How school IT help desks can start unclogging the backlog

Clearing the IT backlog and transforming the help desk.
Procedures can make a backlog manageable

The past few months have seen the help desk become a crucible for many school IT pros. The rise of online learning – and the present nerve-wracking return to physical classes – can flood tech support with a deluge of tickets. Even federal agencies are struggling, so does the lone IT professional stand a chance? Definitely, but much more easily by including a few proven education IT technologies and best practices used in creative ways.

Done right, they may even be placing the pieces that herald the evolution of the help desk into a powerful service desk that’s more efficient, agile, and automated. Here are some ways help desk teams can start improving the help desk to better meet emerging digital demands.

Enable self-service through standardisation
An average day at the school help desk is routinely unpredictable – and that’s the problem. In the absence of real-time monitoring, help desk teams are largely reactive, processing tickets as they come with the same manual and time-consuming workflows. Break-fix was challenging enough on-prem, much less remote. When most of these tickets will likely be about the same issue, experienced by different users in different device settings, utter confusion can easily take over.

Increasingly, IT pros are taking a leaf from the ITSM playbook and employing the idea of a self-service catalogue. ITSM and ITIL offer a rich library of best practices, but the challenge is in distilling them down to their most effective elements. For starters, service desk teams are more likely to use their system to identify and categorize their most common incidents. Creating submission forms for those incidents on the help desk portal, with targeted fill-in fields for details educators or students may not be aware of, will speed the resolutions of their issues. This eliminates the infuriating back-and-forth help desk teams experience when trying to triangulate the real problem.

Next, make sure all requestors receive a simple, follow-up customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey. Thumbs up/down options are more likely to drive quick feedback that IT technicians can and should follow up on for more context when needed. Tracking and compiling the responses of this survey does the double job of revealing areas in need of more attention, while reassuring help desk teams that they’re doing a stellar job.

Controlling service quality and costs
As I’ve implied earlier, monitoring capabilities for the help desk are critical. Broad visibility over the entire school network has become non-negotiable, given how heterogeneous school environments have become. The modern, diverse range of applications, software, and services simultaneously hosted on the cloud and on-prem can be harder to monitor than on-prem data centre racks. Time regained from the standardisation of ticket submissions is ideally focused on analysis and sentry duty – watching for irregular patterns or utilisations that are tell-tale signs of a brewing problem.

Monitoring even gives school help desk engineers the high-level data they need to analyse ticket submissions and identify areas that would benefit from further attention or investment. For instance, when they receive multiple support tickets about a single application, support teams can analyse the heuristics of the network to pinpoint root issues, then lead the deployment of a permanent fix. IT pros working an issue can also reply to initial tickets with meaningful details, giving users confidence the team is working their issue with insight from the first touch. That’s key for help desk admins to move beyond tech support, to become problem-solving detectives of the network they prefer to be.

When considering additional benefits monitoring brings, think clearer control over the additional OpEx spending cloud and SaaS solutions have introduced. Unlike the previous annual tech purchases or pay-per-use data centre models, cloud solutions bill by pre-allocated capacity – whether it’s used or not. This means idle cloud utilisation not ideal, because IT is wastefully paying for underutilised headroom. ITOM solutions bring visibility into this area, allowing help desk teams track usage and scale back cloud resources – as long as the user experience isn’t affected.

Greater integration and coordination for all
Where this approach gets interesting is when self-service is combined with cost and quality management. Eliminating much of the guesswork from the help desk – identifying the nature of issues and where they originate based on observed data – improves troubleshooting accuracy and speed. It also allows the help desk to integrate and coordinate efforts with in-house IT teams or the engineers of cloud services or data centres. When the help desk can forward the relevant data along with tickets detailing the problem, IT teams more holistically identify multiple related issues affecting service quality. That perspective helps drive code fixes to remedy nagging issues once and for all.

Integrating monitoring into help desk processes may well be the demarcation point in a help desk’s evolution into an efficient and productive integrated service desk. It also paves the way to a self-service help desk, one where users can diagnose many issues by themselves, and engineers can access all the information they need for more advanced ones, without contacting the help desk.

And as the direct benefactors of this new shift to self-service, help desk teams can better focus their attention on improving response time, innovative solutions, and service quality. This transition is important. It’s a great way for IT pros to raise their status from ticket pushers to quality problem solvers. Then again, IT pros have always been the people facility staff, educators, and students can trust – and respect – in any interaction.