Archive for the ‘Service Desk staff’ Category

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

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Are managed IT services set to grow this year?

January 25, 2012

Business of all sizes and sectors across the country are still worried about the poor conditions of the current economic environment, which is not set to improve this year, as analysts and experts have already announced. With no way of avoiding this situation, organisations can only try to make the best of it, and perhaps use it as an occasion to really assess what expenses are essential to their business and how they can take advantage of the weakened financial setting. It is important to try to make the best of what one has and what is available in order for an organisation to survive or even grow during hard times.

Of course when money is tight the Service Desk is one of the departments more likely to suffer, with all the possible consequences on the rest of the business. With most IT projects scrapped from the beginning, it takes a good justification to invest in anything more expensive than a screen wipe. Yet correct management of the Service Desk, including continuous training of IT staff, an inexpensive absence cover system, continuous service improvement ethos, updating service management processes to the latest and most relevant best practices and meeting the appropriate targets can still be possible without incurring in eye-watering bills. This is the principle behind a Managed IT Service – a Service Desk can work to a good standard at all times, because someone else is taking care of it and all variable costs become fixed.

Various types of IT outsourcing have become popular in the last few year – from offshoring to cheaper countries to having only some Support staff managed by a provider. Different options work for different organisations, but generally speaking the popularity of one over another during a recession or uncertain economic environment depends on a series of factors and in particular: low risk; ROI; ease of adoption/set-up; as well as a financial factor.  In times like these, where one doesn’t want to be involved in large projects or revolutionise their whole IT department and have to re-think the way they deliver and use IT Support, a radical option such as offshoring or full outsourcing might not be ideal. With a Managed IT Service Desk, the ‘status quo’ of the IT department should not be affected as the expectation is the supplier will implement a robust framework which ensures that existing Service Levels are at least maintained, whilst transitioning the Service Desk to a ‘future state’ model over an agreed period of time.

This meets the requirements of ease of adoption and risk, as it is easier to set up, reverse, retake charge of or switch provider, when compared with a fully outsourced or offshore solution. This option can also assure a certain level of information security compared to a fully outsourced service, as the Service Desk will be based at close sight within the organisation’s premises (unless otherwise requested) and the system, and therefore the data stored and processed within it, is owned by the company. The minimised risk makes this a good choice when one cannot afford to take risks.

As for the financial factor, most outsourcing models will eliminate the cost of certain projects such as staff training or service management implementations, and make variable costs become fixed: the provider will agree to meet certain SLAs for a set price, and it is up to them to provide the appropriate staff upskilling, best practice processes and so on within their budget, in order to meet targets. But a managed IT service will not require the extra cost of moving the service desk elsewhere, hiring or buying new equipment, sending managers over to another place, city or country to check on how the service desk is doing and, also, the costs involved in switching back to in-house or to another provider if the initial project failed.

Finally, the return on investment is clear and demonstrable. Having an expert provider taking control of your existing IT Service Desk will increase productivity and efficiency, reduce the volume of incidents and Service failures and ensure a significant part of your IT spend is fixed and controlled, giving the company peace of mind (IT becomes someone else’s problem) and allowing business to function at its best.

With these premises, it is likely that managed IT services will be chosen over and over again as an option to meet the demanding IT standards of a modern-day organisation in a time when any investment must be carefully thought and justified, and the return on investment clearly proven. This much needed headache relief can allow companies to carry out their business without having to worry about the quality and sudden expenses related to their IT, and therefore get a better chance to survive or even increase their work in these hard times.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is on Sourcing Focus: http://www.sourcingfocus.com/site/opinionsitem/4807/

Steps to a successful Service Transition – new white paper by Plan-Net

September 27, 2011

Plan-Net has issued a new white paper that guides IT professionals through the essential steps needed to perform a Service Transition with successful results.

Whether the IT Support model is to be transitioned from in-house to Co-Sourced, Co-Sourced to fully Outsourced or in-house to Outsourced, this white paper outlines each important stage of the process, whilst also providing the reader with some tips and further insights into the matter.

This white paper, written by Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services, was conceived to help with the growing need for organisations to change the way they manage their IT department in order to achieve greater cost-efficiency. The IT Service Desk is nowadays the backbone of most organisations; for it to not only support the business, but create value and actually improve the way work is carried out, the service needs to be efficient, well-managed and up-to-date with the latest innovations.

This is why sometimes it may be more convenient for an organisation to seek external help. It is common practice for many organisations to have some Co-Sourced staff to cover for absences or sudden increases in workload. Moreover, an increasing number of companies even decide to leave the Service Desk completely in the hands of the experts and have it managed by a service provider.

The white paper contains details of five key Service Transition phases:

  • Scope definition
  • Future state model identification
  • Roadmap and Service Design
  • Service Transition phase
  • Live service and Continual Service Improvement

It also contains highlights on:

  • Communication
  • Knowledge management
  • Soft skills
  • Dos and Don’ts

“Steps to a successful Service Transition” can be found and downloaded here: http://www.datafilehost.com/download-718177f6.html

Alternatively, it can also be found here: http://www.wiziq.com/tutorial/168103-Steps-to-a-successful-Service-Transition

For more information contact:

Samantha Selvini
Press Officer
Tel: 020 7632 7990
Email: samantha.selvini@plan-net.co.uk

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


Where is that ‘cultural change’ which makes ITSM Best Practice effective?

April 20, 2011

Most organisations nowadays have heard about the benefits of implementing an IT Service Management Best Practice framework, such as Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (CobiT) or the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). More than half have implemented some of the core processes, mainly Incident, Service Desk and Change Management. A good number of them believe the discipline has brought them some benefits, but many are also disappointed that they haven’t achieved the results they were aiming for.

There are two main reasons for this. First of all, as any Service Management professional knows, having all the processes, policies and tools in place is not enough if people fail to adopt them. Achieving cultural change across the organisation, so that staff at all levels understand the need to change, how the processes work and what type of benefits each process can bring to their own individual work and to the business as a whole is the most difficult task in a Service Management Best Practice implementation.

Second, even if an organisation invests in training and awareness sessions, the improvements still need to be assessed over time. The effects of the processes and cultural change cannot be seen immediately or after a few months. Real results may come after 2 or 3 years. However, investing in another traditional maturity assessment is an investment many financially-challenged organisations wouldn’t want to make.

The criteria of maturity assessments carried out by SOCITM or with the ITIL toolkit is limited and not all-encompassing – they focus more on processes adopted ‘on paper’ rather than on the actual efficiency reached. But a number (2/5, 4/5) does not tell them whether they are actually working efficiently or not. And that is what organisations want to know: how efficient are we and what can we do to improve?

To evaluate the results of an IT Service Management Best Practice implementation and its alignment with the organisation’s goals and needs, it is more helpful to carry out a Service Efficiency Review, and to adopt monitoring aids such as Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Customer Satisfaction Surveys in order to keep a clear view of the situation. But many organisations seem to see Best Practice as a one-off, without truly understanding that its value only exists if the efforts are consistent and if the processes are continuously adapted to the changing times and needs. They take it as if it was self-serving – once implemented it should do all the work by itself, without the need of any human effort.

Cultural change should strongly address these misconceptions, and not just convince people to adopt the processes. But it is not an easy task. Many organisations are reluctant to spend money on what they believe are unnecessary expenses, and it is not simple for Service Management professionals to justify a second efficiency review. Perhaps if consultants offered a follow-up review which provided ‘real-world recommendations’ and which was not just a standard tick-the-boxes assessment of out-of-the-box processes, public sector organisations would be keener to consider doing it. And if the second review was offered at a special price so that it is less of a commitment, more results may be achieved: more organisations would want to do it, and the consultants could benefit from the case studies. But they, too, don’t seem to want to bother – most consultants would rather make the same effort for a new client and get much more money and follow-up work.

From the lack of data on IT Service Management implementations which have remained successful in time, of case studies which can show that a form of cultural change has really taken place and lasted, and from the small number of organisations who have an efficiency review at the end of an implementation or more than once, it is evident that there is little interest on both sides in changing this scenario.

But if efforts are needed on both sides, it is Service Management professionals who should make the first move in order to change things. It is important that consultants manage to reach the higher management, and not only involve those who work within IT, and change first of all their attitude towards Service Management Best Practice. It is ultimately up the C-executives and senior managers to encourage cultural change across the organisation, acting from the top with policies and agreed ethos to make change possible. That is why awareness sessions, training and software-lead experiential learning should be extended to higher management as well. Through these tools it is possible to deliver a true understanding of Best Practice and its benefits to the organisation, and hence justify all the efforts needed to reach the final aims of the discipline.

A lot of work needs to be done in order to allow for IT Service Management Best Practice effectiveness to be measured and demonstrated. Fortunately, more and more organisations understand the potential benefits of Best Practice to their business – their concern is the realistic delivery of its promise and how to maintain the results over time. To change the way both organisations and consultants think, both sides need to modify their attitude. Only this way, it may be possible for Best Practice to really deliver and, ultimately, for cultural change to take place.

 

 

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

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

Are you Off-Sure about your IT Service Desk?

July 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best practice implementation

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

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

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

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

Realignment of roles within the Service Desk

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

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

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

Upskilling and Service Management toolset selection

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

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

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

Improving IT infrastructure and enhancing security

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

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

Taking a holistic view of IT

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

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is featured in the current issue of ServiceTalk

Mind the skill gap

July 12, 2010

Service Desk efficiency starts from support staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Connelly, Head of Service Management

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

Is your IT Service Desk future proof?

June 23, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

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