For decades IT has struggled to understand how end-users use IT. The only point-of-reference being the service desk which is the only place where the user community interfaces regularly with IT. However, it’s not easy to provide a view on end user IT value when all you have as reference are issues.
So, you call the service desk and you get the standard interrogation, a number of questions to help identify your issue and send it, with a degree of accuracy, to the right support team. Even though updates have been made to service desks for decades the core capability, managing problems and incidents, remains the same (this situation is made clear by Chris Dancy and his example of ‘Form Based Work Flow’). Irrespective of how functionally rich the service desk you use is tickets opened and problem resolution metrics are still used to show how effective IT supports the business. This ‘suck less’ metric is not good. The problem with problems is problems are not the same. And that’s the problem.
Things that prevent people doing their job are typically reported (e.g. connectivity or passwords) but things that are not show-stoppers and just annoying (e.g. a sporadic performance problems, jammed printers etc) are not. For many it’s just way too much hassle. The reality is, end users suffer from poor application performance more often than any service desk log shows. The user will talk with their colleagues to make sure they are not the only victim and possibly just wait because it’s easier to assume IT operations knows about it or just wait for the problem to fix itself (e.g. less user traffic, moving to a different location or using a different device).
There is no place to go to understand the overall end user experience leaving IT operations to make the assumption that if there are no major issues then the user must be fine. The problem using the service desk as a way to deter user satisfaction is it’s not a monitoring system. It simply logs incidents and manages them in line with established escalation and outage procedures. The use of infrastructure monitoring tools provide a view of the health of one datacenter (or one component type) and the use of most APM tools provides a partial view of the end user applications performance. There have been attempts to provide end-user visibility to the service desk to create a more intelligent, business aware, solution. The attempts include providing self-help options, end user keystroke logging and control over windows end-point devices (primarily windows). However, even with some of these capabilities being offered the service desk remains a reactive incident management solution focused on supporting issues already impacting the end-user.
As the end-user environment becomes more complex (agile application releases, cloud based apps, BYOD, increased mobility etc) the ability for service managers to support the business will become harder and the use of internal datacenter performance metrics alone will not be relevant in a world where the IT user is using applications disparate sources on a multitude of different devices. Service managers must be able to understand both what the business uses and how the business uses IT. The ability to understand end-user behavior will move the service desk from a passive incident reporting system into a solution that provides the IT support organization with visibility into how the business uses IT. This visibility will enable service managers to manage incidents more effectively and identify business trends which will impact the IT services provided to the business. Understanding how the business uses IT should enable service managers to plan accordingly in regards to how the support organization is staffed to provide service quality.
If you are not looking you will not find it
IT operations remains a reactive practice, hoping that technology will make them more proactive. The truth is if IT operations is not focused on being proactive then it will remain in a reactive state no matter what tools are used. The same can be said for the service desk. For it to become a service intelligence solution also requires a change in how the service managers use it. Products that provide visibility into how IT is used also requires the service managers to take an active role in looking for trends that indicate something abnormal is occurring (e.g. people using an application on a specific device dealing with poor performance).
The path to intelligence
Service desks have yet to evolve to the intelligent solution I’ve talked about however, forward thinking IT organizations are already starting to think this way. It requires traditional organizational barriers to come down between the service desk and IT operations. A high-bred role is created that uses APM tools (primarily end user focused products – EUAM) to look for potential issues. The information is then passed to the service desk – automatically or manually through the opening of a ticket and a dashboard at the service desk showing specific performance trends as they pertain to applications and end users. Even though the service desk and APM tools remain separate today using them together should provide benefits – once collaboration has been established between service managers and IT operations.
- End-user experience is tracked against service levels with tickets opened proactively when an end-user (or end-user group) experiences a degradation in service
- The service desk understands the current end-user experience, the devices being used, their location, their normal activity and the applications being used providing greater visibility into how the business is using IT.
- The service desk is made aware of the end-user experience no matter where the applications are sourced (locally, internal or external). This enables accurate incident ticket assignment.
- End-user activity is available for ‘play-back’ to help understand and identify what was being done at the time an issue occurred enabling effective root-cause analysis.