I wonder if my readers get it... the idea that those people that help you, the front facing ones at least, shouldn't be kept behind closed doors and restrained by hierarchy. Instead, it's important for those people to be approachable. And I don't mean in terms of personality, though this is incredibly important, but more so on a cultural basis. An entity's culture can sometimes dictate who talks to who about what - scary as it may be.
I've been hearing the term "single point of contact" of late and it has me gritting my teeth. A single point of contact, when they get it in their head to control information, becomes a gate keeper. That gate keeper can grant or restrict access. Think in terms of the CEO's secretary. They're often put into a position where they're having to control the information getting through to the CEO. It becomes a necessity of the job to pick and choose what information goes to that horribly busy CEO who throws wobbly's at having information thrown at them.
So the gate keeper becomes a point of power. It also, strangely enough, can become a coveted position. The view of others to this position can be one of resentment, that they're not able to get their information to who it needs to go to, or awe, as they start seeing that as the real point of power.
So instead of me being able to be approached by anyone, and mostly at any time (there are provisos - I may be busy though I'll usually listen to what someone has to say, tell them I'll have to get back to them and come back to it at a more convenient time), I found myself being herded away.
The interaction between user and geek is incredibly important. Chances are there's going to be a synergy that has things just kind of working. The geek is happier because they can go straight to the source - i.e. less Chinese whispers type things going on - and the user is happier because they're not trying to sell that information to a third party who can then tell it to the geek.
It also takes something from the user. Instead of feeling empowered, they're feeling restrained. I'm all about empowerment... In fact, I was talking to a friend and telling him that even if the teachers don't all use the KttC sticks for reimaging a computer (changing passwords etc.) it's important that they're given every opportunity to step up and have a go. And sometimes it's an absolute disaster (last year there was one teacher that told me her stick didn't work. So I replaced it. The following week, again, she reported her stick wouldn't work. So I asked her to show me exactly what she was doing as I had tested that stick. It turns out it's easier to get a usb stick into an ethernet port...) but for the most part, once all of the little details have been sorted out, it's not that bad. The worst that happens is that teachers haven't reached for that capability. It's worse having not tried (and not having the confidence to do so) than to have made a mistake. The worse that can happen is that someone has to reimage the machine...
So my approach isn't considered best practice. A single point of contact is important and necessary BUT that single point of contact should not for a second think they should be trying to control information. Instead, they're a point of contact for the rest of the organisation. i.e. the geek should be able to tell that person about any outstanding issues, or anything that the entity should know (i.e. I'm sending a machine away for warranty). Your I.T. people will get much further by being able to talk to the right people.
And likewise, a geek should be giving that point of contact information that allows them to make decisions on issues such as:
- Have we got the right level of support? Could we do with less or do we need more?
- Are we getting the right sort of support? I think I mentioned previously that as computers become a normal part of learning (and aren't just taking up space in the back of a classroom) that everyday desktop support is likely to reduce (as people become more empowered) and the need for more professional development support increases as teachers and students alike push what they can do on a computer (hint: it doesn't all have to be presentations and word processing).
- Is our support working to our ends? i.e. are our users feeling supported.
So I guess you've got to ask yourselves... how does support work in our organisation? How can it be made better?