Posts Tagged ‘IT staff’

10 Things your IT Service Desk should NOT be doing

September 3, 2012

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

1 – Bypassing processes/procedures

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

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

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

3 – Taking decisions to change priority based on individual relationships

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

4 – Forgetting to manage their telephone management

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

5 – Taking lunch or breaks at the same time

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

6 – Escalating issues that they have the ability to resolve

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

7 – Leaving the call management flow to someone else

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

8 – Sitting at their desks during their breaks. 

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

9 – Ignoring repeated patterns in call types. 

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

10 – Asking repetitive questions to other support groups. 

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

 

 

Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

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

10 tips for managing the human side of IT

August 14, 2012

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

1 – Understand role ‘shelf life’

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

2 – Skills set relevance

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

3 – Encourage personal development

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

4 – Feedback and reward

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

5 – Expectations management

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

6 – Equality and consistency

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

7 – Differences

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

8 – Relationship building

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

9 – Tailor management style

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

10 – Empathy

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

Ben Whitehead, Service Delivery Manager

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

Bring IT support back to the 1st line

March 27, 2012

In a time where cuts to organisations’ IT budget are often becoming a necessity, taking a good hard look at role redistribution and service desk management could definitely help organisations diminish support expenditure, and perhaps divert the IT budget towards new projects. Organisations can even potentially achieve more benefits by better managing incidents, gaining increased speed of resolution and improved service levels while they save money, creating even more cost-efficiencies. A way to achieve this is by bringing more support work back to the 1st line.

It is common knowledge that analysts working at 1st line level have a lower cost due to their lower skills, while 2nd and 3rd line resolvers – desk-side, network and server support staff – are more expensive, as their skills are higher and more specific. Incident resolution rates also vary: it is faster to resolve an incident at 1st line due to the simple nature of incidents that are taken care of at that level, while 2nd line analysts take longer to resolve issues as these tend to be more complex, or require physically moving to reach the user’s device.

Over time, 2nd and 3rd line resolver teams have been including support activities in their daily routines which, when analysed, often include frequently occurring and process driven tasks. These tasks probably sit where they do because at system or product implementation, all related support activities were adopted by the deploying team without any later thought as to whether some of the tasks can be moved elsewhere.

At the same time, 1st line teams have become more technical and able, with greater access to system tools and the permissions to use them. This has had a positive impact on first time resolution and we have seen the log-and-flog approach begin to decline.

Considering both of these evolutions, opportunities exist to release system specialist time, reduce the cost of service provision and increase first time fix at the Service Desk. By effectively using ticket closure category information from the service management tool, analysis can be undertaken of what 2nd and 3rd line resolver teams are actually resolving.  A likely outcome is that tasks will be identified which are process driven, and therefore can actually be performed by a more junior (or low cost) resource. As long as the process can be documented and the permissions to do it are provided, it’s more than likely that the 1st line Service Desk team can pick up the work.

As an output from some analysis, this may look like – x% of 2nd line resolutions are procedural and can move to 1st line, as a result, 1st line can increase their first line fix from y% to z%, and thereby improving the service to the user-base.

The cost savings of such an exercise could be considerable.  By moving tasks into the first line, the tasks are being moved into lower cost people. This may mean that the 1st line team grows and the other resolver groups reduce, the outcome of which will lead to a demonstrable cost saving.  Furthermore, with tasks having been removed away from the 2nd and 3rd line teams, opportunities will present themselves as a result of the increase in available time within these groups, e.g. resolver teams can improve their performance as they will have more time to work on the more complex problems, and team resource can be released more readily into project work and thereby decreasing the need for expensive contractors.

Such change, however, can’t quite happen overnight.  The analysis needs to be good, and the recommendations of tasks to be moved to 1st line need to be realistic.  Then, through the controls of a well-run project, tasks are tested as being viable duties that the 1st line team can assume, and when signed off, can permanently remain at first line.

The measures of a successful exercise will be ultimately visible in the reporting. The first line fix percentage will increase, the ticket resolution volumes at the resolver groups should reduce, and costs should reduce – perhaps by reducing staffing, project or contractor costs.

The perception of the overall quality of the IT service should also improve: frequent support activities will be completed faster, which improves customer satisfaction; and core systems will receive greater attention from their specialist support staff, leading to improved availability and functionality.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

This article has been published on Director of Finance Online:

http://www.dofonline.co.uk/content/view/6131/118/

There are still opportunities to do more for less

February 3, 2012

A lot of talk right now revolves around IT projects in 2012 – which mainly means, deciding which projects to scrap due to lack of funds and how to invest the small budget available wisely, as well as use existing resources more efficiently. The problem is that with a restricted budget, it is difficult to truly understand what is essential and what is not and therefore where to invest the limited resources. But there are still many opportunities to achieve IT efficiencies at a small or no cost.

First of all, an effective way to improve productivity would be to follow the classic suggestion of making the best of what you have, but with particular focus on the human side, the people who run your IT. Invest time and effort in your staff to make them feel appreciated, motivate them to work better with incentives and listen to their issues as well as their suggestions on how to improve the IT department. People are a fundamental part of your business and investing in them will definitely have a tangible return on investment. It is easy for staff to get discouraged in tough times, and that is why improving morale and making people feel appreciated is so vital to improve business – a no-cost investment for a great ROI.

Likewise, there is still space to find other no or low-cost efficiencies by applying simple Service Management best practice principles. From processes to help speed up operations and software to deal with large amount of data effectively, to changing IT staff’s working patterns and hours, small changes can bring great results, all to the business’ advantage. Adopting metrics can also be a great way to improve the service and monitor efficiency. A small budget may be invested in consultancy – an experienced consultant can help by assessing the state of the Service Desk and suggesting ways to improve processes and put to better use the current resources that you have.

Another good move for a small budget can be gaining certifications. With limited resources and the inability to spend on large projects, it might be a good time to obtain an ITIL or ISO 27001 certification: the immediate investment is small but the results can become of great importance in the next few years. In fact, when the market will be strong and growing again, the company will already have that crucial certification that allows them to take part in bids and tenders, for instance, and therefore grow their business; these certifications are in fact becoming more and more crucial for companies issuing a bid or tender, and greatly influence the decision-making process. At the same time, they can guarantee more efficiency and security, which means that even in tough times, resources are exploited and managed in the best way possible, operations are carried out effectively and security incidents – with all their costly consequences – are reduced to the minimum.

The most important thing to keep in mind, in any case, is that any move has to focus on supporting the revenue-generating areas and functions. Money spent supporting non-essential parts of the organisation’s productivity might not have be a wise investment in the current financial situation. Any efforts must be directed at helping the business and its core functions, while the other aspects of the organisation will have to put on hold until the market is strong again.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

Find this piece on ITSM Portal:

http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/there-are-still-opportunities-do-more-less

IT workforce continuity

December 17, 2010

Do you have a people continuity plan for your IT Support?

Business resilience and continuity planning is becoming more and more important as organisations increasingly understand its value and the position IT has in achieving it. However, in Business Continuity Management not all elements are given the same significance. Many organisations focus on securing their data with constant back-ups, others are more concerned with minimising email or server downtime – but the measures taken might not be so effective if there is insufficient support staff to deal with them. How many organisations have a BCM strategy that addresses IT workforce continuity?

Data recently disclosed by The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed that 71 per cent of senior managers recognise Business Continuity Management as ‘important’ or ‘very important’. At the top of the list of perceived threats that can cause disruptions which may potentially have a significant impact on costs and revenues there is the loss of IT. Over half of participants in ‘The 2010 Business Continuity Management survey’ also recognise skills and people loss as being a possible threat. However, their BCM plan does not always cover these. Only a quarter of organisations have a plan that includes remediation towards a potential loss of people and 40 per cent have a plan for loss of IT. There are no statistics concerning a continuity plan for IT Support people specifically, but as more and more businesses become reliant on IT this is an issue that should not be ignored.

Natural disasters, bad weather and flu epidemics, which are among the threats which cause the most workforce loss, may result in a number of IT engineers being unable to carry out their job. A reduced number of technicians who can’t deal with the amount of incidents can leave users unable to work as a consequence. Even simple everyday absences due to holidays or sick leave can cause disruptions to the normal IT Support service that may affect the business.

There are two main issues that need to be addressed in planning for workforce continuity – distance and presence. To overcome the distance problem, organisations should take measures that can allow staff to access the system remotely, choosing the appropriate virtualisation tools. This can benefit both employees who can then work from home, trains or abroad and Support staff, who can access servers and desktops remotely and resolve incidents from a distance.

In some cases, however, physical presence is required or preferred. Not only in the event of a disaster but also in the more ordinary case of personnel on leave or being ill, it may be necessary to provide appropriate substitution with the same level of knowledge and skills. Immediate availability might also be required to avoid disruptions which would cause the service to lose on quality and efficiency, or costs to the business including financial loss, low client satisfaction and loss of reputation.

Some organisations might be able to get by without the full team on board, for instance those where IT efficiency and continuous availability are not a priority. Others, perhaps large corporations with a preference for keeping staff internal, might be able to afford a team of ‘floating’ engineers that are paid to remain available in case of need, or to employ contractors every time they require a substitution. But for most organisations the need to have ongoing high-quality support is strong and having a floating team or individual contractors is not financially or logistically convenient. For them, it might not be possible to obtain this sort of workforce continuity without resorting to external help.

Let’s take financial firms for instance, where business is heavily reliant on IT and time is literally money. For them, disruptions and downtime can have a very high cost and even determine their success or failure. Cost-efficient and reliable IT Support is vital, and so is immediate cover. For them, external support might be a solution – flexible and scalable co-sourcing can offer skilled technicians for emergency and long-term cover.

Some providers offer standardised services that can cover all the basic needs, ideal for organisations with little need for bespoke solutions. Others are able to offer more flexible and tailored solutions, for instance providing staff with characteristics which meet certain requirements within a short time space. Personnel is employed full-time by the provider as multi-site engineers, ready to work wherever the need arises and for any period of time, and trained to a wide range of skills and knowledge which they can apply to different environments. The difference with individual contractors is possibly in the quality a provider can offer thanks to SLAs that guarantee a high level of service.

There may be different strategies to suit different organisations, but it is true for all that efficient IT cannot be possible without efficient management of the IT Support team, which include a workforce continuity strategy specifically addressed to them. Planning in advance is vital to keep the IT system running during disruptions that affect the organisation. It is through a comprehensive Business Continuity strategy which covers Support that an organisation is able to prevent or minimise disruptions that may otherwise have an effect on costs, revenue and, ultimately, reputation.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article appears in this month’s BCS Service Management newsletter and online on the BCS website: http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conWebDoc.38344

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

Getting back to work – but with a service provider

June 16, 2010

IT professionals can learn from the tough times.

As the UK officially leaves the recession, although, it must be said, staggering instead of marching triumphantly, the IT job market seems to be coming back to life, but with a substantially changed face. IT professionals looking to get back to work after they were made redundant or to make that career move they postponed while things were tough, should take this opportunity to learn from the past twelve months and make a more informed choice when choosing their new employer.

As IT Support and Managed Services acquire larger space in the UK business services market, the timing is right to take IT professionals through the characteristics, as well as the advantages, of working for an IT services provider. It is also important to raise awareness of the skills and role shift that is occurring, which can have a strong influence on one’s decision.

Working for an IT Services company

When working for a service provider you are able to acquire experience in different sectors, depending on the spread of clients, of course. Working on different client sites means gaining the sort of experience normally associated with a number of jobs while keeping the security of continuous unbroken employment. For those IT professionals looking to specialise in a certain sector, there are service providers with extremely niche specialisms that are able to cater for this. Thanks to this, technicians get to practise and develop a great variety of skills, keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies and practices as the provider will want to keep them appropriately skilled.

When Service Level Agreements are involved, the performance of each individual is monitored and assessed. Thanks to this, engineers learn to keep their standards high and therefore become acquainted to being at their most efficient.

Most of the professional advantages can also be seen on a more ‘personal’ level. Being in a variety of environments can help keep one’s enthusiasm fresh, and staff can get to experience different organisations, verticals, technologies and ways of working. This is crucial to deciding which best fit their personality and ambitions. Unlike what happens in non-IT organisations, where it is not unlikely that CIOs, IT Directors and managers do not come from an IT background, engineers find themselves dealing with IT professionals who fully understand their personal and professional skills, which are appropriately valued. Finally, there is also a personal investment in the company which is sustained through a continuous employment.

The changing IT job market

Many analysts have announced a growth in demand of permanent IT staff, in fact research conducted by e-Skills UK shows that the IT industry will continue to grow at a rate of 1.3% per annum, more than four times the average growth rate for all sectors (0.3%). However, the IT workforce is experiencing a restructuring and skills shift, partly because some work is being outsourced, partly due to a standardisation of IT assets and procedures, and also because of the IT environment switching to a software-intensive platform. Jobs related to management, strategy, planning and software development are on the increase, whereas there is less need for more hardware-related or admin jobs such as line repairer and database assistant. According to the survey ‘Technology Counts: IT & Telecoms Insights 2010’, by 2018, the number of IT managers is expected to represent 27% of the IT workforce, strategy and planning professionals 13%, and software professionals will cover 32%. Computer engineers, on the contrary, have an average growth of -0.2% per annum, meaning that in 2018 they are expected to represent only a 3% of IT professionals.

Agile skills

New technologies and job roles bring along a shift in skills. Organisations are now looking for agile skills in their Service Desk engineers: support personnel have to be able to successfully implement new processes based on standard Best Practice, and be familiar with the latest tools that can speed up operations. Adoption of ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) practices is becoming essential, as is a knowledge of virtualisation. Thanks to an accurate selection of software to help with first-line resolution, and the use of outsourced devices such as servers and data centres whose management is the provider’s responsibility, basic and complex incidents are being taken care of, and on-site engineers are left with anything in the middle. The role of first-line engineers is then extended to some of the tasks originally belonging to second-line technicians, and because of these changes first-line engineers will need to have a broader technological knowledge.

As for higher-level IT professionals, the current upskilling requirements identified by eSkills UK concern the management of business process change, data management and security, leadership and business. The increased need for business skills is due to the fact that the IT department is acquiring a more strategic position within an organisation. Now that the more technical part of IT is moving towards a commoditisation and starting to be easier to deal with, managers and directors need to be able to focus on ROI and cost-effectiveness, and to have the ability to handle increasingly global supplier relationships. As organisations adopt a holistic view, IT is seen as part of the business and not as a service, and IT and business people work together for business transformation – the latter gaining awareness of the power of technology, and the former acquiring broader and deeper business skills, in order to create business value.

The right place to be

Working for a service provider, then, has never been so attractive. A more strategic use of IT means many organisations will search for appropriately-skilled staff externally, leaving selection and management to an expert service provider in order to focus on more strategic parts of the business, and surely IT professionals will want to be in the right place when this happens.

Adrian Polley, CEO

This article appeared in the May/June edition of ITNOW