By Bryan Ouellette
Through the course of your support duties, you often develop relationships with people who demonstrate a certain know-how for performing particular technical duties. You may, for example, recognize someone who is passionate about backups, databases, or user documentation as a power user.
These power users are individuals you would trust to assist you in carrying out duties on a remote site that would cost you additional time or resources. Let's discuss how to identify, recruit, and reward such users without taking them away from their primary duties.
How to identify power users
Identifying potential power users is usually an informal process. Power users should display technical aptitude and should also have developed a level of trust with the help desk staff. Your peers on the help desk will often tell you about people they’ve identified who have demonstrated these traits.
You’ll also hear about individuals who think they know more than you and want to make “improvements” to hardware and software configurations that go against corporate policy. You should review your call log to see if any particular power user was helpful or frustrating.
Some users are truly knowledgeable about certain programs or equipment, and some can actually teach other users about that equipment. At times, these people can assist you and mitigate some of your more mundane help desk calls. These smart users must demonstrate an ability to follow your guidelines for performing duties.
Recruiting power users to your service
To recruit power users, you should first identify them to your supervisor and see if you can get buy-in to use these folks to assist you. Then, contact the potential power user’s supervisor to see if and in what capacity you can use this individual.
Sometimes you may get an absolute “no,” even though you can show benefits for the entire organization. Others may give only tacit approval. This is to be expected because, after all, these potential power users do have other duties to perform.
On the other hand, some bosses may see this as a chance to get help within their own area, instead of relying on the help desk in every case. This is especially true for remote locations where you can't often or easily make on-site visits. This is often where the best partnerships can form between you and power users.
After receiving approval, ask supervisors to talk to potential power users, and then request that you be able to discuss your plans with them. When you do, you can roughly lay out the scope of the work. You should then follow up with a written document that outlines the scope of duties. This document doesn’t have to be a formal agreement, but it could be if you feel it’s necessary or if corporate policy dictates. You should forward agreements to power users through their supervisors for final approval.
Sometimes you will need to coordinate with the supervisor each time you make a request of the power user. Avoid this if you can because it slows the process and burdens two people: the power user and the supervisor. If you must coordinate through the supervisor, be prepared to discuss the task and quantify how long it may take.
Obviously, tasks such as troubleshooting, upgrades, and installations sometimes go wrong and require more time than originally planned. If this happens, be prepared to take over the task from the power user and perform an on-site visit.
In most cases, though, I have found power users extremely helpful in troubleshooting network and hardware problems in particular. For example, power users who know what to look for can tell you if the link light is lit on the network interface card. Simple questions like these can save you many troubleshooting hours and/or travel time.
Use power users sparingly to avoid burnout
Use your power users only when you need to. You should use them to perform only those tasks that would normally require you to lay your hands on a machine. For example, valid tasks to ask them to carry out include software installations that require administrative permission for a current user or advanced troubleshooting when the computer could be taken off your network.
Always remember that their coworkers probably also recognize these folks as techno-savvy. So they are probably often asked many questions about how to perform certain functions. For this reason, it’s important to keep your power users' tasks to a minimum. Also, don’t make a habit of saying, “Go see your power user and he’ll help you,” when you receive help desk calls. That practice can quickly burn out your power users.
The first place the people you support should go for technical queries should still be your help desk, and you and your staff should still perform most support duties. Receiving the majority of calls will keep you abreast of current problems at sites that have power users and still allow power users to perform their normal duties. The calls will also help pinpoint additional training that may be needed or problematic software and hardware.
Recognize your power users
Power users choose to help you for many reasons; therefore, you should recognize them for going above and beyond their normal scope of duties. Many power users will enjoy and appreciate the ability to help others. They may also receive pleasure from peer and IT department recognition. At the very least, the power users could use the results of the services they performed for greater corporate recognition. You may choose to reward them by simply thanking them publicly, by offering an appreciation gift certificate, or even offering a monetary bonus, if allowed.
Additional training is another reward you could offer. Not only will it increase the power user's knowledge and assist you in help desk call reduction, but it may open up new opportunities for the power user. Some folks who now work in our IT department started out as power users. Their talent and methodology were recognized, which helped them land a job in the IT department. They have been great additions to our team.
Another link to the field
Your power users will likely enjoy the peer-level dialogue that comes with their extra duties. Through your discussions, you can often ferret out potential problems from these experts in the field. You may even make them a member of a “tech team” whose purpose is to help identify and offer solutions to technical problems. The tech team may share ideas with other power users to help identify systemic problems. They also benefit in the knowledge transfer, which makes them better able to help others.
Carefully select your power users, adequately prepare them, and reward them for a job well done. If you do these things correctly, you and your power users can reduce your trouble calls and increase productivity.
How do you identify and train power users?
Have you set up a program for power users? Have you identified users who often help others with questions? If so, how do you make the most of their knowledge and willingness to help? Send us an e-mail or post your thoughts below.