Archive for the ‘Service Desk’ 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

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/

Selling Managed Services to the CFO

August 28, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jennifer Grant, Service Delivery Manager

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

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/

Focus on 2012: 5 key areas in Enterprise IT

December 19, 2011

According to the industry analysts, experts and professionals, some of the changes and novelties introduced in the last few years are set to become actual trends in 2012. Influenced by the ever-challenging economic climate, disillusioned yet careful outlook on industry best practices and need to obtain measurable efficiency from any IT project, these are the five key areas that will acquire growing importance next year:

1)      Larger use of non-desktop-based applications

This is due to of a growing need for mobility and flexibility. Users need to be able to work while travelling, from any desk or office (for instance, in the case of large/international companies) and from home, as home-working is growing due to the financial benefits involved. It is also a good choice to guarantee business continuity in the case of unforeseen circumstances such as natural disaster or strikes which leave the workers stranded or unable to reach the office. As well as cloud applications, virtualised desktops are becoming a must-have for many organisations. Companies with older desktops which need updating anyway will find this switch more financially convenient, as well as those which have a large number of mobile users which need to access applications from their smartphone or laptop while out of their main office. It can also give those organisations considering or embracing home-working more control over the desktops, as they will be centralised and managed by the company and not at user level.

2)      Larger use of outsourced management services

The ‘doing more with less’ concept that started to take grip at the beginning of the past recession has translated into practical measures. These include handing part or the whole of the Service Desk to an external service provider which, for a fixed cost, will know how to make the best of what the company has, and provide skilled personnel, up-to-date technology and performance metrics. Managed services, IT outsourcing and cloud services will become even more prominent in 2012 and the following years due to their convenience from a practical and financial point of view. With the right service provider, the outcome is improved efficiency, less losses deriving from IT-related incidents and more manageable IT expenditure.

3)      Management plans for ‘big data’

There is much talk around the current topic of ‘big data’, which describes the concept of the large amount of varied data organisations have to deal with nowadays. There are some practical issues that arise from this – mainly how to store it, share it and use it, all without breaching the Data Protection Act. However, at the moment it is still very difficult to understand how to take the next step: using this data strategically and to create business advantage. This is something companies will have to look at in the years to come; as for the next year, they might just concentrate on dealing with data safely and efficiently, possibly storing it on a private virtual server or using public cloud services.

4)      A more balanced approach to security

This new approach sees the over-adoption of security measures dropped after the realisation that it might affect productivity as it may cause delay in carrying out business operations; it could also diminish opportunities that are found in sharing data within the sector to allow organisations to improve and grow; lastly, it can be counter-productive, with employees bypassing the measures in place in order to make operations quicker. Although being compliant with on-going regulations is becoming vital, there will be more scoping and tailoring than large technology adoption. Organisations will be analysed to understand which areas are in need of security measures and to what extent. This way, heavy security measures will be applied only to high risk areas rather than throughout the whole organisations, with less critical areas able to work more freely. In this approach, risks are balanced against efficiency and opportunity and the end result is a tailored solution rather than a collection of off-the-shelf products.

5)      Less budget control

Due to the challenging economic climate, other departments, in particular the financial department and therefore the DOF, will have more control over IT investments. CIOs and IT Managers will have to be able to evaluate if their IT project is necessary or just a nice-to-have, and how it can bring business advantage.  All proposed IT investment will have to be justified financially; therefore, it is important to analyse each project and find a reasonable ROI before presenting it to the finance decision-makers. This implies that IT professionals have to learn ‘business talk’ and manage to translate difficult technical descriptions in business terms.

All in all, developments within IT will not come to a halt next year – investment and changes will continue but with a more careful outlook and a stronger focus on efficiency, safety and Return on Investment rather than on following trends or adopting the latest technology for the sake of it. Because of this, the difficult economic climate could also be seen as a good thing: organisations make wiser and far-sighted choices that will create a solid base for any future decision that will be made when times are less tough and spending capacity rises, increasing the efficiency potential of IT for business purposes.

Tony Rice, Service Delivery Manager

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

The GLOCAL IT Service Desk

June 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

Oh no… Not another Service Management initiative!

June 21, 2011

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

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

‘Change’ seen as a threat

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

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

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

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

Don’t impose – involve

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

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

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

Getting the best out of analysts

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

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

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

Adopting a holistic view

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

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

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

It is not always IT’s fault

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

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

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

Sam Evanson, Operations Delivery Manager

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

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

May 12, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

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


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