Thursday, January 6, 2011

Is your IT Support structure "Upside Down"?

I've consulted at enough clients to know a pattern exists out there where the support structure in place is what I call Upside Down.  What I'm referring to is that the wrong people are placed in the wrong roles.    You have your highest value workers doing the lowest value work.

Here are some of the symptoms of an upside down support structure:
  • Service desk analysts resolve too few calls.  They typically log the tickets and pass them on to a second line support team.
  • Your SMEs are spending all their time resolving incidents and have done this role for some time.
  • Your customers are frustrated about the length of time it takes to resolve issues and that each time they request a major enhancement or project they get dumped with an IT team who doesn't seem to know what they're doing.
  • Your entire support staff are stressed up to their eyeballs.
It's not that your IT staff are incompetent but it sure looks that way to the people you are servicing.

What IT as an industry needs to do is take a look at the healthcare industry.  If I have a cold, for example, I can go to any pharmacy and buy something to relieve my symptoms.  I don't need to go and wait in a doctors office if I know how to fix the issue myself.  This is similar to self-serve within IT.  If the user knows what's wrong and what to request to fix it, let them do it themselves.

If my symptoms are uncommon to me, I'd go to my GP.  This doctor knows how to fix all of the most common issues.  How?  They have the training and knowledge available to deal with a vast majority of issues that the general population has to deal with.  And when they don't, they know who to refer the patients to.  They also know how to recognise critical cases and refer them to the local ER.

The ER is another important role within healthcare.  The first person you see in the ER is a triage nurse who quickly assesses the impact of your symptoms and then deals with the most critical cases first.  The triage nurse doesn't usually treat the patient but refers them to the specialists.

The specialists are the last line of defense in healthcare and usually manage the patients until their specialty is no longer needed.  They resolve those issues which need critical attention as well as work longer term to ensure the issues are fully resolved or can be managed reasonably.  They are also often consulted by the earlier lines of defense in the healthcare team

That's a nice overview of healthcare but how does it relate to IT Support?

Lesson 1 - Give self-service wherever it makes sense.  If your service desk is spending a large percentage of it's time resetting passwords for users, make it self-serve.  Understand how much it's costing you in both in financial terms and in terms of reputation and if it makes sense to implement a password reset function then do it.  Look at all your most common services and do a cost benefit analysis on whether it can be automated.

Lesson 2 - Make sure your generalists have the knowledge to deal with the most common issues.  This means passing knowledge to the service desk as it becomes available and making sure they understand what is going on in the organization and what changes are happening.

Lesson 3 - If you're not sure how bad the issue is, have effective triage methods in place to deal with the most critical issues first.  Have pre-determined protocols in place to quickly establish the severity and priority of any issue.  Don't let this happen on-the-fly because we all know that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the oil.

Lesson 4 - Let your subject matter experts focus on truly fixing the root cause of the issue.  Each time a root cause is fixed properly, it will never recur saving everyone time and effort.  If the subject matter experts are spending all their time patching issues and moving onto the next one, the cost will never go away and you may not know when it's going to come up again.  If your SMEs are not fighting fires, they will have time to work on fire prevention techniques or developing a new way to limit the impact of future fires.

Lesson 5 - Give your less skilled second and third level support staff a chance to learn.  Most teams are set up so the SME is the first to see every issue and then passes the easier tasks down to more junior team members.  By doing the opposite (less skilled members see the issues first and then refer to more skilled members if needed) you will give the lower skilled team members a chance to learn hands on and the SME has a chance to see what knowledge other team members are missing and find more effective ways to share that knowledge.  This does mean that the SME also needs to play an oversight role and will look over the shoulder of others to ensure no mistakes are made.

If you put these methods into place your service delivery will improve significantly.  Incidents will be resolved more quickly.  Service requests will be handled more efficiently.  Problems will get resolved so the incidents don't recur.  You will be able to have your SMEs consult on projects and major enhancements and ensure new solutions build on what you have in place rather than produce more overhead and integration issues.

For more information on how to best manage your IT Service Delivery team email me at

1 comment:

  1. IT support is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to IT departments. They will not only take care of any issues that arise, but they will also ensure that things are always running smoothly and to their fullest potential. Managed services providers are experienced professionals.

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