I recently saw a report that stated 40% of employees no longer call the corporate IT service desk as the first point of contact for IT issues. Instead they turn to a trusted colleague to resolve their issues – the office “power user(s).” This has always happened, but as more Millennials, who were brought up with mobile devices glued to their hands, are introduced into the workforce we can safely assume this statistic will only rise. So, who are these people we are calling power users and why are business colleagues increasingly relying on them? And how will this impact the corporate IT department?

The changing IT support ecosystem

Our world and our workforce are changing. People’s expectations of services are now higher than ever and they expect instant results. When every office has a tech-savvy individual who understands the gravity of your IT issue, how it impacts your ability to work, and knows a solution – why would you bother calling the IT service desk, waiting in a queue, going through a logging procedure and a series of questions, to then have someone in IT prioritize your call?

So, if it’s easier not to contact the formal IT support capability, what impact will it have on the IT service desk? At first, we might jump on the fact that workloads will lighten and life might get easier for service desk agents – well, until job cuts appear – but the important issue for me is that:

If you can’t see 40% of what’s going on and what’s being “fixed,” how can you eliminate problems and improve your service delivery?

Dealing with the challenge and opportunity of peer-to-peer support

At the 2016 IT in the Park event we asked our audience how they intended to address the challenge of peer-to-peer support. The graph below shows the responses:

Power UsersIt shows that over 75% of IT departments intended to address the issue by improving their self-service portal. If you can enhance your facilities to a level where end users feel that they are “jumping the queue” and getting the result they need quickly, then it will improve the situation. However, I suspect that this was by far the most popular choice because IT simply can’t see a better way of handling the challenge.

There was an even mix of people using additional channels into the service desk such as Twitter and Facebook or using collaboration tools. However only 25% of respondents indicated that they were embracing the concept of power users and 20% said that they actively discouraged this type of behavior. Speaking with respondents, these people felt that power users were actually causing more issues than they were resolving. After which IT simply had to pick up the mess.

But peer-to-peer support, like BYOD, can’t realistically be prevented

When our panel of IT service management (ITSM) experts were later asked about peer-to-peer support, they unanimously said that it was here to stay and should be embraced.

So peer-to-peer support is a challenge that will only get bigger and we haven’t even brought in the complications of Shadow IT yet, where it’s becoming easier for employees to purchase SaaS subscriptions and start doing their own thing. And before we know it we have a department of 20 staff relying on a tool that IT doesn’t even know about, let alone support. Although, in my experience, IT tends to find out when an end user gets really stuck and needs to call the service desk for help.

Is the answer really power users?

In many cases this just doesn’t make sense. Do you really want to encourage lawyers, doctors, or indeed any other highly-paid professionals to start supporting themselves and draw time away from the job they are employed to do? It already happens and I know this because my partner is a doctor. But do we really want to encourage this?

Then we have the “power pains” – the people who love to fiddle with technology and have just enough knowledge to nearly fix things. Having spent my early years working on service desks, the thought of encouraging these people to fiddle even more scares me.

So we have two strikes for the concept of power users. However, where we already have someone helping out and they appear to be doing a good job (at an appropriate level of pay grade and without it inferring with their role) then by all means let’s encourage them and get them into the fold. We can also seek volunteers, with those in remote locations prime candidates – as surely these are the people who feel most detached from IT?

Perhaps we should get out there too?

I recently watched a presentation where St. Andrews University relocated their service desk staff to halls of residence, during its hyper-busy fresher’s week, to help new students with on-boarding. It’s a simple concept but one that I think could be adopted and extended to: break down barriers and provide a better service for everyone, keep IT informed about what’s going on in the outside world, and give our business and end users representation within IT.

If we look to best practice, we’ll see the concept of an “IT steering group.” By definition, this includes representatives from the business, but isn’t this a case of you must come to the mountain if you want to see us and by-the-way we’re scheduling the meetings? Perhaps we should look at something a little less heavy duty?

A simple approach to better engagement and more appropriate power users 

  1. Identify your power users. Make sure they are competent, not senior members of staff, and – most importantly – want to get involved. Promote these individuals as local representatives for the business and as an “IT buddy” (or a similar, more appropriate name – let’s drop the whole power user thing).
  2. Place IT staff within business departments. They will learn a great deal by being closer to the business, see what’s going on (including shadow IT), understand the challenges and impact of issues, and can represent the business needs to the IT department as an IT buddy.
  3. Introduce a concept similar to doctor’s rounds or clinics. Where IT staff or an IT buddy visits departments on a regular basis to becomes a trusted advisor and voice for that department.

As to starting, why don’t you just get out there and meet some people? I bet in a lot of cases they’re just beyond a glass wall. Finally, I’d be really interested to hear from anyone taking this type of, or alternative, approach to power users.

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Over 30 years ago Martin joined Mitsubishi Electric’s Technical Services Group working on their Help Desk. He went on to manage the team and even created a basic service desk tool in DB2 before ‘real’ products were available. Since then he has been a product specialist, implementation consultant, trainer and project manager. He then moved into Account Management and Sales with Royal Blue/Touchpaper/LANDesk and worked on some of the largest, award winning, service desk software implementations in the UK. Nowadays Martin is the Events Director at it500 Ltd running events such as IT in the Park, plus other ITSM conferences in Scotland and can be found regularly blogging on LinkedIn. He also holds an MSc in IT and is in the process of writing a couple of books.
  • royatkinson

    Great points all, Martin. Power users can really be great friends of the support team. In my prior job, we identified these power users and drew them into pilot projects, made sure they were aware of changes coming, and counted on them to be the local go-to help, as well as great sources of feedback for improvement. Many of these people are real experts in applications they use every day, and attract questions anyway.

    People will ask people they trust, and the person in the next cubicle may be trusted far above the IT service desk.

    • martin mckenna

      Roy, Thanks for the feedback. Interesting to know where folk have already had success with what is really a pretty simple action. I particularly like the idea of getting these guys involved in pilot projects. Another 3 blogs to come so watch this space 😉