I've always had the attitude that a well-trained, in-house end-user support person is your first line of defense against expensive third-party support calls. By using the troubleshooting techniques described in this article, you'll be able to inform your contracted support that you've done all the easy stuff, and now it's time to call in the experts. You should always hand the external support person a list of things you've done to remedy the situation before he arrives then leave him alone.
Many well-meaning in-house support folks love to "talk tech" with these per-hour experts who are only, in most cases, too happy to oblige. Once the external support person resolves the matter, ask for a written report of the problem and its resolution. Retain this information for future reference. It might be something you can fix yourself next time, and it's also a line of defense against additional charges should the same problem crop up again too soon.
Common Fixes for Common Problems
If you've ever followed a computer support person around, you might have noticed a standard set of "fixes" they try almost regardless of the problem description. The first technique is to reboot the computer. I know it's a Windows cliché but it exists for a reason: It fixes many common problems. Rebooting a computer refreshes its memory, reinitializes all peripherals, restarts all standard processes and programs, and presents you with a fresh start in your operating system. The first type of reboot to try is what's known as a "warm" boot. This is a simple restart of the computer without powering it off.
The second method is a "cold" boot, where you power off the computer and power it on again. This technique troubleshoots any power-related problems allowing all electronic and mechanical components to be refreshed from a "cold" state. Watch the computer reboot. Watch it shut down and watch it all the way back up until you're presented with a desktop with no hourglass. Don't go for the proverbial cup of coffee; it's very important that you watch everything as it happens-noting any errors, notifications or warnings and write them down. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how many problems are fixed by a simple reboot, and it costs you nothing more than a few minutes of your time.
Keep your disks free of clutter (Temporary files) and periodically optimize (Defragment) them for better performance. How often? Twice per month should suffice. Don't forget to do this same maintenance on your server systems to enhance their performance as well.
Encourage all employees to save their work to the server since backups run every night. Most applications have a default directory where data is stored alter that default directory to point to your server or some central system. You are making those nightly backups, aren't you? Verify backups once a month by restoring a single file or folder. Saving data to a remote system keeps your desktop systems free of clutter, lowers the risk of data loss and is another method of covering your assets.
Be Proactive to Avert Problems
There's nothing like preventative maintenance to act as an ounce of prevention to avoid spending a pound or three on a cure. Purchase an antivirus program and use it. Do not disable the antivirus services in any way. Virus cleanup costs more time and money than any other support function in computing environments today. Being proactive also means you'll need to make sure each desktop computer has the antivirus software setup to scan the entire local disk(s) once a day. The best antivirus software programs have e-mail, web, network and instant messaging protection capabilities.
You'll need a good spyware program, too. Unfortunately, most spyware programs have to be run manually, but at least you can do this instead of paying someone to do it. Do it on "off hours," and start the scan on all your computers at the same time to save time. You know you're infected with spyware when your computer runs inexplicably slow, you have strange pop-up ads showing up even when you don't have an Internet browser open, or you attempt to connect to a site but are redirected to a site that you didn't want. Often spyware programs deliver payloads that require manual intervention to remove; in those cases, call in a third-party professional.