Posts Tagged ‘IT Help Desk’

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

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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

Public sector, private data – is outsourcing the Service Desk too risky?

June 3, 2010

As the Treasury announce cuts amounting to £6.25bn, £95m of which deriving from a reduction in IT spending, attention is once more directed towards outsourcing as a means to reduce IT expenditure. But Information Technology stores and processes large amounts of personal, sensitive and confidential data, and when it comes to the public sector it can have a very high level of sensitivity, hence a lot of trust is bestowed upon personnel that have access to it. It is already difficult to place confidence in in-house staff, due to the high number of data breaches that are perpetrated by internal staff, backed up by statistics, but the option of off-shore outsourcing elevates the threat level from code yellow to code red.

Widespread use of Cloud computing is unlikely to become a reality in the foreseeable future: strict regulations relating to the Data Protection Act, which the public sector in particular follows religiously, make it virtually impossible to obtain assurances that the data stored outside the organisation’s premises is adequately controlled and kept secure. However, remote access provided to support staff based at another location, be it in the same or another country, still presents a risk in that information can still be collected and recorded. 

With the government CIO, John Suffolk, encouraging the use of outsourcing to countries offering cheaper labour as a cost-cutting strategy, it is time to understand to what extent this can be done and if the public sector can really benefit from off-shoring the Service Desk after all.

Organisations in the public sector are essentially different from private companies: although it seems obvious, it is important to bear in mind that they are funded by British taxpayers, and therefore work for them. However, providing access to personal and sensitive data to companies thousands of miles away and outside the European Union which have different culture, ethics and laws might put the safety of their personal details at risk. For instance, information such as identity, financial and health records can fall into the wrong hands and be used for malicious intent. Not long ago, ITV found that British medical and financial records held abroad could be bought for just a few dollars. No matter how ‘rare’ this event might be, it is not a risk Britons are prepared to take, if the decision were up to them.

It is certainly difficult for organisations in the public sector to carry out a satisfactory level of service when their budgets are being reduced, but it is important to think about the consequences of outsourcing the IT department: a move initially intended to save money can end up making the organisation lose money as a result of large fines and court cases, and most importantly, it can lead to a loss of credibility and reputation.

Recognising a ‘safe’ provider is not easy, especially as identification of a risky supplier often only happens once a breach has been committed, when it might be too late for an organisation to escape liability and to save face. However, it is possible to assess a provider’s trustworthiness before a breach occurs: they should follow Best Practice and have a mature Information Security Management System in line with the ISO 27001 standard, assessed through an independent security review, risk assessment and gap analysis.

There are also better alternatives to extreme or risky versions of outsourcing. For example, the IT department can be kept internal, for better control, but be managed by a third party which is aware of the stringent safety measures necessary for working in this peculiar sector. That said, most information security breaches pertain to threats inside an organisation and are in many cases not a malicious act but a consequence of ignorance, frustration or lack of risk awareness. Well-trained and appropriately-skilled Support staff can reduce these security incidents to a minimum, as would implementing organisational-wide information security awareness sessions.

Management commitment within the industry is especially important to convey the significance of protecting personal and sensitive data and the seriousness of breaching the Data Protection Act, which does not only concern IT staff. Extensive training is necessary to raise awareness across the entire organisation – whenever there is a data breach it is never the provider that suffers the worst consequences, but the organisation’s reputation.

 

David Cowan, Head of Infrastructure and Security

This opinion piece appears in this week’s Dispatch Box on Public Technology: http://www.publictechnology.net/sector/public-sector-private-data-outsourcing-service-desk-too-risky

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

So, Microsoft outsources IT support – What’s all the fuss about?

April 28, 2010

When a press release was issued a couple of weeks ago announcing that Microsoft’s IT help desk, desk-side services, and infrastructure and application support were to be managed on-premise by Infosys for its branches across the globe, it caused a lot of controversy in the media.

Outsourcing frequently provokes strong opinions, and whilst it is often accepted that outsourcing catering or cleaning is a sensible move, outsourcing IT is often seen in a different light. There can be a supposition that the company in question has somehow lost control of what it is doing and is embarking on outsourcing as a “last resort” to help clean up the mess.

These beliefs appear to be driving much of the Microsoft criticism. People have been criticising Microsoft products for years that they are difficult to manage, so if the company that produces them can’t even manage them, what chance for the rest of us?

However, this thinking stands on shaky ground. First of all, the company has always endorsed outsourcing so it is not surprising that they are now embracing what they described as a consolidation strategy, choosing only one provider to deliver all services.

Secondly, there seems to be a lot of prejudice about organisations in the IT field, where it is thought that software producers, hardware vendors and services providers are all the same, which is obviously far from true.

It should go without saying that as Microsoft is a software company, it is not implied that it can also be an expert in infrastructure support and management. Just like organisations in many other fields, the giant turned to a managed support provider to help with improving its system while achieving its main aim, cost-cutting. It is recognised that delegating the management of support services to experts can enhance IT efficiency and overall improve the whole business operations, minimising disruptions, inefficiencies and time and money loss.

The controversy, if there was one, would be that they have chosen an Indian provider to deliver the service rather than one based in the US, given all the fuss about off-shoring stealing work from the country. But the company was probably faced with little choice: the provider has to deal with 450 locations across more than 100 countries, including issues such as managing different languages, cultures and laws. Only an offshore global giant could probably do the job for Microsoft whilst still keeping the offer affordable.

The focal point of the discussion, anyway, should not be the provider, but the service. It is remarkable that an important company such as Microsoft recognises the value of managed services, choosing this option over full outsourcing. As they and a growing number of organisations of all sizes might have understood, this solution proves ideal when the need to delegate management of IT functions is accompanied by the desire to retain a certain level of power and control over operations, to retain intellectual property, and ultimately for enhanced security.

Staying up to date with the latest techniques, solutions and best practice is something that internal IT departments can struggle to achieve, but is generally easier for a service provider working across multiple clients. This strategic move shows us Microsoft doing what it frequently does – not accepting the status quo but frequently looking for “the better way”. Whether it has made the right decision is obviously to be proven, but it is the organisations that never change that are most prone to obsolescence.

 

 

Adrian Polley, CEO

Find an edited version in the Comment section of CRN: http://www.channelweb.co.uk/crn/comment/2262088/microsoft-outsources-support

Personal touch or fast resolution – what do end users really want from their IT Support?

April 19, 2010

With regards to IT support, do end users really prefer face-to-face contact with an analyst, or would their rather have the problem fixed remotely in the shortest time possible? Does it make any difference to them, and what is their priority?

Many IT directors seem to invest a great part of their IT budget in an unnecessary number of desk side support analysts, rather than in new technology to speed up operations through remote intervention. Their justification is something along these lines: “Users like that personal touch. They feel awkward when they have to interact with a voice over the phone or deal with automated tools. They like to have a friendly face at their desk.”

Is this the truth or an assumption by IT? Do users just want their problem fixed which ever way is quickest, be that desk side or over the phone?

These are the results of our poll :

Answer Votes
I don’t mind if my problem is solved remotely, I just want to get it fixed as quick as possible.    80%
 I feel awkward when I have to interact with a voice over the phone or automated software. I like to have a friendly face at my desk.    10%
I have no preference. Either way is fine with me.    10%

5 thoughts on the IT Service Desk that need re-thinking

March 10, 2010

Slowly recovering from the crisis and with a more careful eye to the unsteadiness of the market, many organisations across all sectors are considering ways to make their IT Service Desk more cost-efficient, but some ideas decision-makers might have could be partially or totally wrong.
So if you are thinking any of the following, you might want to think again:

“Our Service Desk is costing us too much. Outsourcing it to [insert favourite low-cost country abroad] can solve the problem.”

Although outsourcing has it advantages, doing it off-shore is a huge investment and has a lot of hidden costs, including losses due to inefficiencies and disruptions during the transition or caused by bad performance – bad service can damage the business. Moreover, reversing the move can be a costly, lengthy and treacherous procedure. Before they consider drastic moves, organisations should try to identify the reasons their IT expenditure is so high. Likely causes could be inefficient management, poor skills or obsolete tools and processes. Best practice implementation, using automated ITIL-compliant software and updating IT skills are a first step towards efficiency; however, a more cost-effective outsourcing solution could be handing management of the Service Desk to a service provider that can take care of service improvement on site.

“If leading companies around the world are off-shoring, it must be convenient.”

Only Global organisations seem to gain great benefits from off-shoring their IT department, often being the sole solution to reduce their otherwise enormous spending. Just because many important organisations are doing it, it doesn’t mean it is suitable for all. For example, there are important cultural differences which may not be an issue for those organisations with offices and clients spread worldwide that are already dealing with a mixture of cultures, but can definitely cause problems for a relatively European company with a certain type of business mind. Another issue is costs: many organisations find that after the conspicuous initial investment, cost saving might not exceed 10% and what is more, the new facility sometimes creates extra costs that were unforeseen, actually increasing expenditure.

“Our system has always worked; I don’t see why we should change it.”

Technology is changing regardless of one’s eagerness, and it is important to keep up with the changing demands of the market in order to remain competitive. A certain system might have worked five years ago, but new technologies and procedures can make older ones obsolete and comparatively inefficient. Take server virtualisation for example: business continuity can reach astonishing levels thanks to live migration, guaranteeing a better service with the extra benefit of energy saving through consolidation. Adoption of ITIL Best Practice processes also helps increase efficiency not only in the Service Desk, but in the business as a whole. Thanks to its implementation, organisations can save time and money and enhance the smoothness and quality of all IT-reliant operations, which helps the entire business.

“We need more 2nd and 3rd line engineers.”

When problems need more second and third-line resolution, it probably means first line is not efficient enough. Thanks to specific automated software to help with simple incidents and to the adoption of software as a service managed by an external provider, the simplest and most complex issues are being taken care of, meaning some of the work of a first-line engineer and the whole work of third-line engineers are no longer an issue for the organisation’s IT staff. However, the remaining incidents still need a more efficient resolution at first-line level: the more incidents are resolved here, the less need there is to increase the number of more expensive second-line staff. To improve first-line fix, engineers need to be trained to follow Best Practice processes that can make incident resolution fast and effective, as well as help the organisation deal with change and prevent risks connected to data security.

“I’d rather we managed our IT ourselves – control is key.”

An organisation might be proficient in its field, but may find it difficult to manage its IT Service Desk as effectively. When cost-efficiency is important, it is best to leave one’s ego at the door and have experts do the job. The IT arena is constantly changing and continuous training and updating is necessary in order to keep up with the market standards, and an organisation often cannot afford to invest in constant innovation of their IT. If outsourcing, on and off-shore, gives organisations the impression of losing control, then managed services is a better solution: the existing team and tools, or new and improved ones, can be managed by a service provider directly on the office premises, if needed. Thanks to this, organisations can focus on the more important parts of their business, leaving IT to the techies while still keeping an eye on it.

 

Adrian Polley, CEO

Find this article online at Fresh Business Thinking: http://www.freshbusinessthinking.com/business_advice.php?CID=&AID=5004&Title=5+Thoughts+On+The+IT+Service+Desk+That+Need+Re-Thinking

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