Case Study – University of Exeter

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Case Study – University of Exeter


University of Exeter IT help desk transforms customer experience with help from Supportworks


The University of Exeter has more than 18,500 students and nearly 4,292 staff in six colleges on three campuses in Exeter and Cornwall. A member of the Russell Group(1*) of leading research-intensive universities, the University combines world-class research with excellent student satisfaction ratings. It was ranked 8th in the latest Times and Sunday Times “Good University Guide”. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings lists it as one of the top 150 universities in the world, and it was voted the Sunday Times University of the Year 2012/132.(2*)





Quality of IT support is a major consideration for today’s academic community – both students and staff – in deciding which university they want to be associated with. At the University of Exeter, the IT help desk team has worked hard to make the service efficient, comprehensive and friendly. It has used customer feedback gathered via surveys and focus groups to identify what is wanted and then achieve continuous improvement.

Hornbill’s Supportworks is a key enabler of this transformation. First introduced in 2000, it was initially used for basic functions such as call logging. Now the team takes advantage of many more Supportworks features, including built-in ITIL processes for incident, service request, problem, change and configuration management. Self-service is increasingly important; customers submit queries and requests via Supportworks screens carrying the University’s own brand.

Supportworks acts as a single point of contact for dealing with a growing workload. A core team of 9 people on the IT helpdesk look after every aspect of IT, starting with the campus network, including email and web services. It maintains PC clusters for general use and supports customers’ own devices. Virtually all applications used on campus, including Online Learning Environments, are within its remit. Around 250 analysts are registered on Supportworks and potentially everyone in the university – a total of around 22,000 – can use the self-service facilities.


The help desk’s function is to provide its customers – the University’s staff and students – with seamless, accessible IT support that enables them to do their work. By making intelligent and often innovative use of Supportworks, the team is able not just to fulfill that function efficiently, but also to demonstrate that it is doing so: essential in today’s increasingly competitive education sector.

Better service

Since extending its use of Supportworks, the team has progressively improved performance against SLAs. Its response rate has improved from 95% in 2009 to 98% in 2013, while resolution rates have improved from 97% to 98.5% in the same period. The team uses Supportworks’ facility to gather customer satisfaction ratings, and 15% of customers provide a rating. The result during 2013 was consistently 92% positive, or higher.

The help desk is continually taking on new support areas, but the ITIL processes embedded in Supportworks ensure that people understand what they are supporting and are able to ensure high service availability.
The University’s Vice Chancellor Sir Steve Smith recently wrote, “Thanks for the brilliant support you just gave me. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a more professional and helpful response.”


Cost reductions from smarter working

Economic pressures mean that the team must do more with less. In the five years from 2007 to 2012, student numbers grew by over 40%, and the demand for help desk services escalated more rapidly still. Yet help desk staffing levels only increased by 0.5 of a post in that period.

This achievement was facilitated by the introduction of a self-service Supportworks portal: 9.3% of calls were logged by customers themselves, and the proportion is increasing. Automation and remote support have also helped to increase the team’s productivity.

Recently there has been a push to provide users with a comprehensive knowledge base and training tools such as videos to help them resolve or avoid some issues. As a result, staff have more time to spend resolving problems instead of just logging them, making their work more rewarding. The team continues to chip away at costs, with more selfservice (including password resets) being introduced and a move to cloud implementation of Supportworks under consideration.


The personal touch

Because staff are so much more productive, they can spend more time engaging with customers. A counter service in a central building on campus has proved popular with stressed-out students – most of its staff are students themselves. Live chat is being added as an additional channel for talking to the help desk, and the team provides light-hearted, friendly service updates via Twitter.


Information to improve service and promote the University

It used to be hard for managers to know how much work the help desk was processing and with what success because many contacts were informal. Now that Supportworks provides the single point of contact, management has excellent metrics and can identify and proactively deal with issues using techniques such as root cause analysis.

In 2014 the team beat off international competition to be named IT Service Desk of the year in Hornbill’s STARS awards, in recognition of its transformation and modernisation of services to University communities. Judges cited exemplary use of self-service and knowledge management, as well as innovation, well-defined IT processes and high customer satisfaction.




1* The Russell Group,
2* University of Exeter is The Sunday Times University of the Year, news release 28 September 2012, 

At a glance


University of Exeter


Higher education


Supportworks ITSM Enterprise


Supportworks’ versatility has helped the University transform IT support while keeping down costs


- Excellent service: 98% compliance with response SLAs and 98.5% compliance with resolution SLAs.

- Improved customer satisfaction, consistently rated over 92%.

- Greater productivity: a 40%+ increase in student numbers required only a 0.5 post increase in help desk staffing,
thanks to automation, self-service and training.

- Empowerment for staff, who can undertake more rewarding work such as resolving problems and engaging more closely with customers.

- Better management information: using the help desk as a single point of contact makes it easy to monitor service levels with Supportworks reports.

- Compelling evidence for prospective students that the University offers great IT facilities.

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