Modern distributed environments require a fresh look at support. James West, a freelance journalist specialising in IT Services presents an in-depth look at the key issues to help you cover all of the angles.
It is now common practice for the helpdesk or service desk to manage multiple sites, thanks to the need either to perpetually cut costs or to reduce the financial impact of supporting additional facilities that have joined the organisation through organic growth or acquisitions. Also, recent advances in telephony and wireless technology mean that it is now possible to support distant sites from one location.This approach is finding favour because it enables companies to close satellite support operations that are expensive to run and difficult to govern in respect to offering a consistent service.
If you are tasked with supporting disparate sites here are the key areas that you will have to consider:
Do you trust your processes?
Of all the elements that will impact your ability to support multiple sites the most influential is process management.If your processes are poor, or fail to match across sites, you will be fighting an uphill battle. Every operation or department that you are taking control of will have its own ways of working, so you need to clearly communicate what processes users should follow in order to create harmony. It is common when examining your own processes to find problems with how you have been working, but don’t panic.Use this as an opportunity to change the procedures that are not working, make adjustments to out of date ones, or even rip out those that are in place simply because no one has every considered whether they are needed or not.
Can your support system cope?
As processes are so important, having a single service desk with workflow and procedures built in can offer a huge advantage over those facilities that manually manage the way things are done.Of course for simple set-ups or small operations processes are simple to follow manually, but to be certain that nothing slips through having one system is the way to go if you can afford it.
Creating a single system for managing incidents and processes may not require you to replace your existing system.Most service desk solutions have some kind of mobile capabilities that means client software can be accessed through either a terminal or a hand-held computer. Be careful though, many of the web-enabled service desk products offer reduced or cut down functionality.Talk to your software vendor to find out whether an upgrade is possible and if so, what level of functionality can you expect.
You are also urged to look closely at the pure web-based systems which can be accessed through a standard browser and require no software installation.Installation costs will be lower than with client server technology, and you can quickly expand the network if new facilities are added to your remit.This approach is particularly recommended for those support teams managing more than one or two additional sites, or those companies where multiple desks still exist, as continuity of service is far easier to achieve with web technology.
What SLAs are you contracted to offer?
Does each site that you are supporting require the same level of service? Don’t be afraid to offer different SLAs to different locations, but if you do you must justify your actions on a cost versus probable impact basis.If you fail to produce a strong business case showing why certain functions or sites are receiving differing service levels, you could be accused of favouritism.
How much on-site support do you require?
If you have just a few large locations close together, it is probably worth having someone on call or on-site at all times, perhaps you could base one or more project / second liner there.Not only does it vary the role for your staff, but the luxury of having a skilled technician at all of your sites will prove to be invaluable when major issues occur (there is another good reason to have a representative on-site, which we will look at later).
If your sites are dispersed in such a way that rotating staff is impractical, or you simply do not have the resources to staff your remote operation, you may need a third party to intervene. Prices may not be as high as you think, such is the competitive nature of the IT outsourcing business. Try to find one supplier who can deal with all your sites.Not only will this make the business of building up a supplier relationship easier for you, the staff working for your supplier can begin to gain some insight and expertise into your business
What technology can help you?
Your mobile support staff will need a way of logging calls back to the central system.How sophisticated this will be depends on your requirements – a written note which is followed up at the close of play by a call to the service desk to update the incident may be sufficient.If you need or desire real time updates – particularly important for offering you a true picture of service performance – you will want either to equip your staff with a PDA so they can make updates, or provide web access to your service desk so they can update the call at a terminal.
The web-based service desks mentioned earlier can come into their own in this scenario, as support staff can log straight into the system through any browser, meaning that they may not need a mobile device other than a telephone.
The ability to take over the desktop by remote control is tailor-made for dispersed support, and the technology is generally good today.You need to consider company policy with regards to taking over PCs, or even viewing a user’s hard drive, but if clear policies are put in place and the user experiences an improved speed of problem resolution with this method, resistance should not be a huge problem.
Self-help technologies using knowledge base technology can be useful for reducing the number of support calls, but as these systems generally only answer the most basic queries you will still need on-site support.Only consider self-help in the context of its usefulness across the whole support function, rather than a cheap way to support your sites.
How will you promote yourself?
You must make sure that everyone knows you are doing a good job, such is the threat of outsourcing today.Use your on-site personnel as ambassadors to promote your department or, if you do not have a permanent presence, make sure you build into your schedule the time for one of your support staff to visit each site and talk to as many users as possible.Communicate with your users as often as possible – through a newsletter or an e-mail shot – and conduct spot surveys to see where you could improve.If the users know who you are, they are more likely to help you and provide positive feedback if consulted.