by Mark Fitzgerald
Date Published - Last Updated February 25, 2016


Boise State University was recently recognized by Online Colleges as one of the “eleven colleges going all in on mobile.” Strategically, the use of mobile devices and technology in learning spaces is part of the university’s plan to “create a signature, high-quality educational experience for all students.” The inclusion of technology in the university’s strategic plan has prompted us to rethink the support we deliver to students, staff, and faculty of Boise State University.

In asking students to bring mobile devices for use in their coursework, we’re engaging in a form of BYOD. We’ve worked with students’ personal equipment for many years; the difference now is that the technology is an integral and active part of their learning. And it mirrors what’s happening in industry. In the past, it was not uncommon to have employees go home and work on their email on a personal device. Now we’re seeing more and more that employees are required to use their own technology to accomplish their jobs.

On the surface, one might think that a mobile workforce (or student body) using its own technology would increase demand for distance support. Though we have seen a modest increase in distance support, we’ve actually seen a marked demand for in-person support. From our perspective, mobility has made it easier for our clients to come to us, rather than us having to go to them.

Tearing Down the Wall

With more and more people coming to our office for help, we saw that we needed to change. Though we were configured to handle walk-in traffic, our building was located on the periphery of campus, which wasn’t ideal for visitors. With a renewed focus on strategic alignment, we made a proposal to move our help desk from the periphery to the busiest and most central building on campus. We literally wanted to bring down the walls that separated us from the communities we serve, to remove the barriers to entry and provide visibility into our services and our people.

Walk-in support is extremely common in the higher-education industry: HDI research has shown that 80 percent of higher education institutions offer walk-in support. Through the HDI Higher Education Forum meetings, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about the many different approaches to designing walk-in support, as well as seeing it in action in other organizations. We’ve looked at Apple Stores and large corporations, such as Google, and observed their walk-in support configurations as well as commercial implementations.

Based on these observations, we decided to set up an open room with spaces for multiple functions. Branded as “The Zone,” this centralized space houses our call center and a walk-in support counter, in addition to spaces where faculty and students can check out new and different types of multimedia technology. There is also a computer lab and an area to print documents. The Zone has become a hub and a symbol of our commitment to concierge service.

Knowing Our Boundaries

Our customer care staff had many concerns, both about these new concierge initiatives and physically relocating our help desk. The staff wasn’t excited about the prospect of working in a fishbowl; they were uncomfortable being on display. There were also many concerns around boundaries, expectations, and the fear of an increased support load. As we moved forward, we tried to address these concerns, but we knew going into it that there was a lot we didn’t know.

The initial thought was that BYOD would be a free-for-all, that the entire community would show up demanding that we support a backlog of broken technology. But this wasn’t the case. Instead, we drew a line at hardware. We had one simple rule: “We do not crack the case.” In our situation, this boundary helped us set reasonable expectations that we could meet with our customers.

The fear of an increase in our workload was a valid concern. At the same time we were increasing BYOD support and making our walk-in support more visible, we introduced several additional service offerings. Rather than heavily communicating our move, we opened up The Zone. As a result, we saw a slow and steady increase in walk-in traffic, instead of a massive charge. In fact, rather than see a marked increase in support tickets, our walk-in traffic began to take the place of what would have
been escalations to desktop support. Fortunately, we were well prepared for this shift.

Desktop Support at the Help Desk

Our approach to desktop support has been what the 2012 HDI Desktop Support Practices & Salary Report defines as “a support center function where analysts rotate support center and desktop roles as scheduled.” But the numbers show that our approach actually puts us in the minority. Only seven percent of organizations approach desktop support in this manner, while 59 percent of the industry treats desktop support and support as distinct and separate functions.

This left us questioning what desktop support actually is. HDI defines the desktop support function as “primarily responsible for responding to tickets (incidents, questions, and service requests) from end users that relate to IT hardware, software and applications used directly by the end users.” This definition is very similar to ITIL’s definition of the service desk: “The single point of contact between the service provider and the users. A typical service desk manages incidents and service requests, and also handles communication with the users.”

At Boise State, there’s no difference between desktop support and the help desk. We’re divided more along the lines of having one team focused on first contact support and a second team that provides dispatch support. This definition is the key to understanding the cost element.

The 2011 HDI Support Center Practices & Salary Report stated that walk-in support was the most expensive support channel (median = $20). We wanted to couple this data with industry costs on desktop support. In our analysis, we found that desktop support escalations are far more expensive than first contact resolution. Assuming that the normal flow of a desktop support incident starts with a call to the help desk and then an escalation to the desktop support team, and extrapolating based on the phone support and walk-in data in the 2011 report, we can assume that each desktop support call costs $37 per ticket.

Walk-ins combine the initial call and the subsequent escalation into a single event. Think about the potential cost reductions. After an escalation, we spend a significant amount of time scheduling appointments and tracking down individuals for additional information. We also spend a lot of time traveling between offices. Even if all we save is a five-minute walk for each ticket, over time the time we save really adds up. Any way you look at it, walk-in support is helping us lower a key desktop support metric: time to resolve.

The Benefits

Before we moved into the centralized open space, walk-in traffic was a distraction, as someone had to disconnect from the phones and deal with each person who came in. This gave customers the impression that we were giving the walk-ins some sort of preference or priority when, in fact, we always dealt with people in the order in which they arrived, whether by phone or in person.

Now that we have a sustained walk-in customer base, we have a position dedicated to handling that traffic, which has made it clear that walk-in support isn’t all that different from any other support channel. We treat it exactly the same as our other channels; we perform predictive analysis and we use formulas such as Erlang C to calculate how many people we need to have on staff. To us, walk-in traffic is no different from answering the phones, returning emails, or dealing with chat support. It’s simply another tool in our belt.

Not only has walk-in support improved the way we deliver services, it’s enhanced our image on campus by demonstrating our engagement with the mission and strategic direction of the university. As faculty and administrators of the university pass by, they see our department actively engaged in the learning process. It shows that we are not just a reactionary cost center; we’re actively helping students achieve their goals at the university.

We’ve also seen improvements in customer satisfaction. For some, it’s easier to walk into the help desk than it is to call us, and if we can solve an issue on first contact without having to escalate it, people are immediately satisfied. People like options, and adding walk-in service to our suite gives the impression that that we offer more services. Turns out, our faculty, students, and staff really appreciate that.

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HDI’s research has indicated that walk-in support is common in smaller organizations (65%), but less so in midsized and large organizations (50 percent and 46 percent, respectively). Whether this is due to the challenges of supporting multiple locations or simply to economies of scale, thanks to BYOD, shared workspaces, and walk-in support, desktop support as we’ve known it is changing. In our experience, walk-in support is financially advantageous, it supports our mission, and it improves our customer service. It also aligns us with Boise State University’s strategic direction and helps the university provide students with a high-quality educational experience.

Your situation may be different, but we think you can be confident saying, “Mr. Service Desk Manager, tear down this wall!”


Mark Fitzgerald has a passion for teaching, and working at universities for nearly fifteen years has opened up many opportunities to teach in both formal and informal settings. In addition to managing Boise State University’s Help Desk of Distinction, Mark teaches part-time in the College of Business and Economics. He has presented several times at HDI conferences, local chapter meetings, and HDI Higher Education Forum meetings. Mark is also a member of the steering committee for the HDI Higher Education Forum and a member of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board.

Tag(s): byod, case study, desktop support, service desk


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