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Developing Workflows using Help Desk Data

Level 10

flow_charts.pngNow that the IT team has established a help desk and have SLAs defined for various requests and workflows, it was time to get proactive. Perhaps using the data stored in the help desk could further build a sort of analytics engine for making better decisions? This idea came from one of the IT team members, as he saw certain trends that none of us really could.

For example:

  • Which activities are the most frequent, or the most time consuming, and is there a correlation?
  • Could we find ways to proactively automate a number of frequently occurring requests, such as password resets?
  • Was there a way to extrapolate our hardware replacement rates to build a reasonably accurate forecast for next quarter (or next year) budget numbers?

It turned out that a number of workflows could be created to solve / remediate requests, with our help desk system acting as the front end interface. Password requests ended up being the most common, and so we assigned non-IT supervisor staff the ability to issue time sensitive password resets for their pods (their teams) once per day. The resets were still audited to ensure no funny business took place, but alleviated a fair bit of pain as a call staff member would forget his or her password right as they were about to begin their shift. Interestingly enough, we found out that many employees were getting by this by sharing a password or requiring a supervisor override the login for our VoIP system. As such, our delegation of password resets closed this loop and gave us further visibility into the problem.

What sort of workflows have you built, or wish you could build, around the help desk system in place? How would you use workflows to offload some of the "manual, heavy lifting" off you or your team?

Level 13

I'm definitely jaded:  the only thing I can think of when reading this post title is "apply percussive maintenance to user".

Level 10

I only wish our help desk followed the same set of procedures ALL of the time. Too many middle of the night calls and they have already done things that we have expressed to them NOT TO EVER DO.

Level 15

I've seen a good amount of success with teams that use internal wikis or SharePoint to create "RTS" (return to service) articles for apps and devices. They then place links in their custom properties for these items and pass those links as variables in the alerts. It helps a lot with the Tier I folks, and keeps a lot of basic troubleshooting standard. However, the front-end load to implement this type of system is just huge and take a LOT of man hours to get it right. Not something that many of us have time for unfortunately.

Level 11

The reset password is being talked about by upper-management. 80% of the help-desk calls come from this issue so having the user be able to reset their own password who save a lot of phone calls and logging tickets.

Level 14

Same here.  Automatic escalation to tier three happens all to often.

Level 11

A help desk work flow with priority breakout and escalation prerequisites.   I agree with network defender to often escalation happens without cause.

Level 12

For the record, everyone should try installing FreeBSD. And fvwm if you want to know what insanity feels like.

Self-service password management ended up saving a TON of the help desk's time here. Most of the calls were password-related anyway. So they deployed a solution to automate those requests. And it'd be silly not to mention automated VM provisioning tools in this thread, right? That's saved the desk a TON of time. Just point users to a portal and get out of their way.

Level 9

I think call flow charts would work wonders for a call center with specific duties. But since the typical help desk team handles just about everything, I dont think they would work very well. Unless of course you made call flow charts for just about every issue that might arise.

As for the password resets, we have Cherwell set up so when they call in all the help desk team needs to do is look up the user and click a button to reset it.  This saves time for the user and for the team.

Level 13

I've never heard of anything like an RTS document outside of a catastrophic DR/BC scenario.

I like this idea of putting a link in the alert or even just within the monitored object's properties.  May have to steal this idea.....

Level 17

We are going to be having to build some out now to be able to separate issues between apps team and server teams.  Right now everything trickles to the server team and it's up to them to move it to the correct teams based on the issue on the server.  We're looking at ways depending on our alerts and ticketing system to route things to the right team depending on what's being alerted on, rather than having one team doing the triage and movement.

Level 9

Zack Mutchler - what a great idea. This is something we will need to look into!

Level 21

I would really love to be able to do this but we I have struggled with how to make it work in our environment.  Unfortunately most of what we do isn't so black and white, or at least it doesn't seem that way to me.  Because of this we have failed to create easy and automated workflows to offload seemingly simple tasks.

Take for example a volume filling up; we receive several alerts/tickets on this each week.  This seems like it should be a simple thing to apply a workflow to and/or automate; however, that hasn't been the case.  The problem is the cause of the volume filling up can vary, it could be IIS Logs, a SQL database growing, Exchange logs, somebody dumping a large file onto the system, etc, etc.  In each of these cases the solution is different making easy automated remediation or even a good workflow for our Tier 1 guys nearly impossible.

If anybody has any good suggestions or can point out something I am missing I would be happy to listen, thanks!

Level 9

One big problem we have is getting knowledge articles created to help with troubleshooting recurring and common problems. There just isn't enough hours in the day.

Level 18

I have seen this work in one environment and fail in others since.

The challenges dealt with workload, ensuring everybody was on the same page, consistency and quality were also big players.

It also helped when the NOC and Help Desk were members of the same team....

Level 9

We could definitely use some work flows to help alleviate common issues that our help desk regularly handles.

Level 12

we use workflows sort of we have them but no one really follows them.

Level 17

A workflow that dictates process between more than one department requires approval from all departments...  and you may change management to someone who then does not like your 'workflow'

So they make work-a-rounds to your workflows... or just don't adhere.

Level 11


Level 13

This is awesome. I love it and may have to steal it as well.

Level 10

The flowchart was great!

Our help desk is outsourced, but they have made great strides with some of this.  My manager has started using the same kinds of analyses to see what kinds of tickets get passed on from the help desk and seeing what we can do to get more things solved at the front line.  Seeing your post makes me want to push a little harder on that effort.  Thanks for the good ideas!

Level 12

I think it will still boil down to the quality of the level 1 technicians.  With a previous employer, we had very precise, well documented workflows.  Yet, I couldn't tell you the number of times I was called in the middle of the night for a non-critical issue that had a clear workflow to wait until the next business day.

Any automation that can be defined is always a plus.

Level 10

Turning users into snare drums?

Level 10

I found that a trusted middle-man - such as a supervisor - helped for us. It's enough that you can delegate without too much worry, but also audit against the person.

Level 10

Having standards for where the volumes are placed can help. Such as always leaving the C:\ drive for system, and having a specific layout for SQL servers (E:\ for DBs, F:\ for Logs, etc.). That way you can figure out the volume by the partition letter. Or, name the partitions something standard and use a WMI or PowerShell call to read in the label.

But in the end, standards for configuration are key.

Level 14

I used to manage a NOSC and I definitely developed and had to use workflows all the time, especially for upper management briefings.

Level 15

Good post and even better discussions.  Thanks!

About the Author
I'm a data center engineer who likes to virtualize things. You can find out more about me by visiting my blog.