Finnish National Agency for Education: Prioritising development targets essential when rapidly updating customer service tools
The Services for Learners unit of the Finnish National Agency for Education has just had its busiest time of the year following the joint application period for secondary education. The customer service team processed 3800 applications in the period from the start of January to the third week of March.
“The application period for secondary education covers upper secondary and vocational schools. Applicants can fill in an online application form on our Opintopolku.fi website and list their preferences. Our job is to help school officials before the application period by providing support in the use of the online application form, particular questions related to different schools and the use of our application systems. Applicants in turn can contact us during the application period, especially if they need to correct the information they provided in their applications,” explains Annika Grönholm, Head of Customer Service at the Finnish National Agency for Education. Altogether, her unit processes around 15,000 customer service requests each year.
Fast-paced start-up project means doing things in order of importance
The customer service team was particularly anxious before this year’s first joint application period, as the decision to introduce the new Requeste customer service system had been made just three months earlier. The project launch meeting was held in October. The most important consideration in the initial phase was to get the basic functions of the system up and running before Christmas, as the old system was being shut down at the end of the year.
Due to the tight schedule for the project, the unit together with the supplier of the new system, Sysart, listed the key functions that had to be ready before the next joint application period. Already at the start of the project, the schedules for all meetings and tasks were set in order to ensure that testing resources, for example, would be available at the right time.
“The specification work was based on the client’s list of requirements. Together we discussed all the requirements in order to achieve a common understanding. We discussed with both administrators and users what parts of the existing system were good and which needed improvements. In addition to these discussions, the specification work referred to the existing system and the data and forms it contained, which highlighted the data contents of all the different fields, for example,” says Minna Uutinen, Project Manager from Sysart.
The ability of experts from the Finnish National Agency for Education to prioritise the different phases of development work enabled the project to progress rapidly.
“The most important thing for us is that we can process e-mails in the helpdesk system easily in order to maintain control of the overall situation and categorise all the different messages. In particular, we want to collect data about which issues people contact us about. This information will enable us to further develop our services,” Annika Grönholm says.
Continuous communication played a key role in the success of the project
Once the specifications had been reviewed by the user team, a test environment was created for the new Requeste system. This made it easy to test the system and make changes before it was released. The test phase began by training the test users from the Finnish National Agency for Education. This intense test phases lasted one and a half weeks, during which test users performed the tasks they were given and reported their experiences with using the system. Any issues that arose during testing were reviewed and fixed, after which an approval meeting was held for the test phase. The system’s users were then given training in mid-December.
Seven meetings between representatives of the Finnish National Agency for Education and the system supplier were held during the course of the project. “Continuous communication between the two parties played an important role, also in between these meetings,” Minna Uutinen points out.
The system and its basic functions were introduced in the week following training, and various reports for administrators were finalised later.
The entire project was completed one week before the Christmas holidays. “A big thanks goes to the experts at Sysart for getting our new system up and running even on such a tight schedule!”, Annika adds.
Next development phases include expanding user base and providing a multichannel service
The new customer service system used within the Finnish National Agency for Education by the Services for Learners unit and the ICT and Data Management unit. The ICT and Data Management unit is responsible, among other things, for the registry of completed studies in the Opintopolku.fi online service and the Varda early childhood education system.
“Our intention within the Finnish National Agency for Education is that, following the pilot stage performed by these two units, almost all of our staff – around 400 employees altogether – will begin using the new customer service system. I believe that this will make our services much more efficient when issues are no longer handled by the e-mails of individual employees or teams. I consider having a joint helpdesk solution to be one way of sharing expertise within the agency,” Annika says.
“Even though introducing the system has required learning new things, users have appreciated the visual clarity of the new service and that the work situation can be ascertained at a single glance. Personally, I like the way the new system has functions designed to make life easy for the administrator. For example, users can change their own passwords. I am also enthusiastically learning how to produce different types of reports. Right now we are still working with Sysart to improve the communication chains in the customer view. We are also introducing soon a knowledge base to compile examples of replies to facilitate our work. In addition, we want to be more active in offering a multichannel service, for example by adding a chat function to our customer service,” Annika adds.
On the whole, the introduction of the new system has been so easy that, after making the changes called for in the pilot stage, the system will be made available to all employees, who will be trained internally.