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How do you do....it? Thread, How do I figure out this workload in Technical; I run a school system where I have 2 guys that work for me. I have 13 schools, and 4 ...
  1. #1

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    How do I figure out this workload

    I run a school system where I have 2 guys that work for me. I have 13 schools, and 4 other administrative sites we take care of. We have roughly 5000 computers. I used to be able to help them with repairs but in the last year my job has been pure chaos. We have introduced a LAN/Server Farm/Every Student Username.

    Is there some magic pill I am missing out on, to help alleviate this. I tried to get help but they say no money is available. At this point, I tell my guys we are only human and can only do so much each day and it will be there tomorrow. However, they are like me and want to fix everything right away. So needless to say morale is down. We have teachers reporting us to our Superintendent and he is well aware we are short handed and does not usually even read the emails. However, he does not see hiring another technician as a possibility with the economy and budget cuts we have had. This and they are sending all of our testing online which means the months of January/February/March/April we have to assist with this.

    I am just curious if anyone has found something to keep morale high for both staff and teachers. We work as hard as we possibly can yet its never enough. I mean my guys probably work at least 2 hours late (Unpaid) every night.

    I also will say this, I think some of this is our fault but we refuse to let ourselves get behind in technology. When I started things were horrible, money had been wasted and we were way below the curve. Next year I am going to do my best to prevent anything new from being added to our list of things. However, my plans only matter so much ;p

    This may be more of a rant than a question. However I really am just curious of how other people do it. How did you convince them you needed help? How do you keep morale high? How do you keep teachers on your side?

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    somabc's Avatar
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    You have 5000 computers, spread across 17 sites and there are 3 of you? That is insane!

    The only way this can work is if you automate as much as possible and lock everything down so that students / teachers cannot easily break things. You need to invest heavily in scripting / automated deployment / software management and make sure you have an effective helpdesk system. You need to highly stream your processes and use as much remote management / remote desktop technology as possible.

    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIHN_ublWJ4"]YouTube - Clonezilla vs FOG[/ame]
    Last edited by somabc; 29th March 2009 at 02:34 AM.

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    SYNACK's Avatar
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    I would agree that with that many stations and users with that few people to fix them that user freedom is your enemy and is a cost that you simply cannot afford. Lock the stations down as hard as you possibly can and look at tools that automate stuff like rebuilds or even revert machines on reboot like MS Shared User Toolkit. Look for the simplest and least time intensive (for you) solutions like triggering a remote rebuild to fix an issue.

    The other thing that is very important is communication, the problems apear to be budget related but if the superintendant is just ignoring the emails the teachers will look to blame you. Get the super a form email saying that IT is understaffed, underbudgeted and under pressure. It should also state that they can't do anything because of the budget. This will point the blame to where it really lies, with the budgets rather than with you. That way the teachers aggression should be better directed and not end up landing on you.

    Implement a job tracking system if you do not have one already and look through it for common problems/users, a little training or perhapse harsh words to a select few from managment can reduce the workload vastly as they are forced to take a bit of responcibility for themselves. Replacing or retireing the really faulty computers can also end up saving huge amounts of time.

    Don't let the teachers get away with putting you down, correct them as with the form email above. If enough of the vocal ones realise where the problem lies they may be more understanding and could help by pushing for more funding for your team themselves.

    Additionally it may be worth seeing if you can get any work experience people in to do the low end stuff on a volunteer basis as propper work experience is always a difficult thing to get a hold of in the it industry.
    Last edited by SYNACK; 29th March 2009 at 02:53 AM.

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    p858snake's Avatar
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    How do you manage the computers at a localish level? what scripts do you run? how do you have them setup? what softwear do you have running on them?

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    Thanks for the replies.

    Here is what we have, each year we hire high school students to preform preventive maintenance and re image every computer that we have. We build our images very restrictive with the exception of allowing flash drives. We use Compuguard (Like deepfreeze). We give teachers ab tutor to monitor rooms and local admins to their computers. Its hard to lock them down.

    We use a work order system currently. However, the current system for reporting problems has a few flaws we are going to correct this next school year. Currently we have a tech contact at each school (Teacher with extra contract) they basically just report problems to us. So every teacher reports to them then they report to us. This helps with the things being unplugged or bad keyboard type things. However, we constantly deal with the "Its not worked for months, and I reported it" and then I check the system and nothing is there. They claim they gave the tech contact the information.

    As far as teachers go, I tell my guys to handle them professionally but not to take anything from them. They do their best however constantly being berated by the teachers, usually one out of ten give us a hard time,I think bothers the guys because they feel bad they cant fix things.

    I am an ex programmer and scripting saves us in alot of ways. However I am all about automation. I would love some ideas for software that you think might help.

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    I know that when you feel you're snowed under it's hard to stand back and get an overview of what's taking up the time but that might help.

    I'm guessing that quite a lot of time is taken up moving between sites given you've got 17 of them and 4 people so you need to make sure that when someone is on a site they get as much as possible done at the one place (eg you don't send a technician to a site to just reimage one machine)

    is the bulk of the work fixing faults or is it installing new software or new hardware? If it's the first then what sort of faults? Are they things which can be handled by someone else on site. An example would be dealing with printers. Most printer faults which need someone to "touch" the printer are relatively trivial (paper jam, toner out etc); can you get a member of the office staff or the caretaking staff to take responsibility for this?

    If machines get trashed and need to be reimaged, can you build them with a hidden recovery partition on the hard disc such that you would boot from a CD/DVD/USB to run a small program to unhide the recovery partition, reimage, hide the partition and boot into the fixed image? If so, can your tech contact at each school do this kind of job?

    I don't know what age range you're dealing with, but can you get one or two students at each school to help with routine stuff?

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    Oops_my_bad's Avatar
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    Also look into the possibility of centralising and consolidation as much as possible (if you get the time to do that sort of R+D), eg, thin clients, RODC's etc. It is clear you cannot continue the way you are - you are just running yourselves and your infrastructure into the ground.

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    If the teachers / students / admin staff in schools are saying 'but we reported it to the Tech Contact' then it might be an idea to have your ticket system viewable to the general user ... if I user can see they have a ticket logged and where it is in the queue then it can save a lot of time and grief.

    If you are short of cash for something better than that which you presently use then My Little Helpdesk should fit your needs. Sometimes it is just a case of a little more communication that is needed to smooth things over.

    I have to applaud you for doing the work that you and your team are doing. That really is a fantastic ratio for Computer:Technician but it does highlight a number of areas for many UK folks to be wary of under the new managed services for BSF.

    Out of interest, do you ever have just you or one of your guys assigned to pick up and process (prioritise and assign) work? Does that make it any easier or did the lack of a person out doing the work slow things down even more?

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    I currently set a schedule every Friday. As you all know, by Monday morning it usually changes but it gives us an idea. I prioritize work orders every day, and have my techs prioritize at each site they visit. It sometimes slows us down because sometimes more travel is involved. I really believe alot of days we would make it if it weren't for the inevitable emergencies where I or someone else has to travel to another school to take care of something.

    The funny thing is I actually have a decent budget. Actually in all honesty a good budget but the way the money is defined I can not use it to hire people.....It sounds silly but they vote on a levy to help with things and all the money has to be spent on hardware/software. No money was provided for help. So I am not opposed to spending some money if it is going to help me. I think we got the ok to hire some contracted help. I am working on that avenue.

    The sad thing is people know the differences we have made. In fact we are in the top 3 departments in our state. The things we have going on are great, everyone knows the potential but its like they stop as soon as we tug at the purse a little and ask for another person.

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    What about implementing a RIS server (i am assuming A windows setup?)
    I say this for these reasons. If there is say a server at each site, then RIS can be set up and controlled from Group Policy. This would then allow the volunteer to re-image a machine with restricted access. They would only be able to use the images they have permissions for. I think that is how it works.

    This would also alleviate the cash spent on apps that do jobs that can be done for free. If you already purchase a Server 2003 license and have volume licensing at each site.

    I have made quite a few assumptions in this post but hopefully it may help a little.

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    SYNACK's Avatar
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    A properly installed and configured System Center Configuration Manager: Home Page server although it may take some time to setup but should make remote rebuilding, application installs and even computer issue tracking a much easier task as the machines all report to the server. Ghost Corporate and Altris also offer simmilar but more limited functionality and FOG does much of this stuff to.

    I'll probably get shouted down for this but if you have the hardware for it Vista is almost effortless to image to machines once you have it setup, universal images and easy driver integration along with better managment and reporting tools. With SA softgrid you can also quite often get around any nasty old software limitations to. If you have SA (Software Assurance) you also get the Desktop Optimization pack which has lots of useful tools.

    A lot of this depends heavily on where most of your problems are based as if they are hardware based then this stuff os of limited use. Intel vPro can help a bit when included on new pcs for some faults that mean the computer is unbootable but it does rely on it being plugged in to power and network. This system can also report on pending hardware falts like HD SMART errors which could be handy.

    Option three would be to start moving the current infrastructure to thin clients and move away from individual desktops.

    You could also look at having a dedicated fault reporting pc in each school which would allow the teachers themselves to check on/follow up on the fault reports directly giving them an outlet for their curiosity.

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    p858snake's Avatar
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    I would consider replacing your currently ticketing system with something that does something like:
    Teacher reports issue into system -> Site Tech Deals with Issue -> Site Tech Closes or Elevates -> You guys deal with it
    That way the teachers can see whats happening and it's progress so they knew something is being done.
    Last edited by p858snake; 30th March 2009 at 02:17 AM.

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    Thanks for the ideas. I am not familiar at all with Microsoft System Center. I dont know how I missed it but it peeked my interest some.

    I am working on what I am calling "The New Plan" for this coming year. I really appreciate all the help.

    I had looked at thin clients in the past and to be honest wasnt impressed. We currently use an Xtenda setup in about 50% of our rooms. This allows one machine to run 4 computers. I am also under the understanding they can run about 30 off of one server in a thin client like atmosphere. However, we always have problems getting software to run correctly.

    I appreciate all the comments I will put them to use.

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    rdk
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    This doesn't help, but 3 people, 17 sites and 500 machines is crazy. I'm surprised you manage to keep it running at all.

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    box_l's Avatar
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    its not so bad!

    we have 5 engineers and 55 schools (4 high schools)!

    still, we automate loads, from user creation to machine imaging and lock them down tight.

    we also provide access for the designated member of staff to be able to use a web page to create student/staff accounts with home area etc.

    so i feel for you, dont get down, get tough.

    no job in the book/ing system = no job!

    BoX

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