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The Mission of Tech Support Has Changed: We Have to Do Better

In my first post on the topic of support’s changing mission, I mentioned that the volume of incidents continues to increase. In fact, support ticket volume (which includes both incidents and service requests, of course) has gone up year after year after year, with more than half of those tickets (54 percent) being incidents. This phenomenon was recently verified in HDI research (soon to be released) asking whether the number of incidents was increasing or decreasing. It is increasing in nearly 56 percent of organizations in that study.

Are Things Breaking More, or Are More Things Breaking?

The HDI 2016 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report offers one answer: More things are breaking. The top three reasons for an increase in tickets (and remember, more than half of those are for incidents) are:

  • Number of customers
  • New applications/systems
  • Acquisitions/mergers

What this tells us is that new things cause incidents. Why should that be? One would hope that replacing old systems with new ones would reduce the number of incidents, provided that those systems are properly configured and tested. And, if configurations are tested, why would new customers cause an increase in incidents? Do new customers break things more often?

The number 3 reason makes some sense. Invariably during mergers and acquisitions, systems are asked to do things they have not done, such as work with systems from a different vendor or use a data source that differs from the usual and/or recommended ones.

Yes, Service Management Can Help

The principles of good service management tell us that we should be doing proper configuration management, change management, and release and deployment management, all of which can help avert failures based on the introduction of new components into the IT environment.

But there is more. The same study that tells us that incidents are increasing in a majority of organizations also tells us that nearly 60 percent of organizations have a problem management process in placeor say they do. Problem management done right certainly can reduce the incidence of incidents (pun intended), but our annual research says that only 37 percent of organizations have seen a definite decrease, and another 43 percent say “somewhat.”

So, What’s Wrong?
At least some organizationspresumably those outside the 37 percent who are seeing reduction in the number of incidentsare paying lip service to problem management. They are not eliminating failures everywhere they can by finding and fixing the root causes.

We should also be working on continuous improvementnot only in our service management processes, but across the board in the way technology is being selected, implemented, and supported.

Incidents Are the Report Card of IT

What if 54 percent of the time you drove your car somewhere, you wound up calling for service? Would you tolerate it? I sincerely doubt it. What if it were 54 percent of the time you turned on the lights or used an appliance?

Incidents are breakages. They are failures of something to function properly. They are, therefore, failing grades for ITwhether the technology is provided internally or from outside the organization.

The support center has gotten very good at responding to breakages. Support prides itself on lowering the time to respond and meeting service levels. The “elephant in the room” in almost every IT meeting is still Why are things breaking so much?

Pursuing problem management seriously can help organizations cut down the amount of firefighting they do and get on with making real improvements. But the rest of the IT organizationand these days that includes external vendorshas to deliver results for business, and not only 46 percent of the time.