Paul Paterson, regional manager of ICT services in the NSW Department of Education and Training, has helped ensure TAFEs in his region operate smoothly thanks to an entirely self service support system.
The system provides help for the TAFE staff in areas such as technical support as well as issues related to HR and facility management requests.
Speaking at the IT Service Management Forum Australia this week, Paterson explained that the TAFEs within his region of Northern Sydney are the only institutes within the Department to have dispensed with a phone as part of its service desk.
"It sounds quite radical, and it was," he says.
The Northern Sydney region caters to over 130,000 students and employs 2,700 staff. Northern Sydney Institute [NSI] of TAFE alone has 50,000 enrollees. The various IT teams within NSI support over 4,200 desktop and laptop computers.
Yet for the last 10 years, since Paterson's predecessor's time, NSI has had a solely self-service technical support system.
"Our clients are mostly [volunteer] teachers. They are not [often] at a desk. So to sustain a helpdesk from 8am to 10pm with that workforce was not a viable option. So they dispensed with the phone."
The NSI service desk system is undergoing an evolution under Paterson's watch, with innovations ranging from restructuring to a brand new software system to help bring self-service principles to a wider range of services.
"We wanted to provide self-service for more than just service desk instances across the institute. The service desk was built to provide help for HR, finances, facility management [all using] the same product."
The advantage to using the same software across all these areas is the customers quickly become expert users.
Paterson advises that anyone looking to implement a similar system should ensure the self-service forms are comprehensive enough to provide detailed diagnostics – including pre-emptive suggestions on how to fix the problem - without appearing over-complicated.
"In the Google world in which we live, if customers have to go more than three clicks you've lost them," he says.
There are also disadvantages to self-service that anyone considering implementing such a system should be aware of.
"Our customers aren't at a phone. If they log a call and we don't understand it, trying to call a teacher back when they aren't at a desk is nigh-on impossible," he says.
"It is extremely costly and wasteful trying to chase a customer down to get further information."
Another pitfall is the possibility of under-skilled staff.
"We found our staff were grossly deskilled. For many years there was no money or investment into their training," he says. "So people were Googling or asking for peer support. Very counter-productive."
Lastly, organisations must ensure the staff are on-side, Paterson says. "The greatest resistance was actually internal. There were great fears from the staff that they would lose their jobs by us introducing self-service."