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An interview with Peter McGarahan discussing the origins of the shift-left strategy, the necessity of knowledge management and data management, getting senior management buy-in, communicating value, and much more.
HDI’s SPOCcast is your single point of contact podcast for service management and support insights. For Episode 9,
What follows here is excerpted; for the full impact, I encourage you to listen to the entire podcast.
RA: Pete, as one of the first people—if not the first person—to talk about shift-left strategy for support, can you tell us where that came from and how you’ve seen it work over the years?
PMcG: Way back when, I was part of an organization called STI Knowledge and Helpdesk 2000, and we would hold events on a yearly basis, and we would invite a couple of the Gartner analysts to join us at these events. And two Gartner analysts I really had enormous respect for was [the late] Kris Brittain and Bill Keyworth…and [they] were two of the original Gartner analysts that took service and support and kind of molded it into the future of support. They were there during the ITIL® introduction, and then how service and support would be changed forever with the ITIL instructions and the processes. And we would have discussions at night—over cocktails of course—and we would talk about the service model, with the multi-tiered and the multi-structured. And one of the things we started to talk about was, OK, let’s look at it. Let’s look at the end-to-end service model. Let’s look at how we staff it, and then let’s look at how issues and requests come through that model. Let’s look at the people, the cost of that model, the timeliness of the model. And with the three of us, we just kind of sat down and said, “Here’s the importance of that service model. Here’s the multi-tiered environment, and let’s look at the cost of what it takes to resolve issues or fulfill requests at a Level 0, 1, 2, or 3. And then, let’s look at what the details are around issues and requests that are resolved at those levels based upon technical expertise, or experience or tools, and then let’s look at the model and see what is the best way to approach it to optimize the model.” And that’s when the whole shift-left strategy came to be.
I would say simply what we were looking to do was better understand where incidents and requests were resolved and fulfilled, at which level, at what cost, and at what impact to the business. And once we kind of looked at it from that perspective, now all of the details around that started to come into play, and that’s when we said, “Wow, imagine if we had that data and we understood that, what we could do to shift-left.” Shift-left meaning, of course, taking issues and requests that are resolved and fulfilled at Level 3, shifting them to Level 2, shifting those to Level 1, and shifting those to self-serve, and all the while looking for issues that we could do problem management with, and eliminate them from the enterprise altogether.
What would that mean in terms of business impact, reduced cost, but more importantly, shaving off some of the repetitive, reoccurring issues that kind of plague the support environment, and finding time and opportunity to shift their focus into more strategic, valued areas of opportunity. And that was a really big part of it. So when we looked at it all, we said, “This is a great opportunity. What can we do at each level to really prepare those resources to be successful?”
Well, at Level 1 and Level 2, it was going to be all about knowledge management. And that’s when knowledge management really came into play in terms of how we created articles that were really based on issues, and walking the service desk people through resolving those issues at Level 1 rather than assign them to Level 2. And the same thing there with Level 2 to 3, and Level 1 to Level 0. So it really played, I think, a critical role in how service managers were thinking differently about service and support.
RA: Why do you think it’s a struggle—at least in some organizations—to get knowledge management the focus it really needs?
PMcG: It’s a great question, and…we’ve been dealing with it for decades, right? I think the first hurdle that the service organization [and] service leaders need to get over is that knowledge management is critical to their success. In one of my other articles in HDI SupportWorld, I talk about knowledge management not being optional. And I think service leaders really need to play hardball with that. It’s not an option in your organization; it’s a critical point of success. And unless you buy into it and sell your organization on the value of utilizing knowledge to improve service delivery, lower cost, and do all the great things you can do, then you’re going to struggle with it every day.
RA: And I think that’s even more true now because we’re setting up for a time in which automation and AI and machine learning are going to become part of our day-to-day work. We’re seeing that already, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that knowledge management and data management is critical to the care and feeding of that automation and AI.
PMcG: Totally. I think…knowledge management is critical to the success and the survival of the support organization. And then, as you point out, data management—I really can’t justify any of my initiatives without data management. So we’re going through a call-typing, call categorization exercise, and I’ll share that will you a little later. But that whole discipline of being able to identify the numerous issues and impact by call categorization, and then use that call categorization to then base decisions on who needs to be involved in the resolution, root cause analysis, coming up with the elimination solution of it, all of that is critical to the long-term success of the support organization.
RA: You wrote an article for SupportWorld called Selling the Service Value Proposition to Your CIO: Gain Senior Stakeholder Confidence in the Service Organization. What are one or two things that most support managers miss when they are trying to gain senior management buy-in for a stronger support organization?
PMcG: That’s a great question. So, this is my 36th year in business and IT and I had the pleasure and opportunity of working for the PepsiCo organization early on and then the Taco Bell organization. And I had to present a business case to senior managers, and I thought it was just one of these things that you do, and you get your act together, you get your data, you get your slides, and you go up into the executive boardroom, and you tell them what the issues are…what the problem is, what the impact is, and what’s your recommendation. They look at you, they approve it, and you walk out. Well, guess what? It’s not that simple…When I did it, I walked out, but I walked out with my tail between my legs because I got rejected.
Ad so it was an opportunity to really sit back and learn, and it just so happens I was reading To Kill a Mockingbird during that time, and there’s a great learning lesson in that book that says, “No lawyer ever asks a question that they don’t already know the answer to.” And to me, that was kind of what I was missing. I was missing the roadwork to identify and partner with the senior managers in a way that built credibility, that also built relationship by showing them that we could do what needed to be done. So, “prove it.” And the credibility part enables you to present something—but not just present it in the first time—what I learned from that To Kill a Mockingbird quote was [that] I needed to shop this idea around to some of the more influential senior executives before I actually go up there; namely I need to know that I had confidence with the most influential senior managers in that room so that they would ask the right questions and approve it and the rest of the senior managers would agree with them, and I would walk out of that room with an approval to do what I needed to do.
That was probably the biggest lesson for me, and I really think that’s what some senior managers miss is that they need to almost work [as] hard on getting the approval beforehand as they work on preparing that presentation.
RA: We’re moving into really a new time for support. There’s a lot of transition taking place. We talk about digital transformation in organizations now—a lot. And we’re seeing tools that are emerging that are going to give us capabilities that we never had before. And as we move into this new age, when at least some organizations will be taking advantage of increased automation and artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing. What are some of the basics we shouldn’t lose sight of as we increase our use of technology?
PMcG: When I look at increased automation, artificial intelligence, virtual agents, kind of scripting or robotics, basically that’s taking away manual work that is repetitive and not that hard. And that’s really what the shift-left strategy is all about. So, I’m thinking increased automation, artificial intelligence, is just another component into the shift-left strategy that helps me get rid of repetitive work, and then creates an opportunity for me to shift my time, focus, and resources into other elements of the business that create value. And I think that’s the opportunity, right?
We always need to look for ways that we could shred the stuff that’s not important—shred it meaning automate it or get rid of it or whatever—and then focus on the opportunity at hand. Well we only understand the opportunity at hand—once again—when you get yourself out of the office and you build relationships and you partner with the business, and you kind of know what their challenges are. And so we have opportunities now to really focus on creating a modern workplace and adding our service and support value and our understanding of technology and hopefully how the business works from a persona use case scenario, and say, “Here, let me help you take all of this new technology around collaboration, communication, and all of that great stuff, and let me show you ways in which you could do things that you struggled with before,” or, “Here’s new opportunities for you guys to work together,” or “I know you’ve always struggled with this, well this new kind of collaborative technology really solves that.”
You can take, now, people all across the world and really have an engaging, quality meeting with video and whiteboards and other stuff. So, I think that’s the real opportunity is utilizing what’s before us and taking advantage of it being the things that we’ve done well before and then focusing on some of the…higher business value opportunities like the modern workplace.
RA: Data and analytics are incredibly valuable in terms of telling your story. What’s a good place to start using analytics to drive decisions, do you think?
PMcG: Well, the first part is, you need to have your data scorecard—your performance metrics—and you need to have it in a balanced format. If you can’t tell your performance story, it’s going to be hard for you to tell any other story.
It comes down to that confidence level that senior executives have. They need to know on a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly and yearly basis that, from a performance standpoint, they’re getting their money’s worth out of the service desk, and that creates a good confidence level there. So, that’s the first part. And then once you kind of make it past that part, now you have to go and do the deeper dive into the data analytics. And I would say our big focus, last year and this year, is to really better understand our call typing and call categorization. And of the four to five thousand contacts we get a day, how does that break down into…the Pareto model or the “top 10s”? And what are the ones that are…most impacting—not just at the first level, but also at assignment to the second level and third level?
And of that kind of breakdown of call categorization, what we’re doing now is, we involve the problem manager, and we’re involving different Level 3 team members to come in and work with us, and so we pick the topic of big impact in terms of contact volume, Mean Time to Resolve, and a lot of different resources. So, if you take something that comes into Level 1, and it gets assigned to Level 2, and then it gets reassigned to Level 3, and you look at the cost structure of Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, the total cost of that issue is adding up the time and the money of Level 1, 2, and 3. So you’re looking at a big cost per issue.
And I think that sometimes service leaders miss that impact, right? It’s not only that there’s a contact impact, there’s a business impact—not only impacting productivity by Mean Time to Resolve, but also in the cost.
So what we’re doing now is, we’re kind of diving into that call data looking at repetitive, reoccurring issues, breaking it down, bringing in the experts, root causing it, and coming up with solutions to eliminate that issue from the contact piece. And we’re putting a business case approach to it to go to senior managers and get approval and recommendation for implementing the solution that will therefore eliminate that issue from reoccurring again.
And we’re very excited about this opportunity because it’s not just the service desk working on it, we have the ITSM group working on it, we have the L2 people, L3, and eventually we’re going to boil it down to this business case approach that says, “This issue, reoccurring, here’s how many contacts, here’s how many people, here’s the cost of impact to the business, the cost to us, here’s our recommendation, and here’s what we think the end result’s going to be.”
About Peter McGarahan
Pete McGarahan is the Senior Director of IT at First American Title Insurance Company, and has won multiple awards as an industry expert and global thought-leader in service management. He is consistently one of the top-rated speakers at HDI and other events. He is incredibly knowledgeable, and has a true gift for sharing complex information in an engaging and understandable way. Follow Pete on Twitter @PeterJMcGarahan.
Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as senior writer/analyst, he acts as HDI's in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @RoyAtkinson.
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