Friday, June 10, 2011

SOP Friday: Approved Tools

Many people have a "wild west" view of the tools they use in their business. Their approach amounts to this: Hire good people and let them do their thing. That sounds great, but it has a few problems. I think it's much better to have a list of "Approved Tools" that are used in your business.

SOP Friday: Approved Tools

- Overview -

There is one very strong argument to be made for having an approved set of tools (software programs) that you use in your company: Standardization means higher profit, more predictability, and fewer problems.

The primary arguments against having a standard, well-defined set of tools are:
1) You might not have "the best" tool on your list
2) Things change fast, so the best tool might change, and then you won't be using it

Basically, these arguments represent fear that there's some "better" thing out there and you should be using it. Fine. You should have a process for evaluating and adding tools to your list. But you cannot simply let technicians use whatever they want.

The primary problem with letting technicians do whatever they want are:

1) You cannot reproduce the work. That means you can't properly troubleshoot if you don't know which tools are used. You can replicate problems. You can't replicate success!

2) The Internet is filled with spyware, viruses, and a LOT of really crappy, poorly-written homemade tools that you can download for free. Thanks to the wonders of modern programming, almost anyone can write a poorly behaved software program that can cripple a server by accident.

Approved tools means that you have some kind of a process for determining when a tool can be used in your business. For example, the most common kinds of tools on your "approved" list will be:

- Any tool distributed by Microsoft
- Any tool distributed by your preferred Anti-Virus vendor
- Tools you've purchased or licensed
- Services you subscribe to

For many years we have preferred the tools and "widgets" distributed by Microsoft. Even if they come with a warning that they're not supported, we believe they are vetted in large part by wide-spread usage. Robocopy is an example of such a tool.

What you don't want is for a technician to Google something, download whatever looks good, install it on a client network, and destroy the client's system. Obviously, that's the worst case scenario.

Much more commonly, an old or poorly-written tool can replace a key .dll and cause problems that lie dormant and are difficult to trace.

Many legitimate tools are also troublesome. For example, we used to use Belarc advisor many years ago. But their licensing is very clear that it is not intended for consultants to install wherever they want and make money without paying anything to Belarc. That's why they have a professional subscription.

More importantly, we have Zenith agents on all of our client machines. So there's no reason for a technician to install something else. Belarc reports don't draw data from Zenith, provide data to Zenith, or provide us with key information that's not already in Zenith. So there's no point in installing one more program to get data we're already getting. The tech should learn and use the approved tool.

Another minor argument for letting techs use whatever tool they want is that they will use tools they know well and are comfortable with, so they will work faster. Maybe. In reality, this is often a license to go fishing on the Internet to find something new and cool. The first choice should be an approved tool.

Here's another example: There are a hundred places you could go to look up Event ID notices and what they mean. The "easiest" is simply Google. But with Google, the tech is likely to wander down several rabbit holes before he finds the right answer. And now that Google indexes every tech support forum on earth, your technician will likely read hundreds of posts that simply say "Yeah, I have the same problem."

If you have an approved tool such as, the tech is much more likely to spend time on task and solve the problem quickly.

- Benefits and Notes -

As with most SOPs, the goal is to increase overall success as a TEAM. That means that you can go from machine to machine, client to client, and know that you won't run into a different set of minor issues with each computer because of the hodge-podge of tools being used.


Note, please, that you don't need a long list here. In fact, you need a short list. What do you use for . . .

- Anti-Virus
- Special virus fix-ups
- Hard drive recovery
- Registry maintenance
- Password locker
- File maintenance and sizing
- ISO imaging
- Screen captures
- System Information
- Patch Management
- Remote Access

These probably cover 95% of all issues you deal with. It may not make sense to have standardized tools for other things because you will use them so seldomly. And, depending on what you do on a daily basis, you might not need all of these.

- Forms -

This SOPs is not implemented with forms, but with a software directory. Whether on Sharepoint, a cloud storage area, or on your own server via a mapped drive, you should have a directory that contains your tools. For items with installable files and license keys, you'll create sub-directories.

This policy is implemented with a brief memo outlining the approved tools and where they're stored.

As with all other policies, it's important that members of the team help to remind each other of the policy, and to implement it.

Your Comments Welcome.


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1 comment:

  1. Those are some great points. I work for Symantec, and another challenge our customers are facing is the proliferation of different devices and computing models within their organizations. This leads to a greater need for an approved list of software programs and timely software request fulfillment. The Consumerization of IT trend is contributing to two main business problems: security and manageability – both of which can be overcome with the right set of IT tools. For more information, check out our blog post:


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