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ITSM: Shift Left, Left, Left…

By | September 17, 2014 in Service Desk

Consider the concept of shift left in ITSM

When looking at ways to improve your IT support and service desk, it’s always useful to take a look at what managed service providers (MSPs) are doing, since their entire business is based on successful and efficient service delivery – so they will always have some good ideas to consider.

The Shift Left Concept

One of the most prevalent of these ideas over recent years has been the concept of shift left – which means moving the activity of providing resolution support as close to the front line and customer as possible.

The concept is simple. By moving the capability and delivery of resolution work to the immediate front line, this reduces waiting time for customers, simplifies support activity and (important for outsourcers) reduces the actual cost of dealing with the incident. So, an incident fixed at the front line might cost $10, whereas the cost rises steeply for 2nd and 3rd level support to $100/$300, due to the increased numbers of staff involved, their costs, the cost of extended user downtime, etc.

For many organizations, at a very basic level this is the prime activity that they might look at, in terms of service modeling, i.e. how they define the sort of service and service levels that are provided by their support structure. There are also often questions raised about the value of this approach, notably with the development of self-service and crowdsourcing in recent years, particularly as the models and norms of IT Support and IT service management (ITSM) are constantly being challenged.

However, in general, the concept is a good and valuable one as it provides several highly desirable benefits, for both short and long-term gain, examples of which I will discuss below.

Speeding Up Resolution Time for Users, Thereby Improving the Customer Experience

We all know that if you can fix an issue on the first call this greatly improves customer satisfaction. No one likes being passed around or having to wait, then chase, then wait again. The old ‘Helpdesk’ model of ‘log and refer’ wasn’t usually supported by slick escalation processes and a culture of collaboration, so often incidents were delayed not because the IT organization couldn’t fix them, but simply because IT wasn’t organized into a service model that worked to achieve the quickest possible resolution for the customer or business.

This is clearly a poor level of business support (where business performance is impacted by chaotic or incompetent IT management) and has led to a focus on pushing resolution competence and capability to the front line. The key element here is unproductive user time, not just bad experience. If customers are unable to work, this is punishing the very business that the IT organization is there to support.

So, the faster the resolution time, the less productive downtime for the customer. This should be simple and obvious, however many IT people and organizations have resisted this over the years based on fear, prejudice, and ignorance – fear of losing their technical power, prejudice against ‘lower level’ technical people on service desks, and ignorance of the impact of their views and actions.

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Simplifying the Escalation and Support Processes, Essentially Cutting Out Waste and Hassle

In simple terms, the whole process of escalationacceptance/rejection, updating, chasing, resolving, closing, and QA – is a painful one. So if this is reduced to a minimum, it also reduces friction between teams and reduces the time spent or wasted chasing updates, negotiating on priorities, etc. This in itself is a cost and efficiency saving but also allows re-focussing on high value work, for all concerned at different levels in the support model. Once in place, shift left removes a level of attrition, waste, and inefficiency that benefits both provider and customer alike.

Cost Reduction

Basically it’s cheaper.There is a general consensus of agreement on this, since the figures have been around for some time from Gartner, for example, which show the cost of resolution increasing across 1st to 3rd levels of support in an IT organization. Of course nowadays there is also self-help and self-service, which is the ‘zero level’ and which is even cheaper that human 1st level support.

So to return to the initial point, this is where MSPs can achieve value – their focus is of course on saving costs but in reality (unless this is done very poorly), using the shift left process will result in an improvement in speed of resolution, customer experience, and simplicity in operation too.

Overall Shift Left Shows a Commitment to Service and Customer Experience – Or At Least It Should!

It certainly provides the framework that would deliver better and faster resolution of issues and therefore reduction in downtime.

What If It’s Just Done Only for Cost Saving?

Of course the customer experience may still need to be reviewed and improved, e.g. if the analysts/agents do not provide good customer care, etc. However there is still a focus with this on reducing the interruptions and inconveniences to the customer.

What Are the Implications of Shift Left? What Do We Need to Do for Success?

Traditional retained IT organizations have often struggled to come to terms with the real implications of shifting left. As mentioned above, this can be due to misplaced fears and uncertainties, as well as politics and empire building. True quality customer service and customer experience needs these barriers to be removed in order to achieve a consolidated and seamless service ‘supply chain’ and collaborative workforce.

Key Pointers to Removing Barriers

  • Continual Service Improvement can be a strong driver; customer feedback and priority can be even stronger. There’s a need to document and prioritise key internal service improvements but also set these in the light of what customers say they want and need to do their jobs effectively. Customer feedback must be the most powerful mandate for action and this can trump any technical teams’ objections to change.
  • Knowledge management and its level of maturity in the organisation is a key factor in getting information, expertise and practical solutions documented and shared across teams.
  • It can be helpful to start setting targets for numbers of incidents that are passed over from technical teams to the front line, e.g. monthly targets. It’s also useful to have some simple pre-forms (as part of the knowledge approach) for handing these over.

The greatest challenge often is around changing the mindset that can’t allow service desk/front line teams to carry out apparently difficult/technical/high risk functions (those that need to be done by experienced people). That’s missing the point. If the business need is to get the issues resolved more quickly than can be practically done by escalation, then the model needs to change, i.e. the structure, staffing, and skills of the service desk. So they need to be trained, or re-hired. That’s the extreme end of the scale and in most cases, once the argument has been won, it’s a matter of simply delivering good knowledge management, staff training, and ongoing governance and management.

But Remember, Shift Left Doesn’t Always Work

Finally, shift left doesn’t work for every situation and should be considered in context of business need and priority. Some emergency/critical services simply need a log and triage approach. It should however always be considered as a valuable customer experience option and used as a de facto approach, rather than the other way round.

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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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