Just some thoughts regarding the concept of conversion, i.e. the moment when you go to a web site and do the thing they want you to do. Quite what that is depends on the site of course: Amazon want you to buy something, Twitter want you to tweet something, the BBC want you to find the content and information you were looking for. So not always about sales, but sometimes not a clear, single outcome. The BBC’s conversion might be any number of things.
What about an e-portfolio system? To record an event or learning outcome? To reflect on an event? Learn from something? Learn from everything? A great deal will depend on the user’s relationship with their e-portfolio. The reluctant user will want to just get done what’s required of them. The engaged user some sense of personal overview of their achievements and progression. In reality, for both users there’d probably a bit of both.
So how does a provider of an e-portfolio gear their system to best achieve this conversion when it can mean different things to different people at different times. Add on top of that the requirements of educational bodies who must assert their requirements into the system’s processes – by that I mean, college X requires that trainees complete certain number of assessments and demonstrate a particular set of competencies.
Perhaps the solution to this is to provide multiple paths that a user can follow in any particular visit to the site that will provide multiple possible conversion types. By identifying what these paths are from page 1 then can the conversion be achieved in a more efficient and productive way. The challenge then will be how to identify these paths, but help may be at hand in for form of Google analytics – something designed specifically for this task and best seen when looking at the clear business/e-commerce conversion types. More cryptic conversion types just means the analytics data contains a cryptic solution that will require more careful study of the data.
An interesting webinar today – the service desk and social IT:
Sometimes you hear a short comment between 2 developers along the lines of “there’s a good tutorial about bootstrap at …” and having no clue as to what they were talking about (not unusual these days) I gave it no more thought. But then I caught site of reference to “Twitter Bootstrap” in an article on Flipboard.
One Google search and a YouTube introductory video later and I’ve downloaded the framework and ready to start building something interesting.
Have a look:
Intro and tutorials: http://webdesign.tutsplus.com/series/twitter-bootstrap-101/
Download and documentation: http://twitter.github.com/bootstrap/
Getting a bit (even just a little bit) excited about help desk software doesn’t seem very healthy, but there you go: it’s looking very likely that we’re going to go with Zendesk as our service desk solution. T0 begin with we’re going to keep going with the existing Axosoft OnTime2010 (locally hosted) but start using Zendesk (a SaaS solution) to handle customer support and controlling change management (i.e. a place to deal with in coming change requests and Rf items).
I don’t think it’ll be very long before we switch over all user support to the new system. The driver for change as been a supportive Development manager who has quickly seen the need to get a more rounded set of processes that effectively deal with the most important relevant processes of our business, i.e. Incident mgmt, Problem mgmt, Change mgmt, and Knowledge mgmt. Another major driver has been the organisation’s interest in achieving ISO 20000 and 27001 certification that resurfaced at the end of last year. In March we’ll most likely see an internal audit (I’ll probably be doing one myself, though on a different department) so we need to get particularly the support processes under control by then.
The third need for more modern service software is the need to be able to efficiently handle social IT – or more specifically, be able to capture tweets and blog comments and convert to support tickets. Zendesk seems to be able to handle all these things very well without having to be explicitly ITIL about it all. My dalliance with OTRS with very much powered by its very ITIL-specific terminology and functionality, but on reflection, excellent though OTRS is, Zendesk can cover all the necessary processes and procedures we’ll ever likely to need, and more importantly, interconnects with a myriad of related products and services such as GetSatisfaction, Salesforce, Solve360, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and many more.
We’ve not got it fully plumbed in yet, but we will, we will, and soon.
My exposure to coding is limited these days, as part of my day job at least. I still knock out the odd bit of c# as part of a windows app form generating a data extract that exceeds my SQL scripting skills. However, the world moves on and I need to catch up a little. As well as getting to grips with responsive web design, HTML 5, jquery, CSS 3 et al.
I also need to start looking at MVC 4 within the .net 4.5 framework. It’s very much back to the Hello world stage for me on this but to speed things along nicely I’ve got Visual Studio 2012 just installed (which has it all built in, including Razor 3), a nice Quick start tutorial from Microsoft http://bit.ly/Rdwx3f - and best of all, 2 weeks on holiday to play around with it when I should be doing something far more wasteful and useless.
We have a large number of users in the ePortfolio, many with extensive knowledge and experience of both the software and the processes it supports. So how do we facilitate the sharing of this knowledge to the benefit of all? Social networks of course…
One of the advantages of the growth of social IT is people’s acceptance (and understanding) of the presence of social networks and that they are more than just idle people chit-chatting with each other: rewind a few years and attitudes, including my own, were not entirely generous. The more enlightened (or even simply tolerated) feelings toward social IT mean that we are in a better position to explore the use of social support software (to use alongside more traditional help-desk functions) without frightening the horses.
Recommended to me by social IT advocate Maff Rigby (@MaffRigby) of IT SmartDesk was GetSatisfaction.com – a hosted SaaS solution that provides the ability to insert widgets into your site where you can submit a question and other users (or the support team) can see your question and possibly even answer it. Over time this develops into a searchable database of knowledge that is relevant and updated.
I’ve also been exploring (via the 30 free trial) ZenDesk – another Web 2.0 type helpdesk system. Like GetSatisfaction it’s a SaaS and is geared towards taking in and creating tickets from a number of sources – these being email, a customer portal, twitter, facebook, apps, or however you choose to use their API. I like the way you can hook it up to CRM software like SalesForce (another 30 day trial ongoing) and SugarCRM CE (which I have set up on a cloud server for testing). I think comparisons of the merits of the various help desk solutions I’ve looked into are the subject of a different post; can ZenDesk do the social IT knowledge sharing as well as GetSatisfaction? Well I’ve about 27 days left of my free trial to find out.
Recently I was at a conference (AMEE 2012) in Lyon on the subject of education in medicine and the healthcare professions where I presented an analysis of web usage data derived from Google Analytics and from a snap-shot (96 hours) of internal tracking data (i.e. data collected within our system).
Google data is vast but difficult to unpick the differing activities and page flow of the various different types of users that use ePortfolio. Internal tracking data is also big (which was why it was necessary/practical to use a snap shot of data) but allows for more granular analysis of the type of users and be able to map what they do during the first few steps into their ePortfolio account. The presentation can be found at this link or at the end of this piece:
As a web designer my first instinct was to try to understand what users most want to do, or rather, what they actually do irrespective of how the site is laid out and what their training programme might want them to do.
The conclusion drawn from the data was perhaps predictably that trainees mainly log in to check up assessment form completions and request new assessment forms (56% of the trainee log ins went to directly to this activity). So to me as a designer it would seem wise to improve access to these areas for users so making their life a little easier. A simple starter for ten there. A broader interpretation might be that e-portfolios (especially professional e-portfolios) are inclined to be box ticking facilities: important to a professional body such as a Royal College who need to know that their trainees are safe to practice medicine, but less satisfactory to trainees who want something less prescriptive [no pun intended]. Exactly what trainees want is something that we are starting to get a better idea of more recently thanks to the wonders of social media. There is a balance between college needs and trainee needs in the design of an e-portfolio and possibly this type of data can help inform this debate.
There were of course deeper issues relating to the underlying process of learning and development as doctors progress through training. Differences were seen between trainee activity as they become more senior (from graduate Foundation years through to specialty training) that related engagement with curricula and log forms that were not necessarily reflected in their respective training programmes.
So to summarise, while I’m happy to ask simple questions about user flow, user experience and so on, questions about the educational implications of this data have not been well addressed as it’s not really in my sphere of knowledge (or in my job description). I would see the research I presented at this conference as a “this is the kind of thing we can do” exercise that should lead on to better designed questions that will allow us to understand how best to develop an e-portfolio that supports effective learning and development through the effective delivery of a training programme.
Anyway, I’ve started to play with the graphic options (i.e <canvas> and <svg>) and I’m impressed. As ever, the trick is not to find yourself saying “… how can I use this new and exciting technology” but rather “what do I want to do” or “what do I already do that could be done better” and then see if HTML 5 has a nice solution for it.
I’ve fooled around with HTML 5 before (see ), hence “Return to …”, but I think it’s really worth getting to know properly. The web is changing, and more than just the Web 2.0 thing of years past. The web will predominantly become multi-device orientated and HTML 4 (and XHTML to a lesser extent) just won’t be enough. HTML 5 (and CSS3) allows access to all the devices out there [you're optimistic - Ed] so if you learn nothing else, get learning. Here’s a good start: http://www.w3schools.com/html5/default.asp
At the Service Desk and IT Support Show at Earl’s Court, London last week (24th/25th April 2012) seeing what’s on offer on from the various software vendors, and to see what the hot topics in ITSM are. Here’s an edited version of my notes:
This event was a trade show for suppliers of IT service management software mainly geared towards the service (help) desk and customer relationship management (CRM). Additionally there were a number of sponsored seminars and “hot topic” discussion tables.
Purpose of attendance
- To ascertain the nature and costs of commercially available service desk software packages and compare against OnTime2010 (currently in use) and OTRS (candidate open source alternative)
- To gain further knowledge and understanding of ITSM as practised in other environments, and learn of future developments in ITSM.
Service desk software
A number of trade stands were visited. The variation of costs of software was very much reflected in the scope and sophistication of the product that for available. For example, Serena and Hornbill offered highly configurable packages that integrated help desk and CRM packages, could interop with external packages (such as event management), ultimate offering a high level of coverage for various IT functions and activities. This of course was reflected in their cost. These products were clearer very good but they are largely intended for medium to large enterprises, would likely involve consultants to set up correctly.
At the budget end of the which would cost about £1000 – £2000 (and used by a number of public sector organisations and looked little better than OnTime. You get what you pay for so for a small organisation these may well be more than adequate (or even affordable) unless you want to take the open source route.
ITSM Trends and Issues
Bring your own device (BYOD)
A significant area of many organisations’ activities involved management of configuration items (ITIL for hardware and software and how they are related to each other and to people using them). While we require a small degree of configuration management it is not as significant an issue as faces most IT departments. Nonetheless, the issue of BYOD is high on the agenda of many IT departments that would impact most of our users with respect to browser and device choice. The consensus was very much that BYOD is an unavoidable reality in the modern work place and that IT departments need to accept this and generate realistic governance policies and look for ways of securing data irrespective of device (something it was felt were not many solutions to as yet).
The role of social media as part of the help desk and FAQ (and general knowledge management) is a growing trend, even if not directly stated. While software is available that can capture Facebook feeds into helpdesk software (normally in the high-end products) there was no specific social products yet available – one company is developing this (ITsmartDesk.com) but seemingly they are not ready to go to market as yet. It was discussed how the user-base has a significant knowledge of the use of system, particularly within the context of their work place which is an untapped resource. How to meaningfully capture this knowledge and distribute it effectively is a challenge. Given the growing importance of social networks this is a significant opportunity that should be explored. An interesting model for how such a system might work is stackoverflow.com – the trick would be to be able to manage activity on such a system and glean (or link to) FAQ content.
The ability for users to be able to resolve their problems without the assistance or intervention of support staff is known to save significant time and money on the service desk. Again, this has particular relevance to more traditional IT departments who are dealing with password resets and other types of request fulfilment (as opposed to problems and incidents). However, if a user is able to explore a more extensive and searchable FAQ or gain access to appropriate local admin staff the service desk would be able to devote more time to more complex issues and not have to triage simple responses. “First time ticket closures” has been questioned as whether this is necessarily a reflection of an effective service desk – how many users could have dealt with the problem without having to be told by a “human” response?
Self-service is normally achieved by the use of a “customer portal” whereby the user generates an account for them self in the support system that gives them access to create new tickets, track ticket process activity, and gain access to a searchable FAQ. This is a fairly common feature of help desk software that is worth exploring.
On Wednesday I attended a Gartner organised event about social media and specifically a strategic approach towards understanding and using social media. According to Gartner they believe (and they know what they’re talking about) social media will be more disruptive to business activities than e-commerce and the internet was back in the late 90′s and into the 2000′s. If that’s true then that’s quite a significant change to start to get a size of right now.
I don’t want to repeat all that was said by the Gartner expert (Carol Roswell) during the seminar or during the one-to-one afterwards with Carol and a colleague but just as a brief synopsis, the take home message was very much about Purpose. Decide what the business objectives are and what you want to achieve through a social strategy. What technology you use to achieve this is the last thing you should consider. Don’t just “go set up a Facebook page”. And don’t just use Twitter to broadcast stuff either. The key is establishing networks, influencing network hubs (i.e. opinion makers), establish experts and connect them to people who need to speak to them.
There’s a lot more and I need to mull it all over so I can understand what we need to achieve, and what we could achieve through social strategies that we hadn’t thought of. I’ll post more as I develop ideas and understanding.