Posts Tagged ‘IT support staff’

How to recruit IT staff (when you don’t understand IT yourself)

August 10, 2012

Having recruited more than 1,000 IT professionals over the last 20 years for our managed service teams providing IT support for businesses, I can safely say Plan-Net has learned a thing or two about how to recruit IT staff.

Hopefully this article might help those of you who are less IT-savvy still make wise IT staff recruitment decisions, and avoid costly mistakes along the way.

There is no shortage of IT people in the labour market today, but the real challenge is in finding the good ones – and then, from that much smaller pool, identifying the right one for your business.

Even those of you who don’t have a great understanding of IT will probably have a good feel for what you need IT staff to deliver. Businesses rely on technical tools and systems. We need someone to fix these quickly when they stop working, and we need someone to improve them so we can increase our business productivity and efficiency.

So the first step when recruiting is to articulate the service your business needs from its IT staff or department. The trickier next step is to convert this into an IT job description that thoroughly details all the necessary technical skills and experiences the individual or team would need. If you’re starting to get lost in technical jargon at this point, it might be wise to find an IT friend or contact that can help you do this. Even if it means paying them a small fee, you’ll avoid the first costly mistake, which is the wrong job description.

Recruiting IT staff: finding the good ones

Using a specialist IT recruitment agency is helpful as they will have a wider access to the supply pool than you, so it can expedite your search. However, a note of caution when dealing with agencies is that their interest is in securing the placement as quick as possible so they can take their fee.

So if they find and present you with three candidates, they will want you to choose one of them, even if perhaps none of them are right for your business. It’s worth ensuring agencies offer you at least a 3-month, or even better 6-month, refund or replacement mechanism if things don’t work out. You can also try scouring LinkedIn and asking your existing business network and partners.

Check, check and check again

The risk for any business looking to fill any type of role is taking on the wrong person. Arguably, this risk is greater for a small company, where you are so much more dependent on every individual to perform. It’s even more risky when you’re looking at IT roles. You are entrusting these people with your business data, systems and operations. A mistake could cost your business dearly.

I therefore cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of a thorough screening process. Interview candidates face-to-face a number of times yourself and enlist your IT contact to help with the interview too.

For IT staff in particular, it’s important to test their technical skills. At Plan-Net, we have developed our own tests in order to be ultra-confident that potential employees have the necessary capabilities. If you’re doing this yourself, you can find a variety of technical tests online. There are free tests available, but my recommendation is that you invest in paid tests. It can act as a false economy not to.

Background checking is also very important. We invest in a specialist service that carries out a number of checks including CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) checks, credit checks and reference checks.

If you decide to do this yourself rather than using a third party, make sure you check every line of the CV. Check the gaps and make sure you verify all references. We’ve found candidates who claimed they have degrees when they dropped out in the first year, some with outstanding debts and unpaid bills and others with completely bogus references. Sadly, in this economic climate, we tend to see a higher proportion of candidates ‘embellishing’ their CVs. When you’re recruiting IT staff, much like in Finance and HR roles, you are recruiting someone who will be a custodian of your critical business systems and your business information.

Almost above anything else, you must be sure you’ve found someone you can trust.

An easy option

Lastly, if anything to do with IT is Double Dutch to you and you just want to avoid the hassle and headache of recruiting IT staff altogether, you can use managed service providers to manage your IT function for you. Finding the right IT staff to adequately deliver this service is then their challenge – not yours.

Image

Richard Forkan, Director

This article was published on London Loves Business:

http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/business-news/tech/how-to-recruit-it-staff-when-you-dont-understand-it-yourself/2968.article

Advertisements

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/

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

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

April 20, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

Surviving IT spending cuts in the public sector

February 15, 2011

How to create cost-efficiencies in the post-Spending Review scenario

After the announcement of 25%-40% budget cuts last year, it is reasonable to expect IT to be one of the departments to suffer the most in public sector organisations. However, cuts in IT support and projects may bring inefficiencies and disruptions, which can then lead to real losses and increasing costs.  More than ever, CIOs and IT Directors at public sector organisations are taking various options into consideration, from quick-fixes to farther-sighted ideas, trying to find a solution that will produce savings without compromising on service quality and data security, and perhaps even increasing efficiency. Here are some common ideas analysed:

Solution 1: Reducing headcount

Firing half of your IT team will produce immediate savings since you will not have to pay them a salary the following months, but when Support staff is insufficient or not skilled enough to meet the organisation’s needs it can lead to excessive downtime, data loss, security breaches or the inability to access applications or the database. A ‘quick-fix’ such as this represents a false economy. Reviewing resource allocation and improving skill distribution at Service Desk level, on the other hand, can be a valid solution. Indeed many IT departments can find themselves top heavy with expert long serving team members where the knowledge supply out-weighs the demand. A larger proportion of lower-cost 1st line engineers with improved and broader skills and a fair reduction of the more deeply skilled and costly 2nd and 3rd line technicians can not only reduce staff spend, but also create efficiencies with more calls being solved with first-time fix.

Solution 2: Offshoring

Although the thought of employing staff who only ask for a small percentage of a normal UK salary may sound appealing, offshoring is not as simple as ABC. It requires a large upfront investment to set up the office abroad, with costs including hardware, software, office supplies and travel and accommodation of any personnel that manages the relationship with the supplier. Organisations are not able to afford that kind of investment, especially since this solution only creates cost-savings in the long term – but the public sector needs cost savings now. Furthermore, the different culture and law can represent a risk to information security: data could be easily accessed by staff in a country thousands of miles away and sold for a couple of dollars, as various newspapers and TV channels have found out. With the extreme sensitivity of data processed by Councils, charities and the NHS, no matter how hard foreign suppliers try to convince the public sector to offshore their IT, it is unlikely this will happen – it is simply too risky.

Solution 3: IT Cost Transparency

Understanding the cost of IT and its value to the organisation, being able to prioritise and manage people and assets accordingly and knowing what can be sacrificed, can help identify where money is being wasted, which priorities need to be altered and what can be improved. For instance, do all employees need that piece of software if only three people actually use it more than twice a year, and do you need to upgrade it every year? Do all incidents need to be resolved now, or can some wait until the more urgent ones are dealt with? Do you need a printer in each room, and when it breaks do you need to buy a new one or could you make do with sharing one machine with another room? These and many other questions will lead to more efficient choices, but only after having identified and assessed the cost and value of each aspect of IT, including people and assets.

Solution 4: Cloud computing

There are contrasting opinions on this matter. The Government CIO, John Suffolk encourages the use of this service, and reckons that the public sector would be able to save £1.2bn by 2014 thanks to this solution. However, many believe that placing data in the hands of a service provider can be risky due to the highly sensitive nature of the data involved, so traditional Cloud computing may not be an ideal solution.

A shared environment such as the G-cloud, where various public sector organisation share private data centres or servers, may be a safer option that allows the public sector to achieve major efficiencies and cost savings, while minimising issues related to data security.

Solution 5: Shared Services

A shared service desk is not for everyone – it can only work if the organisations sharing have similar needs, culture and characteristics, and as IT can be a strategic advantage for competitive businesses, sharing the quality may mean losing this advantage. But for the public sector, this solution may be ideal. Local councils with the same functions, services and needs will be able to afford a higher level of service for a reasonable price, sharing the cost and the quality.

Solution 6: Service Management Good Practice

‘Doing more with less’ is one of the most used quotes since the recession started. And it is exactly what the public sector is looking for. Public organisations don’t want to be ITIL-aligned, obtain certifications, and tick the boxes. All they want is efficiency and cost savings – and through the right Service Management moves, after an Efficiency Review to find out what needs improvement and how, this can be obtained through the right choices regarding people, processes and technology.

Solution 7: Managed Services

A solution where the IT Service Desk is kept internal with its assets owned by the company, but managed by a service provider is becoming more and more popular among organisations from all sectors. When the sensitivity of data and a desire for a certain level of control over IT rules out full outsourcing, but in-house management does not allow to reach potential cost savings and efficiencies, a managed service may represent the ideal ‘in-between’ choice. The post-Spending Review public sector, then, may benefit from a flexible solution that is safer than outsourcing, but more cost-effective than an in-house solution.

Every challenge can be a new opportunity

Although budget reduction may affect investment in large IT projects and shiny new technology, it also represents the ideal opportunity to analyse what is essential and what is not, and to prioritise projects based on this. The public sector, then, find itself prioritising for effectiveness over compliance, cost-efficiency over cheapness and experience over offers, when choosing providers and tools for their IT. This will lead to the choice of solutions that will help organisations run more smoothly and safely, invest their resources better and, ultimately, deliver a service that will bring maximum customer and user satisfaction.

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

(also on Business Computing World: http://www.businesscomputingworld.co.uk/how-to-create-cost-efficiencies-in-the-post-spending-review-scenario/)

Are you Off-Sure about your IT Service Desk?

July 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best practice implementation

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

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

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

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

Realignment of roles within the Service Desk

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

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

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

Upskilling and Service Management toolset selection

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

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

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

Improving IT infrastructure and enhancing security

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

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

Taking a holistic view of IT

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

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is featured in the current issue of ServiceTalk

Mind the skill gap

July 12, 2010

Service Desk efficiency starts from support staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Connelly, Head of Service Management

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

Is your IT Service Desk future proof?

June 23, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

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

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

Doing more with less: an opportunity to learn

May 7, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jerry Cave, Director

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