Sunday, January 11, 2015

The TechQual+ Survey for 2015

The Higher Education TechQual+ Project aims to produce a standard, generalizable survey that assesses the quality of IT services in higher education from the perspective of students, faculty, and staff. Each year the TechQual+ core survey is updated based on feedback from respondents and the community of participating institutions. This year's update was finalized over this past weekend is now available for schools to administer through the Higher Education TechQual+ Web site.

The survey is organized in three sections, focusing on Internet access, online services, and user support. The format and approach of the survey is based on SERVQUAL which has strong support in the academic literature for assessing customer satisfaction. The 2015 version of the survey can be found on the TechQual+ Web site following this link. This YouTube video discusses the approach and development of the TechQual+ core survey over the past several years.

Changes to the survey this year were focused on the need to clarify the language for some items, the need to assess emerging services such as learning technologies and data for decision-support, and aligning the customer service questions more closely with the original SERVQUAL items. With these changes we will begin publishing findings from the project later this year once the new survey has been administered at multiple institutions. 

Over the past decade over 250,000 students, faculty, and staff have completed the TechQual+ core survey at 100+ institutions. The use of the core survey and the Web tools for administering surveys is available free of charge. There are numerous opportunities for learning more about the project, including monthly conference calls and an online training session scheduled for February 6, 2015. For more information please visit the TechQual+ project Web site or contact the project's principal investigator at by e-mail.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Few Thoughts in Response to Garmin's Recent Product Announcements

I have a few thoughts in response to yesterday's CES announcement from Garmin regarding its new lineup of activity trackers, smart watches, and GPS enabled devices - that before releasing a bunch of new products, Garmin needs to fix the multitude of lingering problems with their current products that have yet to live up to the hype.

Here's just a brief rundown of the problems I am experiencing with the one Garmin product that I own (the Garmin 920XT).

Timezone Problems with Garmin Connect
Activities uploaded from my 920XT through the iOS 8 Garmin Connect app are timestamped five hours earlier than they actually occurred. I didn't get up this morning and work out at 12:10am, it was 5:10am when I started. Now, if the activity was uploaded via Wi-Fi or through a USB connection the timestamp would have been accurate. Lots of us have been complaining about this issue through Garmin forums since early December (and yes my time zone is set correctly).

Garmin Connect Out of Service, Again
But a bigger problem is the complete lack of reliability of Garmin Connect to begin with. Far too many of us have had problems getting our Garmin devices to successfully upload data to the Garmin Connect Web site. I'm a long standing customer, but I wonder how many new customers, thrilled to receive their first Garmin device for Christmas, became disappointed when Garmin Connect failed to work as advertised.

MyfitnessPal Integration Down for Several Months
Which brings us to the next big problem with Garmin Connect, which is the complete lack of reliability of its integration with MyFitnessPal. Most of who are actively training are meticulous about tracking our calorie intake against our daily calorie expenditure. Integration with MyFitnessPal is the Garmin Connect vehicle for this sort of tracking; but the integration has been completely unreliable for several months (I first reported problems back in July). Garmin has had more than six months to provide basic functions that its competitors seem to handle with ease. Supposedly this was fixed for good with updates that went into place shortly after Christmas, but the fix has so many bugs that the current outage is actually worse than it was before the Christmas update.

ANT+ Sensor Lack of Reliability
And finally, and this is the most trying problem I experience, is that Garmin's flagship product - the 920XT - has serious issues with its ANT+ connection reliability for heart rate monitors (HRM) and other sensors. My current 920XT is actually my third 920XT. The first experienced repeated ANT+ disconnects / reconnects out of the box and was replaced by because it was faulty (the same sensors worked flawlessly with the Garmin Forerunner 15 which is a much lower end device). My second 920XT started experiencing the same problems two weeks after I received it and since I am training for an upcoming race, I went ahead and purchased a third 920XT while I am waiting for Garmin to troubleshoot my second 920XT (GPSCity has washed their hands of the problem). Confusing? Frustrating is a better word, particularly for devices in the $500+ range (I reported the issues with my second 920XT to Garmin on December 29th but have only heard from them once on January 2nd; the ticket remains open).

I write not to vent or complain, but to make the observation that these problems are emblematic of a cultural challenge for Garmin, which is the problem of overcommitment and underperformance that plagues all organizations when they allow the focus on creation and promotion of new things to overwhelm their capacity to support and take care of their existing customers. All the evidence cited above suggests to me that this is the case.

Here's three suggestions that I have for Garmin.

First, understand that your greatest competitive challenge today is not a lack of compelling products relative to competitors, but the frustration experienced by customers when they buy Garmin products and they don't work as advertised.

Second, software bugs in Garmin Connect are the largest source of problems experienced by Garmin customers. There needs to be an immediate freeze on the development of new features for Garmin Connect until the existing issues are resolved for good. What good is there in new features like Garmin Connect IQ when old features don't work as advertised?

Third, don't take your loyal customers for granted. Be more responsive to their complaints, but more importantly resolve for them the issues that they experience with your products. Successful companies delight their customers, they don't frustrate them.

One other stray piece of advice: one month out from releasing a high-end, high dollar flagship product like the 920XT don't suggest that is of cheap quality when plugging new products that are in the pipeline.

The business world is littered with companies that failed to realize their potential once they lost product focus and began delivering sub-par customer experiences. Trying to do too much, too fast is the enemy. Successful companies like Apple do just the opposite. They focus on just a few, select products and they never, ever release a product way before it is ready. That's the Garmin I hope to see in the future.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Chester Family Report for 2014

This year has been fantastic for the Chester family. Gail and I have been living in Athens, Georgia now for a little over three years. We’ve been living the life of academic nomads since 2003 and Athens is our third stop along the way (counting Doha, Qatar and Malibu, California). We’ve learned that the third year in a new place is the year that things settle down and start feeling a lot like home. It’s in the third year that our jobs become more routine, that new friends become old friends, and we decide on ways to get more involved in the community. That’s been the type of year that we’ve enjoyed.

We started the new year in Jacksonville, Florida attending the Gator Bowl with our daughter Amy and her husband to be Jason. It was a miserable trip, being very cold with lots and lots of rain. It didn’t help that our Georgia Bulldogs played a very lackluster game and lost to Nebraska. But the highlight of the trip was the time that we got to spend with our children and we enjoyed a very special dinner together after the game.

Speaking of our children, 2014 was the year that both Amy and Duane got married. Planning for weddings and participating in them occupied most of our extra time this year. Amy and Jason were married in July (it was unbelievably hot in Texas) and Duane and Danielle were married in September. We are so blessed in terms of family. Both Amy and Duane did very well in choosing their lifelong partners. They are all becoming very established in their careers and we are very proud of them.

With two weddings this year, Gail and I spent quite a bit of time together on airplanes and in hotel rooms. In fact, we found ourselves traveling as much or more than we we did when we lived overseas. One of our other new experiences this year was traveling to New York to attend the Peabody Awards. Not many associate the Peabody’s with the University of Georgia but these very prestigious awards have been sponsored by the University’s Grady College since their inception in 1940. It was a working trip for me but we had the opportunity to take in a show and we enjoyed watching Brian Cranston perform the role of LBJ in All the Way. Later at the awards we were pleasantly surprised to find Brian Cranston sitting at a table across from our own. Cranston and his colleagues picked up a Peabody Award for Breaking Bad. We also got to rub elbows with the likes of Charlie Rose, Tom Brokaw, and Ken Burns. It was both a pleasure and an honor for Gail and I to get to participate in this event.

Both Gail and I both continue to enjoy excellent health. During the past year we continued with our previous habits of getting up early each morning for exercise before work. Four o’clock comes mighty early but we are both at the point where we couldn’t function during the day without starting it with some rigorous exercise. We’re not too far away from the fifth anniversary of my becoming much more health conscious and 2014 was the year that I took the next step on this journey. It’s been over a year now since I’ve had any type of sugary snack or dessert. And in three days it will have been a year since I had my last diet coke. Nothing but water or juice for me for the past year. These changes to my diet plus my getting into long distance running (I’ve run over 750 miles this year alone) have left me about twenty pounds lighter. The reward (and price) of living a healthier lifestyle is having to constantly invest in new clothes.

In October I ran my first half marathon, finishing it in a respectable two hours and five minutes (averaging about a little under a 9:30/mile pace). Since then I’ve doubled down on how serious I’m taking the long distance training. Right now I'm running a little more than 30 miles a week preparing for a half marathon on the Warner Robbins Air Force Base on January 17th. Gail and I both are going to run in this event and I am hoping to finish under two hours. Gail plans to do more walking than running but she should easily finish under three hours. We’re both registered for the Chick-Fil-A half marathon in Athens in April and I expect that we’ll both do the Athens half marathon later in October. I’ve also made the decision to commit to the training necessary to compete in the full marathon in Savannah, Georgia that will run in November. I’ve not settled on a goal yet, but I’m wondering whether it’s attainable to try to finish my first marathon under four and a half hours. This time is not even close to what it would take to qualify for the Boston Marathon but not bad for someone who once weighed 40% more than they do today.

For me, it’s also been a very stellar year at work. You can’t say enough good things about the University of Georgia. I’ve been blessed to work for both a president and provost who I truly admire and from whom I learn new things daily. This past year, we’ve finished a major implementation of new databases for admitting and tracking students. The project has been ongoing for over three years and has been an incredible success. It’s provided our students with new capabilities for registering for courses and tracking their progress through their academic programs. For the first time the University of Georgia now benefits from a comprehensive, cradle to grave record of a student's history with our institution. It also provides mechanisms for engaging them as they become lifelong learners and friends of the University.

One of the great prides I have with my work is our ability to hire and develop individuals who later go on and enjoy tremendous career success as leaders in their own right. That means that you have to become very comfortable with eventually losing some of the individuals in whom you've invested considerable time and energy. Over the past seven years three of my direct reports have attained CIO status at major institutions. This track record continued this year as a close friend and colleague also made a similar jump. It was a little discouraging to lose her (and frustrating to watch as she later recruited two of our very capable managers to follow her) but I’ve been amazed at how those remaining have stepped up. We’ve not missed a beat. I would say that the individuals in the pipeline are helping us to perform far better as an organization than we were at this time last year.

One of the more important things for us this year was finding a new church home. Since arriving in Athens we had been worshipping at a church across town, one with leaders and friends that we cherish, but this year we decided that we wanted to worship much closer to our neighborhood. We’ve found that new home in Central Presbyterian Church just down the street from our home. I’m now back teaching Sunday School, something I’ve done off and on for over ten years now, and both Gail and I have enjoyed making new friends along the way. Last night was a very special Christmas Eve service which has started our holiday off on just the right tone.

The past twelve months has been wonderful for my family. It’s been a year filled with blessings, changes, hope, and anticipation for future things to come. I think I’ll shy away from setting any more big goals for the year (training for and finishing half marathons and marathons is enough). But both Gail and I start the new year full of hope and thankful for the blessings that we have enjoyed. We both wish all of our family and friends the same hope and blessings for a wonderful 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Updates to the Core TechQual+ Survey for 2015

The Higher Education TechQual+ Project is a research project that develops tools to help IT leaders create a culture of continuous improvement for their organizations. More information on the TechQual+ project can be found at on the Web.

The project provides the following: a common survey instrument that defines effective IT technology services from the perspective of those outside the IT organization; a set of easy-to-use Web-based tools that allow IT leaders to create surveys and analyze data collected from students, faculty, and staff; and a peer database that allows for comparisons of IT service quality against the performance of other institutions. These tools are available free of charge to participating institutions.

Each year provides the opportunity to assess the quality of the current core TechQual+ survey and make improvements. This activity occurs each fall and any changes to the core survey become effective with the new calendar year. Feedback from TechQual+ participating institutions drives this process.

The proposed core TechQual+ survey for 2015 contains substantial revisions from the previous survey. A draft of the proposed 2015 survey is available at for review and comment by project participants and interested others.

For this year’s revisions, efforts have focused on the need to reduce the complexity of the survey. This includes revisions directed at making the survey easier to understand while improving the applicability of the survey to diverse audiences. At the same time, these changes are in keeping with the core commitments of connectivity, collaboration, and a positive end user experience articulated through past surveys. Through a series of focus groups these three core commitments have been identified as critical for students, faculty, and staff throughout higher education.

Project participants and interested others may provide feedback on the proposed survey through Friday, January 9, 2015. To provide feedback, please download the draft survey from the link above and make edits or comments directly within the Microsoft Word document. Please return the edited document to by e-mail. Please use the same email address for any other questions or comments. The finalized survey instrument will be available for use by all project participants on Monday, January 12, 2015.