Archive for the ‘Help Desk’ Category

The GLOCAL IT Service Desk

June 27, 2011

‘Stay local, act global’ is the new mantra for IT departments

With companies becoming increasingly international and IT support more and more remote, the IT Service Desk finds itself dealing with a user base that often extends to an EMEA or global level. The idea of outsourcing to a service provider seems now more than ever a convenient and cost-efficient solution to many organisations – in fact, the IT outsourcing industry in the UK is now generating over £40 billion a year, accounting for 8 per cent of the country’s total economic output, an Oxford economics research recently revealed. Delegating management of the IT Service Desk allows companies to focus on their business whilst leaving IT-related matters such as Incident, Problem and Request management with their associated headaches – to the experts.

It is, however, wrong to think that a ‘global’ desk has to be based in India, China or Poland. Such an off-shore or near-shore solution might not be safe enough for those companies which need to keep a high level of control over the data and IP processed by their IT system, such as those in the financial, legal and public sector. But an outsourced Global Support team does not actually have to be physically located abroad – the service just needs to be able to reach offices and branches across the world, which surprisingly can be done even from Sevenoaks, London or from your very own headquarters.

In addition to this, choosing a managed service rather than a fully outsourced solution can prove an even better arrangement. In fact, whereas with full outsourcing and offshoring the level of control over the IT department can never be full because the whole infrastructure usually belongs to the provider, a managed service can provide a safer solution for those organisations which are very careful about security, such as those whose very sensitive or precious data cannot risk being stolen, leaked or lost. Many companies simply see value in knowing the people responsible for assisting their business.

Although a solution which is 100% safe does not exist, retaining ownership of the infrastructure and keeping the Service Desk in the office or near the premises means that there is a lesser risk of data security issues getting out of hand, being reported too late or being hidden. By using a trusted provider and retaining a certain level of control over the department, the chances of a security breach are therefore minimised.

A Gartner research published last month revealed that IT outsourcing is increasing all over the world: global IT spend by businesses increased 3.1% in 2010 amounting to $793bn, a slight rise from the $769bn that was spent in 2009. This shows that the market is slowly going back to pre-crisis levels of 2008, after which it fell by 5.1%. Companies are spending more even if the economic climate continues to remain uncertain and the fear of a double-dip recession is still in the air – clearly they believe IT outsourcing is worth the risk, and this could be because of the flexibility it allows them to have.

Some Support solutions, in fact, enable organisations to increase and decrease the size of their IT Service Desk according to need. This could not be so easily done within an in-house service: engineers would have to be kept even when not fully utilised, meaning inefficiency occurs, made redundant during low service needs or made to work harder and longer at peak times. If we apply this to a global scale and the implication of different employment law for each country, it gets unnecessarily complicated.

A Support services provider should be able to add and take out engineers and move them around flexibly, and some even have a multisite team hired expressly to go where needed at short notice within the provider’s clients. With this level of flexibility, the ties that bind organisations to providers can be more an advantage than a disadvantage during global expansion or difficult and rocky economic times.

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

Oh no… Not another Service Management initiative!

June 21, 2011

Thanks to Best Practice frameworks, technological progress and improved knowledge of the potentials of IT, a lot can be done nowadays at Service Desk level to reduce cost, speed up operations and improve service quality – all things that can contribute to achieving business success. However, Service Management initiatives such as role changes and redistribution, adoption of new tools and technologies and the implementation of new processes to follow may not always be welcome by who in the end has to accept and embrace all these changes – Service Desk staff. Do you take into consideration what they think about Cloud Computing, Best Practice and self-service software before you sign off your projects?

Although it may seem unnecessary to seek IT staff involvement, this is actually very important, as the new tools and techniques adopted may not work at all without staff collaboration. Analysts working at your Service Desk might refuse to endorse the project as they may see it as impractical or unfit for your specific environment or just a needless complication when things are fine the way they are. It is essential, then, to think about how the organisation can get IT staff to collaborate and, perhaps, if it should listen to what they have to say before embarking on any projects and taking decisions they might later regret.

‘Change’ seen as a threat

A move from Lotus Notes to the fully ITIL-aligned Remedy or embracing the new technology potential of server virtualisation could seem sensible from a business and Service Desk manager’s point of view. However, any change can be seen as a potential threat by analysts – not only to their day-to-day work routine which they are more than happy with as it is, but often to their position. They fear they might not have the skills to use new technology or that this may easily do their job at no hourly cost (i.e. self-service software) therefore making their position redundant.

And virtualisation is perceived as the biggest threat: as it enables remote support, potentially centralised in a Service Desk located in another city or country, many in-house positions may be in danger. Although not unfounded, this fear shouldn’t become pure terror: it is still early days for complete virtualisation, so there is still place for an IT department within the office, plus some companies will want to keep their ‘virtual team’ internal anyway for extra security and control. This can also been seen as an opportunity. A need for analysts specialised in VMware, Hyper-V, Citrix and the like will arise, giving engineers a chance to acquire and practice new skills and the exciting possibility of working at a centralised, often global Service Desk.

Furthermore, as can be found in many other departments and roles, seniority has an impact on analysts’ willingness to accept change, creating a harder challenge for management. Engineers that have been working there for a long time and have gotten used to their old methods normally find it more difficult to accept innovation, especially when this is proposed by a new manager or an external consultant. More junior professionals or those who have only recently joined the company, instead, tend to be more willing to collaborate and curious to see new technologies and innovative processes in action. In fact, they might think working with new tools is a great chance to expand and update their skills, which is hopefully what the Service Desk manager will try to communicate even to the more institutionalised analysts.

This could also be a cultural issue: junior members will have grown up with a larger use of complex technology from an early age – the so-called ‘digital natives’ – whereas older personnel will have seen the origin of computing, and might find it more comforting to stick to the old ways of working.

Don’t impose – involve

If change is difficult to accept for many people, it can be even more unwelcome when it is forced into the system without previous communication, a good amount of explanation regarding its reasons, benefits and consequences on people’s roles, and perhaps a chance to express your own views and raise questions. In order to reduce resistance to change, the first step is to discuss the possible modifications with technical staff and people that will ultimately be involved in its use before taking a decision, giving engineers a chance to think it over and raise any concerns or doubts.

This can work to the business’ advantage as well. Current Service Desk employees can actually be a good source of information that you can learn from, as they might have suggestions and thoughts based on their practical experience at your company and in your specific environment. What works for one company, in fact, might not work for another, but it may be difficult to see some practicalities from a non-executive position. Instead engineers, being in direct contact with the IT system, might have reasons to believe the project you wish to carry out may be impractical or impossible to implement in your specific environment.

Listening to their doubts and fears, as well, is an important part of the process. Moreover, just by asking their opinion and interacting with them, you will make them feel that you value their opinion, that they are being considered and are therefore important.

Getting the best out of analysts

Even if you manage to convince IT analysts that the new changes are sensible and advantageous or have come to an agreement on what to implement and what not, adopting the new tools and following new procedures in a robotic manner is not enough to deliver a good service. Motivation is key to make any part of the business, the IT Service Desk included, work at their best and without it not much can be achieved. Invest in your employees and they’ll invest in you.

Reward schemes where hitting targets can lead to some type of benefit, for instance vouchers or prizes, are a good idea to keep the atmosphere competitive. However, if you do not have a budget that justifies this sort of expenditure, a monthly recognition for the best performing engineer can be sufficient. An ‘engineer of the month’ competition can increase staff’s motivation to try and reach the targets set not just for the prize, but also for fun.

You must be careful, however, when deciding which metrics to use to evaluate a good worker: number of calls may not coincide with incident resolution and call length might not be a symbol of quality, so you would have to make a balanced assessment taking various criteria into consideration before you award an engineer over another.

Adopting a holistic view

It is important to stop seeing IT as a service to the business, and adopt a more modern view where it is part of the business. If managed correctly, in fact, the IT Service Desk can be a great ally that will create strategic advantage and help companies improve their business and reach further success. This is why organisations should invest in IT staff and try to create a positive can-do attitude among them.

Managers can encourage skills improvement through workshops, training or further qualifications (for instance, ITIL V3) and turn challenges brought on by new technologies into opportunities. The introduction of new devices – iPad, iPhone etc – within the system, which might seem like an annoyance to some, should be taken as a great chance to be exposed to the latest technology and although managers shouldn’t expect all analysts to be able to support all types of devices, they may chose some engineers to specialise in supporting the latest ones in the market.

There is no need to train everyone- a good Service Desk or Delivery manager should be able to identify those engineers that are best suited for specialising in these technologies or teaching others, and have them trained accordingly.

It is not always IT’s fault

Often it is not analysts, but non-IT managers and C-executives that may be opposed to change – for instance, when the implementation of new Best Practice processes could eliminate prioritisation of calls based on ‘rank’ rather than the incident’s characteristics. Although it might be ok to adopt some level of flexibility, it is also important to ensure the possible ‘executive exceptions’ don’t have a negative effect on the Service Desk’s efficiency targets, and to do this the whole organisation, and not just IT, needs some sort of education to Best Practice.

Another difficult change could be the introduction of new software. Moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 or introducing a self-service tool to deal with simple and repetitive incidents such as password reset could throw non-technical personnel into a crisis. Again, preparation and education are essential for them to accept change. They need to understand why the change is being made, what are the benefits and how it will affect – possibly improve – their work. Guiding them in the discovery of the new tools, as well, will increase their acceptance as not being able to use the new application properly will not make the company achieve the benefits they were aiming at with its introduction.

With some good Change Management processes in place and the right communications means, it should be made clear across the whole organisation what changes will be made at Service Desk and user level and how they will affect them, what exceptions to the standard processes can and cannot be accepted and the consequences of not using a tool, not doing it correctly or making too many exceptions, not just on the Service Desk, but on the rest of the business as well. Only by communicating changes, explaining results and benefits and setting rules and exceptions it is possible for a IT Service Desk to function properly and meet efficiency targets while still keeping senior management happy, allowing the business to work fluently.

Sam Evanson, Operations Delivery Manager

This article was written for the June edition of At Your Service

Executive exceptions: Best Practice killers or just business as usual?

April 11, 2011

The principles behind ITSM Best Practice have a very clear purpose: they allow organisations to follow the most efficient route to effectively solve an IT-related incident, without wasting unnecessary time, effort and financial resources. Incidents are normally prioritised based on specific criteria, and clear processes are set out and must be followed both by end users who experience an incident and Service Desk analysts who deal with it.

If this is the theory of Best Practice, in reality things are a bit different. Prioritisation based on incident features, in fact, often struggles to overcome the one based on user ‘rank’. In many organisations some processes are put aside when it comes to the CEO needing help, even if they are just having issues opening an email attachment sent by a friend on their iPhone, or are circumvented and speeded up by users who escalate the incident to their boss in order to have higher priority.

Implementing ITSM Best Practice ‘on paper’ might not be enough to reach efficiency, then, if the culture of ‘executive exception’ kills off all Service Management efforts. But is it acceptable to have some sort of two-tiered system for IT Support where priority is often given to senior or key people, and to what extent?

First of all, it is important to note that it is not down to the Service Desk analyst to decide whether or not to give priority to a senior manager. Unless there is a known rule – e.g. ‘the CEO always comes first no matter what’ – they should always refer to the Service Desk or Service Delivery manager on a case-by-case basis. It is they who ultimately decide if the IT Director’s faulty keyboard is to be dealt with before the glitch in Joe Bloggs’ email or not.

But when this system gets out of hand and flexibility is the rule rather than the exception, perhaps it is time to reflect upon the issue and its consequences – like inefficiencies, delays in incident resolution and even financial loss. To analyse the situation, one must first identify where the problem originates and who is to blame: the indulgent IT staff who allow it to happen or senior management who take advantage of their position and expect to have a special service because of who they are?

In any case, it is more a cultural issue than a technical one, but whose culture needs to be changed and how the organisation should go about changing the system is something that needs to be given a lot of thought. Perhaps some ITSM Best Practice awareness should be delivered throughout the company, including all Service Desk staff and all end users regardless of position. Also, some strict policies should be put into place stating that only a small percentage of ‘executive exception’ can be allowed based on specific criteria – for instance, the importance of that operation to the business. If the CEO’s faulty keyboard happens during an important presentation aimed at winning new business, then it can be put before an email system glitch, if the latter does not have major negative consequences for the business.

A balance is definitely required when dealing with this problem which is so common in IT departments of companies of all sizes and across all sectors. It is down to each organisation, though, to decide whether this sort of flexibility is acceptable, to what extent it should be allowed and what to do to avoid it causing inefficiencies. Best Practice is a framework, not a step-to-step guide and should be adopted and adapted to each specific environment; an appropriate amount of tailoring is always necessary for it to produce cost-efficiency, and ultimately contribute to business success.

Sam Evanson, Operations Delivery Manager

Surviving IT spending cuts in the public sector

February 15, 2011

How to create cost-efficiencies in the post-Spending Review scenario

After the announcement of 25%-40% budget cuts last year, it is reasonable to expect IT to be one of the departments to suffer the most in public sector organisations. However, cuts in IT support and projects may bring inefficiencies and disruptions, which can then lead to real losses and increasing costs.  More than ever, CIOs and IT Directors at public sector organisations are taking various options into consideration, from quick-fixes to farther-sighted ideas, trying to find a solution that will produce savings without compromising on service quality and data security, and perhaps even increasing efficiency. Here are some common ideas analysed:

Solution 1: Reducing headcount

Firing half of your IT team will produce immediate savings since you will not have to pay them a salary the following months, but when Support staff is insufficient or not skilled enough to meet the organisation’s needs it can lead to excessive downtime, data loss, security breaches or the inability to access applications or the database. A ‘quick-fix’ such as this represents a false economy. Reviewing resource allocation and improving skill distribution at Service Desk level, on the other hand, can be a valid solution. Indeed many IT departments can find themselves top heavy with expert long serving team members where the knowledge supply out-weighs the demand. A larger proportion of lower-cost 1st line engineers with improved and broader skills and a fair reduction of the more deeply skilled and costly 2nd and 3rd line technicians can not only reduce staff spend, but also create efficiencies with more calls being solved with first-time fix.

Solution 2: Offshoring

Although the thought of employing staff who only ask for a small percentage of a normal UK salary may sound appealing, offshoring is not as simple as ABC. It requires a large upfront investment to set up the office abroad, with costs including hardware, software, office supplies and travel and accommodation of any personnel that manages the relationship with the supplier. Organisations are not able to afford that kind of investment, especially since this solution only creates cost-savings in the long term – but the public sector needs cost savings now. Furthermore, the different culture and law can represent a risk to information security: data could be easily accessed by staff in a country thousands of miles away and sold for a couple of dollars, as various newspapers and TV channels have found out. With the extreme sensitivity of data processed by Councils, charities and the NHS, no matter how hard foreign suppliers try to convince the public sector to offshore their IT, it is unlikely this will happen – it is simply too risky.

Solution 3: IT Cost Transparency

Understanding the cost of IT and its value to the organisation, being able to prioritise and manage people and assets accordingly and knowing what can be sacrificed, can help identify where money is being wasted, which priorities need to be altered and what can be improved. For instance, do all employees need that piece of software if only three people actually use it more than twice a year, and do you need to upgrade it every year? Do all incidents need to be resolved now, or can some wait until the more urgent ones are dealt with? Do you need a printer in each room, and when it breaks do you need to buy a new one or could you make do with sharing one machine with another room? These and many other questions will lead to more efficient choices, but only after having identified and assessed the cost and value of each aspect of IT, including people and assets.

Solution 4: Cloud computing

There are contrasting opinions on this matter. The Government CIO, John Suffolk encourages the use of this service, and reckons that the public sector would be able to save £1.2bn by 2014 thanks to this solution. However, many believe that placing data in the hands of a service provider can be risky due to the highly sensitive nature of the data involved, so traditional Cloud computing may not be an ideal solution.

A shared environment such as the G-cloud, where various public sector organisation share private data centres or servers, may be a safer option that allows the public sector to achieve major efficiencies and cost savings, while minimising issues related to data security.

Solution 5: Shared Services

A shared service desk is not for everyone – it can only work if the organisations sharing have similar needs, culture and characteristics, and as IT can be a strategic advantage for competitive businesses, sharing the quality may mean losing this advantage. But for the public sector, this solution may be ideal. Local councils with the same functions, services and needs will be able to afford a higher level of service for a reasonable price, sharing the cost and the quality.

Solution 6: Service Management Good Practice

‘Doing more with less’ is one of the most used quotes since the recession started. And it is exactly what the public sector is looking for. Public organisations don’t want to be ITIL-aligned, obtain certifications, and tick the boxes. All they want is efficiency and cost savings – and through the right Service Management moves, after an Efficiency Review to find out what needs improvement and how, this can be obtained through the right choices regarding people, processes and technology.

Solution 7: Managed Services

A solution where the IT Service Desk is kept internal with its assets owned by the company, but managed by a service provider is becoming more and more popular among organisations from all sectors. When the sensitivity of data and a desire for a certain level of control over IT rules out full outsourcing, but in-house management does not allow to reach potential cost savings and efficiencies, a managed service may represent the ideal ‘in-between’ choice. The post-Spending Review public sector, then, may benefit from a flexible solution that is safer than outsourcing, but more cost-effective than an in-house solution.

Every challenge can be a new opportunity

Although budget reduction may affect investment in large IT projects and shiny new technology, it also represents the ideal opportunity to analyse what is essential and what is not, and to prioritise projects based on this. The public sector, then, find itself prioritising for effectiveness over compliance, cost-efficiency over cheapness and experience over offers, when choosing providers and tools for their IT. This will lead to the choice of solutions that will help organisations run more smoothly and safely, invest their resources better and, ultimately, deliver a service that will bring maximum customer and user satisfaction.

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

(also on Business Computing World: http://www.businesscomputingworld.co.uk/how-to-create-cost-efficiencies-in-the-post-spending-review-scenario/)

Minimising IT downtime for finance professionals

November 30, 2010

High-value users downtime costs firms thousands an hour

High IT availability is nowadays vital to the majority of organisations across all sectors. For the financial sector, so heavily reliant on IT, it is ever more crucial that the business-critical systems work at maximum efficiency and that any downtime and disruptions are minimised. To high-value users, delays, an inability to access data or email and lack of business continuity in any other form have an overall cost that cannot be ignored, especially in an unstable economic environment such as the one we are currently experiencing.

If research shows that the average yearly revenue loss due to downtime in UK companies amounts to just over £200,000, when it comes to the financial sector this increases to £220,000 – the highest across the various sectors. This figure, reported in the recently published study ‘The avoidable cost of downtime’ issued by CA Technologies, is not surprising. If you add up the cost of email, servers, data centre and crucial applications downtime and take into account the high hourly cost of a finance executive who is unable to work, it is not difficult to see how the overall figure can reach hundreds of thousands.

A solution to minimise downtime and disruptions and the resulting losses is evidently needed. Efficient IT Support, tools and technology that enable business continuity and resilience are key to achieve cost-efficiency, together with implementation of the Best Practice frameworks tailored to business requirements.

Investing first of all in a Best Practice framework such as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is an excellent base for any improvements to IT. By taking the processes described by the discipline and adapting them to business needs, major cost-efficiencies can be reached, and in turn, users will experience a better, more consistent service.

From a ‘platform’ point of view, the adoption of one or more forms of Virtualisation, be it desktop or server based, is another strategy which can be used to reduce downtime. “Live migration” features make it far quicker for the Service Desk to bring users back on line when they experience a problem with their desktop and failover  solutions found in lots of virtualised server environments can help to safeguard against data loss and mass user downtime caused by a fault at the ‘back end’.

Looking at the Service Desk aspect of IT, adoption of some self-service tools and appropriate Key Performance Indicators (KPI) can help to make incident resolution faster and smoother, minimising disruption and to some extent, even the number of repeat incidents. The proportion of first and second/third line technicians and their skills should be reviewed, so that most incidents can be resolved at first line level. Support staff should be able to ask finance professionals the right questions in order to understand the nature of the incident, and to resolve it quickly or promptly escalate it to Desk Side or remote support.

The cost savings achieved through the appropriate management of people, process and technology to financial firms can be huge. If the systems are virtually never down and data is practically always accessible or quickly recoverable, losses deriving from downtime are virtually annulled and high-value users can carry out their work without unpleasant interruptions, helping the firm reach a level of strategic competition previously unseen.

Richard Forkan, Business Development Director

Are you Off-Sure about your IT Service Desk?

July 15, 2010

No matter the economic climate, or indeed within which industry they operate, organisations are constantly seeking to lower the cost of IT while also trying to improve performance. The problem is it can often seem impossible to achieve one without compromising on the other and in most cases, cost cutting will take prevalence, leading to a dip in service levels.

When things get tough the popularity of off-shoring inevitably increases, leading many decision-makers to consider sending the IT Service Desk off to India, China or Chile as a convenient solution financially – low-cost labour for high-level skills is how offshore service providers are advertising the service.

In reality things are not so straightforward. The primary reason for off-shoring is to reduce costs, but according to experts average cost savings only tend to lie between 10-15%, and what is more, additional costs can be created – research shows, in fact, that they can in some cases increase by 25%.

Hidden costs, cultural differences and low customer and user satisfaction are reasons which have made nearly 40% of UK companies surveyed by the NCC Evaluation Centre change their mind and either reverse the move – a phenomenon known as ‘back-shoring’ or ‘reverse off-shoring’ – or think about doing so in the near future. Once an organisation decides to reverse the decision, however, the process is not trouble-free. Of those who have taken services back in-house, 30% say they have found it ‘difficult’ and nearly half, 49%, ‘moderately difficult’. Disruptions and inefficiencies often lead to business loss, loss of client base and, more importantly, a loss of reputation – it is in fact always the client and not the provider which suffers the most damage in this sense.

Data security is another great concern in off-shoring. An ITV news programme recently uncovered a market for data stolen at offshore service providers: bank details and medical information could be easily bought for only a few pounds, often just from call centre workers. Of course information security breaches can happen even in-house, caused by internal staff; however, in off-shoring the risk is increased by the distance and the different culture and law which exist abroad.

Not a decision to be taken lightly, then. Organisations should realise that the IT Service Desk is a vital business tool and while outsourcing has its advantages, if they do it by off-shoring they are placing the face of their IT system on the other side of the planet, and in the hands of a provider that might not have the same business culture, ethics and regulations as they do.

So before thinking about off-shoring part or the whole IT department, organisations would be wise to take the time to think about why their IT is so expensive and what they could do to improve it, cutting down on costs without affecting quality, efficiency and security and moreover, not even having to move it from its existing location.

Here are some measures organisations could take in order to improve efficiency in the IT Service Desk while at the same time reducing costs:

Best practice implementation

Adoption of Best Practice is designed to make operations faster and more efficient, reducing downtime and preserving business continuity. The most common Best Practice in the UK is ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) which is divided into different disciplines – Change Management, Risk Management, Incident Management to name but a few.

ITIL processes can be seen as a guide to help organisations plan the most efficient routes when dealing with different types of issues, from everyday standard operations and common incidents up to rarer events and even emergencies.

Whilst incident management seems to be easily recognised as a useful tool, other applications of ITIL are unfairly seen by many as a nice to have. But implementing best practice processes to deal with change management, for example, is particularly important: if changes are carried out in a random way they can cause disruptions and inefficiencies, and when a user cannot access resources or has limited use of important tools to carry out their work, business loss can occur – and not without cost.

Every minute of downtime is a minute of unpaid work, but costs can also extend to customer relationship and perhaps loss of client base if the inefficiencies are frequent or very severe.

Realignment of roles within the Service Desk

With Best Practice in place, attention turns to the set-up of resources on the Service Desk. A survey conducted by Plan-Net showed that the average IT Service Desk is composed of 35% first-line analysts, 48% second line and 17% third line. According to Gartner statistics, the average first-line fix costs between £7 and £25 whereas second line fixes normally vary from £24 to £170. Second and third line technicians have more specific skills, therefore their salaries are much higher than the ones of first line engineers; however, most incidents do not require such specific skills or even physical presence.

An efficient Service Desk will be able to resolve 70% of their calls remotely at first line level, reducing the need for face-to-face interventions by second line engineers. The perception of many within IT is that users prefer a face-to-face approach to a phone call or interaction with a machine, but in reality the culture is starting to change thanks to efficiency acquiring more importance within the business. With second-line fix costing up to 600% more, it is better to invest in a Service Desk that hits a 70% rate of first-time fix, users for the most part will be satisfied that their issues are fixed promptly and the business will go along way to seeing the holy grail of reduced costs and improved performance simultaneously.

From a recent survey carried out by Forrester for TeamQuest Corporation, it appears that 50% of organisations normally use two to five people to resolve a performance issue, and 35% of the participants are not able to resolve up to 75% of their application performance issues within 24 hours. Once you calculate the cost of number of staff involved multiplied by number of hours to fix the incident, it is not difficult to see where the costly problem lies. An efficient solution will allow IT to do more with less people, and faster.

Upskilling and Service Management toolset selection

Statistics show that the wider adoption of Best Practice processes and the arrival of new technologies are causing realignments of roles within the Service Desk. In many cases this also involves changes to the roles themselves, as the increased use of automated tools and virtualised solutions mean more complex fixes can be conducted remotely and at the first line. As this happens first line engineers will be required to have a broader knowledgebase and be able to deal with more issues without passing them on.

With all these advancements leading to a Service Desk that requires less resource (and therefore commands less cost) while driving up fix rates and therefore reducing downtime it seems less and less sensible for organisations to accept off-shore outsourcing contracts with Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) that guarantee a first-time fix rate of as little as 20% or 30% for a diminished price. It seems the popularity of such models lies only in organisations not being aware that quality and efficiency are something they can indeed afford – without the risk of off-shoring.

The adoption of a better toolset and the upskilling of first-line analysts, especially through ITIL-related training, will help cut down on costs and undoubtedly improve service levels. However while it will also remove the necessity to have a large amount of personnel, especially at higher level, the issues with finding, recruiting and training resource will still involve all the traditional headaches IT Managers have always faced. With this in mind it can often be prudent to engage with a service provider and have a co-sourced or managed desk that remains in-house and under internal management control. Personnel selected by an expert provider will have all the up-to-date skills necessary for the roles required, and only the exact number needed will be provided, while none of the risks associated with wholesale outsourcing, or worse, off-shoring, are taken.

Improving IT infrastructure and enhancing security

Improving efficiencies in IT does not begin and end with the Service Desk of course. The platform on which your organisation sits, the IT infrastructure itself, is of equal importance in terms of both cost and performance – and crucially, is something that cannot be influenced by off-shoring. For example, investing in server virtualisation can make substantial cost savings in the medium to long term. Primarily this arises from energy saving but costs can also be cut in relation to space and building and maintenance of physical servers, not to mention the added green credentials. Increased business continuity is another advantage: virtualisation can minimise disruptions and inefficiencies, therefore reducing downtime – probably the quickest way to make this aspect of IT more efficient in the short, medium and long term.

Alongside the myriad of new technologies aimed squarely at improving efficiency and performance sits the issue of Information Security. With Data Protection laws getting tougher due to the new 2010 regulations, forcing private companies to declare any breaches to the Information Commissioner who has the right to make them public, and facing them with fines up to £500,000, security is becoming even more of an unavoidable cost than ever. Increased awareness is needed across the entire organisation as data security is not only the concern of the IT department, but applicable to all personnel at all levels. The first step in the right direction is having a thorough security review and gap analysis in order to assess compliance with ISO 27001 standards and study any weak points where a breach can occur. Then workshops are needed to train non-IT staff on how to deal with data protection. Management participation is particularly important in order to get the message across that data safety is vital to an organisation.

Taking a holistic view of IT

Whatever the area of IT under scrutiny, the use of external consultancies and service providers to provide assistance is often essential. That said, it is rare to find an occasion where moving IT away from the heart of the business results in improvements. The crucial element to consider then is balance. Many organisations, as predicted by Gartner at the beginning of this year, are investing in operational rather than capital expenditure as they begin to understand that adoption of the latest tools and assets is useless without a holistic view of IT. When taking this methodology and applying it to the Service Desk it soon becomes apparent that simply by applying a Best Practice approach to an internal desk and utilising the new technologies at your disposal, the quick-fix cost benefits of off-shoring soon become untenable.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is featured in the current issue of ServiceTalk

Mind the skill gap

July 12, 2010

Service Desk efficiency starts from support staff

IT Service Desk efficiency is vital for any organisation to conduct successful business operations, regardless of the sector they operate in.

However, many IT Service Desks are far from cost-efficient and still have much work to do in order to reach their full potential. Inefficiencies and excessive costs might be the consequence of one or many factors, for instance the various Service Desk software applications do not fully integrate with one another or there are a lack of clear procedures for change management. But purchasing the latest tools and technologies might not be enough to overcome issues as a significant part of the problem is often the distribution and skill levels of support staff. The Service Desk consists principally of people – are they efficient enough?

A recent Plan-Net survey found that the average Service Desk is composed of 34 per cent 1st line analysts and 66 per cent 2nd and 3rd line technicians. In many cases, an efficient organisation of resource would have the weighting of resources change more towards 1st line. The demand for desk-side support can often be due to the inability of 1st liners to deal with a large number of incidents, be it because of a lack of appropriate skills, insufficient training or not having the right software to deal with most calls remotely.

Whatever the cause, there are two main problems in this allocation of resource. First of all, 2nd liners have more specific skills and demand higher salaries, so it can become increasingly expensive to employ such a large number of them – according to Gartner statistics, a 1st line fix costs on average between £7 and £25 whereas a 2nd line fix usually costs between £24 and £170.  However, a high number of incidents may not require the specific skills of 2nd line technicians or even desk side visits to be resolved. In fact, some simple and repetitive incidents such as password resets do not need support staff at all to be resolved: this task can be automated by software packages. It must be noted, though, that these still need some improvement in order to become more credible and secure, and ultimately gain more trust among organisations and consultants.

Secondly, this allocation of resource can prolong downtime and create disruptions. Desk-side staff take longer to fix incidents as they have to physically go to the end user’s desk instead of making a quick fix remotely over the phone. It could take a few minutes if they just have to go up four floors or much longer if they come from another building or city – in same cases getting to the user’s desk can take a two-hour drive. This all adds up to the time users cannot use their computer, access their database or use an important application, and to the time the analyst is not available to take other calls. Sometimes the issue is not only the time it takes to resolve an incident, but also the number of people involved, which can slow down the Service Desk massively. A recent survey carried out by Forrester for TeamQuest Corporation found that on average, resolution of an incident affecting service may require between two to five support staff. The Forrester data also shows that resolution can be a lengthy process. 35 per cent of organisations taking part in the research are in fact not able to resolve up to 75 per cent of their application performance incidents within 24 hours. It is easy to see how the cost of resolution mounts up. If there are numerous members of staff involved and their hourly salary is high due to their expertise it can be very expensive, especially when resolving a longstanding Major Incident.

The average industry figure indicates that an efficient Service Desk will be able to resolve 70 per cent of calls remotely at 1st line level, reducing the need for desk-side visits by 2nd line engineers and making resolutions faster. With 2nd line fixes costing up to 6 times more than 1st line fixes, it might seem sensible to find ways of reducing the need for them by investing in training and better management at 1st line level. This can be obtained with a few moves.

A first important step is to have staff adopt and adapt best practice processes, such as those described in the globally recognised Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework. This should be accompanied by the adoption of an appropriate integrated Service Management Toolset. With these in place, anything from incidents to changes will be taken care of in the most efficient way possible. It is important, though, that personnel receive extensive training to cover operational understanding of best practice and effective use of the technology at their disposal.

Another crucial up-skilling concerns soft skills. If a call centre engineer is able to communicate effectively and apply the appropriate questioning techniques to gather information, it will allow them to better understand what sort of incident they are dealing with, and this might reduce the number of calls passed onto 2nd line. Furthermore, 1st liners who can empathise with users, build a rapport and generally deliver good customer service play an important part in improving efficiency of the Service Desk and help keep user trust and satisfaction high.

Staff also need to be up-skilled to align with the new requirements brought upon by new technologies. For instance, with virtualisation and cloud computing services, server maintenance and email management are to be dealt with by the service provider, often eliminating the need for third-line analysts. Simple and repetitive incidents such as password resets, instead, can be resolved automatically with the implementation of purposely designed software. With the simplest and the most complex incidents being taken care of, the Service Desk is left with anything in between. This means that to achieve efficiency 1st line analysts will need to have a wide ranging knowledge that will allow them to deal with the large majority of calls, reducing the need for 2nd line personnel and therefore reducing staffing costs, but also overall IT expenses in the long run.

In fact, organisations in need of some cost-cutting and worried about the cost of transforming their Service Desk should look at the outcome of this investment: through the efficient management of IT support staff, there will be less financial and business loss connected to downtime, degraded service, data loss and even increased user satisfaction.  Moreover, if IT is made to work with the business and not for it, it is possible to form a strategic partnership that can not only minimise losses, but create new opportunities. There can definitely be a lot to gain from more appropriate resourcing of the Service Desk, as it will further support the strategic partnership between the business and IT.

Steve Connelly, Head of Service Management

This article has been published on the BCS website:  http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.36283

Is your IT Service Desk future proof?

June 23, 2010

Organisations across all sectors have more than realised that the unstable economic climate has brought along an increased need for flexible solutions, not only in the case of downsizing but in upsizing the business as well. While some companies are still struggling with budget cuts, others are looking at growth or re-expansion in the near future; regardless, both have reason to consider an improvement of their IT Service Desk with the help of the right service management solutions, in order to obtain a number of efficiencies. An efficient service desk can reduce IT-related costs, improve customer satisfaction and make business operations smooth and responsive – however, these outcomes cannot be reached by using an off-the-shelf solution which is only fit for present conditions. Organisations should adopt a solution that can remain solid and efficient both in the case of downsizing and cutbacks due to a recession, and as it replicates and extends to a new business dimension in the medium term as the company grows, something everyone is wishing for now that the economy seems to be slowly recovering.

As Best Practice identifies, people, processes and technology are all factors that need to be looked at and adjusted in order to obtain an IT Service Desk which is both flexible and scalable, and if the desk is or is to be managed by a third party contracts with service providers need to be seriously scrutinised to ensure they provide the organisation with a solution which is scalable regardless of the economic climate.

With regard to toolsets, although it might be cheaper to purchase a standard, fixed, one-size-fits-all solution, this might bring along extra costs in the long run if it does not allow easy amendments or any at all. You may be surviving with a tool which currently has limited functionality; however, what happens when the user base grows or the Services offered expand and the system has no ability to be adapted or requires extensive and costly professional services to deliver changes? These software solutions should be chosen and implemented keeping scalability in mind – they should not only be fit-for-business and ITIL-aligned, but fit-for-growth as well. It is important to immediately assess if a tool allows that sort of flexibility and, moreover, if there are the appropriate skills within the organisation to carry out any adaptation. All service management tools within the market place are aligned to Best Practice – they have to be, otherwise they cannot compete. However, some are more aligned than others. Any organisation considering selection should be clear about their specific requirements and their internal capabilities for development of the toolset moving forward and thus provide agility and alignment to the specific needs of that organisation, both today and in the future.

As for the process side of things, Best Practice in itself does not represent a barrier to flexibility; on the contrary, when correctly applied, it offers the means to carry out all operations smoothly and allow the business to up and downsize in the most efficient way. With a mature level of Change Management in place, as well as a good understanding of availability and capacity management, any alteration to business and IT dimension will be accomplished without causing significant disruptions and inefficiencies, which can cause problems such as data and financial loss, low customer satisfaction and poor credibility in the market. The trick is treating the Service Desk exactly as you would treat infrastructure, adapting processes that you could apply for instance to a server that needs to undergo some changes to the whole Service Desk.

For what concerns staffing, in-house or outsourced, if downsizing can present contractual issues that can slow down the process or make it more difficult and not really cost-efficient (from redundancy processes to TUPE or any financial binds resulting from contracts with providers), upsizing might present challenges as well. For a company with an internally managed Service Desk, defining contracts, finding the right skills and training personnel results in a significant investment of time and money. If the organisation is growing quickly, might be a lag regardless of personnel being in-house or outsourced: it might take some time to find the right candidates who are appropriately skilled, especially if they are required to hold a specific qualification such as the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer); if the organisation chooses to employ staff with lower skills, it might take some time to train them and get them to the desired level, not to mention it might cost as much as hiring staff with higher skills. It is becoming more prevalent to utilise a specialist third party and therefore delegate the responsibility and hassle, as they often have access to a wider pool of competent workers or have ‘floating’ staff readily available for the purpose, but it is important to stipulate a contract beforehand that makes it clear if immediate availability is a priority over skills, whether the client is required to pay for training when it is necessary, and how flexible the supplier is in regards to number of personnel – is it possible to lose ten analysts or acquire another ten without fines or surcharge and within a reasonable time frame? One challenge facing a lot of organisations as we climb out of the recession is the extension of Service hours at no or minimal extra cost as the business strive to deliver increased flexibility to their customers and distinguish themselves from their competitors.

On top of all this, to obtain successful resizing of the IT Service Desk it is essential that there is a good communication flow between the business and IT. It is in fact only through working together and with a holistic mind-frame that the IT Service Desk is able to move from being just a tactical tool to acquiring a strategic function that can create business value, and be active part in an organisation’s ride to success.

 

 

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

Find this article on Fresh Business Thinking: http://www.freshbusinessthinking.com/business_advice.php?CID=3&AID=6064&PGID=1

Getting back to work – but with a service provider

June 16, 2010

IT professionals can learn from the tough times.

As the UK officially leaves the recession, although, it must be said, staggering instead of marching triumphantly, the IT job market seems to be coming back to life, but with a substantially changed face. IT professionals looking to get back to work after they were made redundant or to make that career move they postponed while things were tough, should take this opportunity to learn from the past twelve months and make a more informed choice when choosing their new employer.

As IT Support and Managed Services acquire larger space in the UK business services market, the timing is right to take IT professionals through the characteristics, as well as the advantages, of working for an IT services provider. It is also important to raise awareness of the skills and role shift that is occurring, which can have a strong influence on one’s decision.

Working for an IT Services company

When working for a service provider you are able to acquire experience in different sectors, depending on the spread of clients, of course. Working on different client sites means gaining the sort of experience normally associated with a number of jobs while keeping the security of continuous unbroken employment. For those IT professionals looking to specialise in a certain sector, there are service providers with extremely niche specialisms that are able to cater for this. Thanks to this, technicians get to practise and develop a great variety of skills, keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies and practices as the provider will want to keep them appropriately skilled.

When Service Level Agreements are involved, the performance of each individual is monitored and assessed. Thanks to this, engineers learn to keep their standards high and therefore become acquainted to being at their most efficient.

Most of the professional advantages can also be seen on a more ‘personal’ level. Being in a variety of environments can help keep one’s enthusiasm fresh, and staff can get to experience different organisations, verticals, technologies and ways of working. This is crucial to deciding which best fit their personality and ambitions. Unlike what happens in non-IT organisations, where it is not unlikely that CIOs, IT Directors and managers do not come from an IT background, engineers find themselves dealing with IT professionals who fully understand their personal and professional skills, which are appropriately valued. Finally, there is also a personal investment in the company which is sustained through a continuous employment.

The changing IT job market

Many analysts have announced a growth in demand of permanent IT staff, in fact research conducted by e-Skills UK shows that the IT industry will continue to grow at a rate of 1.3% per annum, more than four times the average growth rate for all sectors (0.3%). However, the IT workforce is experiencing a restructuring and skills shift, partly because some work is being outsourced, partly due to a standardisation of IT assets and procedures, and also because of the IT environment switching to a software-intensive platform. Jobs related to management, strategy, planning and software development are on the increase, whereas there is less need for more hardware-related or admin jobs such as line repairer and database assistant. According to the survey ‘Technology Counts: IT & Telecoms Insights 2010’, by 2018, the number of IT managers is expected to represent 27% of the IT workforce, strategy and planning professionals 13%, and software professionals will cover 32%. Computer engineers, on the contrary, have an average growth of -0.2% per annum, meaning that in 2018 they are expected to represent only a 3% of IT professionals.

Agile skills

New technologies and job roles bring along a shift in skills. Organisations are now looking for agile skills in their Service Desk engineers: support personnel have to be able to successfully implement new processes based on standard Best Practice, and be familiar with the latest tools that can speed up operations. Adoption of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) practices is becoming essential, as is a knowledge of virtualisation. Thanks to an accurate selection of software to help with first-line resolution, and the use of outsourced devices such as servers and data centres whose management is the provider’s responsibility, basic and complex incidents are being taken care of, and on-site engineers are left with anything in the middle. The role of first-line engineers is then extended to some of the tasks originally belonging to second-line technicians, and because of these changes first-line engineers will need to have a broader technological knowledge.

As for higher-level IT professionals, the current upskilling requirements identified by eSkills UK concern the management of business process change, data management and security, leadership and business. The increased need for business skills is due to the fact that the IT department is acquiring a more strategic position within an organisation. Now that the more technical part of IT is moving towards a commoditisation and starting to be easier to deal with, managers and directors need to be able to focus on ROI and cost-effectiveness, and to have the ability to handle increasingly global supplier relationships. As organisations adopt a holistic view, IT is seen as part of the business and not as a service, and IT and business people work together for business transformation – the latter gaining awareness of the power of technology, and the former acquiring broader and deeper business skills, in order to create business value.

The right place to be

Working for a service provider, then, has never been so attractive. A more strategic use of IT means many organisations will search for appropriately-skilled staff externally, leaving selection and management to an expert service provider in order to focus on more strategic parts of the business, and surely IT professionals will want to be in the right place when this happens.

Adrian Polley, CEO

This article appeared in the May/June edition of ITNOW

Public sector, private data – is outsourcing the Service Desk too risky?

June 3, 2010

As the Treasury announce cuts amounting to £6.25bn, £95m of which deriving from a reduction in IT spending, attention is once more directed towards outsourcing as a means to reduce IT expenditure. But Information Technology stores and processes large amounts of personal, sensitive and confidential data, and when it comes to the public sector it can have a very high level of sensitivity, hence a lot of trust is bestowed upon personnel that have access to it. It is already difficult to place confidence in in-house staff, due to the high number of data breaches that are perpetrated by internal staff, backed up by statistics, but the option of off-shore outsourcing elevates the threat level from code yellow to code red.

Widespread use of Cloud computing is unlikely to become a reality in the foreseeable future: strict regulations relating to the Data Protection Act, which the public sector in particular follows religiously, make it virtually impossible to obtain assurances that the data stored outside the organisation’s premises is adequately controlled and kept secure. However, remote access provided to support staff based at another location, be it in the same or another country, still presents a risk in that information can still be collected and recorded. 

With the government CIO, John Suffolk, encouraging the use of outsourcing to countries offering cheaper labour as a cost-cutting strategy, it is time to understand to what extent this can be done and if the public sector can really benefit from off-shoring the Service Desk after all.

Organisations in the public sector are essentially different from private companies: although it seems obvious, it is important to bear in mind that they are funded by British taxpayers, and therefore work for them. However, providing access to personal and sensitive data to companies thousands of miles away and outside the European Union which have different culture, ethics and laws might put the safety of their personal details at risk. For instance, information such as identity, financial and health records can fall into the wrong hands and be used for malicious intent. Not long ago, ITV found that British medical and financial records held abroad could be bought for just a few dollars. No matter how ‘rare’ this event might be, it is not a risk Britons are prepared to take, if the decision were up to them.

It is certainly difficult for organisations in the public sector to carry out a satisfactory level of service when their budgets are being reduced, but it is important to think about the consequences of outsourcing the IT department: a move initially intended to save money can end up making the organisation lose money as a result of large fines and court cases, and most importantly, it can lead to a loss of credibility and reputation.

Recognising a ‘safe’ provider is not easy, especially as identification of a risky supplier often only happens once a breach has been committed, when it might be too late for an organisation to escape liability and to save face. However, it is possible to assess a provider’s trustworthiness before a breach occurs: they should follow Best Practice and have a mature Information Security Management System in line with the ISO 27001 standard, assessed through an independent security review, risk assessment and gap analysis.

There are also better alternatives to extreme or risky versions of outsourcing. For example, the IT department can be kept internal, for better control, but be managed by a third party which is aware of the stringent safety measures necessary for working in this peculiar sector. That said, most information security breaches pertain to threats inside an organisation and are in many cases not a malicious act but a consequence of ignorance, frustration or lack of risk awareness. Well-trained and appropriately-skilled Support staff can reduce these security incidents to a minimum, as would implementing organisational-wide information security awareness sessions.

Management commitment within the industry is especially important to convey the significance of protecting personal and sensitive data and the seriousness of breaching the Data Protection Act, which does not only concern IT staff. Extensive training is necessary to raise awareness across the entire organisation – whenever there is a data breach it is never the provider that suffers the worst consequences, but the organisation’s reputation.

 

David Cowan, Head of Infrastructure and Security

This opinion piece appears in this week’s Dispatch Box on Public Technology: http://www.publictechnology.net/sector/public-sector-private-data-outsourcing-service-desk-too-risky