Who hasn’t called the university’s help desk, desperate for assistance on a Friday afternoon as an invading virus or the blue screen of death commandeers the computer, right at a crucial moment? Call the help desk and a technician is available to talk you down from the ceiling and fix the problem so you can have a worry-free weekend.
The comparable campus services situation is when the wireless lock system malfunctions at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. The help desk can’t help with this one; no one is there to answer the call. Fortunately, Campus Services at the University of Richmond employs a dedicated team of systems specialists available 24/7 to deal with such problems.
It wasn’t always this way. Like many campuses, ours relied on the university’s information services department to assist with hardware problems and software integration and implementation. Over years, as the scope of Campus Services grew, so did the technological complexity of its needs—not only hardware and software, but basic maintenance and end user support.
In 2007, we hired a tech who became our own dedicated department help desk to deal with minor problems. In 2010 there was a changing of the guard, and a systems specialist was hired with much greater responsibilities, initially concentrating on CS Gold, Micros, and Computrition.
Technology demands exploded over the next five years. By 2015, Campus Services used 13 different software applications and 22 servers, which required round-the-clock support. Our systems specialist was always on duty, even when on vacation. An assistant was recently hired, and availability is now truly 24/7, complete with a hotline.
Our tech team now manages the department’s system upgrades, implementations and patching, addition of new systems, and development of in-house integrations. They take the lead, managing projects from start to finish, working with their counterparts in information services. We still rely on the university’s help desk for individual computer problems.
“We had to work hard to justify the need for our own tech support, and we have saved thousands of dollars because of them. Instead of paying expensive maintenance contracts, our systems specialists advise us on what we really need. They have enabled our Campus Services professionals to concentrate on managing their businesses instead of concentrating on technology,” said Diane Hardy, associate vice president for Campus Services.
Each system within Campus Services has a software expert. The EMS software administrator, for example, handles the event management software. The systems specialists step in when the software doesn’t function properly. They talk with the software provider and also the information services tech to address problems.
The systems specialists share their expertise with the campus technology community and serve on committees for PCI compliance, e-commerce, administrative policy, and hardware/software standards. “It’s always good to have a dedicated advocate for your systems,” noted Andy Southworth, applications manager. “I’m always looking out for the best interests of Campus Services.
Moving forward, information services is transitioning the entire University of Richmond to a blade structure in the data center, which utilizes cloud virtual machine technology. In the next five years, we’ll move all servers from physical servers to the blade. When fully implemented, this will result in significant departmental cost savings in server replacement because we will eliminate physical servers. A benefit, particularly for Campus Services, is that in a failure scenario we will have rapid recovery in minutes or hours versus days.