Archive for the ‘IT Help Desk’ Category

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

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Bring IT support back to the 1st line

March 27, 2012

In a time where cuts to organisations’ IT budget are often becoming a necessity, taking a good hard look at role redistribution and service desk management could definitely help organisations diminish support expenditure, and perhaps divert the IT budget towards new projects. Organisations can even potentially achieve more benefits by better managing incidents, gaining increased speed of resolution and improved service levels while they save money, creating even more cost-efficiencies. A way to achieve this is by bringing more support work back to the 1st line.

It is common knowledge that analysts working at 1st line level have a lower cost due to their lower skills, while 2nd and 3rd line resolvers – desk-side, network and server support staff – are more expensive, as their skills are higher and more specific. Incident resolution rates also vary: it is faster to resolve an incident at 1st line due to the simple nature of incidents that are taken care of at that level, while 2nd line analysts take longer to resolve issues as these tend to be more complex, or require physically moving to reach the user’s device.

Over time, 2nd and 3rd line resolver teams have been including support activities in their daily routines which, when analysed, often include frequently occurring and process driven tasks. These tasks probably sit where they do because at system or product implementation, all related support activities were adopted by the deploying team without any later thought as to whether some of the tasks can be moved elsewhere.

At the same time, 1st line teams have become more technical and able, with greater access to system tools and the permissions to use them. This has had a positive impact on first time resolution and we have seen the log-and-flog approach begin to decline.

Considering both of these evolutions, opportunities exist to release system specialist time, reduce the cost of service provision and increase first time fix at the Service Desk. By effectively using ticket closure category information from the service management tool, analysis can be undertaken of what 2nd and 3rd line resolver teams are actually resolving.  A likely outcome is that tasks will be identified which are process driven, and therefore can actually be performed by a more junior (or low cost) resource. As long as the process can be documented and the permissions to do it are provided, it’s more than likely that the 1st line Service Desk team can pick up the work.

As an output from some analysis, this may look like – x% of 2nd line resolutions are procedural and can move to 1st line, as a result, 1st line can increase their first line fix from y% to z%, and thereby improving the service to the user-base.

The cost savings of such an exercise could be considerable.  By moving tasks into the first line, the tasks are being moved into lower cost people. This may mean that the 1st line team grows and the other resolver groups reduce, the outcome of which will lead to a demonstrable cost saving.  Furthermore, with tasks having been removed away from the 2nd and 3rd line teams, opportunities will present themselves as a result of the increase in available time within these groups, e.g. resolver teams can improve their performance as they will have more time to work on the more complex problems, and team resource can be released more readily into project work and thereby decreasing the need for expensive contractors.

Such change, however, can’t quite happen overnight.  The analysis needs to be good, and the recommendations of tasks to be moved to 1st line need to be realistic.  Then, through the controls of a well-run project, tasks are tested as being viable duties that the 1st line team can assume, and when signed off, can permanently remain at first line.

The measures of a successful exercise will be ultimately visible in the reporting. The first line fix percentage will increase, the ticket resolution volumes at the resolver groups should reduce, and costs should reduce – perhaps by reducing staffing, project or contractor costs.

The perception of the overall quality of the IT service should also improve: frequent support activities will be completed faster, which improves customer satisfaction; and core systems will receive greater attention from their specialist support staff, leading to improved availability and functionality.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

This article has been published on Director of Finance Online:

http://www.dofonline.co.uk/content/view/6131/118/

Just how much of a saving is the reduction of heads from an IT support team?

March 20, 2012

ImageIn a bid to meet the demands of an FD who needs to see cost savings across the organisation, often it’s a portion of an IT team that have to go.  On the face of it, it’s an easy choice.  Those within an IT team will often perform the same functions as one another, therefore, if one or more leave the team, it can still perform all its required tasks, albeit a bit slower than before.

But what might not have been considered in such decision making is the organisation’s profile of staff’s expected IT skills and the speed-of-service demands.  If the two are considered together, an optimal ratio of IT staff to company staff can be derived which can be used as a benchmark against any planned reductions in heads.

Definitions:

Staff’s expected IT skills – Some business environments may have a low expectation on its staff in terms of their IT skills.  A law firm is a good example as it’s more beneficial to the organisation if their legal teams are fee earning (by practicing law), instead of being able to clear their own printer jams.  Other organisations, perhaps a software house, will have employees who are more than capable of dealing with common IT issues.  In these examples, the law firm is clearly going to need a greater ratio of IT support people to staff members than the software house.

Speed-of-service demand – An investment bank, or indeed any organisation that is wholly reliant on IT to trade, will tolerate only the most minor of IT interruptions, whereas some business types might be able to suffer IT delays for hours, or even days, without any particular impact on their business.  Those with the need for greater speed of service, or even immediate need for service, will require a greater ratio of IT support people to staff members compared with those that don’t.

If these two aspects of a business’ IT culture are considered together, one can begin to determine the optimal number of IT support people to staff members.

For organisations with a low expectation of staff’s IT skills, but who need rapid IT support, a ratio of 1 support person to every 50 members of staff, might be appropriate.  The other extreme, high staff IT skills coupled with lower speeds of support, may lead to a ratio of 1 support person to every 200 members of staff.

Then, if there is a need to cut heads, a more informed choice may be made, i.e. just how many heads may be lost without: a) requiring the established IT culture to change, or b) having a detrimental impact of the organisation’s ability to trade?

Of course, this thought process and logic need not only apply to difficult times, when reducing costs is a priority.  It can apply to times of business success and be used as a means of determining the best IT support fit for the business.

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Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

Brace for the feared double dip: IT planning can maximise mergers and acquisitions

October 28, 2011

As the business world lies in fear of a double-dip recession, companies are advised to ‘think smart’ and try to find a way to profit from further economic downturn and not to simply aim to survive it. Or, if they are struggling, to have a ‘rescue plan’ in place that will spare them from drowning in debt or sinking altogether. As a consequence, mergers and acquisitions flourish remarkably in times of financial difficulties, and can be a way to gain during a tough spell – either by buying or joining with another business and expanding or by selling up before collapsing completely.

Mergers and acquisitions, however, are not just the ‘combining of commercial companies into one’ (to quote the mini Oxford dictionary). Business leaders are missing a significant trick if the joining of two businesses is not maximised, i.e. that the market share of the new entity is greater than the sum of the two companies when operating on their own.

It is, however, an ever repeating trend that mergers and acquisitions do not address operational, cultural and technology considerations as part of the consolidation. These often remain ‘off the radar’ long after the legal part of the merger or acquisition is complete.

So, rather than just ‘think smart’, a better message is perhaps for companies to ‘think smarter during tight times and to make the most of these mergers and acquisitions right from the start, by ensuring that the fabric of the new bigger company is appropriately adapted so that it functions in a manner that maximises the now greater trading capabilities.

Those within the IT services industry will have experienced customer organisations that bear the signs of a merger or acquisition and, worst still, continue to tolerate them. The tell-tale signs are classic and include: performance issues; geographically separate and siloed support teams; a large list of supported applications; technical complexities; a high support staff headcount; a disproportionate number of managers; and complex organisational structures. None of these ‘features’ of an organisation can positively contribute to its on-going ability to compete and win in its market place. And if the cost of these inefficiencies could be demonstrated, senior management might just fall off their chairs.

The good news is that mergers and acquisitions can be conducted with a better overall outcome at low cost – through the use of some external aid. These are the kind of projects where the use of a consultancy can really make a difference. Employed during and soon after the merger to improve what is at heart of an improved approach to mergers and acquisitions, ‘people, process and technology’, the cost of a consultant will be a drop in the ocean compared with the overall cost of trying to fix all the possible IT-related faults and issues in the years following the merger or acquisition. The value of the work is likely to be recovered quickly by enabling the business to operate better and by making people’s working practices more efficient. Efficiencies will emerge during the analysis stage of consultancy by identifying opportunities for synergy which will have a positive impact on the on-going investment made by the business in people and systems. The outcome: doing more and doing it better, with less.

So far, all this sounds obvious and nothing more than common sense – so why is it that the ‘people, process and technology’ side of mergers and acquisitions isn’t dealt with early on? Speed, assumption and procrastination are usually the causes.

‘Speed’, because a merger or acquisition deal is usually time sensitive, and focus must be on closing the deal by a given date. ‘Assumption’ because aspects like company culture, people, processes and technology are assumed to be similar and therefore likely to gel. ‘Procrastination’ because activities required to streamline the new business are often planned post-deal, but with human nature being what it is, the plans take an age to implement or never happen at all.

So, if like the United States Army you want to ‘be all you can be’, it is important that people, processes and technology are properly considered and addressed as part of a possible merger or acquisition. You should ensure the IT planning and transformation work starts during the merger/acquisition process so that its importance is clear and understood, then follow it through post-deal before your people return to their normal mode of operation and their old working ways. And, if you are using a service provider for any or all of these steps, be sure to choose one that has a record for properly identifying synergies and efficiencies and who have successfully implemented these. As the recession will not be worsened by losses caused by a faulty or inefficient IT service, the outcome of a well-planned IT merge will surely make the difference.

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

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

IT Support: grow-your-own or buy organic?

May 12, 2011

IT support staff are for many companies what vegetables are to your body – essential elements for efficient functioning and critical to avoid major failures. Exactly like cultivating your own greens, having an in-house IT team may give you a sense of trust and control unlike other solutions. However, it is also expensive and time-consuming, therefore not always convenient.

A ‘home-grown’ solution may suit larger organisations that either have the need to train analysts to use their self-developed software, have security or strategic reasons to have total control over the IT department or have the resources (financial, human and time-related) to train and manage a large IT personnel base – although this is quickly moving away from the norm for even these sizes of business.

Other organisations, smaller and more prone to seeking cost-efficiencies even outside of the office, might find an outsourcing or managed service solution more suitable. Of course, getting engineers from a service provider is like getting veggies from a market stall or through online shopping – it is generally easier and cheaper, but the risk is that they are not trustworthy. The engineers provided by a third party are completely out of your control: you don’t know where they come from, if they were trained correctly or if they will harm your company by stealing data.

But this might not be a huge problem for small companies for which IT is not strategic. A full outsourcing or offshoring solution could suit organisations which do not need engineers with very specific knowledge or strict SLAs and for which data security is not a major issue. However, companies which do need security and efficiency, but also to cut down cost and access expertise they lack internally, would need a solution that merges control with delegation.

Going back to the vegetables metaphor, to balance the need for quality and reliability with the desire to delegate cultivation and management, you would probably go to a trusted organic greengrocer’s, where products feature quality labels, PDO and organic certificates, and a reliable, experienced source.

It is in fact important to carefully choose a support provider that can meet your specific needs, with certified, trained and up-to-date engineers able to meet targets measured through KPIs. Managed services, moreover, will allow the organisation to keep some kind of control over the IT department while leaving its management to the experts.

All in all, there isn’t one best choice: an organisation might find advantage in keeping the department in-house, having a co-sourced solution or outsourcing management or the whole department to a third party. The important decision is to choose carefully based on the organisation’s features, needs and goals so that IT can be used as part of their overall strategy for business success.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article has appeared on Computing magazine and Computing.co.uk: http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/opinion/2069345/support-grow-organic


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/)

Taking the third option

October 26, 2010

Many organisations are moving to a ‘best of both worlds’ between insourcing and outsourcing – Managed Services.

Efficient management of IT Support has become a crucial issue for organisations across all sectors. It is being increasingly recognised not only as a means to improve the whole business, but also as an instrument to create strategic advantage and added business value.

Many organisations identify two distinct types of management options for their IT Support – controlled and visible in-sourcing and the apparently cost-efficient outsourcing.  But for organisations dealing with high value users, non standard applications or sensitive data, outsourcing can represent too big a risk, leaving the single option of keeping IT Support in-house. Financial institutions, law firms, professional services businesses and some sections of the public sector may well then believe that they have no option but to ignore a potentially sizable benefit in cost and efficiency.

However, there is a third option embraced by a diverse pool of organisations such as software giant Microsoft, public sector body Serious Fraud Office and law firm Simmons & Simmons that allow the utilisation of outsourcing benefits with none of the drawbacks – the Managed Service.

A recent survey of CIOs showed that 19 per cent of those interviewed are already using Managed Services for their IT Service Desk, and that number is expected to rise to 34 per cent towards the middle of 2011. According to participants in the CIO Market Pulse Survey for Management Excellence they chose Managed Services primarily due to a lack of appropriate internal resources, a desire to retain control and the need to reduce costs.

A Managed Service was seen as the best option for their organisation because it was thought to be less risky than traditional outsourcing and more efficient than internal management. In fact, this solution can be regarded as more than just the halfway house between insourcing and outsourcing, it is now in many cases a superior solution incorporating all the best features of both and none of the weaknesses.

Its main strengths are similar to those of outsourcing – for instance, the provider manages all aspects of the function, from staff to operations and is responsible for Service Level Agreements and TUPE. The differences mainly involve the physical location of the team, with a Managed Service utilising the clients office space and infrastructure and an Outsource placing the team anywhere in the world.

Although outsourcing is universally assumed to be the cheapest option since it is often carried out in countries where the cost of labour is very low, statistics show that overall cost savings often don’t exceed a mere 10-15%. In fact, when the possible degradation of service and inevitable cultural changes are forced into the user base and given a cost, the actual saving can be in low single digits. The problem becomes even more acute when the user base comprises staff who generate income streams or are a high salary cost to the business.

Using high value users’ time to prop up a poor performing support function can easily be costed and the results are startling. Using just an average user cost to a business  of say £20 p.h., simple maths demonstrates that 30 extra minutes per month per user spent interacting with a poor Service Desk, in a 2000 user business will cost it £240,000 p.a. in lost working time. Using the same equation with a Doctor, Lawyer or Banker’s costs produces frightening numbers.

Moreover, offshoring presents an increased risk of data security breaches: there have been many stories in the press of offshore employees selling credit card, health and other personal details collected from client databases.  It can be difficult to control and monitor an office located on the other side of the globe, but the problem of data security does not end with offshoring – even when the outsourced support function is located near the client’s office, all information stored and processed in the systems owned by the provider is at risk, and so is the intellectual property.

If the function is run on the client site and the assets are owned by the client, there is a sense of control over the data and intellectual property. These characteristics make Managed Services similar to insourcing. However, unlike an in-house solution, management of operations, processes and staff is left to the expertise of professionals who are measured via SLA and more often than not, subject to penalties for failure to perform.

Little wonder then that organisations across all sectors are embracing ‘the third option’. Microsoft made headlines when a press release announced that their Service Desk, desk-side services and infrastructure and application support were managed onsite by a provider. Although some of the firm’s critics took it as a sign of weakness, assuming that a software company should be an expert at managing the Service Desk as well, the IT community understood that it was a strategic move driven by the desire to create cost-efficiencies in a safe way. If the likes of Microsoft choose managed services over in-sourcing and outsourcing as the best solution for them, it is likely that the model will apply for many other organisations where control and cost reduction is vital.

It appears that instead of forcing more organisations to offshore to cheaper countries, the economic environment is leading to managed services becoming the favoured choice. According to the CIO survey, 40 per cent of organisations are adopting this option as a result of the economic climate for different aspects of their IT. In comparison, only 26 per cent are turning to outsourcing and 29 per cent are keeping services in-house.

Taking all of this into account, the evidence appears to suggest that the future of IT Support as a business enabler rests on finding the right balance between control and delegation, thus ensuring efficiency meets security in an environment which remains in sight and firmly in mind. Although outsourcing and insourcing still have a place in many organisations, as sourcing models mature and evolve it is becoming apparent that a significant number of organisations will move towards more bespoke, internally managed solutions to meet their particular needs.

Richard Forkan, Director

Find this article on Outsource Magazine: http://www.outsourcemagazine.co.uk/articles/item/3589-taking-the-third-option