Thursday, 24 February 2011

"we don't support that"

When I first joined what was then the Computing Service, we had a clear policy on Macs. We didn’t support them. If you turned up with a Mac it was unlikely there was anyone central who could help you. That seemed OK at the time (but that was a long time ago!) Over the years the position has gradually shifted, but we’ve never made this explicit. This cause confusion, and I get queries about it, especially when people see me using an iPad or Macbook myself! So I’ll try and spell out where I see we are now, wearing an Infrastructure hat.

There are some central infrastructural services which are fundamental. Fundamental means that we need to provide these on both Windows and Mac clients (& often Linux/Unix clients too). Off the top of my head, that could be things like wireless, filestore, Active Directory authentication, printing – but we need to define what that list actually is.

Some of these might be straightforward, while others are trickier. Macs haven’t kept up with the latest Microsoft server-side developments. For example, we want to use DFS for filestore, but Macs can’t handle that natively. So we are looking at 3rd party client software for the Mac that might bridge the gap. Infrastructure and Service Delivery will work together for this to happen.

Macs are just the start – before long we’ll be getting requests to print from iPhones and connect to wireless from Chrome OS netbooks too.

More generally (but I’m straying into areas best covered by my fellow assistant directors here): we can no longer simply say “go away, we don’t support that” in a world where people are using Macs, PCs, smartphones, tablets, etc etc etc. It’s just not acceptable to our customers and we shouldn’t do it. If we tried to staff and students would just route around us and self-provide. Cheap consumer IT equipment and cloud services on the web mean that the days of IT Services as a gatekeeper are long gone.

But – whatever we do has to be sustainable. So how can we possibly support everything? The implication is that we can’t offer the same level of handholding that people were used to in a one platform world. So rather than a binary supported/not-supported divide, we need graduated support. We also need to harness other support mechanisms, like self-support (eg user communities, or ‘Just Google It’). AskIT is an experiment to introduce that graduated/self-support mechanism in one particular area.

We need to explain to staff and students what they might reasonably expect. How can we do this clearly? Personally I like the idea of Gold, Silver & Bronze support levels, as I think users would understand these concepts. I expect whatever we do for printing and filestore there will be more rough edges on Mac than on Windows, and the Service Desk will always be more fluent on answering Windows queries. You could describe that as Windows users getting Gold level support while Mac users get Silver.

Does this make sense? All comments welcome…

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