ITSM Networks Podcast The New Different

Back to School in the New Different—SolarWinds TechPod 031

September 8, 2020

For campus IT, back to school holds an entirely different meaning for the Fall 2020 semester. On this episode of SolarWinds® TechPod, Head Geek Liz Beavers is joined by Jenny Reeves, operations program manager for a K-12 school in Atlanta. Theyll recount the Spring journey as schools pivoted mid-semester to virtual classrooms, applying lessons learned as many schools currently face moving targets for re-opening and/or virtual learning. Join Liz and Jenny as they help IT leaders in education navigate the new different. 

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Liz Beavers 
Head Geek, SolarWinds 

Like many IT professionals, Liz’s entry into the tech industry was unconventional. With plans to pursue a career in public relations, Liz’s path quickly took a turn toward technology. She got her start as a customer success manager with a research platform for the financial industry prior to joining Samanage, now SolarWinds Service Desk.  

Prior to becoming a SolarWinds Head Geek, Liz served as the technical point of contact for SolarWinds Service Desk customers. In this role, she combined the best of both worlds: her passion for communicating with prospective and existing customers while leaning on her multiple ITIL certifications to provide ITSM best practices to help alleviate pain points, work smarter, and streamline service desk operations. Liz is a formally trained public speaker and is actively involved in the service management community, participating in and hosting podcasts, webcasts, panel discussions, and speaking at large-scale industry events. 

Jenny Reeves
Operations Program Manager, K-12 School in Atlanta

Jenny began her career in the classroom as a high-school math teacher in Dekalb County, GA. After several years teaching, she decided she wanted to move into the operations side of education. Jenny earned her MPA with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management from Georgia State University to add to her undergraduate Finance and International Affairs degrees from the University of Georgia. In addition to her time in education, she has also spent time working in state and local government as aides to a Georgia state senator and an intern for a U.S. Congressman. 

In her current role as Operations Program Manager, shes responsible for bringing people, processes, and technology together to provide smooth, efficient operations across the entire campus. She developed and managed a new contactless offboarding process used across all departments within the school. She has also worked with multiple stakeholders in various departments across the school to select and implement a new software solution integrating carline, wellness screening, and visitor management currently being put into use by all three schools at their 1,200-student campus. 

Episode Transcript
This episode of SolarWinds TechPod is brought to you by SolarWinds Service Desk, an affordable cloud-based IT service management and IT asset management platform. Now more than ever, users in your organization depend on the technology IT supports. Get up and running with no code configuration and fast time to value. SolarWinds Service Desk, ITSM simplified. Visit solarwinds.com/service-desk.

Liz:
Welcome to SolarWinds TechPod. I’m your host and SolarWinds Head Geek Liz Beavers. On today’s episode, it’s time to go back to school, whatever that may mean for your campus or your family. As administrators, teachers, faculty, and parents all worry about what this school year holds, they’re all counting on campus IT to make this school year possible. Now, what does that actually look like? There are so many factors to take into account.

Liz:
Today, we’ll discuss the possibilities ranging from return to the classroom, full virtual learning, and everything in between. We’re also going to cover some of the issues that service desks can expect and how to prepare. Joining me is Jenny Reeves, operations manager at a school in Atlanta, and she is dealing with all of these challenges and more as we speak. Welcome Jenny.

Jenny:
Thank you so much.

Liz:
So great to have you here. And it’s really special for me as well because we actually worked together in my previous life at SolarWinds as a solutions engineer. And that was back in the summer of 2019, which honestly seems like a lifetime ago. And I think it’s safe to say that things have changed pretty drastically since we first started partnering together.

Jenny:
They have. Across the board. You are absolutely correct about that. Yeah. When we first met, that was kind of me dipping my toes into this IT world. So IT is not my background. I’m the operations program manager at a school, and we serve from pre-K all the way up to grade 12. So we have the full range of ages on our campus. And in the operations department, we are responsible for the buildings, for the facilities, for the maintenance of that, for the calendar scheduling and then systems across the board.

Jenny:
IT is not… that is not in our wheelhouse necessarily. But we, as the operations department took a look at how could we create a better user experience for all of our faculty and staff and parents and families that were on our campus? And one of the things that we realized was that they were having to look at a bunch of different platforms and portals and systems just to get the everyday things done that they needed help with. And so we looked at that and said, “Well, how can we make that better? How can we make that a better user experience?” And one of the things that we came up with was, “Well, we are currently using a maintenance request platform that is only used for maintenance requests. And can we wrap that into the service desk that IT is currently using, which was SolarWinds, so that IT and operations could both live in the same world?”

Jenny:
And so that if a teacher needed help with something, they wouldn’t have to know, “Which system do I go to? Which tile do I click on?” They always go to the same spot and then they can say, “Oh. Okay. Operations IT. Now I know where I’m supposed to be going.” And so that is how we met. I was tasked with figuring out how can operations and IT live in the same system. How can we both live in the service desk? And I needed a lot of help with that. And so, Liz, you and I, we got to spend a lot of quality time together where I got to ask all of my questions as we worked to figure that out.

Liz:
So with that Jenny, I kind of want to take you back to March of 2020 when things began to transpire and things were quickly shifting with everything that was coming out about the pandemic and all of those shifts that all organizations, including schools, had to take to pivot to virtual work, virtual learning. So I know going into that time, you guys had been doing a lot of work with the service desk, with some of those work orders and streamlining your processes. So, tell us a little bit about what the transition looked like as we were reacting to the news of COVID-19.

Jenny:
Sure. It was interesting, to say the least. So like you said, we had been putting in a lot of hours and a lot of work to streamline this process to bring our maintenance requests into the service desk. And we had set a go-live date for our community of the middle of March. And that is when we were going to introduce this to all of our teachers and our parents and our students. We had spring break, our spring break is very early, and so our community had left on spring break the first week of March, I believe.

Jenny:
And it was while they were all gone, and I was preparing for launching this, that COVID-19 came to the United States kind of in full force and became something that we quickly realized we had to reckon with, and that we were going to have to come up with a plan for, that we were not going to be able to continue on as we thought we would have. And so really what happened with our maintenance requests specifically was that our community came back from spring break for a few days, and then we very quickly switched to virtual learning. So we actually ended up not rolling out the maintenance requests as we had planned, simply because we did have to completely pivot and shift gears from not worrying so much about the physical building, because everyone was going to be home, and that virtual aspect of it is where we were going to have to focus our efforts.

Jenny:
And so that was our first experience. And that actually has taught me something that really throughout this whole… Gosh. What? Six or seven months has stuck with me, and that is that it’s never going to be perfect. When you go to launch something, it is never going to be 100% perfect. Something is going to happen. It might not be a global pandemic, it might not be as big of a scale as what we have currently been dealing with, but something’s going to go wrong. And so to be able to look at what’s happening and to move on from there. To make the changes, to make whatever adjustments are necessary to move on from there is crucial. It’s absolutely crucial.

Liz:
Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. And I think that that’s really sound advice as well. And it’s incredibly timely because I think something that we’ve all learned from this as well is, there’s going to be continual readjustment. There is no staying of what the previous course was. It’s totally new trajectory and we need to stay nimble and agile to keep adapting to whatever is being thrown our way. With that, so what were some of the things that you guys had to work through to facilitate that transition so that your faculty, staff, students, and parents felt enabled and ready to tackle phase one of virtual learning?

Jenny:
Yeah. There was quite a bit. There were a lot of decisions that were made over a very short period of time. Like I said, I do work pretty closely with our IT department. And initially in those first few days, it looked like me just showing up to the IT office and saying, “What can I do to help? I don’t know the ins and outs of our IT system, but I can hand out iPads.” We are very fortunate that we were able to send all of our students home with a device so that they could continue to learn as they were home. And so as kind of the IT team was working behind the scenes, I was able to help distribute those devices.

Jenny:
That was something that I could do to help. And the rest of our operations team, it looked very similar to that. Just kind of filling in for IT that was feeling this immense pressure to get everyone on zoom, to get everyone logged into every single app or website that they would need to be able to continue to learn from home. And so for us to then fill in those gaps of, “Well, you know what? How do we hand out 800 iPads? And how do we make sure that our 500 primary school kids do go home with their laptop?” Working through those systems. And so by working together, we were able to get everyone into all of the virtual platforms that we needed to, and everyone went home with a device. And so we were able to actually pretty seamlessly continue to offer those learning experiences for children.

Liz:
I think that that’s a pretty tremendous success given that incredibly short timeframe. Like you said, you guys were coming off of Spring break. So to make that quick pivot and make sure that your students were walking away successful and ready to continue their learning experience without it feeling too abrupt, despite it being pretty abrupt is huge. So I think huge kudos to you guys. And just like you said, I think a real testament to teamwork and having that collaborative space. I’d also imagine there were some lessons learned, just in that short period of time, about where there might be opportunities to automate.

Liz:
So, I’m sure that you guys had different processes for how previously you were handing out devices or getting people set up with applications. And I know again, more of that’s kind of in the IT realm, but having lent a hand, did you guys see opportunities to streamline? Because I know that there were certainly changes and recommendations probably made from your learnings going into the new semester.

Jenny:
Absolutely. Yeah. So there were two that come to mind immediately. The first one is that we had… All of our students have a device that is issued to them for use during the school day. And so we had those devices available, the students were familiar with them. What we did not have were asset tags on all of those devices, because they lived at school, the teachers monitored them, you go get your laptop from the laptop cart at the end of class, you go put it back, there was no need really for us to have those asset tags on the devices to track down to the individual device every day.

Jenny:
Well, when you’re about to send laptops home with 500 primary school students, you do want those asset tags on there. You absolutely want to be able to track what laptop is with what child, not only to get it back when it’s all done, but if that child’s having problems with their device to be able to go in and look exactly what laptop that is to troubleshoot that problem.

Jenny:
So, on that last day of school, when we had students in the building, I and some of my coworkers were frantically grabbing those asset tags and sticking them on every laptop, every charger to make sure, and then recording that. So, that is absolutely a lesson learned that every asset should have an asset tag. That we want to make sure that we can track everything. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s never going to leave the building, because you actually never know. And so automating that process of when we issue devices, it doesn’t matter who they’re issued to, we just want to make sure that we can track that.

Jenny:
The second thing that we learned that needed to be automated was actually our offboarding process. Again, I work in the operations department but I got pulled into our human resources department to help with the offboarding process. So obviously the pandemic has gone on longer than we expected when we were all thinking, “Okay. We’ll all go home for two weeks and then we’ll be back.” So it got to the end of our school year, and we had teachers whose contracts were ending, they were leaving and we needed to off-board them. And our old offboarding system was that they printed out a piece of paper and then they walked from department to department to go complete the items that were listed on that paper, and then to get a literal initial from the person signing off saying, “Yes. They have done this.”

Jenny:
Well, none of us were in the building at that point and we couldn’t have that face-to-face contact with each other anymore. So our HR department came to me and said, “Can you help us automate this? And can you help us put this on a digital platform? We obviously can’t do the in-person anymore, so we need a digital way to track this. We need to come up with a workflow where we can all get everything done that we need to from our living rooms or from our kitchens or from our home offices.” And that was something that I think we all knew that the system should change, that there was a better way than sending a teacher all over campus to collect these signatures, but we didn’t have the time to create that until we had to create it, and until we had no choice, that those signatures were not an option.

Jenny:
And so we were able to… And again, it’s working across departments. Right? Because you have to check out with IT and you have to check out with operations and you have to get all of your HR paperwork filed. So working with all of those departments to move it all digital, and to come up with a workflow that could be done from your home. That was kind of the second big area that we really had to change because we had no choice. But I do genuinely feel like going forward it’s for the best. We came up with a system that I do think is more efficient, that I do think better serves our teachers as they are offboarding. It gives them an option of doing this in a little bit more efficient manner.

Liz:
Definitely. And I think those lessons learned out of necessity are so applicable. And again, that’s something that not only did you absolutely have to do that, it was critical to business operations, making sure that you had things available for your new set of users that are going to be coming on for the new year or taking stock of what machines might we need to depreciate and remove if somebody who had a contract is no longer here. There’s a lot of things in that mix. But I think in automating it, it also gives you a chance to… You have phase one of that automation, and now you can continue to revamp and pivot and learn where you can streamline that even further.

Liz:
But to your point as well, and as I’ve said a couple of times, I might sound a bit like a broken record, I think seeing the departmental collaboration is really, really amazing. It’s something that a lot of teams strive for. But again, out of necessity, they’ve come together and overcome so many unforeseen challenges or there was an opportunity to tackle what was previously future focuses, but it helped them now.

Jenny:
Absolutely. Yeah. That is one of the things that I have actually really enjoyed in my role as the program manager in operations. And maybe this was naive of me going into it, but I really thought I would kind of live in operations, and that space is where I would be working, I would be working with our operations team. I had no idea. I mean, truly no idea how much I was going to be working across departments, that how these projects that we were wanting to complete, how these things that we were wanting to streamline or things that we wanted to accomplish really would send me out into the IT department or the HR department or the admissions department as we’re working to bring people onto campus now.

Jenny:
But it’s so valuable just to have that ability to go and communicate with other departments, because you don’t want to become so siloed that you don’t know what is going on because we all work together. Right? We are all working for the same organization and none of us work alone. It is absolutely silly to think that I could do my job all by myself. I need to know what new students are coming in to the school so that we can make sure that they have everything that they need. And so that communication between departments is crucial, but it is oftentimes so challenging, I think. But I truly have loved that part of my job. And it was something that, like I said, I had no idea. I had absolutely no idea that I would be spending time in the IT office and with the HR department. But I really have enjoyed it.

Liz:
And I think that that’s such a unique gap to bridge during all of these crazy times. But to your point, and I love what you said about the removal of silos, we no longer have the luxury of working in a vacuum, if some of us previously did, based on the nature of how we’re operating. Most of us are still remote. I know that you guys went back to school, but there’s still certainly that virtual element to maintain those ties.

Liz:
And I think to be able to accommodate collaboration and transparent communication to strengthen that, and it also adds to your culture, really helps drive, as you said, the value. And at the end of the day, you guys are working towards the same cause, a good experience for everybody at your organization to ensure their day-to-day success. So I think that that’s tremendous.

Jenny:
Well, thank you.

Liz:
Kind of shifting gears. I know we’ve talked a little bit about what we learned, what you guys were working on immediately upon going to virtual, some of the preparation that was taking place. But now I know you have started the new school year, so I kind of want to peel back the layers. After you guys did kind of that rapid pivot, what was it like in identifying… After school was over come summer, what was it like to take stock and say, “Here’s what we did well. Here’s our opportunity for improvement? What do we need to do heading into the new school year?”

Jenny:
Sure. Well, I would love to say that we did everything absolutely perfectly. Once the school year was over and once summer break had started, while there was still a whole lot of uncertainty, I do think we were able just to kind of take a beat as an organization and say, “Okay. We made it.” Yeah. Exactly. Inhale and exhale. We finished out the school year, we got what needed to get done done, and let’s just take a moment and let’s think about what did go well and what did not go so well. And I think the thing that made that very challenging was that we actually still didn’t know what was going to happen. Right? There was still, and there still is so much uncertainty about just what the world in general looks like.

Jenny:
Are you going to be able to go to the grocery store or is that going to be a problem again? And so finding a way to live in that uncertainty and live in not knowing exactly what it looks like, but then also to say, “Okay. How can we move forward? And what would that look like?” Just to really brag on our teachers for a little bit, they did a phenomenal job with virtual learning. They really did.

Jenny:
I was able to sit in on a math class and I had the best time. The kids were… Yeah. They were still learning. And sure, some of them were learning in their pajamas or they were learning from their couch with their dog, but they were still learning. And so I think really when we were kind of at the beginning of summer, looking back, we were able to say, “You know what? Our teachers did such a good job with virtual learning.”

Jenny:
And that was not always what you heard. Right? In the news, which can skew negative for sure, but you just heard of so many instances of it not going well. And so for us to be able to look back and for our teachers to be able to look back and say that was incredibly difficult, but we did a really good job. That had nothing to do with me. That was not something that I was involved in at all. But to be able to say, “Wow. That was very well done.”

Liz:
Our people delivered.

Jenny:
They did. You know what? It’s one of those questions that like, “Well, if you were faced with this challenge, how would you react?” And you don’t know. You can think you know, until you are faced with that challenge and then you can actually see. And they did such a great job. And so we were able to see that, “Okay. So we still have a whole lot of uncertainty, we still don’t know what the world looks like, but if we have to continue with virtual learning, we can do it. You know what? We have put the systems in place, our teachers can move forward in virtual learning.”

Jenny:
But really, I think the school’s goal was to bring people back to campus. This is the longest our campus has gone without students or without teachers. Because the operations team, we were there taking care of the buildings, all of the maintenance stuff that still needed to be done, and it was just empty, which is a very weird experience.

Liz:
I’m sure it was eerie.

Jenny:
It is. I have been involved in schools my whole life. I was a teacher before I moved over to operations. And I’ve never seen a school that empty for that long. And so, in thinking, “Okay. Well, how can we bring people back,” but living in this uncertainty. Once we took that big breath at the beginning of the summer, figuring out that next piece is what we started to work on. Which again, I don’t know if I can overstate this with the uncertainty that was and still is, it’s hard to do. You know what? And things changed so often. From one update on Monday to the next update on Friday, things looked completely different.

Jenny:
And so you mentioned earlier about really being able to stay nimble, and I think that’s crucial. When you live in such an uncertain space, you have to be able to adjust and you have to be able to pivot to move forward so that you don’t get stuck where you are.

Liz:
Yeah. And I think that that’s really important. Just to keep top of mind, like you said, it’s not going to be perfect, but so long as you are able to adjust, adapt and move forward, that I think is going to continue the momentum that everybody needs regardless of if they’re going back to school, if they’re continuing remote operations period, things are going to continue to evolve because everything’s changing by the hour-

Jenny:
Everything.

Liz:
… every day.

Jenny:
Absolutely. I know.

Liz:
So with that in mind, what were some of the additional adjustments that you guys had to take into consideration? So you are getting ready to go back to school, I know that you guys actually just had your first week [crosstalk 00:26:08]-

Jenny:
We did.

Liz:
… to school. So what did that look like? I know it took a lot of planning up front. So how was, I guess preparation the week leading up to, and then how did things go for that return to school?

Jenny:
Sure. So, the big thing that we had to figure out was, “Okay. If we bring people back, how can we do that in the most safe manner possible?” And so from the operations perspective and the health and safety perspective, they had spent since March researching cleaning methods and how to sanitize. And so from that perspective, we were ready. We knew that we could clean our rooms, we could clean the spaces, we could make sure that we were doing everything that we needed to do. What I’m sure most people are not familiar with that we never knew before March is this idea of a wellness screening. And how can we make sure that if someone is not feeling well, if they have been around someone who has been sick, how can we make sure that they don’t come onto campus and potentially spread germs that we do not want spread? Not at all. Not even a little bit.

Jenny:
And so this idea of a wellness screening and completing these wellness checks is the big thing that we had to work to figure out this summer, of how do we get every single family to complete these everyday? How do we make sure that every teacher, that every staff member has answered these questions and that they are good to come onto campus? And so that actually for us looked like bringing on a new software system. We had actually been researching carline softwares for about a year because of the way that our school is set up. We don’t have buses, so everyone is dropped off and picked up by a car in some form or fashion. And we have about 1200 students that attend our school, and that is a lot of cars.

Jenny:
By the time you add… And maybe there are a few siblings in there, but one car per family, and then you add in teachers, that’s a lot of people to bring on and off campus every day. And so we’d been looking at carline softwares and the program that we were looking at started offering this wellness screening option. And so we really thought, “Okay. You know what? We are going to have to bring in, ‘something else for people to deal with.'” But in the spirit of that easier user experience and kind of keeping things streamlined at least as streamlined as they possibly can be, can we combine the carline and the wellness screenings, and then also our visitor management? How can we manage who is on campus?

Jenny:
And so while we were looking at these software options, we still were very much top of mind wanted it to be easy. And so we ended up picking a program that would let us do everything that we needed it to. It would do carline and visitor management and these wellness checks. So while yes, we were bringing on a new program, but it was going to do multiple things for us. It wasn’t like our old maintenance system where we had an entire program that did one thing exactly. And that has been one of our biggest challenges and that has been something that I have been working on almost exclusively since about June because it is a big process to-

Liz:
And you had to get it right-

Jenny:
And you-

Liz:
… if you were going to come back.

Jenny:
… had to get it right. And this was actually my first experience doing anything like this. When we merged operations into the service desk, service desk already existed on our campus. All of our users were already in there. IT had already done that hard legwork to get us up and running. I kind of just got to scoot on in-

Liz:
Slip in.

Jenny:
Yeah.

Liz:
Configure as you need.

Jenny:
Exactly. Yeah. So looking back at that, that was kind of a big deal. What I thought at the time was really, really difficult, I look back now and I think, “Wow. You know what? There was a lot that was already done.” But since this system is completely new and we had never used it before, it’s a big lift to get everything in the system that we needed as far as the data and the capabilities of the system. And you’re absolutely right. We had to get it right. We had to be ready for that first morning of school when there were students sitting outside of our doors wanting to come in, wanting to participate in that on-campus learning.

Jenny:
I will say that we ended up going with somewhat of a hybrid model. So we do still have some students that are participating in virtual or remote learning, and then we have some students that are on campus. And so the little bit of the slower rollout has been nice just from the perspective of it is okay if it is not perfect for all 2,500 people right now. If we can just get those who need to walk in the door good to go, then we can move on from there. And as we start to bring more and more people back on campus, we’ll be able to roll it out to them as well.

Jenny:
So we did have… While there was definitely a lot of pressure, we did also have a little bit of grace there which was nice. I didn’t know how nice it would be until we got to the point where school started. And the first users are always the testers in a way. So our faculty and staff, as we rolled out the wellness checks to them, we were able to iron out a lot of wrinkles and fix some things that we didn’t realize needed to be fixed until we used it. And the same deal with these first families. They’ve been so gracious and so kind for which I’m very grateful for, in just saying, “Hey. I noticed this in the app. Is it supposed to look like that? Or can you help me navigate this?” And I’m happy to answer those questions. Right? Because you’re letting me know that this is a problem.

Liz:
Exactly. It’s an opportunity for education.

Jenny:
Exactly. Yes.

Liz:
Here’s what I experienced, how are you going to make my experience easier moving forward.

Jenny:
Exactly. And that is my goal. And I will say, in joining the operations team, I didn’t know that that was going to be my goal, but it really… As I’ve been involved in these projects, I have come to realize that my goal is that I want to support you in every way that I can, and I want to make this the best possible experience for you that I can. If it is within my power to make it better-

Liz:
Let me know.

Jenny:
… then let’s make it better. Yeah. Yes. Exactly. But I can’t make it better unless you tell me. So-

Liz:
Yeah. I hear you.

Jenny:
… it’s been good.

Liz:
And I think that that’s something else that I’ve seen just as a recurring theme and a broader trend for again any department, any vertical, as they are transitioning, supporting any changes to what had already been a changed environment is this notion of the user experience. It has to be solid because that’s your foundation for scaling, introducing new methods, new technologies, new processes. It’s got to be good for the people that you’re serving at the end of the day, in order for it to be adopted, for it to be championed and to make it better.

Liz:
And I think that having this idea of that continuous improvement and that feedback loop is exactly what you need to champion that transparency between those who are collaborating behind the scenes to get it off the ground, as well as for those who it’s directly impacting. So I love hearing kind of that journey of the customer experience and how it transformed over the pandemic as well. And I think that that’s something that we’re going to continue focusing in on. But I love that that’s a huge goal for you individually, but also for your organization.

Jenny:
Absolutely.

Liz:
So I know we talked about you going through and digitizing the car services as well as your wellness checks, which I know was an entirely new ballgame for so many organizations, it’s another responsibility not only for staff, but especially for the school system, for students and families, what were some of the other processes that you guys worked to automate? I know you talked about onboarding and the handing out of equipment. Was there anything else that you guys had worked towards to deliver that great experience in the form of technology?

Jenny:
Sure. One that I am kind of in the middle of right now is bringing in new students. So we had worked with HR to work on our offboarding process and then our onboarding process, how can we digitize and automate that. And then as we were gearing up for the start of school, one that we quickly realized needed to be automated further than it already was, was bringing in new students. And you want that first experience for those new students, for those new families to be a great one. You do not want it to be full of emails back and forth and, “I don’t know. Am I supposed to fill this out or did you fill it out for me? And I’m very confused and we’re starting school tomorrow.” That is not what you want in any way, shape or form.

Jenny:
Our IT department had actually worked to start to create a workflow for new students. Again, new students go across every single department. It is not just letting a teacher know, “Hey. You have a new student in your class.” That is not what it looks like anymore. We need to make sure that the parent has the wellness check software and that they know how to do carline, that they do have their device issued to them, that they are assigned to the correct classroom, that their teacher knows that they’re in their class. It covers every single department that we have. And that’s just the way that it looks now.

Jenny:
And we wanted that experience to be great for those new families, for those new students. In a world… here I go again, full of uncertainty and just not knowing, you want what you can control to be as great as possible. So we have been working to digitize that further, to automate that further, that when we do bring a new student on, when our admissions department sends that letter and that family accepts that, how can that be that jumping off point for everything that then needs to happen to get that child in class for their first day of learning? And maybe that is virtual and maybe that is on campus. So we have been working, as we have been enrolling new students, and as we have kicked off the school year, compiling that list of everything that they need to get done in order to start the school year well.

Jenny:
And so that is hopefully one of the next things that we will be able to really focus in on and get that workflow worked out for that really great user experience. And because it’s not like bringing on a new student only happens once a year.

Liz:
Once.

Jenny:
We bring on hundreds of new students every year. And so why wouldn’t we automate that and why wouldn’t we take that burden off of our admissions department from making sure that they notify the other seven departments that need to know, when if they could just go in to one place, I’m looking at you service desk, and say, “Hey. We have a new student and here’s their information,” and then that gets sent out to everyone that needs to know. And that’s it. It takes a huge burden off of them and it ensures that it all gets done, that no one slips through the cracks, that you don’t have an oopsy moment of, “Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. I meant to do this and I forgot. It got buried in my email.” And so automating that I think will be amazing.

Liz:
Yeah. I think so too. And I love how you brought that back to the service desk, to just from a centralized point of visibility, now, all of the teams that are responsible and have an input for making sure that that student is ready to go before their first day, but even for what you were talking about with handing out hardware and offboarding, there is a space to pull that data. So like you mentioned, there’s not that, “Oops. That email went unread or it accidentally got archived.” There’s a space for responsibilities, for tracking, but also so that you guys can begin to understand what’s the volume of what we’ve been talking tackling together?

Jenny:
Yes. Absolutely. Because it’s one of those things that you don’t know until you know. And I mean I truly had no idea what the admissions department did to bring a student in until I was involved in bringing students in. And it’s a lot and it’s everyone doing a lot in their own space. And if we can bring that under that one umbrella, it’s going to be so-

Liz:
Why wouldn’t you?

Jenny:
I know. Right? Why wouldn’t you? I look at that-

Liz:
No-brainer.

Jenny:
That is exact… Yes. It is a no-brainer. Why would you not? And the answer is that, “Well, you do. So we’re going to.”

Liz:
And I think beyond just the stories of collaboration that you’ve alluded to throughout our conversation, I think another important place, particularly for schools to also consider is how are you guys partnering with your administration? I know that they’re responsible for making a lot of decisions. They might not be the ones whose hands are directly on the technology, configuring all those amazing workflows and getting it done fast, but they’re at the helm for also propelling things forward. What’s that dynamic been like in partnering with the administration to make sure that you’re bringing in that good user experience and you’re keeping everybody safe?

Jenny:
Yeah. Our administration has been incredibly helpful through all of this and more involved, I think, than potentially going into “a normal school year.” I’m not sure-

Liz:
Is there normal anymore?

Jenny:
… what that looks like anymore. I don’t think that there is. So because everything is different, because everything has changed, you cannot rely on what happened last year in any way, shape or form, really when it comes down to it. And so our administration, like you said, they’re not the ones that are building out the workflow, but they do need to know what it looks like. And they do need to know that, “Oh. This is happening with our wellness checks.” Because when people have questions or when people have problems, they’re not necessarily reaching out to me personally, they’re reaching out to our head of school or to our principal and saying, “Help. This is not working.”

Jenny:
And so for them to be able to have that understanding of this is what is going on behind the scenes, and if you can just fill out this one thing, then you will be set to go. And I think also, they’re the ones that are talking to the community. They’re the ones that are sending out the weekly updates and the newsletters to keep our very large community informed of what is going on. And you want them to have the right information. Right? You don’t want them to be sending out an email that doesn’t have what it needs to have. And so they have been very involved in asking questions and making sure that they understand how the system does work and what it is that we are doing so that then they can go relay that information to the community and to the people that are asking.

Jenny:
And they also, kind of the reverse of that, they are hearing a lot of feedback from parents of, “You know what? I’m looking for this,” or, “Maybe it would be helpful if you included this statistic in your report.” And so then they’re coming to us and saying, “Hey. Can you pull that report? Can you give me those numbers?” Which again, thanks to service desk with your wonderful reporting functions, we can do that. We can say, “Yes. You know what? This is that answer to that question that parent asked, and going forward, we can include that.”

Jenny:
And it really is, I think, it just goes to show that collaboration piece is truly across the board. That it doesn’t just stick with collaborating with people that are on your same level or in your same department, you have to go across departments and you have to go across levels. And if that collaboration is not there, if that communication is not there, I think you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. I think there’s going to be misinformation that gets sent out, a lot of confusion, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.

Liz:
So I know we’ve covered a lot of ground today Jenny, and I think the last thing… And there’s I’m sure more that we didn’t even uncover. But I think the biggest looming question that I have, and I’m sure our listeners have is kind of a forward looking statement. What would be your advice to users in education moving forward? What’s next?

Jenny:
So I think looking forward, none of us really know what the future is going to hold. We don’t know what the world is going to look like in a month or next week or tomorrow. If the past several months have taught us anything it’s that things can change and things can change very quickly. So with that kind of that unknown that looms over everything, I think that it is crucial for us as an organization to still continue to move forward, even in that uncertainty and even in that unknown.

Jenny:
And I think that for us, it’s going to be, how can we continue to improve? How can we continue to learn from this time? And how can we get better? How can we do better? Because the lessons that we are learning now are not just lessons for a world with a pandemic. There are lessons that we can take outside of this time and that moving forward, whenever we do kind of “go back to normal,” we will have taken those problems that we encountered, and then the lessons learned, and the changes made. We’re taking those with us.

Jenny:
And so we will come out of this improved. We will have better systems in place for our people. We will have created better user experiences, hopefully. And that’s not going to stay behind with the pandemic, because we can take those forward with us. And I think that being able to see this time and use this time as an opportunity I think is huge. And I think that that is what is really going to help us in the long run.

Liz:
I love that outlook. I think it’s important to still have a fragment of positivity left. But exactly as you said, it’s a great opportunity to not only embrace the unknown, but accelerate where you knew it was possible, you weren’t quite ready, but you had to. And I think that that is just a really impressive sentiment for everybody to be taking, moving forward continue to drive for the best and to continue to improve.

Jenny:
Absolutely.

Liz:
Well with that Jenny, I think that wraps things up. I can’t wait to see what you and your team continue to accomplish. But above all, I really appreciate your time and insights during what is undoubtedly the busiest time of the year, maybe your life.

Jenny:
Maybe.

Liz:
But I think I speak for all of us in saying thank you for your continued hard work. It was an absolute pleasure getting to sit down with you today.

Jenny:
Well, thank you so much. This was really fun.

Liz:
Awesome. Well, that’s the bell for this episode of SolarWinds TechPod. Time to get back to class, wherever that may be. For more information on SolarWinds Service Desk, visit solarwinds.com/service-desk. Thanks for listening.