ITSM for Service Providers - unlocking customer value -

IT Service Management (ITSM) or the artist formerly known as ‘helpdesk’ has been around now for several decades.
Throughout that time, it has primarily been linked to the enterprise, very much seen as a ‘must have’ application for managing an enterprise’s user base – what business doesn’t have service management in its application portfolio? At the same time, despite the rise and rise of the Managed Service Provider (MSP) since the Internet went ‘public’, ITSM for Service Providers has not been held in the same regard as by the enterprise space. The only question here is: why not? Let’s look at the basic rationale; MSPs live in a very elastic demand environment – switching between service providers is nothing like as painful to a business as, say, changing its desktop/laptop platform (imagine moving from 100% Windows to 100% Apple, for example) or even adopting a new set of applications, replacing ones that have been in use within the business for many years. How would the user base feel about either of those? But those same users don’t care who the MSP is – they probably don’t even know.

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Service provision is, and always has been, a competitive minefield where profits are often hard to come by. Think back to the early days of MSPs and the billion-dollar providers who went bust… Customer engagement and retention are therefore more critical for service providers than for most companies in the global IT space. Fundamental to winning – and keeping – those customers is value-add; the mantra of MSPs since day one – “we will provide a bunch of value-added services” is a line that has been heard more often than excuses for England cricket team’s batting collapses… The problem with the value-add argument is that it’s easily said but very difficult to back up. It is fair to say, then, that an MSP needs all the customer-focused ammunition it can bring into play, all of which brings us back to the topic of ITSM for MSPs. If service management is designed primarily to maintain a happy user base, then surely it is a fundamental requirement for a service provider? Where MSPs have often gone wrong here is in assuming that they can deliver customer satisfaction using a mishmash of internal tools and applications, rather than a dedicated service management platform. It’s kind of like attempting to service a fleet of company cars using a stack of DIY manuals, rather than simply taking them to a garage that actually knows what it’s doing and understands every aspect of those vehicles. Which model would lead to a happier set of company car drivers?
Let us, then, look in more detail at how ITSM can improve the success rate and efficiency of an MSP in increasing and retaining its customer base, allowing it to provide true, value-added services as a real differentiator in what we have already noted is a cut-throat marketplace. Time, as they say, is money and managing potentially thousands of customer contracts is certainly time-consuming. It is especially so if that management “platform” consists of multiple tools and systems, all of which have to be integrated and effectively synchronised, if data duplication and erroneous resolution paths are to be avoided. Equally, each element of the “solution” has to learned and understood in the first place, so think of the training costs and time involved. Logically, then, using a true single platform to manage those contracts, and the support thereof, not only will reduce time spent but also improve the quality and efficiency of that customer support, from initial engagement to retaining that customer by providing them with the best quality service. It’s basic common sense.

ITSM provides Common Sense as a Service

The Sunrise platform provides that “Common Sense as a Service”, consolidating all supplier and customer details into a secure, central location, tracing every element of that contract – down to an individual – while providing a complete view of all activities. So, for example, details such as contract start and end dates, licence details, costs, special terms, the process of internal and legal review of each contract state such as suspension, termination and expiration, can all be defined and managed. This – vitally – enables an MSP to track and analyse the quality of service being delivered, as we’ll touch upon later. It also minimises the “human error” risk by providing automated warnings of expiring contracts, recording details of contract discussions in order to avoid losing contracts through simple mis-management. As part of the asset tracking, it can also optimise the costs for a customer by, for example, identifying wasted expenditure on licenses that are no longer in use. In general, visibility across the entire service supply chain is increased, so areas for improvement or potential risk can be readily identified and resolved.

Contracts for individual customers

Fundamental to managing the customer relationship is the ability to assign SLAs on multiple levels – for example to any element of a contract, the contract as a whole, a custom SLA for a specific customer, – and then tightly monitor the performance relating to those SLAs. The latter includes receiving live updates and allowing full information exchange, including providing the customers with the ability to use a self-service portal to monitor the state of play themselves. In this way they have direct access to information such as incidents and problems they’re working on, orders for products and services they provide, projects and work orders they’re involved in, or any other element that needs attention. Regular audits can be carried out – as required – to ensure appropriate service delivery levels are being attained and maintained.

Added value of Integration

As we’ve already intimated, product and service integration can be the death of IT; time, cost, incompatibility, data spread and duplicated here, there and everywhere… and if one element of a DIY approach to service management is, for example, discontinued, what do you do then? Help… The further issue with integration is that it’s not simply an internal exercise; integrating with external 3rd party systems is a massive potential value-add for an MSP looking to offer a custom “we go up to 11” service. Having the ability to readily integrate with an external system might be the difference between winning and losing a customer. Integration with common customer tools such as CRM systems brings the service provider and its customer closer together and therefore creates a platform for optimal interaction and easy visibility of the state of a relationship. Don’t lose that customer…
But here’s the elephant-sized fly in the ointment – integration is far from easy. Moreover, that integration needs to be maintained during the inevitable adds and changes that occur daily within IT, be it applications, data, or humans. Here is where the “A” word enters the building; over the years few IT buzzwords have been more abused than “automation”, but within a complex chain of data and applications, managing that chain is close to impossible without it being introduced. Sunrise understands this dilemma and has a true automation engine that, vitally, can automate processes inside and outside of the Sunrise platform itself, so data and operations are synchronised regardless of where they exist. This doesn’t simply extend to automating the management of integration between internal and external applications and data, but in terms of the communications between the two (or more) parties. The latter includes auto alerts and emails and calendar management, for example.

Automation for efficiency

On a general basis, there are obvious benefits to automating as many of the support procedures as possible, as it accelerates problem resolution, minimises human error and allows for pro-active support. It gives an MSP the all-important 24×7 interaction between all the different service management elements and each and every customer – without human intervention. It also helps enormously with managing those aforementioned contracts. All incidents raised are directly related to their relevant, pre-defined SLA levels and escalation options so, regardless of the complexity of the chain or workflow, the synchronisation is maintained. No finger pointing required here… And it is cost-effective from an MSP perspective; one basic automated template can provide the platform for servicing multiple customers, meaning happier users, better customer satisfaction, and better customer retention, optimal operations, increased profit generation – what’s not to like?

Analyse to gain advantage

So, you’re optimising interaction between MSP and customer base, synchronising every contact element, massively increasing operations visibility… how do you then take further advantage of that environment? The answer is in analysing that ongoing 24×7 operations flow and adding further value to the customer by identifying areas for improvement, opportunities and potential problems – before they happen. Yes, it’s a cliché, but having access to the right information at the right time – exactly when you need it – is gold dust. Contrast that with the scenario where it’s not obvious how to access the data, how to visualise it, finding the right report option, deep diving into the relevant – not the irrelevant – data…
Having both a comprehensive and fully customisable library of report options is therefore the final critical component in maximising customer engagement and satisfaction. How can you provide an optimal service if you can’t see what is actually going on, day-in day-out? Equally, if report options are available but – as has been the case all too often in the past – those report formats are very rigid and therefore irrelevant in many customer cases, what is the point of their existence? Fortunately, Sunrise provides a range of different reporting options which enable service providers to create reports on historical data, real-time statistics and tailor these so that only those who need to see it, do. Confidentiality is everything in a multi-tenant scenario but, equally, each customer wants to be treated as if they are unique and prioritised and therein lies the benefits of a fully customisable reporting engine.

Customer value at your fingertips

So, from a Sunrise perspective, it’s all about the ability to securely highlight the important information the way you want it and gain quick access with a single click, using configurable dashboards and a library of gadgets that get you immediately to where you want to be, rather than taking the “public bus service” route to the data – “why has it turned down that road?” With Sunrise you can create dashboards specific to a customers’ core requirements, customising layouts and access. Immediate visibility of ongoing trends is catered for with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – instant visualisation of the health of a customer service delivery across all processes. Important information, such as service status, can be published in summary or in detail, on demand or scheduled. Again, it’s all about time-saving, increased productivity, better service delivery performance and customer management. None of it is rocket science, yet it’s amazing how many service providers fail to deliver – just check out the analyst surveys.
Importantly, Sunrise understands it can’t do everything, so the platform supports data integration with 3rd party analysis tools, such as Microsoft’s Power BI data analytics service, for intensive drilling down into data specifics. The report engine encompasses Service Desk Institute (SDI) accredited reports – these allow an MSP to report on a monthly basis to see how it is performing against the preset KPIs and can be reviewed internally and or shared with customers. For example, you can see average response and resolution times and resulting customer satisfaction levels – vital for customer retention. Reviewing regular performance updates can show key metrics on a per customer basis, notably performance against each and every customer SLA – and it’s a two-way thing; some customers are better suited to a service provider than others, so the analysis reflects the bidirectional experience, not simply the service delivery.
Again, it’s all about optimising customer retention. And hooking new ones in the first place. And making bigger profits.

Author: Steve Broadhead, Broadband-testing, technology journalist & blogger Computer Weekly / Techtarget.