IT professionals need help and support too, and for many of them, that’s where Ben Brumm comes in. As the head of Database Star, Ben oversees one of the most comprehensive and intelligent sites about operating an IT department on the web.
Ben spoke with us about getting an IT help desk running and what end users may not realize about their most important department.
What are some challenges of running an IT help desk end users don’t think about?
I think one of the main areas is prioritization. You might log a request to say your email client isn’t working correctly, and in your eyes, this is quite important. In the eyes of the IT help desk, it may not be as important. Help desks tend to rate importance based on the impact of the outage or issue and the number of users it affects. This isn’t something a lot of end users realize, and that there may be other priorities that help desk workers need to focus on.
Also related to prioritization is how the incidents are prioritized and allocated by the IT help desk themselves. There might be some kind of system that evaluates the impact and number of users and gives it a value (maybe from one to five), but if there are a few high-priority issues and limited staff, deciding which ones to look at can be tough. This would come down to the decision-making of the team and the individual issues that are being reported.
How should teams manage their IT help desks to get better results?
What I’ve found that works quite well is being able to report on the incidents that are received. In a few support roles that I’ve had, we have come up with a way for the team members to categorize incidents that are received using some kind of tagging system. This could be related to the component or application affected, the type of problem, the type of solution, versions, or any other relevant information.
These incidents can then be analyzed in whatever system is being run. We were able to run an extract of the incidents and develop a simple report to show groups of these incidents. Over time, this helped us to identify where the problem areas were, how long certain types of tasks would take, how often different incidents arrived. This information can then be used to improve processes, to either reduce turnaround time or even reduce the number of incidents in general.
What are some misconceptions about IT that you find online?
The big one that I’ve seen is that all you need to do is get a degree, maybe a couple of certifications, and you’ll start earning a six-figure salary.
In reality, it’s a bit harder than that. Six-figure salaries seem important because it’s a kind of milestone. This would depend on your area and the field you work in. Also, it takes time to get to this kind of salary, and it may involve extra work, gaining more experience and additional certifications. It’s not a guarantee.
How can an IT help desk better streamline the help process?
Making it easier to raise help desk tickets, and see the status of them within a great help desk software, is a good way to improve the process.
Traditionally, users would call up to report issues or find out about the status of their issues. A way to improve this is to provide these services online.
I’m currently working for a client in the digital area, and one of their key drivers is “call avoidance,” which is basically helping customers perform tasks online instead of calling up. So, if users were able to log a request using some kind of web form, and another web form to be able to view the request (or even a more complete solution), it would make everyone’s lives easier.
What’s one IT problem most people don’t realize they can solve themselves?
Problems with free space on their hard drive is one that I’ve seen often. It’s something that users can solve themselves.
Windows and other operating systems allow you to view the size of an overall drive, as well as individual folders underneath it. A lot of the time, people don’t know where all their space is going, so finding the size of folders can help with this.
There are also search functions that can be used to find large files, say, files over 100 MB. This can help users find files they didn’t know were still around, and increase the free space on their computers.
What are some trends in IT we should be keeping an eye on?
Other than the obvious ones of cloud computing and mobile devices, I think a big one is SaaS (software as a service). There are many companies out there, both large and small, that provide specific services to meet a particular need. These are used by other companies and can often replace some of the work that people used to do themselves.
For example, web-based project management tools are replacing traditional installations of Microsoft Project (and Microsoft has even gone to the web with Office 365). Tools like Mingle, RTC and Jira offer web-based bug tracking and release tracking tools, which may have been done using installed software in years gone by.
These kinds of services are useful for companies, as they reduce the internal support cost, provide access for multiple places and devices, and can often be cheaper.
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