The Professional Kitchen of IT Support

Having worked in the IT support for over 20 years I have been fortunate to see the industry evolve as my career has progressed, we have left the distant past of firefighting and rack filling server systems stored in the dank basements of offices (or even a cupboard off a gents toilet…I kid you not…I’ll save that for one of my memoirs blogs) and transitioned to a point where technology and business are synonymous with each.   From my early years in IT we were finding our footsteps with support, as my career progressed in to operational 3rdline support and solutions architecture my entire perspective on how support services should run radically changed.  The realisation that there is almost a futility in having squadrons of technical zealots, to echo a cliché it would be “too many cooks spoil the soup”.

To understand this perspective, I am going to continue to utilize the cooking analogy, in a kitchen there is a distinct hierarchical structure stemming from Aboyeur through to the Chef De Cuisine.   The responsibility of tasks are separated in to distinct areas where specific processes/procedures should be precisely followed (recipes) to ensure a consistent identical end products for their clients satisfaction each and every time.  Should any element of the dish be wrong they know precisely who was responsible and can take measures to ensure it is not repeated.

When it comes to Information Technology in a large corporate environment this is a well understood methodology, through utilising their inhouse technical expertise they define the specific processes/procedures for all common IT tasks.   Following verification that the process is clear and consistent it is delegated out to 3rd/2nd/1stline teams to utilise these processes for any future deployments or support requests.   The process of “shift left” benefits the end user, the support staff and the company overheads, recreating the responsibility structure of the professional Kitchen.

·         Consistent system deployments

Whether it is a server, client computer, application or network technology the procedure details the appropriate steps to ensure it is deployed to the specific standards.

·         Traceability and Improvement

Any misconfiguration or error can be traced back to the responsible team, the root cause identified and reviewed for improvement.   This may be a refinement to the existing process, further training or a reallocation to a more senior team.

·         Support Overhead Reduction

By having processes adhere to the “shift left” approach we reduce the support overheads for the company.   Every hour of support time is two hours of company time, the further up the chain it is escalated the greater the cost to the company.

·         Inhouse Training

This procedural driven structure provides the backbone to training, through the repetition of well defined processes the operational support member is learning from the experience of their mentors in a consistent accurate manner.

·         Accurate Time Management

By having clear and concise procedures/processes it is straight forward to accurately allocate the time it takes to complete actions.  Cost estimations are far more accurate, greater control on billing and overheads are managed for effectively.

·         System Stability

A far greater level of stability is reached through the consistent deployment, it enables duplication of systems to a test environment which allows near production testing ensuring production changes have less risk of downtime.

·         Disaster Recovery

The duplication of design in a test environment allows real world emulation of disaster recovery situations.  Should the proverbial hit the old fan in production the support teams are fully equipped and prepared to respond to the incident.

Having well defined processes for deployments and completing everyday tasks is only part of the equation, the approach to support must be smart, focused on effective solutions and prioritising time management.   This is achieved by defining a logical approach to support aiming for issue resolution as near to the first point of contact as possible.

·         Identify customer issue

·         Clarify if only affecting the single user or multiple

·         Initial issue investigation time predetermined (e.g. 15 minutes)

·         Verification if user related or local computer related

·         Limit Single Computer issues – If more than 30 minutes serious consideration should be given to an automated system rebuild (1 hour)

·         Smart Problem Identification – Process to enable first point of contact incident identification to allow priority escalation for high impact issues.

·         Single Point for Escalations – Allocate a roll to someone to escalate tickets to teams, this helps prevents customer impacting issues being lost in operation alerts.

·         Trending – Through continuous monitoring, reporting and trending system enhancements and issue reduction techniques can be implemented to resolve the underlying cause and further improve processes.

While there are certainly some elements of this approach that do not transpose well to the small/medium enterprise the ones that are appropriate are more important than they are to larger corporate environments.   With the SME having a smaller userbase the impact of having a single computer, application, server or network issue has a greater impact, 1 user out of 1000 affected is negligible 0.1%, however, 1 user out of 10 equates to a 10% loss of productivity…timely smart solutions are critical for the SME.

At Plan2IT we prioritize smart solutions to help clients reduce their support overheads, through implementation of some key technologies which many SME’s are likely already licensed for we can help your organisation focus on their own business objectives without being laboured by technical firefights.

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