Friday, 15 July 2016

Fixing stuff in time

Some time ago our senior management team in Corporate Information and Computing Services (CiCS) asked us to help the department to look at the way that problems and service requests dealt with by both our central IT helpdesk and by other teams are handled. Our recent staff and student (2014) surveys revealed that overall, CiCS service users felt that the timeliness of responses to these queries was worse than the minimum they would expect.

Our remit for the project was to look at the whole of the support function of the department to try to come up with a process or processes that everyone would use regardless of their job function, way of working, or personal preference.

We wanted to be able to provide a consistent service for customers regardless of the route they take or the service request or problem they were bringing to CiCS, to be able effectively to record and monitor problems and their resolution, and to collect data which will enable CiCS to improve both individual help provision, and overall service provision.
The team discuss their good ideas

We and the project team were aware that the software used to record calls, although possibly not ideal for the purpose, is not going to be changed in the short term, and that any process which we developed would have to take this into account. There would be no point in assuming the purchase of a new (possibly mythical) product before we start making improvements.
In making preparation for the project event, we and our helpdesk software support staff tried to analyse the data we already had - and this was problematic, because the recording of information was patchy, inaccurate, and sometimes non-existent, particularly in areas where the software is not used. This is a problem for any process improvement activity. How are we to know that improvements have been made if we don’t know how things we working before?
In the event, analysis by the team showed where the problems lay. There are at least 30 forms and processes which may start a help request to CICS, spread over the whole of the CiCS website. In addition, a number of telephone contacts exist, as well as direct contact to individual members of staff through various mechanisms. Custom and practice in the various CICS teams varies wildly, and overall, ownership of requests is ill-defined.

The team concluded that, for a new process to work, everyone would need to be using it - this was a breakthrough given the different practices referred to above.

They agreed the following:

  • A standard and formalised process across the department;
  • Use of the same software tool by everyone;
  • A review of the email and web forms points of contact;
  • A sensible and more standardised way of contacting customers;
  • Categorisation of problems by service affected;
  • Recording the solution;
  • Recording the resolution profile, rather than the problem profile;
  • Creation of a referral contact list;
  • Clear definition of point of referral;
  • Ownership of calls at second point of contact;
  • Every job closed by Department gives opportunity for customer feedback;
  • Feedback loops for maintenance of referral list;
  • Feedback loop for updating solution knowledge base
The benefits of these changes are:
  • Provision of a consistent service to customers;
  • Clarity for customer about who is responsible for dealing with their request
  • The ability to measure resolution times realistically
  • The ability to monitor improvements
  • The ability to see ‘top problems’

But of course the real test will be whether the team, and the wider CICS department, embraces and moves forward with these changes.  Strong leadership and the sense that the new processes and policies are better for everyone will help to ensure that the improvements are realised. We will be working closely with the project co-ordinator and the team to ensure that progress is rapid and sustained, as we know that delay will substantially reduce the likelihood of success.

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