David J. Hinson is executive vice president and chief information officer for Hendrix College, an undergraduate liberal arts college in Conway, Ark. He also has his own blog, David J. Hinson’s Logorrhea, where he talks about IT administration, particularly in a higher ed context. In addition, he is an active mobile developer who has developed commercial apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7.

What new IT demands are you getting from your university?

I think one of the biggest IT challenges facing colleges and universities is the proliferation of consumer devices, such as tablets, phones, and gaming consoles, not to mention multiple computers, that students bring to campus each fall. It's a constant "arms race" to ensure that our networks are robust enough to handle the hockey-stick increase in traffic (on campus and "up" to the Internet), as well as intelligently supporting "noisy" protocols such as Bonjour / AirPlay that iOS devices depend upon for network discovery.

Five years ago, we paid more attention to our wired infrastructure than to our wireless facilities. That emphasis has been totally turned upon its head. We continue to look at ways we can improve how we are deploying our wireless support infrastructure, and utilizing better instrumentation to make sure we have optimal wireless coverage across campus.

What ways have you found to simplify the way you provide services?

We really went back to "first principles,” and re-evaluated how we were engaging our various campus constituencies: Are our service hours sufficient? Are we responding quickly enough when problems are reported? When we are onsite, are we treating our customers respectfully? How may we do a better job in serving our campus?

To that end, last summer we consolidated our media center, instructional technology, and IT support into a single help desk, so that there is only a single phone number to call with any issue. Our staff makeup was reallocated, so that we had more full-time on-duty technicians to respond to problem tickets. We also extended student equipment "drop-off" hours to coincide with the help desk hours. These small, but significant, moves to simplify our support structure have started showing measurable improvements in student, faculty, and staff perceptions of our Technology Services area.  

Additionally, we are "sussing" out data from a faculty-designed and conducted survey on attitudes and opinions on how Technology Services are perceived by our faculty, and what they would like to see in the way of improvements. The results of the survey will be presented this fall to the full faculty, along with new service initiatives.

We're making good headway toward being a great service organization, and my personal goal for next year is to continue to build upon the great work that our team has done over the past year.

What about simplifying the business processes themselves?

Let's face it — people don't call you when things are going swimmingly. They have a problem, and need help, fast. We must have a straightforward process in place to address problems quickly, accurately, and to the complete satisfaction of our customers.

In the past, we have depended upon an automated method of reporting and responding to problems. We still depend upon this system, but we have added an additional full-time help desk call person to triage issues before they hit our support system in the first place. This has greatly diminished the number of easily handled calls that sit within a queue somewhere, waiting for a technician. Not only that, but customers are a lot happier when they can have their issue resolved in a single phone call, rather than engaging in hours and hours of back-and-forth email.

Automation — rather than simplifying our lives — can be an artificial barrier between ourselves and our customers. We have worked extremely hard to ensure that our processes exist solely to support problem resolution, rather than prolong it. Process exists to serve us — we don't serve the process.

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