The computers are all humming along just fine, the printers are all printing, the e-mails are all getting through, all software and hardware is upgraded to the latest and greatest, and no one is reporting any problems. Is it time to sit back, put your feet up, and read the newspaper, or is it time for something else?


Those of us who provide user support in smaller office environments have probably all had our share of downtime. I won’t speak for larger offices, but perhaps some of my TR peers will share some insight in that regard. Nonetheless, when everything is working just fine, all upgrades are complete, and no one seems to be struggling with a problem, what’s a user support professional to do?

Here are some of things I might keep myself busy with:

Make the rounds: This is a good time to just walk through the office and ask people how things are going, see if everything is working OK, etc. I think people like this proactive approach, and it might even avoid a bigger problem down the line.
Update my computer specification sheet: I try to do this at least once a year anyway, but doing a little research will make sure the computers I build in the future provide the best bang for the buck. In the past, I have been surprised with the request to provide computers for new hires, so my specification sheet provides a quick snapshot of what I would build and the cost. If you’re interested, my current specification looks like this: computer specification. It is four months old, so after a little research, it might require a tweak here and there.
Check production software Web sites: Making sure I haven’t overlooked an important upgrade or service pack is a good idea. I’m not always notified or don’t always hear about them. I’m not really talking about Microsoft Windows or Office, but rather our production software that doesn’t have an automatic update feature.
Check in with some of the technical Web sites: TechRepublic, of course, is an easy one for me to peruse. We sure can get some great information about the latest and greatest technology right here. But I also visit a few industry specific sites, ones related to AutoCAD and Revit, and ones with blogs, question-and-answer sections, articles, etc. It’s a great way to get a heads-up on potential issues I might find myself faced with, get the latest tips and tricks, and so on.
Get all the documentation up to date: All sorts of things are documented, and when something changes on the fly, I might just make some hand-written notes with the intent of updating the electronic file later. After some time, there might be more notes than original printed text.
Research and plan for future training: If you provide user training like I do, coming up with training ideas and material might be a bigger challenge than presenting it. Asking users or management what they might like to see in future training session ideas is a good way to get ideas, and getting prepared well in advance is always better than scrambling or shooting from the hip.
Get up to speed on the newest production software: For me, this is Revit MEP, Autodesk’s Building Information Modeling software. It’s changing our design environment dramatically, and it’s like learning a whole new language (like Chinese). Although we’ve been using it in production for about a year, only a handful of people in our office have worked with it, with varying degrees of expertise, I might add. This is something I’ll be documenting to improve the learning curve for others and to make it specific to the way we’ll be using it.
Help with production of the company’s product: In my case, this would be the creation of building construction documents. If anyone is scrambling to get something out the door, I’m more than willing to jump in and lend a hand. Around here, IT is only a means to an end. That end product — producing construction documents — is our bread and butter. Being involved in the production process not only helps the design engineers meet their deadlines, but it can only be a positive when it comes to supporting the technology that makes it happen.

Those are just some thoughts about what I do when there’s no crisis to deal with. How about you? What do you do with your user support downtime?