Standardizing on One Package Helps University's Help Desk Respond to Users

How d'es an overworked Help Desk staff react quickly and accurately to PC user questions at a university where 11,000 daytime students, spread out over three campuses, generate almost 7,000 calls annually? This was the question facing Clint Walker, Informa-tion Center administrator at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In varying forms this is the same issue facing administrators at educational institutions nationwide. Most must find a way to stretch limited support resources to ensure users are maximizing their computers. Resolving the Issue When Howard University decided to improve its systems infrastructure last year, Walker had the opportunity to resolve this issue. He recalls, "In these austere times, and with so many different software packages out there, we realized we needed to standardize on the workstation platform and say, 'OK, these are the packages we are going to support.' But we still wanted to make the solution as user-friendly as possible." Walker was initially attracted to Lotus Development Corp. because of its quality sales force and his previous experience with the Cambridge, Mass.-based company. "The vertical and horizontal support we'd always received from the sales force indicated we should stick with Lotus," he explains. But the way Lotus' various software applications work together convinced him that they were the best choice for Howard University. The school decided to purchase SmartSuite, a set of integrated applications, through Lotus' volume purchasing program, which provides competitive prices to educational institutions. The way SmartSuite enables a user to work with different applications together addressed Howard's need for standardization. By opting for software packages that would work together, rather than numerous standalone applications that would be difficult to support, Walker found what he and Howard University were looking for: reduced training time, lower support costs and greater productivity. "Lotus products are very well-integrated," Walker explains. "For example, the products feature SmartIcons, which allow users to jump from one application to another without forcing them to abandon their original application. This makes it a lot easier to assemble data from a disparate collection of documents into one final document." Collaborative Work In addition to benefiting the individual user who wants to work with several applications, Walker finds integration within Lotus' line of products to be helpful when several users need to work with one document. "With AmiPro [SmartSuite's word processing application], you can have several folks working on one document such that when it comes your way, you can see what changes another person has made and decide if you want to approve or disapprove them, or how you want to bring them into the document," he says. "This alleviates the need to have two users working on two machines side by side or to have to look at hard copies to see what changes have been made." In addition, most education administrators are at least occasionally required to compile summary reports. With SmartSuite, this task is made simpler because the applications are intended to be used together. Walker reports, "We've always received different files from all over the campus to be compiled in our annual report. But things got a lot easier after we purchased SmartSuite. Either one of two things is happening now: AmiPro has the translator for the word processor someone used to create their report, or that person is using AmiPro. That scenario means cross-disciplinary, cross-office integration is much easier." On-the-Spot Solutions The Help Desk at Howard is the arm of the Information Center that must provide computer users with on-the-spot solutions for snags and glitches. Walker feels that in addition to directly aiding users, standardizing has aided the Help Desk staff in performing their support role. "Standards enable the Help Desk to respond to a less disparate array of software applications and strengthens our user community's skills and productivity," he explains. "Standardizing with SmartSuite has sped up response time." Of course, trying to round up users of numerous software applications into one uniform user group has its difficulties. Migrating to a new set of software applications may be irksome to some. Independent-minded educators, Walker acknowledges, may be particularly loathe to give up their old software. Walker believes he has to take this obstacle in stride. "We've been moving in the direction of standardizing for some time now, but some people have software they've been using for years and years," he explains. "But the minute they need to do something with their old software and can't is the minute you've got legitimate motivation for them to upgrade to Lotus software." Ultimately, SmartSuite has made Walker's job easier. "My job is to leverage all the computers on campus to make sure users are getting the most they can out of their desktops," he reports. "With SmartSuite, I'm confident that users can be more productive and the Help Desk can respond more quickly and effectively."

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.