The Methodology of Supporting Users in windows 11 and windows 10
The Methodology of Supporting Users
Who do you work for and what do you do? It’s all too common to think of ourselves when working in IT support as working for the big company, Fujitsu Siemens was my first big support role, and just working for them. I would argue the reality is quite different.
I would say that we actually work for the end users, and our role is to make them all look good.
So what do I mean by this? Well, the role of IT support is one that’s generally considered unimportant by company bosses, and this is because, when it’s done well, it disappears into the background and becomes something that they don’t ever need to think about.
Company and organization bosses want to think about the things that are important to them, such as profitability, turnover, and productivity. We cost them money, we’re a huge money sink, and that’s not good for them. What’s worse, because we’re the ones that are technically minded and not them, they really have absolutely no idea what it is we do anyway; therefore, what we do is of little value to them, and anything that’s of little value to them is of little value to the business and should therefore have its budget slashed.
I’m pretty sure this is a scenario that you’ve faced in the past and present and that you will continue to face into the future, and if so, then that’s great as it means you’re doing a good job.
Your role is to keep productivity high, operating costs low, and morale on an even keel. This is quite a responsibility overall, and it’s not that often that people who work in IT support think of it in these holistic terms.
So, now you’ve sat down with a headache and a nice hot cup of tea, how do you go about being the morale officer, the drill sergeant, and the auditor while at the same time doing all the tech and support stuff too? The answer, and I’m sure you figured this out already, is to keep doing what you’re doing, but be even better at it than you already are.
Understanding the Support Ecosystem
I talked about the many different types of people you need to support and what a hugely diverse bunch they all are. In this chapter though, we’re going to look at you and your team, because even if you work entirely on your own, you have to think of yourself as a team. Let me explain.
Everything about providing IT support revolves around being able to quickly respond to both new and existing support queries. This means that your reporting and documentation has to be good, and we’ll look at exactly how you can do this later in this Article.
So let’s take a few examples of the corporation, the medium-sized business, and the small business. In the latter, you are the only person providing support. This puts a lot of strain on you and your time. You’ll likely always have your laptop on you as, unless your business has a strict Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 mentality, you never know when the next support call will come in or what its and your circumstances might be.
What happens though when you’re on vacation or perhaps off sick with the lurg. 1 In this circumstance, one of three things will happen. First, you’ll have no choice but to answer the call anyway, which is unfair to you. Second, the support call will go unanswered until you’re back at work, which is bad for the business. Third, somebody else will temporarily stand in for you. This could be a temp, this could be a friend that’s temporarily out of work and looking for some extra cash, or it could be Martin from the warehouse who’s a bit tech savvy and has been shadowing you for a few months on Tuesday afternoons.
In all three of these circumstances, you need to make sure that your documentation and tracking are perfect. In the first instance, you frankly have more important things to think about and might need a reminder; in the second, something huge might come up and an external tech might be required; and in the third, you don’t need the temp having to start again from the very beginning for all support inquiries.
When it comes to the medium-sized business, there will be several of you in the department. People will go on vacation, people will go off work sick, but all of you are busy and so don’t need to be having to start from scratch on any support inquiry.
With the corporation, you will have multiple offices, perhaps multiple support teams or perhaps more likely a single support engineer in the larger remote offices, plus a series of mobile engineers. Here, time is precious because you not only have the time spent responding to the query but also often the time spent for an engineer to get there and back.
Then we come to the buildings you all inhabit. This clearly has changed over the last few years with huge numbers of the everyday workforce now working from home on a semiregular, regular, or on a full-time basis. All of this just makes your job harder, but the need for good reporting much stronger.
Some of the larger businesses have now spread out over campuses, a move popularized by the big tech companies including Microsoft, whose campus is getting a major overhaul as I write this with much more office and lab space being created at its heart, as I saw for myself when I visited a couple of months ago (see Figure 7-1).
Figure 7-1. Microsoft’s 2022 campus expansion is on its own, the size of a large city business park
You need to factor in the time taken to get from point A to point B or for an engineer to drive to point C where there could be all manner of additional barriers, such as strict security screening, slow and heavy traffic, or perhaps even a flight being involved if it’s a very small, very remote office.
Lastly, we need to consider what equipment you’re using or what equipment your workforce is using. You might still have a traditional setup of every desk having a PC and those workers that require one having a laptop. In this setup, you’re probably supporting at least two versions of the Windows operating system at any one time and perhaps even some Apple or Linux machines too.
You’ll likely by now also be supporting home workers’ own devices, be that anything from an iPad with an attached keyboard to a Chromebook to a gaming PC shared with a son or daughter.
You’ll probably be very keen to move to the cloud at this point because of the benefits it brings to your own role. When somebody is using a cloud service, such as Microsoft 365, not only does where they are in the world or on what device they are working become less relevant, but management becomes much simpler as you can do it on your desktop PC or laptop from wherever you happen to be at the time.
You’re probably keen to move people to Windows 365 where the full desktop runs in a virtual machine the user connects to using Remote Desktop, something I detailed At the time of writing, this service is still hugely expensive and also quite limited in the diverse number of variants available, but I know this is due to change over time, and it will make the support role for the largest businesses much simpler when they not only have access to the whole desktop available from any device, but where they only really need to support security, encryption, and the Remote Desktop client on many of the work computers; mobile laptops will of course always need to be stand-alone due to the nature and availability of mobile Internet around the world and when travelling.
You also have to consider if you’re still using your own servers, or other critical infrastructure such as Network Attached Storage (NAS) drives, and what else you have to support such as switch panels, security and firewall appliances, third-party online telephony, and other services and all the extra peripherals and hardware the business will need including printers (which have always been a pain in the butt), keyboards, mice, monitors, yadda yadda.
These all make good reporting important too, “the hip bone is connected to the leg bone,” and the leg bone is connected to a satellite somewhere in low Earth orbit.
Managing Accessibility with IT Support
When I talked about users and user diversity in Chapter 5, I discussed how ability comes into play when not making any assumptions about people’s use of computers. This is where accessibility is important, and you might be surprised just how many people in the business can benefit from accessibility, so it’s always worth considering when setting up new PCs, systems, and services for end users and when supporting those users.
So who can benefit from accessibility on their PCs and in Windows 11? You’ll obviously think of people with a “disability,” a term I personally dislike as it implies they are unable in some way to perform the tasks achieved by others. This might have been the case even a hundred years ago, but “less able” is perhaps a better choice of phrase today.
But what about everybody else? Well, here are a few examples of where accessibility tools, features, and hardware can help people in the everyday world:
- People that wear glasses like myself can benefit from display scaling, with some perhaps benefitting from high-contrast color schemes.
- People who are color blind can benefit from the specific color blindness settings in all operating systems, including Windows 10 and Windows 11, and perhaps also from display scaling and highcontrast color schemes.
- People who have shaky hands, perhaps because they are older, or have in the past suffered an injury can benefit from larger keyboards and features such as sticky keys and mouse controls.
- People who suffer a common physical ailment including repetitive strain injury (RSI) can benefit from accessible mice and also from the benefits for people with shaky hands.
- People who find it difficult to concentrate, perhaps because they’re recovering from a heavy cold, perhaps because they work in a noisy or distracting environment, or perhaps because of a previous injury, can benefit from desktop accessibility tools such as keeping pop-up notifications displayed for longer and flashing the desktop to announce an alert.
- People who have busy working lives can benefit from simple visual clues such as colored stickers on a keyboard.
These are just a few of the types of people that can benefit from the accessibility tools and utilities built into Windows 11 and other operating systems and from basic and affordable accessibility hardware. I write about accessibility in some depth in my book Windows 11 Made Easy (Apress, 2022), and naturally my book The Windows 10 Accessibility Handbook (Apress, 2015) is all about accessibility for anybody still using that operating system.
When you’re providing support, then it’s always a good idea to consider accessibility, especially when you’re seeking the support and help of the end user in determining what the problem is that they’re facing. This doesn’t mean keeping a document on each user detailing what cognitive, motor, auditory, and visual needs they have as, frankly, that one could come back and bite you on the arse, but being aware that the people you are supporting might benefit from taking things slightly more slowly or scaled upward so they can follow you can be broadly welcomed.
Keeping notes about what individual accessibility tools and settings make a PC easier to use for someone though is a good idea, as this can help both you and them get up to speed again quickly if they get a new PC or their current one needs to be reimaged.
Lastly, it’s worthwhile making the workforce aware of what accessibility tools and utilities are available to them in the first instance and allowing them to play around to find something that makes them more comfortable. Most people will know there are accessibility tools available on their PC, but they’d be unlikely to know what to look for or even where to find them.
Setting Up Effective Support Systems
Here’s where we really start to think outside of the box as the traditional top-down methods of providing IT support don’t really apply in the modern world as they might have done when you or I began working in the industry. This all comes down to just how much the world of IT has changed over the last decade or so and how huge and varied it is today.
So do you have a manager, first-line, second-line, and third-line support personnel and some engineers? Well, yes, you can still use this approach, and later in this chapter when I talk about setting up your reporting, this is exactly the approach I’ll take as it’s still highly effective. Whereas everybody in the past might have been expected to be a jack of all trades however, you might want to consider including specialisms within your team as well.
Tip:Never have just one person solely responsible for X or Y, as you can guarantee a crisis will emerge at the very time they’ve settled down on a beach in Cuba for a week. Besides, encouraging new specialisms in your team is great for the business and great for their own careers.
Back in the day long before I became an author and wrote my first Windows troubleshooting book, I worked as a second-line IT support tech for Fujitsu Siemens. We were expected to respond to any tech query, no matter what it was, and call the user back after first-line support had failed to resolve it for them, more on how you can improve this later.
The tech we were expected to support included desktop and laptop PCs running Windows XP, printers, and specialist equipment that included everything from scientific instruments to checkout cash registers. The problem for me was that I was a PC guy. The cash registers I could deal with as they were effectively sealed IoT devices with not much going on, but printers I hated with a passion.
Hardware just wasn’t my thing, and so I actively avoided printers like the plague.
This wasn’t because I wasn’t prepared to learn about the specific printers we supported or because I didn’t think I was capable of fixing problems with them. I recognized that for my own skills, and the workload we had to plow through each week, the team as a whole could be much more effective if the people that really knew that hardware took those calls, and I didn’t slow myself down with them.
This of course is where training comes into play. We did receive occasional training on new hardware, but it was delivered by techs, not by qualified teachers. The inevitable consequence of this is something I talked about in Chapter 5, and it’s essential to make training effective and to make damn sure the people you are training understand the subject afterward; otherwise, as was all too frequently the case with the training I received at the time, you’re wasting both your time and theirs.
Shadowing people can be helpful here. Very often in a support role, this is where somebody new to the business or organization will start. It can also be highly useful in an ongoing basis though as continuing professional development (CPD). This is where people who are already expert in their own field can broaden their skills.
Some people will be expert in the desktop, as I am. Some people will be expert in hardware or in cloud services and administration. Some people will be expert with virtualization or coding and scripting with PowerShell, Command Line, BASH, or C##.
Some people will know how to fix problems with websites and intranet sites easily; others won’t have a clue.
Tech is such a diverse field these days that it’s simply impossible to expect one person to go into an office or a workplace and expect them to be a master of all. Online services such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace help here to a certain extent, as it’s a lot easier to administer settings in an online portal than it is to write a script to administer a file server, but the average if not every IT support person and administrator will find they have skills gaps.
In a large part, that is why you’re reading this book and why I wrote it. This is CPD itself. I have other books available from Apress that are also CPD, and if you use Pluralsight for online video training, you can find me there too at www.pluralsight.com/authors/mike-halsey.
Keep an eye out for offers on Apress too for discounts on books and eBooks, as they come around frequently as this too is great CPD. Having a physical book or a searchable eBook is also a great reference for those things you’re learning but not yet expert at, as they give you something you can quickly grab off the shelf and refer to.
But shadowing still performs an important role. There are things a book can’t teach you; in fact, this is the whole reason why Chapter 21 exists. Those things might be specific to your own custom hardware, software, and services setup. They might be coding and scripting tips and techniques that existing admins have found useful.
Frankly, the list of areas where even an experienced tech can learn new skills from shadowing a colleague for a few hours a week is enormous.
Is Setting Up Support Systems As Easy As One, Two, Three?
Earlier in this chapter, I mentioned the traditional first-line, second-line, and third-line support structure. This is where the first-line support people are nontechnical, call center workers that will read from a script. Most problems they’ll receive calls from are fairly straightforward anyway, or at the very least common and repetitive, and can be quickly identified and fixed from notes written earlier by the people in third-line support or from notes on a device manufacturer’s website.
Second-line support, which is where I used to work, are the people who return the calls of the people first-line support couldn’t help. There’s pressure on second-line support personnel, of which there are far fewer people than for first-line, to know their stuff, fix the problem, and close the case. This is partly because the number of people in third-line support will likely be very small (as these people are expensive if nothing else) but also because the truly knotty problems they have to deal with can sometimes tie them up for days.
This isn’t even taking into account that the people working in third-line support will also commonly be the system administrators, testing new software, patches, and OS builds, rolling these out across the organization, and then praying that nothing goes horribly wrong.
We’ve all encountered times though when we’re forced to call first-line support and have tried to preempt the most obvious questions with phrases such as “I’m an IT engineer so have already tried the obvious things like turning it off and on again” and “No, resetting it won’t fix the problem, as fixing the problem involves changing a VPN setting and not starting again from scratch with the whole damn device.”
If you’re setting up or managing a first-line support team, then I have a simple piece of advice. Employ better able and more knowledgeable staff with fewer constraints placed on them. This generally turns out to be better overall for the companies that provide it already.
I can think of a couple of ISPs in the UK, Plusnet and Zen, both of which consistently win awards for their support because they’ve either ditched the first-line support personnel entirely or have hired and correctly trained the appropriate people in the first instance.
With an effective team in place, with specialisms where you need to have them, no single person solely responsible for anything, and people able to respond appropriately to queries, you’ll likely find that not only will costs fall over time but the volume of support requests you get will also drop.
Creating and Managing Support Reporting
So now we’ve tackled the subject of staffing, how about the reporting itself? Well, the first crucial area, there are several of these, is the source of the call. There’s absolutely no point in recording a support query if you can’t call the person back afterward or send an engineer to the correct piece of equipment.
For this reason, it’s also essential to record the asset tag or serial number of the device (see Figure 7-2), as for all you know, the person who made the original support call might be going on vacation the following day or could even be leaving the company or moving to a different role or department.
Figure 7-2. Starting with clear information about the source of the query is essential
There will always be main areas where problems can begin. Remember that nothing ever goes wrong with an IT system without something changing, be it an update, power outage, or user intervention (see Figure 7-3). Reporting what has already been tried and that has failed to work can also prevent repetition. I’m sure you’ve been asked to repeat something you’ve already done as many times as I have, and it can be hugely frustrating for the person receiving the support.
Figure 7-3. Clear information about the main possible problem areas and what’s been tried are also essential
Now we need to start thinking outside of the box and realizing that this device doesn’t operate completely in isolation. I’ll speak about this in much more depth in Chapter 16, but asking if the problem is occurring to anybody else can really help narrow down the cause (see Figure 7-4). You should also ask the person calling for support if there’s anything they can try such as replicating the error or problem so that you can see it for yourself or maybe even just taking a photograph and emailing it to you.
Figure 7-4. Thinking outside of the box should be replicated in the reporting
You will then have some common fixes that you will apply, and common methods of trying to repair the problem, such as accessing the PC via Remote Desktop or asking the end user to see if they can replicate the problem on a different PC. Appropriately logging each thing that’s been tried and done can reduce duplication later, resulting in less frustration for the end user and less time spent on the query for you (see Figure 7-5).
Figure 7-5. Let people add things your reporting may not have anticipated, it will make for better support in the future
If you need to send an engineer to look at and repair the problem personally, the quality of the notes you provide for them is crucial (see Figure 7-6). Remember that the engineer will likely be entirely on their own. They likely won’t be able to call you or one of your colleagues for that information as you’ll be busy and they’ll be short on time with lots of other stops to make. The more information you can provide to them, the faster everything will get resolved, and the less chance there will be of the engineer having to visit the site on a second occasion for the same problem.
Figure 7-6. Engineers need clear notes and instructions as they’ll be entirely on their own
Lastly, we get the final report (see Figure 7-7). This again needs to be as detailed as possible, but don’t go on for pages and pages as nobody wants to read anything that long. Be concise but clear where lessons can be learned, policies and practices implemented or changed, or questions and steps added to first-line support documentation where this is a problem that might occur again on other IT equipment or services, and where an easy fix can be implemented.
Figure 7-7. A final report that can be seen and audited by third-line support can
help update reporting for future issues
With all of this in place, you will find that the whole support operation, from the first call to the final report, becomes much more effective, swift, and cheaper. Having a system that’s not too rigid also helps because this is where easy changes and fixes can be implemented and made available to help quickly fix the problem in the future.
Did somebody write a script that fixed the problem? That person should be encouraged to document the script and add a link to it, or a copy of it, with the final report. Did somebody find that a specific driver version fixed the problem? What was that driver version and can a copy of it be held locally?
This, in short, is how you can set up, manage, and run an effective, productive, and cheap-to-run IT support system. There’s much more to it than just this however, and I would encourage you, for a bit more CPD, to also obtain a physical or eBook copy of my book The IT Support Handbook (Apress, 2019), where this chapter is expanded into almost 200 pages of training and support materials.
As we get to the first part of this book though, we’ll find that the theoretical stuff is largely done, and we’ll start moving into the actual meat of the subject. Getting information quickly and effectively is the obvious place to begin, and so we’ll hit the ground running by examining the Windows Event Viewer and how you get more event and reliability information from a Windows 11 PC.