Working through the technology needs arising from Washington State University shifting from six campuses to thousands of home offices seems comparable to transferring a saddle from one horse to another in the middle of a race-while the rider is still in the saddle.

Working in WSU’s central Information Technology Services during COVID-19 felt similarly chaotic as WSU’s response to the virus created immediate operational changes and technology became an all-consuming topic each day.

Throughout the growing strain on customers and partners, Information Technology Services (ITS) staff kept the WSU community safely in the saddle with the requisite tools to complete spring semester and move into summer term, ensuring network connectivity and security.

Repeatedly during COVID-19, Information Technology Services staff innovated to stay ahead of needs.

  • WSU’s newest telecommunication resource, Zoom, implemented just weeks prior, broke record after record, going from approximately 2,500 registered users in February to more than 31,000 users in March with millions of minutes in Zoom meetings. One WSU faculty member hosted 132 Zoom meetings in a single week while supporting student transition to online learning.
  • Microsoft Teams also rolled out earlier this spring, just in time to offer state of the art file sharing and collaboration for students, faculty, and staff. During peak COVID traffic in March and April, Teams users completed 13,000 group calls or meetings via Teams, over 2 million chat messages, and over 50,000 channel messages, by the more than 10,500 new users.

“Teams saw dramatic increases in utilization,” said project manager, Dan Hamilton, “doubling and quadrupling across various application elements such as calls and chat messages in those first few weeks of WSU’s stay home, stay healthy initiative.”

  • Crimson Service Desk (CSD), the ITS technical help desk for users across the university, created a first of its kind Zoom virtual service desk model allowing WSU customers to enter the ongoing meeting anytime during business hours and receive live assistance.

Along with introducing Zoom support, CSD fielded more than 12,000 email and phone requests for assistance during March and April, and saw dramatic increases to self-help knowledge base resources online while also supporting the very new ‘Ask Butch’ live online self-help resource.

  • The ITS website, offering centralized information and resources including the Cougs Online Toolkit, experienced more than 32,000 visitors reviewing 61,000 pages of information; information such as instructions and links for obtaining secure remote access via the brand new GlobalProtect.

In transition to replace the end of life Cisco AnyConnect, which allowed a maximum of 500 users, GlobalProtect’s secure remote desktop access tool, gained more than 5,600 users almost overnight who could suddenly work from the safety of their home while still accessing secure business resources behind WSU firewall protections.

“ITS, and WSU, were fortunate to already have the next generation of remote access to enterprise applications and data on deck and ready for implementation,” said Deputy Chief Information Officer Tony Opheim. “The project team instantly responded to changing needs and effectively accelerated GlobalProtect’s rollout for thousands of customers across WSU, offering a timely solution in a time of crisis.”

  • Individual identity security continues to experience some of the most targeted threat levels thanks to the changing technology landscape of WSU’s now remote community. COVID-19 has inspired malicious actors hoping that remote workers and students are not safely tucked in behind robust organizational network security. WSU’s secure walls stand strong thanks to technology and trained staff already in place, ready for days like these.

WSU’s technology environment dramatically shifted during this unprecedented safety initiative to reduce the instances of COVID-19 in the university community. The dedicated staff of Information Technology Services continues to make it possible for faculty, students and staff to teach, get paid and perform groundbreaking research.

With May’s commencement exercises in the rearview mirror, WSU successfully navigated the spring term. However, ITS planning efforts are already months past the end of spring studies, past the response to this pandemic. Amid COVID-19 support, project teams prepared for future technology solutions, software updates, and user trainings. With today’s needs met, the technology needs of tomorrow are already well laid out and plans are being finalized for implementation.

“ITS, partnering with numerous technology and business professionals across WSU,” said Sasi Pillay, Chief Information Officer and Vice President, “celebrates the completion of spring semester and the beginning of summer term. We made it, Cougs! And we did it together.”