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NASA CTO Says Help Desks May Disappear 131

Posted by timothy
from the no-trash-can-therefore-no-trash dept.
Lucas123 writes "NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has placed its data, from photos of Mars to top secret government information, in 10 different public or private clouds. JPL's 5,000 workers have access to that data with any mobile devices they want to use, as long as it has first been secured. Because JPL's and other workforces are becoming more mobile, a help desk as it's known today may soon become unnecessary, according to JPL's IT CTO Tom Soderstrom. 'Have you ever called a help desk for your mobile device? What do you do? Probably, the first you do is Google or Bing it,' he said. 'If you can't get your answer there, you ask your friends who are like you. For us, that's the workgroup.'"
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NASA CTO Says Help Desks May Disappear

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  • I want an ANSWER Desk.

    More than 50% of my calls do not get an answer from the foreign sounding "Tony" on the other end of the line.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 14, 2011 @06:54PM (#37719658)

      Wait a minute. I'm a manager, and I've been reading a lot of case studies and watching a lot of webcasts about The Cloud. Based on all of this glorious marketing literature, I, as a manager, have absolutely no reason to doubt the safety of any data put in The Cloud.

      The case studies all use words like "secure", "MD5", "RSS feeds" and "encryption" to describe the security of The Cloud. I don't know about you, but that sounds damn secure to me! Some Clouds even use SSL and HTTP. That's rock solid in my book.

      And don't forget that you have to use Web Services to access The Cloud. Nothing is more secure than SOA and Web Services, with the exception of perhaps SaaS. But I think that Cloud Services 2.0 will combine the tiers into an MVC-compliant stack that uses SaaS to increase the security and partitioning of the data.

      My main concern isn't with the security of The Cloud, but rather with getting my Indian team to learn all about it so we can deploy some first-generation The Cloud applications and Web Services to provide the ultimate platform upon which we can layer our business intelligence and reporting, because there are still a few verticals that we need to leverage before we can move to The Cloud 2.0.

      • Bravo. I just threw up in my mouth.
      • You dial tech support at 1-YOU-ARE-CSOL:

        Press one if you'd like to continue in English; 8 if you'd like to continue in Spanish [press]

        Please listen to the following menu. Our menu options have recently changed. [a menu that does include anything you want to do is presented] You choose one out of desperation.

        Please enter your social security number. [presses...]

        Please enter your account number [presses...]

        Please select from the following menu, which, wonder of wonders, includes "speak to an account represent

      • by Tihstae (86842)

        Are you presenting at Gartner IT Symposium next week? What is the session name? I need to know where to bring the rotten tomatoes. Come to think about it, it doesn't matter, every session will be this horrible.

      • by Opyros (1153335)
        I've looked at The Cloud from both sides now!
      • Holy Cow! I just got a double-liner on my Bullshit Bingo card!

        Good job!

      • You forgot to add some synergy and mix in some paradigms.

                  -dZ.

      • by hankwang (413283) *

        I, as a manager, have absolutely no reason to doubt the safety of any data put in The Cloud.

        Bravo! this has been reposted only 35 times over the past couple of years [google.com] and keeps on getting moderated as funny. Some jokes don't get old, apparently.

  • ...calling a helpdesk is becoming more and more of an ordeal. We are actively discouraged from using them, so naturally other resources will be sought, and found.

    • by 0123456 (636235) on Friday October 14, 2011 @06:55PM (#37719672)

      We are actively discouraged from using them, so naturally other resources will be sought, and found.

      This is the new paradigm. First you provide something useful, then you make it suck, then you say 'well, no-one is using this anymore, so we'll scrap it'.

      • by spasm (79260)

        In the United States, it's called 'government services', and 'making it suck' seems to be the current SOP of the GOP..

    • by jhoegl (638955)
      This is why I have hated Dell outsourcing their tech support. Instead of a first world country answering your calls with the probability that they have their own computer at home being higher than a third world country, you get a third world country with a heavy accent and a book to read on how to proceed.

      Have you done troubleshooting online? It is the same thing!

      But this isnt the worst part, the worst part is that the normal layman that calls them for assistance, sometimes in a panic because they wer
      • This is why I have hated Dell outsourcing their tech support. Instead of a first world country answering your calls with the probability that they have their own computer at home being higher than a third world country, you get a third world country with a heavy accent and a book to read on how to proceed.

        Natural progression. I worked at a first-world call center for a while and found that if you do anything but read the book word-for-word you'd get punished. So moving it to a place where there was no room

        • by roc97007 (608802)

          > Natural progression. I worked at a first-world call center for a while and found that if you do anything but read the book word-for-word you'd get punished.

          That's actually true. A friend of mine was fired for suggesting a solution to a user that actually worked, because he could see from the script that he was going to be required to give the user the wrong answer. Despite leaving a satisfied customer, he was written up for going off-script and terminated.

          • Blame ITIL for this, where everything is a metric, and metrics decide everything. A person who has a ton of experience is infinity better for troubleshooting than a script. I've been around long enough to diagnose most problems without ever actually seeing the problem for myself, even with end users not being able to describe things in any technically accurate way.

            Recent case. "That sounds like you have popped capacitors on your motherboard, open the case and ..... ", followed by "wow, how did you know". I

        • I've never understood why anyone would work at a scripted call center if they have any inkling of technical knowledge. That's why I love my call center job. I'm encouraged to develop my own "scripts" or not use one at all, because where I work, they realize, EVERY CUSTOMER IS DIFFERENT. The company doesn't supply many scripts. They hire people who have some understanding, then train in the rest. You're hired because you know how to wire stuff, and know how to set up computers. They tell us what we do and do
          • I've never understood why anyone would work at a scripted call center if they have any inkling of technical knowledge.

            Because homelessness and starvation aren't on my bucket list.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        I don't completely disagree, but a few points...

        Dell corporate service is still provided out of Austin, TX. It's consumer service that's provided by a single cellular phone somewhere in Vichumbe, India. So if you're buying Dell servers, you're fine. If you bought a Dell home PC, I'm really sorry.

        I've done troubleshooting online with a high degree of success. But maybe not the way you meant. If you mean on the vendor's website, I agree. But does anyone seriously do that? Forums are the thing. There's

        • That wouldn't to happen to be Stream or any AOL subisidary would it?

        • by Gonoff (88518)

          As a corporate user, I get someone in the UK to talk to for PC problems. They seem to know their stuff and generally seem quite happy to admit that I know mine. The quality of their English is about as good as you will get. They are in central Scotland which is much easier to understand than most of urban England. I know at least one of them has a degree because we compared university courses while we waited for a test to complete.

          Once or twice, I have ended up on the Dell Home stuff. It got me through

          • by roc97007 (608802)

            English is the second most common of the thirteen official languages spoken in India. English is common and understandable amongst the middle and upper class there. Having traveled to various parts of India myself on business, I found I could always make myself understood, and the business owners and office workers all spoke excellent English.

            So why are the call center people so difficult to understand? I think it's that to be profitable, call centers can't pay very well, and since the employees are only

      • Have you done troubleshooting online? It is the same thing!

        Nice, you figured it out. The trick here is to offload your support costs to "the cloud" so to speak. Crowd-source your support and get better results for minimal cost. And no recourse.

  • 'Have you ever called a help desk for your mobile device? What do you do? Probably, the first you do is Google or Bing it,' he said. 'If you can't get your answer there, you ask your friends who are like you. For us, that's the workgroup.'"

    This is completely out of touch with the real world. Almost nobody Googles such things and most people don't have friends who they can ask about such things. When people have a problem with their mobile device, they call their operator.

    Do not mix nerds like you and me wh

    • by tverbeek (457094)
      Maybe that works for JPL staff. But the staff I support <i>never</I> research a problem themselves. They either call the Help Desk at the first sign of trouble without trying even basic troubleshooting (e.g. turn it off and back on again), or they sit and endure the problem for days or maybe even weeks, and <i>then</i> call the Help Desk.
    • ...most people don't have friends... ...Do not mix nerds like you and me who read /. with the actual general population.

      Are you certain that you didn't mix up the two yourself?

    • by mooingyak (720677)

      This is completely out of touch with the real world. Almost nobody Googles such things and most people don't have friends who they can ask about such things. When people have a problem with their mobile device, they call their operator.

      So... since you work at a help desk, you're basing this off of the fact that nobody calls you saying "Hey, just wanted to let you know I had this problem but I found the answer on Google!" ?

    • by bryan1945 (301828)

      Beat me to it. And even those who do Google for an answer can't formulate the question in an efficient way, so they get nowhere. This is all based on my personal experiences, so discard as needed.

      I'm sure the "Google or ask your friends" path works fine for NASA, they're supposed to be the smart ones. But then I read Bing, and then I had second doubts. Person: "How do I fix XYZ problem on my iPhone 4s?" Bing: "Buy a Zune."

    • In many cases, outsourcing support to your user community is feasible. Here's an interesting experiment: the next time you ask a co-worker about how to do pivot tables in Excel, or how to fill in your expense claim in SAP, or how to clear a jammed printer, also ask them where they learned the answer? Very often the answer is: "I googled it" or "a colleague told me". That is called peer support, and companies are discovering that you can boost its effects by facilitating it. My client has gotten very goo
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Friday October 14, 2011 @06:51PM (#37719638)

    Tom Soderstrom. 'Have you ever called a help desk for your mobile device? What do you do? Probably, the first you do is Google or Bing it,'

    If that's true, then why do people keep calling and visiting my helpdesk for help with their mobile device!? "My email isn't syncing" "This thing is too slow" "This java-required website won't work on my phone, but it works on my desktop" "I reset the device like I read on Google and now I lost all of my files and applications"

  • by RollingThunder (88952) on Friday October 14, 2011 @06:53PM (#37719652)

    Speaking as a team lead for tier 2 support group, that's part of the premium service desk for managed IT outsourcing (ASA 30 seconds, 70% FTR kind of thing), this made me laugh my butt off.

    Yes, we get crap-tons of calls from users about mobile devices. Tom is out of touch with "real" users, he's suffering (benefiting?) from massive selection bias here. His sample base is nowhere near representative of your average corporate IT user.

    • ....they're just rocket scientists!
    • Speaking as a team lead for tier 2 support group, that's part of the premium service desk for managed IT outsourcing (ASA 30 seconds, 70% FTR kind of thing), this made me laugh my butt off.

      Yes, we get crap-tons of calls from users about mobile devices. Tom is out of touch with "real" users, he's suffering (benefiting?) from massive selection bias here. His sample base is nowhere near representative of your average corporate IT user.

      Thanks for writing that for me, because that's pretty much what I was here to say. Since you got that out of the way though, that brings my attention to another point. Those pieces of information that he imagines customers finding via search tools? Who does he thinks writes those things? Programmers write code. Technical writers write manuals for code. Who writes the solutions to the problems that both these groups overlook? Why, problem solving end-user support staff do that. If you break that staff down b

    • by KevMar (471257)

      Exactly, It would be nice if all of my users were rocket scientists.

    • by syousef (465911)

      Speaking as a team lead for tier 2 support group, that's part of the premium service desk for managed IT outsourcing (ASA 30 seconds, 70% FTR kind of thing), this made me laugh my butt off.

      Yes, we get crap-tons of calls from users about mobile devices. Tom is out of touch with "real" users, he's suffering (benefiting?) from massive selection bias here. His sample base is nowhere near representative of your average corporate IT user.

      He's just insourcing his help desk tasks to his scientists, engineers, managers and clerical workers. Yes at NASA nobel prize winners have to do their own IT tech support. That'll cut the budget! Not a waste of their abilities at all.

      FUCKWIT.

      With idiocy like this, no wonder NASA is circling the drain. What a crying shame!

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      And often when people need help with their devices they can't configure it and call with it at the same time so they need a physical visit to the help desk.

    • by swillden (191260)

      Yes, we get crap-tons of calls from users about mobile devices. Tom is out of touch with "real" users, he's suffering (benefiting?) from massive selection bias here. His sample base is nowhere near representative of your average corporate IT user.

      I think he's out of touch with his own users, too. At least, he's out of touch with their needs. They may be rocket scientists, and perfectly capable of figuring out, with the help of their peers, how to diagnose and correct their issues, but that's not their job and time spent fiddling with that crap reduces their effectiveness.

      I also work for a company whose employees have a higher than average ability to self-support, Google. And you know what? Google has help desks. Lots of them, well-staffed wit

  • To some users all the following are meaningless:
    • What version of Windows are you running?
    • What video drivers are you using?
    • Have you installed the latest update?

    These users will always need a help desk.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      To some users all the following are meaningless:

      • What version of Windows are you running?
      • What video drivers are you using?
      • Have you installed the latest update?

      These users will always need a help desk.

      But any well-run corporate help desk will already know the answers to these questions.

      • What version of Windows are you running?
      • What video drivers are you using?
      • Have you installed the latest update?

      Windows 7 Home
      with Nvidia Geforce
      updated today

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Based on my experience as a developer I can assure you people do not "Google or Bing it." They call support first. That's their job, people want answers and they don't want to search for the solution, they want support to search for the solutions. Only the tech savvy Google or Bing to find solutions because they know what to search for. Presuming that everyone has the ability to identify and to solve their own problems is idiotic.

  • Most of the time I know HOW to fix my problem. When I call the corporate help desk, it's not because I don't know how to fix the problem, it's because I don't have permissions to do it because the box is locked down. Otherwise it's some networking issue which I don't have access to the equipment to fix.
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      Most of the time I know HOW to fix my problem. When I call the corporate help desk, it's not because I don't know how to fix the problem, it's because I don't have permissions to do it because the box is locked down.

      Otherwise it's some networking issue which I don't have access to the equipment to fix.

      In many cases, IT is not allowed to give you the permissions to fix the problem due to regulatory requirements. Developers in particular may have access to sensitive data so their machines have to be locked down, with associated documentation and logging to show that they meet corporate build standards.

      In our organization, we give local admin to most people that ask for it -- I've found that about half of the people that think they know how to take care of problems on their own, actually know just enough to

      • by Asmodae (1155077)
        Which is what I was ultimately getting at. The reason for a corporate help desk is custom IT infrastructure, custom hardware, networks, databases, etc. It is not usually because a user doesn't know how to use a particular application. That's unlikely to change for the reasons you cite.
    • other times the systems are locked due to all the crap on them.

      outsourced help desktops suck so the desktop team has to pick the mess and deal with old tickets.

    • by kaoshin (110328)

      I had to handle a situation from a rather technical guy not long ago who decided he would take it upon himself to set up an ipod for hold music. The problem is, he didn't have a charger for it. Rather than go out and buy a charger, he decided he would power it off the company file server and install the itunes software. Unfortunately, because he was a techie someone made an exception and granted him elevated privs on the server. The root volume on the server rapidly filled up with music downloads and th

    • Permission?? You have physical access; that's all the permission you need. Just create yourself a bootable CD or USB key, and then go ahead and fix your own problems.
  • "JPL's 5,000 workers have access to that data with any mobile devices they want to use, as long as it has first been secured.

    Apparently that moron doesn't realize who secured those mobile devices. Hint: Starts with Help, ends with Desk.
  • Bing it? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Is that a choice people make or is it because Bing is being integrated into IE as default search engine? Last I checked, a very small minority "Bings" it.

    • I do.

      I do marketing work as well as my usual IT and web design for small business. I live in Florida. Old people with money who have computers but are not very computer literate and dont want to change their ways who happen to have money. Hmm I wonder which browser they use? Gee, I wonder if they opened their browser of choice if they would manually go to www.google.com and make it their default search engine? Now lets take a guess what their browser of choice defaults to on their computer? It is pretty obv

    • by KevMar (471257)

      if anything, I bing google and then google what I want. Because clicking in the address bar is too much work.

      *on other computers of course, where google is not the homepage.

  • level 1 help desk needs to be non tech with level 2 being the real tech desk.

  • When the corporate exchange server config needs a tweak to make it work better with firefox, or the routes advertised by the VPN are a bit excessive (our VPN routes 1.0.0.0/8, 172.0.0.0/8, and 10.0.0.0/8 via the VPN...joy), or the corporate VOIP client is acting up, or the VM you've been assigned is running out of storage space, then you still need some way to report problems and get them dealt with.

    That said, as a teleworker I admin my own linux box because the corporate IT people don't handle mobile linux

  • Think of the type of people who work at NASA. Now think of the type of people who work around you.
    Realize that NASA's people are somewhere between slightly more intelligent then the people you work with, to massively more intelligent then the people you work with. Realize that NASA's people are probably smarter then most of the people reading this comment.
    Realize what works in NASA's environment likely won't work in the vast majority of the world, not to mention America.
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      Think of the type of people who work at NASA. Now think of the type of people who work around you.

      Realize that NASA's people are somewhere between slightly more intelligent then the people you work with, to massively more intelligent then the people you work with. Realize that NASA's people are probably smarter then most of the people reading this comment.
      Realize what works in NASA's environment likely won't work in the vast majority of the world, not to mention America.

      First, I don't think that the general employee base at NASA is any intelligent than at any other large government organization.

      Second, I work at an organization that has many very smart people - from very bright grad students to PhD's at the top of their field. And they are the ones that need the most hand holding when it comes to IT.

      • First, I don't think that the general employee base at NASA is any intelligent than at any other large government organization.

        Second, I work at an organization that has many very smart people - from very bright grad students to PhD's at the top of their field. And they are the ones that need the most hand holding when it comes to IT.

        Of course, the level of support required will also depend on the type and scale of your organization's IT infrastructure. In addition, Google and Bing simply won't help if you're dealing with vendors who don't have a large installed base or online documentation.

        What I'm trying to say is that NASA is such a unique environment, they shouldn't be suggesting that what works for them will work for the rest of the world.

      • I find the opposite to be true.

        I've been in the IT industry for somewhere around 15 years. I've worked on help desks. I've done vertical systems support. I've done software testing. I've been a developer. Presently I'm working part time on a help desk while putting myself through grad school.

        Smart people generally need less help and the help they need is generally along the lines of being pushed in the right direction rather than being hand-held through the process.

        But perhaps you're conflating being highly

  • BING??! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AtomicAdam (959649) on Friday October 14, 2011 @07:27PM (#37719998)
    "Bing it" Nobody bings... please let me conduct my experiment, if you "BING" more that twice a day, reply to this message.
    • by rossdee (243626)

      Not intentionally of course. but too many places have automatic Bing popups.

      Anyway, whaty a stupid name. Bing is the guy who sang White Christmas and starred in movies with Bob Hope. Whats that got to with a search engine.

      BTW what does NASA have to do with help desks? Its not like they sell products or services. Is someone going to call them up and ask how to get a picture of Uranus for their screensaver.

    • I do.

      I do marketing work as well as my usual IT and web design for small business. I live in Florida. Old people with money who have computers but are not very computer literate and dont want to change their ways who happen to have money. Hmm I wonder which browser they use? Gee, I wonder if they opened their browser of choice if they would manually go to www.google.com and make it their default search engine? Now lets take a guess what their browser of choice defaults to on their computer? It is pretty obv

  • You can get rid of level one support desks. The Rolodex flippers are easily replaced with automated systems since they are barely less brain dead than the 90% call volume making use of them. Indeed a Watson style system would be ideal. However, on occasion the other 10% of us need an answer. We need an answer that requires analytic skills and strong subject matter expertise to derive and we don't have the time to do our own research. Of that 10% perhaps another 1% of us need an answer requiring enginee
  • If my "by our lady" mobile device was working well enough to google it, I wouldn't need the help in the "by our lady" first place!

  • Both ends of this are wrong, at least in the short to medium term: our data's not that accessible, and most things you call the help desk for are not Googlable (if that's a word). Things like JPL's internal policies and procedures, for example -- we have an internal, Google-based search engine, but it's not able to find everything by a long shot.

    Also, as it happens, our help desk is very good -- even if it is run by Lockheed Martin -- and it would actually be a shame to see it go away. This might change s

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you're not using your helpdesk, it's probably because your helpdesk is ineffective. Not because "you're too smart to use it."

    This all sounds all very ivory tower; if you know anything about ITIL you know that helpdesks are most effective when there's a *single* point of contact for all tech issues. As some services move to the cloud this creates even more support & management points. Meaning helpdesk becomes more important for people who want to actually get their work done rather than just trying

  • Mobile just means more legs to potentially call about. If I'm at home, I have to (rarely) call my internet provider. Not because I'm inept, but to report/get status on an outage.

    If my work VPN disables my account for one reason or another, I have to call to get it restored.

    If my mail server is out (actually hasn't happened to me in the last 8 years), then I'd have to call.

    It's not always about what you know/don't know how to do, sometimes you need something done that you can't actually do yourself.

  • by The Archon V2.0 (782634) on Friday October 14, 2011 @07:49PM (#37720180)
    This is like the head of a chain of garages saying everyone can dismantle and rebuild their own car engine because everyone who works for him can.
    • Extremely good analogy: very few people who work for a chain of garages can actually rebuild a car engine, and very few people at a help desk can actually fix computer problems.

      At least the guys at the garage don't ask you to shut off the car and restart it, to see if that fixes the problem.
      • Being on slashdot I hope you know why you're asked to restart the computer. If not, I'll give some examples of when and why I've asked people to restart the computer.

        The simple answer is: restarting a computer fixes 99% of the problems 99% of the time. It's also sometimes the easiest thing to tell a user to do. Yes, really. It's easier to tell a user to reboot the computer than it is to ask them to log off and log on.

        #1. Windows group policies are applied at startup and logon. Logon scripts are only run, yo
    • This is like the head of a chain of garages saying everyone can dismantle and rebuild their own car engine because everyone who works for him can.

      Its more like the head of a chain of aircraft engine shops saying no one needs to take their car to an outside specialist to have their engine rebuilt because everyone who works for him either can do it for themselves or can find someone in their circle of acquaintances who can.

  • And I bet he is one of the ones that called into a help desk during the Blackberry outage while it was being broadcast all over the news and he likely heard a front end message on the help desk line about the outage then stayed on the line to get help because he couldn't get email on his Blackberry.
  • I have rarely used a help desk. I spent much of my career in Asia and the former Soviet Union in the pre-Skype days. If I had a problem there was no one I could sensibly call and speak to in English. Mainly I have used help forums for the last 15 years. There is an etiquette to this, but the results are usually very satisfactory. Rarely do I even have to pose the question myself. A thoughtful search of a well-chosen forum often discloses a thread started by somebody with the same problem I had. In recent ye

  • In pretty much every NASA press release I read buzzwords and phrases like "applications on earth", etc.

    Some pundits even argue that the Space Shuttle was only a wasteful form of space tourism [in-other-news.com]. (I.e.: What is "payload specialist" and political science major Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud doing on the Space Shuttle?)

    Now, after the Space Shuttle is history and one probe after another gets cancelled, it's not even space tourism anymore, it's purely PR.

  • THe issue you need is if your workstation isn't running.People can read things themselves and do a lot more than fixing a car as an analogy that someone put it.

    Otherwise you need I.T. and not google an answer if the share with all the critical work files vanishes off their desktop or other work related issue that needs to get fixed ASAP so people can work.Obviously you can't give everyone administrative rights to play with sharepoint or a share on the network to troubleshoot it themselves.

  • Seriously - if your help desk is so incompetent, antagonistic, and/or slow that they can get faster or more helpful answers from Google or a co-worker, it doesn't mean that your system isn't necessary - it means that the people you are hiring are no-fucking-good at their job. Time to turn your position over to someone who can run your department properly.

  • How clueless is this guy? Our helpdesk team takes calls every day to help someone with their mobile device. This guy acts like cell phones are getting less complicated.
  • Before you string me up from the nearest tree, this was taken completely out of context from a larger conversation and I was only talking about the help desk in the future (not tomorrow) and only in regards to mobile devices. Here’s the essence: Our help desk members are truly fantastic, have a broad range of expertise, work really hard, and do a great job! So how can we leverage that expertise more? The industry trends in our environment indicate a change in focus -- especially as the digital natives

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