The Integrated Service Desk: Four Ways to Improve Processes and Consolidate Systems


by Mike Hanson


Not too long ago, all an IT support professional needed was to know the nuances of an operating system and have a basic understanding of how a computer was put together. While IT support was a very specialized and necessary function, it was narrowly focused because the technology was new and immature. The work intake for the IT support team was ften simply a tap on the shoulder and a request: “Can you fix my computer?”

Today, technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives. Even the definition of “computer” has blurred to the point that it hardly resembles those big, heavy bricks we worked on and supported “way back when.” We still have desktop and laptop PCs, but we also have tablets, smartphones, thin clients, and countless wired and wirelessly connected devices running many different flavors of operating systems. Add to that the rich complexity of enterprise networking, with virtual desktops, mobility, cloud-based services, and the consumerization of technology, and it all adds up to an extraordinarily complicated world. Despite the changes and challenges, users still expect the same—or better—levels of support from their IT departments.

Unfortunately, support systems have not always kept up with the growth of technology. Many IT shops still struggle with the same shoulder-tap model that was used in simpler times. Even if they’ve managed to move beyond that, it’s often only by using a number of unrelated or dissimilar tools.

The lack of an integrated set of tools results in a disorganized workflow. Even if there is an incident management tool, it may require considerable manual effort, with the incident ticket being passed back and forth between support teams. The customer contact process could still be manual as well; if remote tools are being used, they’re likely to be a separate set of tools entirely. Documentation is lacking because the support team is constantly distracted by requests from clients to fix routine problems. These are typically issues that could be fixed by end users if they only had access to self-service tools that allowed them to resolve their own issues.

A lack of integrated tools can also affect how quickly larger problems are identified. Many times, tools used to monitor the environment are separate from the tools used for support, and, in fact, are often owned by completely different teams. Problems could be proactively identified if only those monitoring systems were integrated directly with the service management tools. Rather than the support team only having visibility into single incidents, they would have a broader view of support issues. It would enable them to do root cause analysis in advance, rather than damage control after the fact.

What this clearly shows is that, by and large, support tools and processes have simply not kept up with the growth of technology as a whole. Why can’t all of these systems be integrated?

Let’s examine four innovative ways integrated processes could work if the appropriate tools were readily available.

1: Streamlines the Workflow

It takes time to move a ticket through the chain of custody. The service desk owns it first; they pass it along to the next level of support, and then it often has to go back to the service desk for final closure. Why not streamline this workflow and include the second-level support team from the beginning? Instead of the service desk acting as a dispatcher, the service desk guides the incoming call directly to the support team that can fix the problem.

From there, rather than moving outside the incident system to open a remote support session, the tool for taking control of a client desktop is integrated right into the incident tool. In many cases—in fact, in the majority of cases—it’s really not necessary for second-level support to visit the user’s desk. Advances in remote support tools have made it possible for an IT support team
to take over a desktop, configure or repair software, troubleshoot the operating system, and even reboot the client device while maintaining the network connection. Really, the only time a physical visit might be necessary is if the client machine can’t connect to the network or hardware needs to be repaired/replaced.

Since the support session originates with the incident tool, it becomes much easier to document what it takes to resolve an issue. This information can, in turn, be used to populate a knowledge management tool so that similar issues can either be quickly resolved or even converted to a self-service function. The opposite can also be true. If an organization allows clients to request assistance via, for instance, a chat client, once a problem has been identified, a support ticket can be created directly from the remote support session. This saves time and reduces the volume of calls coming into the service desk.

The support system should also be closely integrated with monitoring tools. Rather than waiting for recurring incidents be become a management issue, have the monitoring tools proactively identify trends and issue warnings to IT support. Armed with this information, the support team can begin working on fixing potential problems before they get out of hand.

Finally, any support tool needs to be adaptable. Technology changes quickly, and support professionals need to be able to keep up. Can it support mobility? Virtual environments? Clients expect their support teams to adapt, so the tools we use must be flexible enough to accommodate a changing technology landscape.

2: Fits Your Support Framework

The flexibility of the tool is very important because the overall framework of how clients are supported depends upon the industry, the maturity of the IT organization, and the needs of the business. One common IT framework is ITIL, which sets standards for incident, problem, release, and change management. Even if an organization hasn’t formally adopted the ITIL strategy, they likely follow a similar framework just to keep the environment orderly; there’s no such thing as the perfect system, so everyone has developed processes that define how the support team responds when things go awry.

Whichever tool you select for support, you should be able to adapt it to your internal support framework. When changes or new software releases occur, the details—approvals, ownership, and the specifics of the change—should seamlessly pass into the support system so the team is aware and can be on the lookout for potential incidents that result. If there’s a marked increase in incidents, those issues can be tied to a problem ticket, which, in turn, should be escalated back to the owner of the change. Since this all should be happening inside one system, no time is wasted moving from one tool to the next or trying to determine the root cause of a problem.

3: Facilitates Anytime, Anywhere Availability

We hear a lot about cloud computing nowadays, and our support tools should take advantage of this new technology. By putting services in the cloud, analysts will no longer need to hurry back to their desks to update incidents; it can be done right from a user’s desk, if necessary. It also opens up the support team to a virtual world where it doesn’t matter where they sit. Having the availability in the cloud enables the team to get an incident to the right person, no matter where they happen to be located at the time.

4: Enables and Empowers the Business

Last but not least, any modern support tool needs to enable the business by making simple or routine jobs a self-service task. By tying your monitoring tools into your incident system, you can quickly determine the most common types of incidents. Using that information, build self-service around the resolution of the issue. This makes your clients happy because they get a faster turnaround, and it makes your IT support team happy because they now have time to focus upon bigger, more critical issues.

Moving from an IT support “toolbox” to a streamlined, integrated set of tools just makes good business sense. Streamlined workflows result in better, faster resolution times and provide better visibility into the overall IT framework. Support teams are able to focus on the bigger issues rather than the routine—all the while enabling the business and making your customers happy!

 

Written by Mike Hanson on behalf of Citrix. For more information about creating an integrated service desk, please visit www.gotoassist.com. Additionally, visit news.citrixonline.com/resources for more white papers, briefs, and webinars on this topic.

Tag(s): technology, incident management, service management, tools

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