The ever-accelerating pace of technological change continues to push CIOs to adapt quickly or run the risk of finding themselves outmaneuvered by their competition. Whether it’s determining how best to leverage mobile apps, weighing the risks and benefits of cloud computing/storage, or determining what to do about any one of a multitude of technologies, IT decision makers must find ways to accommodate their users’ needs quickly. Even decisions around how to support users most effectively through the company’s service desk are not as straightforward as they were in years past.
Two prominent but related trends are affecting how companies go about acquiring and providing service desk support. The first is the change in CIOs’ disposition toward outsourcing the service desk function. Up until recently, the service desk was either provided using internal resources or completely outsourced—there was no middle ground. Retaining full control of the service desk meant having to live with some time-consuming distractions, such as constantly recruiting to fill positions created by high turnover, figuring out how to support multiple mobile devices, and managing the logistics associated with desk locations and hours of operation. Additionally, many companies found themselves ill-suited for implementing service desk best practices and found the goal of maintaining consistently high quality elusive.
The second emerging trend, driven by the first, is that the outsourced services providers are becoming more flexible in how they provide their service desk offerings. New technologies now offer users multiple options when it comes to acquiring and consuming IT services. Supporting these multiple options requires flexibility to meet a company’s specific needs. Outsourcers are recognizing this and offering more customizable services that fit their clients’ specific infrastructures and requirements.
Service desk outsourcers, once accustomed to operating in a relatively stable environment, now find themselves having to anticipate their clients’ evolving needs and offer delivery options that meet those changing needs. These two interrelated trends—the CIO’s need to retain some involvement in service desk operations and the outsourcer’s ability to break apart what was once an inseparable bundle of services—are reshaping the service desk delivery model.
The Managed Resource Program: A Balanced Approach
One side effect of having to accommodate rapid technological change is that traditional, static service delivery models don’t always fit CIOs’ evolving needs. For example, the either/or decision of having to completely outsource the service desk function or provide it solely with internal resources has been a source of frustration for some CIOs. On the one hand, keeping it in-house usually meant tradeoffs in quality and coping with distractions. On the other hand, completely offloading the service desk to an outside provider meant relinquishing any sense of control or opportunity for knowledge sharing. With IT infrastructures changing so rapidly, and more accountability for business success shifting to CIOs, they’re becoming more reluctant to remove themselves entirely from service desk operations.
The pressures of keeping up with users’ rapidly changing needs, meeting users’ demands for a high-quality support experience, and CIOs’ concerns about staying involved in their service desk operations have driven the urgency for a new service desk delivery model. This hybrid model, a managed resource program (MRP), allows CIOs to "keep one hand on the wheel" by acquiring the services, skills, and insights provided by a firm specializing in service desk delivery, yet stay involved in the operations and management to whatever degree desired.
Employing this model, the client retains overall control of the environment. It specifies the number of service desk support agents and management personnel to be assigned to the desk, and it sets the SLAs. It identifies the locations of the support desks, the hours of operation, and the toolsets used. The client retains tighter control over costs because it can flex resources up and down as needed to meet the anticipated workload and budgetary constraints.
Service desk staff recruiting—everything from interviewing to onboarding—is handed off, as is training, reporting, user surveys, and, if one exists, the self-help portal. The client depends on the outsourcer for consultative guidance on how to deliver support services most effectively to the users. Such guidance, driven by a delivery director, includes insight into best practices, appropriate reporting, quality assurance, attention to continual service improvement, and other areas where the client needs help.
The MRP strikes a balance in which the client retains control of the service desk environment and its long-term strategy but relinquishes recruiting and other distracting tasks while accessing the collective knowledge and guidance of the experienced outsourcing firm.
This new model is quite a departure, given where we started. The role of the service desk provider remained unchanged for many years. Incident and knowledge management systems were acquired under the traditional software licensing model, which led to companies relying on outsourcers to provide the software as part of the engagement. Toolsets were used to capture and manipulate data within an organization and were shared among different internal groups. Companies acquired toolsets to help them stay competitive or sought an outsourcer that offered such toolsets. Times, along with the ways in which we acquire and use technology, have changed.
SaaS, with its lower cost of entry, has driven some firms to abandon the software licensing model. More firms have adopted ITIL standards looking for a consistent methodology for processes, policies, and procedures, and they’re selecting tools that fulfill that need. Outsourcers are expected to integrate with these hosted tools. Having to support multiple mobile devices and applications has increased the magnitude and complexity of managing the service desk. Users now expect support anytime, anywhere, for any device they choose to use. These changes, and the additional pressures of having to keep up with a rapidly compressed technology shelf life, have induced many CIOs to reconsider their approach to service desk outsourcing. All the new technologies and the manner in which they can be accessed and used are driving the second prominent service desk trend: the need for flexibility on the part of the outsourcing firm. Two areas in which flexibility is best illustrated include service desk locations and the toolsets used.
Companies want more options when it comes to the locations of their service desks. Many large, campus-based companies that once off-shored their support are now embracing a high-touch/high-feel presence on-site at their facilities. In trying to increase user satisfaction, some firms are deploying walk-up support or "Genius Bar" models. Other firms desire a "follow-the-sun" approach or want to leverage local languages, while others prefer to centralize their support. Companies with numerous offices around the world are more eager to move their support off-site to an outsourcer.
The almost universal requirement is that support has to be provided anytime, anywhere—24x7x365—whether warrantied or not. Many of the firms that have been providing support on-site around the clock have found that supporting the reduced volumes experienced overnight and on weekends is costly and inefficient. They’re now looking to lower costs by engaging outsourcing firms that provide off-site service desk support only at these "off-peak" hours.
Toolsets are another area where companies are looking for flexibility from their service desk provider. Because so many companies now have their own tools for incident management, telephony, and knowledge base management, outsourcers must remain tool-agnostic.
No discussion of the impact of emerging trends on the service desk would be complete without addressing the thorny issue of support for mobile devices. Corporate attitudes toward BYOD, as well as policies and support for this growing trend, are often unclear. In a recent CDW study that surveyed 1,200 IT professionals and 1,200 non-IT professionals about a variety of mobility-related issues, they found support to be a major concern. When asked to grade the effectiveness of their organizations’ BYOD policies and support on a scale from A to F, only four out of ten of the non-IT respondents gave an A or B grade.
When asked which functions their organizations were concerned about supporting on personal devices used for work (respondents could select more than one item), the most frequent responses were:
Core messaging (email, text, voice/voicemail) – 48%
Accessing organizational data – 47%
Storing organizational data or documents – 36%
Viewing/creating documents – 33%
Collaboration (conferencing, webinars, document sharing) – 33%
Managing processes or project – 27%
The results of this survey suggest that support for personal mobile devices used for work purposes is an area where many firms need improvement. There are a number of tactics a firm should consider in supporting BYOD mobile users:
Consider using a "Genius Bar" support infrastructure, so that users have ready access to support and a place where they know they can get help quickly.
Use the corporate intranet to explain what is allowed and instructions on uses.
Help users understand what support is available for personal mobile devices used for work.
Offer training on work-related apps, explaining how apps might vary in appearance and performance on different mobile platforms.
According to the CDW survey, only half of the IT respondents said they talked with employees about how to use their mobile devices. Given the anticipated growth in the use of both personal smartphones and tablets by corporate users for work purposes, either companies will provide wider and more effective user support, or the potential improvements in productivity that these tools could provide will never be fully realized.
The Future of the Service Desk
The rapid pace of technological change means that CIOs must stay nimble, able to adapt quickly to new tools and processes. Some of the changes we’ve seen in recent years—SaaS, the cloud, BYOD—offer decision makers more choices in how they offer and structure service desk support. Many CIOs want to "keep one hand on the wheel" and stay involved with the operation of their service desks. Service desk outsourcers must offer flexible delivery alternatives structured to conform to their clients’ needs. CIOs should be provided with greater flexibility by allowing them to select those service desk functions to keep and those to offload.
The only thing we know with certainty is that more change is going to come. We need to anticipate how those changes might affect our users and what we can do to help them fully leverage technology by offering flexible options in response to emerging trends.
Jeff Brandt is an accomplished service desk veteran with more than fourteen years of experience at all levels of service desk solutions delivery, including managing individual service desks to managing a delivery center of more than 300 analysts. He is a certified HDI Help Desk Manager and has worked with numerous client technologies and support systems for interaction and incident and knowledge management. He has extensive experience in support environments in many sectors, such as government, manufacturing, retail, and higher education.