Public Relations and Effective Communication Strategies
July 22, 2001
by Dana Daugherty
Public relations is a key concern in the world of SMS administration. Practicing good communication strategies can help to improve your image. This article covers communication in the work environment, and offers some effective vehicles for convey informationing to end users and IT staff.
Practicing good communication will help you to become a respected member of your staff. Unfortunately, a few poor choices in this area can be quite hard to overcome. As SMS administrators, we have the responsibility of communicating with end users and other IT staff members. It's important for this communication to be timely, professional, and understandable.
FROM THE USER'S POINT OF VIEW.....
Anything that may change workstations in any way, while users are accessing them, needs to be communicated. This includes, but is not limited to, software distribution, SMS software upgrades, and remote control.
When it comes to the power to really tick someone off, software distribution is in a class all by itself. Generally, users don't appreciate having someone forcing them to install software in the middle of the work day. They also don't like having their workstation disabled by an upgrade they didn't want in the first place. Oh, and users really hate surprises of this nature. A "warning" e-mail a few days in advance will help prepare them for upcoming distributions. (it will also serve to cover your tail when they complain to your boss). In the message provide some particulars such as when the process will occur and exactly what they can expect to experience.
SMS client software upgrades can sap a machine's performance. Several processes are occurring and multiple reboots may be necessary. Don't just hope they won't notice. Go to the lab, find out what will happen, and then let you users know what to expect, before they experience it.
When an organization begins using remote control (rc), users' first reaction is the "Big Brother Syndrome". Through proper communication, and setting a few basic guidelines, you can deflate this response. Users need to know that rc is simply a tool used by support staff to better serve them. Some guidelines could include contacting your users before starting a session. This can be done by phone, e-mail or chat (via remote tools). Also, snooping through a user's personal files shouldn't be tolerated. It may be wise to restrict support staff from remote controlling workstations in your company belonging to executives.
In this section I'll cover a few methods that I use to communicate to our staff and users. The methods that I use for staff communication include e-mail distribution lists, an intranet site, open issues docs, weekly status updates, and instant messenger (IM) messages. For end users I tend to use a combination of e-mail and HTML pages.
Distribution lists are a great way to keep your SMS staff members "in the know". You can then archive the messages to this list for documentation. The archive becomes a real time saver when you need to refer back to an issue. Because we have my support staff members at different sites, we use IM frequently to communicate. IM saves us time and money.
The intranet site has been a great way to centralize all our information. From this site I have links to project plans, available packages, support docs, training docs, Altiris Web Administrator, and SMS Web Reports. I also make requests to support staff to list information on Excel spreadsheets. I Web-enable the spreadsheets and place links on the intranet. There is no limit to the solutions that an intranet site can provide.
An open issues document can help you in many ways. Mine includes an open issues section and a history section. Each entry includes date opened\closed, staff member assigned, and a details section. Having this document helps keep the SMS admins focused. Other IT staff can look at this to see the status of issues that may concern them. Others can see progress that we have made. It is good support for hiring more SMS staff. The document is handy to use during annual review periods as well.
I send a weekly update e-mail\newsletter to all our IT staff. This is actually a htm doc with links etc. The content includes any information about upcoming SMS events, such as; software distribution, SMS upgrades, support tools, policies, or any other changes that may effect them. The update also highlights open SMS issues that we may have worked on in the last week and\or new issues that have been added to the list.
We tend to send htm pages, via e-mail, to communicate with end users also. This method allows us to use plenty of dialog box screenshots for illustration without "blowing up" anyone's mail box.