Find out steps IT organizations can take to ensure everyone enjoys a happy holiday.
Now that the holidays are upon us, we're faced with the monumental task of juggling vacation time with sufficient IT support coverage. While many look forward to this time of year with great joy, it does require some stressful decisions that can be hard on all staff members. However, the key to "keeping the lights on" during the holidays doesn't have to be that difficult.
When your IT support staff is limited, management tends to focus a bit too much on staff as opposed to ways to help lighten the actual workload. Staff is indeed a critical component, but it's important to note that adjustments to policies, procedures and other aspects of a typical IT support workday can significantly reduce the chances that a skeleton holiday crew will get overloaded. I highly recommend creating special operating procedures during the holidays, including escalation trees and limited maintenance windows..
Other steps you can take to ensure smooth sailing during the holidays revolve around bolstering network documentation, monitoring, and escalation processes. Now is the time of year to brush the dust-off documentation, diagrams, and monitoring systems to verify that they are up to date, operating properly, and ready for any of your staff to use. Spending some time in these areas may prove to be the difference between having a wonderful holiday dinner with family or friends and spending your evening in the spare bedroom trying to walk the on-duty IT support staff through a difficult-to-solve issue.
Finally, consider the potential benefits of offloading many manual tasks your IT support staff deals with every day using either automation methods or cloud-managed services. These will not only help you during times when staffing is low, but all the time. Think of these tips as the gifts that keep on giving all year long.
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The most important part of cutting back on staff hours during the holidays is ensuring critical staff coverage. Depending on the size of the organization, you may be able to interweave your coverage hours by pairing together senior level staff with lower level staff. That way, you have the technical knowledge as well as an extra pair of hands when needed.
Even when employees are on holiday, there inevitably will come a time when they need to run an application, kick off a process or access files located on the corporate network. As a result, you can expect remote access use to grow during the holidays. Therefore, network support administrators should verify remote access functionality and ensure there are enough remote access VPN licenses during peak holiday hours.
Limit maintenance windows
While it’s nearly impossible to implement a holiday moratorium for all network maintenance, it certainly should be limited to critical fixes when possible. Your goal should be to lighten the load of the few staff members who are working the holidays so they can better focus on keeping the lights on in terms of network connectivity and security.
During the holiday season, there may come a time when the support staff on duty either runs into an issue they’re not sure how to resolve or a major problem occurs that requires additional emergency resources. Instead of randomly calling administrators at all hours of the night, it’s far better to have a well-established and up-to-date escalation tree. How you structure your escalation tree depends on your specific needs; some are based on specific technologies while others cater more to geographic location. Bottom line: Get a tree in place in order to streamline the problem escalation process to meet customer SLAs during the holiday season.
November is an excellent time of year to make sure that all your documentation and network diagrams are up to date. If you are running a lean crew, there’s likely to be a time when an administrator will have to perform tasks or troubleshoot steps that they aren’t necessarily responsible for when the office is fully staffed. So to ensure a smooth process, make sure documentation steps are easy to follow.
Monitoring and alerting
You may think that your network monitoring and alerting systems are firing on all cylinders, but you should probably double check them prior to letting a large chunk of your staff go for the holidays. Make sure that all network devices or services implemented over the past six months are properly monitored and backed up on a regular basis. Also test that alerting is working as expected. If not, you may end up missing some crucial alarms that can dramatically impact the business’s bottom line.
It used to be that network support administrators had to understand little about the applications that ran over their network. But times have changed due to the advent of QoS, application-layer firewalls, intrusion prevention, WAN optimization, and SDN. Today, it's crucial that admins understand application functions and their importance to the organization. That way, if problems occur somewhere on the network that causes degradation and bottlenecks for multiple applications and services during the holidays, the staff on hand will know which ones to focus on fixing first.
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One of the driving forces behind the automation of network processes is reducing the number of manual processes when you are short staffed. If you’re looking at a serious shortage in administrative power this holiday season, perhaps think about automating many of the time-consuming processes your staff does each day.
Since the cloud was designed to be managed by customers in a remote fashion, the level of access, tools and problem escalation are tailor-made for remote employees, which is especially helpful during the holidays.
Verify and renew support contracts
Support contracts can lapse, especially at the end of the year. So, before you take off on your two-week trip to the Bahamas over the holidays, verify that your network hardware/software support contracts are renewed and active. The staff that you left back at the office will greatly appreciate it.