Tactical Advice

5 Tips to Minimize Downtime

Keep users up and running with these cost-effective practices.
5 Tips to Minimize Downtime, pictured: relaxed IT professional

Keeping up with the ever-changing needs of end users can be a challenge. New technologies and diverse operating environments demand flexible support strategies to stay ahead of users’ needs.

While clients can keep IT staff guessing, there are some issues to expect from time to time. The ability to address those needs in a timely fashion is perhaps the greatest measure of any IT department's effectiveness. Below are five relatively inexpensive steps an IT department can take to minimize the time it takes to get users back up and running should their systems go down.

1. Keep a hot spare

When a notebook computer is lost or stolen, the impact goes well beyond the monetary value of the unit. Even with the proliferation of smartphones and PDAs, the majority of road warriors and managers still rely on notebooks to accomplish most day-to-day tasks and are dead in the water when these systems go down.

One of the most important things an IT department can do to mitigate this disruption is to keep a “hot spare” — a computer that is preloaded with a company’s software — in stock and ready to go at all times.

2. Subscribe to remote-connectivity software

No technician likes flying blind when they're on the phone with an end user, and nowhere can this be more of a hindrance than when fielding calls from remote locations regarding VPN, firewall or other limited connectivity issues.

Remote-connectivity software can prove an invaluable stopgap, allowing a help desk to connect to the user’s machine without requiring a VPN connection and usually without modification of the user’s firewall. Subscription-based services, such as Citrix GoToAssist, offer affordable annual, monthly and daily rates and can save both IT staff and end users considerable time and frustration. If the user can get to the Internet, IT can get on their machine.

3. Take advantage of imaging services

Even if an IT department handles all of an organization’s imaging needs in house, it is still a good idea to set up an imaging solution with whomever they purchase computers from. Once the image is stored, it will allow IT to place emergency orders to drop-ship virtually anywhere without making them come through the IT department first, effectively providing 24-hour turnaround on all new machines.

4. Maintain a “floating” aircard

From the sales manager who just transferred from out of state to the vice president going camping in the Poconos, almost every help desk encounters the occasional need for “emergency connectivity.” Because of this, consider keeping an activated aircard in stock and available for checkout. The monthly service fee is a small investment, considering the peace of mind and convenience this will offer both users and support staff.

5. Regularly audit user machines

While no one can predict the theft or loss of a user’s computer, it is possible to detect many other signs of trouble by routinely auditing desktop and notebook computers.

Make it a practice to check user machines monthly using centralized auditing software. Normally this noninvasive inventory can be done via a remote procedure call so it doesn’t interrupt the user’s work. This check-in will keep the help desk abreast of which machines are running low on disk space, have out-of-date virus definitions or have not received Windows updates. This gives support staff ample time to respond before these problems take the user offline.

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About the Author

Jason Holbert

Jason Holbert

Jason covers desktop applications and help desk utilities, including reviews geared toward the IT end-user support function. Jason is the PC infrastructure manager for Harcros Chemicals, a worldwide leader in chemical manufacturing and distribution. At Harcros, Jason supports over 350 end users at 30 branch locations. In his free time, Jason enjoys reading, motorcycling, competitive shooting and remodeling his starter home with his wife.

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