Stopping the Ping Pong Effect: Improving Service across Campus for Students, Faculty and Staff

By Rhonda Spells-Fentry, VP for Enterprise Technology and CIO, Prince George's Community College

Rhonda Spells-Fentry, VP for Enterprise Technology and CIO, Prince George's Community College

I have set a priority to stop the ping-pong effect, the zig zagged experience of students, faculty and staff being sent through a series of touchpoints going from building to building or website to email to website. This phenomenon creates frustration and inefficiencies and impedes the learning process. At Prince George’s Community College (PGCC), we serve a diverse population of nearly 40,000 students who represent 103 countries worldwide with approximately 2,500 faculty and staff members supporting the campus. Each individual has a broad spectrum of needs whether it is related to IT, facilities, HR or media services and servicing these needs quickly and painlessly is a critical building block to their success.

A few years ago, we decided to take a hard look at the ping-pong experience across our campus, which included all aspects of administrative and academic operations. In doing this, we stepped through the actual experiences of our students, faculty, and staff. We found that our own internal structure was disjointed and this was causing a fragmented experience with wasted time and resources.

"A self-service portal with a knowledge base and service catalogue for making requests dramatically improves time to resolution"

Our student services, for example, were great, but they were scattered around campus in different buildings with different appointment times, records systems, and processing requirements. Health facilities were in one building, but records and the dean’s office were in another, while registration and student IDs were in yet another. This meant that new students had to bounce around an unfamiliar campus spending valuable time navigating new, sometimes complex, unconnected systems and procedures. This situation is not unique to PGCC–it is the nature of a campus; a sprawling set of functions, buildings, and many students and processes in between.

Eliminating the Ping Pong Experience

One of the key outcomes of our evaluation was a decision to bring all these student service groups into one physical location. Students will be able to access multiple services in one place, allowing them to accomplish everything in a few hours versus several days. Appointments and forms can be completed on the spot and shared across the various groups that service each student. We took this same concept even further by creating a single service portal–not only for students but also for faculty, staff, prospective students and the community at large. With this portal, students, faculty, and staff can go to one online place to request a transcript, book a meeting space, request IT assistance, enter a work order for classroom equipment, or apply for a parking permit–one campus, one central approach, one technology platform.

The Online Journey Started in IT Service Delivery

Like most institutions, PGCC has a service desk for internal IT questions and requests. IT receives tickets and then dispatches technicians or offers assistance where appropriate. However, trying to service all 40,000 students individually was not efficient, particularly due to the volume of requests we would see. In addition, online and distance students who had questions or needed help were being directed to a call center–a service that was only staffed specific hours a day and specific days a week. Due to the call volume or lack of success for timely resolution, the call abandon rate was a staggering 43%.

We understood that throwing more bodies at the problem by adding more phone hours or more people at the center was not going to solve the deeper problem; the support services for online students were not connected to one another–they were the equivalent of being scattered across an unfamiliar and confusing campus. This challenge was an acute one because managers could not get a clear sense of what was happening in that system. We didn’t have much data about where the choke points were, and we were unable to separate major issues from quick fixes. People felt ignored because those asking for help didn’t have any sense of when their issue would be addressed. Most of the time, we didn’t know. This made predicting and planning for support, or even addressing internal improvements, impossible.

This is where having a sophisticated knowledge base makes a difference. With a knowledge base, all information is highly indexed and searchable, allowing faculty and students to have a 24/7 issue resolution option. Sometimes the issue can easily be resolved through self-service, and if not, there is a button to request service, which allows the request to automatically route in the right direction. Those staffing the service desk can then focus on the more unique or intricate issues.

A self-service portal with a knowledge base and service catalogue for making requests dramatically improves time to resolution while also giving our IT staff more time in their day to address other areas such as change management and proper project governance. It also allows requesters and managers to easily monitor requests for timely resolution.

Project Management

Another key area we wanted to address was the separation between a service request from an actual project. Quite often, an IT inquiry turned into a project requiring more than one tech or multiple departments. We tracked those requests in completely different systems, usually in spreadsheets. Now we have one platform for both service management and project management. A ticket can be converted into a project and then the project can be managed using the same resources (or different resources depending upon needs). Conversely, many projects kick off a series of tickets–again with one platform these requests can be easily routed and managed. We can take this same approach across the campus to other areas such as facilities and media services.

To do this, PGCC has invested in TeamDynamix, a service management platform with integrated project portfolio management. The technology encompasses a broad range of needs from ticketing to problem and incident management, change management, asset tracking and project portfolio management all on one platform.

With our new system, requestors can monitor the progress of their own requests rather than calling back to check on status. Technology leaders can audit service levels and monitor resource allocation. Technicians can easily monitor queues and progress of specific tickets. This results in full transparency that drives efficiency and collaboration across the entire IT organization and the college community.

Going Beyond IT: Service & Project Management across Campus

The operational efficiency gains we have achieved in the IT department can now be replicated and leveraged for other groups such as human resources, facilities, media services and marketing. We implement a centralized approach to information sharing and service request management and use it to help an employee with a question about an insurance form, order a business card, request AV equipment, reserve a loaner laptop or to report a HVAC issue. A single service request could potentially include resources from IT, facilities and security. One ticket goes into the system and it routes in multiple directions as needed. Our goal is to eliminate the ping-pong effect by offering all information and request mechanisms via a centralized portal, which communicates when those service requests will be completed. This builds trust and improves the experience.

Leadership within each of these groups can see how resources are being allocated against specific ticket types or projects and can more efficiently manage their team.

Our vision is to provide a single, student, faculty and staff experience with one location to get information or to get help and each offers the same level of service and procedures regardless of who services the request. By eliminating ambiguity, we’ve created streamlined pathways to success and can now focus more exclusively on helping our students achieve and thrive on campus and in their lives.

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