"Shift Left" into the Fast Lane with Self-Service 2.0


by John Sundberg
January 16, 2015

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of SupportWorld magazine.

The pace of change is dizzying and the consumerization of IT is forcing profound changes in how organizations deliver IT services. First it was sharing corporate data using cloud services like Dropbox and SugarSync, then it was BYOD integration. Now, it’s something called the “Amazon effect.” What’s that? Think features like package tracking, product reviews, and same-day deliveries.

Fundamentally, all of these lead back to the customer experience, and they all infuse new complexities in consumer marketplaces as well as spill over into how organizations serve increasingly technology-savvy customers.

Similarly, the workforce is changing fast. Younger-generation workers, like Millennials, are filling the payrolls. These digital natives who expect “an app for that” have different ideas about what constitutes good service. Underlying these presumptions is technology, access to information, and generally, an expectation of immediacy.

Consumers, who are also employees, expect to be able to use technology to help themselves and to be informed of process status with features like automated messaging and tracking. Slow responses and manual intervention to complete routine tasks is like slamming on the brakes in the fast-moving environment.

Indeed, the Forrester Research report “Top Technology Trends to Watch: 2014 to 2016” said that the IT gatekeepers of business process management must be more responsive to other enterprise functions—HR, finance and marketing—as “a new class of users demands more user-friendly, self-service features to automate ad hoc processes without expensive and scarce IT resources.”

Those who work in IT don’t need a Forrester report to know their departments are losing control over business management platforms and tools given the fierce pace of business and technology change. Within service management however, the prevailing method is still Self-Service 1.0, which focuses on knowledge management and IT-centric help desks and IT service management (ITSM) systems.

This has got to change, and it is.

Shifting Gears Beyond IT

The reality is that the next level of service management, beyond the help desk and ITSM, is already here. A large survey by HDI, itSMF USA, and InformationWeek, published October 2014 (“Service Management: Not Just for IT Anymore”) of nearly 1,200 IT professionals across 30 industries, found 51 percent of organizations have already adopted or are planning to adopt ITSM outside of IT.

Broadening the function of ITSM to encompass other departments is also seen in the movement to “shift left.” The HDI survey found about 30 percent of support centers are now resolving tickets previously handled by desktop support or other escalated levels of support. That is, service management has taken a shift left to move closer to the front line of the customer, rather than pushing it up the chain to costlier levels such as desktop support.

In a recent white paper, the authors of “The Economic Impact of Support” by MetricNet Performance Benchmarking found that Level 1 support calls to service desks, which are closest to the customer or end user, are the least expensive at about $22 or more per call, followed by Level 2 desktop support at $62 per ticket, and so on up to direct vendor support at approximately $500 per incident. Empowering support reps and end users with information and tools fixes problems more quickly, at a lower level, and at less cost.

Take the example of getting a printer fixed at work. The current method often relies on a service level agreement (SLA) that says your printer will get fixed (95 percent to 99 percent of the time) within 24 hours. With Self-Service 1.0, you can skip the phone call and report the issue using an online form, but the rest of the process is pretty much the same. In Self-Service 2.0, support staff are alerted to the precise issue by the printer’s own diagnostics (you may not have to even report the problem). A technician with the right tools and parts is automatically dispatched, and resolution times are based on actual service level experiences (SLEs) rather than negotiated SLAs.

Beyond the financial impact, the shift left is also improving the all-important customer experience, but there’s still much to be done. The fast-paced competitive marketplace, along with the need for productivity improvements and the need to do more with less, requires more than just expanding ITSM beyond IT.

Putting the Pedal to the Metal

At the same time that organizations are grappling to make these changes, they’re also mulling over how to create a broader enterprise request management (ERM) ecosystem.

With ERM, employees can request any type of service, equipment or resource needed to do their jobs—from any shared services group within the enterprise via a single intuitive portal interface. In other words, it’s not limited to IT-related requests.

ERM is a business-efficiency strategy that extends across the organization to centralize and automate business processes and service requests. ERM reduces the cost, time, and manual effort to fulfill any request from something as simple as requesting PTO or ordering a new laptop to complex interdepartmental processes like new-employee onboarding. This graphic illustrates the ERM model.

Self-Service 2.0 is a movement enabled by ERM. It calls for resolving problems at a lower level of support. Its approach combines actionable services with automated processes to accelerate service fulfillment.

In a more practical sense, Self-Service 2.0 combines a single, intuitive, Web-based portal front-end (see request portal in graphic) with task workflow management software to simplify and automate the delivery of services from any department: IT, HR, facilities, finance, etc. This not only eliminates redundant manual data entry, but also leverages an organization’s investments in existing systems, allowing functional groups to continue to use their legacy departmental software applications for service fulfillment.

Consumers, who are also employees, expect to be able to use technology to help themselves.
Tweet: Consumers, who are also employees, expect to be able to use technology to help themselves. http://ctt.ec/JVT33+

ERM-enabled Self-Service 2.0 empowers users to complete tasks through the portal rather than just getting information or instructions. By leveraging current Internet and mobile technologies that support common communication protocols, such as open APIs, ERM closes the loop on integration between applications. This type of implementation requires a technology platform that takes advantage of service-oriented architecture (SOA) to eliminate costly and time-consuming point-to-point data integration among systems within and outside of the enterprise. Business processes can thus be automated without costly software integrations.

Service Management on Cruise Control

Adoption of Self-Service 2.0 is typically swift because functional groups (HR, finance, etc.) can continue to use their familiar tools while creating their own “service items” ordered and tracked using the centralized portal. Though it extends across the enterprise, ERM is designed for an iterative, agile implementation rather than a “big bang.” It can start small, with just one or a few services to enable “quick wins,” and then be expanded over time.

The result is lower costs, faster service delivery, and happier users.

Internal customers are able to track the status of their requests without the manual request management “babysitting” required in Self-Service 1.0. Just like Amazon, Self-Service 2.0 delights customers by providing a single, easy-to-use interface for finding services, submitting requests, and checking on fulfillment status. Back-end processes are automated, and the employee is shielded from any complexity in the delivery workflow. From a consumer and technology perspective, a single portal is far simpler and more efficient than is the hodgepodge of online forms, manual processes, phone calls, and email communications common to Self-Service 1.0. In addition, organizations can take advantage of what they know about the employee (role, location, etc.) to provide tailored and contextual services for the employee.

The concept of “shift left” puts the user or customer at Level 0 (self-service), which is to the left of Level 1 (the help desk). In a Level 0 environment, users are able to initiate and, with the right tools, resolve an incident or fulfill a request without having to involve conventional support or fulfillment teams. Taking the laptop ordering example further, Self-Service 2.0 automates virtually the entire back-end process—from obtaining approvals through placing the order with an approved vendor and charging the expense to the appropriate departmental account.

Because support calls are shifted to online self-service along with the automation of back-end processes, costs are greatly reduced and service delivery is faster, improving the customer experience. The adage “mileage results may vary” is noted in the many IT and non-IT examples published by Gartner, Forrester, and other researchers (on topics such as banking or airport check-in using mobile apps) of cost savings from self-service models. A conservative estimate for shifting to Self-Service 2.0 from 1.0 is that it saves about $10 per request. Multiply that figure by an organization with 5,000 employees, each making 10 requests a year, and the savings are substantial.

Self-Service 2.0 Lets You Shift into Overdrive

The actionable tools of ERM and Self-Service 2.0 go beyond Self-Service 1.0, which simply focused on providing information. Beyond request fulfillment, ERM provides the framework and reporting data to support continuous process improvement. It gives departmental and business managers both quantitative and qualitative metrics, as well as visibility into the business processes behind the requests, to help refine and improve them.

With this shift, IT staff is thus freed to focus on higher-value priorities such as employee engagement and participation. The “log it and flog it, detect and fix” model is dying, say several prominent analyst groups. The HDI Service Management research echoed these findings, noting that service management is indeed moving past “break/fix” modes to become more proactive. The October 2014 study reported that IT is rising above traditional forms of customer engagement to demonstrate a sensitivity to the “business’s needs and goals and how individual contributors’ actions affect those needs and goals.”

Indeed, user engagement and process improvement are the next steps as the top priority of IT moves beyond just cutting costs. CIOs and their teams are now focused on adding business value and improving business processes. Enterprises want to increase effectiveness through technology, not just efficiency. According to a 2013 survey of more than 800 executives by McKinsey, 61 percent said business process improvement was a top-ranked IT concern, as well as a top business concern across industries.

Shift Left: Drive in the Fast Lane with Confidence 

As Aale Roos noted in his blog following the FUSION 14 service management conference, “The new framework would be about creating value for business, not managing processes.”

Ultimately, the broadened role of service request management in the enterprise is all about operating in the fast lane, where your employees are. By empowering and enabling them to request and track any type of shared service within an ERM portal then getting their requests fulfilled swiftly, you’ve greatly improved productivity, as well as the customer experience. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.


John Sundberg is co-founder and president of Kinetic Data, a software developer that has helped hundreds of Fortune 500 and government customers - including General Mills, Avon, Intel, 3M, and the U.S. Department of Transportation - implement inegrated workflow systems, including enterprise request management (ERM) systems with centralized portals.

Tag(s): self-service, best practice, business of support, supportworld

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