In today’s podcast, we feature two road warriors who traveled 5,600 miles across Florida to advocate and train their disperse user base about Microsoft Teams.
Our guests, Joe Gasper and Dewayne Hyatt, IT system administrators at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, will help us understand better why training is not about what a technology does, but what it does for a specific user.
How one silly skit blew up into an effective learning program – let’s find out!
In this episode:
What they do
We’re system administrators. We’re on the same team for the central department in IFAS IT. We do standard infrastructure services and provide support for 15 academic departments, 90 state research centers, and 67 county governments throughout the state of Florida.
Personally, our roles have been changing as IT. Our central UF IT has done a great job of rationalizing, consolidating file services, print services, web, those kinds of things. We don’t need to worry about those anymore, but there’s always more to do. We look at the needs of our users at IFAS IT. We took to ourselves to grow and improve what we could do for our faculty and researchers. So we go out to talk, listen, and learn with them to understand better what their needs are. We’re not just break/fix anymore. We provide solutions through services and technology.
The Land Grant
The extension arm that makes us unique here at IFAS is the land grant role given to UF. It’s basically an act where the US government identified agricultural colleges in every state to provide agricultural services to that state.
What happens is our agents who reside in counties provide services to the citizens that live in those counties. They take the research that the university does, and they bring that research to the people. You can come see our agents if you have a problem with a crop, if you need to rehabilitate some land, if you need to learn how to make a good nutrition plan for your family, or if you need to learn how to rehab your credit or how to do your taxes. The breadth of what they do is literally a mile wide and a mile deep. Our agents are amazing with the amount of work that they do.
Adoption of Microsoft Teams
Our mission statement for IFAS specifically says “To make knowledge accessible.” And we recognized that if we can’t make knowledge accessible internally, how can we ever meet this mission statement to make it accessible to all of our people?
We realized very early that for us and our fragmented nature, Teams was probably going to be the most important or the most impactful thing that we had deployed since active directory itself, or even email. The impact it would have on our people was huge. In Teams, there’s a way for us to bring similar work streams in different counties together so that people can collaborate. And it doesn’t matter how far apart you are. How do we bring those together and put them on the same page so they can benefit from one another?
The skit that blew up: Jurassic County
We’ve heard Microsoft’s adopted this mantra of ‘Meet the user where they are’ –so we took that mantra literally. Our extension agents had a symposium in Gainesville, and we decided it was a great opportunity.
So we invented our own county. Florida now has 68 counties, and we decided to have a theme, and who doesn’t love dinosaurs? So we made it a dinosaur-themed county called Jurassic County. We put on a skit. We made it fun, we tried to make it about things that were relatable, things our people would really understand. Without honestly knowing a whole lot about their everyday activities, we tried to put ourselves in their shoes and tried to generate excitement. That was the genesis of all the training momentum.
It became our champions’ community. People were able to join via link or code to become members of our county. We’ve got nearly 800 people who have voluntarily joined to be part of it. We’ve even got a few people from rival institutions to join and hang out with us.
Succeeding at training
From that training session, we got invites to come down to the county offices and start working with them locally. So we would go to these locations and continue that training; continue to work with them. After training, we go to their offices and help them develop a plan for their research lab. How could they use Teams in their research lab? We even have faculty now using it with their grad students.
Sometimes we’d sit in with a group of our faculty and researchers who were presenting some of their work to growers and large landowners, answering questions like, “Is this research we’re doing effective for you?” And now that it’s a little harder to travel because of COVID, those processes are what we’re doing in Teams now to help them continue providing services to the state of Florida.
Microsoft Teams and Hurricane Dorian
IFAS has a very important role –we are one of the key response systems in emergencies for the state. We handle things like agricultural damage assessment; we have our own facilities in every county that we have to look out for. So we activated Teams as our disaster response platform for Hurricane Dorian last year. We developed a system for the counties that might be affected where we created a centralized channel where alerts are coming in and where resources could be put, such as Twitter feeds of the locals and county emergency offices.
Being able to create channels for each county that was affected by storms also gave leadership a top-down view of the whole picture. That experience also opened the eyes of the people, especially in regard to the importance of the mobile app and making sure that people had access to information. I think it’s going to really make an impact as the adoption spreads and people understand these purposes better.
Extra tools and efforts
One of our goals is always to ultimately make their life easier. So we want to make sure that we make this as easy and as user-friendly as possible. We get a huge benefit in storage capacity and accessibility through Teams. So we’ve transitioned all of our county extension offices off of traditional file servers into Teams and OneDrive. Also, a lot of technology went on behind automation. Heavy, heavy users of the SharePoint migration tool, lots of late nights scripting out, power shelling our way through tons of directories and looking and analyzing data, and building CSV files for these migration jobs.
Tips to make #ShiftHappen
Joe: Listening to your users is really the key. We want to make sure that we provide a solution of what they actually want, so we listen to what they’re asking for, focus on the outcome that would solve the problem. We have to make sure that they’re getting the right tool for the right purpose.
Dewayne: You really need to put yourself in their shoes. Think about the “Meet the user where they are,” so really getting in there with them and understanding what their work-life is like and becoming more accessible. You can’t just turn technology on and expect them to use it –you have to actually show them what it does for them.
Today’s takeaway from Joe and Dewayne:
You can’t just say, “This is what it does.” You have to say, “This is what it does for you. This is how it’s ultimately going to make your life easier.”
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