Building a Better IT Service Desk, Revisited

A while back–a few years ago actually–Kinetic Data president John Sundberg wrote an article for SupportWorld magazine titled 5 Steps to a Better Service Desk. The article was later posted on the Kinetic Data website, where it got an initial surge of visitors and then continued to attract a modest number of readers month after month.

Then something interesting happened. Visits to the article page roughly quadrupled between December 2011 and March 2012 (from 32 to 124). And they kept increasing, doubling over the next two months then doubling again by August 2012, to 509 visits. Pageviews topped 1,000 last November, and exceeded 1,200 in April 2013, making this article one of the most-read pages on the site, along with the home page and the IT service management glossary page.

Improving the IT Service DeskWhy? First, the page has struck a chord with searchers. Roughly 85% of visits to the article are the result of people searching for terms like “help desk improvement plan,” “service desk improvement ideas” and “how to improve a service desk.” Technology is vital to business success, and as the corporate IT landscape has become more complex due to trends like BYOD and mobile workers, managers need to adapt to support workers’ increasingly reliance on technology.

Second, despite rapid technological change, much of the guidance in the article is timeless. For example, among the recommendations are:

Use surveys and metrics to support continual improvement. “When patterns surface—through survey results, complaints, or service desk personnel—it’s time to kick into improvement mode. That means amending staffing (training/coaching/replacement), process (create a workaround or a new process for performing a specific function), technology (develop a fix), or a blend of these areas. What’s important to keep in mind with respect to continuous improvement is that after the change is implemented, metrics must be monitored for signals that the change resolved the issue.”

Shorten and simplify improvement projects. “The most common reason that improvement projects stretch beyond initial time estimates is waiting for the new process to be totally complete before using it. It makes good sense to start testing early, on a limited basis, to find out what works and what doesn’t. In an innovative culture, communication sets the stage for an early introduction that will expose problems and mistakes and enable quick corrective action. It’s better to implement half of a solution that solves part of the problem (and yields some benefit) than to wait an inordinate amount of time to solve the entire problem.”

Use hiring, training and communication to create a culture of innovation. “One of the clearest indicators of success is a high level of enthusiasm about a project—within the service desk team, throughout the company, and across the external user audience. Before and during a project, promote the benefits that will impact internal and external customers. Provide updates through a regular report or newsletter to rally the troops.”

There’s no question that specific help desk practices have changed significantly over the past half-dozen years, as smartphones have proliferated and their capabilities have expanded while the expectations of business users have continued to evolve for mobile and remote support.

The core principles of improvement, however–such the importance of measurement, simplification, and celebrating successes–remain as relevant to the IT service desk today as ever.

Learn more with these white papers:

Using Service Catalogs to Run IT As a Business (Not Like a Business)

Say Goodbye to the IT Service Management Queue

What is this “Level 0” thing? (Part 2): Knowledge, Self-Analysis and Feedback

Tools of the Trade (Part 2)

A Vision From Down Under
By Michael Poole

In my last blog, I mentioned a major client who is ‘shifting to the left’ and implementing ‘Level 0’ methods.

For those who missed my last blog, in short, ‘Level 0’ is the process of enabling users to resolve their own incidents and requests.

Obviously, one way of implementing ‘Level 0’ is to shut off the phone lines and email addresses of the Help Desk. A very effective way of getting users involved in the process, but not one I would recommend to anyone wanting a long future in an organisation. Of course, sometimes we implement this method by under-resourcing our support teams – but that is the subject for another blog.

To implement ‘Level 0’, users have to have the information available to them to resolve issues as they arise. So how do we give these to them.

There are a number of tools available.

The Knowledge

It has been famed around the world that London cabbies spend years “doing the knowledge” — learning every street, lane, theatre, hospital and pub in London — before they can sit for the exam to obtain a cab licence. Do we need to ensure that before any person joins the organisation they have an intimate knowledge of computer hardware, software, networking etc.?

No, because now, they can be like today’s Sydney cabbies who avoid “the knowledge” by having a SatNav or GPS system in the cab. Our users’ SatNav can be a Knowledge Base.

The move to implementing “KCS” or Knowledge Centred Support has been going for a number of years, but for many organisations, this has been limited to building knowledge bases directed at and only available to the support team — not the user. With the development of Web 2.0+, users are becoming more accustomed to “googling” for solutions and answers and also using self-help resources that are a part of the major social media sites. I admit, in doing these blogs, I have often consulted the blog site’s help pages and Support Forums.

So KCS is one of the tools that can be deployed as part of the “shift to the left.” But to do this, we have to make sure that we develop our KCS articles, not for computer engineers, or if we are deploying across an enterprise , HR experts or accountants etc, but for the average user and common issues.


No, I’m not becoming Tony Robbins — all “SHAMish” (Self Help and Actualisation Movement) — perish the thought — or bringing Freud onto the Help Desk — even though at times he might be useful in dealing with users, but more IKEA!

The results of some IKEA assembly projects might belie the concept — but I assume that they have more successes than failures through the step-by-step self-assembly process.

A few — well maybe many — years ago, I was involved in a project that required me to have what is called an “Assumed Rank” in the Australian Armed Services. I made Colonel for a month — the duration of the contract — but thankfully did not have to do the physical, wear a drab khaki uniform, bear arms or be saluted. But I did get into the Officers’ Mess and people had to answer my questions in a respectful way, but that is past. What I did get to find out was how the most complex maintenance and repair processes for a fighter jet could be broken down into simple steps and documented so that even I could have replaced, as an instance, the wiring loom on an F-111 or the laser-guidance system. The “repair manual” — and it was all hard-copy — was contained in a room-full of filing cabinets and needed a librarian to keep it in order and up-to-date. This of course was an extension of the production line methodology introduced by Henry Ford at his eponymous company to make the most complex consumer engineering  product of the day — the motor car — with relatively unskilled workers. Other car makers of the time were using skilled engineers and coach-makers to make one car at a time.

As the makers of the F-111 and Henry Ford knew, every process can be broken down to simple steps and delivered in an appropriate way to produce a complex result. For Ford this was a car; for General Dynamics it was the F-111 repair manual; for us this can be a fault-finding and resolution process.

In fact for the client mentioned above, we implemented such a system — a fault-finding process that enables staff with little or no technical knowledge to analyse and, in over 30% of cases, resolve issues with lap-tops ranging from OS to wireless network issues through a series of simple steps that relied on the answers to a number of questions and test activities that they could understand and carry out.

So another tool in the “Level 0” process, is intelligent and responsive self-analysis and resolution tools. What is sometimes called an “expert system.”

Information, Contribution, Monitoring & Feedback

Implementing “Level 0” also requires openness of information and a positive response to user feedback.

Users should be given every opportunity to be a part of the process.

Where KCS is implemented, users should be able to rate and suggest improvements to KCS articles and guides and also author and submit new KCS articles. As well as providing another source of input into the KCS system, users will develop a group ownership of the KCS system and its acceptance will be more easily gained.

This is also true of any self-analysis and resolution process. A network engineer may be able to define the step-by-step process for resetting a head-end switch, but it may take some input from an end-user to enunciate the process in easily understood vocabulary or point out areas that need better definition.

Users must also be contribute to the areas that need to be covered in the KCS or self-service system. What the experts think are trivial matters, may be a source of confusion to users.

Access to monitoring information in a easily understandable format can reduce calls on the Service Desk. If users know that a system is down for maintenance then they have no need to log a call.

And of course feedback to users is essential when they make a contribution or highlight an area that needs better coverage.

In part 3, I will look at ways to integrate these tools into web-based portals that can be deployed to users.





Eliciting Requirements for a Successful IT Project

By Greg Johnson

If we built houses instead of technology solutions, would your project sound like this?

Dear Mr. Architect,

Please design and build me a house. I am not quite sure of what I need, so you should use your discretion based on what works for other people.

My house should have between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such that the bedrooms can be easily added or removed.

As you design, also keep in mind that I want to go green as much as possible. This should mean the incorporation of sustainable, earth friendly materials. (If you choose not to use hemp in the insulation, be prepared to explain your decision in detail.)

I’m sure I can trust your expertise and professionalism. Be alerted, however, that the kitchen should be designed to accommodate, among other things, my 1952 Gibson refrigerator.

To ensure that you are building the correct house for our entire family, make sure that you contact each of our children and also our in-laws. My mother-in-law will have strong feelings about how the house should be designed, since she visits us at least once a year. Make sure that you weigh all of these options carefully and come to the right decision. I, however, retain the right to overrule any choices that you make.

Please don’t bother me with small details right now. Your job is to develop the overall plans for the house—get the big picture?

Also, do not worry about acquiring the resources to build the house itself. Your first priority is to develop detailed plans and specifications. Once I approve these plans however, I would expect the blueprint delivered within a week.

While you are designing this house specifically for me, keep in mind that sooner or later I will have to sell it to someone else. Therefore, it should appeal to a wide variety of potential buyers. Please make sure before you finalize the plans that there is a consensus of the population in my area that they like the features of this house. Oh, and the turret shaped corner on the front is a must have!

I advise you to look at my neighbor’s house constructed last year. We like it a great deal. It has many features that we would like in our new home, particularly the 75-foot swimming pool. With careful engineering, I believe that you can design this into our new house without impacting the final cost.

Please prepare a complete set of blueprints. It is not necessary at this time to do the real design, since they will be used only for construction bids. Be advised, however, that you will be held accountable for any increase of construction costs as a result of later design changes.

You must be thrilled to be working on an interesting project like this! To be able to use the latest techniques and materials and to be given such freedom in your designs is something that can’t happen very often. Contact me as soon as possible with your complete ideas and plans.

PS: My wife has just told me that she disagrees with many of the instructions I’ve given you in this letter. As architect, it is your responsibility to resolve these differences. I have tried in the past and have been unable to accomplish this. If you can’t handle this responsibility, I will have to find another architect.

PPS: Maintenance free is the way to go. i.e., why should I have to turn “on” the dishwasher? Shouldn’t it know when it’s full?


Yes, Mr. Architect should run; not walk away from this one but we don’t always have that option, do we? Many of us only have the one customer, so we have to find a way to elicit our requirements in a way that makes the project successful.

Elicit isn’t a common word, but it’s important to use because we are talking about going beyond mere requirements “gathering”. If we only gathered the requirements we would take what is given at face value and start building something. In order to elicit, we must go further to reach a common understanding with the customer that sets the expectations in a documented way.

Start with People

Starting with where this project is coming from, you probably know who your customer is. From there you can identify the stakeholders by asking who is it for, who is affected by it, who will use it, who’s in charge of it and who needs to know about it. You will want to set up interviews with those key stakeholders who have information you need, or have authority to make decisions for others. Interviewing also gives you a chance to identify conflicting ideas and set reasonable technical expectations. Another good idea is to get the stakeholders together for a brainstorming session. This process is a science of its own but the goal is to narrow things down so that everyone is more or less on the same page going forward.

Use Cases

Once you have your input from all the stakeholders, it’s a good idea to walk through the process by documenting informal use cases. Make sure you encourage your stakeholders not to get too caught up in the technology at this point, but to write down each case like a story. Getting people to think about a use case helps flesh out other requirements and refines the business process.


Most technology projects are severely lacking in this area and that’s too bad because it really helps nail down requirements. I suppose it’s because customers don’t want to pay for it and developers don’t want to spend time on something that’s just going to get scrapped later. As a developer, I admit I’m not too keen on it either but consider this—when you have a customer that doesn’t know what they want, this helps them get there. They may need to use the new software (with its associated process changes) before they discover additional valuable functionality and features. If the software itself isn’t available, just mocking up some screen shots might be adequate. Prototyping also helps identify those oversights the customer didn’t include so that they don’t turn up in UAT.  You’ve never had that happen, have you?

Assessing Feasibility

This is a two-pronged review process, which involves both customer and developer.  The customer’s task is to review the business process to make sure the requirements will meet the business goals. At this point it may be useful for them to review their business plan, market analysis, and other documents to determine if this project fits within that framework.

The developer looks at the project’s requirements to see if it’s feasible based on the technology available. It may be necessary to pull in other products or people and make the customer aware of this so they can let go of certain requirements if the cost is too high.


Once your requirements are all pulled together, it’s time to write them all down for all to review and ponder. The main purpose of requirements documentation is so that everyone knows what to expect going forward. You and the customer will probably find yourselves referring back to them as the project moves along, so take the time to be thorough and clear. From your perspective, you want to minimize scope creep. If you think of anything that you’re not sure needs to be written down, write it down anyway. Sometimes it’s helpful to also include what things are NOT included so that it can be there for reference later.

Now that you have elicited your requirements, take a step back and reflect on what you’ve accomplished. Do you feel good about it? If so you have laid the foundation for a smart and successful project!

Personalizing Kinetic Calendar

By Derick Larson

Kinetic Calendar is possibly my favorite product—and not just because we get fewer support calls. Kinetic Calendar gives you an entirely new way to view your Remedy data and opens it up to a much wider audience.

The most common question about Kinetic Calendar is how to let customers view the events they want without making multiple calendars. The idea is to give the customer a lot of data and let them “filter” down to what is important to them. This lets you have one main calendar that customers can personalize for their own requirements.

For example, you have one change management calendar that multiple departments use to view their changes. You could create multiple calendars, but that is limiting if a customer wants to see the changes for multiple departments. Filtering lets the customer personalize the calendar, without requiring you to make any changes to the actual calendar definition.

Filtering is done two ways.

First, there is an event type for a calendar called Filtered that lets you select fields (from the BMC Remedy form you are using for your data) for your customers to filter the individual events. You can set the order of the fields and even set a default. The fields are listed along the top of the web display of the calendar for the customer to choose.

The second method allows you to put parts of your qualification in the URL that is used to display the calendar. You have to build your own web page to collect the parameters and call the URL (Kinetic Request and Kinetic Survey are perfect for this), but you can really add to your customers experience by letting them make selections before the calendar is displayed. This method uses a feature called Parameter Values, and can be combined with the filters.

Combining the two methods together allows you to present very informative and personalized views into your own BMC Remedy data. For example, a service provider could see events by one or multiple companies, or their customers can be limited to just their own tickets, but still have the ability to filter based on other criteria like priority, status or assigned to group.

Let us know what cool things you’ve done with Kinetic Calendar—we love to share ideas and experiences with our customers.

So You Want to Change the Out-Of-The-Box Workflow or Forms?

By Derick Larson

So you love our Kinetic Data products (of course), but there is this one thing that your customers are asking for that means you might have to alter the out-of-the-box workflow or forms.

What Now?

Have no fear. Remember that behind the scenes Kinetic Request, Kinetic Survey, and Kinetic Calendar are all built on BMC Remedy, a configurable automation system. Using the Remedy Administrator Tool or Developer Studio (depending on your version of Remedy) you have total control to change the application to suit your customers’ needs.

While this sounds great, even easy, there are a couple things that you want to watch out for.

Upgrades and Patches

Every time you upgrade or patch the application, there is the possibility of our updates overwriting your customizations. It is very important that you track and record all of your customizations so you can setup the application the way you (and your customers) want it.

Migrating Environments

Just like after an upgrade, if you migrate a Kinetic Data application from one environment to another, your changes need to be accounted for. Most customers mark any workflow changes with either a unique character (*, = or +) or a standard abbreviation pre-pended to the name. Forms are a little harder to notate changes, and may require a separate document.

What are “Normal” Customizations?

Over the years we have learned that there are not many customizations needed in either Kinetic Request or Kinetic Survey. Almost the entire interface with customers is done through the Service Items or Survey Templates. However, there are a few that are popular:

  • Removing Delete Options—this includes removing or disabling the delete buttons for templates and catalogs
  • Changing Access using BMC Remedy Permissions—often done to open up access to the BMC Remedy Administrator links to Configuration, Integration Manager and Report Manager
  • Adding Custom Workflow for Submitted Templates—Not a true customization to the product, but we do provide a specific filter guide for filters that need to fire when a template is submitted. The guide is called “KS_SRV_CustSurveyResultsJoin_RunCustomLogic”

If you and your customers think your customization of the product is coolhey! We might too. Let us know of any interesting changes to the product and they may end up in the next version.

As always, feel free to contact Kinetic Data support with any questions or comments about customizations or any other topic.

So…You’re New to Kinetic Request, Kinetic Survey and Kinetic Calendar!

By Derick Larson

We love new customers (no surprise there), because new customers always have the most questions. Here are some of our most common questions from new customers—generally about installs—and some answers.

Q. What version(s) of BMC Remedy do you work with?
A. Kinetic Request and Kinetic Survey are compatible with BMC Remedy ARS 6.3 through the current Remedy ARS release (Version 7.6.4 as I’m writing this). Kinetic Calendar is compatible back to Remedy ARS 6.0.

Q. What operating systems do you work with?
A. We will work with anything that BMC Remedy runs on, including Windows, Linux, and a variety of Unix platforms (like Solaris, AIX and HP-Unix).

Q. What web server applications do you work with?
A. The vast majority of our customers use Apache Tomcat. We also have customers using ServlerExec, and WebSphere. We have had customers using Web Logic, but they have moved to Apache Tomcat.

Q. Do you need special permissions (BMC Remedy or otherwise) to complete an install?
A. The person doing the Remedy install needs to have Remedy Administrator credentials to use during the install. The person doing the web server install should have all access permissions to the web server directories.

Q. How long does an install take?
A. It depends on which product. Kinetic Calendar typically takes less than a day. Kinetic Survey typically takes 1-2 days to get installed and hooked into your processes. Kinetic Request typically takes up to 5 days to install and get all the samples working properly. Once the products are installed—it is normal to then have some sort of project/consulting to make surveys that address your business goals or requests that solve your business problems/initiatives.

Some great ways to really mess up and delay an install include: 1) Don’t show up to meetings for the install—no really, happens more than you think. 2) Outsource the web server to company A, BMC Remedy to company B, management of IT to company C (hey if it hadn’t happened we wouldn’t put it on the list).
3) Don’t give permissions to the server/web server that the software is installed on.

Q. Can I get the installation guide so I can prepare for my install?
A. Absolutely! It is available on our web site at:

Q. Besides the BMC Remedy version are there any other requirements to run your software?
A. The only other requirement we have is a minimum version of Java, specifically the 32-bit Java Development Kit (JDK) 1.5 or greater.

That covers most of the common questions we get in support from new customers. If you have any specific questions, please contact us directly at

When Is It Time to Upgrade?

By Derick Larson

Two weeks ago Kinetic Request and Kinetic Survey released its most recent patch (v5.02). The most common support question I recieve about upgrades includes, “Do I have to upgrade?”  Normally, the answer is, “No.”

I always hope that customers will keep up with the latest version of our applications, but it is not required. Please note, there are  no versions of our product(s) that are unsupported. Upgrading, especially major releases, can involve a considerable amount of time and effort in testing and verifying your functionality. The only reason I actively encourage customers to upgrade is to take advantage of a specific feature or bug fix that directly relates to their situation.

The benefits of upgrading depend on the specifics of the upgrade itself. Specifics are found in the release notes included in the upgrade package. The most current release notes also contain details for all past upgrades and releases.

Examples of features included in our latest release, Kinetic Request and Kinetic Survey (v5.02) include:

• Added ability for task trees to run for approval submissions
• Added a differences report when importing over already existing templates
• Updated pattern matching for Time/Date field
• Updated documentation to reference 32 bit requirements
• Better compatibility with mid-tier

Upgrades are broken down into two parts, Remedy workflow and form changes and web server changes. You will need to use the Remedy Admin Tool/Developer Studio and possibly the Import tool for any Remedy changes. For web server updates it is normally just a copy/paste over the current web application directory.

Have questions about your own upgrade process? Feel free to contact us.

Support Vision

Questions, Questions, Questions
By Derick Larson

What do you expect when you call support? Do you typically just have a “How do I…?” question. Has your customer asked you to add an enhancement? Have you heard about an upgrade and want to know what’s included?

When you call support, we ask a lot of questions. We ask questions to try and figure out what’s wrong. Asking questions is part of our diagnostic process. We use the answers to narrow down options and present solutions.

The next time you have to call support—or even better, when you don’t have to call support—take the opportunity to ask us questions about our products. We’re always happy to explain how a new feature works, or how we’ve seen other customers use Kinetic Data applications.

A great example of this is the new Kinetic Task Engine that comes bundled with Kinetic Request, Version 5. While we offer a couple of classes on the Kinetic Task Engine (shameless plug—Kinetic Data’s Training Schedule), it may be awhile before customers can get up to speed with configuring and using the new features. While you ask questions about issues you may have with the Kinetic Task Engine, please ask us questions about how you could use it and how other customers are using it.

My name is Derick Larson and I’m one of the folks providing support and training to users of the various Kinetic Data products.