Every problem is an IT problem, right?

Wrong.

The need to become more efficient, to adopt new processes, to work in new ways and within new structures brings plenty of opportunity – and also challenge. Wherever these opportunities and challenges emerge from, there is invariably a dependence upon Information Technology in facilitating a solution. Once this dependence on technology has been identified, it’s easy for each and every other part of a possible solution to become utterly dependent upon technology to deliver the whole solution, and often before other change takes place.

I don’t believe this should be the case. I believe everyone in an organisation today must be able to identify and implement solutions using IT; everyone should be able to contribute. They don’t need to be big and complex solutions – quite the opposite really. Small, simple solutions that can be owned by the staff who need them are often much more effective than those which require the support or contribution of highly specialist colleagues.

But the thing is, in my experience at least, most medium to large organisations have yet to realise that we have probably all been a little too singularly dependent on the IT department to solve everything for us. Technology has evolved beyond this; smart systems enable us to create solutions without the need to employ such experts. If we are struggling to deliver quick and flexible solutions, maybe our systems are outdated? It’s the smaller, more agile organisations that are able to capitalise on flexible solutions – cloud services and SAAS – that are leading the way, adopting new systems quickly to meet changing demands. Maybe in our larger organisations, staff are not sufficiently skilled in the tools they may already be using to achieve the best results. Ensuring the latest and highest performing systems are available is what the IT department needs to focus upon. Ensuring that staff are capable and empowered to identify and delver solutions is essential… but that’s not just an IT problem…

Just the osTicket

We’ve been making some changes to the way we support our students. This has involved relocating a number of staff and adjusting some of our working practices. Part of this change in working practice is improving he method by which we respond to a student enquiry. In other words, when a student has a question, needs some help or support, what happens next?

Typically any student request for assistance from staff is dealt with quickly and efficiently, but having taken feedback from our learners, they tell us that it’s not consistently the case. Sometimes the answers they get are different. Occasionally they might find themselves directed to several different places before finally receiving a satisfactory answer. Our students also told us that they often (and in some cases prefer to) find out information from asking their peers instead of seeking an ‘official’ resolution.

Something common to many support departments in our organisation is the existence of a ‘help desk‘. In most cases this is simply a point of contact – usually an email address – through which enquiries or requests for assistance can be made. In the best examples, these help desk facilities work well for departments functioning independently. However, the understanding we now have from our research and the vision we have subsequently formed does not include the continued support of multiple independent services. These independent service desks are being drawn together into a unified support service. A place – both physical and virtual – where students can go for support and assistance.

We’ve taken a look at a number of products, both ourselves, and thanks to a consultancy who have made some analysis of our current service processes. We’ve reviewed Spiceworks, ManageEngine, OTRS and osTicket. Spiceworks is an open source tool primarily aimed at computer support teams who are looking for a service desk with additional functions to meet their particular technical needs, and also to support some of the other processes typically taking place within an IT department. ManageEngine is a commercial product offering several different products making up a comprehensive suite of service tools. There is opportunity with ManageEngine to deliver a service solution that will not solely be the domain of technical staff. OTRS is the second of three open source tools we examined, and has been used by many community product teams in support of high profile products. It can be extended with an additional module from a reasonably standardised support desk into a more advanced model supporting some ITIL best practices and processes. Finally we looked at osTicket, a less complex support ticket system focused upon delivering key functionality of a ticketing system rather than a full range of extended facilities.

osTicket was our final choice, and simplicity was a major driver for this choice. Sure, some of the other systems were capable of more, but our needs were less about being specialised, and more about finding a system that would suit a broad range of users. Some of the results can now be seen in our Student Hub, a public place for students to find useful information among FAQ‘s thanks to the osFAQ module, plus the core ticketing system which enables us to offer a far superior level of support to our users than ever before.