Streamlining Systems Management to Improve IT Operations and Bottom Line

How US Synthetic saved thousands of hours in user productivity and made end users happy.

To achieve the maximum benefit from technology, businesses need to be strategic about the products and solutions they implement. Here's our story, introducing how systems management technology improved our overall business.

US Synthetic leads the industry in the development and manufacturing of polycrystalline diamond cutters for oil and gas exploration. Our business is comprised of manufacturing, business and sales. Supporting the business is our small IT team of four, which in turn manages approximately 400 computer stations that run around the clock, and are integral aspects to ensuring our business runs smoothly.

Plagued by Slow 'Tech Support" and Missing Company Assets

As with most large companies, there are huge user demands for tech support at US Synthetic. Our previous service desk operation was flawed largely manual, and in most cases forcing users to wait several hours or longer for help, which resulted in unhappy employees and lost revenue. One reason for the slowdown in service was the lack of early notification of a system problem. For example, in most cases, it took a system to completely break down before an IT team member knew something was wrong.

Because service desk was performed manually in the past, we spent a lot of time walking the plant floor learning about and treating computer incidents on the spot. Sometimes we'd literally have a line, and needless to say, a lot of grumpy end-users.

Another cause of revenue loss was ineffective IT asset management methods. IT asset management is the set of business practices that join financial, contractual and inventory functions to support the overall business infrastructure and is a key component of strategic decision making for the IT environment. For example, assets for US Synthetics include all software, hardware and license agreements in use within the business environment. Without a set asset management process in place, we lost sight of inventory, which not only forced us to physically have to look for lost computer items, wasting a lot of time, but our team's lack of knowledge of what was "running under the covers" made strategic budget decisions tougher to make and often led to less-than-satisfactory budget allocation for the IT department.

In the past, we would easily spend up to 25 hours per week manually searching for what we believed was lost IT assets, such as computers and printers. Managing license compliance was also a time and resource consuming of a project, and more than once, we were penalized by our software vendors for not staying within our contractual compliance. A change was drastically needed.

Gaining Significant End-User Productivity with a New Appliance

In early 2010, we decided to completely change the way we handle systems management functions at US Synthetic, specifically around service desk and IT asset management. After evaluating several potential new solutions, we opted to take an appliance-based approach and selected the Dell KACE Management Appliance (K1000) due to its ease-of-use, low price point and breadth of offered systems management services. A key capability was the appliance's automation capability. We recognized right away we could do much more beyond solving just our service desk and IT asset management challenges.

With true "plug-and-play" capabilities, our appliance was up and running in a matter of days. Immediately, the appliance offered us an automated and streamlined approach to IT service management. The email ticketing system automatically processes then closes out any open tickets, and what's more, the system updates itself 24/7, and in manufacturing, 24/7 support is key mandatory.

As soon as we brought the appliance online, it began sending back actionable data about the IT hardware and software assets across the entire US Synthetic IT network. In addition, we will be able to better monitor software licenses to stay within the license agreements set with software vendors. For instance, US Synthetics is a Microsoft shop and runs the Office 2010 suite, as well as an Exchange server. All have license agreements, and the appliance monitors these and offers automatic updates to the IT team to keep them patched so they are secure. The appliance also tracks the license by version and computer so that the team can make decisions about where to best allocate these. This dynamic license management, combined with the thorough asset tracking has improved overall asset management for US Synthetics by 60 percent in only one year.

Today, due in large part to the automated features of our new systems management solution, instead of having to wait for someone to see me about a technology issue like in the old days, the appliance actually tells me there is an issue to look into, allowing me to be proactive and go out and make fixes. We show up at end-user's desks before they even realize their computers are having issues.

Since deploying our new technology last year, we estimate we've saved more than $312,000 in IT team time. What's more, our asset management system has been fully overhauled and greatly improved. We know exactly where things are and where we are with license compliance so we don't anticipate any further fines for using more versions of software than we are licensed for from software vendors in the future. In all, the new systems management solution paid for itself in less than four months.

In addition to service desk and IT asset management improvements, our new systems management solution, has enabled us to improve patch compliance, save thousands of hours in user productivity and save thousands of dollars annually in newly found assets. Most importantly, we've improved our service, which has made our end users happy, and we are saving money, which makes the management team happy. If done correctly, an appliance-based approach to systems management can simplify common IT tasks, save systems manager time and improve an organization's bottom line.

Jacob Lee is a IT Help Desk Manager at US Synthetic.

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