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5 Posts authored by: vinod.mohan

When it comes to the education industry, IT support is a vital function to enable the business. A university or a school campus/district is a big distributed network with end-users (students & faculty) and IT equipment distributed over different sites and locations. The reality for education industry in most cases is that IT departments are not well endowed with budget and human resources to tackle this unique support challenge. So, it comes down to doing the best IT can with what they have and how efficiently they manage and deliver customer service.

 

HDI, an association for technical service and support professionals and organizations, published a research brief about customer service in the higher education industry. Here are some interesting findings.

 

The staffing ratios in higher education tell us about how many end-users are being supported for every IT support staff.

Size of the Organization

Staff to End-User Ratio

Small (< 2,000 end-users)

1:67

Medium (2,000-10,000) end-users

1:500

Large (> 10,000 end-users)

1:2,340

 

With increasing ticket volumes attributed to new applications and systems, new equipment and devices, and the number of customers supported, it is a definite challenge for higher education support centers to ensure they implement the right tools and techniques to help them improve time and efficacy of support delivery.

 

SUPPORT CHANNELS ONE TOO MANY

It’s a very interesting to find that there is still a lot of walk-up, phone and email channels use for logging service requests. Even though it may simpler for the end-users to do so, these channels do not make the process simpler and consistent to capture trouble tickets. IT pros will more often than not follow up to get additional information, spend time converting these into actual help desk tickets, etc. This is an extremely time-consuming job for the support staff. They should be spending more time towards resolving tickets than managing them.

Support Channel Used

Percentage of Organizations Using the Channel

Phone

96%

Email

94%

Walk-up

75%

Chat

33%

Social Media

10%

  

With an effective ticketing management system with centralized service request Web portals for end-users, all the time and management hassles in each of the channels above can be greatly reduced.

 

TECHNOLOGY IS YOUR FRIEND

As reported by the support centers in higher education, incident management (#1), knowledge management (#2), and remote control (#3) are essential to providing successful end-user support. Most organizations are understanding need for the right technology, the affordable technology to ensure their support centers get the automation support as needed. This will certainly help boost the efficiency of support delivery.

  • 87% of higher education support centers are using incident management systems
  • 90% of support centers are using remote control technology
  • 65% are already using knowledge management systems, and 18% are planning to add them

Other popular IT service management systems used by higher education support centers are: IT asset management (53.4%), customer sat surveying (72%), and self-service (62%).

 

HELP DESK CAN HELP YOU

What support centers need, to manage a growing network of end-users and rising support tickets, is a cost-effective investment in an all-round tool for IT service management such as a help desk software that provides a wide array of support for incident management, problem management, IT asset management, change management, knowledge management and more. Instead of shifting gears each time and managing multiple systems, a single, central help desk solution will help

  • Automate support tasks
  • Eliminate the need to manually perform repetitive tasks
  • Unify and streamline ticket submission and service request creation
  • Increase time-to-resolution
  • And, above all, improve the efficiency of customer service

 

Read the full HDI research brief: Improving Efficiency & Customer Service in Higher Education »

It has almost become a phobia in the IT department – network downtime or outage. Regardless of how much ever IT strives to keep the network up and running, there are many reasons due to which unscheduled network downtime keeps happening from time to time. So, what could network admins do to keep this menace under control? You might as well know the answer to this one: proactively monitor the network availability and performance problems. But for those of you that do not think network monitoring could help you reduce network outages, this blog will help put the impact of downtime into perspective so that you understand the larger picture of what all losses you may potentially face if you are not properly paying heed to the performance of your network infrastructure.

 

UNDERSTANDING AVAILABILITY

As much as you would wish to keep your network up 24/7, 365 days of the year, it is only theoretically possible as there are bound to be network outages some time, somewhere for some reason. It turns out, 99% availability, as good as it sounds, means 3.65 days of downtime per year, or 7.2 hours a month, or 1.68 hours a week. It doesn’t seem so good now, does it?

 

Look at this chart (source: Wikipedia) to understand how much of availability your network meets and how much you think is enough. And 99% is just not!

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THE COST OF DOWNTIME

Consider five key factors to calculate the cost of downtime on your business.

 

#1 Productivity Lost

This is calculated in value worth of employee expenditure lost due to non-productivity.

  • Direct productivity – This amounts to the direct expenditure loss per person due to non-productivity during the outage period times the number of workers impacted

        Direct productivity ($$$) = Number of people * Number of hours of lost productivity * Estimated productivity loss/person/hour

 

  • Indirect productivity – There may be some teams and resources dependent on the directly affected lot, and their productivity will go down as a result of the former case. For, e.g., a 5 member team is not able complete their job in time, or are over-burdened with the work of the directly impacted team.

        Indirect Productivity ($$$) = Number of people * Number of hours of work * Percentage of lost productivity * Estimated productivity loss/person/hour

 

Count in the employees working in shift if you are running a 24/7 production business. If it’s a 24-hour outage and you run 3 employee shifts of 8 hours per day, then there will be 3 times the loss of productivity

 

#2 Profit Loss

This is the actual profit your business would have made during the outage period, if the network and systems had been up and running. If you are running a website or e-commerce business, every hour of website downtime means loss in profits. This can be categorized as lost sales or deferred sales. Both can happen during service downtime.

 

This is calculated as follows:

        Profit Loss due to Lost Sales ($$$) = Number of sales deals lost/hour * Average value of the sales deal * Number of hours of downtime

 

If it is a deferred sale, then it impacts your cash flow and in-quarter profitability and the loss of interest number the deferred amount by the number of days deferred.

 

#3 Cost of Penalty

If you are a service-based business, then your hours of downtime may impose a financial penalty for the non-productive hours. And if there’s going to be a compliance mandate tied to critical system availability dependent on the network, then factor in the penalty for non-compliance.

 

#4 Cost of Repair

This totally depends on your business continuity plans and disaster recovery strategy. If you have implemented the infrastructure for backup network lines, failover routers, etc., you should factor in the cost of procurement and usage during the outage period. If there is no recovery strategy, then you will incur the cost of repair from third-party including technical personnel expenditure, cost of hardware repair and replacement if required.

 

#5 Cost of Reputation & Loyalty

Though this may not be an immediate impact, your prospective customers may tend to lose trust in your organization and brand and may switchover to other competitors. This creates a huge reputational impact on your company and you have to invest money into rebuilding your brand, reinstating trust, and winning back your loyal customers.

 

FACE THE FACTS

  • Downtime Cost Per Year: Companies experience an average of 501 hours of network downtime every year, and the overall downtime costs an average of 3.6% of annual revenue [Source: The Costs of Enterprise Downtime, Infonetics Research]
  • Downtime Per Week: According to Dunn & Bradstreet, 59% of Fortune 500 companies experience a minimum of 1.6 hours of downtime per week. Assuming that an average Fortune 500 company has 10,000 employees who are paid an average of $56 per hour, including benefits ($40 per hour salary + $16 per hour in benefits). Just the labor component of downtime costs for such a company would be $896,000 weekly, which translates into more than $46 million per year.
  • Downtime Per Hour: Gartner estimated the hourly cost of network downtime for large corporations was $42,000, with a typical business experiencing an average of 87 hours of downtime a year, resulting in total losses exceeding $3.6 million.
  • Downtime Cost Per Minute: According to a Ponemon Institute study, the average cost of data center downtime across industries is approximately $7,900 per minute

 

PROACTIVE NETWORK MONITORING

Overall, the cost of network downtime is certainly colossal and can be avoided if network teams follow the adage ‘prevention is better than cure.’ Continuous and proactive network monitoring can help you easily detect performance problems leading to network outages. When you have identified network issues at early stages, you can take informed decisions and fix them before they build up into the detrimental downtime.

The short answer, before we go into the stats and other reasoning stuff, is “a lot!” There’s very much for you in it with your increasing IT spend if you do it right, and if you do it in time.

 

The recent Gartner® Worldwide IT Spending Forecast has reported that global IT spending in increasing in various areas of IT. The role of IT in enabling business is being felt more and more, and top decision makers in organizations are coming to understand the value in IT investment more than they did last year.

 

THE SPEND TREND

Gartner states, worldwide IT spending is on pace to total $3.8 trillion in 2014, a 3.2 percent increase from 2013. While this spans across multiple IT areas, it’s interesting to see the growth rate for spending on enterprise software which is on pace to total $320 billion, a 6.9 percent increase from 2013.

 

While this is all positive outlook for 2014, the decision makers who are reading these numbers may wonder what they are going to get for spending more. Actually a lot! IT has evolved through the years from being a mere business accessory to an essential business enabler, contributor, and the need of the hour for business growth. Enterprise software has redefined how business functions operate adding more agility, scale, global connect and process automation. For those of you who understand only numbers – ROI in terms of cost and time savings. When you know what technology is suited for your business, and what short-term and long-term plans you have to implement the technology and sustain it, you would have mastered the strategy of output-driven IT spending. Even if you did decide to invest more in IT enablement, what should you be spending on? Selecting vital IT services is important.

 

IT infrastructure management is a key area of IT that has become inevitable in any network and data center environment. When you have network hardware, storage systems, servers and applications, there are bound to be failures and errors which only impact business continuity. IT management helps you get ahead of the issues, monitor your infrastructure proactively, and gives you visibility and control to fix the issues and eliminate the business impact. And also giving you the easy means to automate and simplify the way you do IT – delivering more operational efficiency and less manual overhead in problem-solving and fixing things.

 

IT infrastructure management does both:

  • Monitoring and alerting on infrastructure problems
  • Automating and troubleshooting infrastructure problems

 

Infrastructure management spans across various areas of IT including the network, servers and systems environment, storage and virtualized architecture, the security layer, and services for end-user IT support. Choosing to spend the wise way, when in the time of need, will help you gain quicker results of your IT investment.

  

HOW TO MAKE SURE YOUR IT SPENDING IS GOING TO BE WORTHWHILE?

  • Understand your requirement well and choose the right IT management technology for your infrastructure
  • Determine whether the solution is going to scale according to your growing infrastructure needs
  • Evaluate various automation and simplicity options that IT management solutions can offer you
  • Figure out how the ROI from your investment is going to come – problem-solving, failure detection, threat prevention, time savings, etc.
  • Ensure you don’t get into vendor lock-in or in a money pit with single-vendor solutions
  • Let the real end-users of IT management solutions, the IT guys – network admins and system admins – have a say in what you want to implement

 

It’s not about how much you spend to go with the spending trend. It about how wisely you spend on IT services in order to reap the full benefits of your investment while growing your business.

 

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The SMB market is considering virtualizing their servers more than ever. To ratify this trend, the recent State of SMB IT Report from SpiceWorks™ cites 72% of SMBs have adopted server virtualization in the second half of 2012, and this is expected to grow to 80% by the end of the first half of 2013.

 

Why this upward trend?

 

The obvious answer is SMBs are trying to get more performance and flexibility out of their existing server resources. Considering the rising cost of managing physical data centers, and adding more resources, and the impact of underutilizing server resources, virtualization is the best solution to achieve more out of less.

 

  • Virtualizing servers have left SMB IT teams to allocate resources wherever required and reclaim unused resources resulting in better resource utilization.
  • Server virtualization has also resulted in improved disaster recovery and high availability allowing admins to take VM snapshots at ease
  • A reduced server count also means a reduction in potential hardware failures and fewer physical servers for IT professionals to manage.

 

All this translates to ROI.

 

There is apprehension in the SMB server room about the cost of investment, virtualization being a new technology to venture in, the unidentified challenges that may spring up, whether the architecture is designed only for large enterprises, etc. Despite all these doubts, the growing demand of virtualization reinforces the fact that IT is evolving in the SMB space, and small- and mid-scale companies are coming forward with budgets to invest in newer technologies like virtualization and the cloud.

 

Virtualization is good for SMBs, right?

 

Yes, it is. Of course. No doubt.

 

Here comes the ‘but’ factor. With the adoption of new technologies like server virtualization, the data center foray opens up to various management challenges. Though management is generally easier with the virtual setup, it’s still a challenge for SMBs without the right equipment to help with monitoring the virtual infrastructure, alerting when something goes wrong, and managing allocation of CPU, memory, network and disk resources.

 

As companies try to leverage the cost benefit of implementing multi-vendor hypervisors, it becomes more difficult to get visibility into the heterogeneous virtual environment.

 

Get Visibility & Control

 

Using affordable and easy-to-use multi-vendor virtualization management tools, SMBs can:

 

  • Get VM to spindle visibility into VM, host, cluster and datastore performance issues
  • Identify the resource contention across your virtualized infrastructure
  • Diagnose storage I/O bottlenecks
  • Monitor VM sprawl issues
  • Perform VM rightsizing and capacity planning on your existing virtualized server environment to find how much more VMs can be added, and determine budget for adding more CPU, memory, network and storage resources
  • Use chargeback and showback in a virtual environment and help you control its growth, as well as track resource consumption

Virt.png

Virtualization is not a big risk for SMBs, and management will definitely not be a deterrent for as long as you have the right visibility into your virtual servers and take control of bottlenecks and performance issues to get the best bang for your buck.

 

Viva virtualization: SMBs and all!

You are responsible for running your company's help desk. So, you have some number of IT technicians working on resolving help desk tickets. This approach may be the norm, but is it really good enough for truly successful help desk service? While the sheer number of tickets is ever increasing, the types and complexities of help desk tickets grow exponentially as well. In the wake of this growth, consistently meeting SLAs and improving customer service is clearly not getting any easier.

What you need is not more help desk staff, but rather some wise counsel to help you plan, optimize, and execute your current help desk services smartly and effectively. Let’s take a look at some best practices:

 

#1 Plan Ahead & Institute a Structured Workflow

Simply put, this is the most fundamental step for the success of any help desk implementation. You need to know the ins and outs of your help desk strategy. So, start by planning a structured workflow of:

  • How you intend to assign a technician to a ticket
  • How the ticket is going to be escalated
  • How the communication with the end-user is going to be established
  • How to implement the ticket approval process

You need to define reasonable service level agreements, appropriate support levels, and good business logic for ticket routing and assignment. Planning only begins here.

 

#2 Know Your IT Environment

You need to know your IT environment, your end-users and their designated assets, because they are the source of your IT tickets. You need to have quick access to details of user accounts, as well as your enterprise hardware and software equipment. Start by:

  • Integrating your help desk solution with your corporate Active Directory®
  • Importing all your assets and IT inventory into your help desk software

 

#3 Simplify & Automate Your Help Desk Tasks

So many help desk activities are done manually by support staff. Manual task completion costs time and effort and leaves room for human error. Employ automation techniques for:

  • Simplifying ticket creation
  • Ticket assignment, routing, and escalation
  • Performing specific ticketing actions for predefined event conditions
  • Alerting and notification of ticket closure or breached SLAs

 

#4 Communicate with Your End-Users

Your customers need to know the status and progress of their help desk ticket at any given point. Prompt communication contributes to improved customer satisfaction and involves keeping your customer updated on:

  • Initial ticket acknowledgement
  • Technician assignment
  • Expected turnaround (based on SLAs)
  • Course of resolution or remediation steps
  • Escalation and approvals
  • Notification or query back to the customer
  • Ticket resolution and closure

Your help desk software could serve as an effective medium of easy information exchange between the support staff and the end-user.

 

#5 Help Your Customers Help Themselves

There are many issues your customers can resolve themselves when provided with the right self-service resources. So, build an easily searchable knowledge base (KB) to provide both your customers and technicians quick resolutions to frequently encountered problems.

You can provide FAQs and technical tips to address specific issues, then tag them to align with specific ticket fields that point the user to the associated KB article when those fields are populated by the user.

 

#6 Monitor the Performance of Your Support Staff

You should consider monitoring and analyzing the performance of your help desk technicians over time. This will help you measure the team’s service levels and workload management and isolate critical issues requiring more support resources. Scheduled, ongoing performance reports will help to provide additional insight.

 

#7 Survey Your Customers

Do you know how satisfied your end-users are? At the end of the day, it’s customer satisfaction that defines the success of your help desk service. Surveying your customers on a regular basis will help you get a better understanding of your technician’s performance, any potential bottlenecks in workflow, and root causes of repeating issues.

 

Running a help desk can be a cinch when you do things the right way—the efficient way—using the right tools to simplify your complex ticketing tasks. This will buy you back some much-needed time and make you look like an IT superstar in front of your happy customers (not to mention your boss).

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