Published on January 7th, 20111
The IT support manager's day by Noel Bruton
What follows is fiction in a way, but it’s all happened to somebody, somewhere – maybe even you – so it’s sort of fact. All support desks can be superb. Often, all that takes is a good manager, putting the right things in place. But it’s never straightforward.
I need to get to the office sharpish this morning. I’ve just had a text from the early shift that they’re getting a surprising number of calls about the ‘Evifacts’ system (Heaven knows where our development department gets these names for these in-house apps – sound like it’s about faxes, but it’s really about staff rostering). In the first place, that shouldn’t be happening at this time of day or week – Evifacts is busiest on a Friday afternoon, so what’s with this ‘first thing on a Tuesday’ business? Worse, my chaps on the first line don’t recognise the descriptions they’re being given. Could be badly trained users, but I have my suspicions that the app’s been changed again, probably overnight and we’ve not been told. But I can’t verify that until I get there, so here we go again.
On the way, I’ll worry that coincidentally, we’re upgrading a lot of the machines in human resources at the moment, so the Evifacts users will be calling those poor buggers too, and they won’t be able to answer because their machines are down. I’ll see when I get there, but I’m not sure whether to pull the rollout temporarily. If that happens, I’m blowed if I know when we could reschedule it. We’ve had to second some staff from development already and they want those hands back ASAP.
Office is looking a bit depleted. Tom’s on a training course. Frankie’s been out for ages on maternity and they wouldn’t let me replace her. I had a temp for two weeks only, about a month ago, but that didn’t last. Now it turns out Jo’s off sick as well, or should I say ‘again’. This time it’s ‘depression’ apparently. She doesn’t report directly to me, but to Garry, one of my team leaders. I don’t like to get involved, but looks like I’m going to have to. I need to know how or whether we’re causing her illness and how we can alleviate it, and I’m not happy that Garry doesn’t seem to be on top of it. He’s new to supervision. I’m going to have to spend more time coaching him.
But before I do that, it’s off to the Evifacts development team to find out what’s going on. IT put 43 people through ITIL training last year, so in theory at least, everybody knows we have formal change management here. Not that everybody plays along, of course. Some departments simply don’t follow what other departments believe to be the rules.
Yes, as I thought. Networks are already way behind on commissioning new apps, and it just happened that the tech who best knows the Evifacts server was on ‘lates’ last night, so they “made hay while the sun shines” and released the apps early, under direct pressure from a department head. There wasn’t time to inform everybody. How many problems does that little lot give us?
So networks is behind, ignoring the process to save their embarrassment and choosing expediency over efficiency, and they don’t care about the downstream effect because we, not they, pick up the consequent workload. Of course those most affected by that are the users, who have to keep calling support because they’ve not been trained – and support can’t answer the queries because neither have we.
The users get a licence to bully IT, and my glorious leader lets them get away with it, then wonders why we’re all playing catch up. Every time a senior user does this – and it is uncomfortably often – we further establish the culture that it is OK to disrupt IT’s production plans and jeopardise service levels elsewhere. Jumping the queue makes planning impossible and it should be controlled. Somebody – let’s face it, probably me – has to find a way to convince IT management that it has to take control of service delivery and stop the users lumping all these risks onto us. But of course, there’s no ITIL process for ‘allocation of resources to workload’, nor ‘production risk management’, so that blinkered lot upstairs don’t think it’s important.
I’ve got the helpdesk making a special log of all the Evifacts enquiries and I’ll use Excel to give me a report on the amount of work we usually used to get regarding Evifacts (that’s why I always ask for reports from the helpdesk system in CSV format). The other thing I’m doing is running a report on the ‘KPSR’ launch, which was bigger than Evifacts and went as smooth as silk, because it was properly managed. Well, everybody uses the ‘Key Production Statistics Register’, so that’s one system they simply had to get right.
What I’m after is a comparison of the total amount of user downtime on each system, caused by each launch. And the licensing system has told me how many users…got it. KPSR is 443 users. After its launch, we got 86 enquiries more than usual, from 73 different callers, but we’d been trained, so the average fix time was eleven minutes. Average user impact 19 per cent, total user downtime was around 16 hours. But Evifacts is only 226 users – yet we’ve had 63 calls so far today, and some of them are still outstanding 3 hours later. 28 per cent impacted, user downtime currently standing at 94.5 hours already and it’s only day one. Now I’ll work out the cost of that downtime, just in something simple like what they’re paid per hour, and compare that with the cost of training us. And that £-figure is what goes upstairs. All that waste of time and money, just because somebody tried a short cut.
My boss and me, we had a big barney this time last year. He had brought me in to run the support group but he just would not let go. I let him get away with it for a little too long before I finally got sick of it, and it was perhaps that delay that made the eventual confrontation worse than it needed to be. I was so self-centred at first – I felt that I had been brought in to do a job and that I was being hampered by the unclear lines of authority – until I realised what else might be going on.
When I looked at it with a wider perspective, I realised that neither was he was getting clear objectives from his seniors, but he did have to shoulder their complaints about the service when the users moaned to them. So his natural reaction was to try to solve the apparent problem. But the effect of that was that he undermined my authority with the people he had brought me in to lead. The whole thing was unsustainable. A few years ago, I might have just let things carry on as they were, but not now – it meant I was letting my own staff down. So I changed my tack.
I needed three things – the first was to get control of my department. To do that meant the second, namely that I must prove to my boss that the department was under sound control in my hands and third, I needed to give him something else to concern himself with instead of trying to do my job as well. When at first I realised this, the approach I took was too direct, and I got so frustrated that I nearly handed my notice in there and then. Glad I didn’t. Because what I started doing was finding out what was causing the complaints and sorting out the root cause, then giving that to my boss so he could report our new strategy upstairs. That meant that I was dealing with it, not he, and he both got the glory and had something else to do. It was after one event like this that I finally cornered him in his office when he was in a nice smiley mood and put it to him that he had to take a more hands-off approach. Besides, we needed him pressing the flesh upstairs.
I still haven’t got him as well trained as I’d like – which is why he still lets the users jump queues sometimes, but we’re getting there. And getting the boss off the shop floor has made my staff less nervous, so the atmosphere’s a bit calmer.
Now, what’s next? Yes, the blue group’s figures are down. I broke the shifts up into groups a while ago to encourage them to gain a sense of identity so they’d start competing with one another. That did a lot to improve morale and productivity. Trouble is, I’ve got to make sure nothing gets in their way, and that they have the skills and tools they need so they can compete. Which is why, these days, if I see low figures among the teams, I tend to think it’s something I’ve done wrong, not they.
Just think, I used to be just like them. Come in of a morning, work my fingers to the bone, go home knackered and wonder why the backlog never got any smaller. So glad I went on that Noel Bruton’s ‘How To Manage the IT Support Desk’ seminar. Good grief, look at the time – and I’ve got to stop off at Sainsbury’s on the way home.
Noel Bruton is a UK-based consultant and trainer, who assists organizations in a wide range of industries in the practicalities of IT support management and improvement. He is the author of best-selling books on all aspects of IT support service delivery. See more on this topic and others at his Website, www.noelbruton.com.