The concept of a computer support group to provide information workers with guidance and training in computer use as well as hardware and software tools evolved in the 1970s and 1980s. This was aimed at maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of computer processing.
A number of terms have since emerged to describe the service centre ranging from client service centre, resource centre. However the term information centre was coined IBM Canada and is the most widely used today.
An information centre is designed to support end users in a number of ways. The typical services offered an information centre include:
1. Problem resolution
The centre acts as helpdesk for different users who may seek information ranging from simple queries on some of the error messages encountered to appeals for help when systems malfunction. There will always be expert assistance to sort out the problems.
2. Training of users
This entails enhancing computer literacy among various system users. Personnel from the information centre may be handy in introducing users to new programs and also offering specialised skills to other departments during implementation of new programs.
The role of a consultant in the information centre is to help end-users plan for effective use of their computing resources, to advise them in ways to computerise their work, and evaluate proposed computer applications, to assist in product selection and address questions regarding software and hardware.
4. Technical support
This is provided the centre when user problems are too large or complex to be solved without the aid of technical specialists. Staff may also be asked to audit systems performance, establish back-up and recovery procedures, plan data access, assist with design of security, plan projects or document user requirements. This is an extension of the consultation services.
5. Product support
Software packages may reside at the information centre to provide end-users with the services such as graphics, spreadsheets, decision support, modelling capabilities, financial analysis, database management. Staff may demonstrate how the software is used and sometimes provide a sample problem solution walkthrough.
6. Hardware access
The centre controls the terminals, computers, printers and other equipment. The centre, in some organisations, acts as an in-house computer store. End users can try out the equipment, receive advice about the relative merits of various models from various manufacturers. The centre may provide training, configuration assistance and maintenance of the resources acquired from the centre.
Some information centres provide back up assistance for end users who have a temporary need for information processing personnel.
8. Computer resource planning and justification
The centre can help end-users analyse their workloads, make projections of future needs and prepare (and justify) request for additional funding for computer resources. The centre nurtures end user awareness of the importance of standardisation and integration of resources.
9. New service evaluation
The centre staff assesses the user needs and when new products (hardware and software) come on the market, they help in evaluation as per the user needs and identify those that will be useful to enhance end user self-sufficiency and productivity. If necessary, the centre may then initiate a proposal to management for the acquisition of the product.
10. Administrative services
These services include promotion of the information centre activities, introduction of new users to the information centre, new product announcement, accounting and billing for centre use, equipment maintenance and service and keeping a library of computer-related material.
In its modern day applications, the information centre has become synonymous with the information technology department. In many instances it is more than a help desk.