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4 ways to optimize IT service delivery and support

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Doug Tedder, Principal Consultant, Tedder Consulting LLC

"How can we do more with less?" This was one of the big questions that many attendees were asking at the recent HDI Conference and Expo, which focuses on IT service and support.

In the opening session of the conference, HDI—which provides related research and services—shared its research findings regarding the top 10 goals and challenges of support organizations. 

Three of the top 10 findings were about optimization:

  • No. 1: Managing an increased workload with existing staff (doing more with less)
  • No. 4: Increasing analyst productivity and efficiency
  • No. 7: Consistently measuring and improving customer satisfaction

It's a challenge that is top-of-mind for many IT organizations: How to optimize service delivery and support. The conference provided some answers, as several breakout sessions, industry experts, and IT service management (ITSM) solution providers shared insights on how to optimize service delivery and support.

Here are four ways to optimize your IT service delivery and support.

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1. Use automation

Process automation applies the use of technology to execute a procedure with little or no human intervention. Automation done well can improve delivery and support while reducing long-term costs. 

In one conference breakout session a large soft-drink company disclosed how it improved service support by leveraging automation to identify repeat callers, identify end-user hardware configurations, and proactively identify when an end user had been locked out of an application. Not only did the company reduce call volumes and save time, but it also increased end-user satisfaction.

[ Also see: How to take an architectural approach to IT automation ]

2. Implement chatbots

A chatbot is a program that conducts a conversation with a end user by way of text message or audio. Service desks often use chatbots as a channel for end users needing issue resolution or for customers making requests for services. This all happens at the end user's convenience, without the need for human interaction by the service desk.

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3. Shift left

"Shift left" continues to be a prevalent approach for optimizing delivery and support for many organizations. It requires moving support closer to the point of consumption—for example, moving support from L3 resources to L1 resources, or from L1 to the end user.

But many organizations are struggling to make the shift, said Akhil Sahai, Symphony SummitAI's chief product officer.

"We're finding that IT organizations are spending too much time resolving issues at too senior of a skill set within the organization. This results in higher cost of operations." 
Akhil Sahai

Done well, a shift left can both drive down costs and, in many cases, improve services and user satisfaction. 

4. Adopt self-help/self-service

If an end user can resolve an issue or fulfill a request, that can be a win-win for both the organization and the IT department.

John Custy, a managing consultant at JPC Group, provided some advice. Self-service "is 'case-not-tracked' in too many situations, which increases customer costs and decreases customer satisfaction."

Instead, he said, self-service needs to "drive continual service improvement," such as reducing the number of issues customer have. 

[ Also see: How to rethink your ITSM service design process ]

What's in your way?

Many IT organizations run into significant challenges when optimizing service delivery and support. Here are some factors that can stop progress. 

Lack of good knowledge management

"Knowledge management is critical, but too often knowledge management is viewed as technology-driven, [and] not as a practice, where process is needed.”
John Custy

Good knowledge management practices result in relevant and consumable knowledge that can be used across the organization, not just by consumers or the service desk. Good knowledge management practices are key for helping to shift left, for example, from L2/L3 to L1 and to the end user. 

Poorly or informally defined processes

Designing well-defined processes, combined with regular periodic reviews, is another key to optimization, said Tracy Roche, ITxM sales manager for Ivanti.

"Good processes are still required, but organizations must recognize that those processes may cross the 'IT boundary.'"
Tracy Roche

No formal approach to continual improvement

Another breakout session featured how a large Midwestern university leveraged lean IT to successfully launch and sustain a continual improvement program. This program not only benefits the IT organization, but also students and the university as a whole. 

"Continual improvement has to be a balance between the customer, employee, and organization."
—John Custy

More organizations are doing this, he said, but it's still a relatively low percentage and it's "often still driven by cost reduction." Organizations must address or remove any problems, and not just move them to self-service. 

The need to raise staff skill sets

It is sometimes difficult for people in IT organizations to "give up the human interaction when automating tedious and repetitious work, Ivanti's Roche said. "They like working with end users." 

But as the mind-numbing work shifts away from the support organization, that doesn't mean that there won’t be anything for support people to do. Developing effective and relevant knowledge, and configuring and maintaining chatbots, are just some of the new things support personnel can and should do in the future. But this can happen only after organizations invest in training.

Tips for optimizing

Here are pointers from industry experts on how to optimize your IT service delivery and support.

Recognize there are no silver bullets 

There are no instant fixes. But when it comes to optimization, doing nothing is not an option, either. "Stop looking outside the organization for silver-bullet solutions," said Roy Atkinson, HDI's senior writer/analyst. Adopt practices "if and only if they fit the needs of the organization. Nothing is universal."

Start from where you are

Nancy VE Louisnord, president of TOPDesk USA, a services-management software provider, urges objectively reviewing the maturity of ITSM processes. Are they delivering the right results? Are IT services meeting the business need? What is causing pain with the use of IT services and support?

"Understanding where you are from a maturity perspective is a challenge for many organizations."
Nancy VE Louisnord

Start optimization efforts there.

Have a plan

There will always be more to do than resources to do it with. Having a plan that includes how optimizations will be identified, prioritized, and funded provides measurability, drives buy-in, and establishes authority.

Define success and establish targets

Defining what success looks like and the measurable targets that indicate success helps align people and their efforts toward optimization.

Get commitment, and the resources to follow through on it 

Good intentions don't pay the bills, nor do they result in optimization. The need to optimize service delivery and support never ends. Change and improvement do not happen without commitment.

Focus on the customer

Focus on the customer perspective. Understand their pain before doing something, Louisnord said.

Don't skip the periodic reviews 

Periodic reviews are a useful tool, said HDI's Atkinson. "Make a journey map for pretty much everything. What happens after x happens? What is the next step, and the next? Ask, 'Why are we doing that?' If the answer isn't good enough, abolish that step."

Don't get distracted by bright shiny objects 

Technology can and does help with optimization, but only if the right ITSM foundation is in place.

Invest the time and effort

If optimization is going to happen, the organization must commit to doing it.

"Does [optimization] take time and effort? Yes. Who said this was easy?" 
Roy Atkinson

As an example, one breakout session featured how a large aircraft manufacturer began its optimization initiative in 2011—and it's not done. But contact volumes have decreased by 43%—from 1.2 million to 550,000—costs have been reduced by 40%, and customer satisfaction has improved by 4%. 

Finally, remember: optimization is not a one-and-done activity.

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