Admins aim to aid users

It might be a lot of work that can be frustrating most of the time, but IT administrators often find solace in knowing their efforts are helping make end-users’ lives a little easier.

That is, until they’re summoned once again to another help call. And this has been a cycle that most IT administrators have grown accustomed to.

In fact, most of an IT administrator’s time is usually spent responding to help calls from end-users and “putting out fires” in the IT system, according to Charan Kumar, a manager at KPMG.

Kumar presented at a seminar on IT governance at the LinuxWorld and Network World event in Toronto last April.

For 10 years, Colleen Ryall has been the IT administrator for Stewart McKelvey Stirling Scales, a law firm based in St. John’s. She says 70 per cent of her time is spent doing desktop support for 90 end-users.

“I wish [that amount of time] was less, but I don’t think it ever will be,” says Ryall, but pointed out that she wants to lessen the desktop support tasks so that she could spend more time managing the network.

As a one-person team, Ryall is in charge of everything IT at the law firm — from servers to desktops, from hardware to software. The challenge for her is not the vastness of her responsibility, but the lack of time to do all of them.

Ryall adds that one way she manages to cope with her hectic schedule is by keeping her daily calendar as current and as up-to-date as possible, which involves having to re-organize her time again and again, especially if she is called upon to do “10 different things in 10 minutes.”

Although she deals with a good number of help calls on a daily basis, Ryall stresses this isn’t because the users aren’t technologically savvy. The law practice is a fast-paced corporate environment, she says, and staff are always rushing to get paperwork done for clients.

When they get stuck on a problem, employees tend to find it easier to “push it off” to the IT guy to work it out.

“You’ll probably find with a lot of IT people when they are supporting offices that there are [tasks] that they’re wondering why they’re doing it, but I guess it just goes with the nature of the environment,” says Ryall.


One help call response could also be an opportunity to re-train users about a specific IT system, says one Toronto-based IT administrator. “Because I also like to educate my users, whenever there’s an issue, I always take an extra 10 to 15 minutes to conduct quick, on-the-spot training,” explains J.J. Collins, who works at public relations and communications firm GCI Group.

Although she supports a smaller user group of about 30 employees, Collins’ challenges are not very different from Ryall’s. She spends about 70 per cent of her time on user support — from printer jam problems to making visual presentations, in which case her background in Art studies usually comes in handy.

In addition to the regular desktop support, Collins’ day usually involves going through backup tapes and ensuring that the network is running smoothly.

“When it comes to help calls, I’m non-stop. There’s always exciting opportunities and new problems to solve for me,” says Collins. If it almost sounds like she’s happy with her job, that’s because she is. And a large part of that is because she enjoys the support of management on IT-related initiatives.

“[Management is] jumping on the opportunity to put some cutting-edge technology in place here,” she says. This attitude inspires her to constantly search for fresh ideas in technology that can improve productivity and efficiency at her company, she says.

Having previously worked in the same capacity in two other companies — one at a Disney animation firm and the other at an advertising agency — Collins says IT staff tend to have greater flexibility on new ideas in a smaller environment.

“When I worked for the animated film (company), there was an IT team of 18 people. In a place like that, there’s already an idea set out when we start with a project. There was no area for improvement or implementing something that might make it a bit better,” explains Collins.

For Collins, the most challenging part of her job is keeping everybody happy. And while she realizes that might often be difficult to achieve, she takes comfort in knowing that she does her best to “offer the best service” to her users.


For Sebastian Lee, an IT administrator at Toronto-based engineering consultancy RV Anderson Associates Ltd., the end-users are the customers that the IT department serves.

Lee, along with one IT assistant, manages RV Anderson’s Windows-based IT infrastructure with about 180 users in all of its six branches throughout Canada.

“When we work for the company, we work for the people here,” Lee says, adding that users often would rather talk to another person to fix the problem, rather than consult a Web-based troubleshooting guide, for instance.

Although RV Anderson’s IT infrastructure has the capability to do remote desktop support, Lee says he doesn’t mind physically going to the desktop to perform on-site troubleshooting.

To Lee, what challenges him is not the amount of desktop support that needs to be done, but ensuring that IT resources are running properly in order to provide the services that the employees require to do their jobs.

“If the IT department is not functioning properly, nobody (among the staff) is working properly,” he explains.

Lee, who has been working at RV Anderson for six years, says the thing he likes most about his job is the satisfaction that he gets when people are happy with the service from their IT department.

For these three administrators, it’s the people that make a whole lot of difference.

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