Tag: tech support

Ditching GLPI

The recent bad experience with GLPI we had at work was the final nail in the coffin and, after patching the issue, I quickly began looking for alternative ticket management systems. We have wanted a new helpdesk for a long time – the support we provide has evolved over the years since GLPI was first introduced and with the covid-19 pandemic this support has seen yet another shift in the way in which we work. Not only are we doing things differently now, some unrecognised or unrealised issues have surfaced which we all wish to resolve or automate away.

We struggled through the worst of the lockdown but quickly identified some limitations with our existing way of working, namely that whilst our helpdesk did fine enough when it came to tracking tickets, it should do more for us. We spent a lot of time on the management of tickets and attempting to contact people just to get them to perform simple tasks. Why do we have to fight our helpdesk to achieve a goal, and why can’t we have a system that would let us run these simple tasks (read: scripts) ourselves in the background, invisibly to the end user?

I did some reading and some thinking post-GLPI-exploit and realised that we are essentially an MSP. We provide support for departments within a school, each of which has different objectives, priorities, demands and tools. Plus, we support several primary schools on top of that, and they are their own beasts entirely with unique networks, hardware and software, let alone processes and requirements.

As we emerge from total lockdown to a lesser version, we are also going to need to do our normal jobs but much more efficiently. With a “remote first” approach to minimise risk to our end users (both staff and students, but also guardians and members of the public) I quickly decided to look into RMM tools instead of basic ticketing systems.

Given that we also had issues in other areas (namely monitoring and alerting, in that what we have is barebones and actually broke a month ago) I was looking out for a solution that would kill as many birds with as few stones as possible.

The requirements were that it had:

  • A ticketing system
  • Monitoring and alerting
  • Patching, installing and scripting capabilities
  • Easy remote support
  • A good price (hey, we’re a school and don’t pass the cost on to the end user, we don’t have a lot of money!)

I found a list of RMM tools and their features on the /r/MSP subreddit and went through each one, checking videos, documentation and feature lists working out which would obviously not work, which might work, and which would absolutely work. I narrowed down the options to four potentials. In the end, only two of them had a “per technician” pricing model – the “per monitored device/agent” pricing model would end up costing us tens of thousands – so it came down to a war between the two. These were:

To be honest they were a close match. I preferred the look and feel of Atera although SyncroMSP was more feature rich. We didn’t really need all the features SyncroMSP boasted though, and Atera was cheaper (we’re on the cheapest plan) so ended up going with that.

Although we haven’t rolled out the agent to every device yet (we’re still mostly closed and until we have the agent installed have no way of deploying software out to machines not on our network) we have started using it heavily. So far, zero problems and we are all liking it. It has already enabled us to preempt some problems that would become tickets, solving them before they ever affect an end user or get reported. I’m looking forward to diving into it more, I am especially excited about the recently announced Chocolatey support, which seems to work wonderfully.

It’s early days yet, hopefully we can become much more efficient and provide a better service. Only time will tell!

Videos not loading in Google Drive

TL;DR: Check that Third Party Cookies are enabled in Chrome and/or G Suite Device Management user settings.

We use Google Drive a lot at work. We are also beginning to use video as a method of training or recording information that you would typically write down. We do still write this stuff down, but sometimes a video is easier to create and consume alongside a document.

We’ve had an issue recently where, seemingly randomly, some people wouldn’t be able to play any videos through Google Drive. They’d open the video and the youtube video player would load, but the video itself wouldn’t start.

Right clicking and downloading the video worked, but that’s not really a suitable workaround to the issue.

We weren’t really able to find anything online about this issue either, but we did find out what caused it so if someone else searches, here’s what we did to resolve the issue.

(more…)

Tech Support Management: Projects, Respect, and PlayStation 4’s

I am incredibly privileged to work with a team of technical support folks who not only get along very well, but actively support each other on a daily basis. As the manager of this team, it is my duty to ensure they are being supported in every way possible by the workplace itself as well as the other teams within the organisation. This is a very delicate balancing act that I have yet to master.

Often, this ‘support’ means answering questions, taking responsibility for issues or working behind the scenes to enable the team to do their job effectively. A lot of the work I do (that isn’t GDPR related, and there’s a lot of that) is aimed at improving the quality of the work we do as a team, which in turn improves the quality of work the rest of the organisation is able to achieve.

Unfortunately, this kind of ‘enabling’ work that I or my team do is often invisible to both the organisation ah large as well as the team itself. It can take many meetings and a long time to get anywhere in management as everything on the organisation level often happens too quickly to react to, or takes such a long time that any progress that is made is barely noticeable to anyone not involved. Either way, this work is often isolated into individual projects, each of which requires lots of careful thought and consideration before any work can be started.

The first step in any project is to figure out if it is even worth it. Whatever the idea or project is, you have got to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. These reasons are varied, it could be cost saving or efficiency improvements, or the introduction of something new, such as a product, feature or resource.

Understanding the purpose is key to progressing into the planning stages. These plans could outline the single task required for the implementation of smaller projects or building a fully fledged project plan for larger endeavours, such as to introduce new technology or rebuild some core infrastructure. Whatever it is, planning is important, takes time, and happens invisibly to anyone not directly involved.

Working in the public sector, money is often the deciding factor when it comes to projects or general progress and change. Producing an effective budget is something that I am constantly improving on. It sucks up quite a lot of my time, however at the end of the day all that everyone else sees is a number that they can spend up to. It’s my job to make sure these numbers stay within certain bounds and do not change too much, and to also keep an eye on the state of things to see if any cost savings can be made. Doing this is quite time consuming and can often be invisible to the casual observer.

So there’s an idea for a project that you believe will be good for the organisation, those teams that it directly affects know that it will be great to do, and with luck you know that the money will be there (as it’s always worth getting buy-in from the finance team first!) The next step is trying to convince everyone else in the decision making chain that your idea or project is worth both the time to bother actually implementing as well as the money you want to spend on it. Working towards this “yes” from each person often requires background tasks, sometimes these involve the team in ways they don’t recognise, too…

Quite often I’ll ask my team to perform a string of seemingly unrelated jobs or to focus on a certain type of issue in order to affect the outcome of some discussion about a project I know will occur in the future. There’s an element of “keeping certain people happy” which unfortunately ties in to this, too, but I try very hard to treat everyone as equals, and certainly avoid treating anyone as inferior or less important. As anyone who has worked in a technical support role will know, this is a very difficult thing to do. That one customer who always brings you snacks and tasty treats? It’ll be near impossible for your team to not give them preferential treatment. That other customer who is constantly rude and abusive? Incredibly hard to work with and support effectively.

But that’s my job. Give the treats to the team, take the abuse so it doesn’t hit my colleagues. And get all the invisible management/planning/budgeting stuff done to enable the continual improvement of the organisation as a whole. Oh, and again, there’s a whole boatload of GDPR stuff to deal with, too.

It is difficult, tiring work. I am by no means perfect of course, but I like to think I’m generally successful in doing my invisible work. I always strive to improve and do better for the team and the rest of the organisation.

Unfortunately the team doesn’t often see what I get up to day to day. I’m often out in meetings or deep into spreadsheets, only to occasionally request work from them, seemingly for random reasons or for no reason at all. I’ve been on the other side of this and I know it can be quite frustrating. Communication with the team is key here, and I am always looking for ways to foster this within the team, but especially when it comes to myself communicating with the team members about what I’m up to and where all our work is heading.

Having their respect and support is important to me and I encourage open criticism, however it is very hard for me to measure how well I am doing with the team. It’s one thing to complete projects, but knowing that a team of people are happy with me (or not) is something I have yet to really figure out. It’s something I worry about quite a bit, actually.

So it came as a shock to me on the last day of work in 2018 when I arrived to find that the team had secretly set up a treasure hunt in the workplace filled with riddles and puzzles.

The team had come together and planned this months ago, contributing towards a gift, then working on the clues over the last couple of weeks and setting it all up without any indication to me that it was happening. All out of hours, I should add! After the dozens of clues and puzzles, the final clue led me to a box with a wrapped up Christmas present in it.

That present? It was a PlayStation 4 with four games. Yeah.

It blew me away. It was the last thing I ever expected anyone – let alone the team at work – to gift me. Despite my initial refusal to accept it, I now have it connected up to the 11-year-old 720p 40″ TV (which is now due an upgrade to at least a 1080p model thanks to the PS4) and have been enjoying it every single day of the holiday period.

The four games are:

  • The Last of Us (remastered)
  • Uncharted 4
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Shadow of the Colossus (remastered)

To top it off, my partner has known about this for months and got me God of War for Christmas. She somehow kept it secret the whole time. I had no idea this was happening, even up until holding the thing in my hands. It still blows my mind that anyone would do this for me.

Clearly, I must be doing something right!

I’ve had a PS3 since release, but it died around six months ago. Not that I played any games on it anymore, it was a glorified Netflix box. Normally my gaming was done on a PC, however that too had suffered from age. The newest component is at least 4 years old so it’s not able to run modern games too well, but the PSU has also failed and I haven’t yet replaced it.

I used to play video games a lot, however since moving out I’ve been rather preoccupied with all the renovating and cleaning. I still dabble, though. I’ve been playing a little bit of Borderlands 1 & 2 and The Witcher 3, which I have been running on a borrowed laptop. Since the PS3 died, Netflix was being run through Firefox on Linux Mint which I installed on my partner’s low-to-mid-end-at-release laptop that’s ageing quite rapidly.

As you can probably guess, this has now changed. I’m still a PCMR at heart, but the ease of playing on a console and the fact that it’s the only reliable access to gaming I have, PLUS the fact that it’s the most modern bit of technology I own, means that I am now back on the gaming scene. There are a lot of current gen games I’ve missed out on, plus some really awesome looking PlayStation exclusives that I can now play.

I suspect, though, that this gaming will be infrequent once the holiday period is over. I will still make time for it of course!

In fact, I plan on writing reviews of the games I play on here. They may not all be modern games, nor will they be overly professional or likely to contain anything new, but I have plans for a “media review” feature for this site that has now opened up quite significantly in scope with the addition of modern video games. There’s no better time to start than now!

The first game review will be Uncharted 4 as I have already completed it.

If any of the team from work eventually come across this: thank you. Now get back to work 😁