Think Global, Act Local with a Centralized IT Service Desk

 In Blog

Today, I’d like to make the case for service desk centralization. A recent research study from Enterprise Management Associates found that 50 percent of IT organizations have multiple service desk tools. Unsurprisingly, large companies—those with more than 10,000 employees—were most likely to have multiple service desks. Service desk centralization represents one of the clearest opportunities for IT organizations to create economies of scale, balance workloads, and optimize costs.

With a centralized service desk, IT can:

  • Deliver a consistent user experience across all support channels
  • Share knowledge across all support levels
  • Establish global service-level agreements
  • Provide visibility into incidents, problems, and changes across the global infrastructure environment
  • Create a single source of truth from a data and reporting perspective
  • Reduce service desk licensing costs by operating from a single platform

The Barriers to Service Desk Consolidation

So why haven’t more IT organizations done this?

Ten years ago, fast-food restaurants began testing the concept of outsourcing their drive-through windows. Customers could pull up to the menu in San Diego, place their order on a board, and drive to the pickup window for payment and food delivery. The order taker could be in rural Alabama (or Bangalore, India), but the team that collected payment and delivered the goods would be local. The premise made sense: fast-food companies could move the lower value-adding activities to lower cost resources, while keeping the high touch, customer-facing areas local. The backlash was predictable: When language disconnects and poor handoffs compromised efficiency and satisfaction, the costs savings were less justified.

Fast forward to today. Half of IT organizations have local service desks close to the communities they serve, instead of using a centralized service desk that extends and presents itself globally. The biggest challenges with a centralized service desk are accounting for the different languages, maturity levels, processes, and backgrounds of each service desk. Developing a single point of contact goes beyond an integrated set of channels. IT leaders have to understand the depth of these variances, account for the organizational change management for both the users and IT staff, and reduce the impact of change during centralization.

These need not be done all at once. There are steps your IT organization can take towards IT service desk consolidation and centralization on a global level.

Roll Up Your Sleeves, and Roll Up the Data

The most challenging element of a service desk consolidation is also the most important one. IT leaders will need a roll-up of all contact volume by users, by channel, and by type–essentially, leaders should understand who’s calling about what, and how often. This data will provide insight into what each desk does (and how often), which allows IT to determine whether and/or how much of their work can be centralized.

For example, let’s say one help desk (out of four) is in the Frankfurt office, and it supports 20 desktop support-related tickets each month using an outdated IT service desk tool that still requires maintenance. The members of this team may be highly specialized, but because they are local resources and fluent in German, they often get pulled into issues by local business users that any entry level Tier 1 analyst could handle—at a far lower cost. A logical recommendation would be to centralize that desk to a global Tier 1 center for initial incident/request capture, and if it’s determined that a local resource needs to address the issue, Tier 1 can escalate accordingly.

This exercise will also expose the fact that different service desks are supporting different processes with different tools. Some desks might not delineate incidents from service requests. Some desks might not identify workarounds to support problem management. These issues can make it difficult to capture the most accurate picture across the globe, but strongly underscores the need for a single system of record.

Centralize, Leverage, and Enforce Knowledge

One of the primary benefits of service desk centralization is the consolidation of pockets of knowledge that exist throughout the IT organization. Capturing, standardizing, and centralizing that knowledge benefits everyone–most notably the end users who can consume that information should the IT organization make it public facing.

Working from a standardized knowledge repository also gives IT leaders insight into what issues are trending globally, provided technicians use articles in support incidents and requests. This is one of the fundamental tenants of knowledge-centered support (KCS), which integrates the creation and maintenance of knowledge into the process of interaction. Service desk analysts in Barcelona will be able to support VIP users for after-hours support more easily if they have access to the resolution steps that the Charlotte, North Carolina, service desk analysts created and curated.

Knowledge Management can also help scale global areas of expertise. Remember, your centralized service desk will have a virtual front end, in that users regardless of their physically location will have their issues and requests routed to the most appropriate resource(s) to address them. The more knowledge is captured and used, the wider IT organizations can stretch.

Prepare the “Showback”

Ninety days into service desk centralization, a senior business leader is going to ask how things are going. Think now about how you want to answer that question. Change is challenging, and there will be a lot of fear, uncertainly, and doubt about the change. Old habits die hard, and there will always be local users who fail to understand why they can no longer contact the support analyst sitting a hundred yards away from them and instead need to contact a service desk in another country.

This transition requires explaining to users what consolidation means for them, as well as making sure local support analysts provide “healthy” pushback when pressed. The data shown should involve gains through efficiency that benefit users, such as shorter average hold time (shorter waits), higher first contact resolution (fewer handoffs), and higher customer satisfaction scores (happier workers).

Evaluate Technology Options

Service desk consolidation doesn’t necessarily require an investment in a brand new tool. You can standardize on the “best desk” or the desk with the highest level of financial investment. In instances where there is no “best desk,” there will never be better time to evaluate new ITSM technology to meet your requirements. If you are going to standardize on a single tool, you should evaluate solutions that:

  • Are easy to configure and customize to meet the needs of local service desks on a single instance, providing a roll-up of data across all desks, but also enabling a different look and feel for each desk.
  • A self-service portal that provides a virtual front end for global users, reduces the need for phone based support, and that can easily route incidents and request to appropriate support groups.
  • Offer a federated knowledge base that allows IT organizations to collect and curate knowledge from all sources, and makes it easy to find and leverage knowledge in the support process.
  • Enable IT organizations to manage multiple languages in a single database, so that IT organizations can support IT in their native language, and translate content for groups that speak/prefer different languages.
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