Centralized system management is one area where the disciplines of user support and network administration overlap. Implementing systems management solutions effectively can increase your productivity and provide stability for your users. So what do you do if you can't sell management on the investment?
In his June post for the Windows Insider column over at Redmondmag.com, Greg Shields shares 5 Rules for Managing User Desktops. Greg's points are good reminders of the best practices for those IT pros who use (or are thinking of using) tools for the central management of multiple computers. It was his fifth rule that really struck home with me: "Moving desktop management from reactive to proactive will initially involve more work than less."
It is only after a long design and implementation process that IT and the help desk can start to take advantage of central management tools. This is worth remembering, since it is all too easy to get caught up in the eventual efficiencies one can gain from such a project. Any significant change to your environment is going to have its own difficulties.
I noticed, though, that Greg is taking for granted that IT has management buy-in for a centralization effort. In one case I encountered, that was my trouble. The difficult front-end work was not in getting a system up and running, it was in trying to convince my boss of the project's value. His response showed me there was a limit to where I could go in his organization, and that he had a very limited idea of what a support tech should be doing.
The little company that employed me at the time did not have any automation in place when I started. The network was about as decentralized as it could get. Each user was an administrator on his or her machine, and each computer was run as a fiefdom. Software was installed without regard to licensing agreements, and virus infections were rampant due to imprudently downloaded e-mail attachments. I was hired to be the full-time tech support person, and I soon realized that I was in for a lot of work.
I took this job early in my career, before I learned to recognize the signs of an organization that has let its network go fallow. I was young, though, and I wanted the experience, so I rolled up my sleeves and set about putting things right, or at least "righter." As I started to look at rolling out antivirus software and putting user controls in place, I realized that it was a prime moment to implement systems management using a Group Policy Domain with Window Server. Such an infrastructure would allow me to tighten up the existing systems and run them in an efficient fashion, all while making sure we weren't, you know, breaking the law.
I prepared a project plan, priced out a couple small-business class servers to use for our Primary Domain Controller and Backup Domain Controller, and scheduled a meeting with my boss, the organization's director. I thought I had hit it out of the park with that proposal. I included an accounting of the projected savings we would see from implementing a systems management tool kit. We would see less downtime for users, and I would have more time available to work on forthcoming projects, since I would not constantly have to put out fires. I thought the company would make back the investment in hardware and software in less than a year, due to the increased productivity.
My boss flipped through the proposal, and then looked at me. He said, "This looks like you're saying we should spend this money to make your job easier. Why would we want to do that? We're paying you to do all this stuff."
It was clear to me then that the position I had was a dead end. I started looking for something elsewhere.
Point being, Greg's article is useful for the tech who's got the green light to centralize the management of the company's machines. There are managers out there, though, who see user support and network management as two exclusive disciplines. They won't be inclined to let their PC tech spend a lot of money on management systems so he can have some more free time.
The adage goes "work smarter, not harder." Competent managers will help you do this. If you encounter someone who wants you to "work dumber," you should run the other way.