Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Understanding our help desk

At the SJSU Information Technology Support Services (ITSS) Help Desk, sometimes called the SJSU Help Desk, we are not a dedicated help desk. In fact if your vision of what a help desk does is based on common industry standards; you might say we are not a help desk at all. We are a computer lab which supports over 500 users on an average M-Th semester day. We check out laptops, we schedule and assist users of a busy conference room and we also perform help desk functions. Sometimes our lack of focus on one task interferes with our ability to perform some basic help desk tasks, like answering the phones.

Here are just a few common scenarios:
  • As a help desk, there are four ways people can seek out our support. We offer walk-up support, online support via e-mail and iSupport, phone support and support via our Web site. If we are assisting walk-up customers and running the lab, at the same time, our ability to cover phones may be compromised.
  • If our support representatives are busy checking people into, or out of the lab, assisting students in the lab, assisting users of our conference room or checking laptops in and out of the lab our ability to cover phones may be compromised.
  • We are currently on reduced summer hours and have made further cuts to conserve funds. We only have two students covering early mornings and late afternoons. If one is already on the phone, on an extended call with a customer, and the other is covering the lab our ability to cover phones may be compromised.
  • If a student assistant is on a break, in the rest room, and/or one or both of our full-time support staff is/are out (in a meeting, on sick leave, on break, in training, or on vacation) our ability to cover phones may be compromised.
  • After 4 p.m. we are sometimes busy helping customers in the lab who are trying to wrap up their work at 4:45 p.m., when we close.
  • Sometimes lab customers complain about the noise generated by the phones, and people talking on the phones. Our students have been told not to turn the phones down; but this has happened.
In addition to being a help desk/computer lab, and the other tasks previously identified,  we also support software licensing and distribution for SJSU. Also, we have a somewhat vague lead role supporting iSupport, SJSU's ticketing system. Plus, we are planning on how we are going to be supporting two LMS platforms in the coming term.

I think metaphors are helpful in building a mental image. So, please forgive me for offering a couple of metaphors:
  • During the semester we are open from 8:00 am to 9:45 pm. Our staffing levels are similar to a Starbucks. We support all SJSU's students and employees and applicants, and anybody else who may have business with SJSU. (One manager recently said, that can total up to 100,000 people.) We have two staff leads, one morning and one evening (when we are on semester hours.) We also have 5 to 25 student assistants who work from 5 to 20 hours a week, depending on assigned staffing levels and their availability.
  • I know folks expect us always to be able to pick up the phone when it rings. Unfortunately, we have to staff based on the resources we have. A help desk can be like a fire department. If all of the fire-personnel are out putting out fires and the phone rings, there is nobody in the fire station to answer the phone. But, if there are no fires and no phone calls; you have a lot of fire-personnel sitting around making chili. When there are no fires we seem overstaffed. But, there is no way to schedule fires in advance. Like the fire department, if all our available staff are already on calls, we may not be able to answer a ringing phone!
I am attaching a photo of our lab. It was taken early on a morning when we were not busy. In the photo you can see our help desk, two students, the lab of 34 computers behind them and the metal cabinets on the right side of the frame where our checkout laptops are housed.
We are always looking for ways to improve service. Our role is on the verge of another huge expansion. Especially as we consider the support roles that are still undefined supporting new initiatives including VDI, Cisco and the migration of student e-mail to Google. Without either a huge infusion of resources, a re-imagining of the concept of "help desk" at SJSU and/or a focusing of our mission, I am not sure how we are going to succeed.

Blow the Whistle on Government Fraud, Waste, and Abuse

This is from From Shawn Bibb, SJSU's CFO & Vice President for Administration and Finance:
The California State Auditor is your confidential avenue for reporting any type of improper activities by state agencies or employees. It is your responsibility as a government employee to report any type of fraud, waste, or abuse, which ultimately protects scarce budget dollars. Moreover, with the significant influx of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, it is important for you to be alert to any suspected misuse of these funds and report them to the California State Auditor.

If you report an impropriety, you are protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act, which:

  • Requires the State Auditor to protect your identity (except from law enforcement);
  • Prohibits intimidation, threats, or coercion by state employees that could interfere with your right to disclose improper governmental activities.
In 2010 alone, the State Auditor received 4,203 complaints from state employees and members of the public. Such complaints triggered investigations that have revealed millions of dollars in wasteful spending in recent years, such as:

  • Two departments wasted $580,000 in state funds by continuing to lease 5,900 square feet of office space that had not been occupied for more than four years.
  • A department employee misused state time and equipment to teach at a state university and to give presentations for a professional organization during her work hours at a cost to the State of $70,105. 
  • A department supervisor misused the time of two subordinates by assigning them to perform clerical or administrative duties rather than providing direct care to patients, resulting in a loss to the State of $110,797.
San Jose State University
Jim Cimino, Office of the AVP, Human Resources
UPD Building, 3rd Floor
One Washington Square
San Jose, CA  95192-0046

You have three ways to confidentially report information to the California State Auditor:

Call the Whistleblower Hotline at:
866-293-8729 (TTY)
916-322-2603 (Fax)

Mail information to:
Investigations, Bureau of State Audits
555 Capitol Mall, Suite 300
Sacramento, CA 95814

Submit a complaint online to:

(Note: complaints not accepted via email.)

You may also call the California Attorney General’s confidential whistleblower hotlines at:
800-952-5225 or 916-322-3360