How to stop the service desk coming last in the BYOD race

How do we stop the service desk coming last in the race to adopt BYOD?

A guide produced in partnership with:

  • Cherwell
  • Hornbill
  • Sunrise

Bring Your Own Device threatens and undermines the very existence of IT support, yet those willing to adapt have the opportunity to refine and galvanise the service desk. This guide to supporting BYOD reveals the six steps that must be followed to ensure the service desks copes with the influx of consumer tech and ensures that IT support has a bright future.

Once the guardians of technology, service desks’ reluctance to support user-bought devices means they are relinquishing their authoritative technology position. If this shift is not addressed, service desks face the embarrassment of becoming the department with the least knowledge of technologies used by the business.

This guide to BYOD explains the enormity of the BYOD problem and why it is a microcosm for a dilemma that will define the future of the IT support industry. Beyond a call to arms, this guide will offer six clearly defined steps for those wishing to tackle BYOD. From the current starting point of fear and distrust those willing to follow the six steps laid out in this guide have an opportunity to create a service desk which is invaluable to the business.


Fear of the BYOD invasion

The scale of the BYOD invasion differs depending on which piece of research you read. A study from Hornbill, for example, shows that 40 per cent of the working population are already using unauthorised technology for work purposes. However, there is no need to rely on research when the evidence is all around us: tablets and smartphones, predominantly either from Apple or powered by Google’s Android, have become ubiquitous in business.

Few would deny that the speed at which these devices have entered the workspace has presented an IT support challenge. Yet while no one expected an expanded, well-defined support facility to emerge overnight, now that BYOD is here to stay there are fewer excuses for ignoring this issue.

Before we move on to the six steps for supporting BYOD, first we must tackle the factor that is holding most service desks back: fear.

Service desks most often cite fears over security and data protection as the chief reasons why they are reluctant to accept BYOD. Simon Kent, head of technical business services for ITSM software specialist Cherwell Software, says this is a smokescreen hiding service desks from the real problem that BYOD presents. ‘We’ve had security measures in place for data and restrictions on email and internet usage for years. The fear of BYOD is not security, the fear is there will be nothing left for the service desk to do if IT services and devices are procured and self-supported by users.’

Pat Bolger, chief evangelist for service desk technology specialist Hornbill, says that this fear of losing control is intensified by IT’s legacy of locking down technology. ‘The fear factor comes from the fact that we’ve spent so long in IT trying to establish control. We standardised desktops because when everything is the same we can apply a common approach to resolution. We’ve spent so long in this mindset but now the complete opposite approach is needed.’

Service desks hoping that BYOD is a fad need to look at how quickly individuals’ working habits are changing according to Bolger. ‘People are increasingly bypassing corporate IT. Take me as an example, I use an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air, I have sourced productivity apps – I simply don’t need what we think of as ‘IT’ anymore. Listening to University of Sheffield on ITSMTV, they admit control was lost a long time ago. The job used to be break/fix, now customers call when they need help with IT usability and productivity issues.’

Building the type of proactive, customer-orientated service desk outlined by Bolger may seem a tall order, but unless positive steps are taken now, the very existence of an IT support department is under threat according to Simon Kent. ‘The mindset of many service desks – ‘you’re on your own (with BYOD), don’t come to us’ – it sounds like the IT Crowd. If this attitude persists and the business is forced elsewhere for support, what CFO is going to maintain funding for the service desk?’


BYOD Step One: Acceptance

In just a few years, BYOD and consumerisation has undone 30 years of corporate IT planning. The knowledge gap which once existed between the IT department and users has been eroded at a shockingly fast rate, so pretending that it still exists makes service desks look arrogant and foolish. Geoff Rees, sales director of ITSM service desk supplier Sunrise Software, sums up the absurdity of the situation: ‘IT continues to wrap mystery around something that is no longer mystical.’

Accepting that the IT landscape has changed means letting go of the safety measures which technology departments have constructed. ‘IT organisations typically want to cover every ‘what if’ scenario and this mentality causes initiatives to run very slowly. IT has been trying to lock down and control for 30 years and, yes, there are issues around security and privacy of data, but to accept BYOD, IT needs to embrace change, not obstinate further,’ says Rees.

Service desks must accept that BYOD isn’t going to change IT consumption, it already has. They must accept that many users now have more knowledge of business technology than the IT support staff. Above all, they must accept that the break/fix services they have offered for many years are now largely redundant, and that a customer-first mindset must take over

Accepting these facts isn’t an admission of failure. Accepting these facts doesn’t mean the service desk has given up. On the contrary, accepting BYOD and embracing the implications of consumerisation is the first, crucial step for ensuring your service desk will continue delivering a meaningful business contribution.


BYOD Step Two: Stop, Look and Listen

Service desks bold enough to overcome their fear and prejudice of BYOD quickly encounter another problem: where do we start? Whereas once IT support needed to master a relatively simple IT infrastructure, with PCs and laptops centrally secured and all software being given the corporate seal of approval, now with myriad devices, apps and cloud services entering the workplace, how can we possibly support them all?

It is vital at this stage not to succumb to the fear, for two reasons:

  1. We have already established that fear and hiding is not an option; BYOD will not go away
  2. There is a simple solution to the ‘what do we support’ conundrum

Simon Kent says that IT has a tendency to pre-empt what the business wants but, in the case of BYOD, it simply needs to stop, look and listen. ‘IT doesn’t have to suddenly become expert in everything, but it must improve communication with the business. Service desks should ask the business: ‘we know you’re bringing your own devices, we know we can’t stop it, but we want to know what you use them for?”

By taking this approach, service desks may find the ‘problem’ is not really a problem at all. ‘Users might not want any help beyond hooking up to wireless. Or they might use a tablet predominantly for Facebook. If the latter is true, it’s not an IT issue. However, if they are using it to access, there’s an opportunity for the service desk to practice good supplier management with Salesforce and build print integration into the workflow,’ argues Kent.

BYOD is like the monster hiding in the dark which seems more menacing than it is because it is shrouded in shadow. ‘BYOD seems such a big issue because IT hasn’t a clue what’s out there and being used,’ says Pat Bolger.

‘There’s a chicken and egg element to BYOD – how do you know what you need to support until you start supporting it; well, there are ways to approach it. Most organisations have a self-service component, so why not add a range of devices to the support option drop down menus and see what are the most popular technologies,’ concludes Bolger.

Whether gathered through a portal, a survey or face-to-face cconversations, establishing what technology the business uses is vital to the BYOD support process. Although every business will differ, it is likely that some of the support burden may actually reduce once it becomes clear what is in use. ‘The hardware used by the business is increasingly tethered by its owners with manufacturers or third parties contracts, so there is little need for support for the kit itself,’ says Geoff Rees.

Just as the acceptance of user-owned devices offers service desks the opportunity to evolve, step two of our BYOD guide turns a problem into a positive. In the process of listening, service desks will almost certainly find there are services which are unused, and similarly that fixes can be easily created for common problems. The service desk doesn’t need to support every technology, it just needs to support the IT that users need help with. To find out what this is, just ask.


BYOD Step Three: Begin to Define What You Support

ITSM, for better or worse, has largely been about creating an absolute structure for managing business services, e.g. if action X takes place, process Y kicks in and leads to a documented Z conclusion. Adopting the stop, look and listen approach to solving BYOD means this rigid approach no longer fits. Geoff Rees encapsulates the mindset shift which must occur for a BYOD strategy to be successful. ‘Stop measurement for the sake of measurement, IT deliberates too much. The key is to focus on what’s important rather than on everything.’

The future of the service desk, not just in the context of BYOD, will be defined by a flexible approach to solving technology challenges, as Simon Kent outlines. ‘Service desks exist to support the business, so once you’ve asked the business what it requires from you, list some services such as application support, print services, supplier management etc, and then build a mechanism so the users can tell you what they want ongoing. You may be surprised; instead of buying new PCs every few years, you might find that people just want a bluetooth keyboard and projector adaptor to go with their tablet,’ says Kent.

The idea is that rather than providing a service catalogue of IT that may or may not be used, service desks can save themselves time and resource by zeroing in on what is important to the business. ‘The desks which will be successful will focus on the service, becoming like the hotel concierge. So if the marketing manager needs a iPad connector for a presentation, the service desk should be able to send it out this afternoon, and also check whether it needs configuring for a certain app, meaning the marketing person can focus on what they get paid to do,’ concludes Kent.

The example by Kent shows the potential power of service desks which free themselves from the shackles of an ultra-controlled IT environment. Yet while the decentralised approach to delivering IT services is to be applauded, there are basic rules that must be adhered to which allow the service desk to prove its contribution to the business.

‘The average service desk doesn’t know how much it costs to support the Office suite per customer per month. The problem is there are multiple factors around training, cost to deploy new versions, costs to support. Yet because we don’t know these costs, when the sales guy comes in and offers to take the problem away for £25 per month, the CFO takes it because it’s a tangible number,’ says Pat Bolger.

It is important to measure not just the cost of new services, but also record any savings made by eliminating redundant support services. The beauty of following the six steps to supporting BYOD is that it crystallises what is important. This intelligence will allow the service desk to perform what looks like alchemy: offering an expanded range of support while reducing costs.

In summary, step three means you offer a limited range of services for BYOD based on the feedback from customers and begin to define the support offering based on further feedback. The key however is keeping the defined parameters fluid, with the option to change along with customer requirements.


BYOD Step Four: Use Existing Knowledge and Resources

David Greene, European service manager for law firm DLA Piper, has extensive experience of BYOD, ever since a hardware refresh project made it clear that the lawyers wanted to use their own technology. (Read the full story of how DLA Piper has embraced BYOD, the steps it has taken to maintain security, while ensuring staff are able to work effectively with their own devices). There are many lessons to be taken from the DLA experience, but the main message is not to panic, and instead establish what the business requires from IT support and then work forwards from there.

Greene also points out that service desks almost certainly have resources in place that can make user-owned device support less daunting, which leads to the fourth step in our guide to BYOD. ‘The majority of the support teams already use Android and Apple devices and they are able to guide our people to get the best out of these technologies,’ says David Greene. The fear that customers are already so adept using mobile devices they no longer need support from IT is also dispelled by Greene. ‘A large number of the 9,500 DLA staff have not embraced these new devices, so support can continually push how to get the most out of them.’

If service desks are to remain relevant, it is crucial they encourage staff to use the same devices as the business before the knowledge gap does become a problem. ‘Service desks must be using Apple and Android kit today – that’s non-negotiable. Yes, the number of devices is increasing, but you probably have experts to cover all of these devices, whether inside or outside support, that are happy to be ‘champions’ of knowledge. People like being listened to, that’s what blogs and Twitter are about,’ says Geoff Rees of Sunrise.

Harnessing this existing pool of knowledge is crucial for tackling BYOD without making an unrealistic investment in support training. It is impossible for any service desk to know every detail about every smartphone, tablet and the various operating systems that power them. Happily, they don’t have to. ‘Your business already has extensive knowledge of apps, tablets and smartphones. Your staff already support each other, so take advantage of this fact and begin to formalise the knowledge,’ insists Cherwell’s Simon Kent.


BYOD Step Five: Self-service and Collaboration

‘In my experience, the process of gaining support knowledge is very iterative and peer-to-peer – you learn by experience. The challenge is to take the informal learning that exists and broaden it, by using knowledge articles, self-service and blogs,’ says Rees.

Most helpdesk products have self-service and knowledge management tools included in the package, but not all service desks are taking full advantage of them. The problem is the legacy of poorly implemented FAQs and unfriendly knowledge searching tools has damaged the reputation of self-service. Because these inflexible facilities have been unloved and unused, there is no incentive for the service desk to improve them. However, rather than try to document every fix for every incident the service desk has ever actioned, self-service can be introduced (or resurrected) relatively easily.

Pat Bolger from Hornbill explains the starting point for creating self-service the business will readily use. ‘Post the top five fixes related to iPhones on your self-service portal. Once people find this knowledge, and incident volumes fall as a result, it encourages the service desk to add continue adding more knowledge, and the positive cycle continues.’

As the self-service portal begins receiving more attention, service desks can up the stakes and begin facilitating the collaborative learning that will ensure the BYOD support burden remains manageable.

‘Your self-service portal won’t be able to fix everything, but if you have 53 people using iPads, allow them to post questions – there’s bound to be someone from the group who can help. Once these groups are working, service desks can start to see where they can add value and contribute,’ says Bolger.

By creating an always-available facility that is able to answer a large proportion of support queries, you let the service desk bring its strengths to the fore. ‘Self-service should handle the simple stuff, service desk people should focus on building relationships with customers, finding out what they use technology for and how IT support can facilitate improvements. People are really good at relationships so allow that to flourish,’ says Simon Kent.

Collaborative support will reduce the support burden and free up valuable resources, as Pat Bolger explains. ‘Let the community manage support of devices, and give them a mechanism for talking to you.’

While the service desk tool you use will not ultimately define the support you offer for BYOD, businesses saddled with client/server technology from the 1990s will find it difficult to create an effective self-service, collaborative environment, as Geoff Rees explains.

‘Our Sostenuto service desk platform runs on Android, Windows, Blackberry and iOS. If you want to encourage self-service and collaboration, you will have a tough time if users are forced to use horrible forms or outdated forums. If your service desk works like their iPhone, service desk staff and business customers will adopt it more readily, build their knowledge and embrace the support tools available,’ concludes Rees.

The way that support is sourced and delivered has fundamentally changed. Think of your own preferences, if you have a problem with a product or service, is your first instinct to find the phone number of the supplier, or do you ask a colleague? If you are unable to fathom settings on your home router, do you call the ISP, or do you search Google?

There is no reason to pretend that business customers are immune to this cultural shift. Service desks must embrace changing habits and facilitate self-service and collaborative working, or they will be side-stepped and eventually ignored.


BYOD Step Six: Embrace the Opportunity to Transform ITSM

‘BYOD, and the way that all IT services are consumed, are not just issues for the service desk, it’s the entire IT department that is in the spotlight,’ says Simon Kent.

As Kent outlines, service desks are under pressure to get BYOD right. However, the good news is that if they follow the five steps outlined so far is they have an excellent chance of safeguarding their position by delivering cost-effective support for an expanded range of technologies. They will also have indirectly created a model for implementing any new technologies and services which will deliver the elusive business/IT alignment which has been a pipedream for many years.

‘Talking about ‘IT’ and the ‘business’ as two separate elements suggests there are two trains running on two different lines, and that the trains occasionally stop and chat. In reality, you’re on the same train. IT has always been part of the business, but an awful lot of businesses are not using the IT group for innovating technology, they are using it to fix commodity services which don’t offer any value,’ explains Pat Bolger.

Commodity IT is an important concept to grasp in the context of BYOD, as Bolger continues. ‘The value which British Gas traded used to be its ability to deliver gas and electricity into your house. Now energy is a commodity, they add value by giving me an app that lets me log my own meter readings. They tell me what my energy usage should be based on similar properties in my area and suggest ways I could reduce my bills. IT is the same, it is no longer ‘magical’, we expect to have a working phone, PC and network connection, so IT must find new ways to deliver value,’ says Bolger.

‘Personal devices run hand-in-hand with social media by accelerating the break up of the traditional working week – our personal and working loves are merging. BYOD is an opportunity for IT to bridge the gap with the business,’ says Geoff Rees.

As these examples show, BYOD is not a daunting challenge, instead it offers service desks the chance to prove their value by demonstrating willingness to deliver the IT services the business needs to work more effectively.

‘Seize the moment. The window of opportunity for the service desk to prove it wants to help the business will only stay open for a short time. These devices will soon be standard issue and if the service desk hasn’t reacted, it could be too late to contribute. Look at the last ten years in the service desk industry, the only truly unifying force people have flocked to is ITIL, but BYOD is an opportunity for IT to develop its own good support practices,’ says Rees.

IT has a reputation for being aloof and unapproachable. Service desks have struggled to embrace the finer concepts of customer service because they are too busy firefighting. Simon Kent says this transition will happen for the IT support teams that invest in BYOD. ‘The more specialists that you have engaged in break/fix, the less resource you have for delivering the service the business wants. It annoys me when you hear people say: ‘the service desk is a great role for getting in development – it’s a path to something else’. It is one of the most important roles in the business, because it is the point of communication between the customers and development,’ says Simon Kent.

Service desks which welcome the devices staff love using in the business will alter how they are perceived very quickly. ‘Our support volumes are not meaningfully larger than two years ago (prior to the BYOD project). If they have increased, it’s because people are more confident in contacting IT for help because they see we’ve tried to deliver what the staff want. We visited 5000 users when we carried out the refresh and got a clear view of what they wanted from IT – you don’t get that true customer feedback with surveys,’ says David Greene of DLA Piper. With this point proven, service desks can begin applying the same principles which have guided BYOD – accept change, listen and plan accordingly – to other services.

‘The progressive service desk will be more highly regarded than it is today. It may find that by ceding some of the support burden to the device manufacturers and users, it will free up the resources needed to develop more proactive services. Most importantly, it will have shown the business that it is serious about truly becoming an integral and valued part of the business,’ concludes Geoff Rees.