Web team support calls from 2010-2011

Graph of support calls over two semesters

(Click the graph to see a larger version.)

This morning I’ve been gathering data for a meeting with have with the University Lean team tomorrow, including this graph of support calls (above). I thought I’d share something of what I’ve discovered.

The project with Lean is to help us design a more efficient way to manage projects and to explore how to better balance moving projects forward with our on-going, and unpredictable, support calls.

In the academic year 2010-2011 the Web team recorded how many calls we received each week. This included:

  • Emails to our IT Helpdesk call management system
  • Support-related emails to our personal inboxes
  • Telephone calls
  • Personal visits to the Web team offices

Basically, if it wasn’t related to an on-going project then we recorded, grouped into calls that took up to

  1. 10 minutes
  2. 60 minutes
  3. 120 minutes or more

And we further categorised them as

  • Advice—e.g. could you tell us what template to use for this website? Do we support IE6 now?, etc.
  • Fix—e.g. this page is broken please fix it, please remove this document from the server, etc.
  • Request—e.g. could we have a meeting with you about x? Could you create a generic page template for this web application, etc.
Support calls (2010-2011)
Advice Fix Request
Semester 1 434 722 509
Semester 2 328 547 382
Total 762 1,269 891

That’s a grand total of 2,922 calls over the course of 35 weeks. Or approximately 83 calls per week.

What it shows us immediately is what we’d long suspected: that the start of each semester is the busiest time of year for us. This should help us to plan projects and which parts of the year to keep clear to make room for more support requests.

Something that this has highlighted too is to look into how to reduce the number of calls asking us to make fixes to existing content, structure or CMS elements.

No doubt we’ll report back as we progress through this project with Lean.

Departmental restructure in progress


A lot of my job involves looking at websites and making suggestions on how better to structure them.

There is a bigger restructure project happening at the moment, though, which has an impact on the Web team. The University is in the process of merging two units: Business Improvements and IT Services. I thought it would be courteous to share something of it with you, without going into too many details.

A little history

When I took up my current post as Assistant Information Architect/Web Manager in May 2006 I didn’t join the Web team so much as help create it.

There were then only two of us, me and Steve, the University Web Manager, until we were joined by Chris, a Web Software Developer, in 2008; Duncan, Web Editor, in 2009; and Rich, Website Migration Project Officer, in 2010. There are now five of us, spread across three different rooms, on two floors.

Within the University structure the Web team sits within the Business Improvements (BI) unit who have responsibility for amongst other things: project management, software development, data and database management, ID cards, and the University Website.

We also work, at times very closely, with IT Services, a separate unit from BI, who have responsibility for many of the other IT-related functions within the University, including networks, servers, software, IT helpdesk, etc. On the whole I think we have a very good relationship with the guys in IT Services, but at times it can be a little frustrating when our priorities don’t match theirs and they can’t focus on something we need because they are, quite justifiably, dealing with something else.


However, draft plans have just been released that is set to change this arrangement this coming summer when IT Services and BI will merge to become <insert name here> (we don’t know, we’ve not been told that yet).

The bringing together of BI and IT Services is being driven by amongst other things the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) framework which is a set of key principles and best/good practices for IT management, development and operations. All staff within IT and BI including the Web team passed a qualification in ITIL last summer, the ITIL V3 Foundation Certificate in IT Service Management. We got badges and everything.

The new draft restructure diagram that we’ve seen is, as you would expect, based on ITIL V3 which looks at the whole lifecycle of IT services: strategy, design, transition, operation and continual service improvement.

Currently, with two units (IT Services and Business Improvements) there are places where both are doing the same—or similar—things, and places where neither address much needed functions within the University, or where responsibilities are unclear. A restructure should help redress the balance, and using a framework such as ITIL will help as these are standards that have already been worked out and tested.

What next…?

As with any corporate restructure there is the possibility of redundancies, at least of roles if not of jobs. In other words, there is a possibility that we won’t be doing the same jobs this time next year.

We don’t yet know what the departmental structure will look like or where the Web team fits into it—if there is still to be one as it is in its current form.

In many ways it’s an unsettling time for everyone as we wait to find out about our roles, our jobs, and with whom we’ll be working alongside and under. But it is also potentially an exciting time as we restructure things to better serve the University. The University’s motto is, after all, ΑΙΕΝ ΑΡΙΣΤΕΥΕΙΝ: Greek for ‘ever to be the best’.

Whatever happens, in the meantime we’ve got websites to build…

Web team drop-in clinic


This afternoon (12:00 – 14:00) the Web team ran our third monthly drop-in clinic. By popular demand here are some reflections on how it went.

How it all began

Every now and then I’ll be chatting with someone, usually having bumped into them in the street or in Boots the Chemist, and the conversation comes round to the University website and they’ll say something like “I’d really appreciate help with [that] but I know you’re busy so I don’t like to bother you.”

That’s how the Web team drop-in clinics began.

Because, although we are always busy we’re never really too busy to help people, and so to prove it we set aside two hours on the first Friday of each month to be available to people to answer pretty much anything about the Web.

This afternoon we held our third regular clinic; our fifth in total as we held a couple of pilot clinics last year which proved to us that it was a good idea.

What we are asked about

A few of the issues that we’ve been asked about:

  • How do I put up SWF or FLV videos on the website using our content management system?
  • How do I crop images to size to add to web pages?
  • How do I delete content in the content management system?
  • How do I add MP3 files to my site so that people can listen to them using an on-screen player?
  • I’m planning on re-writing the section that I manage, can I run these ideas past you?
  • How do I update a PDF document on my website; I did know, but I’ve forgotten.
  • I’ve heard about writing for the Web, what is it?
  • Is it true that all pages need to be within three clicks of the homepage?  (No!)
  • I’d like a complete redesign of my site, could we talk it over just now to find out how I go about doing this?
  • How can I make an image ‘clicky’?
  • I need to make a few updates to my web page but I’ve forgotten how to use the content management system; could you show me how to do it?

As far as we are concerned there really is no such thing as a stupid question if you don’t know the answer.

How it works

University members (staff and students alike) are invited to sign-up in advance using the Personal Development Management System which enables us to assign an approximate time slot for people to attend, so that not everyone turns up at once, although we do also welcome anyone who turns up unannounced.

There are now five of us in the Web team, located in three offices, so we first ask the visitor what he or she would like help with and then point them in the direction of whoever is available and/or best equipped to be able to answer their query.

On the five or so occasions that we’ve run these clinics we’ve rarely had anyone waiting longer than about five minutes, if at all, and the majority of issues have been answerable by any of the members of the team. (What an elite team we have, eh!)

Some appointments lead to further discussions and new projects being proposed.

What’s good about it?

I really enjoy our drop-in clinics.  In mid-flow the office is full of people and there is always a great buzz of activity during those two hours.

It’s great to deal with people face-to-face, rather than via email.  It’s lovely putting faces to usernames and email addresses.  And

That works both ways, I guess: they can put our faces to our names, and we no longer become the anonymous “Web team” but Steve, Gareth, Chris, Duncan and Rich.  That personal contact can go a long way, especially in such a wee university like St Andrews.

One of the most satisfying things about the drop-in clinics is that very often you can just get the work done there and then.

“Can you show me how I would do … X”

“Sure! Let’s do it now…”

“Really?!  We can get it done right now?”

“Absolutely.  Here, you take the mouse and keyboard and login here…”

There’s a real sense of satisfaction to see people arriving with a problem or two and fifteen minutes later waving them off with a task completed, perhaps something that they’ve put off and put off because they’ve maybe forgotten how to use the content management system and don’t have the time to run through the training notes again.

But not only that, they often go away feeling a little more enabled, understanding a little more about how to do it the next time, and perhaps most importantly feeling supported.  Long may that continue.  I’m just sorry that we don’t run it once a fortnight.

The next drop-in clinic is on the first Friday of December: Friday 3 December from 12 noon – 2:00 pm, in the Web team office (Room 6, Butts Wynd Building).