It is March and that means our annual foray south, leaving Pittsburgh winter behind and kickstarting spring.  We have lots of family and friends visit during this trip, and recently my sister-in-law MJ and her family came to stay.  One morning while walking the beach, MJ asked me to help her with some computer issues with her work laptop.  Now first of all, I have been out of the IT support business for a long time.  Second, she works for a large hospital/university that has all kinds of IT resources.  As MJ explained the things she wanted help with, I suggested she reach out to her help desk.  “You mean the helpless desk?” she queried.  I consequently got a long winded dissertation on how the help desk rarely is any help.  She is no dummy: she has a PHD and travels the world giving speeches; she is a mobile user and her notebook computer is super important to her.  She showed me the gyrations and hoops she had to go through to connect to the corporate resources.  In addition, she had no confidence that her information is backed up or protected.  When we got back to the house she showed me some of the things she needed help with; some were basic (that I could actually help with), and some were procedural that she really needed corporate help with.  I told her she needed to call.  Yeesh, I got another earful.

So this made me think.  I work with many IT support companies and one of the key metrics I ask them to  follow is how many user incidents come into the help desk relative to how many users are supported.  The better companies design, build, and maintain systems, the fewer issues users will have.  The logic is sound, however, it does not take into account users not calling when they have issues because of a lack of confidence their problem will get fixed.  I suppose not fixing problems and/or poor customer service will eventually wear users down.  Users living with or working around issues will cost companies one way or another – lost productivity, security failures, frustrated users leaving for greener IT pastures, etc.

The job of IT is to build systems that are reliable and predictable.  Well designed, implemented, and maintained systems should have few issues.  When I ran my IT support company, this is what our clients paid us for, not to handle tons of support issues; however, we told our clients: “We don’t want you to have issues and need to call us, but if you have issues, we absolutely want you to call”.  This is what a help desk is there to do.

Do you have a help desk or a helpless desk?


What I am reading:
Professional:  Meltdown – by Chris Clearfield – Amazon Link
Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It
Personal: Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour by Joseph Perisco – Amazon Link
Armistice Day, 1918 World War I and Its Violent Climax