Self-Service in IT

15 Tips for Getting Started with Self-Service – Part 1

Self-service for IT is one of those things that’s relatively easy to “do” but not so easy to get right, i.e. to deliver a capability that end users want to, and do, use. And sadly, many corporate IT departments have struggled with self-service; or, more specifically, with adoption by end users.

It’s important for corporate IT organizations to understand that just because end users are using self-service in their personal lives, it doesn’t automatically mean that they will be amenable to corporate capabilities, IT or otherwise, if the capabilities don’t meet their expectations of ease-of-use and, ultimately, value. After all, if self-service is more difficult than picking up the phone to call the service desk, why would anyone prefer to use it?

But ensuring “ease-of-use” is just the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done to improve the odds of the IT department’s self-service success. This blog, and the Part 2 that will follow (I had to break it up even though breaking up is hard to do), outlines a number of the key things that need to be considered and addressed when starting out with self-service. Or, for those companies that are still struggling with self-service, to make it a success at the second (or possibly third) attempt.

1. Learn from the Mistakes of Failed Self-Service Initiatives

This might seem an odd tip to start with, however most of the other tips included here are based on the mistakes and learnings of other companies and their self-service initiatives. And while it’s not great that there are so many “failure” stories, usually evidenced by low end-user adoption levels, they do offer up a wealth of learning.

There’s definitely a lot to learn from others, either directly or in an aggregated form such as advice from IT industry analysts or consultants. So ensure that the self-service project team has dialogs with other companies, and seeks out industry good practices, related to common mistakes and how to prevent or circumvent them. Plus, of course, don’t forget to learn from your own company’s previous mistakes.

2. Understand What Self-Service Is

Firstly, it’s important to recognize that offering just a service catalog does not equate to a self-service portal, and that self-service is so much more than just service catalog.

Secondly, understand that self-service can be a collection of a number of different capabilities such as:

  • The ability for end users to log issues and service requests
  • Access to knowledge articles including FAQs
  • Status updates on outstanding tickets
  • The ability to engage with service desk agents via other channels when needed, such as chat
  • Peer-to-peer support, allowing end users to offer and receive help from each other
  • The management of personal IT asset information
  • Password reset
  • The automated fulfilment of service requests or automated fixes
  • IT service status updates and other broadcast messages
  • Access to downloads
  • A service calendar of future releases and planned downtime
  • Vending coffee … OK, this one is here to make sure that you are still paying attention

Finally, it’s important to ensure that all involved parties (see Tip #6) understand what self-service will entail for your organization.

3. Think of Self-Service as a Capability, Not a Technology

One of the most fundamental mistakes that IT departments make with self-service is to treat it as a technology, rather than a business, project. Of course there’s a big technology element, but end users are ultimately looking for capabilities that help them. So ensure that everyone involved understands that it’s not about the technology. That instead it’s about the capabilities available as a result of the technology.

4. Scope the Self-Service Project Carefully

A “big bang” approach to any project can be problematic. If a project tries to do too much, then the extended timeframe and added complexity can mean that by the time it delivers anything, it’s too late, misses the mark, or both. Conversely, a project that delivers too little can underwhelm and thus lose end-user interest and confidence. And, particularly in the case of self-service, losing the end-user audience is a death knell for the IT department’s self-service ambitions. Instead, “strike a happy medium; just enough functionality to be really useful, but delivered fast enough that it’s still relevant when it’s delivered.”

It’s also important to be extremely clear about the objectives of the initiative, in particular which business issues and opportunities need to be addressed? And definitely don’t state the objective as something like “creating a self-service capability.”

5. Don’t Just Do Self-Service to Save Money

When self-service was initially proposed as a big opportunity for corporate IT departments it was very much “an opportunity to save money.” Importantly, though, while it can (and will) save money it will only do so if end users start to use it. Think about the logic of it – if the only purpose of the project is to save money, will it deliver a “cheap and cheerful” capability that people won’t want to use? However, if the project is focused on delivering a good end-user experience, then there is more chance that they will use it and thus deliver projected cost savings.

6. Sell the Benefits of Self-Service to All Stakeholders

It’s important to ensure that all stakeholders, including end users, understand the “what’s in it for me.” These stakeholders will include:

  • End users, with whom it’s essential to consult with throughout the project. This will help to ensure that the solution you deliver is going to meet their needs.
  • Customers – your customers are responsible for defining and agreeing on IT services (as well as paying for them). They can help ensure that you prioritize the needs of the correct end users.
  • Service desk, technical support, and application support, who will help to prioritize what capabilities to include in early phases, and what can be left until later.
  • IT service management (ITSM) process owners, as self-service will most likely have a knock-on effect on how IT is managed within your organization.

7. Involve End Users from the Outset

While included in the previous tip, it’s worth breaking this point out. End users are ultimately the people who know how they want to (and do) use self-service capabilities, including:

  • What they will use it for
  • What they consider is a reasonable amount of time to spend logging an issue, ordering something, or undertaking self-help
  • The elements that are must-haves versus those that are nice-to-haves
  • The “deal breakers” – the things that will make self-service “dead to them”

Therefore, to improve the chances of success, end users should not only be consulted for requirements; they should also be actively engaged as members of the self-service project team, providing input at every stage – from planning to delivery.

8. Focus on Customer Experience Not Just the Self-Service UI

End users will only truly adopt the corporate IT self-service capability if they have a good experience. And will conversely not use the capability if they have a poor experience, especially one that makes getting support or service harder than the traditional service desk channels.

So when designing a self-service capability, and any of its constituent parts, every process, every screen, and every touch point needs to be designed to create the best possible user experience. And as mentioned earlier, we can’t assume that just delivering some consumer-like technology is going to be enough to encourage end users to move away from the access and communication channels they currently use to engage with the IT department.

So that’s my first eight tips for getting started with self-service. Please look out for part two of the blog.

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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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