Hardware optimize

Five time-wasting tasks IT shouldn't be doing anymore

Bill Detwiler explores five tasks that no IT department should be wasting time on in the 21st century.

The beginning of each year is a perfect time to reevaluate your IT department's routine activities and look for time-wasting tasks that you can push to the wayside. While the specific tasks each IT department deems cut-worthy will vary, there are a few activities that nearly all IT departments should stop doing right now. They are:

  1. New hire office setups: I don't think it's a stretch to say that these days most new hires can hook up their own computer. I'm not saying IT shouldn't configure the machine, but 99 percent of the time there's no need to have an IT staffer visit the employee's desk, unpack the components, and connect the cables.
  2. Relocating computers for normal office moves: Again, today's average office worker should be able to handle this task. IT may need to ensure the new workspace has network connectivity and should provide instructions for moving equipment, but there's just no need for an IT staff member to break down an employee's machine, carry it to a new desk, and set it back up.
  3. Setting up phones: A colleague once told me of an old employer, that years ago required a telecom staff member to move any phones. Neither the users nor the IT staff were allowed to simply pick up a phone, move it from one desk to another, and plug it in. In today's world of merged telecom/IT departments and VoIP phone systems, restrictions like these are just silly. There's no reason for an IT staff member to physically move a phone--unless you're having the jack rewired.
  4. Replacing copier/printer/fax toner cartridges: While IT should still be involved in the deployment and network support for printers, copiers, and fax machines, there's no reason non-IT staff can't change a toner/ink cartridge. It's just not the difficult.
  5. Installing keyboards, mice, speakers, or monitors: As with printers, copiers, and fax machines, IT should be involved in and perhaps even control the purchasing and deployment of peripherals. But, there's no reason every keyboard or mouse replacement should require a desktop visit. The average office worker should be able to unplug their old mouse and connect a new one. At the same time, IT should be deploying peripherals that minimize installation problems.

Final word

Are there exceptions to these rules? Sure. It's much easier for IT departments that support tech-savvy users to relinquish these responsibilities. And, then there are corporate executives--who expect a desktop visit no matter what's wrong. But for the most part, IT personnel shouldn't be wasting time on tasks non-IT employees can handle. And if a problem does pop up during a new keyboard installation or office move, users can always call the help desk.

UPDATE, Feb. 22, 2011, 3:15PM EST: As I hoped, this article has sparked a vigorous debate. TechRepublic members from all walks of IT have shared their opinions, both for and against my list of time-wasting tasks. And, that's what I love about our audience--the willingness to join the conversation.

But reading through the discussion, I noticed an unexpected trend. Many members believe I'm suggesting that IT reduce the quality of their customer service in favor of efficiency. I am not. I am however, suggesting that the activities, which individuals and organizations equate with "good customer service", are changing. And, IT must adapt. As I wrote in the original article, there are always exceptions to the items on my list. There are times an IT staffer needs to physically install a new machine, deliver a keyboard, or configure a phone. I'm convinced however, that these cases can, and should be the exception not the rule.

Consider the consumer market. Apple, Dell, HP, and other computer vendors sell millions of machines each year to non-tech people who are able to successfully unpack these systems and connect the cables. Are there people who can't? Sure, and each vendor has mechanisms in place to meet these individuals' needs--some more successfully than others. But, the vast majority of computer buyers can handle these tasks, and that number is growing. So, why do so many IT pros think most of their users can't or shouldn't do the same thing at the workplace?

Some TR members have said that their users expect this type of service because it's not in their job description. True. But, that's probably because IT has always done it for them. Others have said that the user's time is better spent working on non-IT tasks. This is also true, but many are exaggerating the time required for most of the tasks on my list--at least on an individual basis. The average office worker can probably unpack their computer and reconnect the cables in under an hour. Unless they're doing the task every other week, it's probably not hurting productivity. Still other TR members have brought up specific environments where IT may need to take a more hands on approach, such as hospitals where every minute of a doctor or nurse's time is precocious and there is little room for equipment malfunctions. Again, this is true. But, does every office worker in the hospital require the same level of interaction? By not have to move every person in the PR department's computer, couldn't you spend more time with the machines in the ER?

I could write volumes about how giving up the tasks on my list and refocusing IT resources will benefit both the company and users. (I've posted many of them in the discussion thread.) Unfortunately, many TR members who have responded in the discussion will never agree. Why? Because, they still believe that moving boxes and plugging in cables is job security. It's not. I've seen plenty of organizations layoff IT staff and abruptly force such tasks onto users or high-level IT staff. Instead of risking such a grim fate, wouldn't a better approach be for IT to begin and control the transition, reallocate resources, and retrain staff when necessary?

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

125 comments
jsaubert
jsaubert

In an ideal world perhaps some of these points would true, but not all of them and surely we all know the world is far from ideal. I'll give you #4 and #5 for the most part. The replacement of peripherals and in some cases the purchase of said peripherals should be up to the end user. 95% of end users are capable of unplugging/plugging in a cable or two even if they are "technologically inept" like a few of the users here claim to be. If someone wants a different keyboard or mouse than the standard one it should be on them to get the one they want. There are 100s of keyboards and mice out there and I have no way of knowing which one is best suited for any given user. Monitors I'm a little iffy on letting the user replace. Especially if it's a multi-monitor setup. The same with consumables for printers and faxes if they are easy to replace the user is the best judge of how much toner needs to be on hand. I've come across a few big printers and copiers that need a little "finesse" to get the toner out of so I'd rather they'd call IT before they break it. (It's always the waste bins the users for get to change out.) #3 completely depends on the nature of your phone system. If it's entirely separate from your computer network and there is a Phone person or department no IT person should ever touch a phone. If it's a combined system or department you'd best take control. Even swapping in a new phone. Again depending on the system, it is to easy for it to become FUBAR if you leave it to others. As for #1 and #2 you're discounting a number of important factors. Right at the beginning it's paramount that you become familiar with new hires. That IT person is likely one of the first 10 people a new hire will meet at a new company. This is useful, both parties gets to put a face to a name and voice, the Tech can hedge any issues with the new user early and that user builds a relationship with the IT staff. That 10-15 minutes can save hours and days of hassle later. Moving users with their computers reaffirms that good relationship. And it's a good excuse to drag the computer back to the shop to do any upgrades, clean out the dust and do a quick once over of the machine just to make sure everything is working. To steal some wise words: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yea, none of these points are "must do jobs" but done properly they make your IT department look helpful and proactive.

TNT
TNT

Bill I'm a fan of your writing and I looked forward to reading this piece just from the title, but some of these suggestions are misguided. 1. New Hires should not have to plug anything in, they should be able to sit down at their desk and get to work. This is customer service and it matters. Their manager has so much work to do he gets to hire people to help out, so why should he be hooking up the PC? Or the new hire? Doesn't make sense. 2. Relocating computers. This one I agree with but for different reasons. PC's should be autonomous, with users using either thin clients or PC's with re-directed drives. PC's shouldn't have to be moved because technology should mean that users information is available anywhere on campus. 3. Setting up phones. For the same reason as #2, technology should make phone moves irrelevent. 4. Replacing toner, I see this as something IT could give up. Office managers need to step up on this one. 5. Installing keyboard, mice, etc. It is likely the user will have to visit IT to get the keyboard or mouse, so why not walk back to their office and hook it up for them? Its just good customer service. Things that really should be "of the past" are password resets (this should be automated via an internal resource), checking on support tickets (any system worth its salt should allow users to go to an internal site and check progress themselves, and should generate alerts for aging tickets), Software installs (again, for software that the company supplies to some but not all users, this process could be automated), to name a few.

pparks_2000
pparks_2000

In our environment (and I would think in most) #1 & #2 should still be performed by IT. We have a thing called "Inventory" that needs to be maintained. We need to know who has what equipment and where that equipment is located. We want to know if you moved from the office on the thrid floor east to the office on the fifth floor west. Otherwise, when you leave the company we won't know where to come to collect the assigned equipment. As for #3, in our environment as soon as you unplug the phone it doesn't work anymore - not everyone is on a VOIP network. And even if they are, their VOIP traffic is probably on a different VLAN. So, if a device is simply plugged into any available ethernet jack on the wall, it may or may not work. Personally, I would be irate if my network people just left all the ethernet ports live at all times. There is a thing called security that we take fairly seriously here. We don't need rogue devices popping up on our network. So, I would agree with #4 and/or #5. Of course with that said, there are still people that don't know how to put a toner cartridge in a printer. How many of you have had to come pull the plastic strip off a new toner cartridge because the user that was left to do it him/herself called the help desk because their printer stopped printing? I'm just saying...

06jamespotts
06jamespotts

Working in both the education and manufacturing sector, I have to disagree with all of these. I wouldn't trust most users to change toner much less completely unhook their system and move it to a new location. A great number of people never learned basic technology skills and that hasn't impaired their ability to do their jobs. IT has its purpose in the business -- accounting, shipping/receiving, cashiers, salespeople, secretaries, etc. etc. etc. all have their own purposes as well and shouldn't be required to deal with the daily tasks of IT professionals. In some cases, yes the individual may be knowledgeable enough to do some of these tasks, but if its not in their job description and is in ours, I think that makes it our responsibility, even if it is a mundane, time-wasting task.

robertbrown
robertbrown

You let me down on this one Bill, and I say it like that because most of the time your articles really rock. You seem to be taking a whole bunch of things for granted. The skill level of the user cannot be assumed, for one thing, and what about the liability issues of having non-IT staff handle company equipment when it's not part of their job description. If the employee injures themselves doing work that is still considered IT in the real world the company may get eaten alive by their insurance company, workman's compensation claims, or the courts. Of course IT should still configure machines, and here you're suggesting companies allow users to unpack and assemble their computers then call IT to say they can take over. Right now I'm supposing you might also suggest staff handle inventory duties, too. Bill, where did you get the idea that "todays world of merged telecom/IT departments and VoIP phone systems" translates to "all companies are expected to have merged telecom/IT departments and VoIP phone systems"? Just because the technology exists doesn't mean it's as widely available or used as you're suggesting. Sophistication of IT in the business world is like a pyramid. At the highest point are the elite megacorporations with highly sophisticated IT operations and huge budgets to drive it. That peak is small. In the scheme of things those companies are in the minority, because if you look down at the bottom you'll begin to see the thousands of mid-sized companies and the hundreds of thousands of small businesses who must have technology just to survive and be competitive but just cannot afford even a fraction of the Cool Toys we all want to play with. What it all boils down to is really very simple, that just because non-IT staff can do this type of work doesn't mean they should do it.

aeiyor
aeiyor

Good Day All. Bill Detwiler, Interesting article but I disagree.. in my opinion. Let me explain... Item #1. (New hire office setups:) -- It is IT's job is to make sure the system is up and running and workable for a new hire or for that matter anyone who gets a new PC or re-imaged PC or updated PC. Granted if the client/customer wants to do it themselves, they can. But I believe a lot gets conveyed to a new hire when they come to an office with boxed equipment that they are suppose to hook up, configure, connect. Maybe I am old school or off base on this but it speaks LOADS about customer service. All the people whom I have helped from my current company have always appreciated it. And in my book, it is the standard and not the exception. Consider... if there was a damaged component - what would the new hire do - call IT - right? Another service call. What if the office power or network connections were dead? - All of these would be addressed prior to the new hire if the IT department dealt with configuring, hooking up and setting up the system. Item #2 ( Relocating computers for normal office moves) - again I disagree. In consideration that the work force is a very dynamic and diverse crowd. Yes some people can do it and are welcome to. However, within the confines of customer service - I believe it's IT's responsibility to make sure the computer equipment gets relocated and verified that its working and setup. Consider if the client has a disability - what then? I concur that you recognized within the item #2 that IT might need to verify the network. In consideration to the environment of the worker and their knowledge of computer systems and the computers themselves - its quite feasible that a person can hook up items in a manner that would cause another visit by IT. Take into consideration UPS's - it is a common understanding of IT that a UPS has a certain charge battery, connector points for the surge + battery and for just surge protection. If the client plugged the computer and monitor to the surge section versus the battery+surge section - the UPS's abilities are rendered useless. Item #3: (Setting up phones:) -- Your example I would agree with that yes user/client can move their own phone. And those policies are quite antiquated; yet, in some cases they still exist based off Unions. However, it would be excellent customer service that the IT person verified the phone worked after the move and/or that the VOIP connection was live. Some phones may be a bit more complex requiring programming from a switch or interface - IT often maybe called to address those issues. Item #4: (Replacing copier/printer/fax toner cartridges:) -- Yes I've done this and I agree that clients could do this. Though in consideration, there are devices that are tricky with the installation. Some use powdered toner that would have direct exposure to clients and if they did not handle properly would cause issues. -- OSHA would come into play (ref: OSHA = Occupational Safety Health Association). Item #5: (Installing keyboards, mice, speakers, or monitors:) I agree with you on this part that these rudimentary components could be installed by a client and help make better efficient use of IT's time. However, keyboards, mice, speakers, monitors aren't always your typical variety devices. (I/O devices of Keyboards, Mice, trackball, tablets, therma-pads) -- have various things that may play into IT's role - configuration / wireless, drivers, software/app interface. Speakers, -- common base are simple PnP. - more advanced - however other factors come into play with more advanced setup - speakers, multi-speaker overlay. As for the monitors - more monitors for development usage (such as WACOM Cintiq's) are being used in various environments. These are not the simple plug power and plug into video card situation. I was originally going to post this yesterday 02/17/2011 - when I stumbled unto your article but wanted to flesh out my points a bit more before posting. Again, if you remove those functions, in my view, you also remove Customer Service. Sincerely, Satori.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Setting up a computer for a new employee gives me a chance to meet the new employee, explain IT policies, get a feel for their experience so I know how to handle future support claims, etc. Besides, I'm the guy who has to configure the system in the first place; if I don't deliver it, nobody else will. If I have to take the equipment off the cart, it's just as easy to connect it in the new user's cube as to put it somewhere else. Moving the computer lets me see if it's still in good shape, clean the monitor, check the date on the UPS batteries or the condition of the surge protector, ask if there are any problems, etc. I have to get involved in both cases, regardless. I don't leave network jacks connected to a switch if they're not in use. I do this both for security reasons and because we don't have enough ports on the switches to support every connection in the building. Since I've got to visit the cubes involved anyway, it's not much extra time to deliver the hardware. There's also the unquantifiable value of 'showing the flag'.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

One key issue that seems to be overlooked is trackability and accountability for IT assets. Sure, changing toner cartridges could be counted as time wasting. But many of the other functions include a component of tracking and accountability of where the physical assets of the company are located. For years, IT has fought a battle to prevent users from making unauthorized changes on their systems, moving things around, and so on. Generally, IT is the department that is responsible to keep track of the locations, serial numbers, asset tags, and the assets themselves. Shirking the responsibility, and saying "we boxed it up and shipped it to the user, but nobody knows what happened after that" is irresponsible. What better way to convince top management that IT is overstaffed, than this suggestion of "just stop doing it; it's a waste of time"? This article seems to advocate "do nothing and make the user deal with it." A complete neophyte new-hire should unbox, assemble and install his/her own machine on the first day of work? How in the world would that work? Does the new computer access everything properly? How would the new-hire know if anything was wrong? If the wall outlet has multiple RJ45's, which one should the new computer use? This "poll" is self-aggrandizing. Since the question presumes the tasks are "time-wasting" and has no answer for "Yes, we don't consider it a waste of time", or allow separate answers for each activity, any answer we gave would be misinterpreted. Doing your job and performing your assigned duties is not "time-wasting." And anyone who thinks it is will probably have lots of free time, very soon - in the unemployment office.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I work in a small org. Our average age is 45+. Some users are quite capable of performing all of the jobs listed above. Some will have difficulty with any of them. Since we are small, my unofficial policy is if the user feels capable of doing one of these jobs, then by all means do it. However, if they are uncomfortable with them please let me help. Yes, I do lose time in these jobs. But as has been mentioned in the discussion, this is a good time to appraise and educate the user. Just don't expect them to remember everything in one go.

shark_this
shark_this

I think it just plain old depends on the savvy of your organization, and also how the onsite tech(s) feel about it. There are some people in my organization, like medical personnel, that just can't be bothered with figuring out how to de/assemble their workstations. After a while you start to figure out who can and who simply can't complete these tasks, and you work accordingly. I like this particularly for my organization because in the non-profit world, its much more likely for IT to be understaffed and working overtime.

bowlingbrad
bowlingbrad

Bill, I agree with you that there are things that IT depts shouldn't do anymore. But which things is where we disagree. An IT 'face' out on the floor gives staff a realization that these machines ARE NOT theirs to do with as they please. As for my list of never agains; I never want to have to tackle other issues like malware, unauthorized installs, and corrupted system setups. I would also like never have to constantly remind staff of company distributed procedures and standards. If these things can be avoided, the IT staff would be able to focus on the 'fun' projects.

sissy sue
sissy sue

Don't underestimate the power of non-techies to totally screw things up. Honestly, would you rather have things done right the first time, or would you rather have to fix a big mess?

DimBulb
DimBulb

Sometimes these mundane tasks are only time staff see IT. Putting a face on your deptartment is a good thing and there are a lot of technically/mechanically challenged people out there that are not comfortable performing such tasks.

ChrisEvans
ChrisEvans

But back on the ground .... Allowing staff to move kit would be chaos in our organisation. 1. What about Health and Safety and the liability the company will have if a member of staff injures themselves moving equipment 2. What about the damage caused when a member of staff drops a piece of kit, forces a connector in the wrong way 3. What about when staff know they can move kit and so do so without knowledge, particularly if they move it out of the building entirely ! I do agree that IT shouldnt be doing the work but they should certainly sub it to someone who is competent (ie a specialist IT moves company etc) as allowing staff to do it results in control and reponsibility transferrence but no transfer of risk - not a good mix.

mattohare
mattohare

I can see this for firms of tech-savvy workers. If I were to post this on the wall at the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, I think you'd hear the laughs echo from Belfast all the way over to Louisville. Some workers, while very good at creating promotional material and producing excellent campaigns wouldn't know a keyboard plug from a monitor plug. Add to that wiring difficulties of some desks and cubicles, it really was best to have us move the equipement in the last move.

cnet
cnet

General office people can *change* some parts (mouse, monitor, keyboard) but should not do *initial*installation* of these things since often drivers can be involved. Office relocation is likely too complex due to the number of wires. VOIP phone in enterprise adds yet more complexity people cannot handle. My desk had 4 ports under it -- only one was the right one, should I call the IT help desk or shouldn't he just have the proper wire plugged in for me? I have seen damaged clothing from toner changes done by hassled and unfamiliarized people, but that doesn't have to be IT's task since others can be trained. Finally, Bill, just accept the fact that the IT grunts doing these tasks make 1/3 what the average office people do. The IT grunt works twice as fast at this type as task, too. Think about it from an enterprise cost standpoint: IT should do this hardware stuff.

jacobus57
jacobus57

...but what planet do you live on, Bill?! Usually you are reasonable, but to expect anyone to unpck and set up a computer is absurd and flat-out, frankly, stupid. A new machine should ALWAYS be assessed by a professional for damage, and if you really want to CYA, the case should be cracked open and all the components checked for proper seating. But aside from that, I have seen too many ostensibly intelligent people struggle with USB cables to think that anyone but a pro should set up a machine. Plus, it is just good manners.

packfan30
packfan30

last time i was moved i moved the whole damb cubical..to another building

cttechie
cttechie

Bill, do you still work in IT? I support 75 users and I can safely say 80% of them are completely INCAPABLE of doing anything you listed. I agree, it's a waste of time. I absolutely hate doing these things after 10+ years. But, wow, are you giving today's end-users WAY too much credit. Yes, I still have most people asking me to help change toner. People aren't as smart as you think.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

can be a big no no! we had a user move a system and placed it in a precarious position on top of another piece of equipment a couple of days later the user turned their chair and Boom! sent the unit flying to the floor after which the head IT sent out an email to everyone "Don't Move yer system!!!"

sliverson
sliverson

You're a sysadmin and you're setting up computers for new employees? That is a helpdesk, or end user services, job at the places I'm familiar with. A sysadmin, in my experience, is not a customer-facing position, but a back-end server/network position. I don't agree that the users are feeding your family. Your company is feeding your family. Your IT department may have a catalogue of services from which other departments make choices for which they're billed, but that money is the company's money, not the users' money. Yes, "serving the customers (users)" is one way of looking at what IT does, but I'd suggest that there's more to IT than that. I prefer to see IT as more of an expert advisory group who will, as needed, implement agreed-upon solutions after consultations between IT and other departments. "Serving the customer" is a model best left to fast-food employees and similar work; viewing IT primarily that way is a quick ticket to marginalization within the company.

angry_white_male
angry_white_male

Let alone trying to figure out which jack is for the phone, which jack is for the network, etc.... I'm an on-site Nortel PBX tech for a large corporation... and part of my job is to physically move the phone after I'm done with the PBX programming, cross-connects at the IDF's and MDF, etc... Otherwise, I get calls all the time that the phone didn't work after maintenance plugged it in. More often than not I find digital phones plugged into network jacks and vice versa - or simply the wrong jack (and I'm at the mercy of 20 yr old wiring that isn't always done correctly such as voice jacks wired for T568B instead of USOC, etc..). And before you start knocking TDM and analog phones in this day and age of VoIP and SIP, there's reasons why the old stuff is still out there and still in use and even spec'ed out in RFP's today - because it works. Go ahead and reboot that Microsoft OCS server every few weeks while the Nortel PBX has gone without a power cycle or INI for years. And good luck trying to get a non-technical person to get a Microsoft Tanjay phone up and running from scratch. Gotta think of my telephony world as a very managed Layer 2 or Layer 3 data switch coupled with a precise game of connect the dots... can't just randomly plug stuff in and it works like you can with a $300 Netgear switch. Even these days with VoIP phones, have to make sure you have PoE enabled and patched from the switch to the network drop, etc. Things aren't as plug and play as you may think. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that most are not aware of. And besides, having someone come in to hook everything up and make sure it's running properly scores the IT department much needed political capital to justify their existence as no IT dept head wants to see his job outsourced.

angry_white_male
angry_white_male

Let alone trying to figure out which jack is for the phone, which jack is for the network, etc.... I'm an on-site Nortel PBX tech for a large corporation... and part of my job is to physically move the phone after I'm done with the PBX programming, cross-connects at the IDF's and MDF, etc... Otherwise, I get calls all the time that the phone didn't work after maintenance plugged it in. More often than not I find digital phones plugged into network jacks and vice versa - or simply the wrong jack (and I'm at the mercy of 20 yr old wiring that isn't always done correctly such as voice jacks wired for T568B instead of USOC, etc..). And before you start knocking TDM and analog phones in this day and age of VoIP and SIP, there's reasons why the old stuff is still out there and still in use and even spec'ed out in RFP's today - because it works. Go ahead and reboot that Microsoft OCS server every few weeks while the Nortel PBX has gone without a power cycle or INI for years. And good luck trying to get a non-technical person to get a Microsoft Tanjay phone up and running from scratch. Gotta think of my telephony world as a very managed Layer 2 or Layer 3 data switch coupled with a precise game of connect the dots... can't just randomly plug stuff in and it works like you can with a $300 Netgear switch. Even these days with VoIP phones, have to make sure you have PoE enabled and patched from the switch to the network drop, etc. Things aren't as plug and play as you may think. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that most are not aware of. And besides, having someone come in to hook everything up and make sure it's running properly scores the IT department much needed political capital to justify their existence as no IT dept head wants to see his job outsourced.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I used to be in the National Guard, and would be away at training for two weeks annually. Each year I'd come back to someone complaining about being out of toner. When we replaced desktop printers with networked MFDs, I made sure at least three people in each department knew how to replace toner and place calls to the vendor for service. I'll ORDER toner and make sure adequate supplies are on hand for each model, but changing it or getting the system repaired is a user issue. It's not that it's a waste of MY time; your inability to do it is a waste of YOURS. I'm not coming back from vacation to some manager complaining my absence shut his department down.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

I watched six brand new hires and their supervisors do exactly this last week, without any significant problems. I never advocated that "doing your job and performing your assigned duties" is time wasting. But, I believe it's time for IT to take a hard look at what its assigned duties should be.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Sounds like you have a perfect balance. You know which users can and can't handle specific tasks and you tailor your support to those needs. Unfortunately, too many IT departments still insist that they do all these whether the users need them or not. Worse, many IT pros assume that continuing to do this tasks will justify their existence. This is changing. Connecting cables is no longer enough.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Having worked in IT for many years, both in enterprise shops and small organizations, I am completely aware of people's ability to screw things up. But, I do believe most average office workers today are tech-savvy enough to connect a keyboard cable and change a toner cartridge.

tsnow
tsnow

1) I watched an IT staff member try to lift a Cisco 4510 by himself and wreck his back (not end-user equipment, I know but he should have known better). 2) I've dropped a laptop myself. 3) I've watched a colleague try to rack a server upside down and when it didn't go in, force it to the point of the server crashing out the back of the rack. No solution will be perfect but I don't see anything wrong with letting the staff member comfortable with completing these tasks doing so and only engaging IT for the work when staff members ask for help.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

IT should indeed perform the initial setup on all machines. They should install all software, drivers, and accounts required for new hires to hit the ground running. But, I don't believe IT staff members still need to visit the desk of every newly hired office worker, position the equipment, and connect the cables. Instead, IT should develop a deployment process that allows the new hire's supervisor or the new hire to unpack their machine and connect the cables.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Just this week, I watched no less than six new hires and their supervisors setup their machines with little fuss and no significant problems. It can and is being done successfully in both small and large organizations.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Instead of completely giving up on users moving their own PCs, wouldn't a better approach have been to just say "don't put your systems on the edge of your desk"?

seannyob
seannyob

And since I am the only systems administrator at a small scientific contracting firm, I'm also the network technician, the DBA, and everything else you might think of, including, occasionally, the guy who has to run to the store. I love this job and I understand that things would look very different at a large company, but around here, I'm the only guy. So I do it all, including the IT security. I'm still considered the resident expert, and I'm still treated with respect, but a lot of that actually comes from the fact that I put my users first. I think you can incorporate a service model into many types of positions that are advanced--health care comes to mind. The fast-food metaphor is completely unnecessary FUD. The service model is more of a mindset, I think. Not a complete business model. I think as an industry we have to work on being...generally nicer and more helpful. I'm about sick of stories retold at cocktail parties of the rude, incompetent IT department. Come on, guys, you know precisely who you are. That is what is marginalizing IT inside organizations.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

As I said in the article, there are always exceptions. But I complete disagree with your last statement: "And beside, having someone come in to hook everything up and make sure it's running properly scores the IT department much needed political capital to justify their existence as no IT dept head wants to see his job outsourced." Keeping the lights on is no longer enough to justify an IT department's existence. IT should be proactively working with business units to leverage new technology in a way that helps the business units meet their goals.

aeiyor
aeiyor

Good Day All. Before I start off with the reply let me re-quote myself: "Item #4: (Replacing copier/printer/fax toner cartridges:) -- Yes I've done this and I agree that clients could do this. Though in consideration, there are devices that are tricky with the installation. Some use powdered toner that would have direct exposure to clients and if they did not handle properly would cause issues. -- OSHA would come into play (ref: OSHA = Occupational Safety Health Association). " Palmetto, So if I understand correctly you disagree with my comment that I made noted about toners. You're welcome to disagree but I don't understand as to what you're disagreeing to. I read your reply twice and could not infer what you're disagreeing about. -- ....Was it that I did the toner exchange or the fact that I said clients are able to do it also? Perhaps the consideration I made that there are some that are tricky which may require IT's intervention? If it happens to be the latter, I still hold firm on that and I did say MAY... At the place I work at, we have various laser printing devices (actually a lot inclusive of plotters, ink jets, etc) , some are an easy toner/cartridge removal and exchange, and others require transferring powder from a container into the toner compartment. The fine particles within the toner can easily be spilled and gotten everywhere. Considering the nature makeup of the toner, it can easily become an immediate mess on clothes, hands and anything around because the toner reacted to the charges of the material it came in contact with. It is much worse for a persons respiratory system. Again I stated, with training and understanding, yes clients can change out the toner from laser printers. AND some are tricky that may require some assistance from IT. And if you're not familiar with OSHA... I recommend you should be as its a regulatory body that can impact a business. Sincerely, Satori.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

The crux of the question is "what department has responsibility for IT equipment?" Simple things are often left to end-users with disastrous results. Ask most people when the last time was that they checked the oil level and tire pressures on their car. At least most mechanics will do that if asked, often with no charge. When it's left entirely to the end-user, many do nothing until the engine blows or the tire fails. Likewise with IT, how many times have we all said "why didn't you call us sooner" to an end user? Yes, many (and probably most) users can successfully install their own PC. But what impression does the IT department make on the new-hire? "Here it is. Deal with it. You're not worth the bother to us." Perhaps the words are not said, but the implication is crystal clear. "Six brand new hires and their supervisors do exactly this..." At least the supervisor was trying to preserve some decorum when IT dropped the ball. I would have loved to hear the whispered comments between the new-hire and the supervisor. I'll bet IT succeeded in making themselves the brunt of some very funny jokes. My father used to tell me "Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." When the IT department drops a box on a desk, or worse, sends it to the mail room in the interoffice delivery, and leaves the end-user on their own - what will the new-hire think about the company they have just chosen to join? Don't be upset when they wait until a major disaster happens, before they call the help desk. IT set the precedent. We all deal with noob calls. Many are a major waste of time. I'm sure most support reps would agree with me. But that doesn't mean that our response should be "it's in the manual. Read it!" and then slam down the phone. (Tempting tho that might be) Nor in this case, "It's in the box. It's all yours." Making people feel important and worthwhile - our level of service - is just as much an important part of what we do as is "making the machine work." And for IT to decide unilaterally "what its assigned duties should be" and decide their time is too valuable for menial tasks - is presumptive. OK, the CIO probably won't do installs, nor the enterprise admins, but there should be SOMEONE in IT to do it: an intern, a technical assistant - whatever. When anyone thinks about this rationally, it begs a simple question: "If IT isn't responsible for IT, why do we need them?" And THEN where will we be?

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

You're exactly right. For decades, IT has assumed that users were either too tech-phobic or unskilled to perform the simplest of tasks. And for many this was very true. I know. I've seen people make a royal mess of their systems and had to clean it up. But, times are changing. IT must adept to those changes. Develop a deployment process that doesn't require a desktop visit for every new machine. Test and refine the process. Roll it out to one of your more tech-savvy departments. See how it goes. Then expand it to other departments. Even if the process only works 50 percent of the time, you just cut your number of desktop visits for new hires in half. Take all this time saved, and develop a plan to provide better remote support, better manage your network, evaluate a new cloud service, build a better standard OS image, test a new email system, anything. I'll bet within two years the process works for 60 or 70 percent of the new hires, and in five to ten years it will work for 95 percent.

cnet
cnet

I think you're being defensive (I have never seen so many replies by a writer before!). Your reply to me added nothing, and simply repeats what you published. So, I will say pretty much the same I said before: you're wrong. This new hire person and supervisor should not be doing this task any more than IT should be changing toner cartridges. It's not cost effective for an enterprise. There are too many wires to do all at once. At risk of forcing you to add something new to the discussion, how do you propose to get the hardware from the technician's locked closet to the new hire's desk? Does the mailroom have to move it? does it sit unlocked, unplugged, on the new hire's desk until they get done with HR? What if it turns up missing?

Solenoid
Solenoid

No. "Unpack their machine and connect the cables" includes placement. Not all desks are identical. Some people are left handed or such. My point is, that whenever I let my users place the computer where they want it, they do not consider air flow for cooling. They more often than not put it inside an unventilated cubby under their desk. This may seem minor, but airflow for cooling is critical in establishing an expected service life of the components in the computer. Even with backups, I'd rather that a hard drive will last through the usefulness of the computer itself than have to replace it, and everything that user needed on it. On a more general note: Yes people will be able to unpack and connect. But then, they will proceed to initialize and setup if I'm not already involved. Most users are familiar with this process because they are also consumers. They will set it up in a manner suitable for home computing, which is to say different from a professional computing environment. On the surface, Bill, you have good points. The headline was intriguing. However, I believe that you've stirred up a bee's nest here. All due respect: I really enjoy your articles.

lammwa
lammwa

...company where these people in? Do they realize how much their IT service provider is getting over on them? We recently moved one of our own service desks to another location and you know what Bill, we had our field services do all the "minor" stuff since a) that's is their job, b) it's part of the service agreement, c) it's part of the warranty agreement; d) we are paid to do other tasks in the IT food chain. Even though 99.9% of us were more than capable of doing it, it simply was not our task to do.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

new hires at TechRepublic? Probably tech savy end users. They may have been able to set it up but it is wrong to make them do it. I've wasted too much time on this article.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

I don't know how many times I tell people to not do something but they do it anyway either because they forget or they think the rule doesn't really apply to them. I really wish it would be that simple Bill. I can't believe you actually think this way.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

but on top of some other piece of equipment it looked like an OK setup but all it took was a small bump and boom down it went

Ron_007
Ron_007

Sure some users, maybe even many, depending on the business, can handle those tasks, but ... there are still many users that are barely able to handle the technology associated with a toaster, let alone take down and set up a computer or even a telephone. In my view, in IT we have to properly service the client. If they are "technologically literate" enough to do the move, great. But if they can't set the VCR clock, we have to support them. Not everyone has technological skills, that is simple reality that we have to recognize. As others have already pointed out, it is faster and cheaper for IT to do this idiot work, than have to troubleshoot the resulting chaos by forcing people unsuited to do it. Yes, we have to "Word smarter, not harder". Yes, automating tasks should be job one for us. But sometimes we still have to be "wire hangers" and movers. And I think that will be true for a very long time to come. The simplest comparison is another "universal" skill we expect in our society. Driving a car. Watch just one episode of "Worst Driver" on the Discovery Channel. There are people out there "driving" missiles weighing thousands of pounds at high speeds who couldn't safely drive a tricycle. And 9 out of 10 of them think they are "good", "safe" drivers!

angry_white_male
angry_white_male

You're being unrealistic. A large percentage of users are not savvy enough to do most basic things - like hooking up a computer. The problem with new technology is you still have the human factor. As I often say to my colleagues dealing with a difficult customer, the equipment needs a user upgrade. So do away with the boots on the ground to do the grunt work of installing PC's and phones, and replace them with trainers and helpdesk support to walk people through the simplest of tasks and take what a Jr. level IT person can do in 10 minutes and turn it into a 2 hour ordeal with someone who can barely manage to operate a toaster. Simply not realistic in most mid-large businesses.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The question of OSHA compliance is going to be there whether you or a user replaces the toner. My opinion is it's better train multiple end users to perform this routine task than have them stranded when the trained IT person is out. If they can load paper or media, they can load toner.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Gee, I'm so glad IT doesn't think I'm too stupid to plug in a few cables.

gbyshenk
gbyshenk

I agree with others that this sort of thing will depend a lot on the specifics of the company in question. No doubt some significant number of users can do this sort of thing themselves. But what hasn't been highlighted is that it takes only a small percentage of those who can't to completely erase any supposed "savings" obtained by letting the users do the job. Even at the most basic level, suppose that a network cable or socket is bad (or maybe the connector didn't get seated properly)... this means that the user cannot work, and demands a tech visit -now-. An "now" is a lot more expensive than "sometime on Thursday or Friday at your convenience".

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

servers in closed closets / cabinets high heat P4-HT micro ATX systems in closed desks those cases are nearly see through for a reason open the door on the desk and more heat comes out of there than a space heater puts out all setup by IT

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Monitor, keyboard, mouse, thin client with external psu. They had no problems connecting the cables; even the color-blind guy gets it right when keyboard and mouse are USB. I had to talk them through the network connection (finding the wall jack), but they had minimal problems otherwise. Not tech savvy at all -- retail management.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If the average user is tech-savvy enough to hook up his own equipment, why are there plenty of service firms getting paid $75 or more by consumers to come to their homes and hook up their new gear?