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Service Desk 360 Hot Topic Series

Service Desk 360 Hot Topic Series: Shadow IT support and the rise of the self-service culture (part one)

Until recently, the only choice for business users needing help with technology was to call IT support. But now our familiarity of using Google for help, social media offering another option, video tutorials and a growing ask-a-friend culture means that service desks are in danger of being bypassed. Servicedesk360 explores the Shadow IT Support phenomenon to understand the extent of the threat, and describes how service desks can remain relevant.

Service desks may be unaware of Shadow IT Support. After all, the calls continue to arrive so people clearly need help right? The problem with Shadow IT Support, and the reason why service desks need to be mindful of it, is the problems it addresses don’t come through traditional channels, so are effectively invisible. But it’s undeniably taking place, as Jon Hall lead product manager for BMC explains.

“It is definitely happening, there’s no question, look at the BYOD trend. We all know that people Google things when they need help, whether it be a consumer or business issue, so why should IT support be any different? However, it’s hard to put numbers to it, so the service desk doesn’t know what they are missing because they only have visibility of those issues that do come to them.”

Of course, the extent of the Shadow IT Support will differ between businesses, so the starting point is to gather some intelligence on the subject. “Talk informally to your customers and about the issues they are having and ask them whether they use alternative ways of getting support. You may find the self-help culture is actually helping you because you’re not having to take those calls where it’s difficult to add value. Your service desk staff will also have some ideas about how the nature of questions may be changing, and instances when they know people are using alternative support methods. The service desk is pretty good at creating fixes once they have some data, so canvassing opinion is the best way to do this,” explains Jon Hall.

Once you’ve established some form of benchmark, you can then decide what (if any) adjustments are needed. Regardless of your findings, forcing customers to take a prescribed route is not an option warns Jon Hall.

Don’t force customers

“I’d question why IT thinks they should ‘stop (Shadow IT Support)”. People aren’t doing this because they’re rebellious, it’s because they can do their job better. Yes there’s a governance issue, but there’s also an impact on stopping people working effectively.”

Liam Murray, managing director of Cased Dimensions, agrees that trying to force users to use the traditional support options is futile unless it’s already their preferred method to receive IT help.

“People use communication methods they are comfortable with. Some service desks have been placed offshore where users do not like to repeat themselves repeatedly to be told they will be called back. Such organisations have budgets and should move support models to be cost per call aligned instead of headcount aligned. In this way, the business will benefit when social channels and alternative methods are used to resolve issues.”

Take advantage of the self-help culture

As Liam Murray mentions, working with, rather than resisting the very tools that customers are using to fix IT issues is an intelligent way to approach the Shadow IT Support challenge. “Users are creating free knowledge bases from which IT can service their community. This is dynamite for any service desk being pushed to do more with less. We should all be pushing the service closer to the idea of offering the user structured options to resolve their issues as quickly as possible.”

Knowledge management has traditionally been a tricky discipline for service desks to master because of the time involving in creating and maintaining it, and being able to react fast enough when issues arise and demands change. Using social media to see exactly what problems are occurring can offer a shortcut which enables service desks to focus on the issues that customers are really concerned about.

“The challenge is structuring knowledge bases which are socially aligned. There are so many technologies supported by large organisations, it is impossible for the service desk team to stay on top of everything. Bringing structure and a common flow to such articles and bringing “social self-help” into a large enterprise is no easy task. Yet again, investment is needed before benefits will be realised.”

Shadow IT Support is undeniably a challenge to service desks, creating a shift in the way that customers gain IT help. Yet while the threat to the perceived value of the service desk needs to be addressed, with each IT support operation urged to gather information about the scale of the problem, the potential of these alternative support options to handle more routine incidents may actually help service desks. If they can build out their knowledge capabilities, and integrate it with an active online/social presence, they are likely to reduce their call numbers and gain much greater understanding of the real IT challenges faced by the business.

In part 2 of this article, we explore examples of how service desks can better structure knowledge and link it to social, offer examples of how IT support can use this opportunity to modernise services and present of view of how service desks will become more proactive, customer-centric entities.

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