The State of IT Self-Service in 2021

State of IT Self Service
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In Q3 2021, ITSM.tools ran a State of IT Self-Service survey with Freshworks to ascertain how well the IT industry has done in moving on from the findings of a 2017 Service Desk Institute survey and report that found that “…the number of organizations that have…achieved the anticipated return on investment (ROI) are few, less than 12%.” This article presents some of the key survey findings. As to how well we’re now collectively doing with self-service, please take a look. You might be surprised. But, then again, you might not.

This article presents some of the key survey findings of the @ITSM_tools & @FreshWorksInc State of IT Self-Service in 2021 report. #selfservice #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

The state of IT self-service adoption

The State of IT Self-Service survey found that both email and self-service are now more popular methods – in terms of channel availability – for accessing IT service and support capabilities than telephone:

  • Email – offered by 84% of organizations
  • Self-service portal – 82%
  • Telephone – 76%

However, the reality is that this differs across organizations, with factors such as the location, industry, organizational size, plus – importantly – the investment in the self-service channel making a difference.

The survey also found that the chat channel had gained considerable ground on these three channels, likely thanks to the global pandemic, but is still only used by 42% of organizations. Similarly, accessing IT service and support capabilities via work collaboration services such as Slack and Microsoft Teams is already at a healthy 24% of organizations.

The state of IT self-service success

The 2021 survey contained a different question, and therefore measurement, to the aforementioned SDI survey but surprisingly – because of all the IT self-service best practices that have been shared in the last half-decade – only one in five organizations (21%) reported that the expected ROI for their IT self-service investment was achieved. It’s a better level than 2017 but still nowhere near where it should be.

However, 30% reported a “just good enough” success, and another 19% stated that it’s “not a success but still workable.” 10% of organizations need to revisit their self-service capabilities and another 2% gave up on them. Interestingly, 13% of organizations still don’t offer an IT self-service portal capability to employees.

There’s a Freshworks Community post open for people to share the factors that helped them to succeed with IT self-service.

Survey results from @ITSM_tools & @FreshWorksInc show that only one in five organizations (21%) reported that the expected ROI for their IT self-service investment was achieved. Click To Tweet

End-user perceptions of the corporate IT self-service portal

Please note that the following percentages are the opinions of IT personnel and not the end-users themselves. So, they’re likely to be a rosier view than the reality. Here the data reflects the above success levels, where:

  • 16% of respondents stated that their IT self-service portal is “Great – Our employees love using it.”
  • 43% of respondents stated that their IT self-service portal is “OK – Our employees aren’t fans but still use it”
  • 14% of respondents stated that their IT self-service portal is “Poor – Our employees avoid using it.”

Again, it’s not great to see that IT self-service portals haven’t delivered on the promise of all three of “better, faster, cheaper.”

New data from an @ITSM_tools & @Freshworksinc survey suggests that IT self-service portals haven’t delivered on the promise of all three of 'better, faster, cheaper.' #selfservice #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

The state of IT self-service end-user adoption levels

As with the previous question and data, the responses to this question are likely to be more “gut feel” than data-backed. It asked: What percentage of employees actively use the IT self-service portal to access service and support?

21% of respondents didn’t answer this question – some because they have no self-service capability and others because the adoption level isn’t known. For the other respondents, the end-user adoption levels are shown in the table below.

Percentage level of end-user adoptionPercentage of organizations with this level
0-25%27%
26-50%20%
51-75%18%
76-100%13%

With hindsight, which we all know is easy to use, this question is ambiguous too given that one person’s “actively” is potentially going to be different from another’s.

Measuring IT self-service success

In my experience, most IT service desks seem to take an “if it moves, measure it” approach to their operations. If only to help ensure the efficiency of service desk analysts (and I’m not saying that this is the right thing to do). So, the replies to this State of IT Self-Service survey question were always going to be interesting.

The possible response options were not mutually exclusive, but respondents could only pick the response that best represented their measurement activities. The survey found that:

  • 18% of organizations don’t measure IT self-service portal usage 
  • 41% of organizations use quantitative measures such as usage volumes 
  • 21% of organizations use immediate qualitative measures such as employee feedback on transactions    
  • 18% of organizations use periodical qualitative measures such as generic employee feedback

There’s insufficient data granularity to know definitively – and I might get time to look for some key correlations later – but my gut feel is that current IT self-service measures are likely to be part of the issue with its successful adoption (from an employee perspective). It’s textbook employee experience ground – where volumes and speed are measured but the outcomes are overlooked.

Here @StephenMann suggests we're in textbook employee experience ground when it comes to self-service success – where volumes and speed are measured but the outcomes are overlooked. #selfservice #servicedesk #ITSM Click To Tweet

The extension of IT self-service portals outside of IT

The survey found that 29% of organizations haven’t extended their IT self-service portal to at least one other business function, another 21% of respondents didn’t answer the question (these again include the 13% of organizations that don’t have one), and 7% responded “don’t know.” This is 56% of respondents/organizations.

Of the remaining 44% of organizations, the top self-service sharing use cases are:

  • Human resources (HR) – 30% (this is 68% of the organizations that have shared their IT self-service capabilities)
  • Finance – 20%
  • Facilities – 19%
  • Security – 17%
  • Business operations – 15%
  • Customer service – 13%
  • Procurement – 12%
  • Legal – 12%
  • Sales and marketing – 12% (this is 27% of the organizations that have shared their IT self-service capabilities)

What the State of IT Self-Service survey data doesn’t show is how many organizations have shared IT self-service capabilities to multiple business functions (further data analysis would identify this) or whether the extended self-service capability is a separate instance or something more akin to an enterprise service and support portal.

IT self-service improvement plans

The final survey question asked: “Does your organization have plans for new/additional IT self-service capabilities? (please tick all that apply).” The responses are indicative of the need to get better at the provision of self-help to end users but further analysis is needed to map the provided improvement responses to the current state. For example, are the 18% of organizations with no improvement plans those that have achieved the required ROI or those that currently have no self-service capabilities? Or are those organizations looking to employ chatbots already succeeding with self-service?

ResponsePercentage
No plans18%
Self-service portal improvements/new portal41%
Automated service and support mechanisms32%
Mobile app20%
Chatbot/virtual agent – portal based27%
Chatbot/virtual agent – mobile-app based13%
Chatbot/virtual agent – embedded within business applications15%
Via collaborative services such as Slack and Teams17%
Intelligent email autoresponders12%
Voice-based interaction methods5%
Don’t know11%
No answer10%

Hopefully, this article and the State of IT Self-Service survey data it uses help you to understand the position of your organization when it comes to IT self-service success. It’s often easy to assume that everyone else is getting things right with self-service (and IT service management (ITSM) as a whole for that matter) when the truth is that there’s a wide spectrum of success levels out there. Sadly for self-service, it’s still something many organizations are struggling with despite the assistance that’s on offer.

Principal Analyst & Content Director at ITSM.tools | Website

Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm ITSM.tools. Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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