The Challenge of I.T. Customer Service in Higher Education

With the rapid advance of consumer technology in recent years, customer demand for new technology solutions in the workplace has increased dramatically. For support organizations, this has created new challenges to provide technology related services while maintaining security and providing greater customer service. This problem is magnified for higher education Information Technology (IT) support groups who are struggling to keep up with customer technology demand in an environment where the academic culture is very permissive but resources dedicated to change are limited. Curtis Bonk, Ph.D., Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University, states that educators have an ethical obligation to consider using technology to enable students’ learning. Higher education IT organizations have the same obligation to consider the use and support of technology for enabling both students’ learning and empowering instructors’ use of technology to achieve these outcomes. Providing good customer service while meeting this obligation represents the major challenge to higher education IT support organizations.

Success in Information Technology is typically associated with a monetary goal, either in revenue or savings achieved from the implementation of a technology project, with a new solution that is considered to be implemented on time and under budget, or with a project that has achieved the internal goals of what the IT organization desired. The customer’s input is often overlooked. IT frequently fails to ask:

“What are the benefits to the customer?”
“Did the implementation achieve what our users want?”
“If the new service is implemented, how does this change our relationship to our customers?”

Attention to these customer-centric questions, or the lack thereof, is what promotes either good or bad customer service from the IT organization. Achieving good IT customer service in higher education calls for a fundamental change in mindset toward improved communications and a focus on the people aspect of IT service—regardless of whether it’s the employee or a customer. Everyone should be considered a customer, but it takes time to build this mindset, and it definitely requires team members who have a “Servant’s Heart” approach.

Simultaneously, the organization must continue its focus on understanding new technologies and how they help anticipate and are tailored to customer needs, as well as how these technologies can contribute to the effective attainment of business goals. Being consistently responsive to customer needs via their questions, complaints, and requests determines your relationship with the customer. It is this responsive quality of your service offerings that will either enhance or degrade the relationship with your customer.

In order to achieve a greater customer relationship while providing IT customer service in higher education, our organization has focused on the needs and the care of our customers by:

Embracing a customer-centric approach to providing IT services. This is a shift from the old days of IT being perceived as dictating what services are provided. It places the focus on customer needs and how IT can partner with the business in fulfilling those needs.
Acknowledging the successes and failures of our organization’s efforts. By transparently acknowledging our organization’s strengths and weaknesses, the organization is better positioned to understand our capabilities in providing IT services.
Recognizing within our organization those areas where gaps exist in providing good service and working to improve those areas with measurable and sustained results.
Empowering our customers at every level. Our organization starts by empowering our IT team members through training, decision making, and team member effectiveness. From a higher education perspective, empowering our team members enables our University faculty and staff to instruct without technical issues and to provide a great learning experience for our students, which translates to improving the learning outcomes for our students—empowering them to achieve their educational goals and aspirations.

In summary, exercising greater responsiveness in your communications, acknowledging your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing what actions are needed to improve overall service will result in the empowerment of your customers. It is this approach to your customer that will improve your relationship with the customer, resulting in a greater customer service outcome.

Mastering the compass: leveraging data to provide direction

The growing amount and accessibility of data can be a significant contributor guiding internal audit toward its True North—or, as sometimes happens, too much data can result in taking internal audit off course when it is not effectively used. Today there are 2.7 zettabytes of data in the digital universe, and by 2020, big data is predicted to be 50 times what it is today.1 As business operations become more proficient in their use of both structured and unstructured data, analytics are informing decisions across the business in ways never before considered.

For many years, internal audit has focused on using data in limited ways to conduct analytics for fieldwork purposes—commonly known as computer-assisted audit techniques. With advancements in technology, ease of use, and affordability of tools, now more than ever internal audit can focus on building a keen sense of direction to leverage data in a way that provides greater business insights, increases efficiency, enhances monitoring activities, and allows the company to respond better to risks. Leveraging data is not a destination of its own, but rather a mindset shift to integrate data into the audit life cycle—from risk assessment to planning, fieldwork, execution, monitoring, and reporting.

Our survey and interviews revealed that most, if not all, internal audit functions are thinking about how they can better leverage data to be not only more efficient but also far more effective. Most are experimenting with expanding its use, particularly in such areas as fraud management, compliance monitoring, and risk analytics (Figure 1). However, a critical difference between where internal audit functions are today and their True North lies in how data is being used. While 82% of chief audit executives (CAEs) report they leverage data analytics in some specific audits, just 48% use analytics for scoping decisions, and only 43% leverage data to inform their risk assessment. Thus, many still report they have a substantial journey ahead.

Internal audit functions that are evolving in pace with the business are more advanced in their use of data, including wider application across the audit life cycle. For example, risk identification has traditionally been done through a combination of executive meetings and the use of limited financial data. Internal audit functions that are headed toward True North are using data to identify where risks reside in the organization in order to determine where they should focus their efforts. They are also leveraging data not only to focus on where and what could be audited but also to decide whether auditing is needed at all. Ultimately, success with data is predicated on connecting data to insights about the business and the risks it is facing.

CAEs report that obtaining data skills is a top challenge. While 65% of CAEs report they have some data skills on their team, either in-house or through third parties, our interviews revealed a lack of the combined business acumen and data skills. Internal audit functions with sufficient size and scale are reporting the ability to invest in a combination of in-house and third-party resources, while many are turning completely to third parties to gain more immediate access to business-minded data skill sets.

Enhancements in tools have made it easier and more intuitive for business users to access data and gain comfort with how data can be leveraged. By providing a better view of risks, data visualization tools are enabling internal audit functions to absorb information in new and more constructive ways so they can identify and respond to emerging trends faster.

For those functions that are not far along the maturity curve of embedding data analytics into their audit life cycle, we have found that there is a need to work through various roadblocks, create quick wins, and gain momentum. In order to do this, many internal audit functions are still starting with pilot data programs.2 These pilots serve as proof of concepts for both stakeholders and those in the internal audit function. Pilots give practitioners the opportunity to work with data, get comfortable with it, and increase their creativity in thinking about how to use it. Sharing early wins with stakeholders will jump-start the momentum needed to drive more creative use of data.

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1 “Infographic: The Explosion of Big Data,” sales-i, October 16, 2014, accessed January 26, 2015.

2 For more information on how to create best-in-class enterprise risk management, refer to PwC’s 2015 Risk in Review study.

The Value of Tech Education

Technology has transformed the way we do almost everything. And yet, all too often, we resign kids to a use-only mode. Teaching students to create, rather than consume—to understand how technology works, not just how to use it—serves to strengthen a host of lifelong skills like logic, problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking. You see that kid playing on his computer? He may be the next Steve Jobs. And that teenage girl building a robot? She may discover a new advancement in biomedical engineering. But those possibilities may become realities only if we are able to help them connect the dots from playing with technology to using it to create something new to real world jobs.

Fortunately, there are a host of programs throughout San Antonio to help them on their way—from maker camps and free coding events to certification programs and boot camps to degree programs. All are outlined in the recently released San Antonio Technology Education Report, which was researched and developed by the 80/20 Foundation. “It’s our education system,” reads the report, “that allows a company to continue hiring talented individuals. The cities that produce high-skilled technology talent at the necessary magnitude for companies rise above the rest in building a vibrant, prosperous community in our modern economy.”

In fact, according to “The Hidden STEM Economy” by the Brookings Institution, “STEM-oriented metropolitan economies perform strongly on a wide range of economic indicators, from innovation to employment. Job growth, employment rates, patenting, wages and exports are all higher in more STEM-based economies.” So what are you waiting for? If you know a student, point them to one of the many fabulous camps, events, or classes. Don’t know a youngster? Then support their education—volunteer or donate to those who are working to build programs to fuel a STEM-based economy right here in our own backyard.

5 Steps To Protect Your Business From Cyber Crime

A Seattle company was recently broken into and a stash of old laptops was stolen. Just a typical everyday crime by typical everyday thieves. These laptops weren’t even being used by anyone in the company. The crime turned out to be anything but ordinary when those same thieves (cyber-criminals) used data from the laptops to obtain information and siphon money out of the company via fraudulent payroll transactions. On top of stealing money, they also managed to steal employee identities.

Another small company was hacked by another “company” that shared the same high-rise office building with them. Management only became aware of the theft once they started seeing unusual financial transactions in their bank accounts. Even then, they didn’t know if there was internal embezzlement or external cyber theft. It turned out to be cyber theft. The thief in this case drove a Mercedes and wore a Rolex watch . . . and looked like anyone else walking in and out of their building. Welcome to the age of cybercrime.

You Are Their Favorite Target
One of the biggest issues facing small businesses (SMBs) in the fight against cybercrime is the lack of a cyber-security plan. While 83% lack a formal plan, over 69% lack even an informal one. Half of small business owners believe that cybercrime will never affect them. In fact, small businesses are a cybercriminal’s favorite target! Why? Small businesses are not prepared and they make it easier on criminals.

The result? Cyber-attacks cost SMBs an average of $188,242 each incident, and nearly two-thirds of the businesses affected are out of business within 6 months (2011 Symantec/NCSA Study). A separate study by Verizon showed that over 80% of small business cybercrime victims were due to insufficient network security (wireless and password issues ranked highest). With insecure networks and no formal plan to combat them, we make it easy on the criminals.

How They Attack
The #1 money-generating technique these “bad guys” use is to infect your systems with malware so that whenever you (or your employees) visit a web site and enter a password (Facebook, bank, payroll, etc.) the malware programs harvest that data and send it off to the bad guys to do their evil stuff.

They can get to you through physical office break-ins, “wardriving” (compromising defenseless wireless networks), or e-mail phishing scams and harmful web sites. Cyber-criminals are relentless in their efforts, and no one is immune to their tricks

5 Steps To Protect Your Business

  1. Get Educated. Find out the risks and educate your staff.
  2. Do A Threat Assessment. Examine your firewall, anti-virus protection and anything connected to your network. What data is sensitive or subject to data-breach laws?
  3. Create A Cyber-Security Action Plan. Your plan should include both education and a “fire drill.”
  4. Monitor Consistently. Security is never a one-time activity. Monitoring 24/7 is critical.
  5. Re-Assess Regularly. New threats emerge all the time and are always changing. You can only win by staying ahead!