[unisog] Systems support staff on HelpDesk rotation?

Patrick Hopp - Phopp phopp at mtu.edu
Tue Mar 14 21:28:37 GMT 2006

We were able to attend the "Time Management for System Administrators" 
session this year at Usenix.  Thomas A. Limoncelli the guy who wrote the 
O'Reilly book on time management for 
SAs(http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/timemgmt/index.html) was the presenter.

One of the methods he talked about for *smaller shops* was developing a 
shield schedule.  Where one System Administrator 'runs interference' for 
the others for a specific period of time so the others can work 
uninterrupted.  And the responsibility rotates between the staff.

We are a 3 person unit with between 11 and 14 student employees managing 
about ~600 network devices, ~15 servers, and ~650 user accounts spread 
between about 10 buildings.


Example of our Shield Schedule:

 From 8-12:30 Staff_Member_A is the GOTO staff person
 From 8-12:30 Student_A is the GOTO student
 From 12:30-5 Staff_Member_B is the GOTO staff person
 From 12:30-5 Student_B is the GOTO student

GOTO Staff_Member_A/B tries to do whatever small tasks/projects they 
have on their list while they are the first person to answer the phone, 
intercept people who walk in the office, field Student_A/B's questions 
and make sure the student employees have something to do and are learning.

GOTO Student_A/B's job is to make sure that jobs are flowing in and out 
of the Ticketing System(WebRT), answer the other student employees 
questions, and work with the GOTO person to answer questions about jobs 
or projects.

If the GOTO staff member is one the phone and another line rings the 
GOTO student or another staff member steps in and takes the call.  If 
the GOTO staff person is occupied and somebody walks thru the door the 
GOTO student intercepts them and finds out what they need and either 
creates a ticket or directs them to a staff member.


We've been doing this for about 4 months and it seems to be working.  
The 3 SysAdmins are reporting they are able to get more work done.  Our 
customers have found this a good middle ground between fully student 
answered phones or staff answering phones and not getting anything 
done.  We did try a completely student run help desk and our customers 
found this unacceptable and we were ordered to have only staff answer 
the phones.  This wasn't bad when there were 5 staff members but we're 
down to three now and a compromise was reached with little to no effect 
on our customer service level.  While customer service level wasn't 
negatively effected *productivity has been increased* as well as the 
*students being able to learn and mentor* from the GOTO staff person.

Staff members are also getting a better appreciation for what our 
departments want and where are re-occurring problems are.  While there 
are System Administrators who prefer to be mostly technical that is too 
hard to do in a small shop like ours and I believe this helps maintain 
the balance between customer service and the technical aspects of what a 
System Administrator is.

For larger groups perhaps rotating the escalation person as well as the 
help desk manager would be options to promote better customer service, 
communication to the back end, and education/training for the front end 

The next experiment we are going to do is give our departmental 
liaisons(26 Departments - 26 department liaisons) access to our WebRT 
ticketing system so they can enter and monitor their own tickets.  We'll 
see how that goes.



> A few queries on the subject:
> 	* Is your site actively doing this? ... considering doing this?
> 		* What experiences have you had	with it?
> 		* Are customers happier?
> 		* Are employees happier? (Management, HelpDesk, techies)
> 		* Have workflow processes been improved?
> 	* What reasons are behind the decision (either way)?
> Feel free to add other commentary as it occurs to you.  Thanks!

** Is your office a Safe Place? http://safeplace.mtu.edu **

Patrick Hopp, Senior System Administrator
Manger, Systems Administration Services
218 Admin Building  (906) 487-3636
Michigan Tech University, Houghton

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