Tools of the trade

I have been trying to work out how we are going to keep in touch with people off on 4 different sites a day if not more and the logistics of not missing issues across 8 sites now. It’s so important we continue to work as a team. This is for a number of reasons:

  • So if someone is off we can cover
  • When people call up the helpdesk we sound like we know what is happening
  • So that nobody feels isolated when off site
  • Professional development

And probably a whole load more that I have forgotten. So I have decided to write a blog about the tools we use, or will use from January.

Helpdesk: Web Help Desk

We have been using WHD since I started, other then Impero, it is the only thing I have kept. I wont lie, I probably would have switched to another by now (FreshDesk is my favourite) but cost has been an issue, and how to purchase for a UK School. WHD is not cheap (Its about £450 a seat) and then a yearly support cost.

However, it does what it says it does. It copes with the different locations, and allows us to sort people by their email TLD, which makes life a bit easier. It’s not that easy to use – but the ability to write tech only notes is very useful. We work on a strict ‘no ticket no help’ policy. We have too. We support 2300 people, so our helpdesk is a critical tool, and the one thing that keeps me using WHD, is that it hasn’t let me down yet!

www.unipress.co.uk 

Call Handling

We use several tools for the phones. We all have mobiles, nothing fancy – but it saves us having to phone school receptions and have them find a techie on their site.

Obviously the phones can also pick up emails, and the helpdesk has a mobile version as well, although I may be the only one who uses it!

We have a physical landline dedicated to us at the school, which is piped through the PBX to call all our desk phones – but we don’t give out this number – we use Switchboard Free, which ironically, isn’t free for us, to distribute calls if the landline is not answered. They give us a 01527 number as well, so nobody knows.

It also means we can work remotely, so great for DR if Bede’s is down for any reason because the switchboard also redirects to mobiles if we are busy on the phones or  out of the office – we have also just increased our capacity to have two incoming lines on the same number as well. If nobody answers, calls are sent to mobiles in a specific order. It also helps us in the holidays, allowing us to all be out of the office.

The great thing about Switchboard Free, is there is an IOS app (even works with my apple watch), a webpage which allows me to see live incoming calls, and more importantly, those we have missed and much more.

www.switchboardfree.co.uk

Live Chat

We have live chat for our clients, via livesupporti – just a chat option on a page (which will also pipe up via a windows client)- but today I also wanted to set something up for the team, with some many people in so many different places, including me now being in a different office – I wanted to make it as easy as possible to talk, banter, ask questions and a moan if required!

I found a great tool – that is free to boot! Hip Chat allows unlimited amount of people to join your private chat area, create rooms and more. It comes with Windows, iOS and Android apps as well as being web based, and allows file and link sharing. For a small month amount of $2 each, you can even share screens and more. I can’t wait to launch this with the team on Monday, and see it being a great tool in keeping the team as one. Possible uses outside of the team exist as well, for example we could allow each school to have access to a room where they can pop in and out for chat, probably more for admin staff, but lots of possibilities.

www.livesupporti.com
http://hipchat.com/

Professional Development – Wiki

The great thing about the team is we have people with different strengths and different ability levels, we also have 8 different networks that are constantly evolving, we don’t sit still! It’s therefore a real challenge to ensure any staff member (and any of them could answer a call for any site) can quickly get the answers they need, without having to bother someone else.

So I downloaded Media Wiki, and installed it locally – which I plan to open up shortly, when I am sure it can be protected – and the team can create their own pages or edit others with additional information to ensure all our notes are in one place.

The critical thing will be making sure all the team add to it, so thats my job to make sure it happens, and I have made sure I have followed that up with targets for the team.

https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki

1620372_10153208794816691_3405208158670381271_nAll of these tools help us work together better as a team, and I have now got most of them reporting to me live on my TV screen which is great for me too! What do you use? How can we do this better?

Moving day

When I turned up at my latest school I was shown to a cupboard, which housed the central switch, stock, spares and paperwork and all the servers. No desk, and no space for a computer. No air con.

I had seen it briefly on the walk around, and hadn’t thought much about it, but in reality, on my first day, when I couldn’t place a laptop on the desk, I went to my new headteacher and highlighted the issue. Luckily for me, he agreed, especially as I was about to appoint a technician, and within a few months I had a server room, with aircon (and now two!) and an office fit for two, with a handy repair area.

 

saying goodbye to the old office
 
I know how lucky I was, especially when the office was air conditioned last summer. 

Back in the day the office was made for two, te team grew to 3,4 and now 7 of us. Bar our weekly meeting, we won’t all be there at the same time – but still the office was cramp. Whenever anybody came in, it knocked the poor person at the end desk, meetings were impossible, and the ability to be able to concentrate with everything a Helpdesk serving 7 schools brings was not possible!

So, with this in mind we have moved over Christmas, to the old caretakers bungalow. It certainly has more space, we can now fit 5 desks, I get my own office and the techies don’t have to work on a chair with their laptop and no desk! 

   

  

 We had to increase compactly from a 1GB UTP link to a 10GB backbone extension, upgrade power and phone lines coming in (we use an online switchboard but we only had one incoming line, we now have 2 lines to handle extra calls, and from 2 internal lines to 5 before calling out to mobiles), but new furniture was also needed with the extra people!

It’s not all roses, we will have to share with music rehearsals daily, but hopefully that is a temporary thing.  It’s been great to get the support now we are supporting so many schools, and the recognition that  any investment to the team allows for extra benefits overall for the home school. 

Stop. Collaborate and listen.

I’ve been following reaction to a blog post on Twitter, by Mark Anderson the problem with technicians (@ictevangalist) http://ictevangelist.com/the-problem-with-technicians/ and a subsequent follow up from @jonwitts http://www.jonwitts.co.uk/archives/760 in defence of technicians.

Mark’s post describes the infuriation of teaching for staff when IT seemingly block their desire to embrace new technology. Jon agrees with parts of the post, but outlines difference and issues techs face in education today.

This isn’t a reply to either. More of a personal journey where I have been guilty of both doing too little and doing too much. Finding a balance, and a system that works. The main point however is one of mutual trust, and the impact that can have.

When I started supporting IT in schools 10 years ago, I was the bottom of the bottom of the rung for staff. Valued only in a brief moment when I fixed something, but only in a bit of pity. My £14k a year didn’t make me feel valued. I was young, and eager to please, and progress. I worked long hours,  but suffered at the hands of a work place bully in a system which didn’t allow for anyone to progress unless you were a teacher.

As is often the way, when I decided to challenge myself and leave my comfort zone, the school I was leaving panicked. Perhaps they realised what they were losing, a passionate, determined individual, or perhaps they just couldnt bare the hassle of retraining someone else. Suddenly, the offer of money was no longer an issue, a £4K a year rise to keep me couldn’t keep me. My new school matched an improved offer and off I went. 

Excited to develop myself from working in an atmosphere where I could do what I wanted when I wanted but not get appreciated, I was promised big things.
Sadly they didn’t materialise. Whilst not the worst move, the school I moved to valued staff even less, and crucially there was no ability to deviate, under my then manager, from changing toners.

At both schools, the result of not being engaged with or trusted was the same, staff not listened to nor given  The opportunity to interact with those higher up to harness the incredible power of IT to affect so many parts of a school. Those in higher places with responsibility for IT were not interested.  Those I worked with were overworked and demotivated from years of pushing and getting nowhere. To the point even when new leadership came in they were no longer prepared to fight and engage with new visions, but became locked into downward spirals of protectionism and mundane day to day task. 

Deviation from their set tasks led to worries about who would get blamed, or, who would do the additional workload as no additional TLR structures exists for support staff.

After 4 years, and a time where I concentrated on my own business and family life, it was clear, with a baby on the way, that it was time to move on. I am a confident, not easily scared individual who doesn’t get put off target. This pees off a lot of people who don’t like change. It excites me.

I left my job on a whim for no more money, just a title. But I was now network manager. The boss of the network. I landed with a headteacher who harnessed my passion, trusted my vision and developed my skills. Huge budgets, school wide changes. Instant impacts and overwhelming changes followed. That was 3.5 years ago.

Today, I am a member of SMT. Probably something I am most proud of and most shocked at. It’s not the title anymore, but the recognition that somebody in my role can make an impact and should be involved from the start in the decision making progress. That experts in their fields can and should be listened to despite the fact we are not teachers.

Teams have different strengths. Our SMT and separate SLT structure are ideal in that the leaders can lead (SLT) but the enablers are there to support them (SMT). We have teachers, but support staff are represented with the Senco, business manager and myself. None of the positions are token roles but are in place to enable teaching and learning to be the best experience it can be by harnessing the knowledge and passion of a wide range of staff.

In IT sometimes we have to say no. Mostly we say yes, all the time we should offer encouragement and ideas and workarounds if given the opportunity. And that’s the key thing in this debate that has been going on for years, that I experience even to this day across the 7 schools who sat down and listened to me. Who now rave about their support, but also the impact engaging wth us has made.

One thing I always insist on my team is the need to be professional, and treat others, no matter how hard that is after they insult you and your professional judgement, how you wish they would treat you. In any job that is the same I am sure, but sometimes I wish people could spend a day in our shoes, as much as I would love to spend a day in theirs. There should be no divide in professional respect between me and a teacher. 

We both have hard, demanding, complex, ever changing roles with constant pressure and changing goal posts. It’s not a completion to see who fails first or who we can frustrating the most. It should be how can we be inclusive and work together for a solution that propels our core business, learning for young people forward.
 I can’t teach. But I can do IT – you can teach but you don’t know the impact on your software or your idea on a bigger picture. Let’s work together and learn a solution.

Crazy times

This month has been like no other I have experienced in my role. In fact, there are days when I don’t even remember my role from a few months ago.

On January the first we start supporting our seventh school. Walkwood are a large middle school and we have taken on their technician. We have also taken on an additional apprentice as an admin role.

To add to this fast moving expansion (we only took on another first at half term) we are moving to a new office as well to house our ever expanding team. Organising this has been quite a complex task on top of everything else.

I have also been at the forefront of designing and creating life without levels mark sheets in SIMs for three schools, and then adapting parents reports to take he new data. The mark sheets I have developed started with the assistant head at my home school, and we have quickly been outsourced to other schools looking for similiar. 

I enjoy collaborating like this, knowing I have made a sizeable impact by implementing these systems, but I can’t say I enjoy the setup. In our current office we are all in one room in a noisy building, making concentrating very difficult. Leaving me to work late on into the evening when quieter or even at weekends. 

Further hassle has been in the form of getting a lease of a SAN, our second. First was trying to understand the entire hardware setup which would enable us a higher throughput from our hypervhosts – we are experiencing lots of issues with our Veeam backups, impero and sometimes even file access. We are also coming close to our 4tb limit, so we could do with some more space. All this in addition to the 60gb SSDs in our standard machines filling up and needing some new, making the order quite important. But having to understand and triple check a legal document for the lease is slowing it down. Still, better safe then sorry.

At another school, we are working on social media campaigns and purchasing more and more hardware, hopefully tonight we will have a budget agreed!

At our first schools we are redesigning websites, finding solutions for aging projectors and looking at tablet solutions for them. Infact this Friday we have a couple of suppliers coming over to showcase a range of tablets to our schools. 

To top it all off tomorrow is a chance to use our new LED lights for the first time for the Christmas show.

All this on top of the daily grind. Around 160-180 tickets a week. 

So it is all go. And there is a little update.