Help Me, Help Desk! Occasional stories from the tech front

As many of you already know, I’m a drone in the cube world of a help desk at a major metropolitan monolithic corporation. I’ve been at this desk for over seven-and-a-half years, and I’ve been at others for over five years before that. I’ve worked desktop support, been the only support guy for an office, and even tried to hold together a bunch of old computers scattered across nine offices in the middle of North Dakota. So you can rest assured that I know of which I speak.


So, with the background put aside, let me welcome you to the first of a new series of occasional features here at Lathropworld: stories from the front lines of support.


IT is a curious concept in corporate cultures, and, for that matter, in the rest of the world where technology is used and supported. As a unit, we’re trusted with the responsibility to design, configure, test, install, support, and retire hardware and software that, in many cases, the business doesn’t realize it needs yet. But, because we don’t actually actively make money for the business by either selling products or services to customers, we’re expected to do things on a shoestring budget because, frankly, no one has actually figured out how to effectively make a realistic argument about the impact we can make to the bottom line.


Our business units within the companies we serve are frequently organized like the rest of the business, which really means that we’re inherently inefficient because IT doesn’t operate like sales, or R&D or any other corporate structure. Especially when companies look at an item, say, like a desk phone, and expect it to be supported exactly the same way that their computer monitor, laptop, cell phone, and internet-connected fancy-schmancy specialized single-purpose testing equipment is. We have a wide-range of people with different, very specific skills that may just sit around for untold periods of time because the things they support are working just exactly as designed and expected. But we all know that in the corporate world, that’s inefficient.


But let’s look at the help desk, because in any organization, this is the point of contact for the business with their own IT teams. If you want something added to your computer, you call the help desk. If your computer’s broken, you call the help desk. If you want to get software that you want to do a certain task, but don’t know if it’s even available, you call the help desk.


And that’s where I come in.


I’m good at support. I’m very good at support. Ask me to write a macro, or come up with anything more than a simple script to automate one task, or ask me to write a program or code a webpage, or create a pivot table in Excel that has lookups on multiple spreadsheets, and I’ll just blink at you vacantly. But tell me that your mouse is jumpy, or the screen flickers, or the phone doesn’t give you a dial tone, and I can either fix your problem or route your issue to someone who does. That’s what the help desk does.


And as with any organization, we have rules. We need to maintain an order within our group and by extension to the other groups in IT we work with so that things can get done efficiently. The rules let us track your problem, know who should be doing what, and document things we’ve done before so we can do them again.


We also have had to come up with ways to measure what we do and how effectively we do it, because the business keeps asking why we need fifteen bajillion people coding java in the back room like a bunch of over-caffeinated monkeys. See, they get these calls and ads from mega support companies that say they can support our systems better and cheaper than we can. And for some reason, the people who get the calls and ads are extremely gullible and receptive to this crap. The problem is that we designed and have been supporting those systems and can fix it faster than anyone, especially anyone who’s halfway across the globe.


So, unfortunately, we measure our performance with a bunch of numbers–mere quantities and percentages that are supposed to tell non-techie people what it is we do. And the corporate folks look at the numbers like they’re a budget, analyzing them like sales figures or how much the building is costing us. Except that what we do reaches into every aspect of their financial report–people, equipment, gained efficiency from software and systems, and even the ability to give people an alternative to jumping on a plane for a meeting. But you can’t measure that. Not as well as you should, because all IT shows up as is a cost, except that it’s not, because the sale that was just made because the sales person had an iPad showing our product offerings and offered the ability to just tap the screen to make our shipping monkeys send out a box with product in it was the result of our group’s effort.


And here’s the real problem–it won’t improve until you really get a tech person in a company as a CIO (not a business person), and they eventually become CEO. And that ain’t gonna happen, because the best option for CIO from the help desk ranks just got outsourced…


I’ll ramble on with this topic and stories from IT from time to time. Check back for more.


See you tomorrow.