Service with a snarl

If only a human being was easy to upgrade as an operating system.

Maybe then we would stop hearing the outsourcing firms explain that IT service management (ITSM) is human problem, rather than a technology problem. This is usually followed by the thought that if only IT staff and users could better communicate, many ITSM problems would be solved. Of course, because communication is never perfect and humans are notoriously more difficult to program than software, the issue never really goes away. DMR Consulting must be thankful for that.

A few weeks ago while I was attending the ITSM Forum in Toronto I listened as Sue Morris, one of DMR’s Toronto-based practice directors, talked about the company’s efforts to examine the challenges in more detail. Many clients, she said, have been coming to DMR asking for some benchmarks that rate how other companies respond to IT service issues. DMR looked around, but there were none to be found. As a partial solution, the company sent out a Web-based survey to about 400 IT managers. Only 70 responded, suggesting that many of them were too busy dealing with help desk calls to fill out the form.

The results, which were officially released Wednesday, attempt to make the case for better process analysis and use of best practices on the basis of cost. DMR sees a strong correlation between service improvement and productivity, for example, because when mistakes aren’t made more than once, the number of help desk calls should go down and users focus on core tasks. This is not really the same as return on investment, however, because it is difficult to quantify the time (or consulting fees) necessary to see help desk calls reduced. When Morris was giving her presentation, she presented a bar chart that showed the companies using best practices achieved the greatest efficiency. “This is our little bit of marketing,” Morris said, but the embarrassed chuckles indicated the audience knew this was a sales pitch all along.

Some of DMR’s data is useful in that it points out some grim attitudes towards ITSM that don’t seem to be changing. In the story I wrote at the time, 20 per cent said they had no plans to start an ITSM initiative, while only 13 per cent had completed one. These figures were not quoted when DMR published its press release Wednesday. Instead we are given a few soft stats (i.e.: 66 per cent agreed better communication improves user satisfaction) rather than anything that suggests this is an area where many IT departments have given up hope.

It’s great that DMR is trying to find out why ITSM is such an onerous task, but instead of merely pointing out the people issues, it might explore which people are causing the problems. There seems to be a tacit implication in this research (and in similar studies) that the communications bottleneck lies solely within the IT department. That just isn’t fair. Earlier today the IT manager in my organization issued an e-mail warning of an upgrade to one of our most mission-critical applications that will take place some time this evening. I would not be at all surprised to see many people forget (or ignore) this message in the midst of their busy day and then make panicked phone calls tomorrow when the system works differently tomorrow morning. IT managers can only do so much to communicate to users who just don’t listen.

Consulting firms like DMR recommend regular examination of recurring problems and internal surveys to gauge customer satisfaction. It might be more appropriate for a CIO or even a CEO to investigate the satisfaction of the IT department, or bring users into the analysis discussions.

If ITSM is going to become the priority in the enterprise it needs to be, user satisfaction will also have to become a standard part of the IT manager’s performance review process. This is similar to the movement we are starting to see where sales people are evaluated as to how they make use of customer relationship management tools. In a well-conducted performance review, the senior manager would also look at the obstacles IT staff face in improving user satisfaction. If their efforts are falling on deaf ears, organizations may need to redirect their approach to the help desk. ITSM certainly involves more than technology, but the industry should remember that IT managers are people, too.

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