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How to Create Value-Based Metrics for Your IT Service Desk

By | September 17, 2019 in Service Desk


There are a number of trends affecting IT service management (ITSM) and the IT service desk right now. One that sits at the top of the “Oh, that’s difficult” pile is that of value demonstration – with this not simply being value for money. Because, while many business conversations are moving from a focus on cost to value, it can be difficult to know what value actually is and then how best to measure and report it.

Some people might see this as a reincarnation of the focus on “IT-to-business alignment,” which has been oft-quoted but rarely publicly addressed in the last ten years. There are similarities but, this time, IT has to deliver tangible change or risk losing relevance. It’s a tough nut that needs to be cracked – starting with what value is.

What’s value?

There are many definitions out there. For instance, the ITIL 4 Foundation Edition defines value as:

“The perceived benefits, usefulness, and importance of something.”

So, why is your IT service desk useful and important? In answering this question, it’s easy to make the same mistakes that we always have when it comes to both our “description of purpose” and the portfolio of IT support metrics we employ.

While many business conversations are moving from a focus on cost to value, it can be difficult to know what value actually is and then how best to measure and report it, says @Joe_the_IT_Guy Click To Tweet

You are what you measure

If I were to guess what your IT service desk currently measures, beyond it potentially measuring far too many things just because your ITSM tool makes it easy to do so, I would go for the common metrics such as:

  • The number of incidents/service requests
  • First contact resolution (FCR) level
  • Average resolution time
  • Average speed to answer and abandonment rate (for the telephone channel)
  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT).

Which, if we park CSAT for a moment, relate to “how many” and “how fast” in the main. These metrics are focused on the mechanics of IT support rather than something more akin to the value provided by the IT service desk. Then, the true worth of your CSAT measurement is also questionable – from the small sample size, through the questions asked (again likely mechanics-related), to the profile of respondents (from the angry though to the ecstatic).

You might be thinking, “Well, tell me some best practice value metrics then!” And here’s the issue, there aren’t any that:

  1. Have been repeatedly proven
  2. Are freely available to access
  3. Are nicely packaged for any IT service desk, of any size, and in any industry to simply pick up and use.

Of course, if you’re a customer of a credible research firm, then you’ll have access to papers such as Gartner’s “How to Establish I&O Metrics That Matter to Business Leaders.” But try Googling for something you can immediately access for free and it’s a different matter.

There is help available though. For instance, the following three blogs by my good friend Stuart Rance:

Plus, I’m hopeful that, given ITIL 4’s focus on the co-creation of value, the next wave of ITIL 4 publications will offer guidance on value measurement based on industry success stories. But this won’t be free to access. If it does, then great (and it’ll still be a case of adopt and adapt). If not, then we’re back to needing to create something ourselves – which is probably the best approach anyway given what I have to say next!

Here’s the “how” part of the blog in three parts:

  1. Understand what key business stakeholders value

This is probably what makes it so difficult. Different business stakeholders will value different things, and this will potentially change over time. For some, it’ll be the more obvious aspects of business such as revenue and profit levels, or risk reduction. However, for others, it’s likely to be different things and, for measurement purposes, there’s a need to get specific and to be demonstrable. This might involve the need to reverse engineer from a desired business outcome back to how IT and IT support affects that desired outcome.

Depending on the industry, there’ll likely be operational aspects to leverage. For example, the level of lost output (and associated revenue) that can be attributed to IT issues in manufacturing. Or in service-based industries such as healthcare, the level of unwanted scenarios (for example, patient deaths) that can be attributed to IT failures.

However, while such metrics are great at elevating the focus of IT support to what’s important to, and valued by, the parent business, there’s also the need to focus on what’s important to different types of stakeholder. For example, employees might value quickly becoming productive again above all else.

This article by @Joe_the_IT_Guy looks at three ways in which you can start to introduce value-based metrics to your IT service desk. #servicedesk Click To Tweet
  1. Don’t assume that you know what business stakeholders value

Despite the last sentence in the previous section – it’s important not to guess what different business stakeholders deem to be of value. Instead, they need to be asked at the starting point of value-based metric creation. So, set up a schedule of conversations around how IT support currently helps and how it could help them more – with this a platform upon which to design and agree on new metrics.

It’s also an opportunity to assess the IT support metric status quo, establishing which of the current portfolio of key performance indicators (KPIs) are valuable to different stakeholders. For example, mean time to restore (MTTR) as an indicator of speed, potentially across different IT services with different levels of business criticality. I think that you’ll be surprised, and perhaps a little upset, about how few of your existing IT support metrics are consistently considered important to different business stakeholders.

  1. You can also measure and report on value using traditional IT support metrics

While there’ll be opportunities for new organization-specific metrics related to value, you shouldn’t overlook the status quo. Because while some metrics, when viewed in isolation, might not appeal to stakeholders, certain pairings might do (and, again, don’t guess here – ask them).

For example, a reduction in the average handling cost per ticket might actually be frowned upon as a sign that the IT service desk is cutting costs at the expense of business operations, i.e. a dollar saved in support might cost at least ten times this in employee lost productivity. It might be considered suboptimal behavior. Whereas a reduction in the average handling cost per ticket in conjunction with improved CSAT, or employee experience, scores tells a much different story about IT service desk value.

Ultimately, such metric pairings will also depend on having the right conversations with the right people about how your IT service desk creates, and sometimes destroys, value for different business teams.

So, introducing value-based metrics isn’t easy. But it’s important, especially if your IT service desk wants to be relevant, and important, to the rest of the business. If you’ve already had success with value demonstration, please share your advice with others in the comments sections below.

Joe The IT Guy

About 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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