Higher Ed Service Catalogs: Six Top Questions Answered

While CIOs across industries are grappling with new threats and opportunities presented by revolutionary technological change, those who work in college and university settings face unique challenges.

Top questions about higher ed service catalogsWriting on LinkedIn Pulse, Tracie Bryant notes than in addition to common CIO challenges like budgeting, strategy, and training, higher ed CIOs must also address issues like scaling up bandwidth to handle “the booming popularity of online classes,” and implementing an advanced technology infrastructure to attract the best and brightest students and faculty (as well as donations).

Bryant also points out that because “It takes significant time and effort to make the business case for new technology, to evaluate it and demonstrate proof of concept,” plus additional time for budget approval, competitive bidding, and acquisition, higher ed CIOs run the risk that “the solution may finally be procured—only to find that, while all the protocols and approval levels were being respected and ran through—said technology is already obsolete.”

Start by Optimizing Operations with Service Catalogs

Freeing up time, talent and budget for strategic priorities requires improved efficiency in IT operations. And avoiding the risk of technological obsolescence requires an agile approach to technology adoption, where “quick wins” can be achieved and implementation scaled more broadly over time.

Adopting an enterprise request management (ERM) approach to service catalogs—that is, combining a single, intuitive portal with back-end automation of approval, scheduling, and fulfillment processes—helps in both regards. It increases efficiency by eliminating manual steps (and their attendant costs) from internal service delivery processes, moving phone calls to less-expensive online self-service, and routing requests more accurately.

In addition, ERM, though designed to ultimately provide a campus-wide approach to service management, can be rolled out incrementally. The enterprise service catalog portal can start with just one or a few common service offerings (usually, though not necessarily, IT services) and gradually be expanded to include more services from different functional groups.

Not surprisingly, service catalogs are high on the list of technologies college and university CIOs are exploring. Higher ed CIOs have questions about service catalogs, some in common with CIOs across industries, some unique to the campus technology environment. Here are answers to six questions higher ed CIOs often have about service catalogs and the ERM model.

How do you get started with a higher ed service catalog?

As noted above, service catalogs often start in IT (though that’s not a requirement). The key is to choose request management technology that can be used to build a centralized, intuitive portal (so dead-simple to use no training is required) that can be integrated with in-place access or identity management systems, display the status of pending/open requests, and of course use responsive design for optimal display on mobile devices.

In addition, the request management portal software should support unlimited users, catalogs, and languages (to better accommodate students whose first language is not English). The vendor should also have a proven track record of success in education.

The portal should connect to a workflow orchestration engine than can integrate with existing departmental (ITSM, finance, HR, facilities, etc.) systems as well as SMS and email to automate approval, scheduling and fulfillment processes. This should provide easy, graphical tools which enable non-technical process owners to build and manage their own service workflows, as well as complete metrics for service level monitoring.

And of course it all needs to scale across the institution, multiple audiences, and thousands of users.

How do you measure and report on the service catalog?

There are two types of measurement, one from the standpoint of use and one from the service performance perspective.

User adoption and satisfaction can be measured through automated, context-sensitive surveys; though uptake (the magnitude of call deflection from the help desk); and by the number and frequency of requests from users to add more services to the catalog.

Service performance can measured qualitatively using surveys as noted above, and quantitatively through service level metrics like the elapsed time to complete each task in a service fulfillment process.

Who are the different audiences for the service catalog?

A key difference between business and higher ed service catalogs is the diversity of audiences. Within the typical corporation, the primary service catalog users are employees. Certain service offerings may also be extended to channel partners and customers.

In the campus setting, however, audiences can include:

  • students
  • faculty
  • non-faculty employees (administration, facilities, etc.)
  • parents
  • alumni (sports, post-grad career services, donors)

While there is some overlap between groups, the “package” of services offered to each group is clearly distinct. The ERM approach works well here both because of the wide ranges of services that can be presented (from sports tickets to financial aid information to transportation scheduling to bookstore sales to transportation to student medical services to…) and because the types of services displayed can be customized for each audience and interest, based on individual login.

How do you promote the service catalog and get people to use it?

Due to its broad applicability to different groups, the ERM portal can be publicized and promoted similarly to any other web-based offerings of the college or university (and potentially even replace some of these offerings by consolidating services in one portal). This includes:

  • Printed literature
  • Direct mail
  • Email messages
  • The school website
  • At events (e.g. school visits, orientation)
  • Alumni communications
  • On-site (in the bookstore, libraries, computer labs, dorm bulletin boards, etc.)

How do you define and create new services?

As alluded to above, it’s essential that the toolset chosen for the institution’s service catalog provide graphical workflow process mapping tools that enable service / process owners to design, test, optimize, and deploy their own “service items,” with minimal help from IT.

Such tools accomplish three key objectives. First, they lower the risk of resistance to contributing to the catalog from service process owners in HR, finance, facilities, or other non-IT groups because the workflow automation tool 1) is easy to use, and 2) integrates to the departmental management systems they are already familiar and comfortable with.

Second, they allow the catalog to be “built out” much more quickly. With each process owner designing his or her own service items, new services can be added quickly from across various functional departments.

Third, this reduces the workload on IT. The IT group is responsible only for building out its own service offerings (and providing some technical assistance to other service process owners as needed). Enabling process owners to create their own services—rather than requiring IT personnel to gather requirements, build processes, test them in conjunction with process owners, go back and make modifications, etc. —everyone involved is able to use their time more productively.

How do you organize services within the portal?

Services should always be organized from the user perspective—not based on which department provides those services. Employees should not need to know or care if a particular service is provided by HR or finance (or some combination of efforts by different shared services groups). Parents and students shouldn’t need to know or care if a particular request is handled by administration, admissions, financial aid, or another department.

When organizing services, think in terms of what’s easiest and makes most sense from the user perspective (keeping in mind the different audiences for the service catalog). When in doubt (or even when not in doubt), test!

ERM: Stress Reduction for Higher Ed CIOs

Ongoing technological change, competition for students and staff, tight budgets and other factors will continue to challenge college and university CIOs. Adopting an ERM strategy to manage requests from the diverse set of audiences served by a campus service catalog won’t eliminate stress completely, but it will help by freeing up resources and making service fulfillment more efficient.

The combination of reduced service delivery costs, measurable service quality improvement, and improved user experience should help higher ed CIOs rest a bit easier.

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