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July 2003
Volume 10 • Number 3

Contents

Measuring the Quality of University Computer Labs Using SERVQUAL: A Longitudinal Study

by David W. Hughey and Sudhir K. Chawla, Angelo State University, and Zafar U. Khan, Eastern Michigan University

The appropriateness of using SERVQUAL for measuring service quality for a wide range of services has been debated since the model was first presented by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry in 1985. While the protagonists of SERVQUAL have argued in favor of the original model and have modified it to make it more consistent, other researchers have questioned its usefulness and validity, particularly across a wide and diverse range of services. Notwithstanding the debate, however, over the years SERVQUAL has been used to measure service quality in many different services.

This article presents an application of SERVQUAL to measure levels or dimensions of service provided by computer labs at a southwest state university. Consistent with the literature, factor analysis identified three dimensions: staff, services, and professionalism. More important, a longitudinal application of the SERVQUAL survey in 1999 and 2001 showed remarkable consistency.

Key words: computer labs, longitudinal, quality, reliability, service, SERVQUAL, university

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this study was to investigate the use of SERVQUAL as a diagnostic and benchmarking tool for the quality of service provided by university computer labs. The subject university’s computer labs are not unique in that they contain equipment such as computers, software, printers, scanners, and a recently added color laser printer—all provided by the university for student use. Like many other universities, the university is now providing online instruction, and dorms and residence halls are being wired for Internet connectivity.

In addition, a wide array of information services (IS) are provided by the university’s Information Technology (IT) department, including project management, application development aimed at Internet applications, network administration, help-desk support, a wide array of video and graphics equipment for student presentations and production of online instruction, and student computer labs with hundreds of interconnected PCs.

These facilities and the requirements to manage these facilities have grown rapidly in size and complexity in the last several years. The role of managing the university’s burgeoning computing facilities is very similar to other large computer installations where networks and computer hardware and software must be kept in working order. Computer software and hardware must be upgraded periodically, and networks, in addition to being upgraded, must often be expanded. Upgrades to computer equipment and software are expensive, and universities must operate within a budget subject to stringent financial constraints. The IT department in the university responsible for managing this environment must make decisions on how to allocate limited funds to best serve its student population.

Further, the student population of a college campus is constantly changing, with a “life span” of four to five years for a typical student. Students using computer facilities provided by the university will have varying levels of computer proficiency. A typical student visits the computer lab several times a week spending time working on assignments, checking e-mail, and “surfing” the Internet. At sometime during one’s visit he or she will likely experience some problem with computer hardware or software such as network connectivity, log-on problems, Internet, e-mail, and/or word processing or publishing software. Many students use their own computers in addition to those provided by the university.

The major concerns in such an environment involve upgrading computer hardware and software as transparently as possible while providing reliable equipment in an environment free of errors and solving problems quickly when they do occur. Computer hardware upgrades can often be done quickly without changing software. The usual outcomes from installing newer, faster computers, printers, and so on, are quickly apparent to users and perceived instantly and often pleasantly as major improvements.

Updating of computer software, however, can be quite trying for customers. It is one thing to come in one morning and find everything running faster because of a hardware upgrade. It is quite another to come in on Monday morning and find that a new version of some software package has just been installed and now the function keys no longer work as they used to, or old data are now incompatible, and so on. The list of surprises due to software upgrades can be numerous and often unpleasant.

Ongoing support in this complex environment of interconnected equipment and software is a significant undertaking. Service providers in a university environment are part educator, part problem solver, part counselor, part communicator, and so on. The fact is that it is not easy to measure service quality in such an environment. However, it seems that a SERVQUAL survey offers a valid and viable option.

 

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