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What is a systems manager?
Systems Managers are responsible for the administration, setup and coordination of all computer applications and software used in a company. Others in IT can delegate operational support to administrative roles but the Systems Manager always handles oversight, architecture and operational duties.
My role within ViaSource Solutions is quite focused since our firm is in the Contact Center space. I’m the company administrator for Five9, which is the Cloud SaaS we use to handle all of inbound, outbound and autodial call campaigns. It serves as a dialer and complete CRM, with extensive reporting capabilities. However, we’re currently in the process of transitioning to ConnectFirst, which provides a similar service.
In connection to this role, there are a wide variety of reporting and analytical tasks associated with a contact center systems administrator or manager. A vast number of metrics need to be measured and analyzed, and then delivered and discussed with the management staff as well our clientele.
I also am involved in all new client implementations. This becomes more complex when API’s or other integrations are necessary to handle call routing or data transfer. Recommendations and consultation are necessary with our client’s IT and Systems departments to ensure our systems are able to mesh and most importantly, extract and deliver data.
Another important task is responding to system issues or questions from our management team. They need support in using various applications including general office apps like Microsoft Office 365.
I would say my role as Systems Manager is, at least in some ways, different than what you would envision this position being in many other verticals. It's more focused on administrative level design and setup of Contact Center software, and far less dependent on knowing common computer languages that others working in Systems need to know. The stereotypical, antisocial “computer geek” isn't relevant to this position; systems managers must coordinate with new clients and management and interact with all levels of the corporate world.
How did you get into CS?
Ironically I never planned to be working in the field of CS. My experience working in various positions at a call center combined with running a business using an at-home model made me attractive to the at-home call center I work with now. For several years, I worked in Project Management, and although it was expected that I have a moderate level of expertise with our platform, my tasks mainly revolved around managing several projects within the company. However, at a certain point I decided I wanted to volunteer more time with my congregation and ministry, so I approached the owners of the company with the goal of reducing my schedule to part-time. They acquiesced and we came up with the idea of transitioning my role into a Systems Manager position. By that time I had learned many of the system-related work that needed to be done, and they felt I was geared more towards that role than managing agents and projects.
There was a great deal I had to learn on the job in order handle this role, but most SaaS options offer robust technical support. With the foundation I had already established, I was able to navigate the first 6 months by simply calling on Five9’s technical support when I hit roadblocks. When integrations were needed, I would simply read up as much as possible and then call on a friend or colleague that had a background in what I needed. I believe for most people in systems, cumulatively adding onto your knowledge base is par for the course.
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What did you have to learn to qualify for the job you have now?
I’ve become an expert on Five9. However, migrating to another platform, as my company is currently working on, is always a challenge. We’re transitioning to ConnectFirst, so even though I understand from an operational standpoint what needs to be accomplished, I have to learn how this new platform is structured. I’m anticipating a four to six month learning curve to get totally up to speed.
Additionally, there have been a number of other programs and apps that we have used as a company. Microsoft Office 365 is used extensively and so is the Office suite; Excel, in particular, is used heavily. Spreadsheets are heavily relied on since analyzing call metrics and driving relevant analytics is often most easily done using Excel. We rely on an FTP to store some call recordings, so managing our FTP using CPanel is a regular task. We have to transport recordings to our various clients in a controlled, efficient manager, so we use an app called Mover. It connects various data storage vehicles and performs scheduled transfers, which automates much of the work.
Lead management software such as Salesforce and Zoho has been implemented on some of our sales campaigns, so when necessary, I’ve served as the administrator for those programs. HTML is necessary in writing scripts and building API's that post and get data from our platform to a client’s site. There are other API's and integrations we’ve performed; we basically try to tackle whatever needs to be done to extract and deliver data to our clients.
Do you have a degree in CS? If not, how did you learn?
What is the most challenging part of your job?
By far the most challenging part of my job is coordinating new client implementations. It's critical to understand each element of the proposed call campaign: reporting, data and reporting transfer, call routing and handling and all deliverables promised. It requires we learn or at least understand their systems and how they will connect with ours. We also need to customize our processes to match their expectations. This dynamic coordination is challenging and certainly keeps you on your toes.
Do you work on a team or independently?
Until recently, I was the only systems person at our company. However, we recently brought onboard someone to oversee our conversion to ConnectFirst. After our transition, this individual will work in the role of Project Manager but will also serve as a backup on the days I’m not in the office. Excluding the current situation, I typically operate independently. However, I do collaborate with our internal management staff, our CEO and our clients on many topics.
All of our staff, with the exception of our CEO, COO and a few administrative personnel, work from their home offices. Remote employees work on assigned projects and are managed by supervisors and Project Managers. I don't have oversee anyone, but I do have a degree of control when it comes to how they use our platform to manage their projects and provide reports.
I report directly to the CEO. Typically, our interactions are fairly limited to outstanding issues or new projects, since I’ve been in this role for quite some time and have a solid understanding of what is expected of me.
What is your typical day like?
I work Monday through Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Since I work at home, it’s a ten-step commute. There are times where my days might extend past 5 p.m., but they are the exception. Monday is typically a day where managers and clients need to perform analysis from the previous week. Sometimes there are reports and spreadsheets that need to be created and delivered which detail these metrics. However, my days are relatively similar in that I’m usually multi-tasking between regular systems tasks, potential new client implementations and also assisting our management staff with systems issues they are experiencing.
In terms of meetings, there are quite a few. There are regular staff meetings, new client and existing client meetings, unscheduled meetings to troubleshoot issues or outline new practices and meetings for touching base on items in process. Between meetings and one-on-one phone calls, I’m on the phone or in join.me or gotomeeting on average 1.5 to 2 hours a day.
How do you stay up-to-date on innovations and development in your field?
Primarily, I need to stay current on Contact Center trends. Are clients interested in receiving their data in new ways? Do they expect our company to integrate a foreign function or application into our process that we haven’t used before? It's important to understand how to recognize legitimate, relevant developments and how we can do business using them. Our clients expect us to communicate typical contact center deliverables to them.
In terms of continuing education, I don’t seek out conferences or classes to stay current. I look at articles on several forums; LinkedIn is a good resource. Systems education doesn’t really excite me typically, so I’m not doing a lot of reading or research in my spare time. With that said, our typical system protocols don’t change drastically over a short period of time.
What has surprised you most about learning and working in CS?
I guess the biggest surprise is how easy it can be to work in systems. It's sort of like magic before you know how a trick is done—it's amazing! At first it seems like you could never understand how the magician performs the trick, but then when you're shown the process, it seems so simple. Systems are much the same; from the outside they seem complex and daunting, but when you work with them every day it just becomes routine and comfortable.
For example, when I worked in research for EquiServe, I had a systems related role for a time. One of the tasks I needed to perform involved accessing a repository of investment data, retrieving relevant data and then rebuilding a history of investment performances for a client. There were seasoned vets at the company who knew their jobs inside and out, but when they saw me using this platform, they were stunned. They would say, “I’ve never seen someone move so fast using this system!” I used to feel exactly like them, but after using it every day, it became easy. So any task, as tough as it may seem, will become easy if you repeat it enough.
What advice would you give students who want to follow in your footsteps?
The most important piece of advice I can give is to not worry too much about knowing everything about a specific position before you start. So much is learned on the job and by doing, not listening to someone tell you how to do something. A great deal of what a systems manager does is interconnected, so what you learn on day one will serve as a foundation for what you learn on day 1000. Everything you learn will help you do your work better. So if you tend to doubt whether you can or can’t do a job, just know that most people that were once in that position felt the same way in the beginning, probably knew less than you do right now and turned out fine.
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