Technologically Stumped? Call 4-HELP

August 20, 2009

August 20, 2009 — It's the dead of winter. You just wrapped up a few hours of old-fashioned library research for that history paper due tomorrow and caught a bus back to your off-Grounds apartment. You fix yourself a nice cup of hot chocolate to warm your bones, change into some comfy clothes, and plop down in front of your computer to write the paper, which your professor expects to be in her e-mail in-box first thing tomorrow.

Hours later, bleary-eyed, you wrap up the last edit. It's 4 a.m., so there's just enough time to grab a few hours of shut-eye before your 10 a.m. class. Just dash off a quick e-mail to the professor …

And your computer gives you the bad news:

"Connection failed."

A few weeks ago, our fictional University of Virginia student might have been out of luck, at least until 8 a.m. when U.Va.'s Help Desk opened. But earlier this month, the Department of Information Technology and Communication debuted "4HELP@UVa," a service providing 'round-the-clock technical support, 365 days a year.

The service has a new phone number: 924-HELP (-4357), or just "4-HELP" on Grounds. University community members can also get help via live chat, e-mail (, through an online request form, and via remote desktop troubleshooting. A new self-help Web site is planned for October.

An ITC report documenting the need for the new service said the previous weekday-only service was "outmoded."

"U.Va. students and faculty today are also on the go," the report states. "They use technology everywhere, and they use it around the clock. Technological advances and distance learning have made it possible for academic collaborations to span the globe; students and teachers aren't just logging in between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, anymore."

The new service went live earlier this month, and it has earned generally positive reviews, said Michael R. McPherson, associate vice president and deputy chief information officer. On a 1-to-5 scale, users are giving it an average rating of 4, he said.

The service is being provided through a partnership with Cleveland-based PerceptIS[link to:], which specializes in performing help desk services for colleges and universities. ITC has been working closely with the firm since May to prepare it for U.Va.-related questions.

The replacement of the former ITC Help Desk, which was available only during normal business hours on weekdays, is just the first of three phases of the overall project.

In October, 4HELP@UVa will take on support for the Integrated System. By the end of December, it is scheduled to add support for the Student Information System as well. Until then, callers can be connected to those help desks by calling the same 4-HELP number.

The second and third phases remain on schedule, said McPherson, who estimated the total call volume for all three services would amount to almost 70,000 incidents per year.

By consolidating the three technical support desks into a single, unified service, the change will be cost-neutral to the University while providing vastly improved service, McPherson said. The contract with PerceptIS is set for up to six years at $550,000 per year.

— By Dan Heuchert