The Enterprise Service Desk

The greatest career opportunity in a generation!

I first heard the term Chief Service Officer (CSO) in 2012 when I was working on a service desk benchmark for one of America’s largest insurance companies. “What’s a Chief Service Officer,” I asked, “and who is it?”

“Oh, she heads up the enterprise service desk; she’s in charge of customer service for IT, claims, HR, payroll, facilities, and regulatory compliance.”

That was an “aha!” moment for me, one that changed my perspective on service and support forever.

Since then, companies large and small, worldwide, have embraced the concept of enterprise services. Moreover, I have come to believe that this industry megatrend represents the greatest opportunity in a generation for the IT service and support industry. If you’re an IT support professional and have longed to play a bigger role on a bigger stage, to make a significant impact on the success of your enterprise, I have great news for you. That opportunity is finally here, and it’s called the enterprise service desk.

A Brief History of IT Service and Support

IT Service Management as a formal discipline began in the early 1970s. In 1985 ITIL was established by the UK government as a way of tracking the effectiveness of IT spending. HDI, the industry’s leading community of IT service and support professionals, was founded in 1989. Knowledge as a formal discipline, KCS, began in the early 1990s, and shortly thereafter ticketing systems evolved into IT service management systems.

In the early 2000s the evolution of the industry accelerated with the widespread adoption of remote control tools, the introduction of new channels such as chat, the development of shift-left strategies, and the virtualization of desktop hardware and software. More recently we see strategies emerging that place a priority on value over cost. These ROI-driven support organizations operate with the understanding that the economic value created by service and support can be far in excess of the annual operating expense, thus producing ROIs of several hundred percent or more!

IT service and support has been evolving as an industry for more than 50 years. The same cannot be said of other enterprise services such as HR, facilities, and myriad other enterprise functions that operate without a formal service management discipline. Herein lies the value proposition of enterprise services. By leveraging 50 years of knowledge, experience, and expertise in IT service and support, other enterprise services have an opportunity to bypass decades of trial-and-error, evolutionary improvement by building upon the proven best practices of IT service management. It’s a simple idea, but one that has profound consequences for IT services and the enterprises they serve.

The Enterprise Service Desk Defined

Imagine being able to call one number or click one button on your phone or computer to access any enterprise service. Locked out of the parking garage on the weekend? Lose your ID badge? Can’t get your computer to boot up? Filing for a leave of absence? There’s just one number to call. And regardless of the nature of your issueHR, IT, facilities, security, etc.you receive prompt, consistent, high quality service. What I am describing is the enterprise service desk, a single point of contact for all enterprise services. And it’s no longer just a hypothetical pipe dream.

Organizations worldwide are adopting an enterprise services model. There are two primary drivers behind this megatrend:

  • Economics
  • The maturity of IT service management (ITSM)

I have already alluded to ITSM as a readily adaptable model for enterprise services (more on that later). But what about economics? There should be a valid business case for any undertaking of this sort. Fortunately, there is.

You have probably heard the term “Better, Faster, Cheaper” as a pithy way of describing the benefits of continuous improvement. It sounds like a cliché, but there’s real truth behind this catchphrase. Better means higher quality. Faster means quicker fulfillment times. And cheaper means lower cost per transaction. Cost, quality, and cycle time are, in fact, the three dimensions of competition. Any valid business case must demonstrate measurable benefits in one or more of these three dimensions.

Enterprise service desks are being adopted worldwide, not just because there is a mature IT service management model to follow, but because the economics of enterprise services make sense. Numerous examples from my own experience, comparing the before and after for organizations that adopt an enterprise service desk, provide compelling evidence of cost, quality, and cycle-time benefits.

The Role of IT in Enterprise Services

What’s IT got to do with enterprise services? Well, just about everything. Your practices and operating procedures are directly applicable to any other corporate function that provides a service. That goes for services to external customers (e.g., sales), as well as services to internal customers (e.g., HR, payroll, and accounting).

If you have spent any time in an HR call center, or a facilities department, you have probably concluded that their customer service processes and procedures are ad-hoc at best. But you have also undoubtedly seen the parallels between the work they do for customer support and the work that goes on in IT service and support. In fact, I will submit that the only difference between the customer service provided by HR and the customer service provided by IT is the obvious one: non-technical support vs. technical support. Aside from that relatively minor detail, and it really is a minor detail, virtually everything that goes on in IT service and support can be adopted, virtually unchanged, by other enterprise services.

Let’s take the human resources use case. HR departments take all sorts of calls on a daily basis. They handle calls about payroll, vacation, retirement, benefits, health insurance, and a host of other issues. Many HR call centers are multi-channel, handling customer inquiries by voice, chat, and email, just as most service desks do. Moreover, much like calls to a service desk that can be categorized as incidents or service requests, the same holds true for HR calls. An inquiry about a timekeeping error, for example, might be handled as an incident, while a medical leave of absence application is more complex and is likely to be handled as a service request.

Just think for a moment about what IT service and support has to offer non-IT enterprise services. A short list is likely to include:

  • ITIL processes such as incident, problem, and service request management
  • Standard operating procedures
  • Process flows and documentation
  • Service Level Agreements
  • Metrics and reporting templates
  • Shift-left strategies
  • Multi-channel support
  • Self-help, self-service
  • Recruiting, hiring, and training practices
  • Workforce scheduling expertise
  • Technologies such as ITSM, knowledge, and remote-control tools
  • Expertise in knowledge management
  • Call quality tools

Why would any non-IT service want to reinvent the wheel when they can leverage decades of institutional knowledge embodied in IT service and support? The very essence of enterprise services involves adopting the (more) mature practices of IT service management. This short circuits an otherwise evolutionary process. What took IT service and support decades to achieve can be accomplished in a matter of months by non-IT services that are willing to adopt and adapt the proven best practices of IT service management.

Your Enterprise Service Desk Roadmap

So, where do you go from here? Well, that depends upon your starting point. If you are starting from scratch, you can circulate this article to build a common understanding of what an enterprise service desk entails. The second thing you can do is get your own house in order. If you are still struggling as a reactive firefighting service desk, you are in no position to lead on enterprise services. By contrast, if you have a relatively mature service desk with relatively strong performance, I would argue that you have an obligation to lead on enterprise services.

Once the idea of the enterprise service desk is broadly understood in the organization, you need an executive champion. Ideally, this should be the CIO, but a COO, CEO, or some other senior leader can be an equally effective champion for enterprise services. Next, you look for volunteers. By that I mean you identify a service that is willing to accept your help and leadership in adopting and adapting mature IT support processes in their own functional area. In the early stages it is crucial to accept volunteers rather than force any part of the organization to accept an enterprise service model. This is not a “land grab,” and you can avoid any appearance of heavy handedness by making participation in the enterprise service desk voluntary.

Start with a smaller function such as facilities, safety, or regulatory compliance. These are typically easier to integrate into an enterprise service desk than a large, high visibility function such as HR. You want to ensure that your first integrations are successful. This, in turn, will help to convince those who are skeptical of enterprise services that they have much to gain by participating.

Organizational Considerations

When working with clients to build an enterprise service desk, some of the more common questions I receive are about titles and organization structure. For example, do we need a Chief Service Officer? Does the enterprise service desk belong in IT? Does the head of enterprise services report to the CIO or the CEO? These are all valid questions, but there are no right or wrong answers. Some companies appoint a Chief Service Officer to emphasize the importance of customer service in all areas of the company. Some enterprise services reside within IT because that’s where the service expertise lies. Other enterprise service desks are matrixed whereby service professionals report to both a functional head, such as the VP of HR, as well as a service head, such as the Chief Service Officer.

The second most common question is “How long does this take?” The answer varies dramatically, from just a few months to as much as several years. It depends upon the level of commitment and resources the organization commits to enterprise services. There is always a risk in moving too fast. Moving cautiously at first allows you to gain valuable experience in the initial enterprise service desk integrations. The pace of each integration can be accelerated as you gain experience. Conversely, moving too slowly is also risky as any lack of progress may be misinterpreted as a failure of the very concept of the enterprise service desk.

The third most common question is “Who’s doing it?” Empirical data shows that approximately 5% of the Global 2000 already have mature enterprise service desks. Another 25% of the G2000 have made a full commitment to the enterprise service desk and are in transition. Another 60% are planning to adopt an enterprise service desk model in the future but have yet to begin the transition. And the final 10%, for various reasons, have no intention of embracing enterprise services.

My own belief is that, within a decade, all but a handful of holdout companies will have mature, enterprise service desks. The benefits are just too overwhelming to ignore. We are already very close to a tipping point where the business question is shifting from “Why would we do this?” to “Why haven’t we done this?”

A Generational Career Opportunity

As a 30-year veteran of this industry, it has always troubled me that IT service and support professionals rarely receive the rewards and recognition they deserve. Many toil away in relative obscurity, frequently suffering the ire of their customers when things go wrong, while rarely receiving praise when things go right, which is the majority of the time. If you have long dreamed of playing a bigger role on a bigger stage, enterprise service desk is that once-in-a-generation opportunity to realize your career dreams.

You have unique and valuable knowledge that your enterprise needs!  So, I encourage you to step up; offer your help, your experience, and your hard-won knowledge. Most of all, offer your leadership, because without it, the enterprise service desk cannot succeed.


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