It’s no secret that IT service and support professionals are facing a paradigm shift in customer support. While there is some angst about the how changing technologies will affect the future of support, most of the concern on the part of professionals in the industry is focused on improving the customer experience as they adopt these new technologies.
The Impact of Mobile Devices and BYOD
Of all the technology trends facing IT service and support professionals, the two that cause the most heartburn are the incredible growth of mobile devices—tablets, smartphones, etc.—and our customers’ desire to use devices that are familiar to them. To accommodate this desire, many organizations have adopted BYOD strategies. But the really important question is, how do we prepare for these emerging technologies? Preparation means more than just having a capable infrastructure or a written policy. The support teams at the service desk, in desktop support, or in other second-level roles need clear guidance on how to handle the inevitable questions, incidents, and service requests.
When considering these new technologies, it’s hard not to see them as a single technology; in fact, organizations often create policies for personal devices with little consideration for the potential impact on support. That practice has become so common, it’s rarely even associated with BYOD. By far, smartphones are the types of devices most likely to be owned by the customer, and just over 45 percent of companies have programs that allow some or all business users to use their personal smartphones for business purposes. Tablets are right behind smartphones, though, with almost 32 percent of organizations allowing the use of employee-owned devices at the end of 2013, up from 23 percent in 2012.
The increasing prevalence of BYOD and mobile devices has had a measurable impact on IT support teams. According to the 2013 HDI Support Center Practices & Salary Report, 24 percent of support centers report that supporting a mobile workforce has increased their ticket volumes. An additional 21 percent say that personal devices have had an impact on ticket volume. Both of these factors are among the top ten reasons why ticket volumes have increased, coming in well ahead of other emerging technologies, such as cloud computing or virtual desktop environments.
While BYOD is most often associated with mobile devices, it should be noted that this isn’t always the case. Some organizations have decided to take this approach with all computing devices, letting business users decide what type of desktop or laptop computer to use. In such cases, the organization may simply provide a list of approved laptops and desktops, or they might go a bit further by offering a stipend to help business users purchase new devices.
An organization’s industry determines how far it can go with BYOD. In highly-regulated industries like healthcare, finance, or government, business users are less likely to be allowed to use their own equipment. Other industries are much more permissive; higher education, for example, often has to support anything that has a network connection—including devices like e-readers and gaming consoles!
One thing, however, is certain: These technologies are not only not going away, we can expect to see continued growth over the next few years. According to the 2013 HDI Desktop Support Practices & Salary Report, 82 percent of desktop support organizations are planning technology implementations over the next year. A very high percentage of those implementations—some 60 percent—involve improving the customer experience. Smartphones, tablets, and other types of employee-owned equipment certainly fall into that category. So how do we prepare our customers and our IT service and support teams for these growing technologies?
Preparing Support Teams
Few things can be more frustrating for a support team than being told they’ll need to support a technology with a “best effort” approach. This was a very common approach when mobile devices were first introduced to the support environment, but it created unnecessary friction simply because there was no clear definition of “best effort.” What the support team considered to be its best effort and what the customer believed constituted a best effort were often very different!
So the first thing support teams need is a clear definition of the boundaries of support. Since the physical device may belong to the business user, there’s likely very little or even no need for hardware maintenance. That type of support will likely be provided by the business user’s service provider, and is therefore the business user’s responsibility.
That doesn’t mean that the hardware isn’t important. Support teams need to understand and be able to communicate any engineering standards for their business users’ device. Some organizations will allow their business users to use personal smartphones as long as they’re on the list of approved devices. Limiting the types of devices allows for more efficient and consistent software testing, and this ensures that the business user has a good experience using the equipment for business purposes. This approach has become less common as the pace of new-device releases has increased.
The support team will need to know what applications are available on mobile devices, paying particular attention to the differences between operating systems. An application that may work well and offer a great user experience on iOS devices may not be available or might have a different look-and-feel on Android or Windows Mobile devices. For some purposes, an application may not even be the same from OS to OS; for example, applications that open documents, spreadsheets, or presentations may be wildly different depending on which operating system is in use, and the level of competence needed to understand and use them can vary as widely. The support team will need knowledge and training to understand the differences and be prepared to answer questions.
This leads us to the next thing the support team needs to clearly understand: physical hardware can change, and it has a fixed value that decreases over time. The data contained on that hardware is a very different matter. Intellectual property, proprietary information, customer databases, and private information have a value many times greater than that of the physical hardware. Support teams need to understand, be able to explain, and be willing to enforce strict security measures on any device that may contain company information. They’ll need to have knowledge of how these devices can securely connect to the company network, how to send and receive company email, and how to use sales automation or CRM systems, and they should be able to explain to business users how to get into these functions as well as how data should be accessed and stored.
These types of changes to technology and how we provide support means that the IT teams will need to set aside time for further training, and additional content will need to be added to any existing on-boarding training for new staff. Per the 2013 HDI Support Center Salary & Practices Report, nearly 63 percent of support centers train analysts on the technologies used by their customers. About half of desktop support technicians (49%) and level 3 analysts (47%) receive similar training. At every level of support, most companies provide at least one to five days of training per year for existing staff.
After onboarding, new hires typically get extensive on-the-job training (OJT) or direct mentoring in their new positions. Slightly more than 87 percent of organizations focus on OJT, while 76.5 percent provide direct coaching or mentoring. The primary focus of this training is on the technologies used by the customer, over and above instruction in customer service or support technologies.
The value of quality training cannot be understated. More than 54 percent of organizations report that it takes at least one month for a new hire to get up to speed; in others, it takes two months or more before new hires completely understand their jobs. Time to proficiency is closely tied to the level of the position; professionals in higher levels of support, such as level 2 or desktop support, can take six months or more to become proficient in their roles!
Preparing Business Users
As BYOD and mobility technologies become more widespread, business users tools will require instruction not only in their use but also in company policies on standards and security. In addition to new-hire onboarding, existing staff will need to review and sign off on these usage policies. Regular updates and reminders are a good idea as well.
By far, the biggest concern with both BYOD and mobile devices is security. As noted above, the value of the device is a relatively minor concern when compared to the potential financial ramifications of the loss of valuable corporate data. It’s vital that business users understand the value of this data and take the appropriate measures to keep it private and secure.
There’s a wide variety of methods that the organization can use to access company information. In some cases—particularly in highly-regulated industries—mobile applications are hosted, with no provision for storing data on the device, which reduces the risk of data loss. In these cases, users can access email, view web sites, or use virtual technologies to access a remote desktop and retrieve necessary documents.
Other companies allow greater access, granting business users the right to save files to their mobile devices and use applications on those device to create and modify documents. In this case, business users will need instruction on which applications to use and where to download them. Because the data is not secured behind a corporate firewall, the level of risk can be significantly higher. Business users needs clear instruction on the importance of securing their devices, not just physically but also with strong passwords and encryption. The consequences of failing to follow security policies must be clear-cut, and if and when breaches do occur, the security team’s response must be swift and decisive.
From a support perspective, business users must also be trained in what to expect from the support team. The level of day-to-day support must be clearly defined, with transparent policies on the degree to which physical hardware will be supported and the services the support team will offer for application support beyond the initial installation.
Finally, the support team needs to provide a well-defined escalation path for when things do go wrong. Does the business user call the normal service desk number or a separate support team? Are there voice prompts to guide mobile-device users, or are they considered to be typical users and therefore put into the same queue as anyone else who might be calling the service desk? Is there a hotline available for immediate security issues, such as lost or stolen devices? These issues need to be considered, defined, and clearly communicated to the business.
There’s no avoiding the fact that mobile technologies will continue to be adopted by more and more organizations in a wider range of industries. Support teams need to draft clear policies and procedures, provide direction on how to use mobile devices, and stress the importance of security. Knowledge and training are critical to the success of both IT and the business, and the more open the discussion between IT and the business, the easier it will be to provide support.
Michael Hanson has been involved with many aspects of IT over the past twenty-five years, from application development to desktop support. Today, Michael is a senior IT manager at UnitedHealth Group, Inc., where he proactively seeks ways to improve the delivery of service to ore than 86,000 clients, through process improvement, knowledge and problem management, metrics and reporting, tool development, training, and business liaisons. He is a certified HDI Support Center Manager and he holds both his ITIL Foundation and Practitioner certificates. He is also the 2014 chair of the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board and a former member of the HDI Editorial Board.