Eliminate support inefficiencies by establishing a centralised, company-wide Help Desk.
As I have described elsewhere, until recently each office at H&A was left to do its own thing, computer-wise. David and I provided technical support to users in the Boston office; the other offices pretty much fended for themselves. As IT began centralising, we were asked to begin providing technical support to users in the other three New England offices as well. That worked out pretty well, although we were spread thin and didn't feel that we were providing a timely enough service to the staff any more.
As the centralising trend continued, it became clear that we weren't going to be able to meet the demand by ourselves. In the summer of 1997, I proposed the idea of establishing an official Help Desk, with these goals in mind:
- Give staff one place to call, regardless of the problem. At the time, David and I each had our specialties, but nobody really knew which of us did what, so they would call one of us almost randomly, it sometimes seemed. This was not very efficient, because both of us ended up getting involved when only one of us needed to; and the staff found it frustrating to be redirected to someone else when all they wanted was a solution. A Help Desk person could be aware of our specialties, and assign jobs appropriately without the staff having to keep track of who currently did what.
- Establish a database of solutions to problems. We'd both experienced the incredible frustration of seeing a problem, and knowing that we had fixed it once a couple of years ago...if only we could remember just what it was we did... A database would record solutions for posterity, so we wouldn't be relying solely on our leaky brains any more, and would also make those solutions readily available to everyone in the department.
- By keeping track of problems, get some idea of what the recurring problems were. We had a feel for it, of course, but statistics might identify hidden trouble areas that we could eliminate.
- Improve the level of technical support that the small offices received, without them having to pay consultants, or saddle an engineer-hobbyist with the job and reducing their ability to do billable work, both of which were strategies in use at the time. Neither of these approaches yielded a consistent level of reliable technical support, yet they were more expensive than a centralised solution.
- Having a person dedicated to technical support full-time would free up some of my time, and David's, to carry out projects more efficiently. It's difficult to work on a complex problem effectively while being interrupted every few minutes.
The Help Desk idea was accepted, and was officially begun in January 1998. A third person we'd recently taken on staff became the Help Desk. Over the next six months, we rolled out the Help Desk service to the whole company, a few offices at a time, even incorporating the offices that we hadn't officially been supporting before. We hired additional staff to keep up with the load as we took it on.
In mid-2000, two and a half years later, we passed the 10,000-job mark in the database. Hmm, probably good that David and I didn't try to keep up with that volume by ourselves...