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Service Desk 360 Hot Topic Series - Service desk fire-fighting (part one)

Service Desk 360 Hot Topic Series - Service desk fire-fighting (part one)

While other Hot Topics come and go, one challenge remains constant for service desks: managing the daily workload. This article asks why IT support is all too often in fire-fighting mode and what can be done to douse the flames. From problem and change management, through to proactive and pre-emptive support, this article will establish some universal truths which will help service desks cope and overcome their daily grind, therefore freeing up time to focus on the more forward-looking business IT challenges.

Every service desk would love to be more focused on the customer experience, pro-actively addressing problems, exploring new technologies that would aid the business, and becoming a business IT partner to the organisation. And many would be just like that, if the blasted phone stopped ringing.

"One of the biggest problems is that service desks focus more on business priorities, and lack enough resources to get into the root cause of incidents or set up preemptive processes to eliminate them," says Arvind Parthiban, marketing manager, ITSM family at ManageEngine.

It's the classic chicken/egg scenario faced by service desk managers: "If I had more time and resources, we could stop many of these problems occurring in the first place". It's difficult to know where to begin, so to truly address this issue, we must stop thinking it's an impossible-to-break vicious circle, and instead consider that it's something that can be tackled with a logical approach.

"It's too easy to focus on the fires, and not the cause of the fires. Many organisations who have implemented incident management, but not problem management, find themselves doing problem management regardless. After all, all those incidents have underlying causes, and often those causes are single, large issues, resulting in lots of single tickets. At that point, tickets start getting related together, and they start staying open for a long time. At this point, they are doing problem management, albeit a chaotic and unintentional form of problem management," says Jon Hall of BMC Software.

Everyone with any ITIL experience knows they should be doing problem management, but lack the time to do so effectively. Jon's point is that even if you don't think you are doing it, you are indirectly. "A sure fire way to avoid this fire-fighting mode is to free you resources, enable them to set up the right processes to analyse the root cause, and identify the right tools to implement and execute those processes," says Arvind Parthiban.

Yes, you can't dedicate a member staff to problem management - few service desks can - but assigning an individual or team to root cause work for as little as a few hours each week can quickly pay dividends if it fixes an issue that is contributing to the very backlog of incidents that is holding you back. Once in this habit, the more resource you can afford it, and better the situation is, and the need to fire-fight lessens.

Efficiency is the next area to address; if you service desk can process incidents effectively, you can reduce the backlog. Liam Murray, Managing Director of Cased Dimensions says that a lack of harmony is causing service desks to work in a very disjointed way. "Most companies have invested 'joining up' front office applications (ERP / supply chain management). This was correct as it enabled better process, accurate data, reporting and productive staff. The back office is no different. Monitoring, patch management, backup, virtual machine management, service desk and other operational tools must join up in a transparent manner for process efficiency."

We will try to improve integration and join up our services and processes with ITIL, but Liam Murray says that mentality will only take you so far. "As highlighted in the front office, it requires good data and good process to enable efficiency. ITIL is merely a framework of process. Without good data, it doesn't work. A key reason for service desk poor productivity today is the fact that back office systems from most vendors do not join up. Luckily, Microsoft has untangled this complexity via a joined up operational system which enables ITIL with collaboration via front office productivity tools".

Whether working with a single vendor, or successfully linking processes and systems together, the power of integration can speed up every aspect of service delivery.

Like problem management and efficiency, the next tactic for reducing support burden is a tool that has been around for some time, but not always effectively deployed.

"Our customers use self-service portal effectively to decrease the load. We encourage our customers to build a comprehensive knowledge base so the technicians can get quick and immediate answers for the issues," says Arvind Parthiban.

BMC Software's Jon Hall agrees that self-help is crucial, and that its time finally seems to have arrived. "We see a rapid increase in both self-help for end users, and better enablement of service desk staff with knowledge bases and supporting resources. 'Shift left' is increasingly pervasive: reduce calls through customer enablement, and deal more efficiently with the tickets that arrive." (For more tips on building effective self-help, see our previous Hot Topic article on Shadow IT support.

Continuing the theme of integration, Liam Murray says that joined up systems and thinking will also help self-service flourish within the organisation. "Our customers are increasing productivity by consolidating business support into the same service desk as ITSM support: HR, finance, facilities management and ITSM all in one service desk. If each department has a different self-service portal, user adoption across all portals will be impacted as the users experience is more difficult. By thinking of the employee, it is productive to work within one system, ensure consistency of the employees experience and structure in support."

In summary, the three areas that must be addressed to emerge from fire-fighting mode are self-help, efficiency and root cause work. In part two of this article, we drill down further by examining the techniques and offer more advice on making sure you service desk is in control of incidents, not ruled by them.

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