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.
- 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 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?
Over 30 years ago Martin McKenna 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.