Your IT support job is far more important than fixing computers, Noel Bruton explains why it is crucial to the individual – and the business.
If you are a member of my target readership, then you are involved in IT user support. You are probably the present or aspiring head of a technical group in an IT department. It may be the service desk, or perhaps one of the more systems-oriented groups providing a specialism in desktop technologies, or communications, networking, business applications, or audio-visual platforms. Perhaps you’re the head of several of these groups together.
Queues and silos
On the face of it, these may all look like distinct and separate functions, with starkly differing skill sets, responsibilities and qualifications. That’s our history guiding us, that is. IT has typically assumed a technology oriented, silo-based structure. The separation between these groups has been pretty much endorsed by the current and persistent industry obsession with workload queues. They’re everywhere – every individual has a queue, every group has a queue, even some inanimate systems have queues. If you’re the service desk, your job is to get this piece of work out of your queue and either into a resolved state or into somebody else’s queue. If the latter, then there it will sit until the owner of that queue gets round to dealing with it. When it comes to IT support, whenever a new or escalated authority is required, a delay invariably results.
Collectively, IT is the proud owner of an aggregate of queues that I’ve seen represent up to a fifth of the corporate userbase – or indeed workforce – waiting for IT to complete something. The end result is that the waiting is in effect nobody’s problem directly. The service desk passed the call to desktop, so it’s not the service desk’s problem anymore. Over at desktop, the enquiry hasn’t been assigned yet, so it’s nobody’s problem there either. It will be, eventually – somebody will assign it to Brian – but Brian’s already too busy, with the thirty-odd calls at present in his queue. So it’s not Brian’s problem either. Besides, Brian’s working on a project today. And so on.
The cost of the backlog
Meanwhile, the backlog is costing money. It may not look like it, but it is. Every request the user makes of IT is a statement of his need either to maintain, restore, or increase his productivity through the use of his tech. And that productivity can be represented by a very large number with a pound sign. It is the sum total of all the productivity of all the company’s employees that makes the corporate fiscal turnover, or in the case of the public sector, the conversion of a budget into services. In other words, every outstanding enquiry in IT’s backlog is burning corporate financial turnover at a calculable rate, for every minute it remains unresolved. That is a stark realisation for those in IT who might have thought that all they were doing was fixing computers. Oh no. What you do is much more important than that.
As a rule of thumb, reckon the cost of a support incident to be around three times what it would cost to pay for a technician to fix it. It can be lower. It can be higher. Much higher. In banks and other high-risk industries, it can be pass-me-that-oxygen-mask higher.
You’re a technician involved in IT support? Your job seriously matters. If your function were not there to fix that enquiry, then that part of the corporation would stop. So if you’re running a group of these technicians, it is pretty important that you focus not just on technical matters, but on the throughput of work through your department. After all, if you don’t tell your staff what matters, who will?
The importance of job satisfaction
But there’s another, perhaps even more unsettling reason. Thirteen years ago, the Manchester Business School published a metastudy of various research projects into the effects of job satisfaction on employee health. You can guess the conclusion – a lousy job is detrimental to health. Stress; a backlog that never falls; always too much to do; unresponsive lines of escalation; nobody solving these problems – what is all that doing to the staff who work for us? How should we feel about having the power – perhaps even the responsibility – for our staff’s health or sickness in our hands? And how might you feel if your boss didn’t make consideration of that risk to you in the way he designed your own job?
Freedom from the burden
Contrary to what one might expect, eradicating the backlog and speeding up the throughput doesn’t ultimately add to the stress your staff are under. I’ve seen this time and again. It frees them from an unnecessary burden. It gives them time to do more of the type of work they like doing, projects, learning, experimenting – the things that made them want to be technicians in the first place.
The job matters. Seriously. And because it matters, it needs the eyes-open, strategy-defining, impediment-resolving, risk-managing best of you to get the best out of them as they give the best of their service.