1 CHAPTER 1 Planning Your School s Help Desk After completing this chapter, you will be able to: Describe the role and function of a help desk. Describe Level 1 support. Explain the duties of your school s help desk team members. Establish the goals of your school s help desk. Define the scope of your school s help desk. Before you can start formally helping others with their computer problems at school, you have a few decisions to make. You ll need to work with other members of your help desk team to determine what the help desk will be like. You and your team must identify key job roles within the help desk so that it can run as smoothly as possible. You ll also need to define the type and the amount of services that you will provide to users and for computers at your school. For example, you might decide to offer support for nearly any computer problem that an end user has, or you might decide to provide support for only operating system-related problems. This chapter walks you through the early decisions you ll need to make to start a help desk for your school. What Is a Help Desk? A help desk is a part of a technical support group established by an organization to keep its computers operating. Typically, the organization has a large number of computers. The help desk is usually run by a group of technicians, sometimes called help desk analysts or support technicians, who are trained to fix the types of computers and software applications used by the organization. The number of computers typically determines the number of technicians on the help desk. And, contrary to what you might think, the technicians don t all sit at one physical desk; the term help desk is really just another term for help department. In most organizations, the help desk is part of the Information Technology (IT) department. The role of a help desk varies widely, but it usually provides both reactive and proactive computer and end-user support. Through reactive support, the help desk resolves problems that users report, helps users perform tasks that they need to know to complete a project, and addresses problems such as computer viruses. Through proactive support, the help desk works to prevent problems
2 2 Planning for Your School s Help Desk from occurring. For example, its technicians teach users how to perform tasks that will help them avoid common computer-related problems before they happen. The more proactive support a help desk provides the less reactive support it will be called on to provide. How Does a Help Desk Work? The help desk is considered the first level of technical support and is commonly referred to as Level 1 support. Level 1 support technicians are usually generalists. Generalists have broad, but not necessarily deep, knowledge of the types of problems that end users are likely to encounter. Many organizations also have additional levels of support. For example, Level 2 support provides support in specialized areas, such as networking, operating systems, or specific software applications. Level 2 technicians are part of the technical support group, but are not usually considered part of the help desk. A help desk manages its tasks by using a ticket request system. When end users have computer problems, they usually complete a help desk ticket by phone or online. The ticket request system categorizes requests for help in several ways. One way might be by the type of program for which help is needed. Another way might be by the department in which the end user works. In addition to responding to ticket requests, help desk support technicians conduct inventory checks and perform routine maintenance and upgrades on the organization s computers and networks. Another important function of the help desk is the collection and use of data. All ticket requests are logged in a database. These ticket requests provide valuable information that the organization can use to make decisions about improving technical support, purchasing new computers and software, upgrading systems, and the need for more training. Figure 1-1 illustrates the typical flow of a ticket request. When the help desk receives a ticket request, a Level 1 technician attempts to determine the cause of the problem by asking a series of questions. Sometimes the support technician can resolve the problem by instructing the end user over the phone, or by connecting to the end user s computer. If the technician resolves the problem, the ticket is closed. If the problem cannot be resolved in this manner, a technician is dispatched to the workstation to troubleshoot the problem, or the ticket is routed to a higher level of support.
3 Planning for Your School s Help Desk 3 FIGURE 1-1 Ticket request flow NOTE A data analyst is a help desk team member who can use the ticket tracking system to run reports that help determine if you are meeting your goals. To learn how to use your school database, review the database documentation. How Is the Success of a Help Desk Measured? An organization can measure the success of its help desk in different ways. Typically, a number of indicators are considered, including: The percentage of ticket requests successfully closed. The percentage of ticket requests passed to the next level of support. The time it takes to respond to and close a ticket request. The end user s (or customer s) satisfaction with the courtesy, patience, and helpfulness of the technicians. Roles of Help Desk Team Members The help desk team consists of several roles. People on your team might perform one or more roles. Each role emphasizes different duties, and is best performed by a person with specific characteristics or qualities. Technician Each member of your school s help desk team is considered a technician. Team members may also hold other positions, such as team leader or data analyst, which are discussed later; however, the most important duties are those of the technician. Without technicians to actually solve and prevent problems, there is no team to lead or data to analyze.
4 4 Planning for Your School s Help Desk NOTE To learn how to log hours in your school database, consult your database documentation. WHAT WE MEAN BY CHARACTERISTICS Characteristics are observable qualities that make someone recognizable. For example, a successful dentist might be characterized as: Gentle Kind Experienced Courteous Well-educated Communicative For our purposes, characteristics are the exhibited behaviors that make someone recognizable as a member of a group, such as successful technicians. The typical duties of a technician include: Providing an average of at least five hours of service per week on the help desk and logging those hours in the database accurately and appropriately. Responding to ticket requests to the best of his or her ability. Carrying out regularly scheduled routine maintenance. Acting as a lab assistant where possible. Tracking ticket requests throughout their life cycle. Participating in weekly meetings and all required training sessions. Making an ongoing effort to provide high-quality customer service. Sometimes, help desk technicians in large organizations specialize in a particular area, such as hardware support or operating system support. The more specialized a help desk technician s knowledge, however, the less likely he or she is able to solve a wide variety of problems. For your school help desk team, technicians should strive to build as broad a base of knowledge as possible. Exercise 1-1: Characteristics of a Successful Technician Working in groups of three to four, identify 10 characteristics that a successful technician should have. Share your list with your class. Record the characteristics that other teams identify, which are not on your list. Team Leader Duties The team leader functions as the student manager of the help desk. His or her overall responsibility is to use organizational, communications, and leadership skills to ensure that the help desk is operating optimally. In addition to his or her work as a technician, the team leader s specific day-to-day responsibilities include: Coordinating the weekly schedule to ensure maximum help desk coverage. Overseeing the response to ticket requests. Ensuring that routine maintenance tasks are being completed. Assisting in the coordination of special projects. Ensuring that technicians are properly logging help desk data. Facilitating communication among team members. Providing the teacher/faculty adviser with periodic updates.
5 Planning for Your School s Help Desk 5 Overseeing the upkeep of the team s base of operations, or the place where help desk team members do their work and keep their tools. Your help desk team must decide how many team leaders it should have, and how team leader duties should be divided among those people. You might also choose to have some of these duties performed by your faculty adviser. Exercise 1-2: Characteristics of a Successful Team Leader Working in groups of three to four, identify six characteristics that a successful team leader should exhibit. Although team leaders are also technicians, focus on the unique duties of the team leader, not on the duties of a technician. Share your list with your class. Record the characteristics that other teams identify, which are not on your list. Suggest the names of two team members who have some or all of the characteristics listed above. Describe why you think they would make good team leaders. 1. would make a great team leader because. 2. would make a great team leader because. Data Analyst Duties The data analyst manages data and information related to the help desk. Filed ticket requests provide data that can be used to improve the quality of help desk services. This continual improvement is an essential component of successful help desks. The data analyst is responsible for making certain that this data is collected and used effectively. In addition to her or his work as a technician, the data analyst s specific day-to-day responsibilities include: Compiling regular reports for the help desk team and the teacher/faculty adviser
6 6 Planning for Your School s Help Desk Coordinating efforts to use help desk data to support and modify services and to determine the help desk team s training needs. Working with the teacher/faculty adviser to plan and implement customer service surveys. Exercise 1-3: Characteristics of a Successful Data Analyst Working in groups of three to four, identify six characteristics that a successful data analyst should exhibit. Although data analysts are also technicians, focus on the unique duties of the data analyst, not on the duties of a technician. Share your list with your class. Record the characteristics that other teams identify, which are not on your list. Suggest the names of two team members who have some or all of the characteristics listed above. Describe why you think they would make good data analysts. 1. would make a great data analyst because. 2. would make a great data analyst because. Determining Help Desk Goals Before you define the services that your help desk team will provide, you should determine the help desk s goals. Unlike industry help desks, your goals might be as much educational as they are support-based. Each school is different, and your goals will depend on the resources you have available, the number of computers and users you will support, and the network on which the computers reside. The following are examples of goals you might want to consider for your help desk team. Ensure that each help desk team member is able to successfully complete each exercise in this course. Resolve all computer problems that fall within the scope of your services within a specific amount of time (for example, within two days).
7 Planning for Your School s Help Desk 7 Provide a defined number of hours of computer support for end users each week. Create and maintain an inventory of computer hardware and software for your school. Ensure that the operating system of each computer is updated with the latest security updates and virus protection on a predefined schedule (for example, within one week of any updates released by Microsoft Corporation). Businesses and their help desks often formalize their goals in the form of a mission statement. A mission statement is a concise statement that defines overall goals and priorities. It is usually shared with customers and other stakeholders to inform them of the purpose of an organization. For example, a company that provides help desk support has the following mission statement: Our mission is to provide quality technical support via help desk service technicians (desk-side), on-site services, and/or 24x7 Call Center support, to employees, contractors, vendors, and partners. A student-run school help desk team might have the following mission statement: Our mission is to provide a hands-on learning opportunity for all help desk team members while striving to maintain all computer lab equipment, and to help users solve their computer problems as quickly as possible. Defining the Scope of Your Help Desk When you define the scope of your help desk, you are identifying the range of issues for which you will provide support, as well as how and when you will provide that support. It is extremely important that you do not try to do more than you are capable of doing well. But, you also do not want to underestimate your capacity. You can control what end users expect from the help desk by carefully defining the scope of your support efforts. This requires finding a balance between the resources that are available and the computer support needs of your end users. The remainder of this section discusses some of the topics you should consider when trying to determine the scope of services you will offer. IMPORTANT As a team, you will define an initial scope of services at the end of this lesson. After completing the entire course and gaining some hands-on experience, you will redefine the scope of your services.
8 8 Planning for Your School s Help Desk Evaluating Your Resources The first step to defining the scope of your services is to determine what support resources you have available. Available resources might include the following: Existing Help Desk or Other Computer Support Does your school have a professional help desk or IT department? If so, you will need to determine the scope of their duties and services. Your faculty adviser can help you obtain this information, and negotiate how the help desk team will work with these professionals. Computers for Help Desk Team Members Are there computers available specifically for help desk team members to use for support? If so, how many are available and where are they located? Is the area secure? If computers are available, you might be able to provide real-time support for users. We ll explore real-time support in the next section. Telephone Lines Are there one or more telephone lines that can be dedicated to the help desk during working hours? If so, how many? The availability of phone lines can determine your ability to offer real-time support over the phone. Team Members How many help desk team members are available to work? On average, how many hours per week will they be available? Types of Support In industry, most help desks offer real-time support; that is, end users can call in and talk to a support technician who helps them solve their problem immediately if possible. Some help desks offer real-time support by using chat programs instead of phone calls. In schools and other organizations, real-time support is not always possible. In that case, asynchronous support is offered. Asynchronous support is performed sometime after the request is made. For example, an end user might request that a computer be fixed Monday morning, and the help desk technician then fixes it when time permits. With both real-time and asynchronous support, the help desk team should define acceptable time limits within which tickets must be resolved.
9 Planning for Your School s Help Desk 9 Exercise 1-4: Evaluate Resources In this exercise, you ll work in teams of two or three to fill in the information on availability and resources. Availability 1. Use the following chart to fill in the hours for days of the week that each member of your group is available to work on the help desk. Transfer this information to the availability chart provided by your faculty adviser. Team Member Names Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri TIP The times in answer 2a are good times for team meetings and for offering real-time support, if you choose to do so. TIP The times in answer 2b might be good times for working on special projects, and not for offering support to end users. 2. Refer to the availability chart you completed to answer the following questions. a. During what days and hours are the most help desk team members available? b. During what days and hours are the fewest (or no) help desk team members available? Physical Resources 3. Where will the help desk team s base of operations be located? 4. Are there computers available for use exclusively by help desk team members? If so, how many and where are they located?
10 10 Planning for Your School s Help Desk 5. Are there computer labs where students take classes? If so, what type of help is the help desk team responsible for providing support during these classes? 6. Are there one or more phone lines available for use exclusively by help desk team members during the hours you want to provide support? 7. How many computers will the help desk team be responsible for? 8. How many end-users will the help desk team support? 9. Does a hardware and/or software inventory for these computers exist? If so, how up-to-date is it? Support Areas You can further define the scope of help desk services by limiting the support it offers within different support areas. Consider the following: Hardware Support Hardware support includes creating and maintaining an accurate inventory, evaluating and replacing non-functioning parts, and performing routine maintenance. This course discusses the skills you need to do these tasks. However, the schedule on which you perform maintenance or create the inventory can be affected by the resources you have available. MORE INFORMATION Hardware is discussed in more detail in Chapter 2, Understanding Hardware, and in Chapter 5, Supporting Hardware. Operating System Support Supporting the operating system (in this course, Microsoft Windows XP Professional), includes performing installations and upgrades, installing software updates and patches, and periodically performing operating
11 Planning for Your School s Help Desk 11 system maintenance, such as disk defragmentation. The effort needed to install updates and patches is largely determined by the capabilities of your computer network. If computers are on a type of network called a domain, these updates can be performed automatically. If the computers are not in a domain, they will have to be performed manually, which requires more resources. MORE INFORMATION Operating system support is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3, Installing Windows XP Professional, and in Chapter 6, Supporting Windows XP Professional. Networking Help desk support of networking is usually limited to Internet- or intranet-related issues, such as enabling users to connect to the Internet, or to access resources on the intranet. Connection problems can arise due to issues with computer accounts or user accounts, as well as physical problems on the network. This course does not discuss how to set up and maintain a network, but you will learn how to determine the source of networking problems. At this point, you might want to establish that problems connecting to resources or problems with physical network components are beyond the scope of your help desk s services. MORE INFORMATION Networking support is discussed in more detail in Chapter 7, Supporting Networked Computers. Security Security support encompasses issues ranging from virus protection on a single computer or network, to the physical security of school computers. You might want to limit your help desk s security support to protecting individual computers by ensuring that the operating system and virus protection are always current. MORE INFORMATION Security support is discussed in more detail in Chapter 8, Supporting Security Needs. User Tasks User task support means helping users perform tasks with specific software applications. For example, a user might want help sending a letter to recipients in her Microsoft Outlook contacts list. As a team, you should define the software applications for which you will provide user task support.
12 12 Planning for Your School s Help Desk Exercise 1-5: Determine User Needs In this exercise, you create a survey to help determine the areas in which end users at your school need the most help. 1. Appendix B contains a computer user survey. Working as a group, modify this survey as necessary for your school. 2. Determine a strategy for distributing the survey to end users and getting them to complete and return it. Assign help desk team members to copy, distribute, and collect the survey. Assign other team members to analyze the information, and present the top areas of requested support to the team as soon as possible. 3. Use the information you ve gathered to estimate how to define the scope of your support within each support area (hardware, operating system, networking, security, and user tasks). Record your decisions below in the form of goal statements. TIP Goal statements should be specific and easily measured. A goal to close all trouble tickets quickly is not measurable, but a goal to close 90 percent of tickets within three school days of the ticket request is measurable. Scope of Hardware Support Operating System Support Networking Support Security Support User Task Support
13 Remaining Open to Change Planning for Your School s Help Desk 13 In business, it is always important to remain open to change based on new information or experience. At the end of Chapter 9, Performing Maintenance and Special Projects, you have a chance to redefine your help desk based on your new knowledge and skills. Your initial definition of the types of services you want to provide might change based on the information and experience you gain during this course. You might determine that the services you thought you wanted to provide require more resources than you have available. Or, you might determine that your initial thoughts regarding the types of services end users require do not match the their actual needs.