funding. No point planning for financial uncertainty - there's nothing uncertain about it, we're going to have less. therefore we have to get tough and make decisions about how we do things differently, what we can stop doing and what we can offer a lower level of service on (very difficult to twll an audience of support staff that....). We have to do that in order to protect areas of excellent service and innovation. We also have to step up and help the University become more efficient and productive. Think the unthinkable and get rid of the white elephants. Change the support model.

24*7 support - been an issue for ages and there are ways of providing it - NORMAN is one good example of providing out of hours help to customers. But, it's no good having someone on the end of a phone reporting a service failure if there's no one available to fix it. The support model needs changing (or we could just build services which only break in working hours....)

Outsourcing - we should concentrate on where we can add value and look carefully at what services we are offering have become a commodity and can be offered cheaper and more efficiently by someone else. Obvious targets are student email – being done by some Universities, being considered by many more. Why do it yourself when Google or Microsoft will do it better, and for free. But that will change our support model. How do we support a service being run by someone else? Do we? Do we let the provider do it? If we can outsource email, and calendars, and media hosting to YouTube Google, and audio hosting to iTunes, (and what about storage - should we put it all in the cloud?). What effect will that have on how we support our users?

Finally, web 2.0 (or the social web or whatever label you want to give it). It's here and it's going to change things whether we like it or not. I've proably written about this so much that you'll be bored with it now! Our students are arriving with differnet expectations, and experience. their experience is with the intenet, not applications. Also there are other ways of doing things now – you don’t have to use what the IT department says any more. If you want to share a video- put it on youTube; collaborate on a document - use Google docs; survey your students - use survey monkey; talk to a colleague overseas - use Skype; keep your users informed of status updates – use twitter. We can't stop this, so we have to learn how to support it - change the support model. of su

Support services will need to engage with the whole University, especially staff. Not just in using the tools but how to using them properly. The library has a role in information literacy, our's is in new media literacy.

In summary - this is a challenging time for support staff, but exciting. We have the potential to do things in a very different way. To challenge some of the accepted ways of doing things, stop being gatekeepers and be facilitators, and embrace a diversity of solutions.

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