Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Enabling Users

The primary goal of any organization responsible for the deployment and support of desktops, laptops and telephones should be to enable the end users to do their job as efficiently as possible. These users often have a primary job that does not include supporting the platform (desktop, laptop, application or mobile device), only using the platform for their primary job. The first step to providing a sufficient level of service is to clearly define your user base, this will help your organization group users based on common skills, common usage patterns and common support requirements. After the user base has been categorized, a support model and list of required tools for each category can be assembled.

By properly grouping your users, IT leadership can more clearly understand how their needs evolve, what their training requirements are and what tools are necessary to enable them to perform their primary job function(s). Grouping users is an evolutionary process that should be reviewed and updated yearly at a minimum, but more often if a companies' structure is regularly changing.

The first step is to create categories to put the various users into, four to five groups is often enough to include all users, but not too many that managing the documentation for them becomes cumbersome. The most common user groups I have seen and worked with are classified as:
  • Company Administration - This group includes people like executive assistance, accountants, human resources and managers. This group's primary use of Information Technology (IT) resources is to complete their job, and traditionally these staff have little to no IT support or troubleshooting experience. This group will most often have little to no opinion about what applications they use for their job, just that the applications allow them to complete their job. They are completely at the mercy of the IT department for system setup, configuration, upgrades and repair.
  • Executive Staff - This group is characterized as often having the same IT skills as Company Administration, but needing a higher level of access to corporate resources and mobility because of travel and meeting schedules. This group's primary characteristic is the higher need for the ability to safely use, transport and protect highly confidential company information, as well as access it in a timely manner.
  • Information Technology Staff - IT staff are characterized as needing high levels of access to a majority of the systems and data within the environment. This group will also commonly need remote access to a majority of the environment to facilitate after hours work, upgrades and outage management. This group is often capable of supporting their own systems for operations like new software install, troubleshooting and upgrades.
  • Power User - A Power Use is someone that would traditionally fall under the Company Administration category, but is distinguished by their opinions of what applications they prefer to use based on previous experience, as well as their ability to provide basic support for them-self by installing new applications, upgrading applications and troubleshooting the most common support problems they may encounter.
  • Developer - Software Developers often fall into their own category as a user type because of their need for testing and development environments, in addition to their need for common business tools like documents, email and web browsing. Developers often need places to compile code, the ability to change administrative settings and install differing versions of libraries that common users to not need access too. Developers often require multiple systems that can be quickly built and rebuild as their testing needs change.

After defining your categories of users, you can define a support model for each group. This support model will include what types of systems they are assigned, what level of support they get during business hours and off business hours and what software licences will be acquired for all staff in each respective group. These definitions can be used to understand the cost for supporting each group of users, as well as the cost for upgrades when new software becomes available or is requested by large groups of staff. The most common support models, that can then be paired with user categories, are:
  • Full-Support - This model is typical of providing a help desk that is capable and properly staffed to respond to support requests 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. This model is the most expensive, but is critical if staff are expected to work off hours like weekends and holidays. This model is most commonly used for users in the Executive Staff category and Company Administration category.
  • Business-Hours Full-Support - This model is typical of providing a help desk that is capable and properly staffed to respond to support requests 5 days a week, 12 hours a day. This support model is most often used for Company Administration staff that require IT support for all issues they may encounter, but do not commonly work after regular business hours. This model of support is less expensive then supporting users 24 hours a day, but creates the potential that staff will not be able to work after hours if they experience severe IT problems after hours.
  • Partial Support - This model is typical of providing a help desk that is capable and properly staffed to respond to support requests for staff that have completed the first level of support and require an escalation to the IT department for support or resolution. The Power Users and Developers will most often use this model for requesting additional information or an exception to company policies after doing the necessary research to support the request.
  • Self-Support - This model is typical of providing on-line help for users with no telephone or live component for the most common support requests. This model is typically used for highly capable users that prefer to manage their own IT environment. This model typically provides a ticket or automated system for requesting work to be completed by the IT department.

We have now defined our users, based on their common support requirements and usage. We have paired that with a support model to ensure both cost efficiency, as well as a balance to ensure users can work when necessary and get support quickly when needed. Now we must define what tools each user category gets based on their business and productivity needs:
  • Desktop Computer - Desktop computers are still the least expensive method to provide access to email, web browsing and network based applications. They can be very powerful for demanding users, but lack the portability to allow users to work from home, or while traveling. While desktop computers are still viable for Company Administration staff, Power Users and Executives tend to avoid them.
  • Laptop Computer - Laptops are growing as a percentage of the systems in use in most companies because of their flexibility, portability and smaller power consumption. Laptops, while often slower then desktop systems, have advanced in the past few years and provide for even the most demanding users. Laptops are most common for Company Executives and Power Users.
  • Smart-phone - Smart phones cover a wide range of products including the iPhone, Blackberry devices, and Android powered devices. These are designed to allow for calendar, email and basic document access while on the run or out of the office. These are becoming more common across all categories of workers to enable them to stay in touch no matter where they are during the day. The use of smart-phone like devices will only increase and more and more applications are optimized for mobile access.
  • Cloud-hosted Virtual Machine - With the popularity of cloud computing, it is becoming very inexpensive to dedicate multiple hosted Virtual Machines to every developer or staff member for development and testing purposes. These are most commonly assigned to Developers and Information Technology Staff. While these do provide a lot of benefits for productivity and testing, they must be implemented to ensure corporate security is maintained.
  • Administrative Access - Administrative Access, regardless of Operating System, refers to the ability of a single user to install software locally and manipulate local configuration parameters. While there are varying levels of Administrative Access with today's fine-grained access tools, this category most often applies to Power Users, Developers and Information Technology Staff.
  • System Performance - System performance is a tool defined by the speed of the equipment assigned to a given user, as well as the amount of storage space it contains and physical memory the device has. Commonly speaking, the faster a system an employee has, the more they can multitask and the faster they will be able to complete actions. All users, regardless of category, should be assigned systems that are fast enough to ensure they are not waiting for operations to complete. Human capitol is much more expensive then faster computers.
  • Bring Your Own PC (BYOPC) - Bring Your Own PC is a new method many companies are looking towards to enable their Power Users by allowing the user to choose the type of system they use for work. This allows the employee to choose the system that they are most comfortable and productive with. It will take some time if this does catch on because of the increased complexity involved for IT departments to ensure various platforms can access common company resources like time cards, email and file sharing. BYOPC also creates security issues that must be managed by the company.

Today, companies have a variety of user categories, each with their own, specific needs for the IT systems they need to complete their job. By carefully grouping users, they can be better understood and provided with the tools and a support model that enables them to be as efficient as possible. This common support model can then drive company planning for costs, upgrades, and other changes. Understanding that not all users are the same is the first step to ensuring that IT provides all users the tools they need to complete their job, regardless of their individual IT skills or opinions.

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