A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch





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March 22, 2002


© 2002, Douglas E. Welch


Whether you are working as an independent consultant or for an in-house, IT department, helping users help themselves can be an important part of improving your career. It may seem odd, but giving the users the tools to solve common problems themselves frees your time for the more intractable issues that always appear. If you approach self-support in the right way, as an improvement in service instead of extra work for the users, you can begin to build a cooperative arrangement that can help everyone be more productive.

A little help

Your first goal in establishing any form of self-support is to get the input and approval of department managers. Once that has been established, work with these managers to find someone in their department who wants to take on the role of computer liaison to the IT department. It is very important that this person want to take on this role and not have it forced upon them. Assigning the wrong person, regardless of their desire, or skill level, will ensure the failure of the program. You need to find someone who is not only interested in their departmental role, but also in learning and implementing various IT systems in order to help their peers be more productive. Not everyone is cut out for this role. Some may worry that it will impact their chances for promotion in their department. Others simply don’t enjoy working with computers. In order to succeed, everyone involved must be committed.

The same rules apply when you are providing support to a small company. An in-house support assistant can help keep everyone working, especially on those days when you are not available. They don’t have to solve big problems, only keep the little problems from growing into big ones. Make sure this assistant has easy access to you via phone, email, etc., so they can call on your for help when needed. Something that you might be able to solve over the phone today could turn into a major issue if it has to wait until tomorrow.

Give them the tools

Once a good fit has been found, it is up to you to provide your support assistants with any and all information that can help them help their departmental peers. Include your newfound support assistants in IT mailing lists. Grant them access to support databases, online services and any other source of information that you can provide. All these tools will allow them to solve many smaller computer issues without having to involve you.

The goal of the support assistant is to gather all the computer issues in their department, solve what they can and pass the rest on to you with all the information you need to provide a quick solution. Having this support at the departmental level will improve the response time for the most basic questions and issues. Department users don’t have to compete for your time with everyone else in your company. In many cases they can get answers to their most basic questions without ever picking up the phone.

Consolidating the support requests from the department also helps you to provide better support. The support assistants can gather up the information you need to solve the problem and present you with one email or phone call instead of having to field calls from several people in the department. The support assistant can also keep their peers informed about your progress with on-going projects.

As a consultant you shouldn’t be afraid of sharing information with your clients and your support assistants at that site. It is rare that the in-house person will attempt to push you out and take over the entire support role. In most cases, in-house support assistants simply don’t have the desire to become a permanent IT employee. They might enjoy their role and the challenges it provides, but they are usually more interested in their original line of work.

Secondly, it takes years for in-house support assistants to develop the specialized knowledge that you bring to your work. Even if they would like to develop full-time in-house support it will take several years to build up the necessary staff. Even in these cases, you are bound to be a significant source of information and assistance as the company scales up their own support team. While your role may change, it is doubtful it will disappear entirely.

Helping your clients help themselves not only allows you to concentrate on larger technology issues, it also provides them with a better level of support on a daily basis. Regardless of who is providing the answers to their questions, you reap the benefits of improved relations and higher productivity. This is a sure boost to any high-tech career.

about this column.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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