Posts Tagged ‘plan-net’

Legal IT: A New Model to Suit Changing Demands

June 6, 2012

As law firms change in structure and size, often expanding globally, their IT support model also has to evolve. With a great deal of growth expected to come from overseas countries, particularly from Asia, some alternative thinking is required to accommodate the scaling of IT support services to meet the increased, non-local, demand.

Current IT support delivery models are likely to be centred around a large centralised Service Desk providing all in-hours support and which is provided by an in-house team.  Out-of-hours and global support is then provided by any number of different configurations, often including complex rota systems utilising staff and/or contractors, or an externally provided shared service (perhaps even a combination of the two).  Such 24×7, or ‘follow-the-sun’, solutions do work and may be reasonably inexpensive but are frequently difficult to manage and do not provide a consistent level of good service across all locations.

Additionally, we’ve also recently witnessed a change in demand from end-users based in what have traditionally been outpost office locations.  These end-users, aware that they’re based in locations of new growth, now expect the same level of service as their counterparts in the more established offices.  This means receiving the same quality, response and availability of IT support services.  Arguably, these demands are reasonable and there should no longer be a difference in the IT support received, regardless of location.

To summarise – with growth predicted to come from abroad, and with a demand for a consistent delivery of services, regardless of office location, a revised approach to the provision of IT support services is needed.

An alternative concept of providing IT services may be to work to the ‘troughs’ in demand and not the ‘peaks’.  Let’s explain what is meant by this.

The bulk of an IT support service, perhaps 70 to 80% of it, is provided during a core period and is utterly predictable.  This portion of the service represents the ‘trough’ in demand, i.e. it is unmoving, consistent and therefore easy to plan a team around.  The ‘peaks’ in demand are portions that are prone to variations, e.g. the magnitude of spikes in demand, the volume of out-of-hours support activity, or the support demands from overseas offices.  It’s the smaller and less predictable portion of the service (the 20 to 30%) that consumes a disproportionate amount of management time, whilst still resulting in an imperfect service.

The trough and peak concept essentially shifts the main focus of in-house service provision to the larger and unchanging part of the service, where service excellence is the goal.  A more scalable approach is adopted for the peaks which strive to meet the same levels of excellence as the main portion of the service whilst easily being able to deal with the variations, however subtle, in demand.

Traditionally, an IT support service must align its own capacity model with its demand curve, i.e. when demand for support begins to build on a weekday morning, then the Service Desk opens.  As the demand curve increases during the morning (to its peak at around 11am) so does the number of support analysts that are available.  Then, later in the afternoon, as demand falls, so does the staffing on the Service Desk until, ultimately, it closes.  At this point, an out-of-hours function takes over until the cycle starts again in the morning.  With out-of-hours support activity, a measured amount of resource is available that can manage the anticipated out-of-hours, and/or global support requirements, until the main Service Desk reopens.

The single biggest issue with the traditional method is that resourcing for both the in-hours support needs, and the out-of-hours/global demands, is based upon meeting the peaks in demand.  If the service needs to be extended, all that can be done is to add analysts to the capacity model which will see significant step change in cost.

The following line graph shows a fairly typical weekday demand curve (i.e. ticket logging activity by hour of the day).  Demand builds in the morning and tails off at the end of the day.  The main peak is mid-morning with a smaller peak in the middle of the afternoon.  In this example, the bars represent a capacity model based on 7 analysts working 7.5-hour days, with staggered starts, and an hour for lunch, with Service Desk opening hours of 7am to 6pm.

On the face of it, it could be said the capacity model is a good fit for the demand curve.  But on closer inspection, the capacity model has failings:

1) Demand begins to build before the Service Desk opens.  These calls may be picked up by the out-of-hours service, but the people manning that service will soon be finishing their shift, so they may just ‘log and flog’ so that the support can be picked up by the in-hours team;

2) Resource does climb throughout the morning in line with the demand curve – however, the maximum available capacity isn’t quite enough to meet demand at the busiest time of the day.  This may well lead to an increase in abandoned calls at this time;

3) Then, due to staggered lunch breaks, resource again doesn’t quite keep in step with demand;

4)  The analysts’ shifts end slightly ahead of demand, and finally:

5) The Service Desk closes, switching to the out-of-hours service, just before the day’s demand has fully settled down.

By working to the peaks in demand, our well-considered capacity model doesn’t quite fit demand (and nor will it ever), and if we need to scale-up in line with business growth, all that can be done is to add extra analysts and attempt to further match the capacity model, as best as one can, with the demand curve.

Managing resource for an out-of-hours service has similar challenges.  A capacity model must be derived that meets maximum demand.  If the out-of-hours service is based on staff, equipped with phones and working to a rota, such a rota can be very difficult and onerous to manage.  If the service needs to be expanded, all that can be done is to add resource to where the gaps are emerging, even if it means that the resources will be underutilised.

If, however, an in-house core service is delivered to the troughs (which will still be the greater part of the service), and a suitable high-performing shared service is identified which can handle the peaks, i.e. the lower-volume out-of-hours activity, peak time overflow and variations in throughput, then an improved and scalable service model will be achieved.

The following diagram shows the same demand curve but with a reduced in-house capacity model.

In this example, the box represents 5 analysts, as opposed to 7 in the earlier diagram (a 28.6% reduction in headcount).  This team would still manage 71.4% of the in-hours call volumes and can spend its time focusing on delivering an excellent service.  The remaining support, i.e. the peaks, the increasing and decreasing demands at the start and end of the normal working day, and the out-of-hours piece, can be handled by a shared service which integrates with the main in-house service, but which can manage variations in demand with ease, scale up or down when required, and may demonstrate cost savings.

To use a term that I like to use, this model allows you to concentrate on the steak and not the peas.  Instead of working very hard to manage the smaller percentage of support activity at the edge of your service, focus on the bulk in the middle, and utilise the availability of a well suited outsourced service to manage the smaller, less predictable volume.  Savings can be made, the all-round service improves, you have a scalable model that’s less onerous to deliver and your customers (all of them) are happier.

It’s worth finishing with some guidance on how to transition from the current model to a new one.  The answer is found in the data contained within your IT Service Management tool.  It is essential that your existing service is fully profiled, from ticket origin through to logging, first-time-fix, escalation, and finishing at resolution.  An effective data analysis process needs to be conducted on your ticket management data so that your full service, and how it is used, is fully understood.  This kind of analysis is typically above-and-beyond the standard reports you might get from your ITSM tool, but instead is a data-mining exercise which performs a distillation of your service, against which a new model can be defined.  With such an analysis behind you, the decision of how much to keep in-house, versus what to outsource, is a reasonably straightforward piece of cost analysis.  Whilst adopting the trough and peak model may seem too greater a step to make, the required due-diligence to see if it’s viable won’t impact the delivery of your services at all.  So, at the very least, it would seem to be a prudent move to investigate it as an option.

 

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

 

This article appears on ITSM Portal: http://bit.ly/LzkyGG

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Shedding light on the ambiguity surrounding IT outsourcing

June 1, 2012

A recent survey issued by the National Outsourcing Association (NOA) revealed that only 27% of UK citizens associate ‘a local computer company providing IT support to small businesses’ with ‘outsourcing’. However, 58% cited ‘a bank opening a call centre in India’ as an example of outsourcing – which it is not. Clearly misunderstanding the term, only 19% of respondents believe that outsourcing could help get the UK out of recession. These findings are quite worrying at a historical moment where this practice is not only important, but often vital for a company to survive in the current market.

The outcome of this ‘Public perception of outsourcing’ survey shows how outsourcing is often confused with offshoring, which generally has a negative connotation for UK citizens. Offshoring means relocating a department, certain business operations or functions to a less expensive country abroad, typically outside Europe. If this is managed by a third party, it is technically a type of outsourcing, although not the only one. If it is still managed by the organisation, then it is not, by definition, outsourcing – just a captive offshore project. With increasing concerns over job losses in this difficult economic climate, it is not surprising that 80% declared they believe ‘outsourcing hinders British businesses’ when they only have offshoring (outsourced or not) in mind.

This necessitates explaining more thoroughly what outsourcing is and how it can help the UK economy, from SMEs to large enterprises and across all sectors. IT outsourcing in particular, when correctly and appropriately implemented, does not negatively affect business growth. On the contrary, it can help organisations operate better with a more cost-efficient and productive IT service, allowing better forecasting of operational costs as well as possible cost savings, even potentially creating a competitive advantage.

Outsourcing, put simply, is the practice of contracting out certain business functions or operations to a third party and purchasing them as a service, rather than having them in-house. This has been common practice in business for a long time, and has only recently increased in the field of IT, becoming a buzzword.

In IT outsourcing, many different models exist. A third party may be involved  in just the provision of a couple of temporary staff for busy periods, holiday cover, or just a few more skilled engineers to take care of a new technology or a particular project. The outsourcing service might only cover a portion of services such as database, server or email management, or just the out-of-hours IT support. An outsourced or managed service can be shared between more than one company (shared service) or just dedicated to one.

The IT outsourcing type or model depends on factors such as scope, needs and level of control. An IT Service Desk is fully outsourced when the department is completely managed by a third party, and is set on another site to the core business. This could be in the same city, country or abroad – the term ‘nearshore’ outsourcing indicates that it is close to home, which could include other countries in Western and Eastern Europe, while ‘offshore’ normally means far away, in countries like India, China and Brazil. An organisation could choose to only outsource certain functions, for instance 1st line support or Server management. A managed service, instead, is when the Service Desk or part of it are managed by a service provider, but on the client’s site – with staff normally being transferred into the other company with the same conditions and rights through the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE). The presence of various IT staff employed and managed by more than one organisation (some in-house and some by one or more service providers) creates a co-sourced environment.

Although many types and models exist, they all have the same benefits in common: IT outsourcing is a way to gain immediate access to skills and expertise that might not be present internally, even just for a period or the hours needed. It is cheaper than doing it in-house, as the expenditure would be at a fixed cost and not variable, including any training and management costs that are necessary to meet the targets set. It can add value to the company: with sector experts taking care of one particular area of IT or all of the Service Desk, the organisation is free to concentrate on more strategic tasks and on their core business, including fewer day-to-day management worries, and more time released to focus on improving their organisation.

By increasing the awareness of what outsourcing truly is and what it can do for businesses, UK citizens can understand how big an opportunity this is to help the British economy in these difficult times. The fact that the practice is increasing every year among businesses large and small is a clear indication that more and more organisations are seeing value in outsourcing – the trend will definitely not stop!

Jennifer Grant, Service Delivery Manager

This article is on Sourcing Focus: http://bit.ly/KPtysb

Top 5 must-have processes for IT service management

May 29, 2012

In these times of uncertainty we are all now familiar with a single word: “austerity”. In the boom times before the global economies went into meltdown I suspect many people had never even heard the word, let alone had to live that Imageway, but now we are all being asked to tighten our belts – and this applies to companies as well. Now more than ever, investing in IT Service Management makes sense, but not in the same way as a  few years ago, when the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) became a real trend. Many companies’ objectives were to adopt all processes, regardless of whether they were appropriate or useful for them.  Now the focus has changed. Organisations are now less interested in “badges” and more in how some aspects of the ITIL framework and other best practice methodologies can help them become more efficient and introduce their own austerity measures.

There is currently a strong need for practical examples and demonstrable results rather than mere theory. Processes are now being hand-picked and tailored to each individual organisation, which can bring fast results – this can really allow businesses to work more efficiently, reduce losses and downtime and, possibly, leverage more from the tools and resources they already have.

But although each individual organisation needs a different set of best practice processes, tailored to their environment, there some essential must-haves that no company should do without:

1 – Change Management

This is the ‘number one’ essential process to improve your IT service availability. It means changes have to be planned, thought through and the consequence understood before any change, large or small, to the IT Service can take place. This does not mean it has to slow changes down as the process can be tailored to each company’s needs, but it does mean that, in some form, each change is considered before it takes place. This alone means that less mistakes are made, which improves your service availability.

2 – Incident Management

Things break and IT services are no different. What is important is how quickly you can get things back working again when this happens. Incident management allows you to create a process that everyone understands to handle these eventualities and restore your services as quickly as possible. Having people unable to work or access the services they require costs an organisation money, so this is more important than ever now. Having a robust incident management process means that the right resources can quickly be assigned to sort out the issue and make sure that your staff can get back to what you employ them for.

3 – Request Fulfilment

In this world of “just in time” ordering where everyone expects to receive everything they want faster and more cheaply than before, for IT this can present a challenge.  Software licenses and hardware components need to be delivered quickly to enable a customer to do their role or become productive quickly after joining an organisation, but conversely, companies need to control costs and make sure they only order what is required and that they do not have licenses or hardware sitting on the shelf depreciating. Having a good request fulfilment process can ensure this does not happen and also ensures the effective tracking of assets. In combination with a “catalogue” of approved components the user is able to select what they require for their job in the knowledge that IT have already confirmed that it will work with everything else. IT  are happy as they know that new device you just connected to the network is not going to slow everyone down or worse!

4 – Supplier Management

It is important for organisations to keep track of their suppliers: are they doing well? Will they still be around next year ? Are they delivering the service and value my organisation requires? Are we paying for services we no longer need?  A  good Supplier Management process means that you can answer these questions and more. It also allows you to provide your supplier with a roadmap of what your business is doing and so allows them to better support your needs going forward. Managing the relationship proactively means that you should rarely have to resort to any SLA penalties – it’s much better to make sure the situation that could cause the penalty is avoided rather than having to experience the impact that caused it in the first place.

5 – Service Level Management

It is important to know what the business requires from its IT services. Not knowing can either mean that the service delivered is not correctly supporting the business or that the IT service being delivered is actually exceeding what the business requires; both of these can cost an organisation money.

Service level management means that the correct Service Level agreements can be put in place to ensure the IT service meets the business need, but also to ensure that the IT service is not “over engineered” and effectively costing more than required. If you’re paying for a Mini but only receiving a push bike then you will be unhappy, equally why pay for a Ferrari when the Mini is all you need.

In these austere times it might just be the right moment to trade in that Ferrari for a Mini!

David Tuck, Principal Consultant

Shared services: a problem shared is a problem halved

May 1, 2012

A problem shared is a problem halved’ – This idiom generally refers to a person feeling better simply by sharing their woes with another, and most of us would agree that this phase is more often than not, very true.  From an IT perspective, this common saying is profoundly relevant when applied to Shared Services, and in more ways than one.

To make my point, I would draw on three words from this old saying:

  • Problem
  • Shared
  • Halved

IT support typically addresses the day-to-day, on-going management of ‘problems’.  In fact, a more popular (best-practice aligned) word these days might be ‘incident’ or ‘fault’.  Whatever they’re called, IT problems are an inconvenience to all businesses, are a distraction from the business’ core competency and interrupt the effected users from their work.  Furthermore, such problems do not contribute to the successes of the business, and worst still, are a costly overhead.

In this context, ‘shared’ has a double meaning.  By engaging with another to share your troubles, the weight of that trouble is somewhat lifted.  This, in itself, is welcome relief.  But ‘shared’ can also form part of the solution if an IT Shared Serviced is properly considered as an alternative to managing problems, incidents or faults, in-house.

Halved’, not be taken literally, is a reference to the measure of gain achieved by sharing the problem.  Use of a shared service can (and should) lead to a measurable improvement in service and reductions is cost.

As a result of the recent economic downturn and period of unprecedented financial uncertainty, providers of shared IT services have had to become very, very good at what they do.  Without stepping up to the mark, and indeed, extending the mark, IT service providers would simply slip by the wayside (and many of them have).  It is, therefore, a good thing for businesses that IT service providers have been forced to compete so aggressively with one another because it has led to new levels of service excellence and reductions in cost.

So, by referencing (for one last time) the proverb – ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’, businesses do have a chance of sharing the burden of IT support with others who are better placed to manage it whilst at the same time improving on service and reducing cost, but only if they are willing to consider the possibility of outsourcing their IT support needs.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

Visit Plan-Net‘s website and learn more about what we do and how we can help your business: http://www.plan-net.co.uk

Disaster recovery and the mobile office

April 27, 2012

As we are all aware, today’s working culture has moved on from the traditional old 9 to 5 office work to a new concept where people are working flexible hours from flexible locations. As a consequence, both employers and employees expect more – in particular, the ability to work seamlessly from any device and from any location.

Technology advancements in telephony, collaboration tools, virtualisation, security and application and desktop delivery have enabled the ‘mobile office’ concept to be embraced faster than a speeding freight train. Adoption is also driven by the many benefits achievable through this solution – for instance, basing some staff at home can be used to reduce building and office related costs.

Relocating employees to work from their own desks using their own utilities can not only provide many financial benefits, but also allow avoiding issues such as transportation strikes and weather disasters, or the much-anticipated chaos during the Olympics and Paralympics.

But more strategically, when it comes to disaster recovery and business continuity planning, more and more companies are choosing to utilise the mobile or home office concept as a significant and vital recovery tactic. Dedicated workplace recovery services can be costly, and placing technology services at a designated workplace recovery suite will have an additional financial impact.

Similarly, if a company has multiple offices and the continuity plan states that a number of staff must relocate, for example, from the London office to the Birmingham office, then that number desks must be either kept available, which is costly, or the existing staff displaced, with a loss of function or productivity. Then, there is also the matter of a number of PCs to configure as well as the setting up of telephones and other equipment.

Basing or rotating technical support or business support functions at home can be a huge advantage when faced with a business continuity scenario. Home-based workers are less likely to be affected by denial of access issues such as high profile terrorist targets or threats, major city power failures, office fires or flooding. The first members of staff ready and waiting for services to be brought online to be able to work during an invocation are the home-based employees.

It is not all easy and straightforward, though: all devices used by mobile and home workers – mainly laptops, smartphones and tablets – have to be managed properly and securely by the company.

Policies, technology and management tools must be in place to block users from saving or transferring harmful data onto devices, and also to maintain client confidentiality and adhere to Data Protection regulations as well as contractual obligations to customers, whilst still allowing staff to seamlessly access applications and data stored within the corporate network.

The tools already exist to support businesses to remotely manage, secure or wipe devices, remotely activate device services, and to create and manage their own security policies – whether those policies are corporate ‘end-user acceptable use’ policies, or technology enforcing policies such as disallowing ‘Copy & Paste’ between devices or disabling printing or screen capture.

Fortunately, thanks to new technologies and industry best practices, the tools to achieve business continuity and to make a full recovery after a serious incident are all quite easily available. If the company’s disaster recovery and business continuity plan covers the mobile office service as well as any physical offices, the chances of a successful recovery and return to ‘business as usual’ are vastly improved. Moreover, there may be an advantage to be won over competitors going through the same issues, as well as reputational and credibility gains.

The key to any mobile office solution is resiliency and planning. It is vital that considerable thought, planning and design for the mobile office service is placed at the forefront of any disaster recovery environment and business continuity plan, to provide resiliency and contingency for the mobile and home-based workers in the event of technology failure, office inaccessibility or other unplanned incidents, as these employees may be the key to providing rapid continuation of business services in the most productive, seamless and cost-effective manner.

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

This article was written for Contingency Today:

http://www.contingencytoday.com/online_article/Disaster-recovery-and-the-mobile-office/3464

7 things you should know about Managed IT Services

April 26, 2012

With more and more companies looking at outsourcing solutions for all or part of their IT, it is important to highlight the main features of a Managed Service, especially as an alternative to full outsourcing or off-shoring. Here are 7 things organisations should know about Managed IT Services:

1) It’s not all or nothing
A common misconception is that you have to outsource your entire IT function in order to obtain the cost-efficiencies you are seeking. This leads to the ‘fear factor’ of loss of control/influence of back office Services, and therefore a reluctance to explore the breadth of options available.

The approach more and more firms are adopting is one of precaution whereby they test the theory by outsourcing specific functions to suppliers. It is becoming more commonplace for organisations to outsource their 1st & 2nd line support, an area which is typically not bespoke and more easily replicable by a supplier.

However, the key to success of any outsource venture is the selection of vendors. A plethora of suppliers exist within the market, but it is critical that the supplier of choice is one which is aligned to the specific requirements of the business and does not dictate the provision of Service through a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

You could choose a service provider for out-of-hours support, so that you don’t have to rely on an internal rota system where staff are paid 1.5 or 2 times their hourly rate to provide support from their beds.

Or you could even just get a few extra resources to cover for holidays and/or to provide additional capacity during peak times which compliments and supports your existing solution.

2) It can give you more control over your IT
Whilst an in-house service seems like the best way to be in control of your IT, it is common for difficulties to arise in terms of reaching your target service levels and delivering the high levels of customer service demanded by business users. These limitations are often related to the existing skills, resources and budget that are available internally; there are also elements of staff management that can affect the final results, such as sickness, holiday cover, staff turnover and so on.

Opting for a ‘partial’ outsource means the only thing you need to do is set the appropriate SLAs and then it’s up to the supplier to meet them – using whatever tools and techniques are available, be it up-skilling staff, Continuous Service Improvement (which should be a fundamental delivery item of any managed service) or implementing new processes. In this way, you have more control over the most important thing – the service levels your organisation needs.

You should be looking for someone who wants to build a long term partnership with you and whom you believe will be seen as an extension of your existing IT function, and not ‘that 3rd party lot that sit in the corner!’

3) It’s safer than other types of outsourcing
The additional attraction of ‘partial’ outsourcing is that you retain ownership and control of your systems/data and how they are stored and managed. This is something which has become even more critical given the requirements of data protection and client confidentiality, something which ISO27001 is seeking to address.

This means, for instance, that there will be less issues concerning security of your data than if you used an offshore service desk, where the infrastructure upon which your data is stored and processed is owned by another company based in a country thousands of miles away and where there might be different regulations and laws concerning information security. It is also safer than a fully outsourced solution where all operations are run at another site and using another company’s infrastructure.

4) You will not lose your staff
Some companies which have an internal support function are worried about losing their trusted IT people who have been working for them for years to another company, and not being able to get them back if they decided to do a U-turn after a failed outsourcing contract.

Your employees rights are protected under TUPE, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, which ensure the terms & conditions at transfer are protected.

This means they are not lost forever – if things don’t turn out well and you want to bring the service back in-house, you can TUPE them back quite easily or onto another supplier.

5) It opens you to new opportunities
The strong benefits to outsourcing are not only the increased levels of Service but the increases in efficiencies and therefore the reduction in cost, something which is clearly a driver for all organisations in the current climate.

With an in-house Service this is often impossible to deliver i.e.

Reduced costs = Reduced Efficiencies = Reduced Service

Outsourcing opens up the possibilities to the adoption of new models which are affordable thanks to the various options available. For instance, a shared out-of-hours service that supports a number of organisations which are similar with regards to type, sector and requirements, with which to share the costs and ability to access high skills; or a dedicated peak-times service in addition to your own in-house desk to help during periods of increased demand, such as a particular event or a busy season.

6) The costs can be shared
If your organisation needs highly efficient support with specific expertise, but does not have the budget for this, a shared service can be an ideal solution. It provides access to the high skills that might be otherwise unaffordable for your organisation but at a much lower price, as the costs are shared between different organisations. Best results are obtained if the participant organisations are of similar type and with similar needs, and if the number of clients sharing is kept to a minimum.

7) It can create a strategic advantage
An efficient, reliable and fast IT Support where all you have to do is set SLAs and expect them to be met can be an asset for certain types of organisations, such as those in the financial sector, especially banks. With so many financial services relying on fast and efficient technology and 24/7/365 uninterrupted accessibility, the less downtime and inefficiencies you have, the more probability you have to gain ground in the market and beat your competitors that have a weaker IT service.

Image

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is on Sourcing focus:

http://www.sourcingfocus.com/site/opinionsitem/5372/

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/

Just how much of a saving is the reduction of heads from an IT support team?

March 20, 2012

ImageIn a bid to meet the demands of an FD who needs to see cost savings across the organisation, often it’s a portion of an IT team that have to go.  On the face of it, it’s an easy choice.  Those within an IT team will often perform the same functions as one another, therefore, if one or more leave the team, it can still perform all its required tasks, albeit a bit slower than before.

But what might not have been considered in such decision making is the organisation’s profile of staff’s expected IT skills and the speed-of-service demands.  If the two are considered together, an optimal ratio of IT staff to company staff can be derived which can be used as a benchmark against any planned reductions in heads.

Definitions:

Staff’s expected IT skills – Some business environments may have a low expectation on its staff in terms of their IT skills.  A law firm is a good example as it’s more beneficial to the organisation if their legal teams are fee earning (by practicing law), instead of being able to clear their own printer jams.  Other organisations, perhaps a software house, will have employees who are more than capable of dealing with common IT issues.  In these examples, the law firm is clearly going to need a greater ratio of IT support people to staff members than the software house.

Speed-of-service demand – An investment bank, or indeed any organisation that is wholly reliant on IT to trade, will tolerate only the most minor of IT interruptions, whereas some business types might be able to suffer IT delays for hours, or even days, without any particular impact on their business.  Those with the need for greater speed of service, or even immediate need for service, will require a greater ratio of IT support people to staff members compared with those that don’t.

If these two aspects of a business’ IT culture are considered together, one can begin to determine the optimal number of IT support people to staff members.

For organisations with a low expectation of staff’s IT skills, but who need rapid IT support, a ratio of 1 support person to every 50 members of staff, might be appropriate.  The other extreme, high staff IT skills coupled with lower speeds of support, may lead to a ratio of 1 support person to every 200 members of staff.

Then, if there is a need to cut heads, a more informed choice may be made, i.e. just how many heads may be lost without: a) requiring the established IT culture to change, or b) having a detrimental impact of the organisation’s ability to trade?

Of course, this thought process and logic need not only apply to difficult times, when reducing costs is a priority.  It can apply to times of business success and be used as a means of determining the best IT support fit for the business.

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Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

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

Are managed IT services set to grow this year?

January 25, 2012

Business of all sizes and sectors across the country are still worried about the poor conditions of the current economic environment, which is not set to improve this year, as analysts and experts have already announced. With no way of avoiding this situation, organisations can only try to make the best of it, and perhaps use it as an occasion to really assess what expenses are essential to their business and how they can take advantage of the weakened financial setting. It is important to try to make the best of what one has and what is available in order for an organisation to survive or even grow during hard times.

Of course when money is tight the Service Desk is one of the departments more likely to suffer, with all the possible consequences on the rest of the business. With most IT projects scrapped from the beginning, it takes a good justification to invest in anything more expensive than a screen wipe. Yet correct management of the Service Desk, including continuous training of IT staff, an inexpensive absence cover system, continuous service improvement ethos, updating service management processes to the latest and most relevant best practices and meeting the appropriate targets can still be possible without incurring in eye-watering bills. This is the principle behind a Managed IT Service – a Service Desk can work to a good standard at all times, because someone else is taking care of it and all variable costs become fixed.

Various types of IT outsourcing have become popular in the last few year – from offshoring to cheaper countries to having only some Support staff managed by a provider. Different options work for different organisations, but generally speaking the popularity of one over another during a recession or uncertain economic environment depends on a series of factors and in particular: low risk; ROI; ease of adoption/set-up; as well as a financial factor.  In times like these, where one doesn’t want to be involved in large projects or revolutionise their whole IT department and have to re-think the way they deliver and use IT Support, a radical option such as offshoring or full outsourcing might not be ideal. With a Managed IT Service Desk, the ‘status quo’ of the IT department should not be affected as the expectation is the supplier will implement a robust framework which ensures that existing Service Levels are at least maintained, whilst transitioning the Service Desk to a ‘future state’ model over an agreed period of time.

This meets the requirements of ease of adoption and risk, as it is easier to set up, reverse, retake charge of or switch provider, when compared with a fully outsourced or offshore solution. This option can also assure a certain level of information security compared to a fully outsourced service, as the Service Desk will be based at close sight within the organisation’s premises (unless otherwise requested) and the system, and therefore the data stored and processed within it, is owned by the company. The minimised risk makes this a good choice when one cannot afford to take risks.

As for the financial factor, most outsourcing models will eliminate the cost of certain projects such as staff training or service management implementations, and make variable costs become fixed: the provider will agree to meet certain SLAs for a set price, and it is up to them to provide the appropriate staff upskilling, best practice processes and so on within their budget, in order to meet targets. But a managed IT service will not require the extra cost of moving the service desk elsewhere, hiring or buying new equipment, sending managers over to another place, city or country to check on how the service desk is doing and, also, the costs involved in switching back to in-house or to another provider if the initial project failed.

Finally, the return on investment is clear and demonstrable. Having an expert provider taking control of your existing IT Service Desk will increase productivity and efficiency, reduce the volume of incidents and Service failures and ensure a significant part of your IT spend is fixed and controlled, giving the company peace of mind (IT becomes someone else’s problem) and allowing business to function at its best.

With these premises, it is likely that managed IT services will be chosen over and over again as an option to meet the demanding IT standards of a modern-day organisation in a time when any investment must be carefully thought and justified, and the return on investment clearly proven. This much needed headache relief can allow companies to carry out their business without having to worry about the quality and sudden expenses related to their IT, and therefore get a better chance to survive or even increase their work in these hard times.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is on Sourcing Focus: http://www.sourcingfocus.com/site/opinionsitem/4807/