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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Judson ISD Connect! wins its fourth and best award yet!

Judson ISD Earns National Digital Achievement Award

Each year The Center For Digital Education recognizes school districts and other educational institutions for their contributions toward excellence in digital learning. Judson ISD is the winner of the K-12 District Education Application/Project category.  The winning project is the district’s mobile app called “Judson ISD Connect.”  This app for iOS, Android and Kindle allows students or parents to check grades, attendance, calendars, spo
rting events, news, district events and even features a “report it” button to anonymously report bullying, fraud or crime. Judson ISD Connect was created by Judson ISD’s Technology Services Department, using an innovative web development platform from Conduit Mobile.

This award is the latest that Judson ISD has earned. Last year shortly after the app was released it became winners of the Webby Awards, Horizon Interactive and the Lovie Awards (International Competition). While those awards are great, this latest recognition from the DEAA is special because of its unique focus on the connection of digital technology and its application to education.  

Links that may be helpful:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Web innovation in government and education?

On Friday I had the pleasure of spending time with a very interesting and exciting group of web innovators.  No I did not spend a day the Googleplex or at Twitter.  I got to spend time with the winner of the DigitalEducation Achievement Awards and the Digital Government Achievement Awards.  People might think that government and education are the backwaters of innovative web services; they would be wrong.  There is a lot of talent and innovative use of web services at all levels of government and education.

The overarching message I took away from talking with fellow award winners was that all of us should be looking at providing data for our customers in formats friendly to their consumption devices.  The talk was all about responsive web design, allowing web content to work regardless of device of the end user.  The other take away was that our customers, who in our case are students and parents, want data immediately.  Long gone should be the days when a parent finds out that their student is doing poorly in a class, at which time it is way too late to work on helping them increase the grade.

I urge you to take some time (or have your school or district web gurus do so) to look at the award winners linked above. They have some truly innovative apps and web sites, which we can all use as ideas to help us improve what our parents and students are demanding.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Help us help our customers please!

While this may seem a mundane topic, I want to talk about the stalwart backbone of most IT departments:  the help desk.  The busier my wonderful IT staff gets, the more devices and schools they support, the more we are increasingly needing a robust system that can support the increasing demands placed on our busy staff.

Like many schools IT departments, we never allocated a lot of budget funds to the help desk.   We have used a few different systems, which to some extent always seems to be just OK or good enough.   Maybe we got a deal on the software, maybe we could not afford something better, or in the case of our current system, the help desk came as part of a larger software bundle.  It was easy to justify using something that we basically got free as part of another department’s larger software bundle purchase.  But at the end of the day, we now know that the software indeed was a very small insignificant part of the software package.  It has basically been ignored by the company for years, in spite of many customers’ requests for features we feel are needed for increasingly hard pressed IT staffs.

After doing some looking around at what is being offered currently in the help desk market, there are clearly a lot more players and options to choose from, then there were ten years ago.   SaaS and the cloud have had a huge impact on this market.  There are many very affordable cloud based systems available that might be a great tool for IT departments.  Here is a decent (but by no means comprehensive) list of some cloud based systems: . There are still many traditional hosted systems as well, which still can be very attractive offerings and competitively priced.

And from my research, cloud does not at all necessarily equate to a help desk being inexpensive. One of the most comprehensive help desk systems I have seen, which offers a plethora of advanced features for change management, etc. is incredibly expensive and probably not within the reach of most school IT departments.

So what does our IT department need in a help desk?  Well….good question.  I have started a long list of what we would like to see.  While the list is not done, it gives a pretty good idea of what we are wanting.  And my guess is, that many other IT departments, in schools and other industries, would probably like an affordable help desk systems that offers these same set of features.  The features list is available on my CTO Technotes blog at:

This blog entry is cross posted with the great folks at SchoolCIO

My requirements list for a solid IT help desk

After looking for a while at many help desk systems available, I have been refining a requirements list for a new system for our IT department.  This list is not complete, but I have the feeling that if an affordable help desk system can meet these requirements, we will be very likely to take a serious look at the system and give it a thorough test drive.
  1. System should offer robust API access, ODBC access to data, OR direct access to SQL tables.
  2. System should offer possibility to manage IT equipment orders with associated tickets needed for setup, installation, etc.
  3. System should have Active Directory integration to handle user data and authentication.
  4. System should be browser based and works in all modern browsers.
  5. It should also should work on mobile phones, tablets, etc.
  6. System should allow option to utilize SSL security.
  7. System interface must be simple and intuitive.
  8. System should feature a Quick ticket for phone support - ie one screen problem and resolution recording for phone support.
  9. System should feature end user ticket creation through web, email.
  10. Help desk staff should be able to update tickets through email.
  11. System should feature automated email notification of user on tickets creation, updates, and closure.
  12. System should intermediate all email between help desk agents and end users - and keep all communication fenced within the ticketing system.
  13. System should offer comprehensive/customizable customer satisfaction survey at the closure of every ticket.
    1. Satisfaction data should be exposed through the API.
  14. System should feature a method for recording of how the ticket was created (web, email, phone).
  15. System should allow creation of FAQs/Knowledgebase - this should be categorized and searchable
    1. Should allow tickets to be converted to FAQs.
  16. System must allow for unlimited end user web access (no licensing or limits for end users.)
  17. System must allow for concurrent agent licensing - OR preferably unlimited  agents.
  18. System should allow linking of individual help desk tickets to global issue, allowing resolution of global issue to update/close all linked tickets and send corresponding email notification(s).
  19. System should feature a Global Notification Banner or method to inform users of issues or outages.
  20. System should have ticket categories.
  21. System should have configurable, rule based SLAs.
    1. They Should be able to be tied to ticket categories.
    2. SLAs should adhere to business hours, holidays.
    3. SLAs should allow to for certain statuses to not affect SLA(ie awaiting parts.)
    4. Should readily show technician which ticket(s) are in danger of not meeting the SLA.
  22. System should support custom work-flows based on categories and for approvals as needed.
  23. System should allow for multiple service/help desk projects to provide functionally separate service/help desks – i.e. one for Human Resources and another for Technology Support.  These should have separate queues, but allow for tickets to be reassigned across queues.
  24. System must offer robust customizable reporting capabilities in both text and graphical formats to track trends, call volumes, technician totals, category totals, average service times by category, average service times by technician, SLAs met, etc.  
    1. Reporting data should be exposed to the API.
  25. System should support automatic rule based escalation - this may be tied to SLA rules.
  26. System should have configurable tickets statuses.
    1. Statuses should allow for creation of statuses that do not count against tickets resolution time.  
  27. System should allow for file attachment to ticket by users and/or agent.
  28. Add multiple users to a ticket.
    1. Any ticket email notifications should go to all users on ticket, once added.
  29. System should allow for two way email communications within the system - no end user ticket replies should ever be sent to the agent's personal email - they should go directly into the system.
  30. When looking up users with identical names, we should be able to see distinguishing data from Active Directory (title, location, etc.)
  31. System should support configurable locations that can be part of a ticket.
    1. Reporting should report on location.
  32. System should have ticket agent collision detection.
  33. Allow tickets to be emailed by agent.
  34. System should track a parts inventory with pricing information.
    1. Parts should be able to be added to tickets and provide a cost on the ticket.
  35. System should allow for ticket escalation based on time.