IT Support in a 24/7 world.

Most people’s expectation of IT Support is someone sat in an office surrounded by tea and biscuits, who will eventual stir from their lair to address your problem. Appearing at your desk with words of wisdom such as “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?” If only that was true, then my career choice would be a nirvana!

Tight or non-existent budgets restrict teams to small units, while the IT requirement can by large covering not only the company, but its client base too. The working day these days is very rarely the Monday to Friday 9 to 5. So it’s important that your IT Support can be available outside of the old working timeframe, should you have a client in a different time zone, or one where weekend working is a regular occurrence.

On Call vs Agile?

The usual method to address the problem of extended working is to have a standby who can be made available if required the classic “On Call”. But, is this really the best solution for business and the individual? Firstly the person is usually tied to either home where they can use a laptop. Or, within driving distance of the office to get to a terminal. Staff are usually paid to be on standby, and if nothing happens its money out of the Window.

Would it be better if the poor soul nominated to cover the weekend/out of hours, could go about their normal routine, but be ready at the drop of a hat to step in and resolve an issue should they arise? Truly agile staff are a real advantage, filling in the support void as and when, but not excessively just sat around like the spitfire pilots of old waiting to scramble.

Using agile workers (notice I didn’t use the phrase home worker something entirely different) is a boon to the company and to its customer base. Being able to address problems quickly at short notice will assure both company and client there’s always a safety net should problems arise.

Blessing and a curse

The two edged sword factor comes in on this matter as well. Depending on the quantity of work. The advantage of being available 24/7 can soon become a curse if it’s over utilised. Employee frustration, and company expectation on IT staff can increase.

The respect of balance in work life and home life is something often overlooked. It’s up to individuals to discuss this and get the balance right. Rota staff around so that a single employee is not always the one with the short straw. Reward staff for participating in such a scheme offering more flexibility in hours, and dare I say financial benefits, to soften the blow of always being there.

Empowering the Agile worker

Laptops are the weapon choice usually, but there size not just weight makes for a block that has to be lugged around. Hence me separating out home from agile worker. Laptops have to have desk space of some variety, and they’re still cumbersome and weighty to carry with you.

The 2in1 netbook and tablet are more the equipment you need. There’s a lot of talk that the tablet is dead, (try telling Microsoft and apple that!) but it’s perfect for the agile worker. To a degree I’d also include the phablet too, but referring to my earlier posts I wouldn’t rely on a phablet for long periods of work, purely for the long working period staring and working with the small screen.

The Phablet is perfect for short quick one off’s but, with Windows10 Continuum all that is set to change with regard to the phone being used as a mini computer. Continuum offers the ultimate personal one mobile device that does all, via a small connection box, to connect the phone to peripherals screen keyboard etc, the software mobile version, becomes a full version.

 

Access all areas?

WiFi is all around shops and public areas have a plentiful supply of Wi-Fi, but it is sometimes restrictive (no VPN no excessive downloading etc.) and can limit specific access, so cannot be relied on to always be the solution to connectivity, if you’re out and about.

The smartphone has the useful facility of becoming a Wi-FI hotspot, in addition to the point of contact to your support staff. With 4G having now become more of a wide spread in its availability, and data allowances adequate to be able to allow on the move connectivity. Makes the smartphone and ideal wifi anywhere device. The other alternatives are Mi-FI portable or Wi-FI dongles, the advantage of Mi-FI is that more than one device can be connected but the dongle is still a practical alternative.

Certain tablets are available with 4G, the perfect solution, provided that equipment is in your price bracket. As always using any other network to connect I’d always recommend VPN, this is not only for your own security, but that of your customer base too.

The weekend scenario

Okay so we put together the above elements but how does it all work in practice? Well from my experience very well indeed.

I was informed by a colleague that they’d be working over the weekend, and could they give me a call if they have any problems. Remembering that I’d assured my partner of a pub lunch at the weekend, I hesitantly agreed, but made a note to take the 8” tablet with me.

Sure enough and luckily for my sakes before the meal arrived, my colleague called saying that they had a problem with a system running slow, and could I have a look to see what the issue was.

The tablet emerged connected to the pub WiFI and bingo accepted the company VPN, and with the handy RDP app connected to the server which my colleague was having problems with. A cursory glance and it was a simple fact that some schedule maintenance routines where running.

A quick call back to inform them of the problem and try again when the routine was scheduled to complete and problem solved, and more importantly I was able to tuck into a marvellous hot meal.

I can list several occasions where the drop of a hat call has been made, with problems as simple as users forgetting their password, right through to problems with the company software, that required server adjustments or, more complex data editing.

Pubs I’ll admit have to be the best mobile office, but there’s been occasions where the commute home I’ve been collared by “The call”, able to resolve issue from public transport and the laborious journey home in rush hour. The point is, being able to react quickly kept the wheels rolling with everyone getting a solution and being able to complete their task, assures users that there’s someone to watch over them, and that IT are a group of mystic’s in a cave that shouldn’t be disturbed. Also bearing in mind that a high percentage of staff would prefer to work out of office, agile support is defo worth the consideration.

 

Office machines and virtualisation

Having the tablet and mobile allows you to connect directly to clients machines. But, should you have a not entirely reliable connection or, you want to perform a long task that you have to leave running. Then the drain on your device battery and chomping of data allowance can become an expensive action.

Having a remoted office PC connected from your device is an added advantage, in that firstly your precious device doesn’t have to have all of the VPN clients and data details loaded on it (security), simply remote the office machine (with its reliable connection) and let that do the hard work.

An added bonus is that should your device be lost or stolen you haven’t given away the front door keys to your company nor its clients.

Secondly especially with long tasks, such as installing software, or loading/extracting data. You can set the task running, and drop the connection (RDP is a classic example) leaving it running on the remoted device. Picking up the connection later on to check its progress, or to continue on with the other parts of the support tasks for other clients.

Windows 10 has a nice feature of the multiple desktops. Where you can open up a desktop per customer task, and move that to one side while continuing to work in another desktop for another client (who said men can’t multitask) .