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Deploying Self-Service? Know Thy Problem Types

Support automation offers many avenues to improve service delivery and cost models. However, these gains are not possible without a determination of incident categorization prior to the implementation process.  Bottom Line

Key Issues
What are the most critical management practices and processes for creating and maintaining a consolidated service desk organization?
What are the best practices for evaluating IT service desk applications and processes?

Strategic Planning Assumption
By 2004, consolidated service desks with limited insight into incident pattern analysis will be outsourced (0.8 probability).

Better quality service and increasingly lower costs are critical objectives for IT service desks. Unfortunately, they are in direct opposition to each other. For long-term success, consolidated service desks (CSDs) should strive not only to be efficient at answering questions or fixing problems, but also to proactively eliminate problems at the root cause solving them before end users recognize they exist. To control "support chaos" and rein in costs, the IS organization must develop ways of automating the "intelligence" or "knowledge" that is made available to IT service desk analysts to resolve problems within the computing infrastructure. Self-service tools enable automation; however, automation and tools can't be applied without due diligence to identify problem types.

Understand Problem Complexity Types

CSDs must address three fundamentally different types of problems:

  • Consistent problems are repeatable and generate the same results every time. These problems are the easiest to troubleshoot and fix e.g., password problems, which are the best candidates for automation. An issue is consistent if a well-defined, known procedure resolves it, and the procedure is documented and readily accessible by those assigned to resolve it.
  • Inconsistent problems occur repeatedly, but with different symptoms and error messages each time. They are more difficult to fix because of the lack of consistent data. Performance problems are a common example of this problem type because there are numerous places where performance problems can occur. Although it's possible to automate inconsistent problems, they require a high degree of skill. They also require advanced analytical tools that include case-based reasoning, decision trees, and distinct system and desktop profile probes for software. An issue is inconsistent if a defined procedure resolves it, but the procedure is not documented and readily accessible by those assigned to it.
  • Transient problems are "ghosts in the machine." They do not occur with any consistency and usually can't be reproduced, which makes automation impossible. An issue is transient if it is not understood, recognized or identified, and if there is no documented procedure to resolve it.

The call types best handled by automation are almost always those that are the quickest and easiest for human agents i.e., consistent problems.

Determine Call Categorization Types

Eliminating the root causes of end-user calls will be a critical survival requirement for the IT service desk. Attacking these causes requires a disciplined problem management process, in which all problems are documented in a problem management repository. Relevant diagnostic data must be accurately recorded, logged and updated in a detailed problem record in this problem management system. Leveraging the problem management system requires problem-type categorization. Problem management without solid categorization creates a repository of as many call types as there are problems, which is impossible to leverage.

Problem Categorization Examples

In each of these general problem categories, automation techniques can be used.

  • "How-to:" End users submit problems about how to accomplish, access or operate IT resources.
  • Password Reset: A specialized end-user problem regarding establishing or regaining access privileges to IT resources.
  • Break/Fix: End users can't access or operate IT resources for various reasons.
  • Outage: A specialized case of an end-user break/fix problem that affects a substantial group of end users, which results in a flood of calls to the help desk to inform, inquire or complain about IT resource access.
  • Service Request: IT- or non-IT-related service requests regarding a range of support-specific service offerings.
  • Install, Move, Add or Change (IMAC): End-user requests to IMAC IT infrastructure that are not the result of a failure.

The IS organization should match problem categories with complexities to identify those calls that can be most-easily automated i.e., the consistent problems in each category. With this list established, the organization then must calculate the size of the automation opportunity against its cost. The opportunity size is determined by the number of calls received for a problem type and the time spent on these calls.

Support Automation

Understanding self-service's potential is critical to reducing costs and deployment time. Improving efficiency and quality of service should be the objectives. By determining problem types and categorization, CSDs can analyze end-user service requests and arrange them by category. A pattern analysis of these requests then would be performed to find recurring problems or issues. The challenge is how to determine which requests lend themselves to automated solutions and which require human intervention. Self-service can offer varying degrees of value, depending on the call type (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Self-Service Effectiveness by Problem Type and Category


%img Source: Gartner Research
Bottom Line

To achieve greater efficiency, to improve quality of service and to manage costs, CSDs must establish problem management processes that can identify pattern analysis and root causes to gain the leverage of self-service. The IS organization must develop ways to automate the intelligence or knowledge available to IT service desk analysts to resolve problems within the computing infrastructure. Therefore, CSDs should identify and categorize problem types to create and size the automation opportunity, which will identify areas where they can reduce costs while increasing service levels.

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