IT Policies

Wiki your office's technical knowledge and reduce support calls

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to supporting your end users. Responsible teams will already be keeping some sort of knowledge base, but support pros should consider taking a page from the Web 2.0 movement. Add a wiki to your help desk tools and leverage community-generated content.

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to supporting your end users. Responsible teams will already be keeping some sort of knowledge base, but support pros should consider taking a page from the Web 2.0 movement. Add a wiki to your help desk tools and leverage community-generated content.

There's a ton of products available that purport to capture the knowledge acquired by support pros as they toil in the trenches. After all, if your help desk techs aren't recording the solutions to the problems they encounter, they might be doomed to repeat the same troubleshooting process somewhere later down the road. Lots of the software packages that are available for the help desk even provide end-to-end management solutions. That is, they provide an interface for queuing support requests, a means to track the progress toward treatment, and a searchable archive that catalogs solutions to problems previously encountered. These software tools even make it easy to share their knowledge bases with end-users, giving the industrious members of the staff the opportunity to try and find their own solutions. This idea is music to the ears of an overworked help desk tech.

If you're in need of an end-to-end help desk request system, you might look into one of these products. HEAT and Remedy are fully featured products aimed at the enterprise. They're expensive, and really show their value in the statistics that they provide managers for help desk supervision. RT is an open-source tool that can be installed on your network for free if you have access to someone experienced in server administration. The thing about software products specifically designed for help desk management, though: they're not collaborative between IT and the user community. The developers' assumption seems to be that when it comes to solving problems, the information will flow only one way and the help desk will provide all the answers. This assumption ignores one of the most important teachings that we've learned from Web 2.0, that collaboration produces content of higher quality. We've all heard of wikis these days; Wikipedia has made sure that most everyone has seen one. They're not too difficult to use, and they can provide colleagues a chance to collaborate on content to everyone's benefit. A wiki may not be specially designed for use by the help desk, and may not offer managers an easy way to track request statistics, but they offer something that end-to-end help desk tools don't. Wikis are designed to allow communication to flow in more than one direction. Everyone in the office can collaborate on a wiki topic. Managers could use a wiki to complement their support knowledge base, and give users the chance to contribute solutions to the questions raised by the community. There are a lot of wikis available to try. Mediawiki is the engine behind Wikipedia, and is available for free. Again, though, you'll probably want to have a decent systems administrator on staff to get that package going. If you want to get started on a wiki, but don't want to worry about hosting your own, I'd recommend PBWiki. They offer a free hosted wiki solution for those who want to get their feet wet. We're using a local TWiki installation in my office, and my colleagues are fleshing out our knowledge base with topics I couldn't begin to address on my own. You see, I support a group of quantitative social scientists. My users are answering each other's questions and solving some of their own problems without my intervention. Good thing, too; my skills in computational data analysis and statistical modeling are a little rusty.

There's no way that the help desk can have an answer to every question. A wiki can offer your help desk the chance to capture the technical expertise that your users might have to offer, and make it available for everyone.

6 comments
CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I have a hard time getting users to do anything except call the help desk. How do you motivate them to look at a wiki, much less add to it? The majority of my users are not tech-savvy.

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1232153d32k3k3j1+auth

You may want to check out Mojo Helpdesk (www.mojohelpdesk.com) for a great help desk online service. There is a free plan for individuals and consultants.

williamjones
williamjones

Wikis aren't the only way to collaborate on technical issues and share knowledge. User forums and FAQs can fill the same role. What's been successful for you?

rurick
rurick

Heck, we cant even get them to read the notes on our contact list of who is trained to do what! And the standing order of "step 1 reboot, step 2 call IT" is ignored more often than not. So a typical support call goes like this: me: Thanks for calling IT, how can I help you? them: Hey, my computer wont do X. Can you help? me: Well, you have reached the guy in charge of networks, security and servers. You need to talk to Bill or Sally. By the way, have you rebooted yet? them: No. me: Reboot and call one of them. (thier phones never ring because the reboot fixed the issue) Or even better: Me: "Have you rebooted? That particular problem is ALWAYS fixed by a reboot." Them: "yes I have." Me: Are you sure? I am seeing your PC has been up for 14 days, 3 hours and 5 minutes." them: "Oh. well... um... *sigh* I guess I'll reboot if I HAVE to. Its such a pain you know. It takes SO much time and I just dont have the time to do that."

Joe_R
Joe_R

Regardless of the size of the organization one's supporting, keeping users informed and educated is the key. Great article, William, with a great idea. What do I do? I have monthly meetings in which users are both heard and informed, and I maintain an electronic library (not very fancy, but very accessible).

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