Mike’s Top 15 IT Manager Tools

When the Editors of Toolkit Café asked me to provide a list of the Top Ten IT manager tools every IT manager should have, three things happened:

• First, I never had really thought about “must have tools” for every IT manager. I had always just focused on individual tools or my entire IT Manager ToolKit.

• Second, if we really mean “every IT manager should have them”, then we should create an opportunity so every IT manager can access them.

• Third, when I tried to identify a Top 10 List, I couldn’t narrow it down to just 10. There are 15 IT manager tools in my IT Manager ToolKit that every IT manager must have.

Let’s start with the list and follow with a short description of each tool and my reasons as to why you need it.

15 Tools Every IT Manager Must Have

1. IT Employee Skills Matrix
2. IT Training Plan
3. New Employee Orientation Checklist
4. Performance Plan Template (and examples)
5. Project Schedule Template
6. IT Systems Conversion Project Schedule
7. Move/Relocation Checklist
8. IT Initiatives Portfolio
9. Vendor Support Contacts
10. Escalation procedure
11. Annual IT Accomplishments
12. Client Rescue Guide
13. Cost of Downtime
14. Budget templates
15. IT Support Survey

Every tool can be customized to fit your specific needs and each tool includes instructions to help you use it.


Read on for a Description of Each Tool

1. IT Employee Skills Matrix

One of the first things you want to do in an IT organization is to conduct an IT assessment. A key component of this discovery process is to determine the capability and capacity of your IT staff.  In other words, what can you do and how much can you do in terms of providing IT support.

This simple tool helps you quantify the skills you have and quickly identify the skill gaps that exist so you can prioritize training and education for your team. You can modify it to assess any level of skill you want; use it to quantify both technical and non-technical skills.

2. IT Training Plan

Training and education is one of the top motivators for IT employees. It always ranks in the Top 3 reasons employees stay with their company so it’s important to have a strong focus on employee development.

Eliminate knowledge silos and develop depth in your organization with a focused employee training plan when you quantify and prioritize training with this tool.

3. New Employee Orientation Checklist

It’s important to help a new employee get started so he or she can become productive quickly. It also has morale implications with your IT team as well as with your new employee that you may not realize.

Use this checklist or modify as needed to show new employees you are organized and help them become part of the team quickly.

4. Performance Plan Template (and examples)

IT employees have a strong need to know what it takes to be successful and they want to know if they are. Employee performance planning and review time is some of the highest quality time you have with your employees.

Included are three sample performance plans for a Programmer, Business Analyst and Infrastructure Manager.

5. Project Schedule Template

The key to gaining IT credibility is delivering projects successfully. You need project schedules to help you manage the project team and complete the tasks on time.

I’ve used this template hundreds of times to manage very large projects. You don’t have to be a PMP to deliver projects successfully, but you do need structure and some simple tools.

6. IT Systems Conversion Project Schedule

Sooner or later you are going to convert one of your systems to a new platform. This project schedule template provides a generic list of tasks you can use to get started quickly.

In addition, an actual sample system conversion project schedule is included that will provide additional insight into project management.

7. Move/Relocation Checklist

There is going to be a time when a department of your company needs to relocate. I’ve been in situations where it seemed like someone was moving every week. Nothing hurts IT credibility more than when these relocations go poorly.

Prepare with a move/relocation checklist that helps you support your client by ensuring future relocations go smoothly.

8. IT Initiatives Portfolio

This little tool is so simple yet powerful. A couple of pages will show everyone how effective your IT organization delivers projects. Summarizes exactly what you need to know:

• On time
• Within budget
• Results achieved
• Meets client needs
• Successful (Yes or No)

9. Vendor Support Contacts

When you need vendor support you often need it fast. Keep your vendor contact information close by and make it available to your Help Desk and all your IT managers.  You’re going to need it.

10. Escalation procedure

There are events that take place when you need to escalate IT support to a higher level such as a remote office losing connectivity, a data interface goes down, or a server crash.

Developing practical escalation procedures puts you ahead of the game when these problems occur and positions your organization to be highly responsive.

11. Annual IT Accomplishments

No one knows what the IT organization is accomplishing if you don’t tell them. I was shocked when assembling data for an annual IT Kickoff. We had accomplished so much more than I realized.

Right then I knew that if I had forgotten as the manager, then my clients and senior managers wouldn’t remember either. From that point I began tracking our accomplishments so we could communicate them with all groups in the company.

12. Client Rescue Guide

Early in my career an unhappy client intimidated me. Maybe that’s happened to you. Over the years I learned that a “problem client” is simply an opportunity in disguise.

Identify the client’s issues and address them and you have a partner instead of a headache. This template walks you through a process to do just that.

13. Cost of Downtime

Senior managers don’t understand technology nor want to, but you have to gain their approval to fund many technical projects that are necessary for the company.

This can be especially difficult when trying to discuss infrastructure projects, , , executives don’t get “routers and switches”. A tool that can help you is to educate them on the “cost of downtime”.

This practical tool will help you quantify the downtime implications in lost productivity for any technology in your company, even down to a single PC or printer

14. Budget templates

Developing an IT budget should be fairly quick work, but it is a long and tiring process for many IT managers. It was for me too until I developed a few templates to help me in the process.

This tool is actually several templates and can help streamline your IT operational and capital budgeting effort.

15. IT Support Survey

At the end of the day, your client’s perspective of how well your IT organization is performing is your measurement of success. You need to be aware of how they feel about IT performance.

To do this, I use a simple survey like this tool but I don’t send it out and expect to get them completed and returned. Instead, I interview my clients and get much more information.

Use this survey form or modify it to determine client perspectives on:

• IT responsiveness
• IT focus
• IT quality
• IT professionalism

The tools and templates above have helped me significantly, and I hope you receive value in using them. There are over 100 tools and templates in the IT Manager ToolKit. To learn more about my complete IT Manager Toolkit, click here.  If you want to learn more about all MDE products and services, click here.

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Snooping is Creepy, Especially When the Government is Doing it

As an IT manager, making sure employees don’t abuse their access rights and snoop in HR files is always a concern. I think most of my employees had too much integrity and too much of a life to consider it but not all. The fact is, almost everyone in IT knows people who read files they had no right to. The ones I knew were as greasy and creepy as you might imagine.

The Spies Who Love Too Much

It was those creepy guys I thought of when I read that NSA employees were caught accessing the files of love interests. Yep. Twelve NSA employees were caught going through the files of wives and girlfriends, ex-wives and ex-girlfriends and, of course, women they wish were girlfriends.

The Government says, even though they are storing all of our emails and calls, they can’t actually read them or listen to them without a warrant, but that’s not really true. They’re not supposed to read or listen to them without a warrant but they can do it anytime they want and there are 12 creeps, in addition to Edward Snowden, who prove that.

What’s Good for Google is Good for America

I know what people say. Google, Facebook and Verizon already have that information and use it daily, so what difference does it make. There is a difference, a big one. To Paraphrase Stephen Colbert, Google cannot draft me and send me to war. Facebook cannot arrest me and try me for crimes. Verizon cannot send me to prison for life and none of them can strap me to a chair and pump a syringe full of deadly poison in my arm, all of which the US government can do. The reason for the fourth amendment is to protect individuals from an all powerful government. Allowing Google to show me diet ads should be a forfeiture of that protection.

But I should have nothing to worry about if I don’t do anything wrong, right? I mean, our court system would not let the government convict me without evidence. If you really believe that look up the case against the late Alaska Senator, Ted Stevens. You know the guy. “The Internet is a series of tubes.” He was convicted of corruption, in 2008. Less than a year later it was discovered federal prosecutors deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence that proved his innocence. This is a very powerful wealthy guy, a really high official and a member of the party in power at the time. Yet he was tried and convicted of a crime they knew he didn’t commit.

In the end, corruption was defeated , sort of. The exculpatory evidence was discovered. Senator Stevens did not go to jail. He just lost his senate seat and spent hundreds of thousands on his defense. More to the point, the two federal prosecutors who withheld the evidence were punished. One got a 15 day suspension and the other got 40 days, proving the system works and we can trust the government.

The fact is we are not supposed to trust our government. Our forefathers didn’t. They knew to err is human but it takes a government to really screw you over. That’s why they put checks and balances in place and gave us a bill of rights. Trusting the NSA not to violate our fourth amendment rights because they promise not to look at the files they have complete access to is like not having passwords on the HR system and just trusting the employees not to read each others files. Maybe you can trust them all but do you want to bet your job on it, let alone your life.

Are your data and systems secure?  Do you have the proper documentation?  Maybe you should check out our IT Security Manual Template.


What Do You Do With Old Computers?

If you do not lease your equipment you have several options available to you. The first of course is to take it to a local recycler. You may want to make sure they are a reputable one. Many states not have commercial laws. For example, you are not allowed to throw it away and you must use a reputable or registered recycler. Check with your local Department of Natural Resources or EPA. If your company has a Sustainability, Green or Environmental Responsibility Department they will be able to tell you the laws in your state.

Behind Curtain Number Two

Your second option is to donate it to a nonprofit organization. This of course is always the preferred option because your computer is still usable for special community programs as long as it is able to handle or be upgraded to Windows 7. Even if it isn’t, a nonprofit may also use old computers and electronics to train kids and adults in computer repair or recycling and possibly give them a job. My organization, Wits, Inc is one of the largest reuse and recycling organization in the US.  We have up to 200 people a year  come through our doors just to get job training and job development. We generally process between 5-7 million lbs of electronics a year.

Many nonprofits, like Wits, are certified, reputable and registered. To make sure, ask what they do with the equipment….if they sell it to someone else(some do that for cash)  make sure you know where they sell it. If they “scrap” it for parts that helps them keep their programs running  and you can get a tax write off for it. Be careful that some may need to charge for monitors especially if nonworking.  The price should run between $5-10each. Again, check your laws, some states will not allow charges for certain items.

Queue the Native American With a Tear

Your final option is to throw it away, As a registered recycler in several states and a nonprofit organization I do not promote this nor will I say its preferred however being non-partial to this conversation….in some states it is legal to do so.

But why would you? Computers and other electronics contain all sorts of toxic materials, precious metals, and reusable components that could be helpful to those organizations and are dangerous to the environment and water streams. Even if you aren’t generally a “Green” person, keep in mind that it doesn’t hurt to support a local nonprofit or business in your area and just do the right thing.

And please don’t throw the hard drive away. In addition to the data that may be salvageable, the board still has toxins and valuable materials in them. Most of your reputable recyclers have special software to wipe the data it. At Wits, we take them all apart and completely crush them.  We can even do it while you wait for a small fee.

If you don’t have a policy for old computers you can purchase our ULTIMATE IT POLICY TOOLKIT and create one from the Hardware Security Policy.

Will Knowledge Management become the core of all IT frameworks?

What is knowledge management, and why should IT managers, directors, and CIOs care? In this column, I’ll define knowledge management and explain how it fits into your IT framework.

Defining Knowledge Management in the IT world

The discipline of Knowledge Management is simply a means of focusing one’s effort in the right direction. In order to gain a better understanding of Knowledge Management, let’s take a quick look at some of the more obvious business benefits:

  • Improves decision-making capabilities; the right knowledge is available to the right people at the right time.
  • Reduces research time and training through the provision of a knowledge framework.
  • Stimulates cultural change and enhances employee retention.
  • Streamlines and increases production speed and reduces costs.
  • Improves customer service and reduces response time.

How are Knowledge Management and the IT framework compatible companions?

The rapidly growing trend of IT management has truly begun to stamp its authority in the corporate world, with no sign of defeat. Organizations are actively implementing a variety of IT-related services, processes, and strategies in order to keep up with industry competitors and to ensure that profitability steadily rises. Besides its indisputable popularity, what precisely is it about IT that has us all on the edge of our seats? It could be argued that IT is simply a plethora of communication media or a technical service. However, a true believer would retort that IT abilities not only generate entire business approaches, but also assist in creating business goals and objectives.

Knowledge management can often be perceived as the definitive objective of centralization of an organization. IT services and processes themselves are considered to be categorized under a centralized management or power of authority model. Similarly, knowledge management makes it possible to approach the business model from a central point of view. The benefit of implementing knowledge management is that its processes deal directly with producing competencies which branch out to all business levels.

Applying knowledge management to IT functions

For many organizations, this particular benefit of knowledge management can be applied to IT functions, indicating that IT can effortlessly be considered a secondary process of knowledge management. Providing knowledge management endeavors to extort predictions from an organization’s abilities, as well as record vital information (recent and historical data), making it highly feasible for IT to submit to its authority at some point.

Countless predictions have been made regarding the future influence that knowledge management has over IT resources. One possibility concludes that businesses will incorporate knowledge management into their IT framework; another foretells that knowledge management will still happily co-exist with the IT department, all the while sitting pretty on a rung above IT on the business management ladder.

We watch with anticipation as existing IT methods, capabilities, and devices evolve beyond our wildest imaginations. It is through these advancements that knowledge management could very well be a valuable tool for many businesses that are looking to effectively control IT processes and goals.

Every organization seeks to improve its foundation of knowledge. The dedicated team at The Art of Service has designed a step-by-step toolkit KM Toolkit_boxshotto aid any IT professional in the implementation of knowledge management. The toolkit aims to introduce knowledge management concepts, and provide you with the tools to successfully create a workable knowledge management culture in your organization.

Click here to learn more about Art of Service’s Knowledge Management Toolkit!

What’s your take?

To share your thoughts on knowledge management, please post a comment below or email the editor.

Software Review: Good Technology’s mobile application tool illustrates need for mobile device email policy

In this column, I’ll tell you how one Big IT Shop solved the problem of how to enforce the email information security policy in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) era when 95% of their employees access corporate  email via smartphones, tablets,  and company-issued laptops.

One ISO’s “Good” solution for enforcing email policy

I recently consulted on information security governance with the Information Security Officer (ISO) for a company that provides professional services in the financial consulting industry. The firm’s experts travel all over the place and use  all sorts of devices to get their work done, and the ISO needed a way to secure  sensitive information transmitted via corporate email on the approved devices.

The ISO implemented the mobile content management solution from  Good Technology (“Good”). For the record, I don’t have any affiliation with Good, and I wasn’t involved in the process of selecting Good as this company’s third-party service provider. I’m writing this plug of their system based on my review of  reports that come out of the Good system, and they’re impressive.

In a nutshell, the solution helps enforce information security policy in two important ways:

1) It monitors all outgoing email messages and attachments for sensitive information.

2. It generates a report that goes to the Information Security Department showing which users have violated company policy regarding the use of  sensitive information.

Here’s one cool thing about the Good solution. You can configure it so that only work email – email that goes through the company’s email gateway – is monitored by the Good app. So if someone forwards confidential information from the corporate email account to a cloud-based account, that violation of policy will show up in a report.

Suppose one of your employees with a smart phone leaves the company? In that case, you can use the Good solution to remotely wipe all of the business email messages and contacts from the phone, without deleting any other data or apps.

 Sensitive information, you say?

In this case study, the definition of sensitive information is very clearly stated in this company’s information security policies. The problem is, the people who needed to know what the rules are  – the mobile device users – weren’t reading the information security policies. My recommendation to this ISO was to add the rules about sensitive information in email to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

If you don’t want people forwarding corporate email messages to their cloud-based email addresses, you need to tell them.

Use this free download from ToolKite Cafe’s BYOD toolkit to gauge your BYOD readiness

If you don’t currently have a formal program in place to manage your BYOD users, ToolKit Café’s BYOD Toolkit can help. The BYOD toolkit contains standardized templates and sample policy documents you can quickly customize for your organization.

Try before you buy

If you’d like to look at the type of material available in the BYOD toolkit, you can download a free sample BYOD audit program. This sample audit program provides step by step instructions to help you figure out what you have and what you need in the way of policies and procedures related to managing your BYOD users.

Talk Back to ToolTalk Weekly

If you  liked this column, please post a comment below. Follow this link to read another ToolTalk Weekly software review:  Recuva saves the day when files get deleted.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing the dangers of IT support

Many years ago, when I was head of a regional IT support team for a very large corporation, I was asked to swap out a router card in one of our larger warehouses. Normally this would not have been a problem. We kept spare cards for all the routers and it was easy to schedule a 30-minute downtime while the work was done. However, this warehouse was different. For some reason, long before I took over support, the network center was installed in a box that hung from the ceiling, 30 feet up. To make physical changes, a tech had to stand in a cage while a forklift raised the cage to the top of the highest shelf. Once there the tech would step out of the cage and straddle an open area about three feet wide.

Fear versus Phobia

Some people refer to a fear of heights as a phobia. I think that is just wrong. Phobias are baseless fears. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure falling from a 30-foot high rack to a concrete floor would have an adverse affect on my ability to keep the few brain cells I have left trapped in my head, not to mention what it would do to my limbs, neck, and spine.  I really did not want to change that card so I asked if any other team members were willing and got a volunteer right away. That might sound like problem solved, but the volunteer had a head, limbs, neck and spine as well, and even if he wasn’t worried about them, I was. I had no sleep the night before the scheduled change.

Research your Risks

The card change went off without a hitch and everyone laughed at me for being such a wimp, but I was not happy. As a team leader I felt like my first responsibility was to make sure that no one on the team was killed in the line of duty.  I know that sounds like an easy task, since we were in a suburban office building and fighting computer viruses instead of the Taliban, but when a regional manager demands people travel by fork lift, it becomes a problem. I needed to do some research.

Put Safety First

I found that, like all large companies, we had a corporate safety policy and we were not following it. I was able to arrange for special training in working in high places and safety gear. We still had to go up in the cage, but the cage was chained securely to the fork lift first. Also we got safety straps and hooks to secure us to the racks before we stepped out of the cage.   It made things a great deal safer.

What I learned from that experience is being prepared for potential danger and protecting your team is just as important for an IT manager as it is for beat cop. It may not come up as often but when it does you want to be ready. That’s true about everything in management. Few managers are prepared the first time an employee must be fired or when large numbers of assets are discovered missing.  We never forget a lesson we learn the hard way, but sometimes it’s better to learn from the experience of others. Mike Sisco has that experience and offers it to us in The Practical IT Manager Gold Series, 10 books can get an IT manager though any crisis. I highly recommend it to any and all IT managers. I also think it’s a great investment for the IT tech who would like to manage. IT’s never too early to learn to think like a pro and learn to lead a team practically.

What’s your danger zone?

Have you or members of your team had to deal with dangerous situations while trying to provide IT support? Post a comment below and tell us what you think about workplace dangers for IT professionals. Are your people at risk?

It’s the end of webmail as we know it

With apologies to R.E.M., it’s the end of webmail as we know it. Big, corporate webmail, that is. As a consulting IT manager, I  feel fine (about it), and so should you. To add your two cents to the discussion, please take a minute to participate in ToolkitCafe’s Summer Email Survey below.

Why your webmail policy should be no policy at all

Recently, I wrote about my feeling that IT managers should  have a clear email security in place so  users who bring their own devices or accept the devices issued by the company know what they’re supposed to do to protect private business information. In that piece, I reported that a large company was taking Outlook Web Access (OWA) away from their users.

In that environment, the IT Department also took away the ability to synchronize Outlook with plain Web mail. Smart phone users must install and use the approved application (GOOD) if they want to continue getting work emails on their phones. And users still have the option to use the company’s Virtual Private Network (VPN), but gone are the days when employees can log into work email via OWA from any hotel-lobby PC or wifi hot.

Take our survey and watch for the results

To share your opinion about the end of webmail, please post a comment below or, to comment privately, send a note to [email protected].



Software Review: Recuva saves the day when files get deleted

Recently a friend of mine called and asked if I could help him recover some files that he said were “accidentally deleted” from his laptop.  “Don’t worry,” I said, “as long as you haven’t added or deleted anything else, there’s a good chance we can get them back.”

It’s been a while since I had to solve this kind of problem, and I wondered whether people were still using old-style “UNDELETE” utilities.  I was doubting whether my friend would be able to remember the first letters of the names of the deleted files.

I asked, “So how many files are we talking about?”  My friend said he loaned the laptop to a former girlfriend, and she took it upon herself to delete ALL of the videos and ALL of the photo files that she could find on the entire laptop. Then she emptied the Recycle Bin, deleted some more files, and emptied it again.

That testimony made me cringe.  So I called a friend who works as a User Support Analyst III in a big IT shop and asked what’s the latest-greatest in UNDELETE utilities, and he recommended “Recuva.” I’m sharing this story because I’m now officially hooked on Recuva.

Where to get it
You can get the free version of Recuva here. It’s a quick download with a small footprint, and comes with 32-bit and 64-bit versions.  I copied the program files to a CD, put the CD in the laptop and launched Recuva. (By the way, Recuva works on any storage device, such as a thumb drive or camera.)

On the first pass, Recuva found several hundred files in just a few minutes. However, before I recovered those files, I ran Recuva again using the “Deep Scan” option.  This time, the program ran for 30 minutes or so and found many thousands of files.  I plugged a high-capacity USB drive into the laptop and told Recuva to recover the files to the USB drive.

How it works
Here’s what the screen look like as Recuva wizard runs. First it asks where were the files that were deleted?


Next Recuva wants to know what type of files you want to recover. Everything – or just picture, music or other files.


This screen shot shows what I think is one of the most useful features–the State column, which tells you whether the file can be recovered.


Here’s the screen you want to see, showing that the file or files you wanted were fully recovered (and none were “partly recovered”).


Free vs. fee

I used the “free” version of Recuva to help my poor friend get his files back. While that version works just fine, it was a little cumbersome sorting and marking the files I wanted to keep. I imagine that the pay versions, around $32 for the Professional “home” version and around $44 for the business version, provide some enhanced capabilities for managing the retrieved-file list.  Recuva is available for Microsoft Windows 8, 7, Vista, XP and 2000, including both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

I now keep a copy of the free version on CD in my toolkit so I’m ready to be the hero on a moment’s notice the next time one of my dumb users friends accidentally deletes a file or two or three thousand!

Have you used Recuva? If so, please add your comments below and let us know what you think.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

IT Security and the Thumb Drive

One of the banes of the IT manager’s existence is data security, particularly customer data. Being connected to the rest of the world, allowing customers in and employees out while keeping the data safe from prying eyes is a high wire act performed daily by IT shops around the world. The problem is most of them are working without a net, thanks to one of our favorite gadgets, the thumb drive.

I love thumb drives. I have the Swiss army knife with a built in USB drive on my key chain. Anywhere I drive I have my thumb drive with me and as an American that means every. I drive everywhere. I even drive to go walking.

The problem with thumb drives is everyone likes them and they are actually completely user friendly. The most inept user can stick one in a computer copy their email, or customer files to it then carry it with them to a bar, the gym, their kid’s ball game, or a crowded train filled with pick pockets. Let’s face it. The data in most offices is only as secure as their most inept employee.

So what’s the answer? Obviously the simplest answer is to shut down all USB ports on all computers, which actually isn’t all that simple. Since most offices are on Domains I thought GPOs are the best way to block ports but GPOs are extremely complicated. I spent several hours one day, trying to figure out the right combination, and the only thing I accomplished was losing access to my own optical drive. GPOs aren’t my specialty but I haven’t spoken to anyone who managed to figure it out. I read about a company in the UK that got so fed up they blocked all the USB ports by filling them in with clear caulk. That seems a bit drastic but I kind of get it.

There are better methods, most of which involve encryption. Encryption can also be pretty complicated but most IT pros have little problem with applying them. The problem is they generate a lot more requests for user assistance.  An increase in calls is a pain but when the request is “I need help decrypting this file so I can copy it to my thumb drive” you can just say no and mentally add that user to your list of problem children.

My personal opinion is the best solution to the thumb drive battle is twofold. 1. Start by having a good relationship with users. In an “US verses Them” culture you will always be outnumbered and out flanked. 2. Have strict security policies in place, with easy to understand explanations of why data security is important for everyone. If you don’t have a good security policy you can start with the IT Security Manual Template. It’s a pretty good toolkit for setting up and following strong everyday practices. Or you could go to the hardware store and buy a caulk gun.