Foster Operational Intelligence By Learning to Speak a Common IT Language

HPE Global Stories

IT at large universities is often widely distributed, consisting of a large central IT organization that often works independently of several smaller shops that support the needs of individual schools. Each may apply different training techniques and adhere to different standards. Because of the complexity and autonomous nature of the environments, it can be exceedingly difficult to be on the same page. This often is true when it comes to departments within the same IT organization.

With multiple departments and distributed organizations, communication and feedback aren’t always linear, which creates inconsistency on multiple levels. Worse, teams come to operate in communication silos that are increasingly hard to overcome, making it hard to get everyone aligned around IT service delivery. The result is an inconsistent and sometimes frustrating customer service experience, preventing issues and requests from getting solved effectively and efficiently.

Everyone must speak the same IT language when supporting students, faculty, and staff. And when Purdue University got a new CIO and Vice President of IT, we were challenged to go in a different direction—one that would break down silos, eliminate inconsistency, and move us toward service standardization, certifications, and excellence.

The Common IT Language of Purdue University

Purdue University is one of the largest and best-known public land-grant research universities in the United States. We are proud of our heritage as Indiana’s land-grant public university, leading in innovative research and providing top-quality education to students from Indiana and across the world.

The past decade has witnessed unprecedented demand for a Purdue education, with growth in demand outpacing enrollment growth by a factor of nearly four. Undergraduate applications increased by 119% from 2013 through 2022, and enrollment grew by 31%. Our main campus serves nearly 51,000 students representing more than 135 countries with approximately 2,000 faculty members working across our 2,307 acres. We perform more than $314 million worth of research annually in 400+ labs, putting us at the forefront of innovation, development, and excellence.

When distributed IT teams operate in communication silos, it results in an inconsistent customer service experience and prevents problems from getting solved efficiently.

I’ve served as the Director of Service Excellence since 2019 and worked in Purdue’s IT department for more than 15 years. My goal has always been focused on customer satisfaction and operational excellence, particularly how the two work together to create great outcomes for those we serve. This objective has never wavered, but I’ve shifted my focus to the conceptual bridge that spans both ideas: multi-departmental cohesion.

We have a tremendous talent pool with hundreds of brilliant, dedicated people. Still, separate departments spoke about IT solutions differently, which hindered our understanding of each other and our customers. We knew how to handle our jobs and deliver services effectively, but we didn’t always look beyond the task at hand. Procurement is one of the most obvious of these, but it also pertains to the solutions we created. Did we consider how our actions may impact other employees or our network? Was there a decision-making team involved in the process? Had we clearly communicated this process with other teams? More often than not, the answer was no. 

Our executives tried to bridge the gap. Sometime around 2010, Purdue’s then-CIO launched an initiative for our central IT organization to undergo ITIL v3 Foundation training. The course provided a solid foundation for people to start thinking the same way about IT issues. However, efforts didn’t go much beyond the training course.

In 2021, CIO and Vice President for IT Ian Hyatt came aboard. Ian took a different approach than his predecessors. He is extremely service management-focused and is an unapologetic change agent. He set a new goal for Purdue University: to become the preeminent IT service provider in higher education. We renewed our focus on people, processes, technology, and maturing in the discipline of IT service management (ITSM). To make that goal a reality, we needed to eliminate our communication silos and continually improve our organizational processes to enhance customer and stakeholder experiences. And to do that, we would need more training.

A Training Partner That’s Up to the Task

The directive was simple: to procure ITIL v4 Foundation training and certification for everyone who wanted it. Encouraging everyone to participate expanded our scope beyond centralized IT staff and took a more cohesive approach to bring together our various teams. The expectation was to deliver training onsite in small groups and provide ample opportunities for certification throughout our distributed teams. That’s one of the reasons we re-engaged HPE.

Purdue University worked with HPE Educational Services during our first round of training in 2010. I wasn’t a part of our decision-making team at the time, but I know exactly what led us to return to the service nearly a decade later: a great price and outstanding flexibility. We examined other solutions, but HPE always won out. HPE shone in its approach to scheduling. Our distributed labor force made scheduling complicated, but HPE offered hybrid training options and was willing to work with us on planning and other logistics.

They also offered two shots at the certification exam, while other providers offered just one. Offering two attempts at passing what I would call a relatively difficult exam really stood out. Two chances would take a lot of pressure off our learners’ plates, allowing them to focus better with the promise of a second attempt if needed.

Perhaps the most impactful selling point was our longstanding relationship with HPE reseller American Digital. Our account representative, Ken Williams, is an excellent liaison who understands the challenges on both sides of the equation and articulates them well. He helped us express our concerns and requirements and it was clear with his assistance that HPE would be the correct path forward.

The HPE Learning Experience

We procured the latest ITIL v4 Foundation training for 600 seats with an open invitation for all interested parties. Since training began in late May 2022, we’ve grown the overall investment to nearly 700 individuals, and 400  so far have completed their certification to date.

Most learners engaged in onsite participation. I firmly believe that in-house, instructor-led courses are the best way to absorb new information, but I also realize that onsite courses aren’t feasible for every learner. For these people, HPE offered a remote learning option so individuals didn’t miss anything. Thankfully, both our in-person and virtual training sessions were led by dedicated, outstanding instructors who clearly love what they do. They made all our trainees feel confident and comfortable in the classroom and during the exam. 

Another benefit to our learners was HPE’s commitment to in-person exams. Rather than contend with the online proctoring that became commonplace during the early days of the pandemic, HPE was a strong advocate for our students’ right to take in-person exams, which is a tremendous win. 

A concept that’s stuck with me from training is the racetrack scenario. Our instructors led a one-day simulation that demonstrated the effectiveness of ITSM through role play. Everyone had an assigned role and responsibility within their small group (e.g., CIO, manager, or new employee), with the ultimate goal of winning the “race” as a team through the optimal delivery of IT service. The racetrack scenario is less about taking specific actions and more about understanding ways to approach unique situations and how individuals at different levels function during major incidents.

Running this simulation for our 700 employees gave everyone a better understanding of how a single action could impact multiple departments—precisely the foundation we needed to streamline communications. Tracking outcomes for training like this is often hard to quantify. However, we’re always looking at specific KPIs, OPIs, and metrics-based reports through our ticketing system, Tableau. We’ll know when our teams get better through hard and anecdotal data, CSATs, and incident response times, to name a few modalities. The intent is to continually improve our process, and we are always looking for better ways to do things.

Some people weren’t excited about the training, but I’ve had many of them tell me afterward it was genuinely valuable and that they were glad they participated. Our participant feedback has been a joy to review, and I can’t thank HPE and our instructors enough for their combined efforts and approach.

We Will Continue to Create, Deliver, and Support

HPE has brought value to Purdue University in several ways. We began with a disseminated group of experts taking a hundred different approaches, and we’re now on our way to consistent collaboration and service. We’ve started to examine what we do and how best to make decisions that positively impact customers and other teams. When someone says “service value stream,” everyone knows what they mean. If someone mentions “continual improvement,” the concept clicks for everyone.

The right IT training can transform a disseminated group of experts into a cohesive team that offers consistent collaboration and service.

HPE shared our vision from the beginning, and their cohesive approach allowed us to invest in employees as individuals, many of whom can now put ITIL certifications on their resumes. I’m looking forward to continuing my ITIL education and joining those who are already certified managing professionals and strategic leaders. I hope to use my newfound skills to foster an environment of growth and improvement for all.

Purdue University’s journey with ITSM is far from over. About halfway through our most recent training, our CIO came to me and said, “what’s next?” So, we’re forging ahead and have already procured seats for two more trainings: Create, Deliver, and Support (CDS) and Direct, Plan, and Improve (DPI). CDS is more for boots-on-the-ground personnel, including supervisors, managers, and anyone involved in daily processes. DPI is more for people in leadership roles who can create governance models and use their vision to move forward with an ITIL framework.

We’re still a long way from what I would call being mature in ITSM, but I’m proud of all our efforts, and people are making incredible advancements and learning all the time. This experience has been a great jumpstart to our mission, and HPE Educational Services got us here quicker than we expected.