Friday, 2 November 2012

Is your Service Desk a SPOC or a SPOF?

One of ITIL’s benefits is identified as the ‘one language’ to be spoken within IT; and often people indicate this is an objective at the start of a course (I want to learn what this ITIL is I keep hearing about) or the benefit obtained at the end (now I know what the others are talking about). ITIL does introduce a lot of definitions (have a look at the full glossary-of-terms: 55 pages !) and as a good methodology should , it also contains a lot of acronyms. So let’s start with explaining the ones I’ve used in the title:
  •    SPOC = Single Point of Contact
  •    SPOF = Single Point of Failure
The Service Desk is supposed to be the Single-Point-of-Contact for Users on a day-by-day basic (i.e. for incidents and service requests). Although mistakenly (IMHO, another acronym although not ITIL-specific) the book reference its primary aim not so much to be a SPOC but to restore normal service to users (which is the incident management objective and only part of the service desk’s activities).
The reason is simply (and mostly well-understood and reasonably implemented in your average organisation): instead of letting the Users having to hunt around and find someone in IT who can help him, they can contact the service desk for anything and everything. From there the correct service process and function will be engaged. As such it is not only the single, but also the FIRST point of contact and this makes it very important, if not critical in the perception of service.
Imagine company A with you-beaut IT: the latest-and-greatest in desktops, the latest-and-smallest in laptops, massive fully-redundant internet-pipes ... but no service desk to speak of. When something goes wrong you, the user, has to find an IT person and when you finally do, you’ll get a response like ‘yeah, what do you want ... you touched it didn’t you? ... I don’t have time for that ... I’ll look at it this afternoon, maybe, if I feel like it!’
Company B on the other hand has IT equipment that is a bit longer in the tooth, not as powerful or modern. It does break (occasionally) but if it does you can call the service desk. There your phone-call gets answered within 30 seconds by a friendly voice who tell you that ‘we are aware there are currently some issues with the e-mail service and according to the latest information we’ve received it should be fixed in the next 15 minutes’ (and it is: say what you do – do what you say).
Now, I reckon that when it comes to user satisfaction, company B is going to give company A a run for its money. Not because their IT is better, but their service is (or at least their service desk). This is the role that the service desk plays: in the perception of the value of a service. Hence we need to make sure it is resourced properly and that means not necessarily with junior technicians (who have to do a tour-of-duty on the service desk before they’re allowed to touch a server or a piece of network equipment).
After all, it is the service desk operator which needs to differentiate between user A and user B calling to tell them their e-mail is not working. On the face of it two similar incidents, but with user A screaming down the phone that they are a manager, that it is a disgrace and that they demand someone to fix it ... right now! However, user A doesn’t actually need e-mail that much for their work (it could easily be -temporarily- replaced with phone-calls, faxes or face-to-faces). 
This in contrast to user B, who addresses the service desk a lot politer, almost apologetic for the fact that email is not working and hope they haven’t caused any trouble. User B actually performs their tasks using e-mail (for instance receiving orders from clients).
The service desk not only needs the communication skills to deal with the angry user A, but also the business-skills to understand the relative impact & urgency of both user, the service-knowledge (including SLA and service catalogue) to determine how to respond to this. Any technical skills might help in the initial diagnosis, but so does the knowledge\known error database.
Without these skills and the true service attitude (always remember that without IT most organisations would still exist, but without those organisations most of us wouldn’t have a job!) your service desk may still be a SPOC, but it might very well also be a SPOF
OK, perhaps not a single point of failure but certainly the first, visible one. And you only get one chance to make a first impression, and those first impressions are normally what tips the favour in any satisfaction survey.
the ITIL Zealot
July  2012

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for clarifying so much information! I have been looking into using a service desk ITIL but naturally I was a little confused on a few different points. I had been leaning towards the investment but after reding through this information I'm all in. Thanks for the help!