Service Management Blog

Why Automation Will Be the Next Big Service Desk Initiative

Anthony Bryce
5 minute read
Anthony Bryce

I’ve been around for a while and I’ve seen some great improvements within the help desk and service desk worlds. While we’ve come a long way, the real evolution is around the corner.

My IT career started as a Level 1 help desk engineer for a small software development company where I was a phone monkey. I had to take phone calls from customers, take down their details, and have them hang on the line while I filled out endless forms with their information in order to create a service desk ticket. Once I had all the required information, I’d give the customer the ticket number and helpfully tell them I’d have someone call them back shortly. That’s all I had to do, take details, fill in forms, then forward the ticket to a Level 2 guy to have them start looking into the issue. It was a boring, thankless job, but deemed a necessary part of the process.

Even back then I could see that this wasn’t an efficient model. After a few months, I could spot common trends amongst the calls. Some issues were easily answered, others required logs and diagnostics. The more I learned, the more I could have helped customers myself. But the process dictated that only Level 2 could resolve the issues. Surely there was a better way to do things?

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Progress in service desk operations

Fast forward 20 years and things gradually improved. We started to benefit from more structured processes for incident and change management (courtesy of ITIL). Knowledge management was introduced to capture resolutions for common issues. Web-based service desk clients were deployed so end users could create and update their own tickets rather than calling the help desk. Then we started publishing knowledge management content to those end users so they could troubleshoot their own issues. Things were getting more efficient for the service desk, and end users were benefiting from self-help and easier ways to interact with support desk teams.

In the past few years we’ve taken some further strides forward. Service catalogs were introduced showcasing standard service offerings, requiring less information from end users and providing clear procedures and SLAs for service desk specialists, thus lowering costs for the service desk and setting clear expectations around service delivery for end users. Most recently we are seeing mobile service desk applications that are context and location aware enabling tailored services, information, and crowd-sourced collaboration.

The service desk has never been more accessible and efficient!

How do things look today?

There is always room for improvement though. What should be the next service desk focus to keep the momentum going? I believe that one of the next great opportunities for the help desk and service desk is automation. Even after all the great work that’s gone on, let’s look at the ongoing challenges and how automation can help.

1. Cost. Very few organizations have IT departments that go around saying “We’ve got a big raise in our budget this year, let’s hire some new people!” Cost is an ongoing issue and efficiencies must continue to be found. With a kind of perverse sense of injustice, especially given all the great work that’s gone on recently, one of the side effects of service desk modernization efforts has actually been that more interactions are occurring. This means higher costs. Think about it, if organizations expose more services to their end users and make those services more accessible then, guess what? More people are going to use them! Yes, we are reducing service desk tickets through better knowledge management and self-service initiatives, but overall, more tickets are being produced as more capabilities are offered and exposed.

I recently read an article from MetricNet stating the average cost for a Level 1 service desk engineer to manually handle a service desk ticket was $22. If that ticket is escalated to a Level 2 engineer the cost triples. Then it triples again at Level 3. Those are fairly staggering costs when you think about the ever-growing service desk workload.

A great way to keep a lid on these costs is to have automation in place to automate the handling or fulfillment of common service desk requests. If you have a well-defined service and a known way to handle requests for that service, why have valuable service desk engineers involved at all? Put automation in place and take the manual costs out of the loop.

Real world success with automation: We have one customer who put a piece of automation in place to handle password reset/unlock requests. This use case accounted for 22 percent of their total service desk ticket volume or, put another way, 46,000 requests per year that were previously handled manually. Using the Level 1 engineer cost of $22 per ticket, that’s a million dollars of cost avoidance!

2. Customer satisfaction. The introduction of service catalogs has helped service desks clearly communicate what they can offer their customers. However, I would caution that it’s one thing to enable your end users to easily ask for help and another thing entirely to make sure you deliver what was asked for – quickly and accurately.

Look at the type of digital experiences adults under 40 are used to these days. They are always connected and expect rapid response times. What would they think if they logged onto iTunes to purchase the latest Pitbull song, only to find out that the download won’t happen until the next day? “What century are we living in?”

Why should it take 24 hours to turn around a request for some software to be deployed on my laptop? No one wanders around manually installing software from CDs anymore. They use automated configuration management tools that can push software on demand. So why the day-long wait on IT-related requests? Well, it’s because the request gets put in some Level 2 engineer’s queue and they get to it when they can get to it. “Can’t we just link the service desk to the configuration management tool?”

3. End-user productivity. The service desk needs to continue to ask this question, “Are we seen as a value-adding area of business or are we an obstacle to productivity?” Customer feedback is important. Ultimately if your customers are dissatisfied and think they’re losing too much of their valuable time trying to work with you, you’re going to lose that business. For common service desk requests, automation can dramatically increase productivity.

Real-world success with automation: We recently had a contractor come into the office to help us with a project. “I forgot to tell you, I’ll need access to your network in order to work. At my company, it takes a day to organize network access. I hope you can sort something out for me!” Using our self-service IT app (which is location-aware and also knows who I am), I located the guest Wi-Fi service, fill in two pieces of information (number of guests and length of time access is needed), click submit, and within two minutes I received an automatic email with guest access codes. The contractor was speechless and clearly impressed with our service desk. I have to agree, having automated fulfillment of common service desk requests is awesome!

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These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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About the author

Anthony Bryce

Anthony Bryce

Anthony has 20 years of experience in the IT Service Management space working in a variety of roles from software consultant to solutions architect. For the last 10 years, he has been focused on product management and marketing, working on strategic projects, delivering detailed market analysis, and identifying new product opportunities and bringing them to market.