Back in the day (1984), when I was first starting out as a Technician and throughout most of my career, carrying the pager came with the territory.
What has changed since then?
IT Service Managers are in a Pinch Over On-Call Coverage
Over the last six weeks, I have overheard or been a part of at least a dozen conversations on Technicians not being available (or not wanting to be available) for On-Call Coverage. This leaves IT Service Managers in a lurch and their companies exposed to liability and service delivery issues.
When starting out as a Technician, as well as growing my career to an Engineer level (and even on into management), I have been carrying a pager. There was never a question. Not only was carrying the pager expected, it was required.
In IT Support, Being On-Call Is a Shared Responsibility
Up until quite recently, I never remember a conversation, after on boarding a new employee, about the requirement to carry the on-call pager. It was understood: carry the pager or leave the industry!
The requirement of being on-call 24/7/365 was what drove me to leave the Television Broadcast Industry and move to the IT Support Industry where the on-call responsibility is at least shared across the workforce.
When It Comes to On-Call IT Support, Something Has Definitely Changed
I am not sure if it is the “Dog Days of Summer,” the great economic climate (at least here in the US), the “It’s all about Me” generation, or the generation living through the “experience” and is now focused on living a life of purpose — but something has definitely changed.
Recently an On-Call Technician responded to his manager after being paged that it would be four hours before he could engage. He needed to make childcare arrangements before being available to respond.
In another case, an On-Call Technician called in sick for the next three days because he was up all night responding to a page. Now I will be the first one to say (and have on many occasions) that if you’ve been up all night, please sleep in a few hours and contact us when you get up and are ready to go (expecting it to be sometime before noon). But three days? This is unheard of until quite recently.
IT Service Managers, Here are Five On-Call Alternatives to Consider
The list of examples like the ones shared above goes on. It seems there are a lot of IT Service Managers looking for alternatives to having Technicians scheduled to be on-call. Here are some thoughts on ways to mitigate the issue for the Technicians:
1) Follow the sun: Working with our vendor partners, find a similar-size Managed Service Provider in Europe and another one in Australia, to form partnerships when the sun goes down here. Their NOC takes the calls and they only page you when on-site IT support is needed. You can return the favor during your normal business hours, and for the majority of the calls, your On-Call Engineer is off the hook.
2) Outsource: I’m not sure how Mission Control, Continuum, etc. relationships or contractual agreements work, but I am sure any one of them would love to explore how their offerings fit your On-Call Coverage needs.
3) Cut the duration from a week to a three-day rotation: One of the biggest pet peeves is that it is a week from hell. To help mitigate this, cut the hell week down to three days. This will cause the rotation to come around more often, and add a layer complexity in balancing out the weekends, but in the end, it might make it more palatable.
4) Compensate: Many Managed Service Providers are moving to a compensation model for on-call duty to be able to meet Customers’ needs without fighting with the workforce. This seems to me to be a road to a bottomless pit. I would be cautious so as not to be held hostage or caught between a rock and a hard place (which is where we are already).
5) Reduce the type of after-hour calls that will be responded to: Limit the use of the on-call service to critical service requests and enforce it. I realize the doctor, partner, and attorney who try to get work done from home in the evening will insist their requests are critical, but for the rest of the workforce, they should be glad to have an excuse for a good night’s sleep… or at least some well-earned downtime.
Stephen Buyze is a Resource Planning Analyst who is “Empowering Service Managers to increase profit.”
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