Managers looking for ways to realize more business bang for their IT buck need look no further than their corporate help desks. The beleaguered help desk, under enormous pressure to reduce costs and improve service, may be the keeper of valuable information about how users ‘ handle technology — your multi-million dollar IT investments — information that can be used to dramatically enhance productivity.
Driving business value from technology starts with its effective use. Consider the value of understanding the types of technical problems your workforce experiences when they aren’t able to use IT effectively. Then calculate the savings and enhanced value you could realize by doing some simple things with that information:
1) Figure out the root cause of problems. Don’t just solve the immediate problem – whether its password resets, network failures or lack of training – analysis of the root cause can identify key areas for systematic improvements in IT practices and user training. That frees up help desk capacity for more value-added support.
2) Establish proactive call reduction strategies. Building on root cause analysis, call reduction tactics are focused on how the help desk can help make decisions and develop new systems training and implementation plans which will minimize calls for support. This means that the help desk should get involved early in application selection, training and implementation. Often these expert problem solvers can help you anticipate the problems users are likely to experience – by involving them early in the systems selection/design and implementation process, you reduce post-implementation problems which create help desk traffic.
3) Set performance goals for the help desk that go beyond satisfaction surveys. Find ways to measure users’ improved capability and productivity with technology and reduced time in problem solving as a result of the quality of support provided.
4) Once these performance goals are set and measured, close the loop and use this new understanding to re-value the help desk. While cost center logic is the standard of practice, in fact, the help desk, when properly aligned with the business and pursuing goals of user productivity improvements can be more properly viewed as a valuable asset which can help to create measurable returns.
5) Encourage workers to make the best use of the help desk. Their first instinct should be to call the help desk, rather than a colleague from down the hall. Productivity grinds to a halt when three vice-presidents gather around a computer trying to deal with an email problem.
6) Encourage ongoing learning – employees often only use about 10 per cent of their technological resources because shortly after adoption, habit and experience conspire to minimize their breadth of technology use. Courses designed and taught by the help desk, based on common problems, improve familiarity with technology, encourage expanded feature adoption and set the stage for improved user productivity.
7) Ask the help desk to provide insightful research reports on user computer productivity problems. Help desk analysts are well aware of user capabilities – from the individual who needs a new flash memory stick because theirs is “full” to the user who emails copies of reports to a colleague to print because they lost their printer connection and don’t know how to re-enable it. Surveys of help desk analyst insight combined with the other management tactics mentioned here will shed light on valuable, IT initiated application changes or feature extensions which could significantly enhance a user competence and/or a computer system’s ease of use and usefulness.
8) Use self service technologies judiciously – for example, automating password re-sets can effectively divert these high volume calls to a more cost efficient solution. However, although these systems promise to decrease cost in the help desk – users experiencing more complex technical problems will have difficulty with these alternatives – the result is that they will co-opt local peers to help them – and that just drives the real cost of support into hiding – from the help desk budget to lost productivity in the firm which is clearly more difficult to measure (see point 4).
9) Invest in help desk automation – professional call center management tactics and investments ensure efficient use of resources – from call distribution, to telecom resource use to staffing, to the use of knowledge bases to support the help desk analysts.
10) Create proactive, tightly integrated, strategic relationships between the help desk and the business and improve your ability to capture the business value of new (and old!) technology initiatives.
–Nicole Haggerty is Assistant Professor, Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario