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Help for the Helpdesk! - Tips & Tricks for increased efficiency

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Matt Minor
I am a well-rounded Information Technology professional with a variety of industry experience and a passion for customer-service.
Are you one of those front-line IT Service Desk staff fielding calls, replying to emails, all-the-while working to resolve end-user technological nightmares? I am! That's why I have put together this brief overview of tools and techniques I use in order to make my day a little more efficient.

Objective


This guide was created as an informational piece containing tips, tricks, tools, and advice to share with fellow IT professionals, primarily service desk/help desk personnel.

Prerequisites


  • This article assumes a domain-infrastructure of Microsoft Windows Server 2008+ with Windows 7 Professional clients.
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 is assumed for Exchange-related points.
  • Good working-knowledge of Windows networking and Microsoft Exchange Server is recommended.
Let's get started!
 

PSTools - my hero!

Any IT administrator NEEDS to become familiar with this suite of brilliant tools, formerly by the folks at SysInternals, now integrated into Microsoft Technet. https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896649
This powerful toolkit allows us to perform remote-management and administration via the command line. My personal most-used functions are:
  • psloggedon - used as follows: C:\Scripts> psloggedon \\computername

    • Displays currently logged-on user on workstation. Useful for working on user profile issues, verifying user logons, and determining who is logged on to a specific workstation during troubleshooting scenarios.
  • psexec - Very powerful remote-management tool that allows technical staff to perform operations on a PC remotely, quite similar to how it would be done locally. Psexec itself has many components and I encourage you to review them if you have not already. The most frequently-used feature for me is the remote CMD environment, used in the following manner: C:\Scripts>psexec \\computername cmd
    • Launches a CMD window on the remote machine and allows you to execute DOS commands as if you were sitting at the local PC. Very powerful.
Investigate PSTools more as this utility package has the potential of saving your team gigabytes of time on a daily basis.


Use the Shell

Windows Powershell, Exchange Management Shell (installed by default with Exchange 2007+), and even good old windows CMD can aid in getting results far quicker than standard GUIs. You DO NOT need to be a programmer to use these cmdlets/commands. What you do need, however, is to understand which commands provide which results, and then save those commands for future use.

  • Get-ADUser
  • Set-ADUser
  • Get-MailboxFolderPermission
  • Add-MailboxFolderPermission
  • Get-ADGroupmember
Research these commands and you will see that there is serious time-saving potential here. At my workplace, I used Windows Powershell and Exchange Shell to create a script that creates and configures any number of Active Directory User accounts using a CSV as input. This process would take hours without the automation - with automation, I am regularly creating 100+ users in under 5 minutes.

My recommendation to you is to branch-out from the GUI. There is some real power in the shell and with a little effort, it can become one of your most valuable tools on the service-desk.


Other Helpful Resources

TCPING - a far more robust ping utility than the built-in Windows tool, TCPING allows an administrator to reach out to an endpoint using a specific port, specific protocol, and customize the operation. If you need to know if port 25 is open on your mail server, TCPING is the tool to do it - ie: tcping my.server.com 25

The response will indicate "The port is open" or that it has failed. This tool can be downloaded here:
http://download.cnet.com/TCPing/3000-2085_4-10770093.html

PSTerminalServices - If you have ever worked with Microsoft Terminal Services, you are fully aware of the pain experienced when using the Remote Desktop Services Manager. PSTerminalServices is an excellent alternative to quickly gather information such as which users are logged in to which servers etc. It is much quicker, and provides a great level of functionality for terminal server administration & management. Write a powershell script utilizing this module to customize a solution suited to your own environment.


In Conclusion

There are plenty of great resources out there to help service-desk teams make more efficient use of their time. The resources and tools above are just a few of which I have found to be most useful, and with the quickest implementation time.

I am a service-desk analyst and supervisor for a hospital in Northern Ontario, managing approximately 2300 users across 14 sites. I have used, and continue to use, the above-mentioned tools on a regular basis, and would be more than happy to assist anyone with questions and/or getting-started information.

In a world dominated by end-users demanding help from IT front-liners, I work hard to help provide more streamlined and efficient support and service to those who call upon it. I hope you take something away from this article and apply it in your environment, making your day and your end-user's day that much more efficient!
 
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