by Jane Davenport
Earlier in the school year, Carl Miele was on the phone, trying to convey how to "double-click" on a computer mouse.
"Just click twice, close together," he explained patiently.
"It's not working," the caller replied after a pause.
"Well, you have to do it fast," Miele responded.
In tones of outrage, the caller responded, "Quit rushing me!"
Describing how to use a mouse over the phone is one of the simpler requests Miele and his fellow staffers handle on a daily basis at Concordia's Computer Helpline. People need help with setting up CMAC connections, accessing the Internet from home, working out software glitches, figuring out why their printer isn't working, and more.
"We're able to resolve about 75 per cent of the problems on the first phone call," said Geoff Selig, Coordinator of the Helpline, which operates out of the Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS) Department. "The other 25 per cent -- calls we cannot resolve because of the need for technical repairs or special expertise -- we refer to one of the other groups in IITS."
The IITS Helpline began about seven years ago as an informal service. It developed in response to a need to offer staff immediate accessibility to technical support.
"Before the Helpline, people were frustrated because there was no one to turn to for technical computer support," Selig said. "Concordia doesn't have a standard desktop platform. While IITS has recommended the Apple platform, many people work with PCs."
Selig explained that Helpline staff can't solve technical problems with the two mainframe systems at Concordia. "What we do is provide support to people who use their desktops to connect to those systems and who need help with system commands and basic operations."
At peak times in September, January and May, staff may handle up to 90 calls a day. At other times during the school year, when people are used to their computers, the stream of calls slows down to a trickle of four or five an hour. About 66 per cent of calls still come from staff and faculty.
"Right now we operate Monday to Friday, from nine-to-five with an hour break for lunch," Selig said. "By September, we plan to be open a full eight hours each day."
Most requests for help are made by phone, but they can also be made by e-mail and through the Helpline's Web site. The Helpline operates out of a small room on the J.W. McConnell Building's eighth floor. Several monitors display various operating platforms and software programs. Two computers operate the program staff use to record the details of every request they receive, and allow them to transfer difficult problems to other groups in IITS.
Staff work with headsets that leave their hands free to operate the computer. When a call comes in, they often walk through the procedure or question on their own computer to help identify the problem. Once they understand the problem and have a solution at hand, they help the caller through the same steps to solve their problem.
According to the Helpline's five staffers, callers are generally polite and patient. "The only time they get frustrated is when they've already been bounced around before being referred to us, particularly if we can't help them either," Phylroy Lopez said.
The job, which involves the special challenge of not being able to see the computer you're trying to fix, comes with its own set of mild frustrations.
"The worst is when someone calls and gives the generic statement, 'My computer's broken,'" said Selig at a recent staff meeting.
"Or, 'My printer isn't working,'" added Rich Lafferty, as his colleagues grinned.
Lafferty recalled a caller whose computer wasn't even on the same floor as his phone. Every time he made a suggestion, the caller went thumping upstairs to try it, before thumping back down to announce it hadn't worked.
Anecdotes aside, Selig said it has been a successful year, and he looks forward to increasing the support offered in the fall.
"One of the things we need to be doing is make people aware we offer this service," Selig said. "If they're having problems, they can give us a call or drop us an e-mail."
The IITS Helpline may be contacted by phone, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 5 p.m. at 848-7613. E-mail messages may be sent at any time to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Helpline has a WWW presence at http://iits.concordia.ca/help_doc/helpline
The IITS Helpline is currently looking for staff. Anyone wishing to submit an application may do so by sending
a curriculum vitae by e-mail to