Outsourced? I call it “differently sourced.”


Either way, you’re OUTTA here, Jack! Nah, I’m just kidding. Except, well, maybe not. Today I met with an alternative help desk provider. Like alternative medicine. Here’s what they will do: everything the current help desk does, but better and for less money.  During the vendor presentation, one of the slides showed their current customer list. Of the 15 or so current customers, at least half of them had CTOs/CIOs who’d been in place for less than three years. So, maybe this is “low hanging fruit” for some of us?

Kyle, is this where you reply with, “help desk, what help desk?–when I arrived at my school, I had to chop down the sacred tree of knowledge to friggin’ BUILD my help desk!” 🙂


6 Responses to “Outsourced? I call it “differently sourced.””

  1. Kyle said:

    Aug 14, 08 at 5:52 am

    Well, there is one less tree outside my office, but that was Facilities’ doing. ‘-)

    I must admit I look longingly at these outsourced services, but they are a hard sell at smaller colleges. And for us it would actually cost more money. Why? Because I have one full time staff member and 20 students running the Help Desk. And yes, that makes it very “exciting” when the students aren’t around. Like say, move-in and orientation. Our busiest time of year and I have 5 students.

    I’m looking more seriously at outsourcing back office support like Oracle, Banner, etc. There’s no visible impact to the end user (we have to shield our end users from our enterprise apps staff), and I would likely get more redundancy for the same money. Any application for which I can’t do value add I want to outsource. Email? We’ll be on Google Apps in 12 months. Banner/Oracle? That might all go off campus in the next year as well. The more stuff I can move off-site, the easier it is to do business continuity as well. Which is good, since our business continuity plan includes having to order new hardware and restore from tape. Figure 2 – 3 months to get anything operational again.

    I’m curious, does your current Help Desk do on-site calls? Ours does, and I don’t think I can give that up to different source the HD.

  2. bendy said:

    Aug 14, 08 at 7:38 am

    Help Desk is more like a retail position than a tech position, and is inherently dysfunctional because the work is so awful that nobody with experience wants to (or has to) do it, but it’s impossible to be good at it without experience.

    Still, from what you describe, its seems like inertia is a bigger danger than entropy.

    The best help desk people I’ve seen have lots of amateur tech experience and are looking for a way to get professional credentials. If I was starting a six person help desk from scratch, this is what I’d do:

    – I’d staff it with temps so it’s easy for both sides to back out. I’d hire the good ones after 2 or 3 months.
    – Since it’s a crappy job and I’m not providing real benefits, I’d make the main benefit the opportunity tinker and play with cool stuff. Balance time on the phone with time learning basic sysadmin work or pc repair or evaluating potential software decisions.
    – make the back office people interact with the help desk a lot, so that institutional history gets passed along
    – move the most promising staff off the desk as quickly as possible, so that there’s a clear sense of being able to move up in the organization. Those sorts of people would probably (hopefully?!?!!) have friends that would make good replacements at the entry level.

  3. Kyle said:

    Aug 14, 08 at 10:25 am

    The interaction with the back office part is key here as well. In fact, our back office staff do a few shifts here and there on the help desk (mainly when we’re short students). But we’ve found it valuable for the back office folks to take actual calls from time to time. They’ve made some configuration adjustments based on some of what they here to try and reduce the number of calls.

    When we look for help desk staff (mostly students right now), I tend to opt for folks with good communication and phone skills that have a knack for learning the tech stuff. They do much better than the hard core folks who just want to talk over everyone (not that all hard core folks are like that).

  4. g-lo said:

    Aug 14, 08 at 4:01 pm

    Replace “help desk employee” with “indie record store clerk.” But I might not fully understand what you mean because when you say help desk I think of Buscemi in Four Rooms. ‘Nuff said right?

    As long as we’re kicking this old skool … Everything that can be digital will be. Everything that can be outsourced will be. Everything that makes the beancounter happy will happen.

    All that said, the company which chains me to my desk every morning has a great support team and their mastery of our target audience’s native language (English) is a recognizable benefit to them that exceeds their merely 9-5 availability.

    Frankly, support is the cash cow of the business. They are paid accordingly and they leave the building at or before 5pm EST every day.

    Ok. So I’m not working in a world filled with half-assed work-study slackers. What if you had a “help desk” mentor that really focused the team on customer service. Like kick-ass customer service. And then gave him/her a bellhop hat like Stevey from Four Rooms?

    I’m only going to ramble and rant from here so I’ll spare you. But if you get the chance, hang out with Craig Newmark or watch an interview with him and drink a shot every time he says “customer service.” Call the cab first.

    Also, sorry for the absence. I’ll go leave some more inane commentary on all the posts I missed.

  5. admin said:

    Aug 15, 08 at 8:19 am

    Kyle: our help desk does do some field calls but those are mostly done by others. And I agree with outsourcing the backend stuff first, in principle. Keep the customer face the same and switch out infrastructure. The problem here is that there’s little community support for our help desk–it’s not as if the customers want the face to be the same.

    The big issue is that our help desk management sucks. That team needs to go. I can fire that team and hire a new person who could create the type of organization Bendy illustrates or I could outsource the call center and with the savings build a different team–one which could provide discipline-specific/onsite support to our academic areas. This change would privilege academic needs over administrative ones, but our core business is teaching and learning, so I think the alignment is appropriate. First, though, I need to do the math to make sure my numbers are correct.

  6. kdghty said:

    Aug 15, 08 at 10:54 am

    i love bendy’s recognition of the help desk as inherently dysfunctional as he has the misfortune of being one of the few i feel i can go whinge at when i f*** up. this is, i hope, less often than it used to be.

    i yearn for those temps he describes. i hunger for their little slacker selves. to all intents and purposes, i have been our help desk for going on 6 years – apparently *not* one of those promising employees bendy mentions – and i think i’m a lot less nice for it. i wasn’t a peach before, and maybe this is middle-aged curmudgeonliness that would have happened anyway, but it does wear on a soul.

    supposedly we’re moving to the service center model. i was initially resistant – i’m very glass-half-empty in my approach to the world – but now it appeals. a lot. in theory it should shift some of the burden. in practice, eh, i think it will show up some weaknesses. and i’m thinking that’s a good thing.

    we’re getting ready to move our offices and our help desk to a new location in a different building. we have never been able to get the space we need in our current location, so i’m looking forward to this. but we will be moving away from the customer population that visits the help desk the most. we are also discontinuing network accounts and data storage for this group and outsourcing in a way to services provided by the University. in effect, all we’ll be providing them are the computers in the labs. i’m torn about this. it seems a real pity to lose that contact.

    sorry this went on so long. bendy can be pleased as it is a whinge he was spared… :^)

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