The Future of IT Support


by Matt Hooper
June 16, 2015

In March, I had the privilege of speaking on the future of IT support at HDI 2015. In shepherding attendees along the path of IT maturity, from queue management through to business enlightement, I used the term “enlightenment” deliberately. For me, enlightenment speaks to the foundation of this path: knowledge management (KM).

KM is the future of IT support—but not as we know it today. Today, KM disciplines and activities are geared toward creating knowledge base articles. The reality is, IT’s view of managing knowledge is significantly challenged by modern learning methods. Consider my fourteen-year-old pitted against your IT:

KathleenIT
Can install 30 mobile apps in 3 minutes (App Store) Can install 1 mobile app in 3 months
Can deploy 1TB of fault-tolerant storage in 3 min (Google Drive) Can deploy 1TB of fault-tolerant storage in 3 CAB meetings
Can access 27,388 years of knowledge on-demand (YouTube) Is still waiting for 5 knowledge base articles to be approved and published to SharePoint...

Knowledge management is the future of IT support—but not as we know it today.
Tweet: Knowledge management is the future of IT support—but not as we know it today. @ThinkHDI http://ubm.io/1Gon8hY

Social and collaboration are quickly surpassing FAQs and knowledge base articles—the traditional methods of getting information—for resolving issues or getting support. With an increasingly technical workforce emerging in the enterprise, the pressure on IT to release the knowledge and controls it maintains on information and technology is escalating. No longer will IT, the “owner” of information technology, be able to effectively and efficiently deliver “IT” services. Why?

First, IT isn’t one thing, it’s two things: information and technology, which simply means digital information. Technology exists to support information, making it accessible at the right time, to the right people, at the right speed. Technology is becoming more commoditized and, at the same time, more complex. Information is becoming more voluminous and, at the same time, more precious and sensitive. The ownership of information and technology will continue to be a responsibility shared by three parties: the technology department, business information managers, and end users.

Second, digital information is increasingly becoming one of the highest valued assets in any organization. Big Data analytics for competitive market penetration, product, service, and pricing data for consumer engagement, and intellectual property are increasing corporate value. It’s as if every company, regardless of industry, is now a digital information company that provides a service. Digital transformation strategies require deep domain expertise if companies expect to stay competitive in their respective markets.

Lastly, IT can’t even define who or what the “customer” is, and, frankly, it’s devaluing IT support. It’s simple: The people or entities who pay for your company’s services or products are your customers. In most organizations, IT support never directly interacts with its customers, but instead works in partnership with its business counterparts to resolve customer needs. However, customer service isn’t going to drive value for IT support; the focus needs to be on end-user self-reliance. Remember, it comes down to who is using the information through the technology used to provide it.

For support organizations to rise to these changing dynamics, they must undergo a transformation, following the path to IT maturity. Let’s explore each step in greater detail.

Queue Management

The objective of queue management is to fulfill and manage incoming requests; the goal is to create a method of tracking so that requests aren’t lost and can be measured to determine workload. The tools used to execute queue management typically include:

  • Incident queue: Technical issues are prioritized (1–5) by combining impact and urgency
  • Request queue: Requests for new software, hardware, moves, adds, or changes, prioritized (1–5) by combining impact and urgency
  • Asset queue: A log of ordered and purchased assets with financial data for tracking expenditures and depreciation

Records enter the queues via phone, email, and drive-by (e.g., people walking up to technicians or the support desk). Measurements are focused on reducing call time, improving assignment accuracy, and reducing the disruptions to more skilled resources.

Queue management fails to deliver value though, because it’s missing an index of business services related to the technical components supporting that business service. The changing states of assets are causing issues to which the support team is simply reacting. Systemic issues are never truly addressed, so the backlog of issues simply increases and only priorities receive attention. Soon everything is a priority, and support loses its ability to alleviate business-impacting issues.

ITSM

The objective of ITSM is to move from fulfilling disjointed requests to planning and operating services that support business transactions; the goal is to leverage processes to better coordinate changes and manage business disruptions.

The tools at this stage include:

  • Configuration management: Relationship database of software, hardware, roles, locations, services, and other components that are required to facilitate systems management
  • Problem management: A request queue for detailed investigation of systemic issues that are recurring in the infrastructure (result of technical debt)
  • Change management: Request tracking and coordination database for managing changes to the assets documented through configuration management. (Note: Many organizations deploy change without configuration, but this fails to isolate risk or capture impact, and becomes an exercise in queue management)
  • Knowledge management: A database for storing FAQs, SOPs, and other articles on troubleshooting, workarounds, hints and tricks, etc.
ITSM significantly improves the orchestration, prioritization, and tracking of IT activities, but it still falls short of delivering business value.

Self-Service

This is usually a portal where end users can make requests, report issues, or search for known articles that could help them resolve their issues.

ITSM significantly improves the orchestration, prioritization, and tracking of IT activities, but it still falls short of delivering business value. ITSM calls the technology management layer a business service (i.e., email services, network services), but unless you’re Hotmail or Verizon, it’s not a business service. Alignment with the business must advance to integration with business services. (IT almost has to drop the focus on IT services and map all activities and technology platforms directly to business services.)

Business Service Management (BSM)

Originally coined by IBM to describe the interrelationship between a business transaction and the technology infrastructure, BSM has morphed into a more customer-centric view of service management. The objective of BSM is to increase the value of the organization to the customer base through high-performance technology solutions. These technology solutions remove the barriers to doing business with the organization and enable customer interactions (e.g., web-based systems, mobile applications, social platforms). The goal of BSM is to leverage IT capabilities to create business opportunities and customer engagement.

Once ITSM has established a foundation of operational excellence and control, you need to let go of some of that control and let business innovation proceed. BSM introduces the need for the following tools:

  • Event management: Captures all system-driven events, to be correlated, measured, and evaluated for impact analysis. Supports capacity, change, availability, incident, problem, security, and other key processes.
  • Release management (automation): An orchestration engine that performs tasks that are well understood by IT and can be automated. It supports access, change, and deployment management and other key processes by eliminating the manual activities associated with requests.
  • Self-service provisioning: Leveraging the automation platform, IT can distribute responsibilities for account management, software distribution, asset provisioning to third parties, or, in some cases, back to the line of business owner, where risk and approval should reside. This includes functions like password resets, account creation, software distribution, reporting access, system privileges, content management, etc.

BSM is elevating the support focus from IT systems and IT services to true business impact. It’s creating essential awareness about how revenue and customer-driven transactions are enabled throughout the enterprise. Yet there’s still a gap in the support IT can provide and the value it can leverage because it still doesn’t understand the true market drivers.

Business Agility

BSM has taken the organization to a level where IT is no longer a department within the business but is instead focused on establishing the organization as a market leader by leveraging competitive advantages. Things change fast, and this is no time to rest on your laurels. Business agility is required to understand the full capability of your resources and leverage them to create new markets and new offerings.
The objective of business agility is to deliver new offerings to the marketplace as quickly as possible by leveraging the customer experience as a competitive differentiator. Can you hear me now? This expression will go down in pop culture history as a clear articulation of Verizon’s value proposition, but it’s Verizon’s delivery of clear, robust cellular service (technology infrastructure) that’s secured their share of the market. Thus, the goal of business agility is to achieve or maintain market leadership by using business intelligence to capture market dominance. Verizon didn’t use the dartboard method to position their towers; they used quantitative availability and performance metrics to determine how to improve their service (BSM).

To convert customer-centricity into customer loyalty, the following business agility tools are required:

  • Portfolio management: The database stores information essential to making business decisions on services supported and project-managed throughout the organization. Successful implementations include line of business strategies and revenue allocations that support the funding and ROI of projects and the operational impacts of those projects once released into production.
  • Supplier management: If you’re mature enough to achieve business agility, then you’ve no doubt come to the realization that IT needs partners. Outsourcing key functions will be the only way to scale and respond to business demands. The database will track and measure your partners performance. Even the best of suppliers can experience business changes that cause them to stop delivering for their customers. In order to maintain your agility, you need real-time (or near-time, depending on the services provided) performance metrics that will help ensure your customers are getting the services they paid for.

Business agility is now providing true end-user self-reliance. All of your tools are coming together in a cohesive fashion that is underpinning the enablement of business effectiveness. Users across the organization and within the customer ecosystem trust the technology platforms and the integrity and security of the data, and they’re willing to engage more effectively with your technology platforms, particularly your self-service platform. So, what’s next?

At this stage, IT is no longer a department; it’s a competancy across the business. It’s value is not generated via IT activities and the controlling of IT assets, but by enabling business objectives and services through agile delivery methods. Data can be leveraged for intelligence that will help the organization figure out what customers truly want. Welcome to business enlightenment!

Business enlightenment involves leveraging the capabilities and information intelligence of the organization to determine what customers truly want.

Business Enlightenment

The objective of business enlightenment is to leverage the capabilities and information intelligence of the organization to determine what customers truly want. The goal here is to create new markets, such as when Amazon saw the need to provide it’s excess capacity to IT professionals for cloud computing. Through the delivery of operational excellence and innovation, the organization can leverage IT to deliver new offerings that will grow revenue and transcend business optimization.

The new tools of business enlightenment include:

  • Channel management: Intelligence related to how services are being consumed by the marketplace.
  • Customer management: A database of customer requests, needs, usage, and heuristics.
  • Governance risk and compliance: This database manages requests and activity logs of how information and technology are managed within the infrastructure to protect the integrity and security of customer interactions and the transparency of business decisions.
  • Market analysis and Big Data: Correlating customer sentiments against the brand’s value will show where and how the organization needs to invest in technological advancements to secure adoption and demand.

Business enlightenment is the true convergence of information and technology, the application of which will be achieved via contextual awareness, leveraging social, location-based, context-aware intelligence for insight and decision making. This is the future of IT support! 


Matt Hooper is the cohost of the international podcast Hackbiztech.com. An ITSM and IT organization change management expert, Matt is known as @VigilantGuy on Twitter and can be found at Matt@VigilantGuy.com.


Tag(s): business of support, future of support, KM, knowledge management, support center, supportworld

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