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Service Desk staff – a window to the IT organization

Maybe it sounds easy: hire a few people, teach them about the services we provide, tell them to be nice to the users… and there you go – Service Desk staff is in place. Or is it?

At one time, one of my tasks was to provide users of the IT services with adequate support. Quite an interesting formulation, isn’t it? And it really is. Let me briefly describe the status quo that we had before implementation of Service Desk started. Maybe you will recognize some situations.

“Service Desk” didn’t have formal organization, and communication with users was provided in the following ways:

  • Phone – every member of the IT department had their phone numbers listed in a local directory. And, that’s it. Find someone by department name (which is, in the case of the IT department, not that difficult) and chase him until you solve your issue(s).
  • In person – everyone knew where IT was sitting. Since most of the users faced inefficiency and ignorance when action was needed, most of them played it safe – talk to IT in person and control it themselves.
  • E-mail – when you drop a stone into a huge hole, what happens? Nothing. That was often the result – not always, but often – with e-mails users sent to IT.

Sound like there is a need for change? Of course.

A few thoughts to start

In my case, and I believe that this is valid for most small and medium companies, Service Desk type was defined by the company’s business model; i.e., I was supposed to build a local Service Desk. And I was thinking about how to solve the next big challenge – the staffing issue. How many people, which profile, during which working hours… etc.

In addition to using the ITIL approach, I had to find out more about users and their expectations. How? One of the methods that always works is to put yourself in the “user’s shoes.” In such a way you will get an idea about the user’s expectations and be able to decide how to organize (from a staffing point of view) your Service Desk. Additionally, I spent a significant amount of time talking to users. My goal was to get an impression about their skill level, complexity of the services IT provided to them and how services were supporting their business (this is probably the most important factor).

Gathering requirements

Requirements are essential, due to the fact that if you miss a requirement, you will miss the goals set for the Service Desk function (remember, Service Desk is one of the four functions defined in ITIL. So, how to define them?

My experience says – talk to the people. We organized meetings with people who already provided support: product managers, service managers, IT management staff… everyone involved in the IT services we needed to support. And, don’t forget the users.

All of these people are experienced with the services, and they can tell you about:

  • Existing support – how often do users require support, what kind of requirements are there.
  • Technology – what kind of technological solutions need to be supported; i.e., what is the required level of expertise for the staff.
  • Business goals – Service Level Manager can tell you about service levels that are agreed with the customer.

Staffing the Service Desk

Now, when there is enough information about users’ behaviors and expectations, services, business goals, required service levels, etc., then staffing the Service Desk should not be that difficult. Let me give you a few guidelines.

Support hours – there is a big difference depending on whether the Service Desk provides support 24×7 (24 hours a day, seven days a week) or 8×5. This also greatly affects the required number of Service Desk staff. Another issue is to figure out how to support users during peak hours. Providing temporary staff is one possibility.

Know-how – Service Desk deals, primarily, with incidents. They need to be resolved as quickly as possible. Therefore, skilled Service Desk staff is one of the key requirements. Their know-how can be built by educating them (a tip: define who is responsible for staff’s education for existing, as well as new services), but also by including more experienced staff (e.g., from 2nd or 3rd level support; i.e., Problem Management to be present at the Service Desk.

Tools – an efficient Service Desk is inconceivable without tools. There are tools that support most of the processes that Service Desk is involved with (e.g., Incident ManagementChange Management, Request Fulfillment, Service Asset and Configuration Management and tools that provide a knowledge base for IT staff, i.e., self-help for users.

Other processes – Besides Incident Management (incidents are Service Desk’s primary occupation), Service Desk is integrated or involved in many other processes. For example, incidents trigger (i.e., provide input for) Problem Management. Efficient Problem Management will decrease the number of incidents in the future. So, it is important that the interface between those two processes is efficient.

Ally – in bigger organizations, Key Users (or Super Users) can make life easier for Service Desk staff. These are people in a user’s organization (i.e., not IT staff), usually most experienced with the service(s), who can provide first-level support to their colleagues, filter incidents toward Service Desk, train/educate other users, etc.

A window to IT

Service Desk is a “window” to the IT organization. Users don’t see, e.g., developers. The only contact they have with IT is Service Desk. When users contact Service Desk, they should be satisfied with the provided service when the call is over. After all, they will judge the entire IT according to the service provided by Service Desk – and decide about paying IT’s invoices.

Advisera Branimir Valentic
Branimir Valentic
Branimir is an expert in IT service management (consultancy, training and tools), IT governance (training and consulting), project management and consultancy in IT and telecommunication. He holds the following certificates: ITIL Expert, ISO 20000, ISMS Lead Auditor and PRINCE2.