Service Desk Solution Development Part 2: Effective Alignment of Resources & Workflows
To get an accurate picture of the current state of IT support, Managed Service Providers need to start with some probing, assessment related questions. First, how many agents support the current service desk?
Although it’s a fairly straightforward question, it can be a loaded one when juxtaposed with monthly ticket volume, often revealing a multitude of sins related to workforce management, agent utilization, and whether or not the current solution is as efficient as it could be. A smoothly run IT operation designates tier 1 service desk agents as the first point of contact for remotely resolvable end-user support incidents, enabling high utilization so agents can handle up to 1,000 support tickets a month. By contrast, an organization that is using 20 IT staff members to manage 5,000 tickets a month will raise some eyebrows when evaluating the current solution. When the numbers don’t add up, the solution development team will do some operational sleuthing when reviewing the monthly metrics and try to account for the disconnect between the numbers and the complete IT support story. Sometimes there’s merely a discrepancy of definitions with organizations using the term service desk or help desk agent interchangeably with desktop technicians or network administrators because they’re all wearing those multiple hats. Either way, the lack of role specialization can be an indicator of a poorly conceived IT support workflow.
For smaller companies with one office and a dozen or so end users, it makes sense to have a versatile “IT guy” who can handle everything from password resets to hardware and software provisioning to network administration. But larger corporations that apply this workflow model to hundreds or thousands of end users do so at their peril. If their staff share equal time between tier 1 and tier 2 or even tier 3 duties, they will see productivity and utilization suffer and, along with it, end-user satisfaction. For example, if tier 1 agents are away from their desk performing workstation deployments that would ideally be assigned to a tier 2 technician, they will likely be shorthanded at tier 1 and unable to answer calls from end users in the interim. Any organization that employs staff for multiple roles and tracks the abandon rate or Average Speed to Answer will see those numbers spike during low availability periods of tier 1 agents.
Multipurpose staff also tend to be in constant flux between a diverse set of IT support disciplines which can lead to inefficient workflow and low utilization. This is simply by virtue of the time it takes to recover and shift focus between incident management troubleshooting and desktop or infrastructure related projects. Blended roles can also have profoundly adverse impacts on employee retention and costs. Compared to a tier 1 only service desk agent who can knock out incident resolutions one after the other from their desk, IT professionals who have to shift gears between end-user support and long-term projects are going to be far less efficient from a sheer utilization and productivity standpoint. In addition, using highly compensated employees to perform low-level tasks is not only financial wasteful for obvious reasons, but can lead to high turnover when those skilled professionals are not technically challenged on a regular basis. Without that alignment of skill set and job function, those improperly utilized professionals may end up honing their career prospects elsewhere.
Another factor that figures heavily in workflow efficiency is how and where IT support requests are initiated and the resolution delivered. In a dystopian operation, IT staff not only share equal time between tier 1 and tier 2 or tier 3 duties but conduct troubleshooting tasks from geographically dispersed locations using various formal and informal communication medium. Here’s a scary, but all too common a support scenario:
IT Technician Kelly receives a call at her desk on the fifth floor from Hal in accounting complaining about the poor print quality of his LaserJet. Kelly creates a ticket in the ITSM platform, assigns it to herself, grabs a toner cartridge for the LaserJet from the supply room on the second floor, and heads to Hal’s desktop on the third floor. On the way, she is stopped by Joe who has forgotten his Outlook password. Kelly tells him she’ll reset it when she returns to her desk, makes a mental note, and continues on to the third floor. She installs a new toner cartridge in Hal’s printer and luckily the test prints are ok. She heads back to her desk intending to close Hal’s ticket, but since she first opened it, there has been a backlog of voicemails left for the team and Kelly, set to available status, handles the next one in the queue. It’s an end user complaining that they’ve waited 15 minutes for an answer. Kelly apologizes and begins troubleshooting the issue. The day gets away from her. She has left Hal’s ticket open and forgotten to reset Joe’s password.
It doesn’t have to be that way, but it often is.
As previously stated, a preferred service desk solution engages remote tier 1 agents as the first point of contact for incident management and resolution, only escalating tickets that require a higher tiered skill set or hands-on troubleshooting to the on-site staff. Think of it as a resolution assembly line or an incident complexity filtration system. In that first point of contact role, the remote tier 1 team filters out the low hanging fruit, troubleshooting and resolving standard support issues within roughly 10 minutes, and only passing down the line more complex, time-consuming tickets or those that require an on-site presence. In an efficient operational scenario, technical specialists only receive escalated tickets that have been thoroughly triaged and documented and determined to be in their wheelhouse in terms of chosen career and skill set. Likewise, for on-site resolutions, tier 1 agents can escalate tickets to the desktop team responsible for a specific location, campus, or geographic radius. An efficient workflow will minimize the travel time back and forth between desks by dispatching nearby tier 2 technicians for hardware related break/fix issues only when absolutely necessary.
To summarize, the most efficiently run IT solution incorporates the following elements:
- Skill sets and compensation aligned with duties performed
- Number of resources aligned with workload (ticket volume)
- Separation of responsibilities in the workflow from tier 1 through tier 3
- Increased proficiency through specialization/recurring support items
- High utilization: speed to engage in troubleshooting through separation of remote and on-site tasks