I’m getting old. I passed the 40 mark a year or so back so have been around for a while. My IT career started as a Level one help desk engineer for a small software development company. I was a phone monkey. I had to take phone calls from customers, take down their details and have them hang on the line whilst I filled in endless information and forms to create a service desk ticket. Once I had all the required information I’d give the customer the ticket number and helpfully tell them I’d have someone call them back shortly. That’s all I had to do, take details, fill in forms and then forward the ticket to a Level 2 guy to have them start looking into the issue. It was a boring, thankless job, but apparently deemed necessary as there were 3 of us employed to do this!
Even back then I could see that this wasn’t a very efficient model. After a few months I could spot common trends amongst the calls. Issues being raised that were easily answered by the Level 2 guys (when they got round to it). Other issues required logs and diagnostics to be gathered and then a call would be had with the customer and sets of instructions provided to address the product issues. I started to pick things up from the Level 2 guys and felt I could start doing more than just taking calls and logging information. That wasn’t my job though. Surely there was a better way to do things?
Fast forward 20 years and things have been gradually improving around service desk capabilities & procedures. We started to benefit from more structured processes around incident and change management (courtesy of ITIL). Knowledge management was introduced to capture resolutions to common issues. We got web based service desk clients that end users could access to create & update their own tickets as opposed to having to call issues in. Then we started exposing knowledge management to those end users so they could troubleshoot their own issues too. Things were getting more efficient for the service desk and the end users were benefiting from self-help and easier ways to interact with the support desk teams.
In the past few years we’ve seen some further big strides forward. Service catalogs were introduced which showcased standard service offerings, helping end users get to grips with what was easily available to them verses what they had to ask for as a special case. Service catalog offerings were much easier to handle for the service desk as less information was required from the end user, and there were clearly defined procedures and SLA’s for the service desk engineers to follow to fulfill the request, lowering costs for the service desk and setting clear expectations around service delivery for end users.
In the latest set of service desk enhancements there are further improvements in ways to interact with IT. We are starting to see mobile service desk applications that are context & location aware - they know who you are and where you are and can route you to more tailored services and information. They enable crowd-sourced collaboration and have moved away from the concept of form filling, ensuring that making requests is a much easier and simpler experience than before.
The service desk has never been more accessible and efficient.
So what next? There is always room to improve right? What should the service desk focus on next to keep the momentum going? I believe the answer is “service desk automation”! Let’s look at the ongoing challenges - even after all the great work that’s gone on.
First is cost. Very few organizations have IT departments that go around saying “We’ve got a big raise in our budget this year, lets hire some new people!”. Cost is an ongoing issue and efficiencies must continue to be found. With a kind of perverse sense of injustice, especially given all the improvements that have gone on recently, one of the side effects of service desk modernization efforts has actually been that more interactions are occurring meaning higher costs. Think about it, if organizations expose more services to their end users and make those services more accessible then guess what? More people are going to use them! Yes we are reducing service desk tickets through better knowledge management and self-service initiatives but overall, more tickets are being produced as more capabilities are offered & exposed.
I recently read an article from MetricNet stating the average cost for a level 1 service desk engineer to manually handle a service desk ticket was $22. They then said that cost triples if that ticket is escalated to a level 2 engineer and then triples again for level 3. That’s a fairly staggering cost when you think about the ever growing workload on the service desk. Well a great way to keep a lid on these costs is to have automation in place to automate the handling or fulfillment of common service desk requests. If you have a well-defined service and a known way to handle requests for that service, why have valuable service desk engineers involved at all? Put automation in place and take the manual handling costs out of the loop. Sounds like a pie in the sky idea? We have one customer that put one piece of automation in place to handle password reset/unlock requests. This use case accounted for 22% of their total service desk ticket volume or put another way, 46,000 requests per year. Even using the Level 1 engineer cost of $22 per ticket that’s a million bucks of cost avoidance right there.
Customer satisfaction and end user productivity are other area’s where the service desk needs to stay focused. “Are we seen as a value adding area of the business or are we an obstacle to productivity?” The introduction of service catalogs have greatly helped service desk clearly communicate what they can offer but I would argue it’s one thing enabling your end users to easily ask for things and a whole other thing making sure you deliver what was asked for quickly and accurately. Look at the type of digital experiences millennials are used to these days. What would they think if they logged onto i-Tunes to purchase the latest Pitbull song, only to find out that the download won’t happen till the next day! “What century are we living in?”
It’s the same thing with IT based requests. Why does it have to take 24 hours to turn around a request for some software to be deployed on my laptop? No one wanders around manually installing software from CD’s anymore, they use automated configuration management tools that can push software on demand. So why the day long wait? Well it’s because the request gets put on some Level 2 engineers queue and they get to it when they can. “Can’t we just link the service desk with the configuration management tool and take out the middle man?”
As another anecdote we recently had a contractor come into the office to help us with a project. “I forgot to tell you, I’ll need access to the network to work. I know it takes a day to organize this in my company, I hope you can sort something out for me!” Not a problem says I. Check this out. I fire up the BMC MyIT app, locate the GuestWifi service offering (which is location aware and knows who I am). I fill in 2 pieces of information – how many guests and how long do they need wifi access for? I click submit and within 2 minutes I am automatically emailed the guest wifi access codes. The contractor was speechless and clearly impressed with our service desk.
I have to agree, having automated fulfillment of common service desk requests is AWESOME.
Trust me – service desk automation is the way forward !