ITS Strong

I’ve been at UChicgao for long enough now to really know about our organization. I often tell people one of the perks of being in the CIO chair is the opportunity to learn the organization in a very complete way. Having to help the leaders across ITS solve problems has made me learn the complete functioning of the team and it has given me a very good idea of who we are as an organization. I’m sure most of us can talk about what our make-up is — we know we are 265 or so people who work together. But I wonder if we actually know and understand that we are also much stronger together?

Yesterday I was at a session at the EDUCAUSE Connect Chicago event where the presenter was talking about how he had implemented a skill inventory for his organization. What was interesting to me is that he went further and added the idea of an “internet inventory” so people could indicate how interested they were in various skills. It produced some interesting results and lots of good follow up conversation. When I asked how big his group was he told me it was under 25, so naturally my next questions was how does it scale to something like ITS’s size?

I asked that not to make sure he knew our organization is bigger than his, it is because one of the things I see everyday in ITS is that we so often don’t take advantage of the intellectual strength we have as a collective. What I mean is that I see parts of our organization struggle deeply with solving a problem or delivering a creative solution because they think they are going it alone and they don’t know there are people in other parts of ITS who have the answers to their own questions. We have to stop that and learn about our collective strength, not just our individual skills. We need to lean on that.

Related to the skill and interest assessment question is that in an organization the size of ITS I do not believe members of our team really know about other parts of the org. For example, I could easily see someone rate themselves very highly as a developer, but have little interest in applying it in the context they are currently in and getting down and frustrated not knowing they can apply that same skill in a totally different part of the organization. You need to take the time to know what we do from one side of the house to the other and understand that there are novel contexts to do your work. If you don’t know what someone in ASTS does, take a minute and find out. One, you may realize you want to do work in an area that focuses on something different. And, two, you might find the person who will help solve that next problem you are going to encounter.

I feel like ITS is at its strongest when we learn enough about each other that we are willing to lean in together. And leaning in together often means leaning on someone to get to where we need to be.

Being a Customer Service Company

I drive. A lot. I commute in the wonderful Chicago traffic five days a week, twice a day, covering about 45 total miles. Depending on the time of day I can make it in to work in 40 minutes if I am lucky, but it is closer to an hour going home if I leave at a respectable time. That has proven to be the single biggest change for me personally in making the move to UChicago. What it really means is that I have to fill up that time with some degree of productive activity.

On many days I schedule phone calls that let me extend the day while in the car, but other times I listen to podcasts.I have a ton of subscriptions that I listen to using Overcast on my iPhone. Quite a few are by Gimlet Media. They exploded onto the scene with a very unique show called, “Startup” that originally chronicled the creation of the company itself. Since then they’ve released a ton of exceptional shows that get me through the week.

my podcasts

But, there is one podcast that I love to listen to as soon as a new episode is available, “How I Built This” from NPR. It is a radio-style show where it is a well produced interview with founders of companies about how they built their companies. There are excellent ones about Airbnb, Instagram, Samuel Adams, and more. But the best one I have listened to was this morning with the founder of Zappos, Tony Hsieh. I am not going to describe it as it is an absolute must listen, so please do that … I stopped short of sending out a mandate to listen as it is that good.

It resonated with me for so many reasons, but the thing I took from it that I want us to own is when Tony says something to the effect of, “Zappos isn’t a shoe company, it is a customer service company. We want to be known as not selling shoes, but selling great customer service.” Right there it is for what we’ve been talking about — us all owning great customer service. Yes, we are an operations organization, but we are also a customer service organization. I think if you put those two things next to each on a balanced score card, I believe being a customer service company comes first.

Customer Service Mentality

Just prior to the end of the year, I wrote an email to share some thoughts with you regarding customer service and its primary role in our work. I want to follow up with more on that message and also to provide information on an executive director search and additional changes and next steps.

I began the note sent at the end of November with the following:

Service to and for our customers—whether faculty, students, staff, alumni, or any guest of the University or member of the broader community—is paramount. It is, in my estimation, the single most important focus underlying all of our work.

It has been encouraging to receive replies and feedback indicating this message resonates with many of you. Emphasizing customer service and reinforcing a “customer first” organizational mindset isn’t something that is good simply to say, I believe it is the right thing to do and also something we must do.

We must make it easier, not harder, for our customers to connect with technology; leverage technology to advance their work and their research and academic pursuits; and feel especially positive — delighted — about their experiences using technology and in working with those of us in IT who support that technology.

To move us toward achieving this goal, a customer service review was conducted at the beginning of December. A small team of higher education colleagues came to campus to assess IT Services’ customer service organization and overall approach to customer service. The team provided recommendations regarding the ways in which we can better support and serve our customers.

Figuring out what is next.

Some of us have started to work through the recommendations from the customer service review. In the coming weeks we will begin discussing the recommendations more fully with the ITS Senior Leadership Group (SLG) and the staff in our Solutions and Service Management (SSM) organization, as well as with others throughout ITS.

To summarize just a couple of the recommendations broadly applicable across ITS:

  • All areas of ITS and all ITS staff need to own “great customer service,” not only the SSM organization.
  • Service owners throughout ITS need to have documented service level agreements and must strive to always meet those agreements.

One highlight of the customer service review focused on the TechBar, which was viewed as a center of excellent customer service within ITS. Because there is a natural connection between the work of TechBar and the SSM organization — and to better leverage the best aspects of TechBar throughout the SSM organization — TechBar will be moved out of Academic and Scholarly Technology Services and returned to SSM. While this realignment won’t immediately change the operations of the TechBar, it will provide more opportunities for future expansion and diffusion of the TechBar model.

Within the next two weeks, a national search will begin for a new executive director for Solutions and Service Management. This executive director will report to me and directly oversee the customer service organization within ITS, as well as lead efforts to transform the overall customer service approach across ITS.

Until the new executive director for SSM is hired, we will continue to work with our existing team to provide leadership for SSM. Staff are being asked to identify and, where appropriate, execute on any opportunities to immediately begin to improve our customer service approach.

A few other customer service-focused efforts currently in flight include:

  • A series of Lynda.com courses on customer service are being reviewed and will be added to playlists made available to all ITS staff. Once available, I will ask you to complete those courses as part of our collective professional development and consider how you can incorporate the lessons into your work.
  • By the end of January, a plan will be drafted to establish a roadmap that will evolve the service desk, housed within SSM, to be able to provide tier one support for the services offered by ITS.
  • In February, Apple has invited me to bring a small group of UChicago staff members to attend a special training opportunity at their Michigan Avenue store. There, representatives from Apple will walk us through their approach to customer service and discuss ways we can improve our approach.

As I reiterated in my November note and as I’ve said many times before, our aim is and should always be to delight our customers. We have a good start, a great team, and the beginnings of a plan to be even better.

Please do not to hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or feedback. As always, I appreciate your engagement on these important topics.

How I use my iPad

I was asked by a colleague how I use my iPad effectively and what the apps are that I use to get work done. I sent him an email, but thought I would expand on it here. Also, I must admit, that lately I have been going back and forth quite a bit between my iPad Pro and my MacBook Pro … it always seems to be that way when Apple releases a new version of MacOS.

At any rate, here are my top apps, outside of mail and calendar (which by the way are Apple Mail and Timepage):

I use Evernote to keep all of my notes organized. I don’t type many notes, but I do draft a ton of emails and memos in Evernote. When I take notes in meetings I do it by hand with …

Penultimate … this is the note taking app I use with the Apple Pencil. It connects to Evernote automatically so any and all notes I take in this app also show up in Evernote. It allows for searching, even within hand written notes. If I get paper handed to me in meetings that I want to keep I use …

Scannable … this lets me take a quick picture of the pages and it converts them into searchable attachments that also show up in Evernote.

Office365 apps … Word in particular is a constant. The whole Office suite on an iPad is really quite amazing. I pay for O365 out of pocket at the moment, but will obviously switch to the UChicago instance when we go live.

1Password is the way I manage my passwords on all my machines. On iOS, without an integrated password management tool I would be completely out of luck.

Google Docs is also a must for me as several of my colleagues use Docs as the way we write and share.

Box is also a heavily used app for me, but you could easily replace that with iCloud Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc depending on what cloud based storage option one might be using the most.

WordPress … I maintain a few blogs and find writing in the native WordPress app on iOS to be a pleasure. As a matter of fact this was written on my iPad.

Concur … doing approvals for travel and expense reports is so much easier on iOS than on my laptop, so I typically do all that from my iPad.

I’ll lump Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Flickr together … I maintain contact across the social web on most of these platforms with varying degrees of engagement, but ultimately I find all of them easier and faster on the iPad than on my laptop.

Finally, for reading I keep Feedly, Medium, and Apple News in play most of the time. I do RSS with Feedly, but lately have been spending a ton of time in Medium.

With all that said, the introduction of the Apple Pencil has really changed the way I use my iPad — I never used to take digital handwritten notes, but now that I have the Pencil it is my preferred method. That has allowed me to leave my old school, paper-based notebook at my desk.

3 Things you can do with UChicago Voices today

What I really like about a blogging system is that it is truly a platform for digital expression. What I mean by “platform” in this context is that it allows you an easy to use environment to publish digital content. UChicago Voices is built on WordPress, a blogging system, but I like to think of it as a publishing engine. With that in mind, what are a few things you can use it for today? If I were a student getting set to wrap up the academic year, here are three things I would consider launching with Voices before it is time to head home for the Summer.


Start a Blog

This sounds like a no brainier, but giving yourself a place to write during the Summer months is a long term gift. Not only can you cultivate a habit of ongoing reflective writing, you will be building a living and searchable repository of your Summer experiences. A space that you can share in the moment that belongs to you, not trapped in FaceBook, Tumblr, Snapchat, or somebody else’s space is a really powerful thing. A blog space is personal to you and you control what you write, share, comment on, and everything in between. A blog is a great place to capture the things you are doing outside of the traditional academic experience. If you are reading a great book, have seen a great film, or taken a road trip try and put into pictures and words how that experience impacted you. The evidence you build of your experiences will provide an interesting backdrop to the months spent away from UChicago.

Build a Photo Journal

Many of the pictures we take end up in other places online — Flickr and Facebook for example — and never end up in a place that we ultimately control. Voices is a great place to take, share, and manage your collection of Summer experiences. Again, the gift of doing this in a platform like Voices is that these photos are in your space, not in the hands of a corporation. The other benefits are much like the notions inherent in starting a blog. You will be actively challenged to not only take great photos, but to share the ones that matter to you and the audience that you will ultimately create. Taking the time to care about which photos get shared is a different experience than simply shooting selfies and sharing into Snapchat.


Create a Digital Notebook

I’ve used blogging platforms for years as a “personal content management system,” especially to create and organize notes. To make it easy to use for keeping your course notes together, create a private blog and set up categories for each class you are taking. Each note gets a category related to the course you are taking. There are some really positive affordances in using a blog as a digital notebook — search is a breeze, all your notes are stored (and managed) in the cloud, you can easily mix media by adding photos and video to your otherwise text notes, and by using categories for your classes, you can quickly and easily filter course specific notes. I have seen this done across an entire academic career and having access to 4 years of notes in one digital place is quite impressive.

So there are three quick thoughts on things you can do with Voices this Summer. I hope some of that is helpful.

UChicago Field Notes

As we quietly roll out the UChicago Voices platform I have been thinking of novel ways to share examples of the platform can be utilized. It is WordPress, so it is obvious to think of it as a blogging platform, but I learned years ago that a blogging platform is best positioned as something more than a blog. It is important to see it through the lens of a “platform for digital expression.” I have been talking about that for years and sometimes you can see people’s eyes light up and sometimes they just shrug their shoulders.

I’ve also learned that it is important to show examples of what I mean when I talk about this concept. With that in mind I decided to put together a simple photo sharing site that allows multiple photographers to share what they are seeing. I decided to call it UChicago Field Notes and invited a couple of people to kick the tires with me — to experiment in a homegrown UChicago photo platform.

There are only three of us, but I would love to add more so if you are interested just let me know in the comments and I will invite you. It is really straight forward — take a picture, log into the Field Notes site, and make a new post. I have to admit, I made it a little easier for myself and cooked up an IFTTT script that takes any of my Instagram photos tagged #fieldnote and auto publishes it to the Field Notes site. I love being surprised by other people’s photos and this is an interesting way to see what a few people find interesting.

UChicago Field Notes

Back to this idea of a blog is more than a blog. I spent time yesterday with colleagues in a our career services group here on campus and shared this one example and it resonated to the point where they are going to try out Voices as a way to expose more of the career opportunities that we provide to students. Students will have access to a multi author site and will record their trips to various companies in various cities. We talked about being able to quickly shoot and share photos, videos, and reflect on the things they are learning on site … all in real time. In that one example we can see a blogging tool as something that is much more than what one might think of as a blog — it becomes a place to share, save, and express yourself digitally. That is a critical skill in the world we live in now. I’ll share more examples of how Voices can be used and as I do I will continue to invite you to do the same.