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Most IT pros in small- to
medium-sized businesses find themselves struggling with how to meet day-to-day
support needs while remaining focused on the seemingly limitless IT projects
that flow from the business. Here are five strategies you can use to get a
handle on your support requirements and free up time for other projects in your

Track calls then take action

Large organizations typically
use help desk tracking systems with sophisticated reports which identify the
categories of causes for support requests. Those reports track users who are
most frequently calling in for support, the average time to resolve a ticket,
and a myriad of other bits of information. However, small- to mid-sized
organizations struggle with simple, often home grown, help desk solutions which
lack high-end reporting functions. However, working in a mid-sized organization
means you may actually have an advantage because your techs will be working
more directly with your users. You can use that direct contact with a smaller
group of users to your advantage by performing a support time study involving
each user.

A time
study should be conducted over a relatively short period of time, usually a day
or a week. During that time, everyone is asked to keep detailed records on what
they work on and for whom. The process of capturing the records is generally
considered a great burden until it is really understood that the purpose is to
identify those things which are consuming time and frustrating everyone. Capturing
minute details isn’t necessary; just record those things which take a
non-trivial amount of time to resolve or issues that happen frequently.

The time study records
are reviewed to identify patterns or opportunities for improvement. Consider
setting up a training plan if there are several calls on the same issue. Frequency
is one of the first clues that it’s possible to improve and streamline the
process. If you receive a dozen calls a week to reset a password, then reducing
that to six calls a week will substantially reduce the amount of time spent on
those calls.

Tasks that take a long
time to complete should also be reviewed. If troubleshooting a printer problem
took three hours then perhaps it’s time to replace the printer. These types of
time wasters can also severely hurt morale as team members become frustrated
when work begins backing up in the queue.

Even without a time study,
some IT managers can see the patterns in the support requests that they’re
getting. They know that there are problems which occur over and over again and
suck the energy out of the team.

Set strategies in these five trouble

Although each
organization is different there are some common trouble makers when it comes to
time wasters in an organization. Here are five areas to address when setting
your support strategy:

  • User Installed
    : Every mid-sized organization has to accept that their users
    will want to install software to personalize and customize their machines.
    This tactic invariability leads to problems which can take hours, or days,
    to resolve. The solution is simple. Provide guidance on what personal
    software can and can not be installed on corporate computers. You may want
    to require that all software go through a lightweight approval
    process/review before being installed. Download TechRepublic’s Sample software
    installation policy
    to get started.
  • Account
    Lockouts and Password Resets
    : Nothing is more wasteful than a user or
    customer locking out their account or forgetting their password. Even if
    you’re not yet getting calls every hour, you should decide on an effective
    lockout strategy . Remember that brute force
    attacks are often hard to mount. Try doubling the number attempts before a
    lockout. Try lengthening the time that a password is valid. If you don’t
    need to require passwords be changed every 60 days,then don’t. For help,
    download TechRepublic’s Network Security
    Policy Quick Guide
    . (TechProGuild membership
  • Personal
    Digital Assistants:
    Many of your users love their toys and personal
    digital assistants (PDAs) are the toys that everyone wants. PDAs have
    replaced the cell phones of old as status symbols. Advancements in
    hardware mean we now have PDAs with integrated cell phones and digital
    cameras, complicating your support liability. PDAs represent a problem in
    a corporate environment for several reasons not the least of which are the
    number of platforms and devices. You should standardize on one (or two, if
    you must) PDA platforms (Palm, Pocket PC, Blackberry, etc.) Stick to those
    platforms and don’t offer support for other platforms, no matter how nice
    you want to be. Here is a Sample PDA IT
    support policy
    to use as a starting point.
  • Pesky
    We’ve all had that device that we wanted to make work but
    could never quite overcome frequent trouble. Consider replacing the
    device, remembering that you have to weigh the cost against the cost of
    your team’s time. If you can’t make it work right, or at least OK, get rid
    of it, take your lumps, and move on. For help, download Support and
    Configuration Checklists for Small/Midsize Networks
  • Pet Macros and
    Every company has favorite templates and macros. In some
    organizations it’s the spreadsheet used to launch rockets, figuratively
    speaking. In other organizations it’s the access database doing
    commissions for sales people. These pet macros and templates can be great
    benefits to an organization, they can also be off-the-radar development
    projects that consume way too many resources. Figuring out which of these
    templates or macros are important is the key. If it’s not important to the
    organization, don’t use it.

Identifying and
addressing key processes that eat up valuable time resources should free up
more time for other projects in your shop. Eliminating these time wasters will
also help improve morale for your users and your IT staff.

Robert Bogue, MS MVP Commerce Server, MCSE, MCS: Security, has
contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing
projects. He is a strategic consultant for Crowe Chizek
in Indianapolis. You can reach him at Robert.Bogue@CroweChizek.com.

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Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays