If you are the IT Manager of a mid-sized business, I have a 90% chance of being accurate when I say:
Your IT environment has become so complex and business now expects so much from you that you are feeling completely overworked and can barely keep your head above water.
But it doesn't have to be like this and there are some really simple steps you can take to quickly dig yourself out of this bad situation.
I am specifically thinking about the two complementary and extremely powerful practices of project coordination and service desk.
Since we have already written a well-researched blog series on project coordination, it would be almost criminal not to do something similar for service desk.
Fortunately we have amassed a wealth of experience building a world-class service desk at Space Age Technologies (now part of Cyberlogic).
Since we realise that this info could also be super valuable to the in-house IT leader, we decided to write a blog that distills everything down to the 7 critical steps that should be taken when building out your high-performance service desk.
Ready? Then let's dive right in.
1. What to Look for in a Service Desk Tool?
Chances are good you have already implemented some form of service desk software in your organisation.
Since switching tools, however, has become so easy these days, it is usually a good exercise to just take a step back and ask yourself what you want from your service desk tool.
Although every business will have slightly different needs, there are some key must-have features that your preferred product should have:
Ease of Use
This should be a no-brainer but it is absolutely astonishing to see how seldom the end-users of a service desk are actually asked for their input when selecting a product.
Remember, before your users will consistently use the product it has to be super simple, ideally fun to use and fit into their work-flow just as much as it has to enable an efficient IT function!
Some users prefer to log service requests via email, some want to phone in and others yet again want to get an answer as quick as possible and prefer the self-help option.
Your service desk tool should not only enable all these use-cases but also be extremely easy to use.
One of the key features of a service desk is to ensure urgent and/or important requests are attended to in a standard and predictable way.
To achieve this the tool needs to support one of the many prioritisation mechanisms out there (e.g. high, medium, low or priority 1 to 5) and rank all requests in a way that makes it easy for support staff to know what to work on next.
While implementing a service desk by itself can already be a big time-saver, even more value accrues when categorising all requests to enable stakeholder communication and analysis for continuous improvement.
A good service desk should at least make provision for the following:
- Request Type - Support Incident / Support Problem / Change Request / Request for Information (RFI) / etc
- Request Topic - A multi-level hierarchy to record where the request originated in the IT environment; also necessary for building a knowledge base - e.g. Security / Firewall
- Request Source - How did the request get logged? - e.g. Telephone / Email / Service Desk Portal / etc
Considering how little time you have, chances are good that you strongly believe your IT department is under-resourced.
And you would just love to add one or more staff members to your team.
Unfortunately, however, management has different ideas and you just cannot break through to make them see the light.
What you need is a way to record your team's effort on the various work items so that you have some data to first understand your actual capacity and then also have a meaningful discussion about team expansion.
It is actually quite interesting to see how often the need for additional resources disappears once a proper system exists to log activity...
Remote Support Tools and Other Add-Ons
Instead of just managing service requests, modern service desk tools have increasingly extensive feature sets and often also integrate with third-party tools to complement their own functionality.
Strong remote support capability is an almost no-brainer in any deployment, but even options such as remote device diagnostics, mobile management, asset tracking, SLA, project and built-in problem management are increasingly popular and should be seriously considered before making a purchase decision.
Ever experienced the scenario where everything goes well for quite some time and then suddenly, all hell breaks loose when just one thing goes wrong?
Instead of complaining how unfair life is, what you need is a service desk tool that collects user feedback whenever a request is closed to surface any current issues and understand trends.
You could start off by asking just a simple question of "How satisfied are you with our service?" or you can go a step further and really gather some much needed data about IT performance by asking the following two questions (courtesy of Kinetic Data).
1. On a scale of 1-5, how would you describe your level of satisfaction with your recent service desk experience in the following areas?
- Service desk’s ability to resolve your request successfully the first time around
- Service desk’s ability to resolve your requests in a timely manner
- Expertise of service desk staff
- Availability of service desk staff—in particular, your ability to reach them in a timely manner
- Courtesy of service desk personnel
2. How does this experience compare to past experiences?
- Much better
- Somewhat better
- A little worse
- Much worse
This way you can track your overall performance and will immediately know when there are underlying issues that need to be addressed.
Reports and Analysis Tools
Even a small business will soon sit on a treasure trove of service data that can be used very effectively for communicating progress, the current status, root causes for major issues and capacity concerns with stakeholders.
The good tools will come with many predefined templates.
The even better tools will allow direct access to the underlying data to develop your own dashboards in Tableau, PowerBI or any of the modern self-service BI tools.
Now that you know what features you should look out for, it is time to make a choice on your preferred service desk deployment model.
2. Select an Appropriate Service Desk Deployment Model
Over the years I have come across 4 different ways in which a service desk can be deployed, each one with its one advantages and disadvantages.
2.1 Cloud-Based Service Desk
Freshservice, Jira Service Desk and SpiceWorks are part of a new breed of online service desk software that is super easy to deploy, surprisingly powerful, inexpensive (see the pricing page of Freshservice below) and an almost no-brainer for most internal IT teams that want to get started.
Unfortunately some of the more advanced tools (such as asset tracking), however, are not always available for cloud-based service desks.
2.2 Service Desk Hosted by Your It Service Provider
With an IT outsourcing vendor (such as a Managed Service Provider) in the mix the choice becomes a bit more complicated.
In many instances the MSP will already have some monitoring and asset tracking software installed on your workstations and it may just be a simple step for them to supply you with access to a private space on their own service desk implementation.
Although this may come at a substantial cost (compared to the cloud options), your MSP will probably have a lot more experience with managing complex services than you do.
Also, in most cases their service desk solution seamlessly integrates with their other services which makes it so much easier to use them as a natural extension to your in-house resources.
Unfortunately, however, you could also lose some critical capabilities, such as easy access to the data and the freedom to setup your environment for your own needs.
2.3 In-House Service Desk
Some mid-sized businesses still prefer to keep applications under their own roof and control for various reasons.
Unfortunately, this also limits the tool options somewhat.
Freshservice, for example, is not available for an in-house implementation.
One of the major advantages is that this route provides for the best integrations and one can really make the service desk the center of all IT service delivery efforts.
A major disadvantage of this model is that IT now has to spend resources to procure and maintain yet another internal system instead of spending time on delivering IT services to their user base.
2.4 Hybrid Service Desk Model
For more complex needs it is also possible to combine the various options in what is called a hybrid service desk deployment.
One popular scenario is where IT chooses a cloud-hosted service desk option to manage internal user and first-line support, with the MSP responsible for escalations and infrastructure maintenance.
In such a deployment there would be some duplication of logging (e.g. when a request is escalated it has to be tracked in two systems) and reporting would also be a lot more difficult as data from two different systems has to be consolidated.
Once a decision has been made regarding which of the 4 options to go for, the service desk product needs to be implemented and configured.
3. Implement and Configure the Service Desk Software
Implementation used to be a complicated process with lots of options.
Fortunately this is not true anymore and most products can be setup and ready for use within a very short period of time, especially if one decides to use the out of the box configuration options.
After the successful implementation (which includes instructions to internal team members on how to work on requests), IT leaders should inform their user base of their shiny new "baby" and how to properly use it.
For most IT leaders, this marks the end of their project and they expect that everybody will just magically start to use the new system.
Unfortunately, however, a lot of hard work is still needed to permanently change user behaviour and fully adopt the new system.
4. Change User Behaviour
To fully understand what has to happen next, put yourself in the shoes of the average user.
See, this person has been trained (by you and your staff) to pick up the phone when there is an IT issue.
They even know who to phone for specific kinds of problems.
And, although not perfect, they managed to get by.
Now you come along and tell them the rules have changed.
From now on, they should always first log a support request and then patiently wait until one of your technician contacts them ... and they will have no control over who this is.
What do you think? Will they do it?
It is surprising how many users actually do follow the new rules, but unfortunately only until they discover their new service desk system is a black hole.
And then they do exactly what they did before your implemented the service desk.
Not only are you back to square one, but you have one more IT system that keeps you busy and actually delivers none of the value you were initially expecting.
To avoid this all too common scenario, you have to carefully set the rules, enforce appropriate usage and absolutely have to deliver on your promises to cement new behaviours (almost like teaching beginners to dance).
Here is a short checklist to get you started:
- Document your approach to the handling of service requests in simple language and tell users what they can expect if they follow the process. Also, carefully explain how priorities get assigned.
- Adopt a business-wide policy of "If it is not in our service desk, it will not happen". Ensure that your service desk technicians and senior business leaders agree to this rule, no exceptions (not even for Directors).
- Work on requests according to their set priority. Be very strict about this.
- Do not allow work to start on a new request until previous work has been completed or an urgent request with a higher priority gets added to the work queue.
- Communicate frequently with users to let them know what is happening to their request and where it sits in the queue.
- Monitor the backlog of unresolved requests and, if this keeps growing, do everything in your power to stop the growth as it will inevitably lead to a user revolt.
Once everybody has seen the value of the new system and is following the agreed-to process, users will tell you how much of a difference the service desk has made to their lives and how they love you.
And people just love to hear a success story which is the reason why you have to use every opportunity to tell others about your brilliant new service.
5. Communicate Frequently
Although you set out to implement a service desk to better organise your work-life and reclaim some time, your successes up to this point create an awesome platform for promoting IT and breaking down traditional organisational boundaries.
Regular reporting on service statistics and other insights not only helps to challenge the "techie manager" image, but also consolidates your momentum and ensures that even the last hold-outs will now accept the new way of doing things.
But your work is far from finished and you have a chance to really "wow" your users with your next steps when you actually focus on becoming proactive instead of just reacting to requests.
6. Implement Problem Management
There are few things more wasteful than repeating the same activity over and over without trying to figure out how to better use technology to streamline the process or otherwise eliminate the root cause altogether.
Up to now, our service desk only focused on resolving each request as fast and as efficiently as possible.
Our next goal is to institute a weekly or monthly process where we analyse our data and identify requests with one or both of the following characteristics:
- It took a lot of time and/or effort to resolve
- Many similar requests were logged
Next use Pareto click here for some interesting musings) or any similar focusing technique on each list to find the few requests that, if addressed, would significantly reduce the amount of time or effort that has to be spent next time around.
For each of these so-called problems (in ITIL we speak about Problem Management), create a new request in your service desk system and schedule some quality time to properly address them (or at least reduce the amount of time they require).
If you repeat this process on a regular schedule, I promise you will soon see a significant reduction of time spent on generic, non-value adding service requests.
And this will leave you with more time to focus on arguably the most important step in your implementation, and this is to regularly take a step back and look at the big picture to find ways to improve the service desk processes themselves.
7. Implement a Basic Continuous Improvement Process
Now that we have battle-tested our new service desk processes and achieved all our initial goals, it is time to complete our work and implement a regular POOGI (short for "Process of Ongoing Improvement") or Continuous Service Improvement Process as it is also called in ITIL.
Although we will only concern ourselves with our service desk process for now, this work should at a later stage be expanded to include other IT processes across the organisation.
Whereas Problem Management (Step 6) focuses on reducing the number of requests and resolving root causes, the POOGI session is used to eliminate bottlenecks in the overall process flow itself.
This usually includes finding answers to questions such as:
- How can we increase the flow of requests through our system?
- How can we better schedule and utilise limited IT capacity?
- How can we reduce the average time to complete requests?
- How can we increase first-call resolution?
- How can we really "wow" our users?
- What else can we do to support users to self-diagnose and find answers on their own?
In smaller organisations it is usually sufficient to have an all hands on deck session like this once every three to twelve months.
I always find it surprising when I meet IT leaders of small and mid-sized businesses who complain bitterly about not having time for anything but have yet to properly configure and optimise their IT service desk.
In this blog I have detailed what I believe are the 7 most essential steps for implementing a kick-ass service desk and freeing up some much needed time.
As mentioned in the intro, this, however, is just one half of the equation and even more time can be freed up by better coordinating Business Technology projects across the business.
And once you have freed up all this time, the next question is usually, ok, what now?
Well, to find out you may want to talk to one or more of our Mastermind Group participants who support each other while figuring out their answers to this specific question.
Let me know if you want us to arrange such a chat.