The Art and Science of Desktop Support


by Katherine Lord
May 22, 2012

 

Early last year, a friend and colleague told me a story that really stuck with me. Picture a mountain vista—a beautiful, enduring mountains, fluffy clouds, some trees, and a stream running down the hillside. Two artists paint this landscape and come away with two different pictures! Different hues, the mountains a little different in shape, trees with differently shaped leaves, different shades of gold, one stream rushing faster than the other: the same landscape—that’s just geology (science)—but with two separate interpretations (art).

Let’s translate that into the world of desktop support. In this case, best practices and industry guidance are the science; the interpretation and application in individual organizations are the art.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

I’m probably dating myself here, but as part of my (slowly approaching) midlife crisis, I’ve been gravitating toward the music of my youth. I’ve had a specific Bob Dylan lyric stuck in my head lately, one that seems very appropriate for the world today (including the support arena): the times they are a-changin’. As a critical client-facing extension of support, desktop support plays a large role in customer service, public relations, and that all-too-visible, all-too-valuable value proposition. Historically, this team has been perceived as quite technical, quite autonomous, and quite hard to nail down. Organizations need to realize they are in a position to make huge strides and add tremendous value to the support organization, but that they could be undermining all those efforts by having a desktop team that is not up to snuff.

Many organizations are starting to make significant structural, procedural, and cultural changes to the perception of desktop support, with the ultimate goal of better integrating it into the support organization. The struggle is in figuring out how to do this, how to apply that creative brush stroke and leverage that great science to take support (inclusive of desktop support) to the next level.

In this article, we are going to explore, at a high level, an approach to improving desktop support and better integrating the team with support, leading to a more consolidated, more seamless client service approach. Keep in mind that while your artwork may look slightly different (or profoundly different) from other organizations, and regardless of your current state or whether or not you move to a fully consolidated model, it’s all vitally important and the fundamental approach is the same.

So where does that leave you? Well, consider this: As the support center—that critical, client-facing entry point into IT—expands, matures, and evolves, the support arm will become more than just the support center. The players will change, and desktop support (among others, potentially) will be folded into the organization.

The sample organizational chart below illustrates this integrative approach, all under the client services umbrella; this is becoming a very common model, with a whole client service-focused “arm” in IT. Historically, it was not unusual for desktop support to report into the technical group, as they were perceived as more of a technical, level two sort of team.

The Value of an Integrated Approach

From an overall return on investment (ROI) and value on investment (VOI) perspective, there are significant benefits associated with this shift. The table at the top of the following page lists some key points about ROI and VOI.

A large part of the value is ultimately driven by higher levels of standardization, consistency, and the three E’s—efficiency, effectiveness, and economy (cost reduction). Sounds great, right? The burning question is, how exactly do you do this? We do so love road maps and step-by-step instructions in support, so let’s get started.

The High-Level Roadmap

Step 1: The Current Vista

Before embarking on any improvement journey, it’s critical that you take a picture of your current state—the world as you know it today. You are, in essence, setting a baseline: what’s working, what’s not working, what can be improved, and what’s totally absent.

The current state assessment should be twofold, including the current state of the support center and the current state of desktop support. It should explore core process domains, such as incident management, (focusing on response and resolution results, escalation procedures, and ownership policies), request fulfillment (i.e., fulfillment timeframes), workforce management (e.g., workload distribution, SLA requirements, skills gaps, etc.), knowledge management (e.g., scope, currency, utilization, limitations, etc.). It’s also important that you assess the current state of customer and employee satisfaction, so that you fully understand your customers’ and employees’ perception and expectations of your services.

The current state assessment will obviously provide you with a list of improvements, but it could also identify redundancies, unnecessary activities, and opportunities for consolidation (hidden gems!).

Step 2: The Ideal Vista

The next step—determining where you want to go—is the key to painting your ideal vista. This is where benchmarking comes in handy. Two great sources of benchmarks for desktop support are the HDI desktop support standards (HDI Desktop Support Technician and HDI Desktop Support Manager). In 2009, with the help of the International Certification Standards Committee, HDI began developing a collection of resources for desktop support, including a set of standards based on industry best practices, a set of certification courses, and a Focus Series book that provides a succinct, comprehensive listing of best practices, which you can use as part of your benchmarking (and baselining) activities.

For example, as per these resources, one best practice for process and policy is, “The support center should manage the dispatch and utilization of the desktop function.” One company may dispatch in a simple round robin, where the support analyst picks the next technician in queue for the assignment. Another may have use a more specialized process, identifying a point…person for the escalation who then dispatches a technician based on skills and bandwidth. Both are defined by the end result—the support center initiates the dispatch to move things forward (science)—but the approach is slightly different (art).

Remember, this step determines which items in your vista will end up on your project plan (not someone else’s), and your project plan will look different from anyone else’s.

Step 3: Selecting Your Colors and Brushes

The gap between your current state and your desired state is where you will draw your road map for improvement, which will become the project plan for your improvement journey. Throughout your journey, keep an eye out for quick wins. These are tasks/activities that require little resources and can be done in a fairly short time frame, gaining further buy-in for the improvement journey and helping people stay motivated.

TIP! This needs to be treated like any other project plan. It requires resources, timelines, prioritization, and management. If you have a project management office (PMO), you want to work with them wherever possible.

Step 4: Creating the Art

Let’s talk briefly about two concepts: best practices and good practices. The relationship between best and good practices is like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole (and vice versa). A good rule of thumb is, “Be wary of the purist.” Just because a best practice says you should do it, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you, or work entirely as defined. It’s all about adopt and adapt; this is the creative side (what shade are your leaves?). Best practices are all about suggested approaches to things that have been repeatedly proven to provide superior results.

Another process and policy best practice from the HDI resources states that, “A DST should acknowledge the assignment of an incident ticket in five minutes or less and provide an ETA to the customer’s location.” It may not be feasible for your organization to implement a five-minute acknowledgement time, due to tool configurations, access to remote tools, etc. You may decide thirty minutes is acceptable, and to support the SLAs that have been defined and agreed upon by the business.

Good project governance is critical at this stage, to help you stay on track and move forward. Many projects start off great, but lose steam and fade away when the rubber hits the road. Your vista would not be complete with half a mountain or missing tree branches!

Finally, be mindful of your employees’ perception throughout the journey. Consolidation and efficiencies equal fear—fear of job loss, fear of feeling less valuable, fear of the unknown. Remember, human beings are hard-wired to resist change.

Step 5: The Masterpiece

Step back and look at your landscape. Did you realize your vision? Was it a success? Most importantly, are you really done? We are all familiar with Deming’s concept of iterative improvement, and this is a project like any other, so it is subject to those very same concepts.

Critical for Success

  • Any structural changes require leadership support, as they will ultimately create cultural change. This can make for a bumpy ride.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of a communications strategy, including awareness sessions, communications, and an effective mechanism for receiving and filtering feedback. This is not a one-shot deal; it should be carried out over the life of the project.
  • Assessment and gap analysis make sure you’re on the right path, one that’s taking you in the right direction, at the right time. You can’t just check out for six months to make all of these amazing changes. You have to be mindful of the fact that the day-to-day doesn’t stop and current service levels still need to be met.
  • Clearly define and articulate your vision, mission, goals, and objectives.
  • Use key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics to measure your progress. They will help you make course corrections and give you the perspective to appreciate when you have reached your goal.

Lessons Learned

I have been involved with a few desktop support improvement/integration journeys over the years and I would like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned.

  • Perception: Be prepared for vast swings in customer perception. People can get very attached to “their guy.” Some desktop technicians are perceived as heroes and are well loved; others are perceived as indifferent and absent. Managing expectations can be a real challenge when making improvements and changes. For example, changing your workforce management practices (e.g., workload distribution, moving to a round robin from a fixed/assigned technician reality, etc.) can create more noise than you ever imagined. Don’t lose sight of the power of face time!
  • Inefficiencies: Inefficiencies abound, but some of these are very well hidden (and some folks may go to extraordinary lengths to keep them hidden). This process is almost like you are turning on a light and finally seeing what’s been going on (or not going on, as the case may be). You may uncover real imbalances and inequities. These absolutely need to be addressed so you can drive efficiency, generate results, and, more importantly, bridge gaps and build a much more motivated, cohesive, high-performing team.
  • Accountability: Lack of ownership can have many causes: ambiguous roles, loosely defined processes, indifference, stagnation, etc. It’s imperative that you clearly define roles and handoffs within processes, and that you identify who owns what and how things move. This is also a prime opportunity to clarify expectations and set performance management expectations (anything that’s tied to performance management tends to get attention!).
  • The Human Element: Any time you integrate or consolidate to drive efficiencies and make improvements, be prepared for fear of change to manifest itself. Resistance, hesitation, skepticism, increased absences, performance issues—remember, some people respond well to change and are eager for it. Leverage those people as your cheerleaders and have them help you help the others along.

Don’t underestimate the impact this process can have on your customers and service levels, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. Making sure you can still meet your commitments will ensure a smooth transition.

I am constantly asked how organizations can improve the perception of support and demonstrate value. Just remember this: Support is so much more than the level 1 folks on the phone. To really take things to a whole new level, you must integrate with the “feet on the street”: desktop support. Regardless of your current state, industry vertical, scope of support, sourcing status insourced versus outsourced), there is huge potential for big wins (customer-facing big wins) when you pursue a consolidated/seamless client service approach.

As Dylan once said, the times they are a-changin’. That’s just as true of support today. Be ready for that change.

 

Katherine Lord is a seasoned ITSM practitioner with significant consulting experience in the ITSM/ITIL education and implementation space. She is also a Distinguished Professional in Service Management (DPSM), an ITIL v3 Expert and v2 Service Manager (with distinction), a Six Sigma yellow belt, and a COBIT Foundations certificate holder. In addition to more than nine years of hands-on service management experience, Katherine spent more than ten years managing support functions in Canada and the US. In her spare time, she is an avid runner and triathlete, having recently completed her first Ironman. 

She presented on this topic at the HDI 2012 Conference & Expo. Attendees, download the presentation for session #209 at www.HDIConference.com.

Tag(s): desktop support, people, process

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