IT Policies

Seeing the help desk from the other side

Jeff Dray recently got an insight into the workings of an IT help desk from a completely different point of view. It was fascinating to hear users from other organizations discussing their support team.

I was recently able to get an insight into the workings of an IT help desk from a completely different point of view. Every kind of business or organization now has an IT presence and a source of support. It was fascinating to hear some users discussing their support team.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I have just spent a night in a large National Health Service hospital after surgery to correct some damage to my shoulder. After the operation I was recovering on the ward. My bed was next to the nurse’s station, and I spent most of the night listening to their conversations. I was not able to sleep and passed the time indulging in one of my favorite occupations -- people-watching.

Having made us all comfortable and finished the routine tasks, the nurses sat at their station discussing work stuff. I was amused by the gossip and character assassinations of colleagues, but my ears pricked up when the topic of conversation rolled around to their IT services and, in particular, their help desk. It seemed that during the day, support was provided by the in-house team, but at night it was outsourced. The night shift were complaining about this.

On one of my nocturnal trips to the bathroom, I noticed that the nurses were having a problem connecting to their patient database. I was on the point of offering assistance when something stopped me. I was the patient here and not the IT guy, yet I felt guilty that I had walked away from a problem when all my instincts told me that there was a user who needed help. For a while I felt a little guilty, but common sense soon put me back in my place in bed.

Does anyone else ever find it hard to let go of work and become the customer?

Should I have offered help or was it totally not my place to interfere? The problem was a fairly normal one; from my position in the corridor, I could clearly see the Caps Lock on the keyboard and it would have taken a second to advise them to turn it off.

36 comments
blackepyon01
blackepyon01

Maybe it's just me, but "Not Helping" for me translates to "Not an Option".

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

For example, "Have you checked the Caps Lock?" or "Have you cleaned the mouse?" for a jumpy ball mouse. But if I'm not the designated tech, I don't look at the monitor and I don't touch the hardware. In such a situation, it's not only wrong, but may be illegal (HIPAA compliance in the US, for example) to go hands-on.

Triathlete1981
Triathlete1981

I think there's something innate in most IT pros that makes them need to help someone. It's a service industry, and sometimes when at Staples picking up pens and notebooks, I browse the computer section and feel a weird need to advise someone looking at a computer on what they need or don't need. Odd. But, the point here isn't that is was a CAPS LOCK problem in the healthcare field. It's a decision that must be made for every different circumstance and situation. I will almost always suggest something. That's part of the desire to help people but also our love of technology, finding out how things work, and pride in getting something fixed. However, to physically touch another system is obviously off limits. In the greater majority of cases anyway, the person actually authorized to use that system whether it's a high level tech or end user may try your advice but only if it's superficial. For anything more advanced, they will tell you point blank that it's the responsibility of that business's or organization's IT staff.

Wild Card
Wild Card

Recently, a printer that is connected to the PBX machine here started smoking and stopped printing. The printer is from the early 70s and was connected with a series of serial to parallel converters and switching boxes. It was originally hooked up by someone who is long gone. Anyways, its the phone companies printer even though it is in our building. They could not figure out how to get a new printer to work with the old system. So, being the nice guy I am, I tried to help them. The printer still doesn't work. Now the phone company wants me to get the printer to work by any means necessary. I tried to explain to them all the connections are as they originally and it is not my responsibility. Now they want us to buy or build them a computer to go between the PBX and the printer.

johnr
johnr

I went to a gas station in Irvine CA. and I saw there was a line of people inside. I was in a hurry so I asked what was going on. Someone told me that cash register is froze and the guy is waiting for his boss who was talking to a customer in the parking lot. I told him to reboot the computer. He didn't know how to reboot and I didn't want to touch anything there. So when his boss came in, he told him to restart the computer. It took about a minute and a half for the computer to come back up. Everything was normal after that. So unless it's someting simple, I wouldn't get myself involved so I don't get embarrarsed in case things don't work out. This is just my openion.

bkaegy
bkaegy

With HIPAA regs in hospitals they may not have appreciated your help

crimper
crimper

I used to offer help. Then one day I was picking up something and the clerk was having trouble with their computer. I asked if I could help and she said yes. I sat down at her station, touched the system, and the workstation fell apart. The monitor rolled across the floor and the pc fell on it's side. I then spent an hour putting everything back together and making sure the pc worked. It turned out that the maintenance guy had assembled the workstation but never bothered to put the screws in. I haven't touched a non-client's pc since!

Dr. Funk
Dr. Funk

I woudl steer clear if they had support already even if it is contracted out. As an IT Managaer I know how I would feel if some stranger was messing around with settings no matter how well meaning they were.

flausher
flausher

Problem is, choosing that, means that you're all about the praise as opposed to wanting genuinely to help. It's easy to come along and fix a problem involving the caps lock key being on, and then look like the hero for fifteen or so minutes.. I try to help no matter what the problem, but obviously if it is over my head I'll admit it to them, even if it does make me look a bit pants =(

heathlair
heathlair

In any vocation we are obligated to help. That is what we all are here for.

jrobetoy
jrobetoy

As nice as it is to help someone in need of help, and the caps lock key is a harmless button to push, you are taking a risk. Say the nurse gets into her PC with your help, then some random error occurs. "Well Chief IT guy... see that guy over there with the shoulder problem..."... Or, you will be looked at as the unnofficial computer guy and have to help with other problems, while you are trying to recover

SKDTech
SKDTech

If it were something as simple as someone inputting their password with the Caps lock on then yes. But anything more in depth than that is opening yourself up to liability which you are not being compensated for.

Jaqui
Jaqui

since their system might very well require they connect with an all caps login and password you can't say for sure it was the problem. I would stay away from offering any advice in a case where the data falls under privacy protection laws, specially healthcare where a screw up on keystrokes could become life threatening. BUT, with my "bed" right by their station, pulling out a laptop and running linux on it they might ask for any suggestions, it's obvious that you have skills with IT they don't then.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I dont mind offering light assistance, however, there is a limit. I dont want to touch the computer, and likely I will be very vague at possible issues rather than a step by step guide to solve it. An example, recently I was at a store and the scanner stopped working. The employee was complaining that it happened again, and called out for assistance. He then started complaining that it happens every few hours all week, and that nobody has done anything about it. He proceeded to keep pressing the reset button on the scanner, and then try to scan again. The light turned on and it beeped, nothing entered into the system though. I commented to refresh the system/application instead as he kept resetting the device itself to no avail. He didnt listen, and instead started trying to 'push' the cord in further, and keep resetting the scanner itself. Since he didnt listen, I didnt push it, and just waited for them to declare the lane closed. Anyway, he pressed a few keys on the keyboard/register. the system refreshed (looked like a refresh), and all started working again. LOL. He looked at me and said thanks for the advice. Of course, this was several minutes of him stressing out and whining like a b!tch first -- too funny!

LarryD4
LarryD4

No, I never offer help in a work enviornment I don't belong to. Really are you asking to be sued?? I have seen enough issues with people loosing data and information do to analysts who don't know what their doing. I'm not implying that you don't know what you're doing but are you nuts? I as an IT Manager would be livid if some tech.analyst from outside of my organization would fiddle with my systems. And god for bid you happen to change one piece of information in a patients chart on the hospital system while fiddling.. Not worth the scary litigation..

LyleTaylor
LyleTaylor

I found your question and experience interesting, but I don't think any of the questions in the quiz really work well. For me, I fall somewhere between "it's not my job" and "you should help when appropriate". There's nothing wrong with being nice occasionally and pointing out a simple fix to a problem. I don't see that as being out of place or inappropriate and something small like that can really help someone to have a much better day. Now, on the other hand, it might have been inappropriate to try and do some serious debugging or suggest how they could restructure their IT infrastructure or something like that...

cme2c
cme2c

In this example, say something like "that happened to me once. Called support and they found out I'd put the caps lock on." That way you are helping without seeming too clever.

clayton
clayton

hahaha. Some people are just lazy. But in that case what are you suppose to do but put the pc back together

RayJeff
RayJeff

One of my ex-girlfriends is a nurse. I love to see a woman in medical wear :-)

stipe.hodak
stipe.hodak

I am a helpful guy. Try to help whenever possible. But I limit my help to resetting a device or offering some advice and never try to fiddle with a System I'm not responsible of. I wouldn't want someone trying to fix a problem a normal user usually can't fix due to permissions on my System, so I don't try to do it on others. Other than that, it's nice to help and sometimes you get something in return (like getting your food ahead of others for resetting their DSL modem, etc...).

LyleTaylor
LyleTaylor

Yes, you need to be careful, and there are limits to what might be acceptable, but I don't see pointing out something like "It looks like you have your caps lock key on. That might be your problem" being an issue. I don't think anyone is _obligated_ to do that, but I think it's OK to be nice in that way if you feel so inclined.

kevin
kevin

In a situation such as in the story, the systems are the responsibility and under the ownership of someone else, if you somehow cause more problems then what. Also with friends, family its ok, but with random acquaintances its shaky ground as you dont want to end up as a 24 hour helpline.

Mambo Bongo
Mambo Bongo

Sitting in the daily commute train telling your partner how sick you feel... Have you ever experienced that somebody walks up says couldnt help overhearing but I'm a doctor and I recommend bla? Or you're talking about some legal issue and somebody turns around and says couldnt help overhearing but I'm a lawyer and I would advice you to bla? Well, Ive never experienced this,but I can imagine the most I would get is a business card! What is it with us IT guys that makes us give out our knowledge/experience for free?

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

I was in the ER one night, waiting for the ambulance that was bringing in my father. The nurses were complaining about the interference on the emergency radio they used to speak with the emergency teams - which was buzzing and breaking up quite badly - in sync with the Windows "Beziers" screensaver running on a workstation next to the radio. They flatly refused to believe me when I told them what the problem was. They wouldn't even move the mouse to shut down the screensaver.

Merlin the Wiz
Merlin the Wiz

If you were walking up to your auto in a parking lot and noticed the person parked next to you had a pair of battery jumper cables in their hands would you ignore them? No, but I would be the one who connected them to my power source. Touch someone else's equipment? If it were their personal property. Only if asked to do so. If it was not their personal property, absolutely not. It could be maintained by some fourteen year-old guru who is in their opinion God's gift ti technology and they invented the personal property just last week and knows everything that will ever be known about it. Offer advice? Depending on the actions of the person who is having the problem. If they acted as if they would appreciate the help, yes, I would ask the general "Have you tried this?" questions I used to ask when tech support was my job responsibility. Otherwise, I would smile and walk away. Working with computers is like life some people learn, some don't, and it is very hard , as a bystander, to tell one from the other.

t0ken
t0ken

If it was something very simple and I felt like my trivial suggestion would be enough to help them out, I'd give them that. Using your example, I simply would've suggested the caps lock key and been done with it. Granted, at that point, they may tell me to go lay my sick arse back in bed because they didn't know I'm an IT guy, but that'd be their loss. But no way am I sitting down and debugging or troubleshooting their issue, I'm not being paid! lol. It's funny though, because I find myself in this same position more often than I'd think I would. I find myself having to hold my tongue so I don't get distracted from my own daily errands on my days off. Plus, no one likes a know-it-all, right?

OurITLady
OurITLady

Something like that where it was more of a training issue I would probably have made the suggestion. On the other hand, if it had been a problem which involved actually sitting at the keyboard of someone else's system and having any kind of access to that system then for both their sake and your's you are better off staying out of it - accessing someone else's system without the right permissions has all sorts of implications for both parties. I'm usually happy to make a quick suggestion as to what they could try but I would be very reluctant to do much more than that.

bkneeland
bkneeland

If one of my customes have a problem, even an easy problem, I would want them to call me to fix it. Less likely someone doing something wrong because they don't know the system involved. More importantly I get paid to support them. When you give your free help in a professional environment you are taking money from someone else who has to prove that he is needed there. In a personal environment, I stay away even more. You never know what crap they have on the computer. Then they blame you on everything that happens to their computer after that. I tell them I can work on their pc after hours for less that my company's normal business charge. I don't take personal calls EVER while at work.

LarryD4
LarryD4

I'm not trying to discourage support and helping a person out. But I've been working in the courts for four years and just touching another companies hardware, and I literally mean "touching" is not a smart move.

Lizzie_B
Lizzie_B

that some of us have an overwhelming urge to be helpful when we can. We know and understand computers to a degree that often amazes other people. We also understand just how frustrating, confusing and frightening malfunctioning hardware and software can be to the average user. So we feel an urge to offer to help. And what's wrong with that? I think that it's an admirable trait in a person and one that's sadly lacking. A touch of kindness, sympathy or assistance can do a lot to make someone else's day just a little better. But that's just my opinion, and it's one that doesn't seem to be much in vogue anymore. Instead of helping, everyone's petrified that if they try to help they'll get sued, robbed, mugged or worse. Edit: so speaks someone who, at present, can't even get a tier 1 help desk job... So take my opinion for what it's worth.

JosiahB
JosiahB

...a way round that problem, I carry business cards with me and hand them to those I see in need. If they still need the help they can call me up and I'll book a time to go round and help out. That way I hang on to my days off and I get paid!

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

Like you say OurITlady, pointing out that caps lock is on is no biggy, debugging their applications would be way in-appropriate. Then again caps lock may be required to be on, you don't know. Won't you look like a newbie when they say (rolling their eyes) "Yes! I know, it's meant to be like that. Boy! Some people..." then you are the fool, no?

BizIntelligence
BizIntelligence

I believe if you are helping your family and friends then it is ok. We can help people working in organization (such as chemist shop, medical centre, flight centre and many more) as well but the consequences can be worst if they implement your suggestions in wrong way. Most probably they will held you responsible for the cause. It's different case that you won't get hurt at any cost as you just suggested the steps and its upto the user to adopt those suggestions. Moreover, I believe it is not ethical to help people outside your organization (excluding family and friends).

walt1019
walt1019

To protect the confidentiality and personal information of their patients the staff should polity refuse any offer for assistance. In many cases they would also be required to notify security of your attempt to possibly have access to their system. Any breech of security policies and/or procedures could in fact cost them their jobs.