IT Center Blog

The IT Center Picture Puzzle: Service & Communication Department

August 3rd, 2022 | by
Interview photo with the Head of Department Service & Communication

Source: Own illustration

#MeetMeWednesday: We continue with our series “The IT Center Picture Puzzle“. This time we have an exciting interview with the head of department Sarah Grzemski in store for you.

The word “communication” is synonymous with the Service & Communication (SeKo) department. The reason for this will be presented to you in the current blog post. We provide exciting insights behind the various scenes of the department, which, by the way, do not only consist of support requests 😊 …. We present what makes the department special and what current projects and developments are currently in the pipeline. Be curious!

Who is behind the Service & Communication department?

The SeKo department is made up of three groups IT-ServiceDesk, Knowledge Management & Processes (WiPro) and Marketing & Event Management (Marie). The department consists of a healthy mix of permanent employees, apprentices and a large number of student assistants (HiWis). All in all, I am pleased that right now 66 people make up the SeKo team and drive the IT Center forward.

In relation to the size of the staff groups, we have five apprentices at the moment. SeKo trains people in the profession of Management Assistant for Dialogue Marketing. Our apprentices are a great support to us, especially in support, but also in assisting with internal departmental projects. Often, our apprentices support team, in consultation with staff members, assigns the apprentices smaller “special tasks” that help us with our quality management.

Together with our 26 apprentices from various fields of study and universities, we have a really broad spectrum of diverse competences, and that’s what’s so invigorating. The many different disciplines among the HiWis is of great value to us, which supports us in our daily tasks and which we don’t want to miss in our team. The permanent staff, currently 35, is also a diverse group of people. Of these, about 15 have been with the department for only one to one and a half years and only about nine have been with the department for more than five years.

It is gratifying that the SeKo department is regarded as a kind of incubator. Many former SeKo employees now work in other departments of the IT Center. This is of course very pleasant because it is exactly these employees who then pass on the knowledge about SeKo, namely the way of working around the processes that are lived with us – especially in support – in the specialised departments. The crux of the matter, however, is that serving as an incubator also means having to look for new employees, and that is also a major challenge for 2022. Currently, there are still open positions in the various groups of the department.

The nice thing is that we keep getting new people with different perspectives and understandings. That’s good, because it brings fresh ideas from outside and always gives us that little bit more momentum to look at things from a different perspective. However, staff turnover is both a curse and a blessing. Due to the tight labour market situation, it is currently very arduous to keep looking for new staff.


Are there also teams in the different groups?

Of course, there are different teams within the groups. However, we also organise the teams across groups. That means, for example, if the focus is on High Performance Computing (HPC), we make sure that the team consists of employees from support, WiPro and Marie. The same applies in particular to topics related to Backup & Archive or Research Data Management (RDM). For RDM, we have an even more concrete focus on marketing: two “Maries” are in particularly close contact with colleagues from the specialist department and pass on the information to the WiPro and IT-ServiceDesk groups. Our induction team, which consists of three staff members, and our deployment planning team, which organises the entire SeKo team, also function across groups.

In general, I see more topics in the future that will no longer be dealt with by just one person in a group. There will be further interconnections within SeKo and the specialised departments. And there will certainly be more and more cooperation beyond the IT Center. The current team structures help to be prepared for these future developments.


Can you tell me what makes the SeKo department so special?

I’ll put it this way, what’s special about SeKo is that the threads come together here. Our job is to ensure 1st-level support and the availability of the IT Center. At the same time, it has become clear over time that we are also responsible for the external presentation of the IT Center.

Therefore, we have two tasks with which we can create a lot of synergies in our working day. It goes without saying that the IT Center must always be available to provide customers with help and advice. When first-year students start the semester and find themselves wandering around the RWTH helpless and ignorant, or when there are disruptions to the (IT) services, we are there first and foremost to communicate, inform and help. At the same time, it is also important to support not only students, but also researchers, lecturers, employees and the special group of professors, IT administrators and external cooperation partners of the IT Center.

The central point is that our two areas of responsibility help us to “cross-fertilise each other left and right very well” and that good ideas and proposals for solutions come out of this. There is always a contact person and when it comes to formulating or designing things, we are also available internally to help our colleagues. Helpfulness and friendliness are regularly attributed to us and that makes me particularly happy 😊.


Why is the department essential at the IT Center?

Difficult question. If SeKo didn’t exist, there would probably be some other department with a similar remit. But all joking aside.

I am convinced that we add real value to the IT Center. Namely, we fill the gap between our users, our clientele and the specialist departments. In addition, we position the IT Center with the external presentation on the most important channels. This allows the specialist departments to pursue their core business and the image of the IT Center is promoted, which in turn is positive for the project activities.

The world has moved on and we have specialised in things that, in my opinion, should not simply be moved 1:1 somewhere else. Communication – no matter what form it takes – is, in my view, an essential part of developing the IT Center further and making it fit for the future. And communication is our strength.


What other tasks does the SeKo department include?

We are a DIN EN ISO 9001:2015 certified department. Therefore, it is particularly important for us to follow the processes we have defined in the quality management system. It is essential that these processes take into account the circumstances of the IT Center.

The main tasks of ensuring 1st-level support and the accessibility of the IT Center have already been addressed. The 1st level support includes the IT-ServiceDesk with our support processes and stands for all services of the IT Center. The support looks like that we work with an internal knowledge management database in support, we do internal trainings and pass on the knowledge to all employees of the department or enable them to work in support. In doing so, we use various technical tools such as our ticket tool, where we work together as 1st level and the departments as 2nd level. However, we don’t just deal with password reset requests such as “I’ve forgotten my password, can you help me?”. We process or prepare very complex requests so that the information is properly prepared for the departments. Therefore, cooperation with the departments plays a very important role.

However, there are also support requests that no longer have to go to a specialist department and are processed directly by us. Topics that are easier for us to understand are, for example, Identity Management (IdM), which has always been 1st level with us and we maintain contacts in the specialist department very well. But there are also newer topics like RDM, where a lot of knowledge still needs to be built up and caught up on. These topics are driven by science and research and so we first have to learn how to bring them into a good context with our support processes. I think this is a very important task that will keep us busy in the future.

But changes in the area of servers and storage, i.e. data backup in general, is also a very big topic in the IT Center. Historically, we have also taken on 1st-level tasks in this area. Due to the fact that the systems in this area change so quickly, it is necessary that we are integrated into these change projects by the specialist department at an early stage and in a timely manner. This is also a very important point that is being driven forward thanks to our IT Service Management, that the departments think of us in advance. This means that we are better taken into account in projects.

It is very important to me that all employees really understand the diversity that we have in the support topics. At the same time, of course, support is also a huge pool of topics for our colleagues from Marie, and that’s where I draw the line to external representation. Because I am convinced that a good external presentation of the IT Center is only possible if the employees know what the IT Center does. And that’s why participation in support is so incredibly important. How can I describe things that are difficult for users or that make things easier for users if I don’t even know about them in advance?

Another special feature of the IT Center, which has unfortunately been cancelled in the last two years due to the pandemic, are our events. On the other hand, in the heyday of Corona 2021, we managed to organise a big online event like the ZKI Spring Conference. We plan the events we organise for RWTH Aachen University as well as for the IT Center and external parties.

In addition, we tweet a lot and inform the various target groups via our social media channels, meanwhile even in English. The Marie team has adapted the external presentation to external circumstances and developments, and in general a lot has happened in this area, which makes the focus on external presentation still indispensable for us as the IT Center.

The fourth pillar of the department is our IT administrators in the IT-ServiceDesk group. They make sure that we at the IT Center are able to work at all. This involves workplace management – and that is more than just ordering computers. It also involves the physical and digital backup of data, the provision of updates, the installation of software and much more. Not to mention consulting services.

The IT administration always tries as best as possible to fix problems and find solutions for everyone. The support and cooperation with the ZHV for the large tenders (multimedia equipment, monitors, workstations) is second to none.

In addition, there is the Laptop-Rental-Pool and Printing Service, which we operate, maintain and offer as services.

IT Center Picture Puzzle solution with solution word communication

Source: Alexander Müller, Freepik, Own illustration, Unsplash (*)

Can you tell me something about your current projects and developments?

For us at SeKo, the main development is clearly the integration of chat into our omnichannel system. In this way, we can answer support enquiries via telephone and at the same time via chat function – an enormous reduction in workload for us. Our reorganised deployment planning is also one of the short-term projects that were completed in the second quarter of this year. Currently, we are planning and introducing a new social media tracking tool to improve and simplify social media reporting processes. But projects like the blog and future web relaunch also have a big impact for us. In the future, we will also make changes to the documentation portal at our IT Center Help. Other current projects such as Office 365 at the IT Center, the encryption of workstations with Bitlocker, the IT Admin Portal and the IT Center Key Visual are also in progress at the moment.

In addition, we are of course very closely involved in the RDM and HPC projects. This year we will acquire the first RWTH Compute Cluster 1. There will be a lot of need for exchange and also a lot of need for communication with the outside. The same applies to the new backup system, which will come with the storage system and strengthen the services around the RDM. The exchange with other universities will also be intensified. These are important topics that we have in front of us for this year.


How do you see the general future of the department and what kind of developments are you facing?

I think that due to the changes – which were also driven by the pandemic – the different tasks of the three groups are becoming more complex and also more. The developments and demands in and on the IT that supports the science system are becoming more and more fast-moving. As a result, flexibility and agility are increasingly required and necessary. For SeKo, I see that because of the way we live our Quality Management System (QMS), we will find ways to continue to deliver high quality work.

I also believe that the demands on our staff are changing and this must also be taken into account when recruiting staff. It is simply no longer enough to “just know IT”. The IT Center Satisfaction Survey confirmed that the “support” aspect takes up a huge chunk of the users’ satisfaction. For me, this means that knowledge of the content of the services and our solutions must of course be available, but at the same time communication skills must be present in order to really help our customers.

We learn content knowledge again and again up to a certain level. We at SeKo are good at gradually acquiring more and more knowledge. One picks up this and the other that, the Maries bring back innovations or ideas from various exchange meetings. Our experts or subject specialists talk to colleagues in the specialist departments and bring information and in-depth insights into the team. And because this is the way it is and because we are so well structured and organised with our QMS at the same time, our knowledge base is constantly growing.

In the meantime, we have to see how we can distribute or share this mass of knowledge. For this purpose, we have an internal departmental project “Knowledge Complexity in Everyday Support”, which we are currently working on. The project aims to determine what is actually expert knowledge and what is basic knowledge. The insights gained will not only help us in the induction of new staff, but also generally ensure that knowledge and skills are taken into account accordingly when planning assignments.

I am confident that this working group will come up with exciting ways to achieve this goal. Ultimately, the aim is to relieve the burden on staff while maintaining the usual high quality of support.

In conclusion, I am convinced that SeKo has understood the strategy of the IT Center to distinguish itself as an innovative partner in teaching and research and has not shied away from the challenges of the associated national and international interconnections.


Thank you very much for the exciting interview!

We hope you have now gained an exciting impression of the activities and developments of the SeKo department. Soon we will continue with the next puzzle…😊.

Responsible for the content of this article is Sarah Grzemski.


(*) The chart was updated on 09.08.2022.

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