E.L. Fridge is a Web Applications Engineer and Adjunct Instructor at the University of West Florida. His comment about how his team helps departments across campus get set up with Atlassian products on the Education kick-off and configuration thread caught our eye, so we reached out to learn more. Enjoy!
In a few sentences, describe the career path that led you to be an Atlassian admin at your the University of West Florida?
I am a software engineer by training, and I started using Jira with another co-worker back in 2011 to help develop a web portal for the university. It worked very well for that, and we started using Jira for more projects in our department over time. I attended Atlassian Summit in 2013 and got the training to help organize all the projects that were popping up. I am now the primary functional admin for our Atlassian suite, but I work with a team of other functional and server admins to share the load. We now manage server installations of Jira, Confluence, Bitbucket Server, and Bamboo. We are also extensive users of HipChat and are looking forward to migrating to Stride when that time comes.
Can you speak more about bringing in Jira Service Desk and how it has been expanding to new teams? What service desk were you using before Jira Service Desk, what were the deciding factors to go with Jira Service Desk?
I was at Summit 2013 when Jira Service Desk 1.0 was first announced, and I was very excited about it because I saw the potential for Jira to expand past our software development circle.
I had spent three years working in our help desk prior to taking this job, so I knew the software and processes they were using. Our team was using an older product from BMC called Service Desk Express, but that product was being discontinued. We already had Jira Service Desk 1.0 installed and were using it as a pilot during our Banner student transition, so we had some experience with it and expertise designing projects and hosting the app. Jira Service Desk came along at the right time for us, and when 2.0 was announced with the unlimited customer licensing structure, we knew that we could make the switch.
What custom apps did you build for Jira Service Desk and what are some of the processes you were trying to alleviate with the apps?
We wanted to make the switch to Jira Service Desk easy for our support team, so we built a crosswalk with all the features the old product offered on the left and the proposed Jira way of doing that on the right. Some things were very similar, like workflow statuses. Others would require a change in process but were workable, like using a combination of issue types, request types, and labels instead of categories. However, there were several features that our team was used to that would require some extra apps to make it work. We bought some and we wrote some, but we managed to transition to Jira Service Desk very smoothly.
Our Jira install relied on two main apps to fill feature gaps: the Automation for Jira app from Atlassian Labs (now maintained by Code Barrel), and Notification Assistant for Jira (NAFJ) from Riada. In the early days Jira’s built-in automations were very simple or nonexistent, so we used the Automation app for automated responses to customers. We used SLAs a little creatively to set timers that would trigger automations to notify customers if an issue was waiting too long, or to automatically close issues after a period of time. Automations were also set up to alert staff to SLAs that were coming up soon, and later we incorporated these notifications into our HipChat rooms as well. These automations helped improve our team’s productivity quite a bit. We are now able to do much of this with the automation features in Jira Service Desk itself.
The NAFJ app was essential to getting our notifications set up. We were able to set up automations that would email our staff when high priority issues would come in, such as a classroom technology problem. These emails would go to a mobile phone as an SMS, essentially “paging” the staff until someone assigned the issue to themselves. We’ve used this app for several other things when integrating other teams, usually to notify a shared email for a workgroup and/or a HipChat room that a certain type of issue has been created or needs attention.
Our team has written two Jira apps for our help desk and IT partners on campus. Our old system would have a section on the screen that contained user data. This allows our agents to see who they are talking to and some basic info on them, such as location, department, title, and who their main IT contact is. We use the Jira CLI app from Bob Swift along with a database script to sync this data into the Jira user properties on a schedule. Our app then displays this data for the user in a pane on the side of the screen. When a person calls or puts in a ticket, we can see the user context right on the issue. Our other app works in a similar way, but it displays links to our SCCM management system to allow us to see information about a particular computer in our asset management projects (we use Jira for asset management as well, similar to how Atlassian does internally).
We have also written two HipChat apps as well. One of our HipChat apps connects with our Cisco phone system so our team can see how many agents are on the phones and if there are any calls waiting in our queue. The other one connects to our home-grown incident management system and displays present and recently closed alerts for the systems and software that we manage.
What are other teams at the University of West Florida interested in using Jira Service Desk?
After the initial success in rolling out Jira Service Desk in Fall of 2015, we started getting requests to implement service desk from other parts of campus. During the transition, we also set up our IT partners across campus with Jira projects so that they could track issues and interact with our help desk in the same system. News of this system spread from these IT workers to their departments and workgroups by word of mouth, so by 2016, we were working with several other entities on campus to implement Jira Service Desk.
The Atlassian motto of “for every team” has really come true for us in this case. We are now using Jira Service Desk for many different things, like classroom scheduling, registrar course changes, institutional communications, and web services.
Two of the most interesting applications of Jira Service Desk I’ve seen are in our recreation center and in our facilities services. Our Recreation staff uses Jira on iPads to report injuries to guests in their rec center and on intramural fields. Based on the severity of the injury, Jira Service Desk will notify senior staff for the appropriate area, and it helps their grad assistants track incidents to follow up with the injured students afterward.
Our facilities and accounting teams use Jira Service Desk to track surplus items like old computers and furniture and track these items through the reporting, pickup, warehouse, and auction processes. We’ve written a custom program that prints labels for these items that use QR codes that link back to a Jira ticket representing the item, and our campus staff can upload photos of the items to Jira Service Desk to assist our facilities team in item pickup.
What's your favorite part of your job?
I do a lot of software development, so much of my day is spent in my office staring at a screen. My involvement in rolling out Jira Service Desk has allowed me to meet with many of the people across campus and listen to their needs. Jira is a highly flexible tool, and in many cases, we’ve been able to come up with a solution for their team in a manner of weeks. It’s very rewarding to be able to help with a problem and see that solution make a difference in someone else’s world. Jira has been a valuable tool in helping other people with their technology needs.
What do you do for fun outside of work?
I’ve got two kids in elementary school and I enjoy playing with them. We have beautiful beaches and coastal areas here in Pensacola and so we like to head to parks and play areas on the coast. I also enjoy woodworking and playing the bass guitar at my church.
Thanks, E.L. for the marvelous Showcase! Community––if you have questions for E.L. about any questions about his above interview, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.
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