For Heaven’s Sake, Please Take The Meh Out Of Your Service Desk Metrics

What is it with IT people and metrics? We seem to be obsessed with monitoring this and measuring that. And don’t get me started with all the rainforests that have been chopped down over the years to create those doorstop-like monthly reporting packs. I appreciate that some ITSM tools have made it easier to capture and report service desk metrics, and I’ll avoid namedropping my favourite ITSM tool vendor here, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that IT organizations have become better at monitoring and communicating IT service desk performance. If we had there wouldn’t be such practitioner demand for how-to information on metrics.

In many ways we sell ourselves short. Take that fly-on-the-wall IT documentary, The IT Crowd, for instance. One of my favourite episodes is where an IT project (Project Icarus) has been delivered to time and cost, and I assume to spec, and everyone in the company seems to be recognized bar the IT folks. Take a look. Even the lawyers get praised for the new productivity-enhancing computer system. Does it sound familiar?

R … E … S … P … E … C … T

Do you see what I did there? Oh well.

There was a time when IT was changing the corporate world and everyone knew it. The CIO was a visionary and the IT organization was a bringer of shiny new things that made your average employee’s job easier. Employees didn’t necessarily understand what these IT people were doing, or were talking about, but it didn’t matter – they helped them. That was all that mattered.

Fast-forward twenty years and things are often closer to the IT Crowd video. And to mis-quote American comedian Rodney Dangerfield: “We don’t get no respect”. But why don’t we get the respect that we think we deserve? The quality of our IT services might be one reason. Our inability to meet the expectations of our end users might be another. But I firmly believe that another is how we measure and communicate our performance and, dare I say it, our successes to our business peers.

“You are what you measure”

I’m not sure where this quote originated or its original context but it fits for many IT organizations and IT service desks. Consider some of the common key IT service desk metrics:

  • Firstly we have those that are inwardly looking – they relate to what we have done rather than what we have achieved. So service desk agents were consistently available to help end users during the agreed timeframes. But did they really help (I guess we need to look at customer satisfaction to gauge this)? But what about those end users that didn’t bother to call the service desk because the service desk has previously been of little help? These end users don’t care how available service desk agents are and, as they didn’t contact the service desk, they probably won’t be sent a customer feedback survey either.
  • Secondly we can take a somewhat negative view in measuring things. Where we measure and then communicate on things like incident volumes or percentage of dropped calls – so this is how many times the IT organization has failed the end user and how often end users gave up waiting for a service desk agent to help them. This glass-half-empty stance can’t help with perceptions of performance.
  • Thirdly we set targets based on what we think is acceptable rather than what really is. The real howler for me from my service desk days is that we report things like: 95% of calls are answered within 30 seconds. Which, while true, conveniently neglects the fact that the caller has spent five minutes traversing the call handling system to hear the call ringing. In reality we answered 0% of calls within 30 seconds. You could also argue that it is somewhat dishonest and not a great platform for trust.
  • Fourthly the performance statistics can tell a different story to the common perception of performance. The customer satisfaction results show a high degree of service desk customer satisfaction but most end users will say they are dissatisfied with IT. I know it’s not comparing apples with apples but who buys a car because they love the stereo but hate the drive? Having a great service desk satisfaction score means little if it isn’t congruent with the overall IT score.

I could go on but I think you will have got my drift by now – beyond the believability of our service desk measure, where is the connectivity between what IT service desks, and IT organizations, measure and what the parent businesses value from IT?

So what should we be reporting on?

I could get all intellectual on you and talk about the Kaplan and Norton Balanced Scorecard approach. Which of course has its merits. But I’d like to keep this simple.

All I ask is that you take the time to do the following:

  • Pick up you reporting pack (or print it off and then pick it up) and hand it to a selection of your business peers and stakeholders. Then ask them what the numbers mean to them (if anything), whether they are useful to know, and how they positively inspire their perceptions of service desk and IT performance.
  • Then ask them what information would be more useful to know and how they actually gauge service desk and IT performance – find out what really matters to them.
  • Repeat with senior IT stakeholders. But also ask what the metrics are used for. If it’s just to get a warm feeling and to inspire back-patting then something is wrong here too. Make sure that metrics have a real purpose beyond operational performance assessment.
  • Revamp your metrics based on the feedback from, and the value they add to, these various stakeholders.

Now I might have just wasted your and your colleagues’ time if everything is OK with your metrics. But I imagine that many will get some interesting insights into the worth of the metrics.

Finally, if you have already done a similar exercise, I’d love to know how you have taken the meh out of your metrics.

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Posted by Joe the IT Guy

Joe the IT Guy
Joe the IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).


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