Posts Tagged ‘help desk’

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

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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

Doing more with less: an opportunity to learn

May 7, 2010

Budget reduction teaches organisations to prioritise – a lesson to be learnt not only by the public sector.

The recently announced budget has not been kind to public sector IT, just as expected. Large cuts mean that most technology projects will have to be shelved, but this does not make the level of performance the sector is craving for impossible to be reached – on the contrary, budget reduction is the kind of incentive that drives organisations to prioritise and to seek efficiencies, focusing more on operational, rather than capital expenditure. This does not apply exclusively to the public sector, of course: many private companies are struggling with similarly tight purse strings, so there is a lesson to be learnt for them as well from such challenging circumstances. 

Quick-fix plans which consist of simply reducing the number of personnel and only purchasing tools to replace the most obsolete assets are unlikely to represent the best way to preserve, let alone increase efficiency. With most operations nowadays recognising that IT forms the backbone of the organisation, it is clear that a wiser roadmap must be designed. Clear-sighted organisations, then, will have a strategy which sees them realigning roles and improving skills within their IT department, implementing relevant Best Practice processes and adopting tools and technologies that can help towards reducing overall operating costs while improving efficiency, such as virtualised servers and automated service desk management software. Scoping and planning is vital in order to design a strategic solution that is bespoke, fit-for-purpose and scalable, hence fit not only for present conditions but the medium term as well, and to demonstrate clearly what cost efficiencies a well-balanced mix of people, process and technology can achieve. 

In terms of staffing, it seems that many IT Service Desks lack the skills and tools to deal with most of the calls at first-line level, and therefore become overburdened with an unnecessary (not to mention costly) number of second-line engineers, which are also, because of their more ‘flexible’ nature, often slower in dealing with incidents. An up-skilling of first line support in conjunction with Best Practice procedures and the adoption of automated software which can deal with simple and repetitive incidents such as password resets may take the level of first-time fix from as little as 20-30 per cent to 60-70 per cent. This means that a smaller total number of support personnel are needed, especially at second line, and that the business will be remarkably improved, with incidents taking less time to be resolved, resulting in a more efficient service for users.

Best Practice implementation is a key component in this cost-effective innovation project. The adoption of procedures based on a discipline such as ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) will help any organisation function in the best possible way. The processes described by ITIL deal, among others, with the management of incidents, risks and change. The latter is of particular relevance: to deal with any alteration to the system, be it small or large, without causing inefficiencies, disruptions and consequently business or client loss it is important to have a mature level of Change Management already in place.

Because of the difficulty of accepting change and truly understanding this new way of working, ITIL-based experiential learning sessions are an important aid in delivering the discipline so that change can effectively happen, and to guarantee active participation of all staff taking part in the training. This should not only be limited to people that are directly affected, but extend to management who equally need to embrace the importance of best practice.

Another smart innovation that takes the idea of ‘doing more with less’ in its most literal form is that of virtualisation. Through virtualising both the desktop and server environment cost savings from a reduction in user downtime and further improvements in levels of remote (and therefore first line) fixing can be substantial, not to mention further benefits seen in terms of reduced server maintenance costs (from personnel to energy consumption).

The steps to take may appear quite clear and straightforward, but current in-house skills, resources and experience might not be enough to deal with such innovation and, as a result, many organisations will need the expertise of a service provider. With regards to the public sector, the cheapest outsourcing option, commonly seen as offshoring, may be automatically ruled out due to information security issues. However, security concerns private organisations as well, especially ones which withhold information that is extremely sensitive, such as law firms and banks. These particular companies cannot risk the loss of reputation, not to mention a hefty fine that can follow a breach of the Data Protection Act by a non properly-trained employee or a non-secure service provider.

There is a solution, though, where cost-efficiency can be achieved at the same, or a lower price than an in-house solution. As predicted by analysts in the sector, it is probable that many organisations will be more and more driven towards adopting a managed service solution in the next couple of years. With Managed Services, Service Desk management is taken care of by a third party, often in the office premises, and while personnel and procedures are left in the hands of the provider the organisation still retains ownership of assets and power over data, particularly important when information withheld within the system is sensitive and cannot risk leakage or loss.

It is not uncommon to achieve cost savings of 15 per cent or more when compared to a similar, in-house option, saving organisations money and improving the overall functioning of operations, in turn creating more business opportunities and enhancing the users’ ability to maximise productivity.

When it comes to innovation and change, and especially when that may involve reductions of any kind, it might be true that a view from the inside is not likely to be the most objective. With that in mind, working with a specialist partner would seem to be the most logical conclusion; however, doing more with less is far more likely to be attainable in the long term if management visibility and control is retained internally to ensure IT is kept close to the heart of the organisation at all times. Balance, it seems, is key to success.

 

Jerry Cave, Director

This article features on the BCS website and in the BCS Service Management e-newsletter: http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.35420

Sharing the IT Service Desk: sharing cost, sharing quality

May 4, 2010

The importance of IT, just like that of public transport, seems only to be truly appreciated when it stops working properly and stranded users are left to reflect on the value of a more efficient system. The IT quality issue can become particularly important when inefficiencies and disruptions not only slow down the system and create delays, but get in the way of business operations or, even worse, cause losses. As many organisations might have unfortunately already experienced, an extra minute of downtime might lead to money loss, system malfunction can cause loss of data and lack of proper data protection measures can bring information security breaches, causing not only costly fines, but damage to the organisation’s reputation that might not be repairable.

The problem is that high-quality IT support is not always seen as affordable, especially when an organisation needs a bespoke, hyper-efficient, extremely secure service that can understand and meet the needs typical of their particular industry. In reality, however, there are ways to access an excellent service at a cost well within that of most IT budgets. Sharing an IT Service Desk with other organisations within your sector is an easy way to gain access to high levels of IT skills and expertise which are at the same time tailored to your organisation. Staff working for two or more organisations with similar needs, structure and business culture can acquire deeper knowledge of the environment, and the organisations taking part in the share can benefit from shared experience, avoiding the dangers incurred by others.

There are obvious concerns regarding this solution. Organisations might think their data and intellectual property are not secure or that sharing with someone that might well be a competitor could damage them or negate any competitive advantage their IT might bring. Furthermore they could argue that sharing support personnel might mean that there will be less attention towards their business or worse, that resources will be stretched thin due to dealing with the increase in incidents.

In fact the structure of a shared service desk should, if managed by the right provider, guarantee an improvement in service levels when compared to an in-house desk. Service Level Agreements and Key Performance Indicators will ensure the provider is always hitting the levels your organisation requires while having access to a central pool of staff trained to follow best practices and experienced in your specific industry can only improve performance. Take into account the fact that the shared aspect of the service means all of this will be delivered for a reduced cost, and the benefits in terms of efficiency also become apparent.

Despite its obvious benefits, a shared service is not for every organisation. The primary benefits are seen when the sharers are similar organisations and as such there are valid concerns when it comes to how a shared service might compromise any advantage IT might bring over competitors. Due to this there are industries and business sectors where a shared service may not be appropriate – retail or banking for example – but for organisations in the public sector or industries where collaboration is commonplace, such as Law firms, the likelihood of competitive advantage being affected is slim.

Organisations which realise that the kind of service they need to provide might be out of reach when the cost is shouldered alone are likely to turn to this innovative solution more and more in the future, identifying it as a valid alternative to full-scale outsourcing or off-shoring, where the cost advantage is often to the detriment of performance levels. While clearly not applicable to every organisation, as a model, shared services can be used as a route to bypass the dangers typical of services that achieve cost-reductions by cutting down on quality.

 

 

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is featured on Director of Finance: http://www.dofonline.co.uk/management/cutting-costs-on-it-service-support-051004.html

Do you really want to lose (inter)face?

February 15, 2010

Off-shoring of IT services and especially Service Desks is gaining popularity as Financial Directors continue to reduce IT spend and headcount. But before a decision as crucial as this can be taken it is important to assess the potential short, medium and long term impact on the user community and ultimately the bottom line.

Although the Service Desk is just a component part of IT as a whole, it remains the ‘face’ of IT and in most cases, the measurement point of both user perception of IT effectiveness and impact on the user’s ability to carry out his or her job. A good or bad Service Desk will strongly influence the user’s motivation to engage with it and ultimately, solve issues that are affecting productivity.

The Service Desk has evolved rapidly in recent years becoming ever more technical and at present, with the use of remote tools, a decent desk will be achieving in excess of 70% first time fix. The downside of this, however, is the fast reducing need for any face-to-face interaction between IT and its customers. Ten years ago an engineer would often visit the user’s desk to solve an issue, then it would just be a voice over the phone from another room in the same building and after that, perhaps from another company in the same city. Now users can find themselves contacting someone who isn’t even on the same continent.

From the users’ point of view, the lack of interface can lead to a real trust issue and a feeling of discomfort with the service they are receiving. Over the next few years it is likely that most organisations will change their desktop significantly adopting Windows 7, virtualisation, the latest versions of Office and Outlook and ever more complicated applications, as well as any number of scenarios involving personal devices. This means that users will require coaching, reassurance and genuine old-school technical support to see them through the period of change and beyond without impacting on their ability to perform well in their jobs.

Current experiences of offshore arrangements, however, show that this level of service is not always deliverable from overseas. Many organisations with a large contingent of fee-earning employees have already worked this out and are sticking with or returning to locally based highly technical Service Desk models that extract full value from the working day of the user.  Asking a Lawyer or Banker to put up with anything less than a first class service regardless of its reduced cost is a false economy – in fact, investing in the front line of IT can give valuable time back to the user that equates directly to the bottom line.

Regrettably, for those businesses that have already off-shored or are about to follow the model it may be too late. The cost in terms of business continuity as well as impact on P&L are likely to make reversing the decision hugely painful if not completely prohibitive.

It is evident that there are many benefits to outsourcing, but when taken to the extreme, as in the case of off-shoring, the apparent cost savings are potentially not what they seem. Before making a decision with such far-reaching consequences, careful thought needs to be given to the overall impact on the business, with particular attention to how end users of the service will be affected by the choice.

Richard Forkan

 

Richard Forkan, Director of Business Development

This article is featured on Director of Finance Online  http://www.dofonline.co.uk/governance/outsourcing-the-service-desk-021016.html