Help is on the way Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Many companies run an informal help desk built around one coworker’s knowledge of a system or program. Others have effective information technology (IT) help desks but end up paying serious money to an individual who roams the building from desk to desk solving myriad problems.

“The solution for many operations,” says Rick Veno, senior consultant with Pomeroy IT Solutions, “is to integrate IT service management through a company whose core competence is managing IT.”

Smart Business talked to Veno about the importance of first-tier help.

What is first-tier help?

That is simply the first point of contact for a person who needs help with a system or a program. Typically, a service provider runs a first-tier help desk from a remote campus location. An 800 number routes trouble calls to the help desk, which opens a trouble ticket and provides support. In some cases, where the client has many workers, there will be IT services at the customer’s premises along with regional support teams providing service for remote locations.

In this support model this service can be called level 1.5 support or ‘specialization’. PC Support is a good example of this. Second- and third-tier resources may be in-house, outsourced or in some cases, both. They deal with more complex issues or have deep expertise in particular areas.

What value is there to integrated IT service management?

Many companies are living with an ineffective or expensive help desk. There is real value to not spending resources on in-house IT service management. But first, the company must figure out what it needs. Many business executives read about ISO 2000 or ITIL and figure that is what they require. Then they need to ask whether it makes sense to build it internally or to have a business relationship with a company that can provide that service. That’s when the CTO needs to do a cost-benefit analysis.

What about application development?

Usually, IT service management covers typical help desk services — troubleshooting, logging, referring and escalating trouble calls. We also fill service requests and provision access. Usually it is limited to break-fix and request projects.

How does this fit a company’s strategic plan?

It makes sense to have one provider in the desktop lifecycle. This is where a provider adds the most value. From procurement to control to support to redeploy or retire, it has the ability to execute and does for many large and small business accounts. Not only can it talk about best practices for asset management, service management and service delivery, but it also designs a road map for tomorrow. You need to determine what processes to deploy first and the time frame to finish these projects. If you try to build a project without the core foundations of service management, you will work very hard and never get the ROI and benefits of a true service management program.

Isn’t an enterprise that outsources IT in danger of losing control of key IT functions?

No, it is a good solution for a company that knows its core competency does not include help desk support. If your associates are killing you on surveys about service and support, it may be a good idea to strategically outsource your first-tier help desk and keep the second- and third-tier workers in-house.

What can a business do to prepare its employees for the coming of an integrated program?

There are two groups to think about: the existing IT people and the rest of the company. Typically, you can retain those with subject-matter expertise as tier-two support workers — say for Blackberry support, SAP or POS. The generalists know there is a reason their function is being outsourced.

For employees as a whole, the change should be as seamless as possible. Don’t do a big marketing campaign about the changeover unless the previous situation was truly horrible. Simply transfer the same 800 number to a new location. Best practice says to leave the old system and the old data alone and start over. Try not to import a lot of old ticket data.

In any case, migrating a help desk means you must have a solid project plan, top-down support, strong relationships and a proven methodology. Take some time to analyze your category structure, use the project as an opportunity to modify second level support behavior in OLAs and, by all means, interview the associates and read associate surveys.

RICK VENO is a senior consultant with Pomeroy IT Solutions. He is ITIL certified and has more than 25 years of management and consulting experience. Projects have included ITIL-based process analysis and solution recommendations, service-level management implementations, service desk, incident and problem management implementations. Reach him at rveno@pomeroy.com.