- Updating, upgrading or installing software or hardware across an enterprise, department, or group
- Potential for disaster
There are almost as many different ways to handle a rollout as there are organizations. Sooner or later, however, desktop support gets involved. Whether it’s a hardware “refresh” that requires at least some deskside work or a push of one or more software packages across the network, it needs to be planned, tested, piloted, and executed in an agreed manner and within an agreed time frame.
If a rollout goes well, the support organization shines. But, if unexpected snags, delays, and technical issues occur, the organization suffers and no one in support (or even IT in general) looks good.
If a rollout goes well, the support organization shines.
Rollouts are projects, meaning that they have a specified beginning and duration. Because they require concentrated effort to complete work within the specified time, they might require extra hands. The rest of the workload doesn’t go away; desktop support can’t defer repairing, installing, advising, moving, or any of the other functions it fulfills.
One way to augment the staff during rollouts is to use contractors. Contractors should not be confused with consultants. Contractors act very much like temporary employees, and the hiring process is analogous. Consultants, on the other hand, are brought in “when the company has a need and either isn't able, doesn't wish to, or doesn't know how to take care of it—and doesn't have time or desire to figure it out,” Meredith Little explains.
Bringing contractors in to assist desktop support in defined circumstances can be very beneficial.
Types of Contractors
Generally, contractors fall into one of two categories. They are either individuals—whether independent or from a staffing firm—or they are a company whose employees will be used to augment existing staff.
If a group of contractors with similar skills is needed for the project, bringing a company in is generally the best option, and has some advantages:
- Usually, the company has some type of identifying clothing, such as polo shirts. This separates them clearly from your internal staff and can help minimize fallout from any less-than-desirable experiences.
- If there is an issue with a particular member of the contractor’s team, a phone call to the company saying, “Don’t bring XY with you when you come back tomorrow,” is usually sufficient.
As with any engagement, make sure that you obtain references from other customers who have had similar work done.
Individuals, whether independent or from a staffing firm, should be interviewed in a manner similar to a prospective employee for the same reasons:
- Are they a good fit with the team?
- If you had a position open, would you hire this person? [Note: Bringing in contractors is one way to get a “try before you buy” experience with staff.]
Although bringing in individuals may require more work on the part of managers (group, department or project), there are advantages as well:
- If specific skills are currently lacking internally, individuals having those skills can be brought in. If this is the case, have a method of knowledge transfer ready so that the skills can be brought in-house and the knowledge remains when the contractor leaves.
- If specific certifications are needed for a project, you can bring in individuals having the certifications without the training and certification expense.
- If work is required at a site or sites not convenient to the internal team, contractors near the target location can fill the gap.
- With individuals rather than a subcontracted group, there will likely be more supervisory control by the internal managers.
Some Projects, But Not All
Not all projects or project tasks are suitable for contractors, but rather are better handled by staff. The use of contractors is advisable when:
- There is a high volume of low-level work, such as unboxing computers during a hardware refresh
- Specialized skills are needed for the duration of the project
- There is a need for staff augmentation
- To release staff for project work while contractors perform day-to-day tasks
- There is changing workflow (i.e., peaks and valleys of demand) during the project
- To shorten the project timeline
- To cover geographic areas the staff team cannot cover
On the other hand, contractors are probably not suitable for projects that:
- Require high customer “touch”
- Require or occasion exposure to confidential information
- Require work in mission-critical areas where security, safety, and/or regulatory compliance are of high concern
- When deep knowledge of organizational culture is required
As with any project involving multiple groups, clear and defined communication between the group, department, or unit managers and the project manager are necessary. The use of a RACI matrix can clarify roles and make lines of communication easier to identify and establish.
From the outset, the project plan should define the number of contractors required, the necessary skills, the location(s), the beginning and ending dates for the work, the required tools, the hours of work (e.g., night or day), and the transportation requirements (including any reimbursements for travel).
Contractors’ fees or wages should be negotiated or determined by the hiring organization, usually by or with human resources (HR) involvement or control. Background checks should be performed. If the contractors are being hired through a staffing firm, that firm should assume responsibility for the checks. Any credentials—such as certifications—should be verified as well.
The onboarding process for contractors is similar to that for incoming employees.
Once the work begins, contractors should be closely supervised by staff, and staff should be readily available for questions and direction. The contractors should be making regular contributions to the organization’s knowledge repository and should be providing detailed status reports at defined checkpoints during the project. Contractors should be debriefed at the end of the project to determine:
- What went right?
- What went wrong?
- What could have been done differently and/or better?
Any HR-type issues with contractors during the project should be documented in writing, and any responses from the staffing firm or contracting company should also be in writing. These issues, if any, should be dealt with as rapidly as possible so as not to derail the project work or create discord on the extended project team.
Project progress and outcomes should be reported up to senior managers and out to the extended teams so there is a transparent record of the work, the methods, and the people. Any open issues should be resolved by the end of the project, including any work remaining. The project manager should work to provide a smooth transfer out of the project phase and into operational work.
Note: This article is based on discussions that took place within the
HDI Desktop Support Forum
Roy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for SupportWorld articles and white papers. In addition to being a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee and the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board, Roy is a popular speaker at HDI conferences and is well known to HDI local chapter audiences. His background is in both service desk and desktop support as well as small-business consulting. Roy is highly rated on social media, especially on the topics of IT service management and customer service. He is a cohost of the very popular #custserv (customer service) chat on Twitter, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on December 9, 2014. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.