This article is the second in a series where we discuss “talking the talk” of the I.T. department, and share insights translated for all.
I.T. is at the core of any business, especially complicated operations like ski areas. When there are 3,000+ skiers on our slopes, you can almost hear the beat of our systems working—from the lift ticket in your pocket that also unlocks your hotel room door, to the website that provides in-room delivery, all the way to the point of sale that charges your credit card in the retail shop. Efficiently managing it all is critical. Otherwise, our I.T. team would be lost in daily break-and-fix service request tickets.
Between Jay Peak and Burke Mountain, our infrastructure includes 453 endpoints; two virtual environments, each with three physical servers and backing storage; four hotels; 315 condos; RFID gates; point-of-sale peripherals; more than 400 access points; 290 security cameras; network switches; TVs; IP phones, and so much more. We are also the internet service provider, TV, and phone company for 298 private condos—and we are only a team of five.
Like any I.T. department, ours always has a high volume of open tickets—386, on average, as we head into winter operations. A “ticket” is any end-user request or computer-related issue—from a malfunctioning keyboard to the accounting director asking for a new accounting system. Most of us love to ski, so the more we can automate and stay ahead of, the more we get to play.
Keeping up with the workload requires efficient time management, visibility of our systems, remote access, and automation. We use a robust I.T. management solution called Kaseya that allows my team to do all of this, and more. Kaseya is also the system through which end users (i.e., staff and guests) submit tickets to the I.T. department.
Fluid communication as a department and with your end users is also critical. Human beings are the I.T. department’s customers, after all.
A strong relationship with your end users is imperative. They should feel comfortable reaching out to the I.T. staff. If we are friends with the end users, they communicate better, they don’t find workarounds for items that could become very problematic over time, and they come to us with the occasional, “I think I might have clicked on something I shouldn’t have”—rather than us finding out when half the network shuts down.
Managing the Workload
About half of our open tickets are non- critical, and are left open as reminders to update documentation, update a procedure, change a hostname, report on possible repeat issues, and more.
Of the rest, the tickets that have potential to impact business operations —those from guests, for office or POS relocations, or adding new staff, to cite a few examples—are then prioritized. Everything else is queued by submission date.
If the ticket involves a guest (phone, TV, or internet not working) we like to resolve it within two hours of when the issue was reported. If a POS is down and is causing a line or impacting sales for a profit center, one of us will drop whatever we are doing and jump right on the ticket. As the team supervisor, I monitor incoming tickets and communicate to the team if something needs to be addressed immediately.
Any employee can create a ticket from any POS or workstation on property by clicking on the Kaseya Agent icon and entering, at minimum, a subject line before submitting. The ticket is then tied to the machine, allowing us to track any repeat issues or forecast signs of hardware failure. This is an important feature of any I.T. management solution.
If a condo owner has phone, TV, or internet service issues, they can send an email to a dedicated address, which automatically creates a ticket in our system and bypasses a call to the front desk staff, who may be too busy to redirect the issue to I.T. Updates or status changes to a ticket automatically generate an e-mail to the submitter—guest or staff—with the change or update from the assigned technician.
If you can, automate everything possible—tracking, software updates, security, reporting, etc.
In addition to I.T. service ticketing, we use Kaseya for endpoint management. Our endpoints create their own tickets for drive failures, maxed disk space, or network connection issues, which allows us to be ahead of tickets before the end user runs into an issue.
Sophos, our antivirus software, automatically isolates a machine from the network if there is a possible threat. Three Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) servers deliver monthly Windows updates to all endpoints, and we utilize group policy to schedule distribution of patches.
These are just a few examples of the jobs we automate. Each produces automated status reports upon completion, and if there were any failures or issues during the process. I would much rather spend my morning reading these reports over a hot cup of coffee than have my team do the process repeatedly every day or month.
The more tickets you can close without leaving your desk, the more productive a team can be. If the tools and documentation are in place, “sneakernet”—I.T. speak for traveling to resolve an issue—should only be necessary for issues with cabling, network connectivity, or hardware failure/deployments.
Kaseya Agent software allows us to remote into any machine it’s installed on. Prior to having remote access to our points of sale and end-user computers, we spent hours a day traveling across the resort.
We can remotely manage other parts of our system thanks to detailed documentation of what is where. For example, every other hotel room and condo at Jay has a wireless access point that delivers guest wi-fi—and we know where each one is thanks to solid documentation of the system.
Attempting remote management without this documentation could actually be counterproductive. We’d spend more time trying to figure out where the hardware or issue is from our desks before eventually going to the location to solve something.
With the system mapped out, though, if a guest reports wi-fi issues, we know where and what the issue might be before leaving our desks—and can oftentimes solve it with a phone call. This strategy applies to almost all the incoming tickets we receive.
Most of the time we find that working with our end users and guests before heading into the field allows us to either resolve the issue remotely, or be more prepared heading into the field with the right tools and knowledge of the situation. Rarely do we feel we are going in blind to solve an issue.
See the Bigger Picture
Without the proper tools and utilities, small I.T. departments can succumb to an avalanche of service delivery failures and productivity pitfalls. The key to juggling it all and keeping the puzzle together is in the tools and documenting procedures an I.T. department implements to see the bigger picture of its systems. Having clear visibility into your core systems is vital, as well as automated logs and alerts that allow you to keep an eye on your systems while juggling daily break-fix issues.
Put it all together, and a productive day for the I.T. team can also include tired legs and ear-to-ear smiles after playing in the snow.