An interview with Bob Chapp, Senior Director, Service Desk, Logicalis US

CIOs are understandably concerned about what to do with their service desks.  There is no more 9-to-5 workday, and people don’t work strictly within the confines of an organization’s four walls anymore.  The fact is, things have changed, and they are not going to change back, so it’s up to you to create a support environment that can resolve your users’ IT issues 24x7x365 – wherever they are, whenever they need help.  According to Bob Chapp, Director of Service Desk solutions for Logicalis US, doing this in-house has, in many cases, become both cumbersome to manage and costly to provide, leaving many IT professionals wondering how to meet this need effectively and cost efficiently.

Q: What’s the No. 1 question you hear CIOs talking about with regard to their service desks today?
A: I was at an industry conference recently, and one of the key topics of conversation was whether or not service desks are going away.  Of course, that’s not happening, and in fact, at Logicalis, we have seen the exact opposite taking place.  Employers have a responsibility to provide support for their IT users; when employees’ systems are down, they can’t be productive and that costs the organization money.  But in today’s always-on workplace, the need for IT support can be a 24-hour-a-day requirement – something which can get costly if you’re trying to provide all of that in-house. Couple that with budget restrictions and the constant pressure IT pros are under to do more with less, and CIOs are often left scratching their heads wondering how they can cost-effectively provide a 24×7 service desk.

Q: What’s the alternative to doing it all in-house?

A: Well, outsourcing the service desk is certainly a solid option – if you select the right managed services provider as your partner. The key here is to assess the volume of calls your in-house service desk takes; if your service desk only gets an occasional call at 2 a.m., that call may be very, very important, but it’s not a reason to keep a fully functional service desk staffed and at the ready in-house around the clock. The smarter option is to partner with an experienced solution provider and outsource your service desk so you pay only for the expertise you need as you need it, even if that’s at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night.

Q: Are there other reasons to outsource service desk capabilities?

A: Sure.  An outsourced service desk provides the same central point of contact for an organization’s IT issues and requests as an in-house service desk, but it does it at a predictable monthly cost based on the volume of calls that actually come in; you’re no longer staffing for ‘in case something goes wrong.’ You’re staffing only for what actually takes place – that’s the value of shared resources, which essentially is what an outsourced service desk is.  And, by outsourcing the service desk functions, you eliminate a lot of the time-consuming distractions for your internal staff, allowing them to focus their energy and abilities on IT functions that are more strategic to the business as a whole.

Q: How do you know if you’re choosing the right service desk partner?

A: Start by determining what level of support you can expect to receive.  For example, you don’t want to choose one that is just a call center. If a user’s system is down at midnight and they are working on a business-critical report that’s due at 8 a.m. the next morning, there’s not a lot of value in simply having someone take a message and promise a 10 a.m. callback for support.  What you want, if you’re going to outsource, is a service desk partner that has a history of actually providing technical support and one of delivering first-level resolutions on a regular basis.

Q: How do you know if the partner you’re considering has the right level of experience?

A: An important indicator is their turnover rate. In the service desk world, turnover is often as high as 40 percent; imagine having to train and re-train technical employees that often. The longer an employee is working the service desk, the more knowledge that employee gains. Third-party service desk providers in particular are exposed to all kinds of situations from a variety of clients nationwide on a daily basis.  Over time, this exposure builds the skillsets of their lower-level help desk resources so that more calls can be resolved at level one in shorter periods of time than can be done with an in-house team.  This yields significant productivity benefits companywide: IT users are back to work in 15 minutes or so, versus the one to four hours and additional expense it can take to escalate a call to higher-level experts, and your internal IT resources are freed to focus on tasks that are more business-critical.

Logicalis, for example, has turnover rates that are less than half the industry average, something which also means service desk employees are able to become familiar with our customers’ systems so they aren’t starting from scratch every time a call comes in.

Q: Why does that matter?

A: IT service desk agents who remain on staff long-term become much more than just a voice on the phone to their clients; they become a trusted advisor.  No two computing environments are the same, and agents that have a history of working with a specific set of clients get to know those clients’ computing environments over time. Any service desk can hire someone that knows Windows, Office or email, but to have someone inside a service desk that knows how email behaves in a particular customer’s computing environment is both unique and valuable.

Q: What kinds of questions should you ask a service desk partner before moving forward with an outsourcing relationship?

A: There are really four important questions that should kick off any conversation between a CIO and a prospective service desk partner.

First, how fast can an incident be resolved? This is really the whole reason you have a service desk in the first place, so knowing the answer to this question is critical. You might also want to find out how often resolutions take place at level one, which will give you an indication of the provider’s first-line capabilities and the experience level of their agents.

Second, ask what tools the provider relies on; can they, for example, remote into the user’s system, allowing the agent to take control and resolve problems quickly – and can their level one responders do this, or do they have to escalate to a higher level agent for this kind of service?

Third, ask if their agents are scripted. At one point or another, service desk agents must rely on the written word to determine the right response to a particular technical issue.  The question, though, is whether or not the agents are critical thinkers; are they empowered to do what they need to do to see a customer’s problem through from call to resolution, or are they expected to read from a script and follow a charted response tree?

And fourth, find out what time the organization’s ‘best’ agents are available.  Since people work at all times of the day and night and also work from home, while traveling, from hotels, and on vacation, if they’re locked out of their email or unable to make a presentation perform, they need help right there, right then, on the spot.  And they don’t just need help, they need meaningful help.  So the real question isn’t really what time of day the best agents work; what you’re actually trying to find out is if the same quality of agents are available around the clock.

Want to learn more? Read a Logicalis press release that identifies five important reasons demand for outsourced service desks is on the rise. Explore three reasons to consider an outsourced service desk solution and four questions to ask before choosing a service desk partner. When considering a service desk partner, find out why you should ask about employee retention, read a Logicalis service desk case study, then download a datasheet detailing Logicalis’ service desk capabilities.