Service Management Transition in the University: Three Keys to Success

EasyVista recently asked me to write about the evolution of service management in higher education. 

This is the third of four blogs on the topic of Transforming the University with IT Service Management.

For the CIO in transition to a Chief Services Provider, there are three keys to success: Speed and Continuity, Managing and Avoiding Risk, and Utilizing Service Management to Drive Value.

1. Speed and Continuity

Speed might seem obvious. Students, faculty, and other users expect services quickly. But it’s much more than that. The days are long gone when the holidays and school breaks allowed for downtime. Continuous uptime is the rule of the day and that means that speed is not just a function of service delivery, but of business continuity. If you need to make changes, the end user cannot tolerate downtime while you upgrade or migrate. This means we must be able to manage in parallel and redundant worlds.

What we call “hard cuts” are no longer acceptable; you cannot bring down one system and bring up another without disrupting vital services to end users and disappointing them in the process. It’s important to roll out new services in parallel and make systematic and incremental changes to the software. This has its roots in what used to be called CQI – Continuous Quality Improvement. Now we think of it as the Google model of software delivery.

Finding partners who already have solutions ready to go is the key to speed and quality without downtime. Turnkey solutions can be deployed quickly, creating a huge win, building trust and credibility, and helping gain support for new directions and tools. It’s critical that this initial win be as inexpensive as possible in order to create the largest impact, making it easier to sell the next great IT investment. A solid track record of successful, rapid service delivery deployments ensures cost will become less critical and ROI more readily available for campus IT.

2. Managing and Avoiding Risk

Managing and avoiding risk is a little more complex. By risk, we primarily mean how we manage the gap between the services we have and the services we need to have—including ensuring the successful deployment of improved services. Because our customers/business partners in higher education are tech-savvy and under substantial pressure to meet their own goals, they often have significant needs without cross-organizational prioritization. We have to consistently help them deliver better enrollment services systems, provide better data and reporting, and keep up with any other needs they have.

We cannot, of course, deliver every single new feature on Day One. And of course we have to solve the prioritization problem. Regardless of whether we source the changes internally or externally, we need to build and communicate a roll-out schedule for new features. This means making sure something rolls out regularly. If one feature is going to take six months and another three months, then you need to make it look like they are both being delivered as part of a regular cycle of upgrades. The challenge is managing the schedule so that customers are seeing steady, incremental changes. This means publishing a schedule in advance. It also means managing risk by working through user acceptance testing, strong usability and user experience testing, and involving your partner business units (and other IT units) in the deployment. You cannot expect to toss a ready-to-deploy update over to your customer services team the day before deployment and have them be ready to run with it. They need to be in the discussions during design and project startup and not just because that is necessary for them to be ready to support it—they might actually have some customer insights that would be helpful for your developers.

3. Utilizing Service Management to Drive Value

With the pressures of speed and risk, the need for help is clear. Utilizing external partners is already part of the fabric of service delivery. Using one that is very good at service management can be a game changer. By delivering new services quickly and with a partner that has already done the kind of testing necessary to make sure the tool works for academic audiences, you can achieve quick wins. More importantly, you can begin to change the conversation about service delivery away from just technology services and to more comprehensive views of services delivered on campus. A student, going to a mobile app to get help should be able to get help on all services, not just those provided by IT. Moreover, a service management partner can help with marketing, with making the value case for IT, and with the incrementalism necessary to deliver a steady stream of improvements that won’t overwhelm your customers.

Likewise, they may already know how to connect to institutional data stored in Banner, PeopleSoft, and Salesforce (among others). By leveraging this data to create more personalized service management and delivery, you will dramatically improve user satisfaction, although you may need to address data governance if that is not a topic already under discussion on your campus.