Service Desk Annual Trending Data Tells a Story

Now that 2016 is drawing to a close, many IT organizations are pulling back from the daily operational minutiae and are finally taking stock of their annual service desk metrics. Throughout the year monthly reviews are focused on short-term volume spikes that tend to stem more from technology disruptions such as network outages or fluctuations in hourly demand based on employee shifts. Those are incidental pages in the story, but they don’t necessarily comprise the overarching plot. By contrast, annual reviews are more geared towards long-term volume fluctuations that often coincide with changes in the IT environment, seasonal activities, and organizational growth. Big picture items finally get their due when reviewing service desk annual trending data. It depicts peaks and valleys throughout the life of the service desk solution, a statistical journey with those changes impacting the end users’ support needs.

When pointing to a sharp incline in the ticket trending graph, the first question to ask is “what new technology was being rolled out at the time?” Maybe it was Office 365 with unexpected compatibility issues, additional .pst file migration requests, or simply users learning to sort emails from conversation view. It’s the “growing pains” that lead to additional contacts at the service desk. Additional support requests can also be generated by companywide hardware upgrades such as new laptops. Even after desktop support technicians install or confirm the image and perform file transfers and configuration, end users frequently realize something is missing as relevant tasks arise. Whether it’s regaining network drive or printer access, application shortcuts, or reinstalling unique tools, those remote support afterthoughts are often directed to the service desk. No matter what caused the jump in volume, it eventually tapers off as end-user education and adoption of new processes is completed, system glitches patched, and application or plugin compatibility issues are resolved.

Other technology changes such as the implementation of a new ITSM platform or expansion of contact media can boost usage. If a prior solution included informal help desk processes such as walk-ups or direct calls to agents and technicians for support, service desk tickets aren’t as frequently documented. Monthly ticket volume would reflect that. But if the service desk institutes a first-point-of-contact policy and directs support requests through multiple channels such as voice, email, web form, and chat, chances are remotely dispersed employees will be more likely increase usage versus grabbing a neighbor. Assuming service quality is enhanced with remote agent availability, ticket volume will generate steam among the end user population with that added convenience of support options. As with any new highway or conduit, if you build it, they will come. At the same time, instituting a self-service policy including a tool for password resets or an end user portal for service requests should lead to a reduction in Level 1 incidents.

Healthcare industry enrollment periods create consistent patterns across an annual trend line even if overall volume may increase year to year. Similarly, educational institutions can point to similar patterns that coincide with student enrollment.  And across all industries, there tends to be a dip around the holidays assuming major IT-related changes aren’t introduced during that period. The below example depicts a sharp increase in service desk activity in November when health insurance employees were processing customer open enrollments with that volume nonetheless tapering off in December.

Line graph depicting monthly ticket volume for healthcare institutions in a year

Referring to the below chart, educational institutions have fairly obvious seasonal patterns that don’t require input from the Department of Statistics to explain; however, it does raise questions about how to set internal staffing levels at the service desk. Or when considering an outsourced, how would the potential vendor’s price down their service to accommodate predictable slow periods?

Line graph depicting monthly ticket volume in a year for educational institutions

Understandably, IT Managers close to the daily operations and changes in the environment rarely have an “aha moment” when executives question the cause and effect correlations in monthly volume fluctuations.  Along with the service desk team lead, they regularly scan ITSM metrics for root causes and configuration items and draw logical conclusions on a regular basis. So a mile-high, cause and effect review of those month to month peaks and valleys is ordinarily second nature. Taking the analysis further, those executive-level conversations regarding past activity are an ideal segue way into discussing overall progress, strategic planning, and upcoming initiatives starting with the New Year. Or, in keeping with the trending data story, it’s much easier to know where you’re going when you know where you’ve been.