AQA Information and Communication Technology/ICT4/User Support

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User support is now a crucial part of most commercial packages available today. As software becomes more and more complex, users require support in order to use the software.

A good level of support will cost the company more money, but this can be passed on in either the purchase costs, or in a yearly subscription. However, the company's reputation will improve if it has a reputation for good support.

Support comes in various forms.

Help desk[edit]

A help desk is a form of expert system, or knowledge base. It contains a clever search system, and users can also browse categories to see if their problem has been documented. All common problems, and a lot of not-so-common problems are documented on a help desk.

Technical support line[edit]

This is a telephone support line manned by real people, who normally access a knowledge base and walk people through procedures.

Technical support lines are often manned by experts who may have difficulty communicating with managers and business users.

On-screen help[edit]

This is normally context sensitive. For example, pressing F1 will bring up the help screen for the task you're currently attempting to perform.

Also, on-screen tutorials and wizards exist to make the package easier to use by walking the user through tasks.

On-site support[edit]

This is where the developers attend on-site to assist people with their software installations. This only typically happens with large/complex orders, or with custom software, as the cost of such support is very high.

Patches/bug fixes[edit]

If a company discovers a bug in their software, they may release a patch that fixes that image. Patches are typically distributed over the Internet, or on CD-ROM from a technical support line.

Peer support[edit]

This is where usergroups exist (mainly on forums or Usenet) who help people with problems.

BBS[edit]

This is an area of the Internet where files and upgrades to items are shared, there are typically also message boards here where peer support and also technical support takes place

Mailing lists[edit]

Similar to a message board, if you subscribe to a mailing list, then you receive a copy of all e-mails sent to it.

Documentation[edit]

There are different levels of documentation for different levels of user. This is typically paper or PDF based.

  • Installation documentation
  • System documentation (explanation on dataflows, database schema, etc.)
  • Software documentation (how to use specific features)
  • Operational documentation (day-to-day running of the system)

Training[edit]

A company needs well-trained employees who can execute their job efficiently. Training can either be for new employees (induction training) or existing employees (if jobs change, there's new technology or new procedures).

Well trained employees are more likely to get promoted (and are therefore better motivated) and have a better-defined career path. Training can lead to:

  • Increased sales
  • Better service
  • Better products
  • Better safety
  • Lower staff turnover

Different levels of users need different levels of training (workers, middle management, senior management, etc.).

Senior managers who understand ICT are more likely to make better informed decisions than their less well informed colleagues on matters such as the corporate IS strategy.

Middle managers need to ensure that IT systems are used efficiently, and also implement the IS strategy.

For workers, the level of training depnds on their level of responsibility and skill. They can use

  • skills-based training, for developing general IT skills
  • task-based training, for things specific to the IS employed

Even experienced users need to learn new skills if the system changes, so skill-refreshing is also an important part.

There are two main training methods:

  1. Computer based - this it is often very cost effective for large groups of people and ensures a consistent standard of training. Users can also work at their own pace and when work is slow.
  2. Instructor based - delivered by experienced instructors and has a personal touch, meaning people are more motivated.

There are other training methods, mainly:

  • Video training
  • Interactive video training
  • On line tutorials
  • Step by step guides