The Nature of Technical Support

Have you ever read your horoscope? Horoscopes are bunkum, a bit of fun that’s included in the newspaper to fill up white space and maybe make a few quid from the associated phone lines that you can ring for a more up to date version. The way horoscopes work is by laying down a very general little story for you to read and associate with by virtue of your date of birth. Horoscopes are so general that they have to resonate with someone somewhere. I think that whoever wrote the original templates for the daily horoscopes were also the people responsible for the majority of job specifications that you regularly see advertised.

The Zodiac – from the same people who brought you the award winning “Spec for an ERP Project Manager”

Excluding technical skills, like a certain operating system or other piece of software, the characteristics that get listed on job specs are normally very generic. Everyone is looking for people who are efficient, work well in teams, have a “can-do” attitude, and have good communication skills. Being a good problem solver is a trait that always comes in handy, as does being methodical and having a good eye for detail, and when was the last time you read a job specification for a role where being punctual and honest were frowned upon?

General traits aside there are in fact characteristics that make a person particularly suit a specific role and Technical Support is no different. The best Support Techs have strong diagnostic abilities, coupled with knowledge and experience of the systems they are supporting. The very best are patient with those who know less then themselves and they have more than a touch of the teacher about them as they go about their daily business helping users with their problems imparting little nuggets of information as they go. As Support Technicians develop and move into roles like Systems Administration they can exhibit evidence of being perfectionists and more often than not display great dollops of perseverance in order to keep pressing forward.

With a move away from end user technical support you see how this very different side to IT can get mixed in with the project side, as sys admins are always undertaking “small” projects like server installs and systems upgrades. Sometimes they can be empire builders as they extend their network out in every direction available to them, but I still feel that the essence of the difference between the support people and the project people is that the support staff love to repair things as it leverages their deep understanding of systems and technologies, whereas project people love to build things as it appeals to their sense of what can be achieved when technology is put to work to solve problems for people, so it’s slightly unfair to add very specific project management skills to a spec when hiring technical support staff.

Hiring a member of support staff is a more straightforward process then hiring a for a project focused role. Without wanting to play down the Tech Support aspect, once a person knows their stuff technically (and that can be verified with a couple of decent questions) and they’ve the necessary experience and aren’t bone idle (reference checks and a few more pointed questions for that part) then you should be OK. The other side of the coin is a little different however and is unfortunately bundled in when thinking about hiring for IT. To be blunt, if all you want is support for existing systems then it would be remiss not to at least consider outsourcing the role to a third party provider and save yourself the hassle of hiring and firing at all and then dealing with training, sick leave, holiday cover, and the myriad number of considerations that come when making someone a part of your organisation.

However, people don’t tend to like outsourced Technical Support – mostly due to the timeliness of actually getting the support end of the arrangement but also because in reality they want more than just their printer fixed or their computer repaired, and outsourced arrangements have to be quite strict in their boundaries otherwise costs start to climb out of control.

What far too many SME’s really want is that magical mix of Tech Support and Projects that does that disservice to everyone.

Next up is a look at the area of IT Projects.

Part 1: Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum
Part 2: The Nature of IT in the SME

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