Posts tagged Zendesk

It is with great and unreserved pleasure that I announce the grand opening of one of ICT’s latest projects, which has been occupying a surprisingly large amount of my time over the last two months and which has led to me wrapping my head around some quite interesting bits of JavaScript.

Zendesk is here. Or, as we prefer to call it, the Support Desk. It’s a one-stop shop for all your ICT and Estates queries and requests, managed by our crack group of support agents and backed by the combined centuries of knowledge and experience offered by the ICT and Estates teams.

It’s been an interesting journey thought the backwaters of the University’s policies and processes, a less than enjoyable romp through bits of law which I didn’t even know existed, and an exhilarating codathon whilst I wrapped my head around slinging JSON across the ether and inserting it into some HTML elements which don’t exist on a page I don’t control using nothing more than a well-crafted bit of JavaScript and a paperclip. All that is behind us now, so it’s time to tell you what’s new and awesome in the world of getting ICT and Estates support at Lincoln.

First of all, we’ve taken the best bits from both, ditched the worst bits and then streamlined the whole process. From the moment you call or email¬†your request it’s placed directly into Zendesk from where we can monitor how it’s doing. Even better, why not submit your query online using our new request form, now with even fewer annoying questions which you don’t know the answer to than before. It’s a simple matter to sign in using your normal University details and skip the whole process of telling us your name, email address, room code, phone number, line manager, inside leg measurement and what you had for lunch yesterday.

As soon as your request is logged you’ll get a request tracking number within seconds, followed up by emails every time we update your request with something you need to know. You’ll never be out of the loop again, and you can even go online and check all your requests to see how we’re getting on. Leave comments, upload files, tell us that it’s solved and more all from right within your browser.

We could have left it there, but we weren’t done. It only took a few minutes of looking to realise that our how-to guides, instruction manuals, FAQs and more were scattered hopelessly around the Portal, Blackboard, paper help sheets, PDF files, student guides, posters and more. This wasn’t good enough, so we decided to bring them all together into Quick Answers. It’s the place to find solutions to your problems both common and esoteric, guides to walk you through getting things done, information on what’s going on and all kinds of other things. Just type your question or a few key words into the search box and see what we can tell you. Think something’s missing? Just drop me an email and we’ll get it added.

At the end of Phase 1 we’re really excited about the changes and we hope that they make everyones lives a lot easier, as well as helping you to get your problems solved faster than before. Support Desk: now open.

Those of you keeping up will know that my time at the moment is being mostly sliced up between Total ReCal, Nucleus, Jerome and Zendesk. Between them these four projects represent a monumental change in the way that a lot of things are done – that change is their reliance on APIs to achieve just about anything useful.

Today I’m going to focus on Zendesk’s integration with a few things, starting with hookups to a couple of new services we’re building to handle asset management and room information.

QR Code leading back to this site

Very simply, each asset which currently has a barcode on it will instead gain a QR Code containing a URL unique to the asset. This URL leads directly to a web based asset management system which a) gives us a way of updating assets stupidly quickly, and b) lets people report problems in three steps: scan the code, describe the problem, click ‘report’. The issue will be slotted straight into Zendesk over the API, with user details seamlessly completed from our Single Sign On service, and the asset number already completed.

On the other side, whenever someone opens a ticket on Zendesk with an asset number associated with it a cool bit of custom code will leap in and grab the asset details from our database so we can instantly see not only the details of the problem but also everything we know about the asset in question.

Rooms will similarly be gaining a QR Code which leads to the room’s entry on Nucleus Locations, from where people can view the room’s timetable, book a slot and tap a single button to tell us about anything which has gone wrong. A totally seamless experience for the end user, but which backs off to our full-blown helpdesk solution so we can track, manage and solve issues.


Hot on the heels of my ability to extract key information from Zendesk, I’m pleased to announce that we now have two new bits of data available for people to digest. The first one is a set of numbers from our current service desk software, which will (hopefully) be appearing in the ICT service desk sometime in the next week whilst we try hammer through some old tickets.

The next, more usefully for everyone on the academic side, is a summary display of PC availability in the GCW. There’s a bit of worry that the numbers may not be 100% accurate, but we’ve got a hardware audit planned so hopefully by the 24/5 opening these stats will be shockingly accurate, and possibly arranged into zones so you can find a free seat even easier.


As you will know if you’ve been kicking aroud ICT for any length of time we’re moving to a brand new helpdesk software provider, the delightful people at Zendesk. Aside from the massive list of benefits we get from this (you’ll see loads about it when we launch at Christmas) we can also now tap directly into our helpdesk’s statistics to generate useful information in real-time. Going one better than this, we (finally) have the ability to put useful information on a giant display in the helpdesk, letting them know a few useful numbers and pretty graphs.

This is using a combination of live queue data from the Zendesk API, and graphs generated daily from the nice people at GoodData. Obviously as we get a better grip on what people want to know we can mix and match even more, graphing things like trends and response rates down to the minute.

Even better, this same framework can be used for other key information throughout ICT. I’ll be updating it to a more modular system capable of supporting things like server response data and network status graphs, paving the way for even more big screens of knowledge to give a bird’s-eye view over all our systems at once.

Recently, in amongst the myriad of Jerome and Total ReCal (not to mention G2, the CWD revamps, fixing LUNA bugs, Dashboard, Nucleus, Linking You, Get Satisfaction, colour remote printing and a swathe of other Labs projects) I’ve been taking a serious look at Zendesk as a replacement for our current service desk ticketing system. In short I’m sold, and I’m pretty sure that a few other people are as well. After looking at a few other SaaS1¬†helpdesk providers Zendesk wins out for me on a number of features, but first and foremost on its simplicity and flexibility. Let me elaborate.

Yesterday we switched on a sandbox for us to play around in and use for testing. It’s already visually customised, using our SSO2 solution, using a custom domain, running with an SSL certificate, has custom fields in the ticket view, implements some of our business logic in triggers and automations, has our SLAs built in and flags trouble tickets, integrates with our Twitter account and Get Satisfaction support portal, has a variety of custom reports ready to go and has a small set of knowledge base articles available. Not bad for a few hours work.

We also gain the inherent benefits of SaaS, meaning that we no longer have servers or infrastructure for our support desk solution to worry about, and we gain new features the moment that they’re available without needing to sign up to another n-year contract. Licensing fees are on a per-agent basis so we’re not spending any more than we have to. We can access it on and off campus (something we can’t do at the moment without resorting to VPN. There’s even a mobile application so our roving support technicians can update tickets as soon as they need updating.

Alongside this there are a few other side effects. Our knowledge base can finally be extracted from the inner depths of Portal (where it resides in a set of PDF files and Word documents) and updated so that it’s finally up to date. We can have more agents, so that finally issues can be assigned to the right people. We can email everybody when things happen to tickets so they don’t languish at the bottom of the queue forever. There’s a nice web interface for everybody, so both agents and users alike can look through their own ticket history.

My target is to have us using it in two weeks. Wish me luck.

  1. Software as a Service []
  2. Single Sign-On []