Steve Robinson at Littlefish looks at the advance of the Service Desk, key developments, its future, and how public sector stands to benefit.
The Service Desk has evolved from its humble origins as a technical helpdesk, no more than a port of call for employees’ IT headaches. The Service Desk has become a concept for today: one that is growing, incorporating new technology, and becoming much more critically integrated into business operations. It won’t stop there.
The early Service Desk (more commonly referred to historically as the Computer Helpdesk, or just Helpdesk) was a simple beast, with capabilities ranging from fault reporting to direct assistance. IT was not yet seen as the business enabler it is now recognised to be, and early Helpdesks did not focus on the needs of the user. It was simply about ‘keeping the lights on’.
Next came the advent of Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) in the late 80s. Under the old Conservative regime, it was decided that government was spending too much replicating IT across different departments so should look to adopt a standards-based approach for best practice. With ITIL, a set of practices for IT Service Management (ITSM) were established that focused on aligning IT services with the needs of the business. Outsourcing now had a code of practice and could make strides to benchmark the public sector against the private sector.
A key point in its evolution (in the mid to late 90s) was the point where the Helpdesk became the Service Desk, providing a wider set of user-oriented services, and offering more mature outsourcing and service management opportunities. Historically (and even sometimes still currently), Service Desks have been divided into lines, with staff passing on from the first line to the second line and so on, often without a focus on the needs of the user and with obvious implications for user satisfaction, productivity, and speed of successful assistance.
The modern day Service Desk
In its latest incarnation, more mature Service Desks offer a new intelligent and capable ‘first line’ as a ‘one-stop-shop’. The ‘shift left’ approach – of providing resolution support as close to the front line and user as possible – reduces waiting time for users, reduces the cost of dealing with the incidents, improves the service and the user experience, and, most importantly, enables genuine productivity improvements.
The typical current capability of a Service Desk involves ITIL adherence, a mix of first and second line support, and telephone & email communication channels. It tends to be service KPI driven, typically covering core hours rather than round the clock support. Despite the potential benefits it is, unfortunately, often viewed as a cost/necessary evil, and is hence heavily under-invested.
The leading current capability of Service Desks offers a ‘Window to the world’ of their users – acting as a key interface for Business Relationship Management (BRM). It is always on, is business attuned, a user experience focused, multilingual and offers situation-appropriate communication channels to suit the needs of the user regardless of time, location, or impact. It is also underpinned by strong Identity Management processes and provides a self-service/provisioning interface that can be utilised by users for ease of self-fulfilment (especially for Service Requests). For larger customer environments, it is aligned with SIAM, enabling a multi-sourced, best of breed environment to exist. At the leading edge, you might see the use of newer technologies, like location aware, augmented reality support, and Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring.
Emerging capabilities include offering business service dashboards to provide ‘at a glance’ visibility to users of the performance/availability of their critical applications and services. Journey and capability profiling is starting to be used to build a picture of the support assets that a user may have already dealt with, and the tech-savviness of the user themselves (in turn allowing for a more empathetic service). When delivered correctly the Service Desk, and its associated processes and channels, can be leveraged further into the wider Corporate Services space, acting as an extended focal point for HR, Payroll, Facilities and other centralised services.
Ultimately, the biggest test for the emerging capabilities of the Service Desk (as well as the inherent ones) is to establish the true business benefit of the service. Instead of measuring broad KPIs around telephone answering and incident fix, it should be possible to measure the positive business productivity impact of the Service Desk.
And what about future capabilities? Just around the corner for the Service Desk are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics. AI interfaces will inevitably join the Service Desk team within the next few years, providing a self-learning, highly knowledgeable alternative to a human interaction. Robots may replace ‘old-fashioned’ desk side engineers, controlled like a remote control vehicle by a Service Desk agent. The integration of Line of Business (LoB) support will continue to move closer to the user through enhanced ‘shift left’, and Dev Ops Lite might also become a reality.
And who knows, maybe we’ll get to a position when software and services ‘just work’, and the role of the Service Desk is more of a guide or facilitator. We’re sure that’s still many years away, but you never can tell with the potential rate of technological development in this current day and age.