The IT Memory Leak

~ by Randy Wagner

Find Opportunities for Improvement in the Helpdesk

As software professionals from various disciplines, we strive to create and deliver quality in the systems, functions, data, and reports that we implement. However, as we all know, there is no perfect system and there’s always opportunity for improving existing code or adding and modifying features to respond to the market. But as a group, we tend to have a memory leak that sits right in front of us, bedevils our users, and can be a goldmine if we pay attention. It’s the helpdesk.

Helpdesk Tickets Tell the Real Story

Helpdesk tickets come from all over the organization and offer insight to the daily challenges of the user community trying to earn the coin that keeps us working. There may be reports that don’t complete successfully, applications that behave inconsistently, or requests for changes. For most companies, the technical debt often piles up or lingers to the point of irrelevance. Regardless of what we intended to design or how closely it resembles our intent, the helpdesk tickets become the brutal mirror that tells us how well we did and are doing.

Identify Patterns and Fix Root Causes

Take the time to review tickets. It’s much easier to see patterns emerge in the aggregate. Do we need better monitoring of batch jobs? Is a particular subsystem worth revamping? But most important of all, does the business side feel they are being heard? Especially when many of the tickets are user error, it’s easy to discount the value. However, when it’s consistent, then we know we don’t have an intuitive UI.

It’s easy to close a ticket to say a process failed and was restarted so it’s all good now. Are we doing decent root cause analysis? Are we not getting good data from our inputs? How do we know it won’t happen again? Those are the questions business either needs to address or ask of us. The systems we build evolve over time. Changes we make are hopefully well-tested functionally and thoroughly regression tested but even systems that were once rock solid can degrade over time.

Resist the Urge to Ignore Difficult Requests

Are we listening? Across all the organizations I have worked with, the most consistent issue I hear about is that tickets and requests often fall into a black hole. A service desk ticket is created and maybe someone responds initially but, if it’s not an easy answer, it just settles to the bottom of the defect ocean like technical sediment. Eventually, this causes issues between operations departments and then IT—which is rarely a revenue center—finds itself on its heels trying to repair relationships. The business is our customer, and it is our responsibility to listen to them and try to resolve their issues.

Take Advantage of the Helpdesk as an Insightful Resource

Technical debt is a goldmine if you use it well. Paying attention advances the products, protects relationships, and improves the bottom line. Don’t let it be a memory leak. It’s a free resource. Get every ounce of gold from it that you can.

Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies. He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, configuration management, and automation.