Using a Self-Hosted Vs. Service Desk Provider ITSM Platform

When presenting a service desk outsourcing solution, one of the first questions the vendor asks is whether or not the potential client intends to leverage its own ITSM platform (ticketing system) or use the vendor’s provided solution. Assuming the vendor is flexible, they should be familiar with all industry standard ticketing systems and remain brand-neutral, especially when considering the significant investment clients have placed in their brand of choice; however, both parties should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of that selection before implementing service desk support. It’s true that when support is outsourced, vendor set-up/implementation fees tend to be lower with a client-hosted solution primarily because the client has already purchased the software licenses and possibly done some internal tweaking before rolling it out companywide. For that reason, the service desk provider can offer more attractive pricing. But clients still need to consider the long-term costs of additional development, software maintenance, and upgrades as well as the costs of keeping the servers that run those applications fully functioning. The success of a self-hosted ticketing system hinges largely on the breadth of the ticketing system’s IT-related capabilities, how comprehensive the reporting package, how integration friendly it is for the various IT groups accessing it, and the expertise of the developers and management team responsible for refining and maintaining it.

A full service, ITIL verified, ITSM platform incorporates all major areas of IT support including Incident, Problem, Service Request, Change and Knowledge Management tightly integrated together with additional services such as Configuration Management (CMDB) and Asset Management.  Any business process that can be defined, documented, and managed by the service desk is an opportunity to improve operational efficiencies and effectively lower costs for the client. By contrast, any solution that doesn’t enable those extensive IT support capabilities will endure a heavy operational burden over the long term.

The most important advantage of using one’s own ITSM platform is the control of the database server and the data.  When limitations are encountered within the confines of the application, skilled developers are often able to turn to creative solutions on the backend.  These solutions may include developing processes within the database server to manipulate, transmit, poll and track periodic data such as platform usage trends for license seat management to having direct access to the database tables for use in external reporting engines.  What may have been limitations in report complexity within the integrated ad-hoc engine may be easily achieved through queries in the database server and presented with Crystal Reports or MS Reporting Services. For a client-hosted solution, the service desk has indirect control and must rely on whether or not the client has had experienced developers and individuals trained and certified in ITIL best practices for IT Service Desk Management working on the ITSM application. If not, they may prevent or significantly impair the implementation of business specific customizations to forms, database tables, ticket routing or approval workflow changes and reporting.  Additionally, there may be a lack of direction in these development efforts or, worse, a complete disregard of standards and chaotic, difficult to interpret data.

With a vendor-hosted ticketing system, the service desk typically reviews and incorporates all of the client’s Knowledge Base documentation into the platform.  Rarely is every troubleshooting process fully documented and technically up to date so the service desk implementation team frequently meets with key client staff to learn about the most common problems and resolutions encountered in their environment.  Using this information in conjunction with analysis of live problem trends and resolutions coming into the service desk, they create new articles and FAQs and build a new Knowledge Base within the ITSM platform for the client. On the other hand, if Knowledge Management is solely the responsibility of the client, service desk agents are limited to resolving only those issues that have been documented. And if the platform does not enable agent or team lead suggestions for new resolution procedures or feedback on current documentation, those potential service improvements are likewise thwarted.

In terms of reporting capabilities, it’s important to note that ACD and ITSM metrics are derived from distinct systems. In a client hosted ITSM scenario, the service desk outsourcing solution provider is merely tasked with ensuring the contact metrics are accurate while the client is responsible for the integrity of all ticket metrics. Since the client controls the ITSM tool, most reporting on ticket metrics is generated internally and delivered either on demand or in advance of monthly operational review meetings. As a result, the service desk team compiles a monthly reporting package detailing Service Level Agreements (SLAs), overall contact volume and performance along with additional analysis including volume by hour and percentage of contact type (voice, voicemail, chat, email, web) received. If the client’s ticket metrics are generated by a less than robust ticketing system that does not follow best practices of data management, service desk team leads are often forced to interpret the best course of action based on missing, incomplete or redundant CTI selections and resolution codes. Without this important foundation, accurate root cause analysis is often compromised making it difficult for client IT managers to understand and improve possible weak areas in its applications or infrastructure. Being able to capture and discern what data is important and present it in a meaningful way is how proper IT service Management adds value. It’s one thing to simply display a list of tickets submitted or closed, but what is far more valuable is understanding the cause and effect correlation between specific data points and the IT environment supported. From there, being able to recommend and enact remediation as part of a continual service improvement plan is ultimately why the service desk documents all incident management data in the first place. To achieve that, the selected ITSM platform must be properly developed by industry professionals and enable the service desk to follow ITIL best practices, to access and document data that matters, and encourage first point of contact collaboration on the knowledge base. If all of those fixings are brought to the party, it doesn’t matter so much who plays the host.