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.

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