The end-user is responsible for daily processing in ICE's software system. This includes data entry, reporting, and other tasks which support the various workflows on campus. ICE has provided extensive training and consulting to end-users to enable them to recognize and solve problems on their own. For problems that fall outside of their individual abilities, end-users turn to their existing IT staff for support. In addition to asking for assistance, end-users can provide support for each other through ICE's consortium model. The functional areas from each institution have attended training and consulting together, and so they are available to each other for assistance. This has greatly enhanced the ability for end-users to get support from others who are familiar with the software, its configuration for ICE, the business practices, and workflows.
Each institution has allocated the equivalent of a full position to supporting ICE's operations on their campus. They provide the first level of support for end-users. The IT staff is responsible for assessing the initial problem or question and determining the first course of action. If the problem is with local equipment or systems not supported by ICE, such as the local network, printing systems, etc., the IT staff can usually provide support without ICE's assistance. If it is determined that the support issue needs to be escalated to ICE central support, the IT staff is responsible for providing clear and concise information to ICE to assist in solving the problem. By leveraging the troubleshooting skills of the IT staffs, ICE typically receives support requests in a "higher-level" format than it would if coming directly from an end-user. The IT staff aids ICE by collecting information about the problem, such as the sequence of events followed, the circumstances that existed, descriptions of errors, "screen-shots," and other information that is crucial to providing quick resolution of problems. The local IT staff also has access to extensive on-line documentation provided by the vendor, as well as access to an on-line support knowledge base, and so they are able to pursue multiple avenues of support before escalating problems to ICE.
ICE's central staff has over 38 years of experience in providing support for computer systems, with over 40 in higher education. Its experience with sophisticated information systems, operating systems, networking, and other aspects of the IT industry gives the ICE schools a more technically proficient staff than any of our members would be able to provide outside of our consortium. Once ICE is contacted by the IT staff of its members, we record the problem in our helpdesk software and begin pursuing a solution. ICE will work with the IT staff or directly with the end-user to assess the situation, assign a priority, and determine the next logical course of action. ICE typically solves 80% of user problems in-house, without assistance from the vendor. ICE can turn to the complete software documentation or on-line knowledge base resources provided by the vendor to resolve problems as they arise. We also use the knowledge and experience of our user community in the same way that end-users may turn to each other for assistance. By collaborating in all aspects of the project, we are able to help each other when support needs arise, providing answers quickly from colleagues throughout ICE's membership.
When an issue arises that requires assistance from the vendor, only ICE's central staff can have direct contact with the vendor. This ensures that when the vendor's support system is needed that the issue has been investigated thoroughly. It also greatly reduces the burden placed on the vendor, just as the local IT staff relieve a significant portion of the support burden for ICE by providing an intervening level of support. The vendor will only receive very technical problems whose resolution falls outside of ICE's abilities and experience, and will seldom handle the more trivial support issues of end-users. This support arrangement allows ICE to negotiate reduced costs for support, as we are assuming responsibility for a large portion of the support the vendor may be accustomed to providing.
Providing central support also allows ICE to quickly solve problems as the re-occur. By maintaining a database of issues and their solutions, we are able to further leverage the benefits of our consortium by adding to our own experiences and knowledge to further help our members. This centralized support model is also key to our principles of collaboration and cooperation. Because we want all of our institutions to benefit from the experience and practices of each other, we are able to centrally assess need and direct resources appropriately for the benefit of all of our members. This additional benefit has been crucial to ensuring that all of ICE's members are receiving the training and support necessary to effectively and efficiently use the systems which ICE supports.