Shift left – for better support

Published by Matt Setchell on

In my last post I talked about what we can do to make sure that schools keep moving forward.

Of course it is not just the schools that need to keep moving forward – the IT support team need to be on the ball as well. If money is tight, the teams support load will be different to that of schools that have cash.

When you take on a school, often the tickets are about keeping poor equipment going. We are often called in because existing systems and support are not up to scratch – so the initial issues are getting this working. We then upgrade and keep on top of equipment by proactive support – and so tickets change in nature from “can you fix” to “how do I”

As years go on, investment levels may drop but because the cost effective initial purchase and proactive support keep them working – requests focus on doing more, with less.

Expectations are also much much higher then when we take over. IT is utilised and relied on more then ever before.

And so the job for the IT team gets more difficult. The need to respond quickly – and with a solution first time is higher then ever. An effective support system is essential.

Our support team runs on a ticketing system, every job is logged. We also have 6 first line, a second line and 2 third line techs.

Having an effective system to provide this more demanding support, faster, is achieved by strict SLAs, monitoring and increasingly, centralisation. What can we do once instead of X amount of times?

But the key element is still the people. Recently I’ve been looking at our support and the increasing expectations and demands on it. Staff at schools want instant resolutions and out of hours support, the issues are getting harder and the time to train technicians less. Also, the candidates for the roles are harder to attract – we pride ourselves on offering IT roles to non experts, always knowing we can train in IT but not people skills.

So the job of first line techs is hard, instant support, proactive checks, building up experience. How can we help them? Because better front line means better results for all lines.

I have been reading about the shift left principle. If you have your tiered support, then you want to shift work down to the end where you have the most people – and cheapest to employ. This reduces the load on the more expensive senior techs. It also allows more proactive support by them not doing tickets. So the idea is to shift the work to the left, the next layer down.

3rd line hand off more complex tickets to 2nd, allowing more project work by 3rd line. 2nd line hand off to 1st so they can do more of the harder tickets. 1st line shift left to the client, with more self help solutions.

To shift left, you need to provide the right tools. You don’t want the quality to drop. So I have been looking at Helpdesks to support this. The key elements being effective knowledge base for staff to use out of hours, but also for 1st lines to simply choose responses that more senior lines have created once. Whilst not all issues are the same, many are. So by having comprehensive articles, you can quickly solve issues as either self help or first line.

To boot, 2nd and 3rd line only need to help once by writing up solutions which can be reused

My specific requirement is that when users wish to submit a ticket it searches the FAQ, saving users having to search and then not find and submit, and using the correct context to locate relevant articles. A system too that allows easy conversion of solutions to tickets to FAQ articles in a knowledge base to reduce duplication for the techies is also essential.

And of course plenty of helpdesks have these features, but until now they have just been nice to haves. Now I see a real way to improve support for users – with self help which is of course also available out of hours. For first lines, the help is having the option to pick a solution rather then have to learn everything again from google. And for more senior lines, the chance to proactively work on projects to ensure networks are safe, secure and up to date.

So just as it’s important for schools to move forward , the teams have to react to the demand and the pressure of having created a system that is now used so much more then ever before. We need to look at ways to support our staff and our users with less to do more, and I think shifting left is the answer, with of course lots of other strategies.