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What we have learned about user needs in IT support

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: User research, Users

Our research into how Cabinet Office staff work and how technology can support this has been continuing at great pace.

But throughout the programme we’ve always borne in mind that providing our users with the technology they need to be the best they can be in their work does not just mean handing out the right laptops, tablets and smart phones with the right applications and network connectivity. As we saw in our user trials (see Will van Rensburg’s post), we need to provide a great support service to users that continues long after they receive their new equipment.

We did some research into what great technology support might mean to our users in the Cabinet Office. This involved firstly reviewing what we had learned so far from the trials, then using this to plan group workshops and individual interviews with users. We focussed on three topics:

  • Describe your experience of IT support so far - good and bad
  • What your dream IT support service looks and feels like
  • What do you think of particular support channels, such as phone call, a tech bar, bookable at-desk support, peer-to-peer learning, online forums. Would you use them? When? Why?
In workshops we asked people to create mood-boards to show us what their dream IT support service would look like.
In workshops we asked people to create mood-boards to show us what their dream IT support service would look like.

These were some of the themes that emerged as the most important:

Users told us that the frustration and stress they feel when their IT lets them down is aggravated when they have no way of knowing when the problem will be fixed, or the process by which this happens. They feel powerless when they can't influence how an issue is prioritised - sometimes the technical scale of an issue does not reflect the impact it has on the user. IT support may judge something to be a small technical problem and give it low priority, when it is significantly hampering the user. Users told us they report some problems repeatedly, but that IT support treat them as isolated incidents and so do not address the underlying cause.

What this means for us: service level agreements (the length of time a user is told within which their issue will be resolved) must be meaningful and accurate. Users should be able to see and affect how their issue is being prioritised. Users should be able to track the history of their IT issues and make connections between them, if they think the issues are combined.

If we learned one thing from this research is that there is no limit to the ways in which technology problems can upset the working day! The impact may be different depending on the user’s location, job role, IT know-how or previous experience of technology problems. Different users deal with issues in different ways. Currently, some users immediately call IT support; others ask colleagues for help or look for the answer on a web forum. When we talked about new ways IT support could be offered, a walk-up 'tech bar' appealed to some, but others said they would feel more confident using online chat support. They appreciated the immediacy of these types of support.

What this means for us: we should provide users with different channels to access support, and users should never be told that they have used the wrong channel.

A human face and voice
A lot of users really value face-to-face interactions with IT support, although this happens very rarely. A number of participants noted that telephone interactions with IT support were very pleasant, regardless of whether the issue was resolved. Although interacting with a human was usually preferred to filling in an online form or sending an email, human interactions could still be frustrating, for example answering repetitive questions for identification purposes.

What this means for us: always remember that the IT support service should have a friendly face and/or voice. The identification process should be as short as possible.

What do users want help with?
As we heard more from users, some broad categories of support needs emerged, such as ‘I need a new piece of technology’ or ‘I need to access the internet but I can’t’. However, one story that we never heard was ‘I need to learn how to use a new application or device’.

Prior to carrying out this testing we had thought of ‘training and support’ as one theme. However, it became clear that these were not seen as linked at all in the minds of our users. Some channels that we imagined, such as peer-to-peer sessions and online forums, were often dismissed by users as not helpful in solving immediate problems, as they were associated with learning new skills.

What this means for us: The technology we are delivering to the Cabinet Office will give users access to many new digital tools and ways of working. As well as a delivering an IT support service to solve users' problems, we need to encourage and enable users to explore the new and ever-changing possibilities brought by current technology.

What happens next?
We're taking on board these user insights as we design the Cabinet Office’s future IT support service, ensuring we deliver a value-for-money service that delivers for users.

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  1. Comment by James Arthur Cattell posted on

    Good blog post Polly 🙂 Really glad to see this work is being undertaken.

    I went to Cabinet Office laptop try-out and was surprised to see the absence of a machine running an open source operating system. Why is this, please?

    • Replies to James Arthur Cattell>

      Comment by Ross Wheatley posted on

      Hi James,

      In all aspects of the technology transformation programme, we are considering open source solutions, for both back end and user-facing systems - but user needs come first.

      With regard to the laptop operating systems, we considered an open source solution - but due to time constraints and the wide range of solutions that we need to implement, we decided that it wasn't practical to include it in our initial roll-out. However, it's an option for the future, as part of the ongoing development of our service. We are ensuring that all our solutions will be compatible with all operating systems, including open source and Chrome OS, and not just limited to Windows and Mac operating systems - to make sure we're not restricted to using particular operating systems in future.

      Ross Wheatley
      Product Manager - End User Devices
      Cabinet Office Technology Transformation