Whether in a larger organization or as an independent consultant, many technology service and support professionals find themselves performing a wide variety of tasks relating to their work. This document explores four general areas of specialty within the profession of technology service and support.
The Musician as an Example
The musician in a band who loves to perform at live events and record in the studio, will soon discover that the music business also requires bookkeeping skills, marketing talent, customer service experience, and a variety of other supporting responsibilities. The musician wants to just focus on playing music, and let someone else run the business side of things.
Those who struggle with creative talents may do very well with the organizational skills required to run a business, and visa versa. These characteristics are often referred to as people having right brain or left brain dominance. This is why musicians often have managers. These two activities run somewhat in parallel and require that one be in a different state of mind.
Wearing Two Hats
Creativity is sometimes fostered by external factors such as being more relaxed and not being under deadlines. Maybe this is in the quiet hours late at night or early in the morning. During the day, maybe mid-morning or in the afternoon, you’ll find your mind is more analytical and sharp for administrative tasks, and you’ll spend some time on detailed and focused work. Or, for people who are always in one state of mind or the other, you’ll partner with someone who complements your skills and inclinations.
The Two Mindsets of a Technology Professionals
The life of a technology professional is not that different from the life of an artist or musician. A creative mindset is required to develop solutions and improve workflows or procedures. The creative mindset appears to be easily distracted — taking in lots of information, brainstorming, and easily making new conceptual associations and revelations. For technology professionals, an organized, focused, and analytical mindset is also required — to aggregate data into meaningful and actionable conclusions that help attain desired outcomes. Sometimes a single individual can easily flow between creative/distracted and analytical/focused — adjusting their mindset to suit the current needs. Such people thrive with a diversity of demands placed on them. However, most people find it difficult to ‘change gears’ at will. If they are focused on something, a person interrupting them throws them off track and they may loose their train of thought. Or if they are trying to be creative, and then need to prepare a spreadsheet for a meeting presentation deadline, their creativity will be hindered by the stress and shift of mindset. This is why it’s common in businesses to have some creative people and also some business-minded people who collaborate periodically throughout the week, but mostly stay ‘in the zone’ by maintaining the mindset ideal for their work demands and responsibilities.
Based on the two general mindsets that people may be predisposed to (creative or analytical), it makes sense to consider having at least two groups of technology professionals in a business:
- Analytical. People who mostly find themselves in an analytical mindset will be well suited for the focused and lengthy step-by-step processes required for setting up hardware. They will also do well focusing on administrative tasks, documentation, inventory tracking, system testing, and researching hardware or software abnormalities. Improving workflows and procedures would be another area that is well suited for the analytical and focused mind.
- Creative. Those needing to come up with innovative solutions may benefit from having a creative disposition. While some disciplined research is needed, one needs a creative mindset to think of new approaches and solutions. At one level, this may involve meeting with people to assess their needs (consulting), and asking the right questions that will help result in innovations that meet goals. Implementation, oversight, improvement, engagement — these will all require a creative mindset to think through every aspect of a project or initiative. On a more granular level, those providing service desk support also need to be creative when confronted with undocumented user support problems and needs. Sometimes it’s enough to just send someone a link to the document that answers their question, but other times a creative mind is needed to solve problems and document the solutions.
Scheduled or On-Demand Workload
The analytical and creative aspects of technology service and support delivery result in two general categories of work logistics:
- Scheduled. Those engaged in the creative task of consulting or the somewhat analytical task of administration will have in common the fact that much of their work can be scheduled, and scheduled meetings need not necessarily run long. In most meetings, time is allotted to address an issue, and people get as much done as they can in the allotted time. Then a meeting room needs to be vacated, and they need to go on to their next meeting. The creative consultant will meet with people, and discuss their needs, or set aside time in the schedule to work on special projects. There won’t likely be any interruptions in their day.
- On-Demand. People who provide desktop support for hardware or service desk support when people have usage questions may find that they are needed on-demand. Fixing problems may require unpredictable amounts of time. Other higher priority support needs may arise, causing other request to be reprioritized. Deadlines are more pressing as users are in need of equipment to get their jobs done. Such work demands can be more stressful.
These two different work dynamics aren’t very compatible. In other words, it’s hard to be a help desk provider of immediate support, while at the same time attending meetings (and being on-time). The person who is 100% focused on the delivery of on-demand support can be much more responsive to people’s needs since they are essentially available at any moment (if the need is sufficient). For desktop support, those who are primarily setting up computers can work at their leisure, and setup computers when it suits someone’s schedule. Only when desktop support requires an immediate on-site support response does it require an interruption to one’s day.
The Four Quadrants of Technology Service and Support
Based on the two common mindsets that people have (creative or analytical), and the two types of workload (scheduled or on-demand), we can easily organize four quadrants of technology service and support as shown below.
- Consulting (Creative/Scheduled). The consultant can schedule their week, going from one meeting to the next, with quite focused time set aside for creative solutions development and intentional collaboration. They will mostly rely on a creative mindset with a scheduled workload. Having a scheduled workweek creates windows of uninterrupted times for opening up the creative mind.
- Service Desk (Creative/On-Demand). The service desk professional needs to be creative and think fast for quickly getting through various support requests. This isn’t the first tier of help desk employees who just read from flowchart telephone scripts or send people links to documentation. This is the higher tier service desk professional who is coming up with the solutions and writing the documentation. They need to respond with innovation when needs arise.
- Administrative (Analytical/Scheduled). The higher calling of any director is to be a creative, inspiring, and motivational visionary who leads their organization toward a better workplace with greater outcomes. That role is one that’s largely creative. However, administrators are serving the larger community by organizing, implementing, overseeing, tracking, improving, testing, coordinating, and other tasks. Then they are tasked with aggregating data into meaningful actionable information. Although some ’emergencies’ arise, the administrator can mostly schedule their workload.
- Desktop Support (Analytical/On-Demand). Like the service desk professional, the desktop and hardware support person may be called on to respond quickly when hardware needs arise. When equipment fails, it needs to be repaired or replaced quickly. When a computer fails, in an enterprise environment, generally not much creativity is required to get it working again. It’s simply replaced with another system to minimize downtime. If creative solutions are explored, or research is conducted, that’s done after the person has been given a working computer. One doesn’t make the user wait while solutions are researched. So, for the most part, the desktop support person leverages an analytical mindset to methodically and patiently move through sometimes tedious work. It’s important to be detail oriented and focused. A creative mindset would be a detriment if it caused someone to overlook an important step or forget where they were at in a procedure.
Click the chart below for a larger view.
Four Quadrant Tools and Skills
The tools and skills required for each of the different areas of work mentioned above are different:
- Consulting. The consultant will need experience and training in the areas they are advising on. They will need space in their office for meetings, or regular access to a space where they can meet with people. They may need some project management software and skills. It would help if such a person has had extensive experience in the service desk and desktop support areas so their advice is based on real-world experience.
- Service Desk. The ideal service desk solutions developer and creativist will be familiar with the full breadth of support calls that come in. They would be well equipped if they have experience as an entry level help desk employee.
- Administrative. The ideal administrator would have a good understanding of consulting, service desk, and desktop support areas. This way they can serve the team effectively from a place of experience and knowledge.
- Desktop Support. The desktop support person will need sufficient space for their work and equipment inventory inventory. The more space available for efficient inventory of equipment, the better they can serve the unit.
The service desk person need not have the array of physical hardware tools or experience that the desktop support person has. The desktop support person need not have the knowledge of software that the service desk person has. They will go to different meetings and rely on different support resources. However, if one person is trying to serve all these roles, their need for space and tools should be adjusted accordingly, and they would need to attend all the meetings required for the various roles. The consultant and administrator may be in more meetings, and would be unable to provide on-demand response to support needs.
How the Quadrants Work in Real Life
When small businesses grow to become larger businesses, it’s common for additional people to be hired, allowing categories of work to be assigned to specific people who can specialize in a certain area. The first ‘cell division’ would be to have two employees doing the work previously performed by one person. One of the employees could provide the help desk user support and desktop hardware support. The other employee could work on consulting and administration. This split works well because the mindset and logistics are similar, or at least easier to shift between. When a business grows to the point that they can have four employees, then it might make sense to use the four quadrant system for assigning tasks and responsibilities.
After Hours Support
Administrators and consultants can typically schedule their meetings during normal business hours. Desktop support professionals can usually work on setting up new computers, repairing existing computers, and retiring old computers during regular business hours. However, service desk people should be available after hours, or at least during the hours when support is anticipated. For example, with a college or university, meetings, lectures, and other work is typically done in the evening. So, providing support from 9 to 5 just doesn’t serve the real-world support the needs that exist.
Collaboration is Key
Although the four quadrants emphasize the different roles that technology professionals have, there is a need for collaboration and teamwork across these different specialties. This is important to make sure nothing falls between the cracks, and also helps ensure that each group is interfacing with the next group and handing off projects properly.