Use asset tracking to provide better support

Noticing patterns in your support work can put you out in front of problems. Make sure you know what's going on with your hardware as well as your users.

The small research department I inherited was pretty thin on IT practices when I joined up. There weren't too many users to worry about, so the previous tech manager could get by without having many documentary procedures in place. He kept most of the maintenance history of his machines in his head. Unfortunately for me, he didn't leave his head when he found another job, and I took over without any historical information about the machines on the network. I had the chance to start fresh with a tracking system of my own choosing, but I couldn't benefit from any warning about possible trouble spots I might soon face.

The first thing I instituted was a logging procedure for user support requests. This was an obvious step, since providing user training where needed was to be one of my primary responsibilities. A support request log is an objective tool that can show you where your users might need training help. It quickly became clear though that measuring user requests was only giving me part of the picture. I needed to start filling in the story from the hardware perspective as well.

There wasn't a formal equipment inventory in place when I took over. Sure, our university has us list our property for insurance purposes, and Procurement tags any University property that's valued at $5000 or more, but that was the extent of things in our department when I started my tenure.

I decided to use our insurance list as a starting place. I whittled out everything that wasn't considered information technology equipment; I struck the sofas, the coffee machine, and the wall art. Then, I checked my new equipment inventory against what was actually in use in the office. I noted who was using what, and where.

Coupling these two datasets—my support log and my inventory—in a relational database let me create a complete picture of my support work. This is especially vital in a small department like mine. We pass on hardware to new users after a staff member departs; we can't afford not to. I have to be able to determine if a piece of equipment has ever had problems in its lifespan, regardless of who's been using it.

My solution's pretty simple. Like I say, we're a small department, and investing in an OEM asset-tracking and help desk management tool wasn't feasible for us when I started. Your department may have a more robust tracking system than ours, but if you're not running hardware incident reports in addition to examining your user support requests, you're missing out on an opportunity to head off future problems.

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