IT Support as bite-sized learning opportunities

In the dim and distant past, I used to work for a large utility company as Information Systems Support Coordinator for their Engineering department.  My job functions included 1st, 2nd and 3rd level support, IT training, a bit of development work and managing relations with the outsourced IT support partner organisations.  One thing which always struck me was the number of repeat customers we had, with similar or even identical help-desk calls.

This was around 1997, which was when we chose to move from a mixed environment of DOS, Windows 3.1 and OS2 (and a couple of Unix boxes of different flavours) to a more uniform Windows 95 desktop, with Microsoft Office, and Lotus Notes.  As you can imagine, this was quite a large change in user-facing technology for our colleagues, and, as is so often the way, we were under pressure to minimise the cost of training.  Against this backdrop, we decided to train our own staff to train their colleagues, a system which worked extremely well.  A side benefit was that we had some 15 very highly experienced staff, who were able to carry on as local experts providing guidance and mentoring to their colleagues.

Another initiative I instigated at the time was to insist that all help desk calls were closed off only when the support staff had explained the problem and ways to either avoid it, or fix it, to the caller.  Obviously, this can take a little longer when resolving individual problems, but we also made sure that the resolutions were fully documented on the help desk system.  This documentation meant that there was also a knowledge base available, which helped new support staff find solutions to problems which might otherwise have required more substantial investigation, which helped offset some of the time spent educating the people who had found a problem.

Overall, this period of change was expected to cause an increase in the number of help desk calls, and consequently to increase the time-to-resolution for many calls.  By providing access to local experts and implementing a procedural policy of offering advice and guidance to callers, we managed to significantly decrease the number of help desk calls, by about 2/3 if I recall correctly.  The bulk of the savings here were on calls to the outsourced providers, but it also bought time for our local support team to be able to fully investigate other problems.

It may not be feasible to put in place the “local experts” in quite the same way, but it will be interesting to see whether our IT support team can replicate the bite-sized learning approach to help upskill staff and students, whilst allowing themselves to put more time in to all the work which so often goes unnoticed and continue their programme of ongoing improvements.

About patparslow

I am a researcher in the School of Systems Engineering, working in the fields of social media, digital identity and learning. I have previously worked in IT training/education, land survey, civil engineering, IT support, and as a software engineer.
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