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Thursday, August 31, 2006

How many tech support people per users?



As we grapple with budgeting, we've been looking at the explosive growth of our computers on campus and discussing what will have to happen for future tech support.

Ever feel like your job is too much!


Right now, I am a full time teacher and maintain a server with over 100 computers. I keep a backlog of several weeks or more and probably work about 60+ hours a week. Needless to say, this cannot continue for a multitude of reasons (including that of wanting to pursue more writing.)
I struggle like anyone in a difficult situation to keep my positive attitude about the never ending list of "computer-do's" for those at the school. It often gets in the way of my first love... teaching!

So, how many users per tech support person?


I've found a great article at ZDNET about the ideal Users-to-tech support ratio. They advise before determining your ideal ratio that you must consider three things:

  • Complexity - How many platforms, what type of configuration, computer age?
  • Expertise - What do you technicians need to know how to do?
  • Trends - Staff up during the times when you need more help! (Schools: Bring on contract labor to start up school!)

All this in mind, the starting point is 60 users to 1 technician. However, they note that this can be as low as 45 users to 1 technician if the following is the case:

  • More than one Operating system
  • No hardware standards are in place
So, just going "loosey- goosey" means that your technical support staff is less productive and that you're wasting a lot of time.

How to support more people with less technicians

How can you increase the number of people technical support can handle. The article gives several tips which I am planning to implement:

  • Give users restricted local administrator rights on their machines. This means they can add printers, etc. to the local machine but NOT mess up your server.
  • Remote software deployment -- For example, I already install new Versions of Norton Corporate Antivirus from the server for XP machines -- I can't for Windows 98 machines, which we've almost phased out.
  • Cloning or Imaging -- Having a standardized setup for each machine that can create duplicates on all new machines. This limits the learning curve and makes it easier for you to give instructions that work for everyone.
  • Remote Control - The ability for technicians to "dial into" a computer to fix a problem.

All of this being done, the article says you can actually support 125 users (workstations) with one person.

One other important change to how we do business!
  • We no longer accept "donated" equipment!
    I had somebody offer to "help" me the other day by giving me a 10 year old computer! Ten years old! There are so many issues with donated computers and we would not be as far along as we are without them. But I've got to stop it for several reasons:

    • People never give the software licenses -- no license, not legit. With the crunch on Microsoft, I predict a big storm is a coming on this one!

    • People rarely donate something that works, it is usually gotten rid of because it is SLOW or has a problem. The hours you spend fixing will not pay for themselves.

    • You still have to have server domain licenses and Antivirus software.
With all this into account, you're looking at over $200 a donated machine to put it on the network. Well, so, you'll just throw the ones that don't work in the dump!

A little heavy metal with your water?


Not a good idea unless you want your great grandchildren suffering from the scourge of the Roman Empire... heavy metal poisoning!

Right now, it will cost us $150 per machine to pay to have them recycled. I've found a free recycling center in Atlanta but am going to have to load up the school trailer and haul them up there myself!

Conclusion

In conclusion, tech support for computers is never a popular thing to fund. Idealists say, "Buy great computers and then you don't have to maintain them!" Wrong!

People would rather put a poor, idealistic person with a full head of hair who is good with computers in a job taking care of 400-500 computers and then take turns pounding on them when they can't keep up! They turn them into a shaken, exhausted, physically harmed, balding techie who is disillusioned and negative! I've seen it happen countless times!

With computers being the paper and pens of the modern classrooms, we have to put people in charge who have realistic objectives.

I think for budgeting that every age should have a targeted computers to student ratio and that budgeting should be built on that. Simplistic, but its the right way to do it.

How do you budget and plan for maintaining computers? What are your ratios? What needs to change about your program?

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