|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
- 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
- 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
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
- "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
- 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
- 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.
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).
Self-Service Effectiveness by Problem Type and Category