Why African Higher Education Institutions (HEI) need a formal IT help desk

ICT4D Africa Researchers Network member, Robert “Bobby” K Okine will be attending the upcoming “6th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training”, e-Learning Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (25-27 May 2011).   As you read through his conference presentation abstract, we take for granted the necessity of IT support services and staff particularly in certain resource-constrained environments.  Bobby will be sharing his Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology experiences at the upcoming conference.

What are your own experiences of Africa’s help desk services at your local HEI?

Here at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, we have an active help desk with an implemented help desk system which you can call or email.   They are able to log into your computer and locate the problems remotely.  While I sometimes think they take a long time, they do get the job done as effectively as they can and they do follow up on pending requests.  Is this a rare phenomenon given the circumstances at KNUST?

e-Learning Africa:  Conference Presentation Abstract
Every organization, either corporate or a higher educational institution (HEI), depends in part on its IT infrastructure to remain competitive and efficient. As this dependency grows, so does the need for providing effective systems to minimise downtime and improve efficiency of support provided [1].

 
HEIs in Europe and United States are familiar with the IT help desk but the same cannot be said about their counterparts in developing countries [1]. Higher educational institutions in developing countries like Africa also need the availability of their IT infrastructure support services to enable researchers and scholars to concentrate on their core objectives of teaching, learning and research.

 
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) is a public university in Ghana with a student population of 24,695 and staff of 3,319. KNUST has over 6,000 workstations and laptops used by the populace for their daily research activities on the university computer network infrastructure [3]. Support required for the stable use of hardware and the various applications that run on the workstations are enormous. Nevertheless, KNUST does not have a formal IT help desk likewise most of it sister universities in Africa. Rather, requests are handled informally between users and IT staff or technicians. These informal arrangements make it difficult for users to follow up on whether a request was not handled promptly or effectively.

 
Users sometimes engage the services of anyone perceived to be computer literate to help resolve their IT support problems. While this seems convenient for both parties, it is not conducive to generating a knowledge base of resolved problems. Personal relationships are able to compensate in part for the looseness of the current IT system, but as the pressure of increasing technological complexity and expanding computer application builds, such informal models can have strong tendencies to break down [4].
The goal of this presentation is to enlighten stakeholders on the importance of implementing an automated IT help desk system using available help desk software (in the free or open source market) that will meet the needs or functionalities of their university or institution as was the case of KNUST.

 
The proposed IT help desk system will seamlessly integrate enquiries created via email, phone and web-based forms into a simple easy-to-use multi-user web interface. It will manage, organise and archive all support requests and responses in one place while providing users with the accountability and responsiveness that they deserve.


References:

[1] Caruso, J B, & Sheehan, M. “Key Findings: Service on the Front Line: The IT Help Desk in Higher Education,” EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, Colorado, 2007. URL: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EKF/EKF0708.pdf
[2] Van Bon, J (ed). Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Foundations of IT service Management – Based on ITIL V3. Zaltbommel: Van Haren Publishing, 2008.
[3] KNUST. Facts and Figures. Kumasi: University Printing Press, 2009.
[4] Reese, J. B. & Sutton, B, Help Desk Sourcing Options: One University’s Solution,” EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research Colorado Volume 2007, 24. 4 December 2007 URL: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERB0724.pdf

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