If anything, 2020 taught us about change. Rapid change! Digital transformation accelerated at a mind-boggling pace. What would have taken years to adopt was compressed into months or even weeks. McKinsey estimates the retail technology adoption we saw in three months of 2020 would have taken six to ten years without the impact of the pandemic. Companies around the globe sent millions of knowledge workers home at the outset, leading to remote work and work from home adoption in a matter of days. It is this latter change that has put the most stress on the IT service desk.
Sumir Karayi, founder and CEO of 1E, saw this stress and commissioned a survey of knowledge workers, IT staff, and IT managers. The results of the survey may surprise you. I know it surprised me. I reached out to learn more. As I spoke with Mr. Karayi, we discussed the current state of the IT Service Desk and why it is ripe for disruption and needs to be transformed.
State of the Service Desk
The service desk’s processes and tools were designed when the majority of knowledge workers worked from the office environment, on the office network, and in many cases, down the hall from IT. The small percentage of employees who traveled worked remotely or worked from home masked the problems of supporting employees outside the walls of the organization.
Studies have shown the performance of laptops degrades when outside the office. If you are like me, you would assume that is the fault of poor or inadequate internet connections. While the home internet connection can be a factor, the causes of poor performance are more often than not something other than the connection itself. VPN tunnels, chatty applications like security software, failing hardware (like Wifi adapters), and the load of video and voice calls all contribute to performance issues (many employees report making more phone calls with their laptops than with their cell phones).
Respondents to the 1E survey, report an average of 52 minutes of disruption per issue reported to the service desk. Many report days and weeks to resolve an issue. This leads to productivity issues, employee engagement issues, emotional stress, and financial losses. In today’s environment, all companies are technology companies, and in a time when an employee’s only connection to the company and their co-workers is through their laptop, this can lead to costly attrition issues as well.
Our service desks were not designed for this new reality. The people who staff the service desk have not been trained to be ambassadors for employee engagement, the processes have not been designed from the experience of the end-user but rather that of the IT employee and the tools we are using are twenty-year-old tools, at best.
Disrupting the People
One of the metrics in 1E’s survey shows a sharp disconnect. 81% of the IT professionals surveyed say they enjoy helping resolve issues for their fellow employees, while only 39% of employees surveyed say that the IT team enjoys helping them. That is a significant difference, 81% to 39% (let’s not even think about the 19% of IT professionals who don’t like to support fellow employees). The number one priority of our companies should be our people and their productivity and engagement. The service desk should not be viewed as a cost center, but rather as an employee enablement center. This requires a mindset change in the company and in the IT employee to become more employee-centric. It also requires process changes, perhaps an overhaul of all of the processes.
Disrupting the Process
Most service desks are set up to be reactive. We react to the phone calls, emails, and tickets submitted by our peers. We react to the alerts generated by our systems. Our service desks are incentivized to be IT-centric. Even the metrics we use: tickets opened, tickets closed, time to resolution is IT-centric. IT is challenged to reduce the cost per ticket.
Our tiered approach to the service desk means we escalate to the next tier anything that could be a learning experience.
Whether we escalate or not, submitting a request to the service desk usually results in a game of phone tag. I submit a ticket…and wait. IT calls me back…I’m not available so they leave a message…so I call them back and leave another message…they call me back and interrupts the flow of my work yet again (accumulating to the 52 minutes of disruption per incident). This leads to many knowledge works being reluctant to even submit a ticket because “they don’t have time”.
We should redesign our service desks to be multichannel, providing the ability to call, chat, use social channels, email, and even self-help. The key is to ensure the experience and the results are the same across channels. People prefer one channel over the other. They should be able to use the channel they are most comfortable using and get their issues resolved. The experience should be frictionless for the end-user.
To truly pivot our service desks to a proactive approach will require re-tooling.
Disrupting the Tools
The primary tool used by our service desks is a remote desktop tool. This technology has been around for over twenty years. It needs help! Again, thinking of the end-user experience. I have submitted a ticket. IT calls me and asks if they can remote into my computer. Of course, I agree, I need to have the issue resolved. Once they have connected to my laptop, they have to manually track down the issue…and I am unable to use the device (52 minutes of disruption). Depending on the issue I was having, by the time they remote in the problem may have resolved itself or hidden away only to come out again the next day.
Instead, what the service desk needs is a set of tools that continuously monitors the end-points. Tools exist today that create a digital twin on the end-point. It then synthetically simulates transactions from the perspective of the end-user experience. It continuously analyses these simulations and can alert IT to the problem, many times before the end-user even knows they are having an issue.
These tools can even help prioritize the issue. If the issue is only happening on a single machine, a dialogue box can open to ask the end-user if they are experiencing an issue. With one click they can say yes or no. If no, the issue is still sent to IT but at a lower priority.
A context-sensitive analysis can be done. For example, IT pushes a patch to 1,000 end-points and then receives an alert that the patch created an issue. The analysis can be done to determine if the issue is causing an end-user problem. If it is, it can be prioritized immediately. If not, it can be deprioritized and addressed at a later time.
Given, in today’s world, every machine is always connected, all of this can take place in real-time as opposed to batch. Batch is still a holdover from the days of mainframes. Mobile has the ability to push, our support tools should have the same ability. Rather than investing all of our AI spend on virtual agents and chatbots, we should use AI to analyze what is happening and why. Identify the top 50 issues to target. Charge IT with resolving those issues.
Transform the service desk
Our service desk professionals are doing an outstanding job. They are providing the best service possible to their peers. But they are doing it with one hand (or two hands) tied behind their backs. It’s time to invest in the service desk. We need to transform the service desk by providing training to the people, updating our process to be proactive, and putting the right tools in their hands (after we untie them).
Jeff is the author of Amplify Your Value – Leading IT with Strategic Vision (2018) and Amplify Your Job Search – Strategies for Finding Your Dream Job (2020).
He is a sought-after speaker, author and thought leader, having led powerful teams and built successful Information Technology departments for over 30 years. Jeff’s mission is to change the face of IT, saying, “Businesses today are demanding more from their technology and their technology leaders.”
He serves on numerous boards and advisory councils including Forbes Technology Council, Indy CIO Network, and Connected World Magazine Board of Advisors. He is a fellow with the Institute of Digital Transformation.
Meet Jeff and learn more at www.JeffreySTon.com.