Service Management Specialists


The Unified Service Desk

The standard operating model for business support services such as IT, HR, Finance, Facilities is to have siloed initial points of contact. These are a natural segmentation of business functions. Segmented in order to better maintain management of the sheer breadth of services offered across the business.

For example, in today’s businesses, IT is largely centred around the ITIL processes, so we may have a Service Desk as a point of entry for enquiries, which can handle requests for services, raise incident tickets, perhaps provide knowledge in the form of conversations and pre-written knowledge articles.

Behind these front-line services, we may have an IT operations team, either in-house or contacted in using supplier services. A pipeline of projects and modifications to services are put into service through the Service Design and then Service Transition processes, with the appropriate quality assurance and governance activities. People and processes have to cross department boundaries to communicate with other business support services. After all, the IT team cannot support the business in isolation. And so it goes with the other business support services - HR, Finance, Facilities and Operations.

But what if you’ve also got end-customers, that may interact with a customer support desk? The customer services support desk own the responsibility for providing service to that customer. If some part of that service call involves a downstream request for service to one of the business support services, how does that get handled? Let’s take a look at the process:

Call comes in from customer -> Problem is articulated to customer service agent -> Case opened in CRM -> Agent goes through a standard script _> Standard workflow initiated in CRM -> “I’ll have to get someone to call you back” -> Call Closed -> Offline activity by agent to contact business support service. Not exactly what you’d call lean, or great customer service.

Even internally, if you have a request for information from another business support service, you often have varying methods of communication and experiences of interaction. Call them, IM them, eMail them, or perhaps it’ll be quicker if I go in person? We often tie up valuable resources in answering similar types of queries.This does lead to frustrations and worse, passing process across to other departments where that isn’t appropriate. In one business I saw access to Active Directory given to HR to manage the Joiners, Movers and Leavers process.

How do we attempt to use technologies to help? Intranets are often deployed and more often than not become a complex repository over time, despite starting out with the best intentions. Sharepoint anyone? Worse still, the tone within any instructions you find are often very dry. Just fill out this lengthy form and send it to this person or shared email address and we’ll get back to you. I’d rather deal with a person directly! I’ve told them what I want - now it’s their problem to sort!

Processes change over time and this leads to the big problem of how we keep services up-to date, avoiding any conflicting entry points to the internal customer. How do we keep a culture of iterative improvements to the service, whilst communicating those changes to the internal customer? Certain company types are inherently better at managing documents, i.e. legal firms, others meanwhile just spend large sums on document management systems in the hope this will sort the issue. It doesn’t of course, humans are just programmed differently to each other!

Now let’s look at some technology platforms out there in the marketplace today.

Traditionally IT has used IT Service Management (ITSM) software. The 2 current market leaders according to Gartner are BMC Remedy and ServiceNow. Why are these products leading? It’s down to their having the coverage of the full set of ITIL processes and they achieve the fringes of these processes through collaboration tools with other vendors in the marketplace. For example, do you want to integrate your network alerting platform into the ITSM tool, so IT staff and the end users can be made aware of any outage or degradation of service without having to resource the manpower to field incoming enquiries? That’s certainly possible today. Actually, that was available yesterday, but machine learning is now taking this a step further in analysing previous patterns of alerts to predict when they may happen again. This is the power of these leading platforms.

There’s evidence of ServiceNow getting into wider coverage of business areas. In a similar way the traditional CRM tools are now making inroads into ITSM functionality (Microsoft CRM particularly)

In a similar vein, HR may have to respond to requests for knowledge from employees. Modern organisations and modern workplace laws are complex and deep. No one person is going to know the answer to all the queries and often going trawling through policy and contract documents is the way to go. What about trying to uncover the skills you have in an organisation for new role planning or inclusion in projects? I guess we could record this in a HR database under ‘Talent’. The point is, that systems may actually be more consistent at responding to incoming queries and certainly more scalable than human response.

If we are to start thinking about using automation to respond to standard requests for information, then we need to be giving serious thought to the structure, the processes involved, but more critically than ever - the technologies deployed. We are reaching that tipping point where we can achieve far more with a tool than we can manually. AI plays a role here as does automation. There are a crop of tools out there today that have started the journey in this area. In the same way that SharePoint Portal Server (MOSS - remember that?) served up some fairly duff results in it’s search, we need to be running test queries through these new engines to determine their accuracy.

Where does this leave the unified service desk? We certainly have to move towards AI responses to incoming requests for information and services. The current human model will just not scale either outwards with the increasing number of requests or upwards in terms of the sheer amount of knowledge that the operatives will have to take on to satisfy the range of requests. We also have to invest the time in making the automation work to downstream systems. This is where the bulk of the work will be in setting up and maintaining those links. The skillsets and patience in making these links work is notoriously difficult in the detail. If a vendor can help you in this area, accept it. The hidden costs in DIY in this area are significant when multiplied across the number of automation integrations possible.

Progress as they say is inevitable to help realise further efficiencies in the ways we do business and that time to start making these changes is here.

Sapphiratech are a certified 4me ESM software partner and also provide service management advice and consulting.

Contact on 0117 457 6754 or email

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