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Service Desk 360 Hot Topic Series - Service desk fire-fighting (part two)
In part one of our Hot Topic article, we looked at why service desks are often in fire-fighting mode, before suggesting starting points for reducing the day-to-day support burden. In this article, we investigate the specific techniques which can permanently stem call numbers and explain how to turn concepts into working realities.
There are numerous methods and tweaks that service desks can make to reduce the flow of incidents, many of which will be unique to the host organisation. But our experts were in universal agreement regarding the three areas which potentially have the greatest impact: self-service, system integration and problem management. While these may seem distinctively separate disciplines, Jon Hall of BMC Software explains how they all interlink.
"Every ticket that escalates to a second or third line team multiplies the cost to the organisation of dealing with it, and reduces the resources available for the truly value-add work like problem management. The next generation of service desk tools will need to be smarter: providing a range of intelligent resources to help the agent get the job done better."
The thinking runs that without integration between key IT systems and visibility of historical and current data, it is very difficult to run problem management, or self-service effectively, because the supporting data and flexibility is simply not available.
Harmony between people, processes and systems is a well-worn concept within ITSM, but have we finally reached a point where each of these areas has matured enough to make good on the promise? "There are numerous vendors and tools in the market that provide the capabilities to implement processes like self-service portal, problem management, incident management and change management. However, there are very few vendors who offer tools with out-of-the-box capabilities that consume less time and resources to implement. ManageEngine's flagship product, ServiceDesk Plus is one such tool with out-of-the-box capabilities," says Arvind Parthiban, marketing manager, ITSM family at ManageEngine.
Although the system is just one of the three pillars in the people/process/technology equation, it is nevertheless a vital component, as Liam Murray, Managing Director of Cased Dimensions explains. "Tools which enable good communication, good data and good process will win. Collaboration at the back office should be no different than the front office. Instant chat, document management, portals, email - all integrated. Integration of the Microsoft stack enables this functionality at the front office (collaboration) and within IT service management."
Service desks must stop thinking of problem management, system integration and self-service portals as disparate entities, and instead take a broader view. Advances in technology are helping in this respect, by forcing us to rethink the way that we and the business consume tecnology and seek support according to Jon Hall. "One major change over the last few years is the Smartphone revolution. Now, more end users than ever before have connecttable devices capable of running sophisticated applications, available to them at all times. And even the knowledge workers who have sat behind PCs for many years are more connected than ever. Previously, the self-help portal might just have been browser based: if the user wasn't at the computer, it was easier to phone. Now, we can put great self-help tools onto the devices the users have with them at all times: familiar devices that they like to use."
Effective self-service is of course a complex beast to deliver effectively, but Jon's point about harnessing mobile devices is crucial, because the biggest challenge is creating momentum, and momentum can only begin when customers start using the service. By putting knowledge in customers' hands, it is much easier to establish what is useful and therefore which problems to focus your efforts on.
Gentle persuasion is also a tactic favoured by Arvind Parthiban. "If a situation arises where you need to educate the end user with a knowledge base article, send the link to the article in the self-service portal. In a case where the end user wants to know the status of a ticket, reply with a pointer to check the portal for status in future. By taking these steps, you can slowly educate and encourage the end users to access the self-service portal more often."
By tackling self-service, problem management and system/process integration in an intelligent, methodical way, service desk are capable of consigning their fire-fighting legacy to history. But these tactics will only be effective if service desks consider what they are doing from the customer perspective. Jon Hall concludes by explaining that the customer-centric approach will not only help escape fire-fighting, but also help the service desk to become the proactive, business-IT partner the customers want.
"The best way to build tools that our customers will use is to get close to the customer's working day: to really understand their job, and how support tools can fit into those processes. Customer-centric support isn't about throwing endless resources at the support challenge: it's a mindset which enables better decisions to be made about how we provide tools for users. Some airlines are doing this brilliantly with the applications they are supplying their cabin crew: A range of resources...some IT focused, some CRM focused, and some simply cutting out paperwork...these are applications which show a real understanding on the part of the service provider about what will really fit into, and enhance, those users' working day."