St Andrews tops global university rankings for IT services

St Andrews University's IT team has gone from 'failing' to claim the title of 'best university service desk in the world' in just five years.


St Andrews University has become the first university in the world to gain a four-star service desk certificate from the sector’s professional body.

The university IT department went from ‘failing’ to a top service thanks to a new CIO “sorting out the basics” of infrastructure and a big improvement in the relationship with staff and students, according to IT business relationship manager Pauline Brown.

“I suppose it goes back to 2010, when we appointed a CIO [Steve Watt]. He was brought in because IT was seen as failing, not delivering what the staff and students needed. They would do their own IT without telling us, they’d lost confidence in us,” Brown told ComputerworldUK.

The university asked the Service Desk Institute (SDI) to come and audit its IT team in December 2012. The audit assesses leadership, strategy, people management, processes, resources, satisfaction internally and externally and performance results.

The 90-strong IT team supports about 8,000 students and 2,000 staff and has an annual budget of £10 million.

The SDI awarded St Andrews two stars in 2012, three in 2013 and four stars in 2014.

The improvement was down to the IT team proactively talking to the students and staff who depend on them, finding out what they need, regaining their confidence and getting advice from experts, Brown said.

“We made changes in 2010 and 2011, really just sorting out the basics, the infrastructure, making the network more stable.” she explained.

“We invested in building a new datacentre to help stabilise our systems and increase storage. We got some off-premise stuff too. We used to do it all ourselves. Now we outsource some stuff, develop some other stuff or buy off the shelf. We’re changing our approach.”

Brown said the IT team “embraced” the audit process as an opportunity to improve how it communicates and works together, as well as with the university as a whole.

“We’ve got a much more positive, collaborative, proactive relationship with the university now. Ultimately our goal is to provide the best service possible to anyone using our services, from ‘my computer’s not working’ to ‘I need a new system for this’,” Brown added.

She offered some advice to other university IT teams seeking to improve: “Get externally audited.”

“You need someone not directly involved to take that objective view over what you need to do. And these people [the SDI] have huge amounts of experience all over the world,” Brown said.

SDI’s master auditor, Howard Kendall, said: “There is an excellent culture of collaboration amongst the [St Andrews] IT teams as well as a high level of customer engagement, which has been achieved by working closely with the University community of staff and students alike.

“We look forward to seeing the improvements continue and for this desk to lead the way in setting an exceptionally high standard for universities across the world.”

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