Integrating IT Support and Project Management

By using a single platform for these tasks, FAU is streamlining the delivery of IT services and meeting the needs of stakeholders more effectively

By Mehran Basiratmand

How often does this happen at your institution: Your IT support team receives what you think is a simple request—but it turns out to be more complicated than you first thought?

For instance, a faculty member or administrator might request a new network drop for his office. This is typically a simple cable installation that can be handled by the IT staff on that campus. But in the process of installation, maybe the technician realizes that the switch has no more ports available, so now a switch upgrade is needed. Or maybe all of the switches in that building are actually outdated—and suddenly a simple request for a single port could lead to a comprehensive network upgrade.

At Florida Atlantic University, we are working on an initiative that will make it very easy to escalate a support ticket into a full-blown project. In our new system, all IT requests—whether they are simple service requests or projects that require multiple IT departments—will be funneled through a single, unified platform to improve efficiency. We are excited to create this next generation of IT service, which will help us meet the needs of stakeholders more effectively.

The initiative actually began about three years ago, when we decided to replace our old ticketing system because it wasn’t meeting our needs. We wanted to be able to track our service response times and other key performance indicators (KPIs) so that we could set goals and continuously improve, and the product we were using did not have very sophisticated reporting capabilities. It also was not browser adaptive, so our users could not easily create a support ticket from a mobile device. After an extensive evaluation process, we chose the TeamDynamix (TDX) service platform because it met all of our requirements.

Before we implemented the new system, we gave careful consideration to our ticketing process. We wanted it to be as simple as possible to initiate a support ticket. When someone is creating a ticket, they are trying to resolve a problem—and the last thing we wanted to do was add to their frustration. We were concerned that if we asked too many questions, people would either call our support line instead (which would add to our call volume) or walk away frustrated.

At the same time, we needed to have a baseline of information to understand the nature of each problem. We wanted to capture as much information as we could with minimal disruption. To do this, we created separate forms for various types of IT requests: networking, security, AV, desktop support, application development, and so on. Instead of building one all-encompassing form, we created a custom set of questions for each category of service, to get to the nature of each problem more efficiently.

Our ticketing and IT service fulfillment is working well. Now that this process is fully mature, we have begun rolling out phase two: project management. With this natural progression in the delivery of IT services, a support ticket can seamlessly be escalated to a full project if it requires multiple IT departments or additional resources.

We are looking at a three-pronged approach to initiate a project. The first is when a support ticket has enough merit to become a full project. The second approach would be if someone from outside of IT knows their request is a project, such as when a campus department is renovating a building and there are multiple pieces of technology involved. The third method would be for IT staff to create a project.

In every case, the project would have to go through an approval and prioritization process, and we have created a project management office (PMO) to accomplish this. In creating the PMO, we promoted one of our existing IT staff members to lead this division. Because she has institutional knowledge, she lends a great deal of credibility to the office. We have also hired staff who are certified in project management.

Traditionally, many project management toolsets have not integrated with help desk software packages. That creates a need for double data entry: When a support ticket is escalated to a full project, IT staff would have to re-enter the information into the project management platform. This leads to inconsistencies in the data and reporting, and it creates another layer of complexity. But TDX is designed to handle IT support and project management, so we can use the same platform to deliver both types of services. Because we had already created different service categories, such as networking or AV, we had a foundation in place that has made it easy to build our project management infrastructure.

Choosing a platform that allows us to integrate IT service and project management was critical. Here are three additional keys to our success:

Involve your entire IT team in planning.

We didn’t build our ticketing system in a vacuum. Instead, we invited IT staff at each campus and from each department to participate in the process. This not only resulted in a better system that met everyone’s needs more effectively; it also helped everyone buy in. That’s extremely important.

Properly identify the source of each problem.

I look closely at how many times a ticket bounces between departments until somebody actually solves the issue. These bounces often occur because the problem was not properly identified at the outset. The better we can identify the source of the problem initially, the faster we can resolve it—and the more satisfied our users are.

Another thing I look at is whether a ticket was reopened for the same problem after it had already been closed. This needs to be avoided. Users are frustrated to begin with, and now you’re adding another layer of anguish.

Combine project management and quality assurance.

We have combined our PMO and quality assurance under one umbrella. We think those two areas are tightly coupled. If you complete a project, but it’s not of high quality, then how effective have you been? We believe this will soon become the industry standard, because quality control is an essential part of project management.

Mehran Basiratmand is the Chief Technology Officer for Florida Atlantic University.

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