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Can IT Leverage “Social Self-Help”?

David_Baron ‎02-20-2013 03:40 AM - edited ‎09-25-2015 08:55 PM

Some of the more useful IT help I’ve received lately has come from my friends.


I hate to admit it, I don’t know everything. I have worked for years creating software that enables IT to provide better support to their users. What I create helps the average enterprise employeelike myself, get the job done. Yet I recently took note of how much I rely on my colleagues and friends for support and advice on everyday IT matters. Who wants to go to the help desk when help can be found in the cube next door?


Finding the answer by looking over a shoulder



I recently found myself at a loss. During a recent visit to a development site halfway across the world, I sat at a conference room in meetings with my teammates—and I was the only one “offline” I had only brought my non-HP tablet with me and found myself unable to connect to the network.


Unfortunately, I was unaware of a new corporate wireless service designed for travelers like myself. During a break, I glanced over my shoulder and noticed someone happily surfing the web and working on emailswith no LAN wires attached. He noticed my stare, and he quickly gave me tips on how to connect. He even let me borrow his laptop momentarily so I could register for online connectivity, and a few minutes later I was back on my tablet, this time connected to the world.


In the span of that trip, I started noting the variety of situations in which similar help got me through a problem or improved my work experience. For examplejust happened to be complaining to one of my work colleagues about the excruciatingly slow boot times that my laptop was putting me through. He not only gave me some tips for optimizing encryption settings but also correctly predicted that not only would the boots become faster, but overall performance would also improve.


Through a third colleague, I learned of my eligibility to request an upgrade to my aging corporate smartphone( a two-year-old phone, already part of the technological ice age?)I was even able to check out a few models by comparing what my co-workers were using, and only then did I finally connect to my company's self-service site to make my request.


When do you reach out for “official” help?


The list goes on ... someone gave me tips for downloading the best App Store office offerings compatible with our work environment. From another employee I received links for installing Android on my HP TouchPad (yes, I am one of the few who got a hold of this "collector's piece" during its brief debut!)


Of course, I would not suggest that all of these examples show that we can do away with the IT Service Desk. Yet this is exactly the type of dynamic that comes to mind when I think of the true "social" enterprise. There is nothing fancy or new at work here, but rather the simple reality that peoplereally like helping people, especially those they know and work with every day.



Could the IT service desk have been as helpful to me as my friends were in the above situations? I doubt it. I admit that some of the advice I sometimes receive may raise an eyebrow or two from those in charge of ensuring policy compliance and security. But the vast majority of buddy support I receive would gladly have been provided by IT - if only they were as connected to my needs and experience as my own colleagues.


Do we all play a role in IT?


Perhaps there is an opportunity behind all of this. Most IT departments would characterize any kind of buddy support as self-help because no ticket was ever opened.  But, could IT promote social self-help" in a way that is more efficient and designed to benefit as many users as possible? If the buddy support I received had been captured so that it could be "paid forward" to others, this kind of social self-help could be valuable to IT. There must be great potential waiting to be harnessed by turning IT's users into subject matter expertsThe organizations tribal knowledge is collected and organized into asocial self-help resource that IT just does not have the bandwidth or perhaps even expertise to handle.


In organizing this tribal knowledge, the context of the problem cannot be sacrificed.  In the example of getting a Wi-Fconnection, it was immediately obvious to my colleague that I was a site visitor with a non-HP tablet. This means that the social self-help “engine” needs to be aware of those problem parameters. If our tribal knowledge is hidden in a massive data base that can only be accessed through a creative set of keywords linked through complex logic, the users are going to run the other way.  


What about you? I would love to learn of your own storiestimes when you received great (or not so great!) help from friends and colleagues. What motivates you to help others? And ... if you work for the IT Service Desk, would supporting and leveraging social self-help as an alternative to standard IT support make your life easier or more complicated? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below. 


(This post will be part of a series on the topic of Social and Service Oriented IT. I invite you  to join the ongoing  conversation!)  

About the Author


David has led a career in Enterprise Software for over 20 years and has brought to market numerous successful IT management products and innovations.

on ‎02-21-2013 12:31 AM

Completely agree. We all find ourselves in cases where we have a small question regarding the massive technology world around us. In most cases, its not an urgent need one cannot do without. I would categorize it as "How can I accomplish XXX now" rather than "I am completely blocked and cannot do my job". In these cases we tell ourselves "Nevermind, its nice to have but there is no chance I am going to get stuck with an IT agent on the phone for half an hour to solve it. Its not that importent..." or maybe if you are a nicer spirit than I, you'll just say "I do not want to berdon IT with this minor issue..." In any case, today's systems do not offer the friend alternative. Or maybe it does, in various public site, but it in many cases not in the context (or network) of your problem... So the thing to do is bring the technology for seeking answers and providing answers, as close as possible and as accessible as possible to ones fingertips. Anyone said "Mobile"?

John Baxter
on ‎03-09-2013 07:16 AM

I run the help desk for a large international company. I can tell you two things: 1) No one ever said that the help desk is the only source of knowledge and 2) Everyone knows how to run the help desk better than we do. When someone figures something out on their own or gets help from a colleague, they often make that an indictment of the HD. We just think, "Good. Glad they got what they needed." Help is help and we're happy wherever you get it.


But keep in mind that we're always there for you. What if you hadn't luckily been sitting next to a colleague who recognized your need and had the knowledge to solve it? What if you had needed something he didn’t know? Would you have called your help desk or would you have gone without? Why do you doubt that your HD wouldn’t have been able to help you? Isn’t your help desk any good or didn’t you even try? Did you consider that maybe the guy who helped you learned what he knew from the HD in the first place? Crazy talk, I know, but in the scope of the universe it might just have happened.


Our job all day, every day is to learn what you need and give it to you when you need it. Usually we learn those things formally but we also monitor our internal communities for things we didn’t know and look for things that are getting a lot of play so we’re ready if you call. We don’t know everything and sometimes we may not be able to communicate with you well enough to understand what you need, but we’re not chopped liver either.


Peter T Anderson
on ‎08-29-2013 10:59 PM

I think the IT desk will slowly fade away as you said above we are all taking part in the service of our systems. Its  sad times for our industry to be honest. Allot of work is being outsourced or taken up in the cloud. I guess there is still a substantial amount of work in networking.


Thanks for the great article.

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