Published on 2014/10/31

The Importance of Measuring Operational Efficiency in Higher Education IT

The Importance of Measuring Operational Efficiency in Higher Education IT
By measuring success and adjusting for weaknesses, an institutional IT unit can adapt more quickly to changing needs and improve the efficiency of the campus-wide technology services.
Higher education environments tend to be comprised of a cross-section of society with multiple levels of comfort in adopting and utilizing technology. Many universities have a community of early adopters; those students, faculty members and administrative staff who embrace and seek out change in their technology use. These early adopters are constantly testing the limits of technology, using the latest (and sometimes greatest) tools and applications to help them meet a specific educational, research or business need. At the other end of the spectrum are those members of the university community who have a very low tolerance for service interruptions or changes in the way they utilize technology. This group expects the technology resources they use today to be the same or incrementally better than they were the day before. Like the telephone services of years past, these groups of students, faculty and staff expect their technology to be available with “five nines” reliability (uptime of 99.999 percent) and their satisfaction decreases the further we get from this high level of consistency.

So, with this in mind, why is it important that we track metrics and key performance indicators in higher education? Surely, with such a diverse client base, there is no one metric that can capture IT service delivery effectiveness. However, with a robust set of key performance indicators, trends in service delivery will emerge to guide your efforts to create and maintain a world-class technology service offering for your constituents, for your management and for your university.

Identifying key performance indicators and tracking metrics can often seem to be a daunting and intimidating prospect. This is true on many levels, from the individual staff member, to the area manager, to the departmental director, the Divisional Vice-President and even the CIO. There are many ways to approach the gathering of these metrics, but they all have one thing in common. All metrics have trends, and it is in the trends that we start to find value and insight into an organization’s overall effectiveness and responsiveness to either maintaining the status quo or adapting to change.

Tier one technology support at The George Washington University was an area that had a public perception problem coupled with a need to make judicious use of university financial and human resources while striving to support an end user population of 40,000 faculty, staff and students in every aspect of their technology utilization. Delivering technology support to this business and its needs meant a priority of 24/7/365 support to assist with research, provide the technology necessary to access and share that research, communicate between community members through voice, text, email, and even social media and much, much more. In order to address these needs The George Washington University decided to streamline and concentrate its support, general information and maintenance efforts into a single team of IT professionals within a centralized IT Support Center. This effort allowed us to capitalize on our investment in our existing human resources and at the same time do “more with less” by cross training staff and assuring we were available 24/7 for an international university community.

After establishing this 24/7 technology support environment we had to find a way to measure the utility, proficiency and effectiveness of this environment. To this end we established key performance indicators that, over time, would give the university and Division of IT management insight into these factors. We started with a simple set of indicators and set attainable goals to strive for and against which to measure service delivery:

  • Average Time Spent on the phone with a customer < 7 minutes
  • Average time spent routing a request or trouble ticket post call < 3 minutes
  • Average time a caller has to wait in queue to get to a live agent < 2 minutes
  • Average abandon time < 3 minutes

Of course, in addition to these we looked at things such as call volume, support request volume, mean time-to-resolution, first contact resolution and other standards. However, the crux of our performance was found in a few indicators that could be trended over time and interpreted in the context of current technological activities within the university or the world at large. An increase of average time spent with a customer could be indicative of the release of a new operating system, new technology service or significant change to an existing service like a transition from LDAP authentication to Active Directory (AD) authentication. A decrease in average talk time could be attributed to a back to school period, or significant increase in call volume related to a relatively simple need for assistance with password resets for an enterprise system or first-time configuration of new end-user devices. Regardless of what indicators you are trending, it is a critical part of your evaluation process to thoughtfully consider what changes or activities are happening in your environment that are attributable to the trend.

It is important that the IT groups that support institutions of higher education measure their success at delivering to the needs of the university and the business so that they can adapt to a consistently changing and evolving set of technology services and support needs. With metrics we can chart the path to successful service delivery and ensure that we have the correct allocation of resources to meet the institution’s needs. While this article spoke to a few indicators at the Tier One and Tier Zero (or self-help) support level, it is important to track metrics at every level of the IT organization. Whether you find yourself in the role of web developer, network engineer, system administrator, business intelligence analyst, department head or CIO, you can find performance indicators to track and trend for your team. These indicators trended over time will give you insight into your service offerings and allow you to adapt more quickly to the changing technology support needs of your community, and increase the operational efficiency of your institution’s information technology support organization.

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Readers Comments

Arizona R. 2014/10/31 at 11:19 am

This is a really clearly laid out breakdown of how to approach introducing metrics to your evaluation process. Great examples of KPIs and goals. Measuring this stuff doesn’t have to be rocket science and go a seriously long way to improving performance.

Sandra Christensen 2014/10/31 at 1:20 pm

I will admit to being one of the latter type of IT users by nature, wedded to predictability and consistency, so I appreciate any suggestions on how to maintain a certain amount of consistency for those of us who need it while still setting up the institution to succeed through (admittedly, often much-needed) change.

S. Penskies 2014/10/31 at 4:08 pm

I’m interested in hearing more about how social media has been incorporated into the IT response plan. The need to use multiple methods of communication is definitely becoming more and more clear, but I hadn’t thought to include social media in that.

    C Megill 2014/11/07 at 9:36 am

    Using social media to report service degradations and outages is a habit that gains value over time. It also requires a commitment to transparency and honesty with your constituents. At The George Washington University we have a IT focused Twitter account “@GWDivit” where stakeholders can be informed of planned and unplanned service degradations or outages. Some of our customers also reach out to the Division of IT to report troubles or check on status through the Twitter tool. What I like about the use of Twitter (or Facebook or any other Social Media tool) is that it empowers the user to stay informed and to “opt in” to notifications rather than forcing all customers to deal with unwanted email notifications which can easily become perceived as spam and be taken as background noise.

    One other especially nice feature of Twitter is that a post from us to Twitter automatically shows up as a status update on our IT Home page hosted at http://it.gwu.edu

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