North Bay school board bridges distance with service management

For a rural school board in northern Ontario, spending $40,000 on an IT system to streamline its operations just wasn’t an option.

Conseil scolaire public du Nord-Est (French Public School Board in North Bay) consists of 13 sites, with 1,500 students in total. “Our territory is huge – from our head office to the furthest school is a six-hour drive,” said Jamie Point, manager of information systems for the school board. “The joy of rural northern Ontario is that you have schools in these remote villages, but you don’t necessarily have the student numbers.” This means the school board doesn’t have the student population to get enough funding for a large IT team.

Aside from Point, the team is made up of two technicians, one dispatcher, one systems administrator and an application support technician. So the team turned to an IT solution from Alloy Software to lower its resource requirements and make that six hours feel like it’s just minutes away.

The school board has about 900 computers on its network, 200 of which are laptops, with fibre connections between the sites (it has one of the largest videoconferencing systems in Canada). It was looking for a solution to manage inventory, since it was just using Excel spreadsheets at the time. So it upgraded from Alloy’s Asset Navigator to Alloy Navigator in the course of one day (after several days of testing). The only hiccup was that it had to upgrade its Web server along the way.

Navigator also came with a help desk and call tracking solution as part of the package. The school board’s technicians already understood they had to use a call tracking system. What was frustrating, however, was that they had to run to their laptops all the time to check their help desk tickets. With the upgrade, however, they no longer have to bring their laptops along.

“One of our problems before this system was the clients didn’t know whether you were coming or going,” said Point. Now, the technicians are responsible for deadlines, and it has allowed Point to track them to see if there is any repetition.

As a result, clients are much happier. What frustrates clients, said Point, is usually not the IT problem itself. They get frustrated when the technician appears out of the blue and they’re not ready. “So this allowed us to properly communicate with our clients,” he said.

The IT team also plans to start working on a knowledge base, so clients can try to troubleshoot their own issues before calling IT. It’s also looking at more automation, such as providing a way for clients to log in their help desk tickets, rather than through a dispatcher.

Typically larger companies go through these change management processes. “But slowly I’m starting to see some smaller and medium-sized companies looking to do that as well,” said Robert Josefs, manager of marketing and sales with Alloy Software, which specializes in service management, asset management and network management software.

IT infrastructures are becoming more complex, but user demands continue to increase. Using a “one-stop shop” for all assets makes this process easier, he said, since help desk tickets and contact records are integrated together.

Navigator takes a detailed inventory of different types of assets, from hardware to computer records. There’s also a built-in software licence compliance feature, where users can run reports on their software licences to see if they’re in compliance or not.

“A computer audit will automatically go out and scan your network and pull out all the configuration information on all the computers,” said Josefs. Users can also import information from Excel or another database, he added, which is a benefit of having everything in one product.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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