Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What's in a reputaton

Computing departments at colleges and universities often have a bad reputation. In Dilbert, there's a character called Mordac, the preventer of Information Services, who denies assistance and equipment to everyone. Often, the people in college computing departments are viewed the same way. People see them as slow to respond and difficult to work with. Not everyone in a computing department works this way, but unfortunately, one slow response can poison the whole department. For whatever reason, it's often extremely difficult to overcome negative pr. I heard two stories yesterday that made me shake my head. In both cases, someone had asked for help days ago and was not getting any response from our department. In one case, the person was pretty tech savvy and ended up solving her own problem. The other is still waiting and unable to do key aspects of his/her work until someone helps him/her.

I honestly do my very best to respond to people quickly, but, I, too, have had a number of times when things have slipped through the cracks or I've gotten backlogged. We have a system for keeping track of our work. Whenever someone calls or emails the help desk, they enter the information and assign it to the appropriate person. If I get a phone call or email, I enter it into the same system. Recently, I checked to see how many of these incidents I've logged in the system and it's well over 200. That's an average of about 3 a day since the beginning of school. Typically, of course, the issues don't trickle out at 3 a day. Usually, there's a day where there's 25 issues sitting there for me to deal with and I have to decide what's most important to handle first. I actually follow a lot of the GTD principles when dealing with these things. I set aside time at least once a week, but during busy times, it's often every day, to go through these and handle them. Anything that takes 5 minutes or less, I handle immediately, including letting the person know that the situation has been taken care of. Often there are issues where I need more information or that I know are complicated. Sometimes I divvy these tasks out to my student workers. At the beginnings of semesters, however, I don't have workers around, so it falls to me. It's very easy to get overwhelmed pretty quickly between what's already sitting in front of me to be dealt with, long term projects, and the panic-stricken phone calls and emails. In theory, things that sit in the system for too long will get picked up by your work group or a manager. There are a lot of things that only I can handle, unfortunately and that's true for others in my group. Also, from what I understand from those in desktop support, everyone has so much on their own plate, they can't possibly take on anyone else's work.

And then, you get delays. I don't know what to do about this. My strategy works for me, though it's not perfect. A lot of the desktop people have to go visit people whereas most of my issues can be handled remotely. During those visits, things can bog down. The problem can be bigger than they anticipated and then they get behind. Personally, I think we need more people, but I've been told that that's not in the budget and faculty often complain then that "we're spending all their money." I'm not in a position to view the problem from 10,000 feet. I see it at 10 feet and what I see is some good people working hard, but maybe not efficiently enough or maybe without enough help. I would really like for our department to be viewed as a well-oiled machine. I would like it if people felt that we provide reliable service all the time. I know some people feel that certain individuals within our department are efficient and reliable, but as a whole, not so much. And unfortunately, that hurts all of us.

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