Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Suffering Support!

A while ago, I upset some of the senior managers – after a particularly stressful day, I suggested that we retire all of the existing office staff, and then go down the local junior school and select 30 children at random. I offered my opinion that these young people would be more IT literate than our current employees!

Of course, I was joking (mostly); but sometimes, it is difficult to understand why people find the simplest things so hard to do. For example, if you can’t print, then it would seem a fairly simple thing to do to check that the printer is turned on, and has paper and ink in it. Yet not a week goes by without someone complaining that their printer is “broken”, and then upon investigation, we find that it has run out of consumables.

A few years ago, I tried to carry out some research into the effectiveness of our support team: I analysed the number of support requests and how quickly they were resolved. But then I looked at what the actual items were; and most were what we would refer to as very basic IT problems. Some related to simple hardware issues such as cables pulled out, others were minor software related items; where is my “lost” file etc? Only a few really needed “an IT person” to fix, just someone with a reasonable level (as we see it) of common sense.

Now the first reaction was to check if this was down to laziness on the part of the staff member; after all, let’s be honest, it is easier to pick up the phone and call for help than to try to fix something yourself. However, it became obvious from the analysis that there was a large number of support issues that came down to the various individuals lacking some pretty basic IT skills.

I then carried out some more research and it soon became clear that many of the staff had actually had no real computer training – at best, they had been shown a sequence of steps to perform; click button A, click button B then button C, then print. But if it didn’t print, they often just pressed the same buttons again as they didn’t know why they had to press those buttons. When I asked, they had difficulty explaining what they were doing. They just couldn’t explain in terms that I could relate to (in many cases because they didn’t know); and some of the instructions I offered were clearly just as meaningless to them.

This worries me; a great deal of time is wasted and productivity suffers as a result. Users feel frustrated that they are unable to work with the tools, and morale begins to suffer. Then the IT staff turn up, and too often the user feels belittled by someone that shows annoyance at having to deal with a very minor problem.

So the immediate reaction would be to suggest that all staff should be better trained; clearly this offers benefits, yet too often, the reaction of management is that the users don’t need to become “IT trained” in order to carry out simple tasks. This is possibly true – but equally, we cannot continue to put people in front of a PC and give them so little training that they make as much work as they actually achieve.

To offer an analogy, many people drive cars – but we don’t allow people to climb in and drive off without undergoing some form of training and taking a basic skill test to prove they are ready to be let loose on their own. Whilst using a computer is not quite as serious (for the most part), it still makes sense to ensure that the person using it has a certain level of knowledge to make them as efficient as possible.


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  2. Ive just stumbled upon your blog after my microsoft technet newsletter dropped in my inbox.

    I too share your frustration with end users, and just how blinkered they become when IT matters arise. My most recent example was asking an end user to trace her printer lead. Trying to explain to her, that this lead had to go somewhere, and she needed to follow it and find out where it was plugged into, was just met with lots of "but i dont understand these things".

    There is no IT knowledge required to be able to follow a cable. If her kettle were to become unplugged, it would be easy for her to follow the plug, and make sure it was switched on. But because this is now attached to a printer, all rhyme and reason is lost and all that comes out is "but i dont know about these things". Finding words to describe what happens is difficult, its almost some kind of mental block, that prevents them from using common sense when IT things go wrong.

    And as you say, so much of this is created by users being taught to follow a process, with little understanding of what they are actually doing. And when a different screen appears, or something changes, instead of using sense and reading what it says, the end user goes into a blind panick and phones the helpdesk complaining its broken !

    I too can also relate to the fact higher management never understand, and just it as us doing our jobs properly. Unsung heroes of the IT world we are !

  3. Just picked up the above on TechNet newsletter and can well understand both your points - have seen it many times. Some people though are just not Techie minded and that will be hard to change. Schools at all levels trying to teach ‘science’ does not seem to avoid the problem – I think it is just not some people’s thing.
    I am a freelance professional roving Office IT trainer and come across a similar frustrating issue. Companies spend a fortune on kit, even more on software and next to nothing on training. So things are done by fighting with the PC rather than using it properly and efficiently – a few still try to make it emulate a typewriter! Some of the common tools like the format painter and keyboard shortcuts are just never used. Further, the companies use little of the packages they have bought and do things in slow and manual ways. Although I get to a few people, there is a serious reluctance to upskill staff, so they just waste time all and every day to achieve far less that they have paid for. It is like buying a flash car and driving it in first gear with the brakes on all the time!
    When things aren't going so well, they then ask their IT support, who tell them they need to buy the latest wizz-bang kit, which looks pretty, but does just the same thing a few milliseconds faster.
    Any suggestions how to market the idea of better training? I am incidentally in South Yorkshire but do travel around.

  4. Guys,

    Many thanks for your comments; I must admit, I wasn't sure that anyone would actually read this!

    There are a number of key issues with training; getting management buy in is the primary concern, however you also have to get the staff themselves to accept that they need the training. The training itself has to be correctly targeted - I've seen some training that was actually not even what was needed, some where it just went over the heads of the trainees.

    I like the structure of the ECDL for basic staff training; however, I am a bit concerned that the actual delivery of it is a bit patchy. Some staff have found it useful, but for many it was waste of time.

    I really do believe that there are simply too many companies where they just don't understand how much more efficient they could be. I think that this is going to be a major issue now that the industry is getting more mature.


  5. I arrived here via the TechNet newsletter route too and share the thoughts expressed so far!

    It was also good to see a firm with a West Country presence appearing in the online UK TechNet newsletter too!

    We're a management and technology consulting practice, offering (amongst other things) IT support to clients.

    We're forever making the comment to clients that our charges could be reduced by better training (something we also do) to empower staff to overcome similar issues to those mentioned above. Certainly, many firms could do a lot to reduce their overall IT costs through better training.

    However, a mixture of management and staff reluctance often leads to no action.

    Alastair RevellChartered IT Professional
    Managing Consultant
    Revell Research Systems