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March 11, 2021

Building Greater Resilience into Your IT Service Desk

I think we can all agree that 2020 was a rough year for nigh on everyone. We had the global pandemic and, depending on where you live in the world, potentially multiple lockdowns and a huge toll on the health of your organization’s employees and their families. Now there are vaccines and the hope that sometime soon the world can go back to something approximating normal. Importantly, in a way that’s safe for everyone. One of the hardest tasks of running an IT service desk during the pandemic was trying to balance the increase in call volumes against the very real human impact – on both IT personnel and the people they serve. There was much talk of resilience too – across all three of the organization, IT services, and people. That we need to be building greater resilience into our IT service delivery and support operations to be better prepared for the unexpected.  

To help your organization consider the need for greater resilience for the IT service desk and IT support, this blog looks at how you can start 2021 on a more resilient note while we’re waiting for the “next normal” to emerge. This includes: 

  1. Supporting your people 
  2. Empathizing with end users 
  3. Exploiting knowledge  
  4. Building resilience into day-to-day operations. 

 

1. Support your people, and be prepared to “adapt and adopt”

We know that most of us are used to the phrase “adopt and adapt” for running IT practices thanks to ITIL, but we want people-support and empathy to be front and center of our future changes to IT support practices. Our people are so important to our IT support capabilities and we don’t think we’ll ever know the true toll the pandemic has taken on individuals' health.   

But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be trying to address some of the pandemic-related issues that employees might be facing. And this starts with proactively taking an interest and seeking to help. So, look for ways to support your team members and make sure that everyone has access to support if they need it.  

Support can mean different things to different people. For some, an employee assistance helpline may be useful so that they can talk things through with a neutral party. For others, self-help and access to books and websites might be beneficial. Some colleagues will prefer having someone they know to bounce off – so a “buddy system” would help to ensure that there’s someone to talk to if it all gets too hard.  

You might not get things right the first time, which is where the adopt and adapt comes in. Try to make a range of options available, but be prepared to change these based on employee uptake and feedback. The aim is to help your employees to become more resilient in the face of these continued uncertain times. 

2. Provide “empathy as a service”

This people-support approach also extends to your service desk’s customers. Let’s face it, how often during the pandemic have you thought that some people call the IT service desk just to have a chat? If someone’s calling, it’s because they have a tech-related issue that’s affecting their ability to work, which isn’t great at the best of times let alone while people are potentially distanced from their colleagues. Add to this the anxiety that the caller might be feeling related to other pandemic-related issues, both personal and professional. 

So, when dealing with end users, remember that the person you’re supporting is potentially not only concerned with getting their productivity back, but they might also be vulnerable or scared (from a personal or professional perspective or both).  

Be patient if someone is struggling and, if you can, find additional ways to help them. Even if it’s helping them to install an app on their tablet while you’re waiting for a system to update or their laptop to reboot. Try to find ways of making their day that little bit brighter because, we don’t know about you, but we think we could all do with a little bit of brightness these days. 

Help with Emotional Wellbeing

3. Revisit how you share knowledge

Hopefully, we all now know the value of knowledge. One of the biggest lessons learned from lockdown is that many of us still aren’t capturing knowledge effectively, despite the benefits.  

One way to shake up your knowledge base is to apply the looping principles from the Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) framework. We all have knowledge articles that are half-finished or need updating and the practice of looping articles enables organizations to identify and implement quality improvements by maximizing efficiencies and reducing rework.   

There are two types of loop articles in the KCS world: solve and evolve. The solve loop looks at how to resolve the issue and is reactive in nature. The evolve loop is more holistic and looks at how to build continual improvement into the fix process. For example, capturing interim fixes or workarounds. This will enable the end user to work even if a permanent fix cannot be deployed immediately.  

By keeping your knowledge base up to date, you’re improving organizational and operational resilience by ensuring that all team members have access to the same troubleshooting information and the ability to help with issues.   

 

4. Build resilience into your day-to-day operations

One way of doing this is by looking at the principles of resilience engineering. Resilience is the ability of a service to recover from an interruption and maintain service in the face of faults. Things to consider based on this include: 

  • That the IT service desk is a catchall for IT issues and failures, and sometimes we’re so focused on restoring service that we forget to look at what we could be doing better.  Work with the business and build in regular service reviews into your practice so that if something’s not right, or needs to be improved on, it can be caught quickly and acted on. 
  • Embrace and expect failure. By anticipating failure, you can react to it quickly and course-correct so that your product or service is improved in the next iteration. Service desks are reactive and busy by nature, so mistakes and failures will happen. The important thing is how we respond and learn from our failures. Some examples include that: 
    • An incident breached service level agreement (SLA) because the technician assigned it to the wrong team. Lots of us have experienced this and it’s easily done, especially if you’re part of a large company with a large organizational structure. In general, lots of complexity means lots of support teams, so look for ways of making this easier. This could be done by updating documentation, creating a support-team matrix, or automation so that tickets are automatically assigned based on CI or service. 
    • The self-service form is too complicated, so end users circumvent the process. The reality is that the easier the form is to use; the more colleagues will engage with it.   
  • Abandoned call levels are high. If your service desk accepts inbound calls keep the IVR options as simple as possible. The more menus you introduce, the more likely it is that the end user will be routed to the wrong place. There’s also nothing more frustrating than placing a call to the service desk because you haven’t been able to access it any other way only to have to listen to a 2-minute monologue on how to use self-service.  
  • Hold blameless postmortems. There’s no room for blame in a postmortem or major incident review. The reality of it is, the second someone starts trying to apportion blame, every other person in the room will clam up and you will lose the chance to understand the whole story and learn from it. Make postmortems a safe space for people to be honest about what happened so that the correct actions are put in place to prevent recurrence and improve service stability and resilience in the future.  
  • Focus on MTTR (mean time to restore service) rather than MTBF (mean time between failures). As long as we have IT systems, we’ll have service interruptions. So rather than focusing on uninterrupted availability, instead look for how quickly services can return to normal in the event of an incident. You can build resilience into your IT services by having failover servers, the ability to reroute network traffic, or by introducing cloud services. Every organization is different, but this is the year to look at your most critical services and look at how you can build in some flexibility.  

 

What do you think of the need for greater resilience in the IT service desk and IT support? How will you bring more resilience to your support practices in 2021? Please let us know in the comments.

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