One of the most elusive goals for any manager, particularly IT managers, is having enough workers to handle the load. Many managers face a constant battle with senior management over hiring enough staff to get the job done, while also keeping salaries and expenses under control.

The IT manager is always fighting to get more people to handle an ever-increasing workload. The company is always trying to control costs. Here is one strategy you can use to increase staffing at little or no expense: Create what I call a PowerUsers program.

As an example, consider my firm, which we’ll call the Widget Finance Company. Widget is a midsized financial institution with about 125 workstations, more than 20 servers, and three telephone systems. The company is relatively small and, as a result, we don’t have a large IT department. But senior managers at the company are typical in that they demand immediate resolution to their IT needs.

I serve as the network administrator, security manager, telecommunications technician, and overall telecommunications/network manager. I have a staff of one technician. When you add end-user support, that’s a lot of work for two people.

To decrease response time for support calls and to ease my workload, I created a new network of in-house IT workers. I call them Helpers of Information Technology (HITs) PowerUsers. Here’s how it works.

Creating the PowerUsers course
I created the PowerUsers training program in about two weeks. I started by outlining all the tasks that I perform on a routine basis. Then, I identified those tasks that I could train others to do. Next, I documented these tasks, creating a HITs PowerUser Guide.

This guide is a written reference for the PowerUsers to use when performing one of the identified tasks and contains simple descriptions, step-by-step instructions, and pertinent screen shots.

The online version of the guide includes a link PowerUsers can use to send me suggestions for improvements. I use those suggestions to update and improve the guide as we encounter new situations and problems.

Finally, I created a presentation that uses the Guide and demonstrations to train the PowerUsers on their new tasks.

IT recruits
I asked each department to select one to four staff members to receive the training, based on the following factors:

  1. The employee must have demonstrated a higher level of computer ability. Experts are not needed, but PowerUser recruits must have a basic understanding of the Windows environment.
  2. The employee must have some longevity with the company—preferably, a tenure of six months or longer but with a minimum of three months.
  3. The employee must volunteer for the training and indicate a desire to learn.

PowerUser boot camp
The training lasts about four to five hours and covers a variety of topics, including the following:

  • How to create desktop icons and shortcuts
  • How to create and delete network maps
  • How to add printers
  • A variety of other simple tasks

The most helpful task PowerUsers perform is basic setup of e-mail clients. In our environment, the Widget Finance Company moves employees to new stations relatively often out of necessity. In some cases, an employee may move two or three times in a month.

I teach the PowerUsers to make all the necessary changes to the mappings, printers, and e-mail client settings. They now handle these physical moves themselves, which saves me at least five to 15 minutes per move. Over a period of a month, this PowerUser task can save me several hours of time.

PowerUsers are also trained in basic troubleshooting techniques. This way, when a problem arises, a PowerUser checks out the situation. If the PowerUser does not have the skills, knowledge, or access to correct the problem, that person fills out a detailed work order that saves me anywhere from five minutes to several hours of troubleshooting. This strategy helps me to correct problems faster and more efficiently.

But what about network security?
I purposely designed this program to be completely flexible. As a network security manager, I am always on the lookout for weak or lax security. A major benefit of utilizing HITs PowerUsers is that I do not need to increase their security access.

The Widget Finance Company currently has over 75 percent of their workstations using Windows 9x as an operating system. As we migrate over to Windows 2000 (and beyond), this will change, but I will still be able to control access by increasing the PowerUsers’ rights only as much as is needed.

Benefits for PowerUsers and IT
The benefits of this program are numerous and positive for all concerned. The employee, who in many cases is very young, gains valuable IT training and experience. The company now sees the employee taking an active role in the organization, demonstrating the initiative necessary to obtain the training. This makes the employee more valuable to the organization and may lead to a promotion.

There are numerous benefits for the company. By conducting the training in-house and selecting existing employees, the company saves literally thousands of training dollars. They gain an employee who is more motivated and better trained. And downtime associated with IT issues is reduced.

IT managers can expect a major gain in personal productivity. In effect, I now have nearly 20 trained sets of eyes and ears stationed strategically throughout the organization. This helps me be more proactive in maintaining my computer and telephone networks. And I was able to do it all without spending an additional dime of company money.

Creative solutions

Do you have a creative solution for an IT dilemma? If so, we’d like to hear about it. E-mail us your story.