All about IT Customer Services

Every year the IT Services Customer Services Group helps thousands of us with IT queries about all manner of things, but they do so much more as well.

We asked the Director of Customer Services, John Ireland, to tell us a little about himself and about the great work that our Customer Services colleagues do to help keep all of us working and learning at Oxford.

Please tell us a little about yourself 

I’m an analyst at heart. I like metrics, data, processes and understanding why things happen the way they do. This way we can identify the least expensive, minimally invasive change to improve the way things happen. However, this has to square off against the big picture. It’s easy to get bogged down in details, so I have to keep a focus on what is really important out of everything that’s happening. 

It’s no secret that I’m a keen walker, and this little-vs-big mindset translates perfectly… you need to look at the details on the ground to avoid tripping over and to navigate small features – but you also need to keep sight of the goal/checkpoint so you can stay on the right overall track. 

Can you tell us a little about your Oxford journey so far?

My career at Oxford started back in 1998 when I became the first ever full-time IT Officer at Jesus College. 

As a team of one I managed everything systems administration to website development and all the rest in between. Over my 10-year stint the team grew and increasingly adopted shared and central IT services. 

In 2009 I moved to work in  central University IT.  My team introduced services such as Shibboleth, Core User Directory and OxFile. Critically however, we adopted an IT service management approach with standardised processes enabling us to streamline support work, become more productive, and reduce operational risk. 

A change of tack came in 2012 when I became the Programme Manager for the ICT Central Coordination Programme, which led to the creation of IT Services. As part of this I also co-led workstreams to develop the future vision for IT service management and IT operations in the new department. Successful in my application to become director of the newly formed Customer Services Group, my challenge was to implement that vision, initially by moving the whole of IT Services to new shared processes for IT support and operations.  

The Customer Services Group has continually reshaped, streamlining and responding to University needs. Formed in February 2013, it initially comprised the central service desk, desktop support and IT Support Staff Service (ITS3). Support for enterprise applications (Finance, HR, DARS, Student Systems) came into the group in 2015 and was then devolved to the relevant service units in 2017; the IT Learning Centre and Educational Media Services joined us from 2016 and 2018, respectively. 

What excites you about your role?

I love that my role has opportunities to make a real and tangible difference to individuals on a daily basis. Sometimes that happens through a direct interaction – a meeting, call or Teams chat where I can offer a solution to something that initially appeared incomprehensible or impossible. Sometimes it’s through indirect action at scale – using data analysis and insight to make a seemingly small change in how we work that improves the service received by 30,000 customers over 125,000 support calls in the next 12 months. 

What does the Customer Services group do and how does it benefit the University?

You have almost certainly come across Customer Services already…if you’ve ever logged a support call, used a managed staff PC or looked something up on our IT help website then we were there for you. We’ve probably engaged you and your team to help resolve support calls. If you’ve taken IT courses (including the Information Security and Privacy Awareness module) or used LinkedIn Learning…yep, us again. Did you attend the ICTF Conference? We handle all the logistics and media to make this happen.  

Put simply, Customer Services connects staff and students with the IT they need to work. IT services only deliver value when they are simultaneously provided and consumed – so a problem on either side means that the wheels are spinning to no avail! Customer Services are often the first point of contact when an IT service is not working properly – we gather information and engage relevant teams to fix this on the provider side. We help staff, students and visitors when they’re having difficulty using IT, which may include aspects of the end-to-end solution that are not provided by IT Services. We help staff and students to develop their digital skills, so they know when and how to use IT to get their work done efficiently, securely and repeatably. We help identify specific ways of using IT services to solve particular needs. 

What are the big challenges for your team?

One of the biggest challenges with being a point of contact for 30,000 staff and students is that our workload can peak very quickly and severely. Some of these are more-or-less predictable, such as increased calls about SSO and multi-factor authentication (MFA) between July and September when new account creations hit 2,700 per month, compared to just 350 per month at any other time of year. Others leap out-of-the-blue, such as the unexpected University Card expiry incident in September 2022 which triggered around 400 additional requests for emergency IT extensions over a two-week period.  

What are your current priorities and what’s next?

We have lots of exciting initiatives underway including:

  • Wi-Fi experience – we’re re-surveying students about their experience of Wi-Fi while in Oxford to see how this has changed following a programme of improvements to college, department and central wireless provision. This will also inform a second round of improvements over the next few years. 
  • Support performance improvements - we’re well into a programme of changes to improve the speed of response and resolution for support calls. So far, we’ve reduced the average response time from 2 or 3 days to 2 or 3 hours, increased same/next day resolution from 60% of calls to 80%, and reduced average resolution time from around 5 days to 1.5 days. 
  • Environmental sustainability – we’ve developed a framework for assessing the impact of IT projects and services. This includes full supply chain emissions such as the impact of goods and services we purchase, as well as the impact of our services and facilities being used.
  • Next year we will be launching a new service to help staff and students self-assess their IT skills and direct them towards learning options where they can build firm foundations or excel in selected areas. 
  • We are also developing a new service to help establish effective AV support across the University - as we are now much more dependent on in-room and remote connection for teaching, learning, research and administration we hope this will make a difference.

How do you know your work is making a difference?

Customer Services – and my role – live on the boundary between IT Services as a service provider and the staff and students of the University who are service consumers. We have a unique and unfiltered view of how IT services are perceived, and use specialist skills to create a positive connection between people and IT. 

I regularly receive feedback from people who have used our services. When there has been a problem we follow-up directly with the customer, so the work to improve things is highly visible. However, the majority of comments received run along the lines of “The IT engineer that took my call was most professional, friendly and efficient” - customer satisfaction ratings are running at over 90 per cent!

In addition to the work done by staff across the group, I also get to see developments that our group managers have led. These improve our services and engagement, continuously responding to feedback and ensuring that we adapt to changing needs or improve the quality and quantity of what we’re already doing. 

One of the delights in my job is contacting someone in the University who I’ve not spoken to recently and being told – often right away – about how pleased they were following a recent contact with our Service Desk, support teams, or wider IT Services staff. This tells me that we’re making a positive difference, and that people recognise this all around us.