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How Valuable Is Your IT Service Desk?

By | April 2, 2019 in Service Desk

Watering SysAid flowers

We – the proud members of the IT service management (ITSM) community – often think of IT service desk performance in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. We’ve metrics that quantify how quickly our people work, plus how much work (relative to the demand for IT support) is done each month. Then, there are many other common metrics that look at the mechanics of running an IT service desk and providing a support service that meets service-level agreement (SLA) targets. And I struggle to remember a time when this wasn’t the case.

For many organizations, all these metric targets are met month-on-month, and quarter-on-quarter, with the monthly IT service desk performance report showing a pictorial “field of green.” It’s a green tick in every possible performance-metric box, and life is good.

Or is it?

You’ve probably heard much talk of late about the need for experience level agreements (XLAs), that are better suited to:

  • Understanding how business colleagues perceive the service they receive from IT support
  • Establishing how IT activities affect real business operations and outcomes.

So, it’s an interesting time to better understand where we are (in IT support) and what needs to change to: firstly, stay relevant and to, secondly, continually increase the business value that’s created by the IT service desk.

The business’ views on IT service desk value

The following pie chart is taken from a recent Service Desk Institute (SDI) report called: “The State of Service Desk Strategy 2018.”

Do you think the service desk is considered valuable by the rest of IT/the business?

Source: SDI

So, in SDI’s sample of survey respondents – which was 55% Service Desk Managers – and using a little interpretive license, only 25% thought that their IT service desk and its efforts were perceived as valuable by the rest of IT/the business.

And, in these times where the focus on, and demonstration of, value – and, importantly, business value – is a growing ITSM industry trend, it’s worrying to think that we still have a disconnect between what our IT service desks do (including the things covered by performance measures) and what they achieve in a business context.

In some ways, I would argue that IT service desks are victims of their own success

This might seem like a strange statement to make. But it’s very similar to the 60% block in the above pie chart – where the efforts of the IT service desk are taken for granted. With a certain level of performance perceived as the norm, and therefore simply getting through a high volume of incidents and service requests each day is neither considered exceptional nor valuable.

At some point in time, when the IT service desk (or IT help desk) was introduced – or the IT support capability “of old” received a big uplift in effectiveness thanks to the adoption of best practices and/or a fit-for-purpose ITSM tool – the efforts and value of the service desk were far more apparent.

The perception of improvement and value then plateaus, and the service desk is simply taken for granted. Perhaps harshly, it might also be seen as an IT service delivery “cost of quality” caused by the IT department failing to get things right in the first place – despite the causes of reported issues often being outside of the control of IT personnel.

Plus, let’s not forget that IT service desk performance often isn’t really noticed until something important goes wrong, perhaps really wrong.

So, how valuable is your IT service desk?

And how can you increase its value (or its perceived value)?

Firstly, we need to be able to define value; before then being able to measure it.

And should we then also ask: How valuable are your IT service desk staff?

After all, how many of us have said at some time in the past: “ITSM, or IT support, is all about the people.” And if we can prove the worth, or value, of the IT service desk and then strive to increase upon that value – are the people who are creating, or co-creating, that value more important to business operations than their current position in the organizational hierarchy and remuneration currently reflect? There’s a lot to consider here, so I think this is a topic for another blog.

How valuable is your IT service desk? And how can you increase its value (or its perceived value)? @sarahlahav discusses her two-part approach to find out. Click To Tweet

A simple two-part approach to ascertaining, and improving, perceptions of IT service desk value

It’s important to start here by stating that this is really a business stakeholder, not an IT organization, assessment of value.

After all, how many IT people would currently feel confident in expressing what the business as a whole considers to be of value, even before assessing how well the IT service desk is doing against the chosen value-based criteria.

But the IT organization does need to create a capability with which to launch, and then continue, any assessment activities. I’m offering up a two-part approach to do this, and it’s important to understand that these parts aren’t linear in nature – you can do either one before the other, or it might be best to do both simultaneously, learning as you go:

  1. Assess your current IT service desk metrics against any possible form of business value. If you already know what’s important to business stakeholders, then you’ve something tangible to assess against. But if this has still to be established, then simply asking whether someone outside of IT would care about each metric is still an interesting early exercise to undertake – because it starts to encourage the right sort of thinking while also quickly identifying where focus, analytical effort, and potentially any improvement activity is currently misplaced.
  2. Engage in a series of conversations with key business stakeholders, and other employees, to understand how they receive value from IT service delivery and support (in my opinion, it needs to cover more than just the IT service desk because service delivery might be unknowingly adversely impacting views of IT support). The aim here is to better understand the employee or customer experience in the context of both IT’s operations and performance and the recipients’ expectations.

You can address the latter in a number of ways, but I recommend engaging in physical conversations rather than requesting that people fill out a survey-like form. Why? Because the most important feedback might not come from the initial questions but from ancillary questions posed in response to the initial answers – such that it’s a real conversation that digs deeper than any survey could. It’s also important to stress that people have the freedom to say whatever they want and that it doesn’t matter if they can’t justify it (or in fact if they’re factually incorrect). It’s still how they perceive aspects of IT support and the IT service desk.

This will help you to pinpoint what’s important to the people you serve and to highlight the areas of IT support operations, and outcomes, that drive business value. Plus, in my experience, just starting to ask the questions – and to show that you care – is enough to start the elevation of perceptions.

“Are you sure there isn’t some simple best-practice value-based metric we can use instead?”

This might not be where you wanted to be when starting to read this blog – you were probably hoping for a very black-and-white way to understand the value of your IT service desk. But sadly, it will likely always be somewhat of a gray area – as Joe the IT Guy mentions in his “A – Z of ITSM” blog under the letter G: “It’s time to finally realize that there’s a lot of gray in ITSM. And that it’s okay.

Any assessment of IT service desk value is always going to need to be about customers’ perceptions based on what value means to them. And – while it’s easy to say that this is going to be somehow related to business revenues, business profit, and risk – it’s going to differ across organizations and also within organizations (across functions and then roles).

The important thing is not to assume that IT knows what business colleagues value. And not to assume that existing IT service desk performance measures are capable of demonstrating value (or potentially anything deemed worthwhile by business colleagues). Instead, there’s a need to take the time to truly understand what will tick the boxes for various business stakeholders; and also appreciating that this might change over time.

A quick Google of “IT service desk value-based metrics” will prove my point – there’s nothing available off-the-shelf. There are helpful tools available though. For instance, the Business Relationship Management (BRM) Institute offers both a Business Value Ability Model and a Business Value Ability Organizational Assessment. And Gartner offers advice on metrics that will matter to business leaders (a paywalled piece of research).

So, where do you sit relative to the value of your IT service desk? Have you defined, and reported on, it? Or would you struggle to articulate it (or even know where to start)? If you’ve made progress – and an survey states that: “13% of survey respondents know exactly how their IT organization’s annual investment in IT positively impacts their business” – I’d love to know what you did to accomplish this. Please let me know in the comments.

Sarah Lahav

About Sarah Lahav

As the company’s 1st employee, Sarah has remained the vital link between SysAid Technologies and its customers since 2003. Current CEO, former VP Customer Relations. Always passionate about customer service! Mother of three adorable children – she juggles work, family, and zumba classes with ease.

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