Invisible service desk

How SaaS is Driving the Invisible Service Desk

Probably the most famous IT service desk in the world is the fictional one in The IT Crowd. The business doesn’t understand it, the employees don’t like using it, and the service desk staff hate doing it.

Unlike the two-person service desk in the IT Crowd, in your average enterprise the size, cost, and temperature of your service desk is a likely indicator of the size and cost of the big ball of mud that is your IT infrastructure (and perhaps even your IT organization).

Thankfully, much of the service desk “challenge” is being alleviated for some by learning from, and using, software-as-a-service (SaaS) models to make the service desk smaller, cheaper and, sometimes, invisible. This is surely the direction that many organizations want to go, regulatory compliance permitting.

So what can SaaS for ITSM do, and what can you do to take advantage of it?

The Curious Case of the Shrinking Service Desk

The average non-techie human being already uses many SaaS offerings outside of work today. Across their personal devices they will consume social media, email, file sharing, and messaging – all kinds of services. For many, their mobile device has become the portal through which they access their most-used applications, wherever they might run. The user manages their device and applications, using the self-service mechanisms of Internet-based vendors (think Apple Store, Google Gmail), much of the time without any need to contact a service desk. Even the most egregious non-techie has become their own techie, whether they realize it or not.

However, if self-help is too hard to do for a particular application, or if the self-service capability is too hard to use, then people will give up. This might then mean a call to a service desk or it might mean that the user struggles on until the app or service can be switched to one with better support.

The power, including the power of choice, is increasingly in the hands of the users, not the vendors, and successful vendors get this, which is why they make their SaaS offerings easy to consume (especially as the alternative is going out of business). One example of this is not forcing users to call a service desk for simple things like changing passwords.

So bear these two points in mind when looking at investing in your next service desk solution:

  1. Cloud/internet services are inherently standardized and simple. There are millions of people using the same interface as everyone else; the options on the interface are simple (change password, get message, post picture), and none of this requires technical skills. So why shouldn’t the same be true for internal It organizations?
  2. Nobody likes calling a service desk. The vendor doesn’t like people calling the service desk (because it costs more money than self-service) and the users don’t necessarily like it (because they might have to wait in a queue before the person on the other end of the phone possibly asks them if they’ve “tried turning it off and on again?”)

What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

It used to be that only digital natives saw elderly enterprise IT as a Heath Robinson contraption. However, now that “digital immigrant” non-techies are consuming SaaS outside of work they are bringing pressure on enterprise IT to be more like consumer-world SaaS providers.

Some users might shudder when they are asked to complete a complex ticketing system form, which they might suspect was created by the Infinite Monkeys on their day off from writing Hamlet. These user-unfriendly forms, or the call to a grumpy service desk, might be necessary to deal with complicated enterprise IT issues but a complex service desk experience can be the polar-opposite to using SaaS support models outside of work. The cynic in me can’t help think that some employers still don’t want to properly fund the internal service desk, employees don’t want to use it, and the service desk agents would potentially rather be doing something more interesting instead.

To get out of this service desk “rut” we need to shatter our IT support thinking. Let’s start by looking at two outlier examples:

  1. Cloud companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, and the other web-scale companies create invisible service desks by automating the experience as much as possible, letting the user help themselves. This is the only way to match complex, changing services to the needs and wants of millions of users.
  2. Start-ups have a “zero IT mind-set” and they will most likely be laughed at by investors if they spend significant cash on a service desk. Instead, they empower their users to act at work like they do at home – by self-servicing their queries and issues with SaaS applications.

Enterprise IT might not be a start-up, or a global cloud provider, but it does need to think like a start-up, to think like a cloud provider, and to work out how to present that user-friendly interface to their staff.

You could argue that they need to think about how they can make their service desk invisible to users, in the same way that a SaaS vendor thinks “If I don’t make this easy, and appealing, then people will leave.” For too long enterprise IT has considered its audience captive; however shadow IT, outsourcing, and service integration and management (SIAM) all prove that this is not the case.

So What Can Corporate IT Organizations Do?

  1. Look at the applications within the enterprise and plan to move away from home-grown “Heath Robinson” to using standardized cloud services, such as SaaS, to reduce complexity (and by implication, reducing the need for a bloated service desk).
  2. Find where employees have used shadow IT, bypassing enterprise IT, to buy their own SaaS, and bring these applications into the fold such as federating identity with them.
  3. Analyze service desk traffic to identify opportunities to SaaS-ify. One of the most common service desk ticket type is “change password.” So put self-service password reset in for most commonly affected systems. For the systems that attract tickets such as “How do I use this?” consider moving to a more modern SaaS product that is more intuitive as well as offering self-service support.
  4. Transition the service desk itself to use a SaaS product.
  5. Check the temperature and create a feedback loop between users and the service desk: How are we doing? What gets in your way? Often a SaaS mindset has the answer.

Ultimately, an invisible service desk is good for the business because it is cheaper, better for users because it’s easy and gets out of the way of productivity, and it’s better for the service desk because they will have more bandwidth to focus on value-adding activities.

There’s a saying that good technology is like oxygen – you don’t think about it until it’s not there. Is the same true for good IT support and the service desk?

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Posted by Steve Chambers

Steve Chambers
Steve Chambers

Steve Chambers is a recovering IT practitioner and executive with over twenty years experience across the IT industry. From early beginnings in the world of the mainframe at a UK bank, Steve joined the dotcom years working for Loudcloud and working with the UK Cabinet Office on the direct.gov.uk precursor to Digital Government. Steve spent some intensive years at VMware helping customers understand the impact of virtualization on their service management, before kickstarting the converged infrastructure market with VCE and then becoming a Cloud CTO. Steve is using all of that battle experience to help Viewyonder clients get value out of Cloud and DevOps. Follow @ViewYonder for company info, or @stevie_chambers for a personal insight to the industry.


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