Legal IT – do you need a specialist service provider?

October 22, 2012

The need for an efficient, reliable and secure IT function is nowadays vital for any organisation in the legal sector. Their IT needs are specific to their sector and the Support function has a necessity to be able to cater for their demanding requirements.

With this in mind, it can be asked: Do they need an IT service provider that specialises in the legal sector? Or can any provider do the job?

Why are law firms different?

First of all, it is important to understand the specialised requirements of the legal sector. Law firms are unlike many other types of organisations in terms of the demands from end users and the non-standard organisational structure.

Typical end users are high-fee earners (Lawyers/Partners) who work long, late hours and sometimes weekends, dealing with highly sensitive documentation which they might access from different (and sometimes personal) devices.

Because of this, they need highly efficient data access 24x7x365 with minimal downtime, as well as a high level of data security. Mobility (home working) or BYOD support might also be necessary as end users often need to work from their smart phones, tablet computers, iPads and personal laptops, as well as their home PCs.

As for a law firm’s structure, this can vary considerably. This could include a main office in the UK with satellite offices or partners around the world, in different time zones. This is becoming more and more popular as the legal sector expands towards Eastern countries. Otherwise, it could consist of a network of partners across the UK linked to a central office – possibly hundreds of professionals who work from various locations or only collaborate intermittently with the organisation. These complex structures need a more flexible, scalable and secure IT system than other more common ones with only one building from which all end users work.

Supporting a law firm

There are various IT solutions to support legal firms, which depend on the size, structure and specific needs of each organisation. The main issue is supporting lawyers/partners, who often work beyond their normal working hours or are based in a different time zone, at any time of day or night.

More common structures use an internal IT service with support staff working on a night rota, taking calls from their home. Other structures require more complex models.

Global law firms might have an IT department (or trained Secretaries) in every office or country, and use a ‘follow the sun’ model for their out-of-hours support. But they might find that a central IT department based in only one location, which acts remotely to support all satellite offices, is more financially convenient and better suited to their needs, than having a Service Desk for each office – especially for 1st line support or, in any case, for operations which can be performed remotely. However, to support different countries means having to work with different time zones, so the IT Service Desk needs to be staffed on a 24x7x365 basis to be able to cope with these demands.

An alternative model which could work for UK-based organisations (with or without satellite offices or partners abroad) is having an in-house IT Support function for normal office hours, managed internally or by a service provider, but using a shared service desk for the out-of-hour calls and peak service times. The shared service will also be available for when overseas offices in other time zones require support.

Sharing IT support with other law firms, as long as the number is contained and the participating organisations are similar to each other, also means sharing costs. Hence it could be a very cost-effective solution to have total coverage.

A shared service centre can also be a good solution for smaller law firms who cannot afford high levels of skills and would like a more economical, yet still highly efficient IT service, sharing costs as well as skills with other similar organisations.

Big fish or small fish?

When choosing their support provider, law firms might go for well-known global organisations with a wide-ranging client base. The supposed benefit is that they have a lot of experience, in several different environments as well as an overall good general knowledge of all sectors.

This solution might be suitable for some law firms for which IT does not have a strategic function. For others, a general knowledge of all sectors might not be enough. For a strategic approach to IT, where it is used to create value and is not only a business supporter but an enabler, it is necessary that the provider has a good understanding of the market they will be dealing in.

Great customer service is essential when dealing with users in the legal sector. While larger service providers may rely on their name to generate new business and care more about “sealing the deal” than making a good impression on new clients, this is not the approach for the smaller, niche firms. The latter strive to deliver great customer care as it is their work and not their name that wins clients over.

Skills and flexibility

A smaller, niche support provider has important skills available to suit a law firms’ needs. Having had experience specifically in the legal sector, it is able to fully understand the needs of their organisation and compare them to other firms that are similar to them, putting forward some ‘tried and tested’ ways to improve their IT service.

They can also provide more flexibility in the service they offer. As what they offer is not standardised but bespoke, it can change with the organisation as needs arise, without charging more for every little change. Larger service providers tend to sell standardised models which can be quite inflexible, where they can only include a certain number of calls and charge for anything extra as well as any change to the model. In particularly busy periods the charge for the extra tickets can be very expensive. The same is true in case of a business restructure or merger which involves a change to the IT support model.

Do you need a specialist?

Overall, the choice of service provider depends on how the strategy for IT is set out for the law firm – whether they just need a cheap generic service or they see IT as a potential valued add-in which can help their business become even more successful.

A generic service provider does not necessarily lack knowledge of the legal sector. However, a legal specialist is a safe choice for those in need of a service which is already legal-proof and has a strong track record in dealing with a number of organisations successfully.

Ian Parker, Service Desk Manager

See the blog on Plan-Net’s website: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/news/item/172-legal-it-do-you-need-a-specialist-legal-it-service-provider.html

Increasing First Time Fix – A Service Improvement Priority

October 15, 2012

First Time Fix (FTF) is a great service management metric, as it’s the one that indicates the most gain in customer satisfaction if improved upon by a Service Desk.

First it’s worth defining and also worth pointing out how it differs from its close cousins, First Line Fix (FLF) and Service Desk Resolution (SDR):

All 3 metrics require each support ticket to be logged and resolved by the 1st Line Service Desk.  But, as indicated in the table:

  • SDR doesn’t require the ticket to have been handled only by 1st Line – indeed, the ticket may have done the rounds through multiple resolver groups before finally being resolved by 1st Line.  It also doesn’t require any prompt resolution of the ticket;
  • FLF is a measure of tickets which have only been handled by 1st Line, but, like SDR, not necessarily with any prompt resolution;
  • FTF does require the ticket handling to be self-contained within 1st Line and needs to have been resolved in one single motion without break or delay.

It’s easy to understand why FTF, if improved upon by a 1st Line Service Desk function, is the metric which relates most to customer satisfaction – It’s the one that measures when end-users get what they need at the time of asking for it.

To be clear, a ticket that is resolved in ‘one single motion without break or delay’ will typically have to adhere to all of the following criteria:

  • Be logged and resolved without the need to save, close and later re-open the ticket
  • Be resolved by the analyst from his/her desk position
  • Be resolved without seeking assistance from another colleague
  • Be resolved quickly

Although this sounds like a lot to adhere to, most good service management tools can mark a resolved ticket at ‘FTF’ if logged and resolved without first being saved.  This will provide a reasonable basis upon which to report FTF, if coupled with team processes which are geared to support FTF resolution.

In simple terms, in order to improve the FTF rate of a 1st Line Service Desk function, the team needs to do as much as it can, on its own, and promptly.

Improving your FTF rate, and thereby improving the service to your customers, can usually be achieved to 2 phases:

  • Tool Up and Up Skill – A Service Desk will need a number of tools in order to able to resolve the maximum number of tickets from their desk position.  Naturally, this will include the Service Management tool, used from handling all incidents and requests, but will also include a means of remotely controlling a user’s workstation, and the administrative tools (and related permissions) to perform all appropriate administrative duties. To ‘up skill’ means to furnish support analysts with what they need to know to work more efficiently.  This could include formal training but is more likely accomplished by the provision of internal technical workshops and the creation of knowledge base articles which are quickly available to an analyst when needed.
  • Continual Drive – Once the Service Desk is working in a manner that supports the concept of FTF, then a plan may be developed to continually increase the volume of tickets resolved in this way.  Through measurement and analysis, a pecking order of ticket types can be developed which, if addressed one by one and geared up to be resolved under FTF conditions, will bring the resolution of more support activities right to the front of the service.

As already stated, FTF is an indicator of customer satisfaction and so to increase your FTF rate will benefit the organisation in a very noticeable way.  But FTF could also work for you in 2 additional ways:

  • If more is being completed by 1st Line support analysts, then it’s likely that the volume of 2nd Line Desk-side support visits will reduce.  As the volume of tickets that can be resolved by a 1st Line will be higher than those of 2nd Line, then you may well be able to cut 2nd Line head count whilst delivering a better service.
  • In some environments, usually at bigger firms, there may be support activities performed by 3rd Line resolver groups, which with the right training, tools and permissions, may be activities that can be brought forward in the support process to 1st Line.  These might include administrative tasks for line-of-business applications which are only completed by the 3rd Line team because no one has ever questioned if it can be done by someone else.  The possible cost saving comes by moving support activities like this from 3rd Line system specialists to less expensive 1st Line analysts.

An objection to providing higher FTF might be that the culture of the firm is such that it likes to receive its support via desk-side visits.  In truth, no user actually cares how they receive their support, as long as they get what they need, when they need it.  The call for desk-side support, I think, is a natural response made by people if they think their level of support will wane if a greater emphasis is placed on 1st Line Support.  The answer to this objection is to ensure that your 1st Line service is delivered well and which provides better response times than if sending an analyst to the user.

The plan to improve your FTF rate is best managed as part of a broader Continual Service Improvement Plan as it will take some time and will need to be factored alongside your other service management developments, but is certainly a high-gain activity worth pursuing.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

This column appeared on ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/increasing-first-time-fix-%E2%80%93-service-improvement-priority

What is IT outsourcing, businesses ask? What are managed IT services? And finally, what are shared services?

October 11, 2012

Although IT is now a fundamental part of the structure of a business, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding all the available management options. Search engine Google estimates there are around 135,000 searches each month for ‘What is IT outsourcing?’, 33,100 for ‘What are managed services’ and 27,100 for ‘What are shared services?’.

There is obviously a great need for clarification on the alternatives to managing the IT department in-house.

IT sourcing models

Generally, when certain business functions or operations are performed and managed by an external party, it is called outsourcing. In the case of IT support, many things can be outsourced: from the help desk to software development, from a small part of the department to all of it.

We normally define full IT outsourcing the practice of having an external provider take care of all IT support functions and operations: staff, hardware and software usually belong to the third party used, and are based at the provider’s site. This could also be located in another country or continent, taking the form of near-shoring (within the same continent) or off-shoring (overseas).

A different approach is to keep the infrastructure in-house and only outsource management and staffing to an external partner – totally or in part. When the IT department is kept in-house but completely managed by a service provider, you have a managed service. If only some staff members are managed by an external provider, like in the case where different service providers coexist in the same environment to keep competition high, it is called a co-sourced environment. Finally, managed sourcing is the practice of having some extra resources to cover for sickness, annual leave and peak in service as needs arise without having to employ contractors and going through a selection process, as these engineers are immediately procured and managed by a third party. Managed sourcing typically has a lesser supplier management framework associated with it and is suitable for quick, lower cost and high volume resourcing. This practice can lead to the supply converting into aco-sourced or managed service support service in time.

An externally managed IT support service can also be shared between a number of companies, for added cost benefits: this is a shared service, which can be especially efficient if the participating companies have similar needs and environments, and the number of those sharing is kept low. This model can also be adopted in part, limited to certain functions such as out-of-hours support or peak times.

Reasons for outsourcing

Why do people use outsourcing and managed services for their IT? There are many different reasons for this. A KPMG report entitled ‘UK Service Provider Performance and Satisfaction 2012’ shows how the drivers for outsourcing are constantly changing. If a couple of years ago the main drivers were financial – ‘cost savings’ for 83 per cent of respondents, and ‘financial flexibility’ for 41 per cent – there is now a shift towards a more holistic and strategic view of this practice. Whilst ‘cost savings’ remains very high (70 per cent) it is now followed by ‘access to skills’ for 51 per cent of participants and ‘quality improvement’ in 46 per cent of cases.

Overall, you can say that having access to skills and experience which are not present in-house is one of the main aspects of outsourcing the IT support function. Having a generally predictive cost (depending on the contract) and being able to control service quality through Service Level Agreements (SLA) are a near-guarantee for service desk cost-efficiency.

Choosing the right sourcing model

Every organisation has different needs and requirements, therefore their IT support needs to be personalised for maximum success. A pure model – full IT outsourcing or a fully managed service – can be effective for some organisations, but others may feel that a mixed model, integrating co-sourcing and shared services in their normal in-house service, works better for them.

Your service provider of choice needs to understand this and help you choose the right model for you, therefore both fit for purpose and fit for use. Having previous experience of your environment is also an important advantage, especially if IT has a strategic function for your organisation, such as in the case of banks, traders, law firms or some media companies. A thing which organisations wishing to use one of the many outsourcing solutions need to know is that the choice of service provider is as important as the choice of model.

A combination of trusted IT service provider and appropriate sourcing model is key to transform the IT function from mere business support to a business enabler. IT can then become a value-add and help organisations improve their service to their clients – with all the benefits this entails.

Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

Leave the code alone

October 8, 2012

A recent discussion around the question “Do tech entrepreneurs need to know how to code?” prompted me to share my thoughts on the matter. My answer to this is simply no leave the code alone! In fact, what should be asked is: “Do I want to be a Tech Entrepreneur or a Developer?”

Being clear about what you are or what you want to be is a basic fundamental of life; after all you wouldn’t train to be a mechanic and then expect to get a job as a hospital surgeon, would you?

Over the years I have experienced situations where staff in an organisation suddenly get the desire to be creative and look to solve a department or company issue by opening an application, buying a ‘Dummy’s Guide’ for this, that or the other and start building a solution, in and around their actual day job.

Initially this might seem like a good idea, as a problem has been solved with no real additional cost to the organisation. However, you run the risk of users becoming dependent on the solution and, before you know it, the solution to the problem suddenly becomes critical to the smooth operation of the department or organisation, which in the long run may cost you dearly in productivity or financially.

My first experience of this was when I was asked to help with an MS Access database. There was no documentation for the database and the data didn’t match the structure, which made no sense at all. Then I discovered multiple copies of the exact same database around the company, with only one where the data actually made sense to the structure. This was the original written by a “hobbyist” who then managed to hack and change copies of the original for other departments with similar needs. This whole scenario caused a productivity issue, as departments had to wait for key important information for some weeks. There was also a financial risk that was fortunately avoided, but could have amounted to thousands of pounds.

Although MS Access may not be the best example, it was simply the first of many that I have seen. It highlights the consequences of doing things half-baked. Imagine then an application built from the ground up, with multiple interfaces into your infrastructure and other business applications and you have no support, documentation and no understanding how it works technically. The person you hailed as a Hero for creating this ‘Monster’ is no longer around and you are stuck, while another product needs to be upgraded to keep it in support and maintenance and you are now at risk of losing half your business functionality, because you can’t guarantee the ‘Monster’ will integrate into the new version.

So the bottom line for an organisation with the part-time coders is: don’t allow them to put you or your business at risk in the first place. If someone comes up with a money or efficiency saving idea, investigate it properly and then make the investment to do it right: in the long run, it will probably be more cost effective and less of a risk to your business.

So why should tech entrepreneurs not need to know how to code? It’s simple, really: they are what they are because the successful ones have incite, initiative, forward thinking skills, creativity and a desire to do things and explore avenues that in some cases no one has done or tried before. They are the people that define the top level requirements and then work hard to find someone to translate into detailed requirements that can then be developed into something tangible that they can then market, sell and profit from.

During this time they will be looking for or thinking about the next challenge or opportunity that will give them the success they crave or that drives them. The last thing they need is to be bogged down in conditional statements, forms and procedure calls.

Developers, on the other hand, have trained hard to be good at what they do; their creativity and expertise lies in translating those requirements into a product that is tangible, marketable and may possibly even make them some money. They will turn the entrepreneur’s dreams into reality and they will most likely be there in a professional capacity to support and nurture their application a long time after the entrepreneur has got his money and moved on to the next brilliant idea and the one after that.

So be a Tech Entrepreneur or be a Developer, get trained in what suits you best or you enjoy the most. Don’t try to do everyone else’s job, as the consequences could be disastrous. Or, to quote Mr Miyagi advising Daniel in the Karate Kid, “Walk on road, hmm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, get squish like a grape”.

 

Barry Houghton, Infrastructure Manager

Find Barry’s blog onthe Plan-Net website: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/index.php/news/item/169-tech-entrepreneurs-coding-leave-the-code-alone.html

 

Plan-Net shortlisted for Supplier of the Year at the British Legal Awards 2012

October 3, 2012

IT service provider Plan-Net has been nominated at the British Legal Awards 2012 in the category ‘Supplier of the Year’. It is the fourth award nomination for Plan-Net this year, also finalist in two categories at the IT Industry Awards and in one at the National Outsourcing Association Awards.

Plan-Net has extensive experience in delivering IT services to the legal sector, including 14 of the top 15 UK law firms. Understanding the needs and requirements of this particular sector, the provider established a unique and innovative legal-dedicated 24/7/365 Shared Service Centre. It is thanks to this that Plan-Net has been nominated at the prestigious British Legal Awards 2012.

The British Legal Awards celebrate achievement, excellence and innovation in the Legal Industry. The event will be taking place on Thursday 22 November at Old Billingsgate Market, London EC3.

To learn more about the British Legal Awards, visit: http://www.britishlegalawards.com

About Plan-Net: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/

What can be considered ‘warranty’ for a managed IT service?

September 27, 2012

In the plethora of IT offerings companies are faced with, Imageproducts and services have become extremely competitive not only with regards to price, but also in offering their assurance that what they offer is of good quality, will last in time and can deliver on its promise. As this has become the norm, no business would dare buy hardware or software that came without a written warranty. But how can organisations have some sort of guarantee of quality and efficiency when what they want to buy is not a product but a service?

Best practice is designed to understand the utility and warranty of any investment and it is important the distinction between the two is understood. The utility of an investment is the recognition of whether it is ‘fit for purpose’; the warranty goes beyond that to recognise whether your fit-for-purpose product is actually fit for use.

Firstly, it is important to understand which aspects are central in defining what can be identified as ‘warranty’ for a managed service. A good track record is of course imperative for the Service Provider, but this does not necessarily mean a very large number of clients of all types and sizes. Larger and widely-known Service Providers are not automatically the best choice for an organisation – can they understand your particular business, give you what you need and deliver the most cost-efficient service? You will find that a provider which is specialised or has relevant experience in dealing with organisations that are very similar to yours in type, size and needs might be the best choice for you. So this is what you should look at as a guarantee: a provider that has successfully carried out projects for clients that are similar to your organisation.

At the same time, it is important that the provider does not offer you an out-of-the-box solution for ‘all organisations like yours’. You might be similar in your structure and needs to other organisations, but this does not mean that you do not have some important differences. For example, NHS clinics all have similar needs and structure, but are very different in the way they deal with them – most clinics will use customised software and have different types of end users. The same is true for financial firms, from banks to private investment or currency exchange firms, where efficient and tailored IT is a vital element for their success.  In fact, every sector is vastly different, so in a selection exercise, be sure to understand the Service Providers you are talking to can offer positive evidence that they have supplied similar solutions.  Further to that, Service Providers that service a wider range of sectors will typically have a greater advantage in providing bespoke or ‘tailored’ solutions for your organisation.

These aspects are crucial in your choice of Service Providers, but what can guarantee the quality of the actual service itself? This mainly lies in the Service Level Agreement (SLA), which outlines agreed levels of performance monitored through certain metrics such as First-Time-Fix rate, calls answered within a set time, Abandonment rates, etc. These targets need to be consistently met, and if they are not, the Provider will be in breach of the SLA, which can have a financial impact. Consistently missing targets might mean the Provider losing the client and, in the long run, their reputation as well. With these metrics in place, it is in the provider’s own interest to perform at their best and not incur in fines or contract termination.

The choice of SLAs can make the difference between real and perceived efficiency and inefficiency. It is good practice to spend some time deciding, together with the Provider, what metrics to adopt (some will be more relevant than others) and where to set targets. Metrics have to be very detailed – setting a typical ‘70 % First Time Fix rate’ on its own is not enough. Ask yourselves: what counts as FTF? It normally refers to simple and common issues dealt with by Service Desk staff; but should printer cartridge replacement be considered a FTF even if it’s done by desk-side engineers? If some end users insist in a desk visit will it not be included in the FTF rate? This allows to have a clearer picture of how efficient of inefficient the service is and to understand if a managed service solution is right for your organisation or should be somehow modified to improve performance.

These metrics need to be tangible and agreed before they are incorporated into a live service.

In conclusion, we could say that a ‘warranty’ for a managed service should cover both the Service Provider and the service offered. It is a guarantee of quality if the Service Provider has the right track record for your company and the appropriate SLAs are in place, as well as fines and penalties for breach of the agreement. Only by carefully choosing the Service Provider which will manage your IT service it is possible to achieve efficient IT which is able to support and enable business success whilst bringing cost savings and general efficiencies to working practices.

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Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

This piece has been published on ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/what-can-be-considered-warranty-managed-it-service

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To learn more about managed services visit: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/index.php/support-services/managed-it-support-services.html

 

Why do shared services fail?

September 19, 2012

There are a plethora of reasons why Shared Service models fail. However, understanding the key reasoning should help an organisation navigate what is often thought of as a painful and costly process. It is this thought which often persuades organisations to steer clear of 3rd party suppliers and adopt or continue with more costly and less efficient models.

Reading a piece of news about a shared IT service which failed to produce the expected cost-efficiencies or even created extra costs is far from unusual nowadays – the latest concerns being the Government’s new shared models, but many other cases have populated the press. However, this doesn’t mean the model is wrong: if implemented correctly and with the right metrics in place, it can deliver a whole new world of efficiencies, cost savings and value to organisations in both the public and private sectors. But to understand how to achieve success we first need to ask ourselves: why does a shared service fail?

Business Demand

The first consideration needs to be the driver for changing the existing Service. If the driver is purely cost then a Shared Service model will work for any organisation; however, it will be at the expense of quality of Service.

As we are all aware the current financial climate is proving a major constraint to all business sectors. This is especially apparent within the Public Sector and has led to a demand for low cost Service at the sacrifice of quality. Whilst it should not be the case (certainly given the critical nature of aspects of the sector such as the NHS), there is view that the user communities are more accepting to a low quality of Service. This enables a supplier to construct an operation which will provide a Single Point of Operation (SPO), but to meet the demands for cost savings they will often provide staff who can be either under-skilled, underpaid, unmotivated or a combination of the three. Typically such Services will be shared by a large number of organisations operating across different specialist areas. It will also be driven by the largest participants as they provide the greatest source of income for the organisation. This is likely to see an SME participant suffer due to the revenue extraction from a much larger organisation. This is by no means a slight on any such supplier – after all they are filling a void in the market place, and as long as an organisation understands these basic elements, this should alleviate many concerns.

Whilst the Private Sector is certainly not immune to the downturn, the demand for quality remains, just at a lower cost. This has led to the upturn in the number of household names investigating all possible efficiency savings. From Off-Shoring to Near-Shoring the options are many; however, the favoured from the user still remains within our own shores, just at a more efficient price. The success of shared models within the Private Sector is linked to a restriction on the number of active participants and a commonality in user demand.

Commonality

Where participating organisations share synergies such as profile/type of User demand and common infrastructure, the success of a Shared Service Model has a head start. The more diverse each participant’s environments, the more complex the solution and the harder it is for a supplier to deliver a consistently high quality of Service at an efficient price.

One Size fits all?

There are suppliers that will lead you to believe they have the exact solution which will meet your requirements and will roll out a price list of the Services provided and the cost of each aspect of the Service.

The simple answer is: One Size does NOT fit all! Every organisation is different and it is this approach which has led to Outsourcing being given a bad name in certain quarters. Every Service has to be built from the ground up and if a supplier is happy to quote you a price without having a clear understanding of your business drivers, infrastructure & strategic roadmap then you should be considering whether they are a suitable partner.

Wrong metrics

To understand if a shared IT service is being successful and creating benefits, you need to decide which metrics to use to assess its success. The cost savings of a shared service are normally calculated on a cost-per-call basis. Of course if you only take that into account, the savings are evident – but that is not the only factor to take into consideration. By sharing IT Support with a number of other organisations, with different systems, environments and requirements, it is difficult to enjoy the same levels of service a dedicated service can provide. You will typically get a reduced commitment from a supplier compared to what you would have in a one-to -one relationship; so things like first time fix rates, percentages, response and resolution time will be generally lower.

Delays, downtime and other inefficiencies actually increase or create new costs even if the general expenditure related to the service is low. That might be why the expected cost savings are not met by many organisations – expectations have to take into account many other factors as well. This does not mean there aren’t any benefits and cost savings compared to a dedicated service; they just have to be more realistic.

Hidden costs

On paper, a shared service will always be the cheaper option as it is designed to be marketed on a cost per call basis. However, expect additional costs for anything else you want on top of that. You buy a volume of tickets for a cheaper price, but when you break your threshold, you pay more per call – like going overdrawn in your bank account. If you’re a major organisation and you want to be able to control your costs, you are stepping into an unknown when entering a shared service model. It is important that the supplier is transparent on any additional costs you might encounter so that you are able to calculate a realistic expenditure that you can expect from the service.

Also, in a shared service, there is a very heavy reliance on process and knowledge coming through to the supplier from each customer, and any break in that knowledge will cause issues – and there is going be costs associated with that. So make sure your supplier talks you through and documents how such activities will be handled.

The successful shared service

There are definitely benefits in using a shared IT service, but in order to achieve them it is important that the model is implemented correctly. Generally speaking, a golden rule is that shared services work best when there are just a small number of organisations sharing, of similar type and sector and with similar environment, systems and needs. A good example of a successful shared service is one shared by similarly-sized legal firms which will have the same issues – mainly supporting standard devices, Document Management, email, digital dictation and so on, but without being in competition with each other on what concerns their technology offering, such as banks.

As for the service provider, it is important that the company used is transparent with what concerns cost and service expectations, and that they are committed to align their service to the customers’ existing SLAs at the very least, if not make an improvement.

Thanks to this, organisations can use the shared service in a cost-effective way to gain more efficiency, access higher skills for a lesser price, and at the same time not have to worry about the day-to-day management of their IT function as it will be well taken care of by another company. This way, they can focus on the core of their business and on how to use IT more strategically to enjoy even greater success.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article was published on Sourcingfocus: http://www.sourcingfocus.com/site/opinionscomments/6270/

Resolution Method – A Missing Metric

September 11, 2012

Plan-Net, as a provider of managed IT services and as an IT consultancy, has performed numerous scopings for its customers over recent years – a scoping being the process of assessing, distilling, analysing and reporting on a customer’s IT support service with aim of identifying opportunities to improve service, to reduce cost and to maximise value.

Through the course of running IT service scopings, Plan-Net has compiled the standard findings into a benchmarking matrix.  Such a benchmark is a useful tool as it allows the comparison of one service with many others and it allows us to know how an individual aspect of a service fairs against the average or within a minimum to maximum range.  It can help sense check a current service and potentially contributes to the setting of targets for service improvement.

However, it’s not the process of maintaining and using a benchmark that I would like to discuss. Instead, it’s the common absence of a support metric that most Service Desks fail to record.

Ticket Resolution Method is a metric that tells us the conditions under which a Service Desk analyst managed to resolve a ticket, i.e. did the analyst resolve the ticket by: guiding the user over the phone or via email dialogue, leaving his/her desk to perform a deskside visit, using remote control tools, or referring the user to suitable self-help material?

In our 15 most recent scoping exercises (including firms across multiple sectors with staff numbers from 300 to 6500), only one Service Desk recorded the resolution method used for each ticket.

The reason the resolution method is so useful is that it provides Service Desk management with an indicator of efficiency, which on its own is useful, but which also helps to make sense of other support metrics.

Even if just two options are available to an analyst when selecting a ticket’s method of resolution, the information it ultimately provides a Service Desk Manager is extremely useful:

  • Phone/Email – Indicating the analyst resolved the ticket only by entering into dialogue on the phone or via email
  • Deskside Visit – Indicates that the analyst left their desk to visit the end user in person

There are two main distinctions between a ticket resolved by Phone/Email, and those resolved with a Deskside Visit.  If resolved by Phone/Email, then the analyst remained at his/her desk, thereby avoiding travel time around the building and gaps in time from resolving the preceding ticket and taking the next.  Additionally, a ticket resolved by Phone/Email doesn’t require the analyst to be off-service, i.e. unable to answer in-bound phone calls to the Service Desk.

If the ratio of tickets resolved by each of the two methods can later be reported on, then immediately the Service Desk Manager will have a metric which can be used to help improve their service.  Unless an organisation specifically wants to provide its users with deskside support (and some do despite the cost), then the Service Desk manager can begin to take steps to increase the volume of tickets resolved by Phone/Email, thereby reducing the number requiring more time consuming deskside visits, and so making the Service Desk more efficient.  Such efficiencies may then be noticeable in other areas: call abandonment rates (the frequency that users attempt and fail to phone the Service Desk) may reduce as a result of having analysts on service for more of the time, and Service Level Target performance may improve as less time is lost to Deskside visits.

Reporting on resolution method can also be useful when looking at individual analyst performance.  An analyst with relatively low tickets resolved per day, with a higher ratio of Deskside Visits versus Phone/Email resolutions, might be able to improve their overall performance by being less keen to attend to desk and to do more from their own workstation.

Further efficiency gains may also be made if additional methods of resolution are available, for instance if a Service Desk maximises the use of remote support tools.  Remote tools can be a good alternative to deskside visits as they can accomplish the same outcome but in less time.  If available to an analyst as a resolution method option, tickets resolved in this way should further support the Service Desk Manager in improving his/her service as the reliance on Deskside visits could fall further.

The merits of recording resolution method, using it as a KPI (key performance indicator) of a service, linking it to other support metrics, and ultimately achieving performance and financial gains could be discussed and debated until the cows come home.  But a call to action might simply be the recommendation of recording this useful metric as part of your ticket resolution process.  The overhead of recording it will be negligible on your analyst’s time but will provide valuable information on what might be considered the most important part of your incident management process – the resolution.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

10 Things your IT Service Desk should NOT be doing

September 3, 2012

Is your IT Service Desk managed efficiently? If any of these things are happening, perhaps it is time to have a look at the way you manage your IT support staff and make some improvements.

1 – Bypassing processes/procedures

As a central point of IT, should the Service Desk fail with these basic disciplines, the rest of IT will follow; this will subsequently cause failures and inefficiencies.

2 – Avoiding logging calls, regardless of how trivial they are

Services are measured on service volumes and staff are recognised for their contributions towards these measures. Service Desk staff do not always grasp that, normally, the service is charged based on reported service volumes.  Further to this, for audit control it is imperative to have a record of all calls logged so that the capacity of the service can be fully understood.

3 – Taking decisions to change priority based on individual relationships

It is imperative that your Service Desk understands the priority structure within your organisation, e.g. Directors/VIPs, Traders, Sales Back office Staff, as each will have their view on who should take priority. There should be a clear protocol which your Service desk should not bypass.

4 – Forgetting to manage their telephone management

ACD stats are as important as the statistics produced by your call management tool in understanding capacity, peaks and flows, as well as in understanding individual KPIs. For example, if someone is targeted on how many calls they have fixed whilst being logged on to the phones, they should ensure they engage in ‘not ready’ protocol to maximise and prove their individual output.

5 – Taking lunch or breaks at the same time

Shifts on a Service Desk need to be regimented in order to cover peak times of the days and varied shifts. Someone not being available to take a call at a certain time of the day, unless by absolute exception, is unacceptable. Perception of the Service Desk is key – it only takes one call out of many to be delayed in pick up or left to abandon for the perception of the service to completely change.Image

6 – Escalating issues that they have the ability to resolve

It is important that your Service Desk staff understand the limits they need to go to in order to fix a call.  Equally as important is their understanding of what they have access to and what falls within their remit. Once calls are escalated, the Service Desk can lose respect from other areas by showing an unwillingness to perform certain duties, when in fact they simply haven’t been made clear what falls within their domain.

7 – Leaving the call management flow to someone else

Your Service Desk needs to be accountable for call flows from start to finish.

8 – Sitting at their desks during their breaks. 

Not only is it important from a health and safety perspective that people take adequate breaks, but it gives off the image that these people are working. In this instance, they should not demonstrate their frustrations if they are approached for assistance during a break whilst being sat at their desks. They should be encouraged to take sufficient breaks, and away from their desks.

9 – Ignoring repeated patterns in call types. 

Normally, repeated call types suggest an underlying problem that needs escalating and managing through the proper problem management channels.

10 – Asking repetitive questions to other support groups. 

Support engineers need to take appropriate notes and be able to absorb the majority of what they are being told. A Service Desk can start to lose its integrity if its staff fails to grasp basic concepts.

 

 

Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

This article is also on ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/10-things-your-it-service-desk-should-not-be-doing

Selling Managed Services to the CFO

August 28, 2012

It can sometimes be very difficult for IT Managers, CIOs and other Senior Managers within the business to get the CFO’s buy-in for an IT project. Many find it even more challenging when they are considering proposing a Managed Service model, where a third party manages the IT Service Desk or parts of it, taking over an in-house function.

The CFO wants to know what the benefits are, especially in financial terms: how does it save us money? What are the risks involved? And finally, why would using a provider be better than doing things in-house? Luckily, it is not difficult to show the return on investment of this sourcing solution if all the factors are accounted for.

Often, the perception in the market place is that a managed service trades in-house knowledge and control for greater cost. This is particularly the case when the organisation does not present the correct business case and/or is unaware of the true expense of its IT Service.

With this in mind, the very first step in preparing the business case for the CFO to review is consider all the financial implications of having an in-house solution. Armed with this knowledge, one can now consider the business case profile for the CFO.

The first and most tangible benefit of a managed IT service is cost. Expenditure related to managing the IT Service Desk can be extremely variable: it includes HR costs, sickness and holiday cover and training, as well as the design and implementation of new strategies and best practices to ensure service efficiency and continual improvement.

With a managed service, all of this becomes a fixed monthly cost, smoothing out the expense and providing known, quantifiable out-goings. It also lowers the risk profile of the service to the business with defined Services Metrics and the Managed service providers taking on the absence cover and staff training.

There is often a general apprehension amongst companies in having a third party take care of an internal function, particularly one that is viewed as the face of IT to the rest of the organisation. It is important to note that, with a managed service, the organisation always retains a level of control over the outsourced function, which allows them to focus on strategic business decisions, rather than grappling with the day-to-day management of the service desk.

Unlike full IT outsourcing, in a managed service the organisation normally retains ownership of all hardware and software, as well as locating the service desk within their premises rather than elsewhere. The organisation sets the Service Level Agreements (SLA) and if these are not met, there will be consequences – normally a fine and, in the long term, the non-renewal of the contract. These SLAs are constantly refined and honed as the business grows and changes.

It is easy to see that, in the end, it is the service provider that risks the most. If they fail, the organisation can find another provider or return to in-house provisioning, but they will damage their reputation and this affects their chances of getting new clients in the future.

Additional benefits include the immediate access to skill-sets and expertise which may be in short supply or not present internally. A fresh approach can result in spotting inefficiencies and improvements that internal staff are used to and don’t see any more, or alternatively are trying to cover up to defend their work and decision-making.

All in all, a managed service is a cost-efficient solution that can increase an organisation’s competitive advantage. There are different models which can be adopted: an organisation might only outsource its helpdesk or desktop support staff, the out-of-hours function, or use the provider for its flexibility in providing an amount of temporary staff for seasonal increase or holiday and sickness cover.

With the right model, tailored to the organisation’s specific needs, IT can become a cost-saver and a real value-add. Managed Services can not only support the business but also help it grow, flexing with the needs of the company and allowing the CFO to invest finances in other areas and projects without having to worry about unexpected IT support costs any more.

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Jennifer Grant, Service Delivery Manager

This article has been published on Service Management: http://bit.ly/Om1Y7r


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