Six (mostly) free tools to get the most out of your IT team

Dan Toth

Picture this; you’re on your way to the server room in response to an alert from one of your servers. As you walk by an office, a manager says: “When you get back to your desk, can you unlock John Smith’s Windows account?” A little farther down the hall someone frantically comes up from behind saying they’re having “that problem again” with their encrypted mailbox. You finally make it to the server room only to have another person knock on the door saying “I know you’re probably busy, but…”

A typical day for an IT Admin, right? We prioritize our tasks and, all priorities being equal, we use the “first come, first served” method. The problem is that I start experiencing buffer overflow by about the second verbal request. Another complication to this is people who don’t want to wait their turn. If you’re busy, they find someone else on the IT team and ask again. Then later you find out that your team is wasting time on duplicated efforts and multiple solutions.

One answer is to require that all IT requests come in through a ticketing system. That works well for a larger department, but for my small three-person team, the ticketing system itself can become a burden. Opening, assigning, statusing, and closing a password reset ticket triples the time it takes to reset the password.

As a solution I’d like to share six (mostly) free tools I’ve found that improve workflow so you can get the most out of your IT team.

The Email System You’re Already Using
We all have email, so let’s leverage it. Where I work we’ve set up a shared mailbox for the IT department and specified that all IT requests have to come in through that address. Something like [email protected]. That negates the problem of me forgetting what my users ask as I am dashing down the hall. Also, both they and I have a timestamp of when they put the request in and exactly what the request was for. And we can track progress through that message chain.

Since most systems support priority flagging and creation of subfolders, the inbox acts like a queue where high-impact requests can be flagged and subfolders can be used to divide work by team member, project, category, etc. Design it to fit your organizational needs.

Google Drive https://www.google.com/drive/ OR Dropbox https://www.dropbox.com/
These aren’t the only two and there’s a lot of debate about which of these is the best cloud-based, file-sharing solution. What everyone agrees on is that these solutions are great tools for sharing and backing up files. One way our team uses ours is as the main repository for IT documentation, whether it be configurations, procedures, or our knowledgebase of problems/solutions. That way, whether we’re in the office or out on the road supporting a remote user, we always have shared up-to-date documentation.

A free Dropbox account starts with 2GB of space (you can earn up to 16GB), a free Google Drive account comes with 15GB. For $10/month they both offer you 1TB of space, but Google Drive also offers a smaller increment of 100GB for $2/month.

Although Google Drive is more flexible in their offerings, I prefer Dropbox because it seems to have built up a larger base of add-on applications that increase functionality. Things like document e-signing, document encryption, file management, and even podcast and web hosting. Some useful ones in our environment are...

Send to Dropbox https://sendtodropbox.com/
Send to Dropbox lets you (or anybody) send an email attachment directly to Dropbox. Just set up an email account on sendtodropbox.com and then email the attachments to that custom address. They will appear in the Attachments folder in your box. This means that you don’t need a Dropbox app on your phone or other device in order to put things into your box. If you can attach something to an email, you can send it to your Dropbox.

Mihand http://www.mihand.com/home
I really like this one. This little app lets you organize the documents in your Dropbox by integrating tagging functionality into your naming convention. Instead of having to create a nested folder structure in Dropbox, Mihand creates a virtual structure for you. You just add hashtags to your file names or folder tags to your folder names. The app uses these to automatically classify and organize each. You can even add multiple tags to a file so it can appear in multiple categories. Think of it the way blog posts are tagged in this blog. Each post can, and often does, fit into more than one category. The same is true of the information in most of your documents. As your collection of documents grows, this really helps when someone on your team is looking for something specific.

IFTTT https://ifttt.com/
This app is downright magical and the genius of it can revolutionize your work life. The name stands for “If This, Then That” and it brings the power of a programming “if” statement into your cross-application functions. In other words, when one action occurs, it automatically triggers another action. IFTTT connects with hundreds of today’s most popular websites and web apps, including Dropbox, Google Calendar, RSS feeds, Facebook, even MS Outlook. For example, you can set IFTTT on your android device so that it uses the location data to automatically write to a “work log” document in Dropbox to auto-track your team’s time at various locations. You can also set it so that every time you upload a photo to your company’s Facebook page, a copy of the photo is automatically downloaded into a specific Dropbox folder. The IFTTT website is full of these premade “recipes” that you can download and use right away or you can create your own. There’s no limit for IFTTT automation.

Google Hangouts www.google.com/hangouts/
With this last app we’re finally moving away from Dropbox. Most people think of Hangouts as just video chat for friends and family, but those features can just as easily benefit your work team. Not only can you see and hear multiple participants, but you can collaborate on cloud-based documents, share your screen, or run third-party apps. The free version doesn’t offer all the features of a commercial tool like WebEx or GoToMeeting, but it is great for connecting your team and collaborating when you’re in diverse locations. I’ll also mention that Google has a business class offering for Hangout, which of course, costs something.

How about you, what workflow tools do you find useful on the job? I’d love to hear from you and I hope you have fun checking out some of these.