THE HELPDESK

What is it?

In its simplest form, a helpdesk is a group of people assigned to assist customers in solving their problems.  There are many different types of helpdesks and they are called by a variety of different names depending on the function that they serve, however the main point to make clear is that their purpose is to resolve a specific issue for a paying customer.

Types of Help Desks

At its simplest you could break down Help Desks into two main types. There are definitely sub categorizations within each type and quite often they are called different things, but from an end users point of view there are really only two different types:
  • Contact/Customer Service - this type of helpdesk is generally more administrative in function and scope. They would provide customers with account information and perhaps act in a sales capacity with regards to new services and other offerings that might suit the clients needs.
  • Support & Technical Operations - break/fix or tech support or network operations or the NOC. The names are many and varied for this type of team, but their primary purpose is to resolve a specific incident or problem and restore the customers service in as timely a manner as possible. Frequently this team is considered 2nd level and is senior to the Customer Service team but this is not always the case.

Customer Service Helpdesks

 Often referred to as a Contact Centre, these types of teams are more administrative in function and responsibility.  They are frequently called upon to provide customers with account information or deal with billing concerns.  While they may arrange visits with or escalate issues to the technical team, these individuals do not generally have the skills in-house to troubleshoot and resolve customer "problems".
Quite often you will find that companies outsource this function to other companies and even other countries as it is more of a generic job then Technical and Operational Support.  However in recent years this trend has been reversing as regardless of the cost, companies are striving to present customers with a more intelligent and higher quality of service.  Please note, outsourcing is not inherently bad by any means - if done properly, customers will receive a faster reponse time and all the information that they require to resolve their account issue.  However - to provide this level of support, companies need to provide the outsourcer with a significant level of access into their own internal systems and customer records.  In addition to this, the training that the outsourcer provides to their own staff is generally at a lower level than that provided internally - hence the quality of the answers provided are generally not at the same level.
In addition to the quality issues mentioned above, companies are actually using the fact that they provide service "in house" as a selling point, hoping in some cases to garner more customers simply based on "national pride".

Incident & Problem Management

As mentioned previously, these teams are known by a variety of different names, but probably the most accurate name for them is the Service Desk. Based on the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) framework, the Service Desk is a component of the Incident Management team and they are responsible for resolving Incident's and escalating Problems.

What is an Incident?

Simply put, an Incident is anything related to a customer contact (Incidents are also reported by automatic means via monitoring toolsand I will discuss those types of incidents in greater depth in later posts).
Please note - Incidents are not restricted to technical teams, but can be something that a Customer Service team deals with also.
Incidents related to customers can be anything really – Information requests, Account Updates, Issue reporting are all examples of Incidents.
Incidents can also be reported through a variety of different methods – this could include the phone (probably the most common), email (a close 2nd) and even chat. As mentioned previously, automated monitoring tools can also generate incidents.
All of these different Incidents coming from/through different sources would get routed to your Incident Management tool. For smaller teams this could be something as simple as a spreadsheet but in larger organizations either in-house customer built applications or enterprise level tools prevail.

Incident Management (in a nutshell)

Your helpdesk is responsible for reviewing the information in each of these incidents and checking if there is an appropriate solution already available to the customer.
For those instances for example where the customer wishes to update their Account Information, the helpdesk would look at the Incident, obtain the correct new information (& assuming that all appropriate security questions had been reviewed) log into the customers account and update the information. Once the information had been updated, they would inform the customer and then close the Incident. This is probably one of the simpler examples of an Incident from start to finish.
If the customer is reporting a problem or an issue, the Helpdesk staff are responsible for updating the Incident with all the relevant details as supplied by the customer. If the customers issue matches a known fix they are able to inform or supply that fix to the customer, however, if that is not the case they would need to escalate the issue to the Problem Management team. The simplest way to think of the Incident Management (Helpdesk/Tier1) team and the issues they resolve is that if a "band-aid" exists they can apply it. If more drastic attention is required they will need to call the Doctor!

Problem Management

Problem Management is where the interesting work really happens. Incident Management due to its repetitive nature can get tedious and is definitely a drain on the more skilled staff in your organization ... if you have people like that, think about moving them into Problem Management if you have such a team or create one if you don't!
Problem Management is more in-depth. It's where more often than not a single Problem is the cause of multiple Incident's from multiple customers ... as such you want your best people at this level. Generally you would consider this Tier 2 or Tier 3 from an escalation and staffing perspective and dependent on your product or service you would have some very technically oriented people there.
Their goal is not to just provide a band-aid, but rather to find out why the problem happened in the first place and fix it. Ideally they should be looking at ways to fix it in such a way as to ensure that it doesn't happen again!!

KPI's & Metrics

Regardless of the type of Help Desk you are running or dealing with there must be specific requirements in place to ensure that they are performing to peak efficiency and that they are resolving customer enquiries in a timely manner. A common industry term for these metrics is KPI - Key Performance Indicator and there are hundreds of different ones depending on the product and service you provide as well as what you want to measure and what is most importatn to your business.


Now each of these teams would have different metrics in place. However some that are common to both Customer Service and Technical Teams are as follows:

Response Time - Obviously your team (Incident Management/Customer Service/Helpdesk) needs to get back to the customer in a timely manner. Their goal as already mentioned is to fix it, fix it fast and move on. A band-aid will not always reattach the finger though, so it's up to the Tier2 team to ensure that the surgery goes smoothly which obviously takes a lot more time as you don't want the surgeon doing a shoddy job!


So with that analogy in mind ... you want to have an aggressive goal set for your Helpdesk – try to work with the 80/20 rule (The Pareto principle) ... 80% of incidents responded to in 20 seconds (If you have the resources, otherwise maybe 20 minutes? Or 20 hours (that's less than 1 day so might still be good – especially if you're doing email support)? Or 20 days ... well that's probably not really worthwhile) but hopefully you get the point? You want to set a specific goal for measuring how quickly your customers are getting a response.



Resolve Time – notice that I have separated these out. As much as you'd like to be able to resolve 100% of issues at that first contact, its not always going to be possible. However you can have another measurement in place that tracks this which is the Resolve Time (sometimes called MTTR (Mean Time to Repair)).



The Goal here is also to get that band-aid on as quickly as possible so you need to ensure that your Incident Management system has some sort of a knowledge base which helps your staff find the solution to commonly placed issues/questions. If they have the answer every time, then a 100% resolution at 1st contact is achievable! If not however ... it gets a bit more complicated because all of a sudden your Incident Management team becomes the customer and the team they go to is the Problem Management team. Guess what? They have a different measurement for Response Time and Resolve Time too!


Problem Management Response Time – now as previously mentioned these are generally your more senior staff and as much as you'd like them to be available 24/7 unless you have an extremely large organization this is probably fairly unlikely. So you are going to have build or determine some relevant response times based on their availability.



In addition, as these escalated issues are generally issues that cannot easily be resolved, your resolution time is going to be extended also. Pick some appropriate intervals that meet your customers SLAs.
Your main goal for this team (in addition to resolving the problem of course) is communication, communication, communication!!! They must inform your customer facing agents what the issue is, what they are doing to resolve it and when they expect to have it resolved. If they cannot provide an estimated resolution time, they MUST provide your Tier1 team with an estimated update time.

INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL SLA'S

A very important point to remember at all times is that you need to have a more aggressive Internal SLA vs. the one that you are offering to your customers. 

I know it sounds self evident doesn't it, but there are no end of organizations that I've dealt with where customers are offered a 4hr SLA on a 24/7 basis and the engineers that can actually fix the problem are either unavailable till the next business day or NOT even on call!!! 

 Let me state this once again and very clearly so that there is NO CONFUSION ... If you are offering your customers an SLA of 'X Hours' and your Engineering (or Development or Project Management or ... etc...) team is only offering you an SLA of 'X + Y Hours' ... YOU WILL LOSE MONEY and YOU WILL LOSE CUSTOMERS!!! 

 It is imperative that your internal SLA be better than the one you are offering to your customers and you need to ensure that your Sales team and Senior Management are both on board with this. 

Remember, also, that this must go all the way up the chain ... your Engineering team has agreed to an internal SLA of 'X – Y Hours' (woohoo!! That will solve 80% of your problems) but the Development team is only offering them an SLA of 'Z' (assume 'Z' is a multiple of 'X + Y') ... for those 20% of customers and problems that cannot be solved by your Tier 2 (Engineering team in this example) group ... you are still going to be in trouble. 

The question, now becomes how much are you and your company willing to invest in protecting yourself from that 20%? Just like everything else there are things you can and cannot do, and you need to decide what your investment will be to give you the best "bang for your buck".

MATRIX MANAGEMENT AND PROJECTS

Diagram of a matrix organisation
Diagram of a matrix organisation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With large projects having all the required resources to hand is sometimes a difficult job in itself. While systems and hardware are easily acquired, the skills and specializations that people can bring to bear need time to develop. You could “hire” for it, but to some extent, that is a losing proposition as someone coming into the company fresh, will often not have the necessary internal knowledge or skills required to get the job done. This is where Matrix Management comes into play.

TAKE THE BLUE PILL

Matrix management is something that has been around for quite a while and despite your initial thoughts, it really does not have anything to do with Keanu Reaves and a long standing war between humanity and the machines! Rather, Matrix management (with respect to Projects) is a way of utilizing resources that exist in other teams so that you are able to accomplish your objectives. These resources are on temporary “loan” and must revert back to their previous home when the project or task is completed.

ADVANTAGES OF MATRIX MANAGEMENT IN PROJECTS

A significant advantage of this method of sourcing your resources in your project is the fact that you can get the best people possible to assist you in completing your project. While it is possible to hire externally and get the same or better skills, anyone that has come in from the street will not have the “company” knowledge that is sometimes the key requirement in getting things done. By obtaining resources from other internal departments and teams, you are able to bypass this bottleneck and ensure that you have got the team you need to get the job done.
Another significant advantage of this Matrix Management is that while you have the resources you need – you (as a manager) are still not their direct line manager. This means that you can leave the minutiae of people management tasks by the wayside and focus on what is of interest to you – completing that project!

DISADVANTAGES OF MATRIX MANAGEMENT IN PROJECTS

While not having to manage your new resource is a definite plus, the fact that you are not their manager can sometimes be a disadvantage also. Often – unless clearly defined – staff get pulled in multiple directions between the demands of their new project team and their existing team. If this is not addressed quickly, it can become quite a drain on your team and their morale.

KPIs AND THE IMPORTANCE OF MEASUREMENT

DMAIC

There is a great quote somewhere that goes something like - "If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it!" ... this is so true and especially so in the Customer Service and Operations area. There are great KPI's (Key Performance Indicators) and not so great ones. The key is choosing the right one for your business and you need to choose it from a CUSTOMER point of view. There is no use in choosing your KPI from any other area as if you lose your customers, you lose your revenue and obviously you lose your business!!
When defining a set of KPIs to control and measure performance, the most likely debate is probably around measuring KPIs. Another way to think about KPIs is that they are measurements designed to assess performance.
DMAIC is an abbreviation of the five improvement steps: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control and while it is a key mantra in six-sigma improvements, it is not only used in this methodology.

What KPI’s should I use?

Your choice of KPI’s depends on your intention and target audience. Which problem or issue are you trying to solve, who is it impacting, what is the impact and what outcome would you like to see afterward are all good questions to ask when building a KPI plan.

The Traditional Mantra is -

As we've already discussed in a previous section, DMAIC stands for
  • Define,
  • Measure,
  • Analyze,
  • Improve and
  • Control
You could shrink this to just “Measure. Analyze. Act” where KPI’s are the middle stage. While they might be at the middle stage, they are defined by the first and they should drive the third.
Sounds somewhat complicated but really they aren't. You need to measure what is important to your business, the things that impact the bottom line, and your measurements should be repeatable and objective (appropriate to the job) and not just "management speak". Talk to your staff - they are on the front line and can help guide you on what customers are really looking for!

1st Call Resolution & Downtime

Two common KPIs are 1st Call Resolution and Downtime (please note I have not said these are good ones - that is something you will need to determine for yourself depending on your interpretation of what's important to your customer ... this is something I shall discuss in greater detail in later posts). Similarly, KPIs should be measured over time and you should not expect your initial snapshot to give you the full picture as you will frequently have to 'massage' and/or revise your measurement criteria and focus until you are measuring the correct information.
1st Call Resolution -
Measurement of the %'age of customer issues resolved at the first call.
% Uptime/Downtime -
Measurement of the %'age of time the service is available (or not)
There are literally thousands (if not millions) of KPIs available, so there is bound to be one that actually meets the needs of your organization or business. A great resource to search if you've never used KPIs before is KPI Library. They offer free access to their library of KPIs and they have a very friendly and interactive community.

WHAT IS A HELPDESK?

English: Helpdesk Overview
English: Helpdesk Overview (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
OK, to start with it's not a desk that helps people! A help desk is a team of individuals (generally support staff) that provide solutions and resolutions to customers experiencing problems. Generally working at the 1st tier of the support model they are responsible for Incident reporting and resolution vs. Problem Management (I shall discuss those terms in greater depth below).

What is an Incident?
Simply put, an Incident is anything related to a customer contact (Incidents are also reported by automatic means via monitoring tools and I will discuss those types of incidents in greater depth in later posts). Incidents related to customers can be anything really – Information requests, Account Updates, Issue reporting are all examples of Incidents. Incidents can also be reported through a variety of different methods – this could include the phone (probably the most common), email (a close 2nd) and even chat. As mentioned previously, automated monitoring tools can also generate incidents.

All of these different Incidents coming from/through different sources would get routed to your Incident Management tool. For smaller teams this could be something as simple as a spreadsheet but in larger organizations either in-house customer built applications or enterprise level tools prevail.


Incident Management (in a nutshell)
Your helpdesk is responsible for reviewing the information in each of these incidents and checking if there is an appropriate solution already available to the customer. For those instances for example where the customer wishes to update their Account Information, the helpdesk would look at the Incident, obtain the correct new information (& assuming that all appropriate security questions had been reviewed) log into the customers account and update the information. Once the information had been updated, they would inform the customer and then close the Incident. This is probably one of the simpler examples of an Incident from start to finish.

If the customer is reporting a problem or an issue, the Helpdesk staff are responsible for updating the Incident with all the relevant details as supplied by the customer. If the customers issue matches a known fix they are able to inform or supply that fix to the customer, however, if that is not the case they would need to escalate the issue to the Problem Management team. The simplest way to think of the Incident Management (Helpdesk/Tier1) team and the issues they resolve is that if a "band-aid" exists they can apply it. If more drastic attention is required they will need to call the Doctor!


Problem Management
Problem Management is where the interesting work really happens. Incident Management due to its repetitive nature can get tedious and is definitely a drain on the more skilled staff in your organization ... if you have people like that, think about moving them into Problem Management if you have such a team or create one if you don't! Problem Management is more in-depth. It's where more often than not a single Problem is the cause of multiple Incident's from multiple customers ... as such you want your best people at this level. Generally you would consider this Tier 2 or Tier 3 from an escalation and staffing perspective and dependent on your product or service you would have some very technically oriented people there. Their goal is not to just provide a band-aid, but rather to find out why the problem happened in the first place and fix it. Ideally they should be looking at ways to fix it in such a way as to ensure that it doesn't happen again!!


KPI's
Now each of these teams would have different metrics in place. Obviously your Tier1 team (Incident Management/Customer Service/Helpdesk) needs to get back to the customer in a timely manner. Their goal as already mentioned is to fix it, fix it fast and move on. A band-aid will not always reattach the finger though, so it's up to the Tier2 team to ensure that the surgery goes smoothly which obviously takes a lot more time as you don't want the surgeon doing a shoddy job!



Response Time - So with that analogy in mind ... you want to have an aggressive goal set for your Helpdesk – try to work with the 80/20 rule ... 80% of incidents responded to in 20 seconds (If you have the resources, otherwise maybe 20 minutes? Or 20 hours (that's less than 1 day so might still be good – especially if you're doing email support)? Or 20 days ß well that's probably not really worthwhile) but hopefully you get the point? You want to set a specific goal for measuring how quickly your customers are getting a response.


Resolve Time – notice that I have separated these out. As much as you'd like to be able to resolve 100% of issues at that first contact, its not always going to be possible. However you can have another measurement in place that tracks this which is the Resolve Time (sometimes called MTTR (Mean Time to Repair)). The Goal here is also to get that band-aid on as quickly as possible so you need to ensure that your Incident Management system has some sort of a knowledge base which helps your staff find the solution to commonly placed issues/questions. If they have the answer every time, then a 100% resolution at 1st contact is achievable! If not however ... it gets a bit more complicated because all of a sudden your Incident Management team becomes the customer and the team they go to is the Problem Management team. Guess what? They have a different measurement for Response Time and Resolve Time too!


Problem Management Response Time – now as previously mentioned these are generally your more senior staff and as much as you'd like them to be available 24/7 unless you have an extremely large organization this is probably fairly unlikely. So you are going to have build or determine some relevant response times based on their availability. In addition, as these escalated issues are generally issues that cannot easily be resolved, your resolution time is going to be extended also. Pick some appropriate intervals that meet your customers SLAs. Your main goal for this team (in addition to resolving the problem of course) is communication, communication, communication!!! They must inform your customer facing agents what the issue is, what they are doing to resolve it and when they expect to have it resolved. If they cannot provide an estimated resolution time, they MUST provide your Tier1 team with an estimated update time.

Using LinkedIn

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

I’ve mentioned LinkedIn a couple of times now (Using LinkedIn to Find a Job, Using LinkedIn Effectively) and find that its a really great tool not only to keep in touch with old work colleagues and keep apprised of whats going on in your industry but also to find a job!

LinkedIn’s job search should complement whatever you are currently doing to find a role via other online tools - sites like Monster, Workopolis, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Total Jobs etc... are great but they are just one avenue and they do not take advantage of LinkedIn's greatest strength.

Referrals Through LinkedIn


The greatest advantage and feature of LinkedIn (aside from the fact that some hiring managers use it exclusively so this is the only place you would be able to find that specific job) is the fact that you can get your existing colleagues and friends to act as your references and based on your “links” to the job/company in question there is quite a good chance that you can be recommended for the role by someone already working in the company.

In the current market, any advertised job posting can generate hundreds (if not thousands) of applications from potential candidates. By using LinkedIn however you are able to get a referral from someone that already works in the company and this could possibly make a huge difference to your chances.

LinkedIn takes the traditional formula of networking and modernizes it in a perfect manner. Keep in mind that studies have shown that 60-80% of all jobs are sourced purely through word of mouth – with that being said, having a way to make yourself visible to a larger market is bound to improve your hiring potential.

Getting Started with LinkedIn –


  • Log in to LinkedIn and create an account.  Upload your CV/Resume and indicate all the companies and roles you’ve had in the past.  Find all the contacts in your previous roles and add them to your network (sorry, went through this really fast, but I will go through this in greater detail in future posts).
  • Now that you have a network in place, you can start searching for jobs that are close to you.

Finding the Job


  • Click on Jobs -> Find Jobs
  • Click on Advanced search (under the Search Button)
  • Fill in the fields on the next screen but make sure that you sort by Relationship
  • On the next screen, you will be presented with a list of relevant jobs based on the criteria you have selected previously.  Underneath each role, however, is the phrase “See people in your network who can help you get this job”.  
  • Click on this link and you will see people that are currently in the company that is hiring for that role.  Each layer of your network is given a number so if you see a “1″ for any of these names then that means this is someone you know and have in your direct network.  A “2″ would be someone that knows someone that you know – that is, you share a common contact.  Each subsequent number indicates a person that is that much further away from you.  
  • Remember, with the LinkedIn search you can actually search for a specific company or a specific region to narrow down your search even further and you can even filter by the relationship.
  • Once you have found someone that can help you, the next step is initiating contact.  If they are in your direct network that's fairly easy as its a simple email from within LinkedIn.  If however they are removed from your direct network by one or two steps, you would need to get a referral from someone that you know.  LinkedIn makes this easy also however as they give you a list of people in common that you share and you simply have to ask someone you know to refer your application onwards.

Establishing Contact


  • Once you have established contact with the person inside the company that has the job, it's a simple matter to get additional details of the role, the name of the hiring manager, details about the company etc… With this information in hand, you can then personalize an application for the role and either have your internal contact forward it on for you or have it delivered directly to the hiring manager.  Aside from the fact that your application has been delivered from or via an internal resource, the personalization itself will make your application stand out even more!


Whether or not you are invited to interview for the suitable positions you’ll apply for using this process; your response rate should be higher than if you just apply blindly to a job. Best of luck on your job hunt!

MANAGEMENT TRAINING AND SELF IMPROVEMENT

As a manager, it is a key requirement to ensure that your team is appropriately trained on the minutiae of the job. How to find customer information, how to respond to customers, dealing with Irate customers and troubleshooting issues are obviously all things that you would ensure that your team receives. However, how important is it to you to ensure that YOU are receiving the appropriate training and improving your skills?
It almost goes without saying that the only constant in our world today is that "change is inevitable". If you understand this fact then dealing with the constant pace of it is something that is fairly easy to take in stride.

From year to year, and inside each subject itself, what is taught at school and the way it is taught itself changes.  This is natural - new things are being researched all the time and what was considered FACT one day is quite often flipped on its head the next.  With the constant growth and change that we experience every day of our lives dealing with the pace is an issue in and of itself as more often than not, the greatest discovery of the day is just a piece in the puzzle to something much larger.
Now while you could afford to just "coast" along in school as you were being rated and graded against others being taught exactly the same material, in the "real world" this mentatility just doesn't work.  Your competitors in business and in your own workplace are constantly advancing their skills in an effort to be more efficient and provide an even better product or service at a lower price all the time - after all we live in a capitalist society and thats the hallmark of it isn't it?  The customers determine the leader and if you want to be part of that crowd you cannot afford to neglect your personal developement.
While its clear that this is a message that has been learned at the Senior Level, most employees don't realize this and think that Senior Management just decide which way to steer the ship and then step back and let it go on its way.  If you really look at it though, the readjustments and refining of technique are something that Senior Managers do all the time and they base this new direction on what they are learning from other companies and even their competition!
The transition from an average Manager to a top tier Manager is gradual, but knowing the latest trends and information definitely play a factor in this. This is obviously NOT just a matter of being able to spout the latest and greatest "buzz word" that is currently in vogue. The only way to truly advance is to actually understand what you are talking about and to believe in its value and potential. Being ISO certified is easy - understanding that ISO is NOT just paper-pushing which is the common misconception is something else altogether.
For those at the starting point of their management career the focus should be on Soft Skills. Things like Team Work, Leadership, Dealing with Change, Time Management are all crucial skills that are useful for the young Manager and also show a demonstrable return for the company. 

 With this knowledge in place (and keep in mind, retraining is key as if you don't use it ... you lose it!) the focus should be shifted towards industry and technology specific disciplines. You should aim for courses that not only provide you with an improvement but that can demonstrate an obvious return on investment to your company. 

Things like Process Improvement and Cost Minimization are both emphasized in ITIL and Six Sigma certifications. Ensure that you are keeping abreast of the latest trends in your industry - read trade publications and technical journals, network with your peers in similar positions ... SPEAK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! ... find out what they are interested in and what they would like to see your company provide to them. 

While Managers today have less time then in days past - if training if structured correctly it can be useful and relevant and should be able to show an immediate impact to the organization. It is key to remember to that training cannot be a single event and should be considered a constant - just like change - as that is the only way to stay in the race and eventually - WIN IT!!

TO SOURCE, OR OUTSOURCE ... THAT IS THE QUESTION!


Continuing our discussion about ITIL Service Strategy, lets start talking about Sourcing.  Sourcing is about analysing how to most effectively source and deploy the resources and capabilities required to deliver outcomes to customers. A sourcing decision is key in determining the best combination of suppliers (internal vs. external) to provide the most cost effective and efficient delivery of services.

Outsourcing

I've spoken about outsourcing at some length in the past (here, here and here), but those posts were focused more on whether or not you should outsource.  Lets talk here about what outsourcing is and why some businesses utilize it.

In a nutshell Outsourcing is using another company/organization to perform services on your behalf for your customers.  Now you could outsource lots of different things - HR Functions for your own internal team, IT Support for your customers etc... - what makes the decision on whether or not you should outsource is the question of value.  Are you able to provide more value to your customers and shareholders by outsourcing vs. doing the activity in house?  Generally speaking this question of value has been driven by financial considerations, unfortunately, most financial analyses do not include all the costs related to sourcing options, leading to difficult relationships with service providers, involving unexpected costs and service issues.  

What should you outsource?

Generally speaking you should outsource anything that is non-critical to your business.  By focusing on your core strengths you can be more successful and removing tasks that are only peripherally related (if that) to your business will allow your organization to focus even more on the things that make you successful.

Once candidates for sourcing are identified, the following questions can be used to clarify matters: 
  • Do the candidate services improve the business’s resources and capabilities? 
  • How closely are the candidate services connected to the business’s competitive and strategic resources and capabilities?
  • Do the candidate services require extensive interactions between the service providers and the business’s competitive and strategic resources and capabilities?

Dependent upon the answers to those questions a decision needs to be made on whether or not to outsource some or all of a service.  If the responses uncover minimal dependencies and infrequent interactions between the sourced services and the business’s competitive and strategic positioning, then the candidates are strong contenders - conversely however if the answers show a strong relationship with the business' competitive or strategic position, then care must be taken.

Sourcing vulnerabilities

When outsourcing - especially in the instances where outsourcing a key service, care must be taken to ensure that businesses do not get impacted negatively.  Some of the key vulnerabilities that might be experienced are:
  • Substitution:  ‘Why do I need the service provider when its supplier can offer the same services?’ The sourced vendor develops competing capabilities and replaces the sourcing organization
  • Disruption:  The sourced vendor has a direct impact on quality or reputation of the sourcing organization.  This is of significant concern for those organizations that have outsourced their support or engineering and design organizations.
  • Distinctiveness:  The sourced vendor is the source of distinctiveness for the sourcing organization. The sourcing organization then becomes particularly dependent on the continued development and success of the second organization  

One key concern/issue with outsourcing is responsibility.  Outsourcing does not mean that a service or its performance are no longer important. In most cases, it often means that the service is so important that it should be provided by a service provider that can do a better (or more cost-effective) job. Just because a service has been outsourced does not remove the responsibility from the vendor. While a 3rd party could be providing technical support on a product or service, the customer always has recourse to organization that they purchased the original product/service from..

Other types of Sourcing

While most people consider Outsourcing (& Insourcing) as the only two options, there are in actuality a variety of different ways that services can be sourced.

  • Insourcing - internal parts of the organization do the work.  Clearly defined departments with specific responsibilities.
  • Outsourcing - a 3rd party that specializes in a specific role, provides that service to an organization through a well defined plan with specific deliverable's, KPIs and SLAs.
  • Partnership - a formal arrangement between 2 or more parties to work together on a specific role or responsibility.  The focus here tends to be on strategic partnerships that leverage critical expertise or market opportunities.
  • Co-sourcing or multi-sourcing - a mix of insourcing and outsourcing where a number of external organizations work together to design, develop, transition, maintain, operate and/or support a portion of a service.
  • Business process outsourcing (BPO) - a growing trend (especially among the larger multinationals) where an entire business function (customer service, technical support, accounting, HR etc...) is provided by a 3rd party.
There are a host of other common (Application Services, Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), Cloud etc...) and uncommon ways of sourcing services, in fact the only real distinction is that businesses will do what makes sense for the business!

SERVICE PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT


The Service Portfolio describes the commitments and investments made by a service provider to its customers across all market spaces.  In a nutshell, it states what the company is able to do and how it will do it while also accounting for previously agreed upon commitments.  The Service Portfolio also talks about new products and services as well as ongoing service improvement projects and other third-party services which are utilized by the business in providing their service.  The Service Portfolio is the defacto guide to what the business can and cannot do.

Ensuring that the Service Portfolio is accurate is one of the important roles of Service Portfolio Management (SPM).  This role ensures that new services are added only after funding has been approved an appropriate financial plan is in place for recovering costs and/or showing a profit.  This is sometimes called a rally point process or other similar names but in essence its a way of ensuring that the business always has a pipeline of new products and services available to meet current and future demand.  The service portfolio should have the right mix of services in the pipeline and catalog to secure the financial viability of the service provider since the service catalog is the only part of the portfolio that lists services that recover costs or earn profits.  You can find a lot more detail on Service Catalogs at either of the links provided below.
The service pipeline, similar to a sales pipeline, list perspective, and future projects and services - i.e. those products that are currently being considered or thought about, but are not yet available to the consumer.  The service pipeline is a future looking document that provides guidance to senior leaders and while elements of this might be made available to the customer (for future prospects generally), it is not normally published as that tends to give the competition too much of an insight into the organization's future plans and strategies.

The service catalog, however, is different ... this document is generally published (& publicized) quite widely as it is the single place where all information about products, prices, ordering and request processes are documented.  It defines and communicates the policies, guidelines, and accountability required for the service provider to deliver and support services to its customers. The service catalog details each service and shows the service components that make up each one. It also provides an overview of the assets, processes, and systems involved in each service.

While you might consider the service catalog to be just that ... a catalog of services, it can also be used to identify gaps in services and linkages between services.  This information can be used to realize new services and products for future exploration and exploitation by the business.

Retiring Services

While the common thought is that the latest and greatest is always the best (look at the mobile phone market if you don't believe me or understand what I'm saying) the service catalog should maintain a place for retired services also.  These are services that while no longer as "popular" (in call center and tech support worlds that would translate to "getting fewer calls") still have value to the business for a variety of different reasons including:
  • The replacement service might not meet all requirements, and it is important to be able to fall back to the previous service 
  • There is a significant portion of the market made up of the planned to retire service which will still need future support and/or maintenance
  • When defining a new service, service portfolio management might discover that some functionality is available from a retired service. This might result in the service being reinstated as part of a new service 
  • There might be regulatory requirements to maintain archived data that can only be accessed using the previous service, in which case information is exported to a read-only database for future use
It is the job of Service Portfolio management to determine how long a service should remain in the Service portfolio - and while this is often determined based on time, in many cases other reasons are utilized to make this decision.

Service Portfolio Launch

Service portfolio management is guided from strategy management for IT services via strategic plans which provide details of new business opportunities and which services are required to fulfill those opportunities.  SPM is responsible for reviewing each opportunity and determining the required investment level and also whether or not the opportunity is achievable (regardless of the potential profit that "might" be realized).

The role of Improvement in determining a Portfolio

Continual Service Improvement (CSI) has some input into SPM also, specifically:

  • Opportunities to improve the performance or service level achievements of services in the portfolio
  • New opportunities within the current strategy, or gaps in the current portfolio of services
  • Opportunities for overall improvements in cost, mitigation of risks etc.  
By taking into account perceived deficiencies in the Service Portfolio, CSI is able to make recommendations for improvement, however, it is still the responsibility of SPM to evaluate these suggestions and determine whether or not the potential improvement warrants the investment.

Define 

The creation of a Service Portfolio follows several clearly defined (no pun intended) steps as shown in the diagram to the right.  The Define step talks about desired business outcomes and opportunities as well as what services are needed to realize these opportunities and the investment required.

Any new strategy or change to an existing strategy should be submitted to Service Portfolio Management. This will be in the form of strategic plans, identified market spaces and outcomes, priorities and policies. These will be used to identify specific service opportunities and the stakeholders that will be consulted in defining the services.

The role of SPM at this stage is to define the service based on the information provided:

  • The purpose of the service (what it must achieve)
  • The customers and consumers of the service
  • The major inputs and outputs of the service
  • High-level performance requirements (for example, when it needs to be available)
  • What business activity will it support, and is that activity stable or dynamic?
  • Does the service need to comply with (or enable the business to comply with) any regulatory or legal requirements?
  • Are there any standards that need to be applied to the service?
  • What are the actual business outcomes that the service will be supporting, and who is responsible for these outcomes?  
  • Are there any other stakeholders that need to be involved in defining and evaluating this service? 
  • The anticipated level of investments and returns. Although these will not be known, the customer will know what type of return they need, and how much they are prepared to spend to achieve it 
  • Are there any constraints that need to be considered (e.g. budget, resources)?
The role of SPM is to understand how all of the different components fit together and complement each other and also to define the boundaries of the service as well as the technical stakeholders.  Based on this analysis, the impact on the Service Portfolio can be determined and this will provide information on the following areas:

  • The current business outcomes 
  • Investment levels 
  • Service Level Agreements and contractual obligations 
  • Warranty levels 
  • Existing required Utility (for example, changing an existing service may benefit one customer, but it might negatively impact another) 
  • Is there another existing service that can be combined with this service to deliver the required Utility or Warranty? 
  • Patterns of business activity, and levels of demand on the service

Analysis

The analysis of each service moving through the Service Portfolio Management process is performed by linking each one to the Service Strategy. For external service providers, this will be a linkage to the organization’s overall strategy. For internal service providers, it will mean linking to the IT strategy and the strategies of the other business units.