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Service Management: A Brighter Future in the Pandemic’s Wake

Posted by on April 15, 2020

A Brighter Future for Service Management

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly stress-tested the capabilities of service management platforms, from ITSM to HRSM, from facilities management to security management. Driving this development has been the massive shift of employees to working remotely instead of onsite. In the words of Bill Burch, VP of Support at Cherwell Software, “Work isn’t something you go to anymore—it’s something you do wherever you are.”

For many employees such as Cherwell’s Head of Engineering Josh Mason and his team of primarily remote workers, “wherever you are” hasn’t changed. As Mason notes, “Most of my team and I have always worked remotely. Our productivity has always been high and, fortunately, we haven’t had to make an adjustment.” But for most Americans, working offsite is a new phenomenon that has come with a wide range of unprecedented challenges.    

The stress on platforms, in particular, was clearly reflected in the surge in system incidents (e.g., shortages of equipment, network slowdowns, service outages) experienced in mid-March, when the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths began to rise, and many states announced shelter-in-place orders. “The new reality of working remotely has been putting a heavier burden on the platforms of certain business categories,” says Andrew Marshall, Director of Product Marketing for partner ecosystem at incident management provider PagerDuty. “They’re suddenly in much greater demand, which inevitably results in more incidents.”

PagerDuty’s data shows that in the week ended March 21, the volume of incidents in these categories exploded compared to what it had been in all of 2020 prior (see Figure 1). Online learning firms reported 11.0x more incidents as users flocked to them to learn and fill newly available time. Collaboration services, which include videoconferencing and chat apps, were next at 8.5x, followed by travel (5.3x) and non-essential retail (3.8x).

Figure 1: Incident volume explodes for some industries

Incident Growth By Industry During COVID-19

Source: “Keeping the Internet ‘Always On’—the Pressure of COVID-19 on Incident Response Teams,” PagerDuty.com, March 23, 2020.

Overall, the number of incidents in categories surveyed by PagerDuty doubled in the space of two weeks in March (see Figure 2). Incidents among the most affected categories quadrupled during the same period.

Figure 2: Overall incident volume doubles

Overall incident growth during COVID-19

Source: “Keeping the Internet ‘Always On’—the Pressure of COVID-19 on Incident Response Teams,” PagerDuty.com, March 23, 2020.

Against this backdrop, there are a number of key lessons that companies have been learning about their service management platforms.

Lesson 1: Automate Workflows

Just last year, with no inkling that a pandemic would push people out of their offices, fully half the survey respondents in the State of Remote 2019 report from social media management software company Buffer said that at least 51 percent of their company’s employees were working from home, or WFH. This included 30 percent who said that all company employees did so. Even with no hard data on the prevalence of remote working since the pandemic began, given the stay-at-home orders issued by most states and followed by most businesses, one can reasonably assume a dramatic increase in the proportion of the workforce now functioning remotely.

While automation of workflows is standard for service management platforms, the big move to WFH has meant that platforms need to not only automate more flows, but also to do it more effectively than before. Converting employees to WFH, for example, has entailed: configuring and connecting new hardware (thousands of new devices must be purchased for larger companies, notes Cherwell’s Bill Burch), which includes integrating new software; tracking the new hardware (i.e., assets); expanding network connectivity; upgrading network security; and creating state-of-the-art service portals.

Unlike Cherwell, most platforms currently lack this ability to integrate service management with asset management. However, considering the speed and extent to which COVID-19 has forced WFH to become the new status quo, platforms will have to offer this integration—and soon—if they want to stay competitive.

Lesson 2: Optimize the Employee Experience

Numerous studies have demonstrated that employees who are happier and more satisfied on the job are most likely to be more productive and loyal. WFH has forced companies to see those statistics in a whole new light. With remote employees now more reliant on their service management platforms than ever—and surely frustrated when systems don’t work as expected—companies must upgrade their platform experiences to be more seamless, flowing, and enjoyable.

When they do, the impact is clear: As a manager at Holland Hospital, a Cherwell customer, recently put it, reflecting on his WFH experience, “It was a great feeling to begin work this morning and to see that everything was working as designed. I know it's minor, but with everything going on right now it was a crucial piece of our workflow.”

One critical key to optimizing the employee experience is enabling platforms for omnichannel access. Workforces that can easily connect to their platforms with most digital devices—laptops, smartphones, iPads, PDAs—are more apt both to enjoy using the platforms and to fully take advantage of what the platforms offer.

Lesson 3: Insist on No-Code

As the shift to WFH, at least in the short-term, has expanded, companies using no-code service management platforms—which eliminate the need for coders to automate tasks or make revisions—are creating new mergeable applications (mApps) that help remote users adjust. The speed and efficiency brought forth by no-code solutions are proving to be especially useful for responding to the virus itself, such as through internal updates and other employee communications, crisis management guidelines and resources, and forms for employees to report if they or their colleagues are infected or have had contact with others who are infected.

But even beyond the necessity brought on by increased WFH, no-code platforms are becoming increasingly popular in the marketplace. Indeed, Forrester projects that the market for no-code development platforms will more than quintuple to $21.2 billion in 2022 from $3.8 billion in 2017. Phil Bowermaster, a Principal Product Marketing Manager at Cherwell, adds that “Providers of no-code or low-code solutions are experiencing the fastest growth in the ITSM sector. While this trend began in the last few years, it’s gained even more momentum since COVID-19 has spread.”

Three benefits are fueling the rise of no-code:

  • Greater ease of use. No-code platforms allow almost any user to automate tasks using simple drop-and-drag methods. This dramatically widens the potential universe of automated tasks and ensures that such tasks will be designed to meet users’ real-world needs.
  • Faster implementation. Putting the ability to automate in the hands of users means that coders and software engineers don’t have to get involved—which saves valuable time and speeds the implementation of new workflows.
  • Lower costs. Taking coders and software engineers out of the process can significantly reduce labor and technology costs.

Lesson 4: Be Ready for the Next Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic may prove to be a before-versus-after historical dividing line in the development of service management platforms. Just as some companies have seen that their platforms can handle the WFH demand surge with flying colors, many others have found out the hard way that their platforms lack what’s needed to get the job done.

“We’ve seen situations where platforms’ remote capabilities either weren’t working when the pandemic started, broke under pressure after demand exploded, or practically had to be held together with duct tape to function correctly. The CIOs and CEOs know they’ve got to do better when the stakes are so high,” notes Helen Duckett, VP of Delivery Operations at Cherwell.

Which brings us to the final lesson. Bill Burch says it best: “When the pandemic ends and the dust finally settles, companies must make sure that their platforms are fully prepared for WFH when—and not if—the next crisis hits.”

A Brighter Future for Service Management

There’s a silver lining for service management software providers in the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic. Platforms are being put to the test as never before, allowing providers—and, importantly, their customers—to see what works and doesn’t work, particularly with regard to remote access.

Companies are learning—indeed, living—the key platform lessons that we’ve identified. As Duckett points out, “Companies are undoubtedly taking stock of what their platforms can and can’t do as the pandemic plays out, and they’re putting together plans to upgrade. They know that the option of doing nothing—too often their instinctive response—is unacceptable.”

Providers, she adds, “are working closely with customers to identify problems and solve them. We believe the future will be brighter for both parties as lessons are learned and applied to the next generation of platforms.”

To find out more about how service management solutions can help streamline daily work operations and crisis management, check out our Handbook for Remote Workforce Enablement.

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