Posts Tagged ‘support staff’

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

Advertisements

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

Do you really want to lose (inter)face?

February 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Forkan

 

Richard Forkan, Director of Business Development

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