Managing the Service Desk in a Data-Driven, Mobile World


by Anna Frazzetto
April 23, 2015

One of the first things you probably did when you woke up this morning was check your email on your smartphone or tablet. Whether you read your emails and confirmed your appointments while you were lying in bed, grabbing a quick breakfast before you ran out the house, or sitting on a commuter train, you had most likely already ticked several items off your “to-do” list before you even sat down at your desk.

This might sound like a strange way to begin an article on service desk solutions, but it illustrates how emerging technologies have changed the way we work, and, therefore, changed the nature of our support needs. Service desks, like technology, are constantly evolving, but the suddenness of the shift, and the speed with which it and Big Data have come to dominate critical decision making, is truly breathtaking. The adoption rates in some organizations are such that even before a new technology has been fully rolled out across an organization, it has become (or is on its way to becoming) obsolete.

I’ve been working with technology professionals for more than a decade, and I’m constantly amazed by the adaptability of the people who innovate, utilize, and maintain our technology. Service desks are being profoundly impacted by the information revolution; they’re constantly having to reinvent their technology expertise and adapt to new forms of data-driven social and mobile innovation. How will the growth in the demand for mobile technology and the impact of Big Data affect your support environment?

The Explosion in Mobile Technologies

Whether your frame of reference is a group of teenage employees on break at the local mall or a team of busy executives waiting to board their connecting flight to the next client meeting, they’re all likely to be using multiple mobile devices and multitasking across platforms, merging their work lives with their social lives.

Our dependence on mobile devices, and their ability to increase competitive advantage by speeding up the flow of information and decision making, has been well recognized by business leaders. Two-thirds of the CIOs (68%) who responded to the 2013 Harvey Nash CIO Survey confirmed that they plan to increase their investments in mobility over the coming year. When asked specifically about how much progress their organizations have made in realizing the potential of mobility, more than one-half (53%) have mobilized some online assets, but only in a basic way. One in five CIOs (20%) stated that few or none of their assets have been mobilized.

This coming surge in mobile technology investment, in addition to the increasing personalization and range of mobile technologies, will further strain those supporting and maintaining technology across new mobile channels. To keep up with the pace of technology change, new skills must be acquired not only by software developers but also by the people answering calls from employees and customers. However, more than half of the respondents (55%) to the 2014 Harvey Nash Technology Survey are already reporting a shortage of skilled technology talent, up 19 percent from the 2013 survey (36%).

Fully one-quarter of CIOs are now looking for candidates with mobile skills. An understanding of digital marketing and the mechanics of social media platforms also feature in the demand for technology talent, reflecting the growing importance of collaboration between technology professionals and marketing teams.

The Growing Influence of Big Data

Data is playing a bigger part in decision making throughout the business. An ever-increasing number of people are crunching data, and the service desk has a critical role to play in maintaining the flow of information and keeping the decision-making process running smoothly. This is a challenge because, while the availability of data is rarely a problem, most Big Data users are inexperienced, and as such they’re producing mixed results with the technology. The findings from the 2014 Harvey Nash Technology Survey suggest that despite almost two-thirds of respondents (59%) placing Big Data at the heart of their future technology innovation plans, only one in five respondents (20%) have had any discernible success with this critical priority.

The technology challenge faced by service desk professionals in supporting Big Data initiatives is often eclipsed by the cultural challenge they face as organizations look to incorporate Big Data decision making across departments. This places the service desk on the front line in turf wars between the IT department and the rest of the business when Big Data projects fail to deliver.

Technology and Cultural Convergence at the Service Desk

Relationships between IT and the rest of the business have never been more important. Respondents to the 2013 Harvey Nash CIO Survey believe relationships between IT and the operations department are the strongest, followed by IT and finance; the weakest relationship, according to respondents, is the one between IT and the marketing department. While IT and the marketing department may not have collaborated greatly in the early Internet years, in the era of mobile, digital, social, and Big Data, greater collaboration is essential. As we enter a more collaborative age, expect to see greater emphasis placed on the service desk’s relationship-building and -influencing skills. Service management skills are already in growing demand by CIOs, up one-third from 12 percent in 2012 to 16 percent in 2013.

With more technological innovation taking place in collaborative environments, both inside the organization and with external partners, the service desk also finds itself on the front line in a new era of cybersecurity threats derived from the open nature of the very technologies that enable collaboration (social media, mobile, etc.). Thirteen percent of the CIOs who responded to the 2013 Harvey Nash CIO Survey admit to not being well prepared to deal with the threats posed by an increasingly interconnected world, up from eight percent in 2012 and seven percent in 2011.

The Service Desk Response

This convergence of technology innovation and collaborative cultures is breeding a new generation of skilled service desk professionals who can respond to a greater range of complex issues. More than two-thirds of respondents to the 2014 Harvey Nash Technology Survey (67%) believe their peers are more skilled in multiple technologies compared to five years ago. In addition, today’s service desk professionals must be more than technically competent. They must be gifted communicators who are able to navigate and leverage a wide range of tools to address their clients’ needs quickly. When asked what would occupy their attention in the year ahead, service desk respondents to the 2014 Harvey Nash Technology Survey selected communication, influencing, and people skills as frequently as testing, development, and software issues.

The demand for technology support in a globalized economy has generated an environment where flexible support services are delivered by service desk staff working remotely, communally, and temporarily (i.e., on projects). The advances in mobile communication that have led to many of the technology challenges faced by the service desk have also provided solutions for an eminently mobile service desk response. In an environment where technology is constantly in flux, support organizations must regularly assess and optimize service desk operations, track resolutions, and use the results to improve service provisioning. With new mobile technologies emerging almost daily, and with ever greater tides of data requiring support, there’s no room for complacency.

With all of this in mind, there are several priorities that all service desks should share:

  1. Embrace change, and prepare for more: Smartphones and tablet devices are overwhelmingly seen as the engine for growth in the coming years, and innovation in the use of social media, digital marketing, and Big Data will continue despite mixed early results. Accepting that these technologies are here to stay, and will require support, enables you to anticipate future demand. 
  2. Balance innovation with security: With an explosive growth in technology opportunities comes an explosive growth in data, which must be secured. The service desk has to balance the need for support innovation and collaboration with the responsibility for maintaining the integrity of internal data and systems. 
  3. Manage with care: After a bruising recession, a bleak job market (especially for young people), and a slow and unsteady recovery, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the management style most preferred by service desk technicians is one of understated competence rather than brash confidence. Build loyalty by providing your technicians with opportunities to develop their skills and innovate with emerging technologies. 
  4. Retain your best talent: Technicians now have a more diverse customer base, with internal and external partners alike demanding their time and attention. This opens up opportunities for new skills to be developed and new technology innovations to be shared both within the organization and with the wider market. However, the global demand for skills means that you need to be prepared for your best people to attract attention from your competitors and collaborators. Managing with care should help you retain your best talent.

Final Thoughts

From the moment we wake up, technology plays a role in almost every facet of our daily lives. It pulses through our organizations, and it fires our economies. Innovating with emerging and disruptive technologies can be the difference between success and failure in today’s interconnected, always-on global environment, and the people who develop these technologies, maintain them, and use them every day have become critically important to the survival of modern organizations.

This places significant responsibility on the shoulders of the service desk professionals who must keep pace with changes in technology. While this is both an opportunity and a threat, your service desk will be better equipped to succeed if it embraces the opportunities associated with mobile technology and Big Data, and prepares for the threats such open and collaborative technologies can bring.


Anna Frazzetto is the SVP and managing director of International Technology Solutions for Harvey Nash USA. She began her career in IT as a systems engineer with IBM, later moving to Syncsort, MHT Software, Comdisco Computing Services, where she developed and implemented a remote computing service and a help desk, and Spherion, where she was a key driver in the expansion of its managed service line of business. In addition to being a member of the HDI Editorial Board, Anna is a member of the HDI Strategic Advisory Board and the HDI Support Center Leadership Certification Standards Committee.

Anna will be presenting on this topic at the HDI 2014 Conference & Expo. Register today and plan on attending Session 209: Fast-Moving Technologies and the Service Desk Response !

Tag(s): service desk, mobility

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