Archive for the ‘IT Support’ Category

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

October 11, 2012

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

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

IT sourcing models

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

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

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

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

Reasons for outsourcing

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

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

Choosing the right sourcing model

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

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

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

Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

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

September 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

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

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

 

Why do shared services fail?

September 19, 2012

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

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

Business Demand

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

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

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

Commonality

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

One Size fits all?

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

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

Wrong metrics

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

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

Hidden costs

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

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

The successful shared service

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

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

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

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

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

Resolution Method – A Missing Metric

September 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

10 Things your IT Service Desk should NOT be doing

September 3, 2012

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

1 – Bypassing processes/procedures

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

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

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

3 – Taking decisions to change priority based on individual relationships

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

4 – Forgetting to manage their telephone management

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

5 – Taking lunch or breaks at the same time

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

6 – Escalating issues that they have the ability to resolve

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

7 – Leaving the call management flow to someone else

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

8 – Sitting at their desks during their breaks. 

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

9 – Ignoring repeated patterns in call types. 

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

10 – Asking repetitive questions to other support groups. 

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

 

 

Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

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

All the rage

August 20, 2012

Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) has become somewhat of a buzzword. With the push generally coming from the top, namely Senior Management and C-executives, there is a lot of pressure on IT to accommodate for the use of smartphones and tablets for work purposes. However, integrating new devices within the business environment is not all easy and straightforward, from an IT point of view.

Before allowing BYOD there needs to be a lot of planning, especially to insure the appropriate level of security. What end users sometimes fail to understand is that with the introduction of personal smartphones and tablets, the security of information which pass through these devices is at risk. These devices can be more easily hacked compared with a company-approved laptop, and they can be stolen or lost. Although there are some measures to wipe data off a device remotely after it has been lost or stolen, there is still the risk that information has already been seen, copied and used for fraudulent activities. Breaching the Data Protection Act will result in hefty fines that can put pressure on the company’s financial position, and it may also damage the most important thing – its reputation.

A BYOD policy will also create new issues for the IT Service Desk. IT engineers who are not familiar with these devices and the operating system they are working on will have to get some training, or more often than not, self-train in order to be able to support them. It takes time to learn new things and create knowledge-based documents for everyone to learn from, and the initial unfamiliarity with the systems might slow down incident resolution rates. Analysts might also get a number of calls regarding things that are out of their remit, such as ‘How do you turn this thing on?’ or ‘I need to download this app…’. All these things will affect the level of service and therefore any metrics, Key Performance Indicators or Service Level Agreements will have to take this into account.

On the bright side, this is also a good opportunity for IT staff to learn and practise new skills, get to know new systems and make their work more varied. It will ultimately increase their expertise and value.

Generally speaking, it is a good idea to introduce BYOD slowly by starting from one feature in particular. For instance, at the company where I am working in a managed service environment, it was only applicable to email on iPhones and iPads. Documents can be read and sent but not saved or modified on the device. Now that this project has been rolled out, gone live and is running smoothly, we are planning to allow document editing on the devices, once we have come to terms with the security concerns.

Companies shouldn’t avoid BYOD policies just because of the technical complexity or security issues involved. The advantages they can enjoy may outweigh those: BYOD creates savings, as less company-approved phones and laptops have to be purchased for employees; increases productivity as professionals are able to easily work on-the-move and while they are away from their office, for instance visiting a client’s site; and gives employees the chance to take on emergency work and answer urgent emails at any time of day and night and from anywhere.

Why is it that certain sectors are so attracted to the prospect of being able to use their own devices for work? In the financial sector in particular, it is not difficult to guess – so many professionals work nearly 24/7, hardly ever switching off. Their personal and professional lives are intertwined and it is a nuisance for them to have to carry around: a personal mobile phone for personal and work-related calls; a work mobile phone to check emails on-the-go; a company-approved laptop to work from a different office or the train; their personal tablet to show clients presentations. If they can have all-in-one on their personal phone or light-weight and easy-to-carry tablet, it makes life much easier for them.

In the future, BYOD is likely to increase, and we might see some environments entirely populated by employee-owned devices, though this is more likely to happen in start-ups and small organisations rather than medium and large-sized companies. There is also an argument that BYOD is driving Cloud services, as the latter represent a more secure way to manage data without taking the risk of saving it onto devices that can be stolen, lost and hacked.

All in all, BYOD can bring many benefits, but needs careful planning and security measures to be adopted correctly. A policy where employees can use their own devices for work purposes should serve as a way to improve productivity. It shouldn’t be an excuse for people to shun secure and approved devices and use expensive and sexy new gadgets just for the sake of being on trend, putting security and efficiency at risk.

Nick Fenton, Team Leader
This article has appeared in the July/August edition of FSTech – Financial Sector Technology: http://www.fstech.co.uk/Digital_fstech/pdfs/digital_fstech_july_aug2012.pdf

10 tips for managing the human side of IT

August 14, 2012

The success of an IT department does not solely depend on having the best hardware and latest software. In fact, these alone do not guarantee efficiency if the people working in IT Support are not managed appropriately. It is not a simple task: each Support engineer has their own personality, strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and drive. So here are a few tips to get the best out of your IT Support team in order to deliver an efficient and reliable service to the business.

1 – Understand role ‘shelf life’

Most people want to progress in their career, and in IT this process can be found to be somehow accelerated, leading to significant staff turnover. In order to be prepared to deal with this, it is important to understand someone’s longevity in a certain role, as they will only be effective whilst they are engaged. Different roles have varying shelf life – for example, a typical Service Desk role would last around 18 months-2 years while more skilled software development positions can last longer.

2 – Skills set relevance

Understanding skills sets and ensuring they are relevant to the tasks being performed ensures employees feel valued for what they know rather than being undervalued for what they don’t. This keeps staff happier and also allows them to identify areas within their skills set to develop and improve if they want to progress.

3 – Encourage personal development

To retain staff and keep them motivated, a good manager should recognise development opportunities within the scope of their roles and encourage them to improve their skills. Shadowing other roles, when possible, is also a good way for staff to experience other realities and understand where they want to go with their career.

4 – Feedback and reward

Having regular feedback sessions is imperative for all managers. This should include positive as well as negative feedback, but the most important thing is that, overall, it is constructive. Good results must be recognised, praised and rewarded when possible (it doesn’t have to be financially). This can generate healthy competition internally to naturally get the best out of people.

5 – Expectations management

Just like in any other business agreement, don’t make promises that can’t be achieved. Managing expectations is a vital part of a manager’s role and this has to be done for both sides – the business and IT staff.

6 – Equality and consistency

A good manager has to ensure the same techniques and processes are used for all staff and that they all feel that they are being treated equally. Make sure the team knows where they stand and enforce the same discipline and principles across the whole group.

7 – Differences

When there are both in-house and outsourced staff within the IT service desk, it is important that everyone understands the difference between the two. Staff employed directly and staff provided by Managed Service Providers might have different benefits, varying working hours and so on. Make sure it’s recognised and appreciated and that all expectations are managed.

8 – Relationship building

Listen. Staff like to engage with their management team on a personal front. Offer time to listen but understand boundaries and keep it professional.  Just show an interest and don’t make it “all about work”.

9 – Tailor management style

Adapt your management style so that it is fit for the environment in which you’re working. Different approaches work in different environments. Also ensure the environment is appropriate for an individual’s specific requirements.

10 – Empathy

Take time to understand the roles that you are supervising. The best managers are the ones who can understand the pressures of the people they are managing and empathise with them.

Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

Find the piece on ITSM Portal http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/10-tips-managing-human-side-it

How to recruit IT staff (when you don’t understand IT yourself)

August 10, 2012

Having recruited more than 1,000 IT professionals over the last 20 years for our managed service teams providing IT support for businesses, I can safely say Plan-Net has learned a thing or two about how to recruit IT staff.

Hopefully this article might help those of you who are less IT-savvy still make wise IT staff recruitment decisions, and avoid costly mistakes along the way.

There is no shortage of IT people in the labour market today, but the real challenge is in finding the good ones – and then, from that much smaller pool, identifying the right one for your business.

Even those of you who don’t have a great understanding of IT will probably have a good feel for what you need IT staff to deliver. Businesses rely on technical tools and systems. We need someone to fix these quickly when they stop working, and we need someone to improve them so we can increase our business productivity and efficiency.

So the first step when recruiting is to articulate the service your business needs from its IT staff or department. The trickier next step is to convert this into an IT job description that thoroughly details all the necessary technical skills and experiences the individual or team would need. If you’re starting to get lost in technical jargon at this point, it might be wise to find an IT friend or contact that can help you do this. Even if it means paying them a small fee, you’ll avoid the first costly mistake, which is the wrong job description.

Recruiting IT staff: finding the good ones

Using a specialist IT recruitment agency is helpful as they will have a wider access to the supply pool than you, so it can expedite your search. However, a note of caution when dealing with agencies is that their interest is in securing the placement as quick as possible so they can take their fee.

So if they find and present you with three candidates, they will want you to choose one of them, even if perhaps none of them are right for your business. It’s worth ensuring agencies offer you at least a 3-month, or even better 6-month, refund or replacement mechanism if things don’t work out. You can also try scouring LinkedIn and asking your existing business network and partners.

Check, check and check again

The risk for any business looking to fill any type of role is taking on the wrong person. Arguably, this risk is greater for a small company, where you are so much more dependent on every individual to perform. It’s even more risky when you’re looking at IT roles. You are entrusting these people with your business data, systems and operations. A mistake could cost your business dearly.

I therefore cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of a thorough screening process. Interview candidates face-to-face a number of times yourself and enlist your IT contact to help with the interview too.

For IT staff in particular, it’s important to test their technical skills. At Plan-Net, we have developed our own tests in order to be ultra-confident that potential employees have the necessary capabilities. If you’re doing this yourself, you can find a variety of technical tests online. There are free tests available, but my recommendation is that you invest in paid tests. It can act as a false economy not to.

Background checking is also very important. We invest in a specialist service that carries out a number of checks including CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) checks, credit checks and reference checks.

If you decide to do this yourself rather than using a third party, make sure you check every line of the CV. Check the gaps and make sure you verify all references. We’ve found candidates who claimed they have degrees when they dropped out in the first year, some with outstanding debts and unpaid bills and others with completely bogus references. Sadly, in this economic climate, we tend to see a higher proportion of candidates ‘embellishing’ their CVs. When you’re recruiting IT staff, much like in Finance and HR roles, you are recruiting someone who will be a custodian of your critical business systems and your business information.

Almost above anything else, you must be sure you’ve found someone you can trust.

An easy option

Lastly, if anything to do with IT is Double Dutch to you and you just want to avoid the hassle and headache of recruiting IT staff altogether, you can use managed service providers to manage your IT function for you. Finding the right IT staff to adequately deliver this service is then their challenge – not yours.

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Richard Forkan, Director

This article was published on London Loves Business:

http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/business-news/tech/how-to-recruit-it-staff-when-you-dont-understand-it-yourself/2968.article

Legal IT: A New Model to Suit Changing Demands

June 6, 2012

As law firms change in structure and size, often expanding globally, their IT support model also has to evolve. With a great deal of growth expected to come from overseas countries, particularly from Asia, some alternative thinking is required to accommodate the scaling of IT support services to meet the increased, non-local, demand.

Current IT support delivery models are likely to be centred around a large centralised Service Desk providing all in-hours support and which is provided by an in-house team.  Out-of-hours and global support is then provided by any number of different configurations, often including complex rota systems utilising staff and/or contractors, or an externally provided shared service (perhaps even a combination of the two).  Such 24×7, or ‘follow-the-sun’, solutions do work and may be reasonably inexpensive but are frequently difficult to manage and do not provide a consistent level of good service across all locations.

Additionally, we’ve also recently witnessed a change in demand from end-users based in what have traditionally been outpost office locations.  These end-users, aware that they’re based in locations of new growth, now expect the same level of service as their counterparts in the more established offices.  This means receiving the same quality, response and availability of IT support services.  Arguably, these demands are reasonable and there should no longer be a difference in the IT support received, regardless of location.

To summarise – with growth predicted to come from abroad, and with a demand for a consistent delivery of services, regardless of office location, a revised approach to the provision of IT support services is needed.

An alternative concept of providing IT services may be to work to the ‘troughs’ in demand and not the ‘peaks’.  Let’s explain what is meant by this.

The bulk of an IT support service, perhaps 70 to 80% of it, is provided during a core period and is utterly predictable.  This portion of the service represents the ‘trough’ in demand, i.e. it is unmoving, consistent and therefore easy to plan a team around.  The ‘peaks’ in demand are portions that are prone to variations, e.g. the magnitude of spikes in demand, the volume of out-of-hours support activity, or the support demands from overseas offices.  It’s the smaller and less predictable portion of the service (the 20 to 30%) that consumes a disproportionate amount of management time, whilst still resulting in an imperfect service.

The trough and peak concept essentially shifts the main focus of in-house service provision to the larger and unchanging part of the service, where service excellence is the goal.  A more scalable approach is adopted for the peaks which strive to meet the same levels of excellence as the main portion of the service whilst easily being able to deal with the variations, however subtle, in demand.

Traditionally, an IT support service must align its own capacity model with its demand curve, i.e. when demand for support begins to build on a weekday morning, then the Service Desk opens.  As the demand curve increases during the morning (to its peak at around 11am) so does the number of support analysts that are available.  Then, later in the afternoon, as demand falls, so does the staffing on the Service Desk until, ultimately, it closes.  At this point, an out-of-hours function takes over until the cycle starts again in the morning.  With out-of-hours support activity, a measured amount of resource is available that can manage the anticipated out-of-hours, and/or global support requirements, until the main Service Desk reopens.

The single biggest issue with the traditional method is that resourcing for both the in-hours support needs, and the out-of-hours/global demands, is based upon meeting the peaks in demand.  If the service needs to be extended, all that can be done is to add analysts to the capacity model which will see significant step change in cost.

The following line graph shows a fairly typical weekday demand curve (i.e. ticket logging activity by hour of the day).  Demand builds in the morning and tails off at the end of the day.  The main peak is mid-morning with a smaller peak in the middle of the afternoon.  In this example, the bars represent a capacity model based on 7 analysts working 7.5-hour days, with staggered starts, and an hour for lunch, with Service Desk opening hours of 7am to 6pm.

On the face of it, it could be said the capacity model is a good fit for the demand curve.  But on closer inspection, the capacity model has failings:

1) Demand begins to build before the Service Desk opens.  These calls may be picked up by the out-of-hours service, but the people manning that service will soon be finishing their shift, so they may just ‘log and flog’ so that the support can be picked up by the in-hours team;

2) Resource does climb throughout the morning in line with the demand curve – however, the maximum available capacity isn’t quite enough to meet demand at the busiest time of the day.  This may well lead to an increase in abandoned calls at this time;

3) Then, due to staggered lunch breaks, resource again doesn’t quite keep in step with demand;

4)  The analysts’ shifts end slightly ahead of demand, and finally:

5) The Service Desk closes, switching to the out-of-hours service, just before the day’s demand has fully settled down.

By working to the peaks in demand, our well-considered capacity model doesn’t quite fit demand (and nor will it ever), and if we need to scale-up in line with business growth, all that can be done is to add extra analysts and attempt to further match the capacity model, as best as one can, with the demand curve.

Managing resource for an out-of-hours service has similar challenges.  A capacity model must be derived that meets maximum demand.  If the out-of-hours service is based on staff, equipped with phones and working to a rota, such a rota can be very difficult and onerous to manage.  If the service needs to be expanded, all that can be done is to add resource to where the gaps are emerging, even if it means that the resources will be underutilised.

If, however, an in-house core service is delivered to the troughs (which will still be the greater part of the service), and a suitable high-performing shared service is identified which can handle the peaks, i.e. the lower-volume out-of-hours activity, peak time overflow and variations in throughput, then an improved and scalable service model will be achieved.

The following diagram shows the same demand curve but with a reduced in-house capacity model.

In this example, the box represents 5 analysts, as opposed to 7 in the earlier diagram (a 28.6% reduction in headcount).  This team would still manage 71.4% of the in-hours call volumes and can spend its time focusing on delivering an excellent service.  The remaining support, i.e. the peaks, the increasing and decreasing demands at the start and end of the normal working day, and the out-of-hours piece, can be handled by a shared service which integrates with the main in-house service, but which can manage variations in demand with ease, scale up or down when required, and may demonstrate cost savings.

To use a term that I like to use, this model allows you to concentrate on the steak and not the peas.  Instead of working very hard to manage the smaller percentage of support activity at the edge of your service, focus on the bulk in the middle, and utilise the availability of a well suited outsourced service to manage the smaller, less predictable volume.  Savings can be made, the all-round service improves, you have a scalable model that’s less onerous to deliver and your customers (all of them) are happier.

It’s worth finishing with some guidance on how to transition from the current model to a new one.  The answer is found in the data contained within your IT Service Management tool.  It is essential that your existing service is fully profiled, from ticket origin through to logging, first-time-fix, escalation, and finishing at resolution.  An effective data analysis process needs to be conducted on your ticket management data so that your full service, and how it is used, is fully understood.  This kind of analysis is typically above-and-beyond the standard reports you might get from your ITSM tool, but instead is a data-mining exercise which performs a distillation of your service, against which a new model can be defined.  With such an analysis behind you, the decision of how much to keep in-house, versus what to outsource, is a reasonably straightforward piece of cost analysis.  Whilst adopting the trough and peak model may seem too greater a step to make, the required due-diligence to see if it’s viable won’t impact the delivery of your services at all.  So, at the very least, it would seem to be a prudent move to investigate it as an option.

 

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

 

This article appears on ITSM Portal: http://bit.ly/LzkyGG

7 things you should know about Managed IT Services

April 26, 2012

With more and more companies looking at outsourcing solutions for all or part of their IT, it is important to highlight the main features of a Managed Service, especially as an alternative to full outsourcing or off-shoring. Here are 7 things organisations should know about Managed IT Services:

1) It’s not all or nothing
A common misconception is that you have to outsource your entire IT function in order to obtain the cost-efficiencies you are seeking. This leads to the ‘fear factor’ of loss of control/influence of back office Services, and therefore a reluctance to explore the breadth of options available.

The approach more and more firms are adopting is one of precaution whereby they test the theory by outsourcing specific functions to suppliers. It is becoming more commonplace for organisations to outsource their 1st & 2nd line support, an area which is typically not bespoke and more easily replicable by a supplier.

However, the key to success of any outsource venture is the selection of vendors. A plethora of suppliers exist within the market, but it is critical that the supplier of choice is one which is aligned to the specific requirements of the business and does not dictate the provision of Service through a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

You could choose a service provider for out-of-hours support, so that you don’t have to rely on an internal rota system where staff are paid 1.5 or 2 times their hourly rate to provide support from their beds.

Or you could even just get a few extra resources to cover for holidays and/or to provide additional capacity during peak times which compliments and supports your existing solution.

2) It can give you more control over your IT
Whilst an in-house service seems like the best way to be in control of your IT, it is common for difficulties to arise in terms of reaching your target service levels and delivering the high levels of customer service demanded by business users. These limitations are often related to the existing skills, resources and budget that are available internally; there are also elements of staff management that can affect the final results, such as sickness, holiday cover, staff turnover and so on.

Opting for a ‘partial’ outsource means the only thing you need to do is set the appropriate SLAs and then it’s up to the supplier to meet them – using whatever tools and techniques are available, be it up-skilling staff, Continuous Service Improvement (which should be a fundamental delivery item of any managed service) or implementing new processes. In this way, you have more control over the most important thing – the service levels your organisation needs.

You should be looking for someone who wants to build a long term partnership with you and whom you believe will be seen as an extension of your existing IT function, and not ‘that 3rd party lot that sit in the corner!’

3) It’s safer than other types of outsourcing
The additional attraction of ‘partial’ outsourcing is that you retain ownership and control of your systems/data and how they are stored and managed. This is something which has become even more critical given the requirements of data protection and client confidentiality, something which ISO27001 is seeking to address.

This means, for instance, that there will be less issues concerning security of your data than if you used an offshore service desk, where the infrastructure upon which your data is stored and processed is owned by another company based in a country thousands of miles away and where there might be different regulations and laws concerning information security. It is also safer than a fully outsourced solution where all operations are run at another site and using another company’s infrastructure.

4) You will not lose your staff
Some companies which have an internal support function are worried about losing their trusted IT people who have been working for them for years to another company, and not being able to get them back if they decided to do a U-turn after a failed outsourcing contract.

Your employees rights are protected under TUPE, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, which ensure the terms & conditions at transfer are protected.

This means they are not lost forever – if things don’t turn out well and you want to bring the service back in-house, you can TUPE them back quite easily or onto another supplier.

5) It opens you to new opportunities
The strong benefits to outsourcing are not only the increased levels of Service but the increases in efficiencies and therefore the reduction in cost, something which is clearly a driver for all organisations in the current climate.

With an in-house Service this is often impossible to deliver i.e.

Reduced costs = Reduced Efficiencies = Reduced Service

Outsourcing opens up the possibilities to the adoption of new models which are affordable thanks to the various options available. For instance, a shared out-of-hours service that supports a number of organisations which are similar with regards to type, sector and requirements, with which to share the costs and ability to access high skills; or a dedicated peak-times service in addition to your own in-house desk to help during periods of increased demand, such as a particular event or a busy season.

6) The costs can be shared
If your organisation needs highly efficient support with specific expertise, but does not have the budget for this, a shared service can be an ideal solution. It provides access to the high skills that might be otherwise unaffordable for your organisation but at a much lower price, as the costs are shared between different organisations. Best results are obtained if the participant organisations are of similar type and with similar needs, and if the number of clients sharing is kept to a minimum.

7) It can create a strategic advantage
An efficient, reliable and fast IT Support where all you have to do is set SLAs and expect them to be met can be an asset for certain types of organisations, such as those in the financial sector, especially banks. With so many financial services relying on fast and efficient technology and 24/7/365 uninterrupted accessibility, the less downtime and inefficiencies you have, the more probability you have to gain ground in the market and beat your competitors that have a weaker IT service.

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Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is on Sourcing focus:

http://www.sourcingfocus.com/site/opinionsitem/5372/