Support relief – how automation eliminated most of our manual management tasks




  By John Berkoski - Head of Consulting, PointBeyond Ltd




 Our consulting business focuses on developing advanced SharePoint-based business solutions for customers who want to get more out of their existing SharePoint installations. We knew we were good at it by the number of repeat customers we were seeing!

Sometimes customers wanted additional solutions, but on occasion they wanted general support – a trustworthy resource they could ring up for quick advice, help with troubleshooting, or for additional enhancements for their solutions. Our support service was created as a result.

To date, we had been using a home-grown set of SharePoint sites and lists to manage our support cases. In the beginning, with just a few support customers, the caseload was easy enough to manage. However as we added more support customers, the amount of case management time required seemed to increase exponentially and before long we were spending more time managing cases than actually resolving them.

Fortunately, we were able to “eat our own dog food” by capitalising on our own expertise in helping customers with workflow solutions. In literally little more than a day, five members of our consulting team were able to create a number of workflow-based mechanisms to assist us with support case initiation, updates and reporting. We were able to deliver the solution this quickly because of the benefits that working with workflow offers over traditional software development. We now have a fully automated case management system that eliminates most of the manual management tasks that had been encumbering us.

How did we build the solution so quickly, you may be wondering? We blocked out a day for part of our team to meet at an off-site location to bash out a solution for our growing support business. Our day started with a couple of hours of planning, where we discussed requirements, did some white-boarding and wrote lots of user stories on sticky notes. We then divided up the work, and by lunchtime we had our first processes completed.

We continued to iterate through the backlog of screens, processes and reports and by the end of the day we successfully achieved our goal of a fully functional new support system. More remarkably, we were able to achieve this through out-of-box functionality, with a bit of SharePoint Designer magic thrown in, and with no custom code whatsoever. We’re now piloting the system in anticipation of a full rollout once the system has stabilised.

When fully rolled out, our customers will benefit from the following new automated features:

· Automatic acknowledgement when a support case has been received and assigned

· Automatic updates when we start or make progress on a case

· Periodic updates on all open cases with latest status brief

· Notifications when we become aware of critical updates from Microsoft

Additionally, our team members will also benefit from new, automated features as well:

· Notification when a case is assigned to a team member

· Periodic reminders of open cases assigned to a team member

· Notification when a customer accepts a resolved case as closed

· Robust reporting on aged and closed cases

As a footnote, this development effort was a bit typical to our normal customer-facing engagements, so the “done in a day” headline is perhaps a bit misleading. In addition to the efforts of the day, we needed a bit of advance planning for both development infrastructure and system design. The system also required testing and a few tweaks here and there. We wrote little documentation. Even the day of development represented a five man-day effort for a typical consulting engagement. That aside, that we were still able to build a complete bespoke business application in days rather than weeks or months is still quite remarkable!

Providing this level of service to our customers and team would have otherwise required that we hire a full-time support administrator to assist me with managing cases and creating reports. Instead, with a small bit of workflow automation, testing and deployment, we were able to create a bespoke, professional quality support solution that allows us to once again focus our time on resolving customer issues instead of managing them. Oh, what a relief!

About the Author

John Berkoski, Head of Consulting, PointBeyond Ltd

John has over twenty years’ experience of leading and delivering SharePoint and bespoke software solutions to large and small clients in a wide variety of industry areas. He manages the PointBeyond delivery team and oversees the management of projects.

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