IT service desks are often inefficient and expensive. Stuart Riddell and Kavita Jangid explore why this is so and look at how lean management techniques can be used to streamline service desks and reduce costs.

IT service desks are often inefficient and expensive. Stuart Riddell and Kavita Jangid explore why this is so and look at how lean management techniques can be used to streamline service desks and reduce costs.

A staple of modern business, IT service desks aim to centralise IT processes and create a smoother experience for users and customers. But they can also be resource-heavy and slow, reducing the overall quality of provision and increasing running costs. As firms look for cost savings, IT service desks are a prime candidate for streamlining and innovation.

We explore the key issues within service desks and how a lean implementation can optimise these, creating efficiencies and reducing cost to your business.

Why IT service desks are inefficient

IT service desks tend to have a relatively broad remit with large support teams and high overheads. During quiet times this can result in underuse, which isn’t always tracked, and they can struggle to scale resources up or down to meet demand.   

Processes can also vary across different teams, often resulting in duplicated or unnecessary steps, inconsistent quality of output and time wasted reworking tasks. Speed of output then goes down and cost per unit goes up.

Finally, many tasks are done manually and are subject to human error. And while simple and repeatable tasks may be automated, often there is scope for further automation.

Collectively, these issues risk creating bloated service desks, resulting in a loss of quality, poor response and inefficiencies across the board.

What is lean management and how can it help?

Lean is a management approach that aims to reduce all unnecessary activities that don't directly add value to the customer. Its core principles aim to tackle three key areas that are pertinent to service desks:

  • Wastes – such as defects in products/services, need for reworks or non-value-added activities
  • Variability – in terms of processes used, skilled resources or customer demand
  • Inflexibility – for example, when meeting customer demand

Lean methodology doesn’t aim to re-invent the wheel. Instead, the focus is on quick wins, with a view to continuous improvement over the long term. The first step is to optimise existing processes and procedures by creating efficiencies and improving effectiveness of work undertaken. Then it aims to extend these wins through service virtualisation – a testing technique which can help reduce capital expenditure – and further innovation to reduce revenue leakage.

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Four opportunity assessment levers

Start your lean implementation using the following four opportunity assessment levers. Assessing each in turn will help you focus on streamlining service desk provision and identify potential areas for optimisation.

1 Demand management

Effective demand management is key to optimising and streamlining IT service delivery. Have you looked at self-service options, demand forecasting and capacity planning? For a service desk to be more flexible to demand, you'll need to manage both a rise and a drop in demand. Can you re-arrange shift patterns accordingly or put other contingency plans in place?

2 Availability

Availability is how long it takes to complete a service versus how long it is meant to take. Could this difference be improved by reducing time spent in meetings, doing paperwork, or on other non-client-focused activities? This also includes reducing the volume of rework to rectify any mistakes, and optimising inbound call processes to make sure operators spend more time talking to customers.

3 Productivity

Productivity compares the value of resources with the value of output. Service desks may achieve greater productivity through changes to workflow processes, minimising exceptions that require senior approval, automating reports and data capture, or reducing time spent on after-call support. Standardising scripts and sharing best practices from top performers can boost productivity and improve quality.

4 Unit cost of delivery

The unit cost assesses the monetary value of each ticket. When generating the unit cost, consider the extent of resources, how skill levels are matched to the type of work undertaken, where operations are geographically based, resource utilisation and training costs.

Barriers to adopting lean management principles

Despite the benefits of lean, firms can be reticent to adopt it for a range of reasons. Management may not see the value of the approach, or view some service desk issues as temporary, due to the volume of work or a particular project. Often, management doesn’t have the extra capacity or the right skill sets to implement the changes required by a lean strategy.

Resistance to change is another common barrier, which can result in a failed implementation and slipping back into the older, less efficient ways of working. To get sufficient buy-in, you'll need to lead a cultural change to make sure everyone is on board with lean methodologies. This includes effective training and team building to embrace the new ways of working.

Change is never easy, but in the current economic climate, a lean approach can create useful efficiencies, reduce costs and improve the customer experience. This can improve responsiveness and provide better business support across the wider organisation.

For more information on lean service desks and using lean to meet your business goals, get in touch with Stuart Riddell.