6. Help and Information

6.1. The Help Desk (Advisory) Service

For many years OUCS has provided a walk-in general Advisory Service. With the increasing demand for more specialist knowledge on the one hand, and huge increases in the usage of alternative means of help provision such as email and web services on the other, it has long been apparent that the level of provision in this specific area was in need of review.

During the period covered by this Report, several scenarios were discussed, and a number of options explored. The continued devolution of front-line support to distributed IT support staff, and the expansion and improvement of OUCS training and services encouraged the belief that Help Desk provision could be centralised and reduced without any loss of service in the long term; it was proposed that a new Help Desk management post should be established. An investigation of appropriate support technologies was also instigated, with a view to providing a more professional level of service for incoming calls, automatic routing to experts and so forth.

As expected, the level of personal callers during this period has dropped almost as rapidly as the number of email and telephone enquiries has increased. A systematic review of the whole provision of advisory facilities is underway, with a view to amalgamating the currently dispersed provision, and to tailoring it to better match current patterns of demand. Implementations of the recommendations arising from this review should be completed by Easter 2002.

6.2. Registration Service

The registration service not only registers all users for the various OUCS services (increasingly, offering Web interfaces so that the process can be self-service), but also ensures that OUCS has current and correct data on staff, students, visitors, etc from the University Offices, and maintains OUCS' own database of individuals. It also assists users with queries relating to their accounts, eg passwords, email quotas, disk quotas, expiry and renewal dates, etc. The numbers of accounts held on OUCS services continues to grow [figure Figure 20, Username Entries in OUCS Registration Databases].

Username Entries in OUCS Registration Databases
Figure 20. Username Entries in OUCS Registration Databases

6.3. Support for Distributed IT Staff

As indicated in section 7. IT Training, OUCS is committed to providing a range of special services in support of distributed IT staff, to more fully implement a seamless hierarchy of IT support services throughout the University. Special training offerings is but one element of this. `Fast-track' access to the Registration services for registered ITSS has been implemented. This appears to be working satisfactorily, though some improvements in feedback are being developed.

Much effort has also been devoted to developing the IT Support Staff Register. The Register will be used for:
  • Fast-track service to Registration;
  • Access to Help Desk Service for ITSS;
  • ITSS mailing lists.
As indicated above, extra support has been devoted to ITSS training and development activities. These have included:
  • setting up of special courses;
  • creating a Continuous Professional Development (CPD) scheme promoting ITSS;
  • maintenance of a Calendar of events;
  • regular weekly seminars;
  • technical workshops and talks by internal and external experts;
  • discount arrangements with local commercial training companies;
  • bringing commercial courses to Oxford to reduce costs;
  • Web pages giving advice and information on technical certification.

OUCS is very supportive of the ITSS Annual Conference (the 6th), which this year was held in the University Museum and Keble College. Once again this proved to be well-attended and a great success, and overall received high rankings in evaluations.

6.4. Information Services

OUCS publishes a variety of information, in several formats. It includes publicity leaflets describing each main service offered by OUCS (these are widely distributed, especially among students, at the start of each academic year), training course notes (issued to all course attendees), the IT News printed and Web-based newsletter, and a very extensive range of Web pages describing OUCS facilities and services, and general advice on good practice in IT use. Some 5,000 Web pages are currently published by OUCS.

6.5. OUCS Web Pages

OUCS information publication activities are now almost entirely on the Web. During the year, conversion of the OUCS web pages to XML markup, and implementation of a more flexible delivery system on a dedicated web server, were the main items of work. A major rewrite of the pages about email was well received, and points the way for similar changes in 2001/2, together with significant style redesign.

6.6. Publicizing OUCS

In a university as diverse, complex and distributed (logically and physically) as Oxford, it is vital that OUCS undertakes various forms of advertising, in order that all members can be made aware of the services provided for them.
  • Most advertising is done at the end of September, at the beginning of January and again about Easter time. Introductory Leaflets are circulated, as well as a Shop Price Lists and Training Course dates.
  • Advertising also takes place through the various University publications such as the prospectuses, departmental information for students, staff development brochures, OUSU booklets, University diary, and Oxford Blueprint. These are continually updated as requested.
  • Posters distributed during the year advertising the ECDL and training courses proved popular, as had others when special summer courses had been run in the past.

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