The sector’s greatest asset….

A number of the points made by Ajay Burlingham-Böhr in the opening address at the User Support Conference last week were amplified by other speakers during the event.

Don Page observed that you are only as good as your last call – if the customer’s last experience of your service was poor then that will be their perception, regardless of whether they have had good service before. So it is critical that you are able to demonstrate that you are delivering a good service – if you can’t prove you are delivering a good service then you aren’t! All of which means that you need to produce management information that backs up your case but only that information that backs up your case and add value. How many of us have produced statistics on service availability in the full knowledge that no one will ever look at it?

That said, the management information is not just for customer use. You need to be able to assess the efficiency of your operation, to identify where improvements can be made, to look at the services you provide and identify the services suitable for outsourcing or stopping altogether. This is one of the challenges currently for the sector as a whole – there isn’t the baseline information on the cost of processes or services that can be used to prove that services are efficient, or to clearly identify whether outsourcing options or shared services will deliver cost benefits.

This was something that David Sweeney also highlighted in his presentation. The Government is now challenging the sector to demonstrate what it delivers for its money and is of the opinion that the sector is inefficient. The sector needs to continue to make the case for investment, continue to deliver the skills business and industry needs and either change the perception that it is inefficient or act to improve efficiency by implementing shared services.

IT can of course be transformative and Sweeney returned to an earlier theme when he encouraged the delegates to be visionary, committed and enthusiastic to help lead the sector through these difficult times. IT departments need to consider the impossible in the drive to deliver productivity gains. I think we are well positioned to do just that. Five years ago few would have considered outsourcing but now many institutions have outsourced their student email and are looking at other options to deliver more effective services. There is perhaps the opportunity for IT services to demonstrate leadership within their institutions by identifying areas where productivity can be improved.

Both Sweeney and Page picked out that an organisation’s staff are a key asset. Those staff need to be focused and committed. They’ll need to work harder and smarter but be visionary and enthusiastic. If the passion and attitude of many of those at the conference was anything to go by, the sector will be in good hands.

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