Last year I saw those innovative guys at Freshworks getting Alexa to run an IT service desk report (and other things), and a couple of weeks ago I saw something very similar from ServiceNow. This has led me to predict that 2018 will see voice-based interface as a must have in every IT service management (ITSM) tool demo – and I’m pretty sure that this is going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong this is all very clever, and I’m impressed, but what’s the point (of virtual assistants for the IT service desk)?

My Short History of “Voice as an Interface”

When I first got my Apple iPhone I would ask Siri what the weather was like. The novelty lasted about two days.

I quickly realized that this was a complete waste of my time as I could take in far more information by instead simply looking at the BBC weather app on my phone. The same is surely true for service desk reports – if I already have real-time dashboards and automated notifications, I don’t need Alexa (or any other virtual assistant) to run a report.

It reminds me of all those ITSM tool self-service-portal demos where I could order a new PC. This isn’t something that I do every day, and the reality is that many corporate employees probably won’t actually get to choose their new device from a lovely menu with pictures of shiny kit. They’ll just get issued a refurbished unit from the stock cupboard.

Virtual Assistants and Service Desk Efficiency

So, can Alexa (or Siri if you prefer) help organizations to run a more efficient IT service desk and are there some obvious practical use cases?

I think that the first observation to make is that what we are asking Alexa to do here is to perform a task, i.e. run a report. Whereas what I believe we should be doing is asking a question and getting an intelligent response.

For example, if I’m calling my local police station, can I ask: “Alexa, how do I report an abandoned vehicle?” Or if I’m calling Virgin Media, with whom I have several services, can I ask: “Alexa, can you send me a PUK code for my phone?”

I can see this being very powerful. The problem, however, will be the same as implementing any knowledge base – the quality and quantity of canned responses that would need to be in place to make this effective.

Ultimately, we would want Alexa to be able to listen, interpret the question, and then search existing knowledge articles for an answer/solution.

The Current and Future Reality for IT Service Desks

There is of course technology already being marketed and sold that can do this type of intelligent-response provision. But for many service desks, and their end users, I think that assistance with speedily skipping past multiple-choice menus, choices on a self-service portal, or helpful and easy-to-navigate FAQs, would be a significant step in the right direction.

If we can combine this with a little end-user profile intelligence, then even better.

So, if I’m on the phone to Virgin Media again, Alexa will know that I don’t have a Sky package so won’t need to look up knowledge articles or FAQs about this service.

Better still, if Alexa knows from my profile that I’ve just had an upgrade to a V6 box, then we can probably quickly have predictive answers for common questions to hand.

Thinking about this use case I suspect Alexa would probably also try to upsell me a Sky package. It’s another possible use-case demo people!

So, the real power of virtual assistants for ITSM tools (and IT service desks) isn’t that they can now use voice – it’s that they can set your knowledge, about your services and your customers, free to help people as and when they need assistance.

In my last blog, “Could the Future of IT Self-Help Be 4th Generation Intelligent Self-Service?” I wrote about getting lost in giant, one-size-fits-all IT self-service portals and the need for “intelligence” in our offerings. So, let me kick this blog off with a quick example of self-service that works.

When I log onto Apple support I’m presented with the items that I own – as these are very probably what I have questions about. This is exactly what I am talking about when I talk about “intelligent” self-service capabilities.

But all is not what it seems

While it might look intelligent, unfortunately when I select a product and go to perform a search it looks at the full knowledge base of articles. I got 144k+ results returned on the search for “upgrade” with the top suggestion being from 2006! Somehow it didn’t assume that I wanted to upgrade one of my three Apple products shown above.

Okay, so I could have narrowed the search down by extending the text in the search criteria but wouldn’t it be better if the system just “expected” me to be searching for upgrades relative to one of my existing products and wanted help that is less than eleven years old?

I was also offered the opportunity to chat or call, but in my case these capabilities didn’t seem to work. Thus, I was left drowning in self-help data and I gave up.

Getting self-service right

I’ll contrast my Apple experience with the support I get from GoDaddy. Here I’m actually encouraged to ring in and talk to someone. And I’d honestly say that this is some of the best technical customer service I’ve ever had. Not only do they get to the bottom of the issue, while you’re on the phone they also check over your account details/activity and proactively remove products that you may no longer be using.

So, which service was better? I did have to wait a few minutes in a queue for GoDaddy, but the end result was a quick resolution. Versus no resolution with Apple. No contest, GoDaddy telephone support was a much better use of my time.

Comparing support contact channels

Interestingly, I came across some employee experience data from Happy Signals that seems to suggest that I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction with self-service portals (although this data relates to internal IT support).

Do We Really Want and Need IT Self-Service

It shows that the happiness score is by far the lowest with a self-service portal. This alone is worrying, but the second shocking statistic was the lost work time (across the different contact channels). Making a phone call is almost an hour quicker than attempting to use self-service and the good old walk in, although only 1% of activity, rates the most effective by a country mile.

There are lots of questions to be asked about how this data was gathered, what the questions were, and who was filling in the forms – but at a glance I could see that this is based on over 100k responses.

How does this all stack up?

Are we ignoring customer happiness and the time our users take to get an issue resolved in favor of saving IT time and money? Does this make financial sense to the business (as a whole)? Can this be improved with better self-service? Can it really be done and what would it cost?

I’m intentionally leaving this blog open to comment as there’s a debate to be had, and I’m sure some great advice and opinions. I’ll attempt to gather all of these together and produce a paper/discussion document. If you’d like to contribute you’re most welcome to comment below.

In the mean time I’ll leave you with a quote from Jonathan Munn that backs up the Happy Signals data:

“According to the Service Desk Institute (SDI), only 12% of organisations state that they’ve realized the expected benefits from their investment in self-service. A worryingly low figure given that SDI also states that over 80% of companies have already invested in some form of self-service technology.”

The ability for IT end users to self-serve, or self-help, continues to advance as the IT industry continues to bring in consumer-world approaches and technologies, and learns what works and what doesn’t.

The IT self-service story so far includes three “generations” of capabilities:

  • 1st generation – I’m going to guess here (but no doubt someone can put a finger on the exact date for me) that the first generation of self-service portals started to arrive around ten years ago. Essentially these were just a mirror of an IT service management (ITSM) IT-issue call-logging screen presented to the customer minus a few fields./li>
  • 2nd generation – This included the rush to start incorporating common service requests alongside the ability for the end user to log their own issue ticket. The look and feel was much improved, and a password reset capability was common place in ITSM tool vendor demonstrations, as was the ability to order a new laptop (which was possibly the worst example of a regularly-used self-service capability from an individual’s perspective in history… but a good excuse for a nice sexy-technology graphic).
  • 3rd generation – This was the drive for a self-service “One Stop Shop,” including all sorts of services from outside of IT, i.e. an enterprise service management approach. For instance, please change a light bulb, can I book a projector, show me today’s lunch menu, etc.  This is the one that worries me at the moment. There’s simply so much to cater for with a one-size-fits-all approach to self-service that there’s a danger that customers could get lost in the self-service equivalent of multiple layers of “press 1 for IT Support, 2 for Facilities, 3 for Catering etc.

The Unwanted Complexity of Third Generation Self-Service Portals

As an example of the potential complexity of such a third-generation self-service solution, I’ve recently been looking at a tender for a University, and the self-service portal is due to cover IT Support, Library Services, Accommodation, Campus Security, Crisis Team, Freedom of Information (FOI), Estates, Finance Office, Human Resources (HR), and Student Services. Plus, of course, all of these are just top-level categories.

The point of IT self-service is that the end user can get to the solution/resolution they need as quickly as possible and, in this case, I’m not convinced this “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to self-service will help. Even though I agree that the customer shouldn’t need to know which corporate service provider, and self-service portal, to go to in order to get help.

Solving the Complexity Issues of Third Generation Self-Service Portals

One option might be to profile the customer/role type, e.g. Student, Lecturer, Staff, IT Staff, etc. and then offer different versions, or more likely views, of the One Stop Shop portal based on the services that are applicable/available, and commonly used, by this customer type. This profile-based self-service capability is already available, with the added benefit that it doesn’t offer the end user the option of things that they’re not entitled to. But it’s a lot of work to create and maintain the role-services linkages.

For me, the idea of a One Stop Shop self-service portal is great if we could remove the complexity, and service-item overkill, for end users. I think it’s time that we started to use our data and exciting new technologies a little more wisely.

We Need Fourth Generation IT Self-Service Portals

In most cases, we already hold data on our customer base – be this profiles in Active Directory, information in HR systems, details of the IT hardware and software allocated, call history logs in the service desk, or data from other sources (potentially including analytics of the software that’s actually being used by individual end users, i.e. software metering).

Why don’t we use this data to present an intelligent self-service portal that predicts services the user may actually want to consume. The use of artificial intelligence (AI), in the form of machine learning, is already prevalent in our personal lives.

If I log into Amazon, and have previously been shopping for shirts, I’m immediately offered more of the same and also items that other users who have purchased shirts have bought that I might be interested in. I can see the same type of machine-learning-driven intelligence being applied to deliver an automatic, tailored self-service experience based on the individual and not just a generic end-user or role profile. It’s you own custom hub for all your service and support needs, no matter the corporate service provider.

It could even have proactive chatbot help, assuming this doesn’t get in the way of the real need. For instance, “Hey, while you’ve been looking around we noticed that your mobile phone isn’t on the latest OS version, would you like me to upgrade this in the background?” Or “We know that you’re a regular user of the computer-aided design (CAD) system and thought you’d like to know this is scheduled for maintenance on Tuesday morning.”

There are of course many other opportunities for data and AI to make IT self-service, and enterprise-wide self-service, better; but I need to keep this blog to a reasonable length. What else would you add to, or subtract from, self-service portals to make them easier to use?

I’ve just seen yet another cake-based, celebratory social media post in my time line. You know the sort – a big “hooray,” pats on backs all round, and the photo of an IT service management (ITSM) tool “go-live cake.”

Don’t get me wrong. This is certainly a cause for celebration, and I do like cake, but I think that it’s important to understand exactly what you are celebrating.

Here’s my cautionary tale.

Congratulations on your go live

After the afterparty

Now I might be ready to join GrOMIT (the GRumpy Old Men in IT). But far too often I’ve seen service desk or ITSM tool implementation, improvement, or transformation projects go-live for then, almost immediately, a bunch of “stuff” to happen:

  • The implementation/project team is disbanded
  • All financial backing is dropped or concluded
  • Ownership is “thrown over the fence” to IT operations

Now not all of these are bad things per se, and things can still work out well. However, more often than not (in my experience), the IT operations team weren’t sufficiently involved in the project and “build.” So, ownership of the new technology, and potentially ways of working, can be a little forced rather than embraced.

Then if post-live changes are required, as you probably won’t get everything right first time, the builders have moved on elsewhere. Which means that either the operations team are left to make modifications with little experience, cue a cake that’s like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or they need to call in help. Oh hang on, they can’t do that because the project budget is all spent.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen service desk and ITSM tool projects go from award winning to a total mess within the space of a couple of years for exactly these reasons.

Planning, delivering, and then celebrating “half a job”

What concerns me more these days is that core service desk functionality is now just a starting point, and I’m not so sure that everyone takes this into account when planning their implementation, improvement, and transformation projects.

The service desk itself can be expanded beyond the initial implementation, think service catalog, IT asset management (ITAM), security, capacity planning, and a wealth of other beneficial ITSM capabilities. Then there’s the potential to utilize process automation across the enterprise – with human resources (HR) and facilities two popular targets.

The whole story becomes one of strategic planning for added business benefits.

Think big, or at least think bigger

So, if you have a service desk or ITSM tool implementation project don’t treat it in isolation, make it a part of an on-going continual service improvement (CSI) plan; keep your project team together (or at least a subset of it) to explore, define, and deliver additional future benefits; and budget accordingly.

The same is true if you are benefiting from third-party assistance. Think beyond the initial go-live and the cake eating. If you’re working with a tool-vendor partner, beyond choosing them wisely and then getting your service desk up-and-running quickly, look for a partner that wants to work with you in a strategic, long-term relationship. Importantly, where your business requirements drive the program.

Plus, this relationship’s mantra shouldn’t be: arrive, implement, eat cake, say goodbye. And, likewise, a service desk or ITSM tool go-live, and now seemingly obligatory cake, doesn’t signify the end of a journey – it’s just the start!

With hindsight, maybe wanting to “ban the cakes” is a little draconian. Perhaps we just need to act a little less like we’ve accomplished the unachievable and more like we’re merely pausing for breath before setting off on our continued journey of ITSM improvement.

So, plan for longer-term needs and benefits rather than just up to the point of all that cake eating. And this applies if going it alone or using third-party assistance in the form of tool-vendor partners.  

Plus, if you’re hoping to benefit from these partners, and their previous customer successes, it500 is running a ServiceNow Partner Showcase in Edinburgh on the 25th May 2017. At which you can speak with them about how partners can help. Find out more at www.it500.solutions

A major part of my working life is running IT service management (ITSM) events and, as a result, I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn – the professional networking site. If I’m not reading articles, case studies, and thought leadership stuff or publishing blogs, then I’m searching for people who might be: good candidates for speaking, interested delegates, and of course potential event sponsors.

I’ve spent the last couple of years building up a network of well over 2000 contacts and everything was going swimmingly until the end of last week, when LinkedIn kindly “upgraded” my UI.

When is an improvement not an improvement?

I’d seen a couple of hints, on various social streams, that the UI was going to change; and read an article from the usually-reliable Wired Magazine that this was something to look forward to – “The new LinkedIn UI looks just like Facebook. Smart move.

While I can’t deny that it does look a little more like Facebook, probably all round it’s actually a little prettier and modern looking, they seem to have totally missed the point of an “upgrade.”

Skip the next bit if you don’t care about the details, my point is that there are a lot of issues with what should have been an improvement to the “product” – the LinkedIn website:

  • The product now occasionally just freezes, requiring the trusty “turn it off and on again” solution. I don’t recall this ever happening before.
  • The product is now slower (perhaps in part due to pointless fancy progress bars).
  • Almost every function now requires more clicks to get to the information that you want to see. As an example, you can no longer hover over a profile to see the basic details, you now have to pay a visit to an additional page.
  • The advanced search has lost the ability to locate people using keywords or by postcode/distance. It’s also only accessible by visiting additional pages rather than straight from the home screen.
  • The tags – which I had previously spent a lot of time configuring so I know what people’s interests are, whether they had attended a previous event etc. – are all just gone. Yup, just gone with absolutely no warning.
  • The upshot of the previous two points is that if I now want to locate people in my own contact list who have an interest in ITIL and live within 50 miles of Edinburgh, say – forget it, it’s no longer possible.

I could go on and on, and I often do, I just want to finish my list of moans with a real killer for me – the new UI now has a permanent profile picture of me that takes up 25% of the vertical screen space and as a result squashes up the main feed area. This is completely pointless and just in case I had forgotten what I looked like there’s an additional picture of me on the main menu bar. Really? Who on earth though this was a good idea?

You might think that I’m just grumbling, but I’m not alone. I replied to a post from LinkedIn that asked for feedback on the new UI. I was about person 700 to register my dismay. A day later, the number of people “pulling their hair out” and requesting a return to the old UI had reached 1000 and then the post mysteriously disappeared (it has now reappeared).

What can we learn from the LinkedIn debacle?

Rising above my moans, the LinkedIn situation is a great opportunity to take stock of how we design and release new products and services in corporate IT. Here I offer seven tips that will help you to get things right with new UIs:

  1. When gathering user requirements involve real people – the people who have to use a product or service on a daily basis. For instance, there’s no way that any regular user would have asked for a permanent profile on their LinkedIn home page.
  2. Carry out user testing that involves different groups and types of users, and check that the new UI makes their lives easier. Don’t just make it pretty – user experience is now more important than the UI itself.
  3. Check out performance on low-tech kit. Multiple user complaints stated that the new LinkedIn UI was unusable where the internet connection wasn’t great.
  4. Don’t remove existing functionality without warning. They might have spotted that few people used the now lost functionality but these might have been LinkedIn power users.
  5. Tell users that they’re about to get an upgrade and what this contains. LinkedIn probably did this but it looks like they didn’t try hard enough.
  6. Don’t just ignore user feedback if they don’t like your upgrade. The discontent won’t go away, it will just be expressed in a different forum.
  7. Have a roll back position. I’d like to think that the new UI was tested on small pilot groups – who gave positive feedback – but even so, if there’s a groundswell of discontent rollback the change until issues can be clarified and addressed where possible.

The LinkedIn debacle smacks of a bunch of developers (and a couple of marketing people) sitting in an ivory tower, with the newest technologies, producing something that they think looks cool.

Whatever you’re releasing don’t follow LinkedIn’s example – make sure that the new version helps and not hinders users and customers.

Image Credit

I read somewhere that the best IT department is one that is invisible and everything just works. On the ground, I also see IT departments constantly having to justify their existence and defend their spending. This isn’t an easy task if you’re invisible.

In my last blog, I suggested that we get out, to go beyond the glass wall, to better understand other lines of business and the business as a whole. It’s a very simple concept and the first step on a journey of cultural change for the corporate IT organization and its customers.

In this blog, I suggest that we take this a little further as I look at:

  • Our strengths and weaknesses
  • Making the IT department more visible and empowering staff
  • Formalizing business relationship management (BRM)

Understanding the IT department’s strengths and weaknesses

So we all know we are incredibly busy. We have infrastructure and applications to maintain, databases to optimize, backups, upgrades, patches, new equipment to configure, old equipment to dispose of, and loads more too. Then we have the service desk, projects, development, and perhaps even a continual service improvement (CSI) plan.

If we want some evidence of what we spend our days doing, we can look at the results of some IT performance assessments – the graphic below shows a high-level view from multiple companies and is made up of over 30,000 responses. Each assessment consists of around 250 questions, distributed to IT management, IT staff, business stakeholders, and end users.

Improving IT Service Delivery
Source: Assessmint

It’s no great surprise to see that we are up on our IT service management (ITSM) processes and IT asset management (ITAM) which is probably why we think our customers are generally happy.

If we look at the pinch points, strategy/vision and organization/culture don’t fare so well and we’re certainly under performing in the areas of skills development and project/risk management. I guess you could interpret this as a job well done by an “invisible” IT department and many people will tell you that customer satisfaction is the only metric that counts, if that’s the case we’ve pretty much nailed it.

But are we really helping to improve our business or just providing an excellent service that keeps the lights on?

Diving deeper into these results

With the results of any assessment, we need to understand that just because we’re not particularly strong in an area it doesn’t mean it’s the place to throw all our improvement resources at. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, we could try to get even better at the areas in which we’re already strong but I suspect that would make little difference to customer satisfaction ratings. Either way, the benchmark data doesn’t immediately tell us how IT is helping to improve the effectiveness of the business and how to be even better.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the underlying data and the project management area reveals some interesting insights. There were way more entries complaining about projects than any other topic. Where a repeated statement was that projects were dumped on people with no particular previous involvement and that these were expected to be completed in addition to their day-to-day tasks. Communication was also a big issue and that cost tracking was pretty much ignored, in particular when it came to monetary allocation of resources. To me this doesn’t sound like we are close to the business, understanding our expenditure or the value of what we’re delivering.

Then analysis of the skills development data shows that we’re nearly all ITIL qualified to some level but as far as project/risk management and BRM are concerned very little formal training had been received. I’m not suggesting that we all need to rush off to get PRINCE2 qualified or to flood the business with business relationship managers, but I do think we’d benefit from simply improving communications and better aligning IT with business goals.

The continued issues with IT’s alignments with business goals

The need to improve communications and to better align IT with business goals is nothing new, with data from GamingWorks (and over 3000 organizations) flagging up alignment and communication challenges in the top ten issues quoted by IT personnel and business colleagues (as per the commonly-selected cards below).

IT alignment with business goals
Source: GamingWorks

Making the IT department more visible and empowering staff

IT needs to get out into the lines of business, get involved, and build relationships – it sounds a lot like BRM.

A great article on the BRM Institute website refers to two extra definitions of BRM beyond business relation management:

  • Business relationship management. In order to make the best use of its technology, the organization needs to focus on business relationships. A great business relationship between different functions makes it easier to talk about the value of technology and the strategy the business wants to accomplish. Successful organizations focus on the convergence between the business and IT to achieve the optimum value of enabling technologies. To accomplish this the BRM capability is required.
  • Benefits realization management. This is another term for value management, which is a concept that focuses the organization on looking for value. Value occurs at the start of an idea, but more importantly, it exists after project implementation. This phase ensures that the business is not only using the technology correctly, but optimizing its use to achieve value.
  • Behavior really matters. …Both the business and the provider will need to change their behavior in order to develop and nurture the strategic partnership.”

So we’re now looking at the importance of relationships, value, and behaviors – which ties in with what GamingWorks and similar companies offer in terms of serious play and its business simulations. These are interactive workshops in which teams of employees work on challenging issues within a simulated environment. The environment can be the same or a totally different context to the “normal” working environment. In the simulation, each participant plays a role and has specific tasks, responsibilities, and authority.

Participants must discuss and agree how they will work together as a team and the simulations are played in a number of progressive rounds so that participants can see, feel, and experience improvements as the exercise (and day) goes on. There are reflection sessions between rounds when people learn and make improvement choices that will have an impact in the next round. An expert facilitator also helps translate the learning points into the participant’s own working environment.

In the case of the issues at hand, a simulation such as GamingWorks Grab@Pizza can be used to bring line of business and IT people together to explore and agree the role and importance of business relationship management in capturing improvements and how they can promote BRM within their organization. During six rounds the team are asked to:

  • Identify the business need and requirements for IT resources
  • Make decisions about resource workloads and priorities
  • Calculate IT costs and make investment decisions
  • Plan projects, development activities, and changes
  • Minimize the impact of outages and business downtime
  • Propose improvements to align IT performance to business needs.

At the end of each round the team are then confronted with the actual performance of the business in terms of:

  • Revenue growth
  • Operating costs
  • Profitability
  • Customer satisfaction

Takeaways (no pun intended), in addition to better understanding the linkage between IT decisions and business performance, include a number of learning points such as:

  • How to move business relationship managers from an order taker to a strategic partner
  • Understanding the role of BRM as a connector and orchestrator
  • Understanding value leakage and how to optimize value realization
  • Understanding how BRM can work with ITSM, and how best practice frameworks such as ITIL can help.

Formalizing business relationship management

While a business simulation can have a real positive effect on its attendees and their relationships across functional boundaries, it’s possible that even though everyone gets hyped up a few weeks later it’s all in the past.

If you really want to keep the momentum going and bring BRM into ways of working and company culture, then I suggest combining a business simulation with online training for a blended learning approach that will last far longer.

An obvious choice of course would be the BRM Professional (BRMP) certification. Behind this rather grand title is essentially a foundation course in BRM and it’s therefore suitable for anyone needing to understand and buy into the concept. More advanced qualifications and courses are available, but in the first instance this will serve the purpose well as the key here is to have a common language and understanding, not to introduce more overly-complex processes.

Lesson in the BRM Professional (BRMP) certification course include:

  • Course introduction
  • An overview of BRM
  • Strategic partnering
  • Business IQ
  • Portfolio management
  • Business transition management
  • Provider domain knowledge
  • Powerful communication
  • Exam preparation

What I find almost entertaining about the BRM training program is that you’re essentially training people to report on the value that they and others are delivering. This also includes the training investment itself – where the value isn’t in the certification but in the changes and improvements that are delivered.

Having discussed this dual approach with a number of people the general consensus is that this is a great combination of learning styles, the only moot point is what order to do things in, i.e. business simulation or formal training first? Rather than doggedly sticking to my guns I’m going to suggest an alternative. Why not have a business simulation, of which there are many, both before and after formal training and then look at the difference in attitude and performance? Okay so this would cost a little more, but if my survey data tells me anything it’s that we’re woefully poor at conducting post-project reviews, examining lessons learned, and identifying the value delivered.

Up here in Scotland, we intend to take some of our own medicine and bring together GamingWorks and online training provider ITSM Zone to offer this approach early in 2017. Watch the website or contact us for details.

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.