Over the years, I have been through a number of I.T. shops. Sometimes supporting users was a big part and other times it was not. One thing which was consistent was the enormous amounts of non-tech work support could generate. Without some kind of mechanism for funneling work into the I.T. department, it can become quite chaotic. Additionally, there can be undue stress for staff prioritizing things. Often circumstances force us to use an arbitrary weighting of the severity of the issue, the title of the person reporting it and the history of ID-10-T errors generated from the source. This is obviously a less than ideal way to prioritize work.
I had thought the need for some kind of “ticketing system” to track projects, bugs and support requests was a given by now. Lately, I have been doing some side gigs where I am consulting with business owners to help them understand how technology is working and NOT working in their businesses. One of the first things I want to see is the reports from the I.T. ticketing system. I want to get a handle on who, what and where support requests and projects are originating. I have been shocked to find the most organized businesses might have an Excel spreadsheet of projects, but they can produce no history of problems, requests or resolutions over any amount of time. The less organized have no records of support at all.
No business can run in this century without technology and a serious budget to support it. All levels of the enterprise are completely dependent upon smoothly operating software and hardware systems. Despite this there are a shocking number of small and medium sized businesses with no centralized ticketing system to track technology problems. Many companies have never had high-end knowledge worker types on staff full time to advocate for the need.
Software and hardware have become sufficiently modular to allow for smart people to put together work flows without code. Once these workflows are hooked up, business can be done and profits banked. Often, there are gaps which are filled via sneaker net and an Excel CSV. With so many outsourcing firms and an excess of technology workers this business model worked quite well, but times have changed.
Conversations with business owners about tracking support requests with a ticketing system has invariably been met with opposition. I have been surprised by the lack of such systems in small and medium-sized businesses. There is definite push back from owners and managers when I suggest it.
This push back has been quite passionate. Often the conversation revolves around creating another layer of bureaucracy. This is understandable when one looks at how “simple” technology has become. Decisionmakers have become disconnected from technological implementations because smart people, documentation and highly configurable software and hardware has made it possible.
The I.T. department has begun to feel like a hamburger stand to owners and management. They simply show up and order their “burger” with pickles or not, ketchup or not etc. It has become very simple but complexity has exploded onto the scene. The pandemic has brought labor shortages and enormous upheaval. With so much change businesses now the need to take software and hardware configurations out of the book has become ever more necessary too.
Despite the passionate push back, I stand my ground on these discussions. I have been doing this for WAY too long. I have seen technology budgets swamp companies. I have seen chaotic implementations bring companies to their knees. What I KNOW without any shadow of a doubt, is I NEED TO KNOW what is going on in the technological workflows of a company to support it and improve it. A ticketing system is really the only way to get a handle on what is happening in a business’ workflows. More importantly one needs to understand the dynamics in the human to computer interactions too which implicitly exists in all businesses today.
My certitude on the need for a ticketing system means I NEVER take NO for an answer on the matter.
Usually I start my persuasion with something like this:
“We are all under a lot of pressure right now. There is a lot of change. How should resources be allocated? There are so many unknowns. If you had a history of the past, it definitely would help plan for the future. In times like these unlimited resources are a necessity. Unlimited resources are a blessing most businesses do not have. Do you have unlimited resources? If you do then there is no pressing need for the ticketing system I guess.”
This is usually followed by an admission from leadership that there are limited resources. If there are limited resources, then there is definitely a need to make sure those resources are allocated efficiently. I have never had a business owner or C-Suite occupant disagree with the previous statement.
If you immediately follow their agreement on this point with: “How are resources being allocated to grow and maintain your company’s technological workflows?”
- With that question, they are yours to win over with one, some or all of the following very rational reasons to implement a ticketing system to manage tech support in their business.
- Triage – This means prioritizing work as it comes in. It also means some work is not immediately worked on. Everyone will agree that managerial hierarchy should not decide the priorities for the I.T. Department. The actual needs of the business should be used to set priorities. A ticketing system makes this process transparent. Once prioritized the user can get updates and follow up on status while more important work is done. Very important work, for example, where a system is down which costs the business thousands dollars an hour in lost revenues will be prioritized to the top while a printer jam will wait. Things are rarely that clear cut though so the ticketing system provides a way to crowdsource priorities transparently.
- Efficiency – When items are being prioritized, it means resources are being allocated more efficiently than a simple FIFO(first-in, first-out) system. Having an employee who makes $50 an hour fix a printer jam is not efficient. Usually the employee is being paid such a rate to be working on important things, so being able to transparently prioritize tasks is essential for efficient allocation of resources.
- Hardware Investment – Once you start tracking problems which generate tasks in the I.T. Department, hardware issues can be identified. The ticketing system allows the business to track systems which are causing outages more often than others. Hardware investments can be expensive so understanding how lesser hardware costs money is essential to deciding where to make investments.
- Identify Bottlenecks – The ticketing system gives an overview of problems in the workflows of the business. Sometimes there are bottlenecks in the workflow which are not clear until a history of problems is viewed over time. Because the ticketing system records dates of when the problem occurred when it was fixed et cetera, workflow bottlenecks can become clear simply by sorting reports by dates.
- Find Calendar Patterns – Once the ticketing system has been in place, its historical data becomes invaluable in identifying longer term problems occuring in the systems of the business. It may become abundantly clear that every 3rd Wednesday of the month a sales reporting system crashes. A little investigation identifies a report being run in the middle of the day which could be moved to the evening. There are too many examples to list here on how historical data on the nature of support problems become proactive windows into your business; suffice to say it is incredible what will popup after a year of keeping track of support traffic.
- Identify Training Requirements – This will become clear as some departments will require more support. Some departments will require large amounts of support and this can be tracked. These departments might be better supported by dedicating some resources to them. Also, individuals or departments maybe struggling with a software package or with technology in general. Whether the business should invest in training or not will be based upon data not on whether users like the interface or think it is intuitive or not. The history of ID-10-T errors generated can now be taken into account when making such decisions.
- Decide on Data not Opinion – This cannot be overemphasized. Too much in the real world is unknown, one can make plans, but it is difficult when data is scarce. Often in turbulent times, a decision must be made based upon “gut”. Business leaders do not want to make decisions on “gut”, if they can help it. It causes a lot of stress.
- Knowing – This cannot be overemphasized either. A ticketing system for your I.T. department becomes a window into your business. It is the 21st century. There are rarely workflows which are not creating data and requiring support or enhancement.
I must point out I do not have the above discussion with the business owner, C-Suite occupant or whomever brought me as the software consultant before talking to the workers. There are usually people doing support work in various capacities. I have never been brought in where there were not at least two or three people doing support work for the business without a title reflecting it.
These workers often have difficult lives. They feel a bit threatened when a consultant gets brought in. Most of the time they are working hard but not necessarily efficiently. The work flowing across their desks can be chaotic and difficult to prioritize. The idea that they would now be faced with potentially doing additional data entry into a ticketing system can be daunting. I actually expect push back from the support staff but I NEVER fail to win them over.
The ticketing system provides a record of their hard work. It surfaces to the business all the work the support staff is doing. Each ticket serves as a record of the business’ requests. Without it, staff do not have a leg to stand on when faced with confused or indecisive leadership. The ticket is more for the support staff than for the business owner or CTO or some consultant. It is for the support staff to track their efforts. I rarely think the workers are the problem as they rarely have much decision making power.
The ticketing system will SPAM the decision makers when they put tasks into the system. It will force leadership to make decisions. It also keeps a record of the decisions. If it turns out leadership is a bit confused, it does not take too long to begin to see a pattern.
Technology can be a wilderness and one can go in circles if one does not keep good track of where one has been. The ticketing system allows the business to “eventually” get somewhere by keeping things bouncing forward. It also is “throwing bread crumbs down” along the way. It does not usually take too long to get the I.T. staff to be enthusiastic users of the ticketing system.
Frankly, in the 21st century I did not realize this was something which was up for debate. I presumed all businesses had some technology support ticketing system but I have been wrong. From what I have been seeing over the last few years this idea needs to be evangelized again. This whole essay is mostly made up of excerpts of emails and notes from meetings about this very subject, an IT Support ticketing system. I have just stitched them together here.