A strategic move to enhance digital operations paid dividends for MacEwan University during the pandemic, with the timely launch of its Help Centre. The ability to cater to a wide variety of site visitors, integrate with live chat, and boost transparency for support requests have made it a hit with users.
The mission at Canada’s MacEwan University is to provide students with “a transformative education in a collaborative and supportive learning environment.” The university—which is home to more than 18,000 students in the heart of downtown Edmonton, CA—retains a focus on boosting student success, fostering creativity, and supporting innovative teaching and research.
One key aspect of its supportive learning environment is its tech-enabled approach to IT service, the centrepiece of which is a Help Centre powered by Jira Service Management, Confluence and Refined.
The site serves as a central hub for students, faculty, and staff to find essential information and documentation about important aspects of daily campus life, seek answers to technology questions, and get support from IT—via live chat or requests.
A lifeline during the pandemic
Launched in November of 2020, the Help Centre played a crucial role in filling the void when the pandemic forced a shutdown of the university’s live, walk-in help desk. “There was no presence on our campus any longer, so we needed to have a very clean line of sight to communicate with our users, to keep teaching and learning going on,” explains Nik Fisher, Team Lead for Client Services at MacEwan.
Critically, the site enabled virtual collaboration with users in a way that wouldn’t be possible with, say, a help hotline.
“If I’m talking to someone on the phone, they can’t show me a screenshot of what’s going on with their computer,” Fisher says. “With Jira, it’s very easy for someone to take a screenshot [and attach it to the support ticket]. Almost instantly, we can see what’s going on and work with them.”
“We also had a lot of users find our live chat [powered by Happy Fox] during the pandemic,” Fisher adds. “This is an important feature that we were able to integrate.”
From tickets to a premium solution
MacEwan’s Help Centre is managed by Client Services, which serves as the single point of contact for any tech-related questions across the university. Clients include students, alumni, faculty, and staff—roughly 38,000 users in total. “Sixty percent of our traffic is students or former students. Common requests are things like how to access email, or questions about hardware,” explains Fisher.
What was previously managed through a basic ticketing system is now a multi-faceted, cloud-based instance of Refined for Jira and Refined for Confluence Cloud, complete with a knowledge base (with content pulled from Confluence), a help-request submission and tracking solution, and the aforementioned live chat integration for IT questions and other support requests. The site also supports links to other portals including Human Resources, Database Support, and Finance, among others.
Using Atlassian products to run the site was a natural choice for Fisher because the university’s ERP and administration teams were already Jira cloud users and espoused its benefits. “They knew the capabilities of JSM,” says Fisher, “and they knew the capabilities of continuing with [Jira] projects and [using] Confluence [for documentation].”
Finally, customer transparency on requests
A few months after implementing Jira Service Management, Fisher knew he’d need a site-building app to spruce up the design of the customer-facing portal and optimise the experience for end users. He compiled a wish list for a new solution—a custom domain, the ability to hide request types from certain user groups, total portal customisation, and a way to embed live chat among them—and found that Refined ticked all the boxes. “We bought it within two days of me showing it to my director. And it immediately made transitioning so much easier,” he says.
The chief complaint with their old system was a lack of transparency. “Users constantly had to connect with IT and say, ‘What’s the status of this ticket?’” Fisher explains.
With Refined and Jira Service Management, the improvement was instant. “As soon as people saw that they could click a link and check the status of their ticket—it was amazing,” says Fisher. “I can’t even tell you the uptake on compliments and collaboration we got at that point.”
Delivering a seamless multi-audience experience
As the initial launch of the new Help Centre and the pandemic craziness wound down, Client Services was able to step back and evaluate the effectiveness of the portal and consider how best to move forward. They decided streamlining was in order. In the spring of 2022 the Help Center underwent a reorganisation to better serve their multiple audiences.
Top of the list: improve the navigation. Instead of asking users, upon arriving at the site, to indicate whether they are students or staff, “we now gather that metadata when they log in through their account provisioning in Atlassian. We use the Atlassian groups and roles to assign what they see on pages,” Fisher explains.
Today, users arriving at the site are prompted to navigate based on their need: Are you looking for help? Are you looking for a knowledge-based article? Or are you looking to update or see the status of your own ticket or current tickets?
“We really made the decision point a lot easier for the end user by removing that first layer of user options,” Fisher notes.
Another user-centric tweak was to use Refined’s View Permissions to show or hide content on-page based on the predetermined audience roles gathered in the metadata. “There is one tech-support page that has all the different request types in different [modules], which are limited based on role, for example. So, if a user is a staff member, they only see the staff request sites,” Fisher says. The result is a more-targeted experience not just upon arrival to the site, but also as the user navigates the various portals and pages.
Fisher can even go as far as targeting things like Announcement Banners toward certain user groups. If there’s an outage and the library team is not affected, for instance, their page would be business as usual, while the page for an affected group would have an announcement about the outage which could include the tech-support outage requirements.
Managing User Roles at Scale
Fisher uses Azure to manage user roles within the university’s identification management system (IDM). He has groups for faculty and staff, students, and each of the school’s business units—and he assigned each one permissions to applicable modules on the Help Centre. “I can use those same groups within Atlassian’s permission models for specific projects. And then our Azure and IDM works with Atlassian to just remove them [when a student or faculty member leaves the school]. I don’t have to do anything.”
We constantly heard, ‘This is amazing. Thank you so much for moving to this type of a system.’
Rethinking the site structure
Department-level requests were streamlined as well, since not all departments needed to see every type of request. Take the tech support section of the requests page, for instance. It’s utilised by a number of departments for a variety of different needs—many of which don’t overlap. View Permissions helped Fisher configure that portion of the page to automatically display only what each department needs.
“We use the security group to limit that row to be seen only by that group we assign,” says Fisher, “This way we have one tech support page, but content is limited based on the groups.” He uses Azure to populate the groups automatically.
The same strategy was used to show only relevant Confluence pages as well. “We were able to take root-level information from our knowledge bases and display them either with a tree structure—because we have the Confluence add-on for Refined—or as cards, the different FAQs that they might find at different periods of time,” he explains.
“And, instead of us receiving a hundred ‘How do I submit taxes?’ questions, we have an article that’s right in your face when you come to the site,” he adds.
From Covid crisis site to permanent solution
Since rolling out the Help Centre, Fisher and the Client Services team have been flooded with kudos from users. For the first few months, Fisher recalls, “We constantly heard, ‘This is amazing. Thank you so much for moving to this type of a system.’”
But perhaps the biggest kudos is the Help Centre’s proven staying power in the post-pandemic “new normal.” Despite the reopening of the in-person help centre on campus, Fisher has seen traffic stay high for the digital help platform.
“The majority of our audience has adapted to live chat or is submitting tickets now,” he says.