This article originally appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of SupportWorld magazine.
This year, the HDI Strategic Advisory Board (SAB) launched an ambitious project to look ahead about five years and make some assertions about where the technical service and support industry will be by the year 2020. This effort is directly in line with the board’s mission:
The mission of the HDI Strategic Advisory Board is to formulate informed recommendations on industry trends and directions and to assist HDI in documenting and communicating these trends to HDI’s membership and the service and support industry at large. With input from this board, HDI’s members and the industry are better prepared to meet tomorrow’s challenges, influence and provide direction to service and support organizations, and ensure the quality and efficient delivery of service and support.
This article is the first of a series that will explore the "Foresight Is 2020" project in depth. Other expected outputs from the project will be at least one white paper and one or more webcasts. As a first step in the project, HDI’s managing director, Craig Baxter, took detailed notes as the members of the SAB articulated trends, innovations, and disruptions that they feel will have a significant impact on the technical service and support industry. Some of these items are very specific to the support industry and support centers; others are larger trends that will have impacts in the industry. Those notes were then sent back out to the entire board for review, in order to make sure that their ideas had been captured accurately.
Next, the items were categorized into five areas of interest:
The Work: In what ways will the work of technical support itself have changed by 2020?
The Tech: How will rapidly advancing technologies either be incorporated into the work of support or change—and perhaps increase—the demands on support?
The Role of Support: How will support centers be expected to operate in 2020? How will their mission and goals have changed?
The Role of IT: What will IT look like in 2020? Will there still be a department called IT?
The Customer: How will organizations’ relationship with their customers change? How will customers themselves change?
The SAB then met again to discuss whether these were the correct categories, whether the board could define them further, and whether they believed the items in each group would actually happen by 2020. The results of that discussion were then circulated for further comment and expansion. That work is ongoing. What follows is a very high-level, brief summary of some of the items being discussed. Some of these are already becoming evident in the workplace, while others remain on the horizon.
Good knowledge management will no longer be optional.
Shift-Left: The trend toward pushing more technical work to the front line and moving repetitive work out into robust self-service will be much more widespread, if not universal by 2020.
Increased scope of services offered: This rolls up into the broader topic of the desire and need to centralize and streamline the ways in which various services are offered and supported, including HR, facilities, and others, as revealed by recent HDI research.
Increased need for knowledge management: Good knowledge management will no longer be optional, but will be a necessary underpinning for all organizations.
Work from anywhere: Again, this will become almost universal, and involves not only the customers and end users supported, but the support center itself, which will adopt more virtual and mobile ways of working. According to recent HDI research, roughly 50 percent of support organizations have no one working from home and no plans to change that in the next year; that climate will have changed by 2020.
Wearables at work:
Google Glass, FitBit, and AppleWatch and other wearables are only the tip of the iceberg, but they already provide some insight into the increasing complexity of the types of support that organizations must be prepared to offer. As has been discovered over the past few years of experience with mobility, saying "we won’t have to support those" doesn’t hold up.
The Internet of Things: Since more objects of more types will have IP addresses, they will become more manageable, but configuration management will become much more complex.
Decreasing device support: Aside from an overall change of focus from hardware to data, many devices will become inexpensive to the point of being disposable, while more complex devices will only be repairable by the manufacturer.
Support for cloud resources: Which resources are on-premises and which are "in the cloud" will become less noticeable to customers and end users. The support center will need to know which is which and how to best provide support for all of them.
Support using cloud resources: This item is closely bound up with the previous one, but it looks more at the array of tools available "in the cloud" and how support centers will take advantage of them to increase their capabilities while minimizing expenditures.
Decision-making technologies: How will advanced systems such as IBM Watson affect and/or enhance the work of support?
Psst! Want to hear more from the HDI Strategic Advisory Board about the future of the industry? There will be a panel discussion on this topic at HDI 2015 later this month. Take a look at session 608, and register to attend in Las Vegas!
The Role of Support
Shift from passive/reactive to active business role: It will no longer be sufficient to solve problems when or after they happen. Support will need to fully integrate a focus that supports business outcomes and goals. This will require all support organizations to develop a clear ROI (return on investment) statement and value proposition.
Personalization: Support will be provided in a context, the way OnStar and Amazon’s Mayday work. The support analyst and organization will have much more information about what customers are trying to accomplish and how they’re trying to accomplish it.
Community building: Support will be required to not only provide common forms of community support, such as online forums, but also better ways for peers to support each other through social connection. This may not only be true for communities built around specific applications or products, but also within businesses and institutions where subject matter experts have been identified.
Convergence: Desktop support teams are already becoming more integrated into the support center, and support analysts are taking on expanded roles, enabled by the wide adoption of remote support capabilities and better skillsets. Other areas of expertise may come into the support center as well.
The Role of IT
BYOX will continue: Bring your own device, services, and so on will drive forward, although it will be limited by compliance with HIPAA, PCI DSS, and other regulations. Recent court decisions may limit the presumed financial advantages to organizations, but by 2020, BYOX will likely become a requirement.
Trusted advisor: Support center professionals and other IT staff will have earned the trust of business organizations, and they will be asked to advise on the best technologies to enable business objectives and goals.
Shadow IT: Direct purchase and/or use of technology resources by business units has been around for a long time, but it is increasingly prevalent due to the ease of cloud provisioning and other readily available services. IT departments will likely have to leverage Shadow IT and/or provide comparable services at comparable costs to achieve their business goals.
Focus on the customer experience: Organizations will focus more spending on improving the customer experience both within and across channels. There will be increased unification of the views of external and internal customers from the standpoint of providing rapid, reliable support and properly prioritizing the work.
Changing customer demographics: Younger workers have not lived during a time when the Internet did not exist, and they dwell in a connected world which older employees and customers have embraced but did not grow up in. Support expectations, styles, and channels will change as the population of customers and end users does.
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None of these assertions should be taken as independent of all the others; they are interrelated. All of the topics are still under discussion by the SAB at the time of this writing, and the final versions will be delivered in the white paper(s) and in subsequent articles in SupportWorld.
Roy Atkinson is HDI’s senior writer/analyst. He is a certified HDI Support Center Manager and a veteran of both small business and enterprise consulting, service, and support. Roy is known for his social media presence, especially on the topic of customer service. He serves as the chapter advisor for HDI Northern New England local chapter. Roy holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman Graduate School of Business.
As HDI’s managing director, Craig Baxter is responsible for providing general oversight and management for the HDI business. His background is in software development, IT management, technical support desk, call center solutions, and operations. Prior to joining HDI, Craig held management and executive positions at First Data Corp., MCI, and Softech. He is a veteran of the US Air Force, where he served in satellite operations. Craig received his MS in computer science from Chapman University and his BS in electrical engineering from Northern Arizona University.