With SITS17 fast approaching, Noel Bruton hopes that the focus of the event shifts away from the things that now require little attention, and instead embraces what’s really important.

Servicedesk ga-ga. Servicedesk goo-goo. Servicedesk blah-blah. Queen had it. Important as it is, there’s more to our world than that.

June brings with it the Service Desk & IT Support Show (SITS). If you’re in IT support in any senior capacity, if you work in IT services and it says ‘manager’ in your job title, this is a must-go event for your calendar. One of my main hopes for the show this year is that in its vendor stands and superb educational programme, it spends rather less time ranting on about the saturated and largely sorted market of the service desk and a lot more on the IT support.

Bless the service desk, but it has been regaled with fine tools and even finer words for the fifteen years of its notoriety. It typically delivers first line fixes in the 60 percentile or better; it has largely shaken off the clumsy and naïve ‘one-stop-shop’ idea of its youth, and survived the intellectual malnourishment foisted upon it by ITIL. It’s doing OK. But it’s not the whole picture. Because for a still sizeable chunk of what it delivers, it must yet rely on a second (oh, all right, or third) line.

Those other lines include desktop support, networks, business apps, AV technicians, comms specialists, et cetera. They are the lines of escalation for enquiries which, for purposes of extended diagnosis or necessary physical rather than remote presence, the service desk calls upon to exercise their specialised authorities and expertise. For the past quarter-century, I’ve referred to them collectively as ‘Resolver Groups’ or ‘Resolving Agencies’. They are paid scant attention by ITSM as a whole, and as an IT service, pretty much ignored by ITIL.

Which is a shame. Because when the user calls the service desk, there’s a strong possibility that the answer will come from a Resolver Group. The process of invoking the resolution, sometimes almost laughably called ‘incident management’ (a routine activity by definition does not need ‘managing’, for Pete’s sake) is or should be transparent to the user. He calls IT, somebody responds. The user doesn’t need to care how IT structures itself internally to achieve that.

One of the key reasons why I want to see and hear a bit less ‘S’ and a lot more ‘ITS’ at SITS17 is because of a certain gathering of distant, but inexorably ever closer clouds – in both senses of the word.

Neglecting the second line
IT support’s second line is often quite mouth-gapingly under-managed. It typically has technicians, rather than organisers and leaders in its upper ranks. It routinely delays resolution of user problems, frequently leaving this to the whim of individual technicians. It mixes projects with reactive work, but more often than not, has no structured way of allocating manpower resources to this disparate workload. It often carries a substantial backlog of work and little inherent concern for the business impact of that.  Its focus is more towards technology rather than users. It pays its staff more than on the service desk, despite that its members sometimes tend to be less flexible than their service desk allies (all together now – “I don’t have to take telephone calls/talk to the user anymore – I’ve been promoted beyond that”). Yet it is crucial – the work it does, diagnosing and resolving computer problems, is what most users think of when somebody says ‘support’.

Yes, resolver groups are important. But if you think they’ve got problems today, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

In its head-down, get-on-with-it pursuit of technical detail for the purpose of service delivery, the second line of IT support is trudging blindly towards a cliff edge. And yet, with its shortage of managers and strategists, it seems not to have noticed the industry trend towards its own obsolescence.

Business apps will probably be OK, because they’re already providing a ‘vertical’ service –i.e. supporting a strategic, business-oriented technology.

But upon any ‘horizontal’ (i.e. non-mission-specific) technology, a quite literal cloud descends; for instance, MS-Office has already gone thataway. Let’s face it, you don’t need much ‘expertise’ to ‘install’ Office 365 – as a technician said to me recently, “a suitably-equipped giraffe could do it.” We can probably expect future versions of Windows to be on the cloud too (so, no more Patch Tuesday). As for servers, well the days of racks of blinking lights are for many of us already a distant memory, when the word ‘server’ is as much used to help us conceptualize an outsourced virtual provision as to point at an item of hardware.

Meanwhile, my stepdaughter’s toddler was adept with an iPad before the age of two; and mice, in their million hordes, are being removed from desktops as touchscreen simplifies the user interface. What’s that Grand-dad? You used to have an actual telephone on your desk? And a dirty-big PBX in a room behind reception? How un-voip-ily, in-sourcedly quaint.

I suppose on the one hand what I’m saying here is that We’re All Doomed. But of course it’s not that simple. All we have to do to save the second line, where the following insertion remains a problem, is get them to remove cranium from rectum and look at the service the user actually needs. As Business Apps knows by default, keeping the business productive is the key. If the second line can shift slightly away from technology and more towards systems usage from the users’, rather than its technicians’ point of view, there may be hope for it yet.

Let’s see if there are some solutions at SITS17.

See Noel’s seminar, Get buzzy, not busy: lessons in service desk leadership, at SITS17. 

Noel Bruton is a UK-based consultant and bestselling author specialising in IT support management, who offers public and private training in managing technicians. See more of his work at noelbruton.com.

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James West

James West

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