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The evolving role of IT Support. Where we really are on the journey.

For over 25 years, John Curry has been leading IT support teams within large corporates across a number of industries.

More recently, his experience has been working in firms EMAP & Bauer Media in the media and publishing sector where advancements in technology and the Internet have had a profound impact.

During this time, John has engaged Plan-Net on a number of occasions to deliver transformational IT projects, assisting these organisations to adapt effectively to compete in the modern world.

He has kindly provided us with this guest contribution that looks at current progress and future changes needed in IT support.

by John Curry

In our personal lives we forge ahead with our new (well not that new) tools and technologies to communicate, organise and access the information we want and need. However, in our working lives, for some of us at least, we are much less sophisticated. What are often inhibiting us are outdated structures, processes and technology of the organisations within which we operate.

Some of the responsibility in addressing this challenge falls on the shoulders of IT support. The role of IT support has not changed; we are in existence to ensure employees have access to the tools and information to be able to perform their work better than our competitors. However, they now demand quicker and easier access to more tools and information, at an increasing rate. And because of the more competitive environment we now operate in, we have to do this extremely efficiently.

So where do we start?

The basics still have to be right.

There is no escaping this - availability of key systems is always a priority. Processes around Incident Management, Problem Management, Change Management and Release Management need to be firmly defined and embedded within the organisation's IT culture. All IT staff must be trained and aware of their role in these processes. Business continuity and disaster recovery plans need to be water-tight.

A company can't afford to let the wheels fall off these days.

Exploit your existing technology... and continue to invest.

There is so much potential within the existing technology that firms have invested in, it's important to ensure it is being capitalised upon to the full extent.

For example, I worked with Plan-Net on a project to ensure we were getting the most out of our Service Desk Tool. There was a huge amount of functionality and potential available in the software, and I knew we could be using it in a far more advanced way. The days of the Service Desk tool operating discretely are long gone. Nowadays, your Service Management investment needs to work in harmony with the rest of the company's IT infrastructure. Continually reviewing the use of key technologies on a regular basis is important, as we must keep adapting along with the business.

The other thing to remember is to exploit the technology and information channels available outside of the IT support department. If your users regularly use another system, such as the company intranet or social media tools, IT support must be there too.

I think it is still important that companies continue to intelligently invest in better IT capability. We'll always be under budgetary pressures, but as new technology capability comes on to the market, a competitive company will see the value in investing to stay in the game. For example; where there are geographic cost pressures, the use of web-based communication tools such as WebEx can provide on-demand collaboration, online meeting and web conferencing. These types of technologies will become more prevalent, reducing the need to travel. Similarly, it's important that the 3rd Level support teams are continually striving to make the back-end infrastructure more robust to ensure maximum availability of services to end-users. Inevitably this will come at a price. But it's a price worth paying compared to the cost of frequent service interruptions and downtime.

Empower Users

This is perhaps the most important piece to consider in the evolving role of IT support. Providing users with self-help tools, knowledge-bases and effective ways to help each other means much less time spent at the Service Desk repeating the same 'how-to' fixes over and over again. This will also ultimately improve user satisfaction as they can resolve more issues themselves and move on quickly.

For instance, at my previous organisation, one brand of publication went through a major technology change. Following this, another team at a different brand went through the same project. Through the company's intranet platform there was the ability for collaboration between the two on their experiences. The users themselves were much better placed to deal with certain 'how-to' questions than IT support as they had first-hand experience of the new application and workflows. The concept of community-based support has started to change the role of central IT support to one of quality control. Our IT support analysts were able to monitor online conversations on the intranet, jumping-in to clarify information and provide additional knowledge if the user was going down the wrong track. This starts to change the perception of the end-users, seeing IT as less servile to their needs but proactively contributing right alongside them. It also helps IT to more quickly analyse potential issues with the technologies and get to the root cause more quickly. Something they may not see if they weren't being proactive.

"Nowadays, people are becoming much more adept at sorting out their own issues and are quite comfortable in doing this through an on-line service portal or via some form of 'chat' facility. The more knowledge IT can put in front of them the easier it becomes."

There are always technology laggards and luddites in any organisation who might not necessarily want to be 'empowered', and if they're important enough, they might not need to. However, these folk are quite quickly becoming the minority. Nowadays, people are becoming much more adept at sorting out their own issues and are quite comfortable in doing this through an on-line service portal or via some form of 'chat' facility. The more knowledge IT can put in front of them the easier it becomes.

Empowering Staff

Businesses cannot afford to operate anything but a lean mean IT support machine, so we no longer have the luxury of masses of Service Desk analysts writing up our every phone call and passing it on to the 2nd & 3rd line specialists to deal with. Conversely, this is a good thing as it creates the environment and opportunity for developing a career in IT support. By training Service Desk Analysts to be able to resolve more user issues at the lowest cost point, it frees up the time of more expensive Level 3 teams to concentrate on project activity for the business. Everybody wins!

IT support professionals will be expected to become specialist in certain areas almost straight away. They will also need to be good communicators across multiple channels, demonstrating how they understand the business problem at the heart of the issue and how they can add value.

Much like users, staff satisfaction can be improved through empowerment. If we measure and reward performance through evidence of initiating process improvements, insightful trend analysis and contributing towards social, community-based learning, it will be a far more engaging type of work and might help address the level of staff turnover we commonly see in Service Desks.

Evolving Service Design

I think the ITIL framework is still relevant in certain areas of IT (the basics at least) and I know that in its later versions it is looking at incorporating much of the areas discussed above. However, the role of IT support is changing rapidly. The need to call a telephone number for support is under scrutiny in many organisations, with support on-line becoming a more natural option. Where more time needs to be spent, especially in large organisations, is in ensuring good Service Design fundamentals including Continuous Service Improvement Plans. The key factor for IT support is that the pace of change has increased so for me, that's why it's been useful engaging a trusted provider like Plan-Net to accelerate our progress in order to keep up. Sometimes going it alone is not an option and our thoughts and theories need to be challenged by somebody with an independent view – to take us down the right road.

So where do we start again?

Like with anything we want to achieve. We must think big. We must start with a clear vision about where we want to get to and then relentlessly work towards getting there. It's a journey!

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