We just rolled out a brand new feature at Office365Mon that we’re pretty excited about, because it’s a brand new way of thinking about how to manage outages – meaning, how do I know when an outage is starting, and how can I help keep concerned users in the loop. We call it the Office 365 Help Desk, and it’s meant to use a really underutilized resource to figure out when there’s an outage – your users!
The first comment I’m sure you’ll have is “um, yeah, we have users call in and report outages today”. Where this differs is that the process is light years simpler, and it automatically normalizes that input using thresholds you define. In addition to that, it’s super quick and easy and the end user also gets some immediate feedback so that they know the issue has been recorded and/or is being worked on.
How’s It Work
Office 365 Help Desk allows you to add one or more phone numbers to your Office365Mon subscription that can be used for self-reporting issues by your users. All users need to do is text the phone number for a given service and Office365Mon uses that to notify you via all the same notification channels we use when we monitor an outage. You can decide how many messages need to be received and in what time frame before having the notifications go out to your team. You can even configure how to respond to the text messages that are sent in.
Setting up Office 365 Help Desk is straightforward:
- Add a new phone number. You pick the geographic region where the phone number should be hosted and whether you want to use it for reporting SharePoint or Exchange Outages.
- Configure notifications. Configure how many text messages in what period of time will trigger an “outage”. You can also have a message automatically returned to the sender. The message can vary depending on whether an “outage” is active.
- Start using it! Let your users know what phone number(s) to use to report outages and start using it. For our tenant I just added the phone numbers to the contact list on my phone and when I have an outage it’s drop dead simple to shoot off a quick text message.
All in all it’s really pretty simple to get started. Here are few more examples.
Adding a New Phone Number
This shows the configuration of Office 365 Help Desk for my subscription. You see my existing phone numbers for each service I’m monitoring, plus the list of geographies where I can request new phone numbers.
Here you see how I’ve configured text messages that come into my phone numbers. For any given service, if I receive 3 text messages in a 5 minute period then an “outage” event will be triggered. When that happens Office365Mon sends out the standard outage notification to all of the notification emails and text message numbers you have configured for your subscription.
You also see the text messages that are sent in response to someone who texts one of the phone numbers. As you can see, they get immediate feedback as well so they feel in control too. When messagse just start coming in we let users know we’re investigating. After enough messages have been received to trigger an outage, and for 30 minutes following that, anyone who sends a text for a service that is in an outage gets a text back letting them know an outage is in progress and is being worked on. As I said above – super quick, very easy, and it keeps everyone in the know of what is going on.
One other thing to point out about the text messages – we don’t attempt to do any kind of parsing on the message that is sent. So the user can type anything they want, but it won’t impact whether or not it “counts” towards letting you know about an outage. We capture what they send in so you can review it and act upon it you like, but the beauty is that your users don’t need to remember a set of commands to type in when they send a text message – just send it and done.
What Can I do to Manage It
Another common question I get is okay, I set this up, now how else can I manage the text messages that are coming my way. The variant of this that I hear the most is “what if someone is abusing it?” Well, we got you covered there too. First of all, you get a complete log of all of the text messages that have been received in the last 30 days. You can export that data in either CSV or JSON format so you can quickly open it up in Excel or whatever analysis tool you want to use. As you’re reviewing that if you see a number or otherwise know of numbers that should not be using this feature, we have a blocked numbers list. You just add the number(s) you want us to ignore. They can continue to send text messages all day long, but we will not capture them nor alert you about them.
As you can also see in the screenshot below, we track when an outage has happened as a result of incoming text messages. So you can track in here exactly when and how frequently your users are alerting you to severe issues with your Office 365 resources.
Try It Out
All of our current customers have been set up with a 90-day free trial of this feature, so check it out and let us know what you think. All new customers also receive 90 days of free use of this feature, so it’s worth looking at and experimenting with to see how it can fit into your overall support strategy. From an end user perspective it is drastically simpler than either having to call help desk and go through that process to report an outage, or having to find an internal web site, fill out a form, and then submit it. The whole process with Office 365 Help Desk takes a couple of seconds and both you and the user have some feedback in real time so you know what’s going on.
As always, we hope you find this to be a unique and compelling feature. If you have other ideas about how it could be done better or improved upon then of course let us know by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From a somewhat rainy Phoenix area right now,