A Man, A Plan, No Van: My Hour with Onsite Consulting

This article was created by a Technology Services student employee. Our student employees attend, engage, and report on campus events that feature technology. Students provide a unique perspective on how innovations in technology affect campus life.

By Colin Worden, Organizational Psychology ‘20

Until recently, I was unaware that Technology Services at Illinois offers a convenient technical-help service, called OnSite Consulting, which sends tech support right to your door. Restless nights, gut-wrenching worry, and rides to the closest tech repair store are the standard response whenever a dreaded technical issue happens but if you’re a student, staff, faculty, or anyone else with a NetID, this service can work well to eliminate the need for any of these. The service itself is not very well known but as William, a computer technician with Onsite Consulting told me “the students, faculty, retirees, and others who know that we do this, use it.” I hope that by reading this, you too will join the ranks of this hallowed group and start using it.

In order to use ​it, however, you’d probably like to know what ​it ​is. OnSite Consulting is perhaps best summed up as a Geek Squad that works for the University instead of a retailer. The consultants with OnSite will come directly to you, for no extra cost, and the cost for the service is in most cases only $40 an hour. OnSite Consulting offers a whole suite of services like virus removal, hardware and software installation, technical support, and operating system repair - among other things. If you’re reading this list and picturing a glorious future where you can fix your computer and have saved cash for something fun, you aren’t alone cause I’m right there with you. However, to truly give this service my stamp of approval, I had to see it in action myself. So, being the selfless person I am, in early June I left the comfort of my cushy office chair and perfectly cold A/C to go on a ride-along with William to see what a day in the life of an OnSite Consultant looks like.

 

My ride-along started at 3:10 pm in the Illini Union where William was kind enough to pick me up in his Toyota Prius. This was the first unexpected thing of the day, as I figured there would be a special van with the words ​OnSite Consulting​ emblazoned on the side. Instead of the van, there was just a smiling guy, similar in age to me, who also happens to be a senior at the University of Illinois. We departed the Union and chatted on the way there. It was pretty clear right away that my traveling partner is a people person because he asked a lot of questions about me and so the ride off-campus to Clark-Lindsey Retirement Community, where we were meeting our clients, flew by. Once we got there we had some trouble finding where we were supposed to go, but as William informed me, this is a somewhat normal part of the job. When we arrived inside, Bob (not his real name) escorted us through the winding halls of Clark-Lindsey to his room, which I was grateful for given that the building was an intricate maze of corridors. There, we met Bob’s wife and the computer where their issue was occurring.

The issue William and I learned was seemingly simple. Bob’s University email wasn’t coming through on Thunderbird, the mail application he uses on his PC. I figured William would have a fix right away, but this was my second unexpected thing of the day. One of the challenges of working for OnSite Consulting is that “you don’t know what you’re getting into and who the person is,” William explained, “we don’t know the exact issue because the Help Desk gets more details than we do.” This lack of detail given to the consultants is caused by virtue of the process. While the Help Desk has had a whole conversation with the client, the OnSite Consultant can’t be there to listen to every call so they get an abbreviated description of the issue. So, aided by manuals and his passion for technology, I watched as William went to battle trying to solve the issue he was discovering more details about. In the meantime, I sat back in a plush chair and chatted with Bob and his wife. Yet, because my boss would probably be upset if I came back with an article on Bob instead, I stayed focused on the task at hand. With my future employment on the line, I kept one eye on William as he tried different things on the hunt for the solution hiding somewhere in there.

By the 50-minute mark, he did solve the issue and later explained to me that the fix was simple if you knew where to look for it. This is apparently typical of most of his OnSite Consulting calls. However, he could have been humbly selling his skills short because I would’ve given up within about ten minutes. After the issue was fixed, William even took the time to explain to both husband and wife (and admittedly me) what the issue was and how he fixed it. This impressed me in particular because at many of my old technical support jobs, we would be required to keep an air of mystery about the whole thing to make the client believe that we were the only people who could fix their device-related issues. William had an excellent way of demystifying technology for those of us who don’t quite understand it as well. With this explanation complete, our grinning clients bid us a good day and we were back to campus in no time.  

 

Stepping out of the car, my time in the trenches complete, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own time troubleshooting devices at OfficeMax nearly five years ago. William was quicker than I ever was and at the same time, he was more kind. My job at OfficeMax was to sell services, but with OnSite Consulting they have the noble job of simply being there to help. Their one goal is to solve the puzzle of whatever technical issue you’re facing. “Solving the mystery” as William put it, is one of his favorite parts of the job among others like “always doing new things and helping people understand their technology better in the future.” With my time shadowing an OnSite Consultant at an end, there was one mystery that I had unraveled. That solved mystery was this simple realization that I’ll close on. It may appear at first glance that OnSite Consulting is in the technology business and yet, from all the glowing things William said about the people he works with, to the smile on Bob’s face, it really appears to me that they are in the people business; technology just happens to be how they reach those people.

If you’re interested in getting help from OnSite Consulting, contact them via phone 217-333-8628 or visit https://techservices.illinois.edu/get-help/onsite-consulting and fill out their web form. Special thanks to Darius Summerville for helping coordinate the ride-along and William Yuen for letting me shadow him for an hour.