My recent LinkedIn connections might know me solely as a SQL data specialist. There are however, many former colleagues on that social media platform from earlier in my career, who will be aware of the years of graft that I put in as an IT support, IT service and IT management functionary. I also have a few connections from my time spent drowning in academic papers at the Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield.
Quite a number of these contacts may be unaware that over the last five years I’ve spent a portion of my spare time writing, blogging and tweeting about the ways in which IT service work is organised and how it might be improved. In this I bring together my commercial experience and my work psychology education, as well as a good dollop of creative and maverick nature. I’m mainly critical of the status quo, and try to concentrate on looking ahead to benefits that may accrue from new models of work.
This writing activity began in 2009. The early pieces are remarkably similar to the stuff I am churning out now, although they were a little unformed and perhaps heavy on the work psychology. However, quite early on I hit a nerve (evidenced by the popularity of the post) when I suggested that we were witnessing the slow death of ITIL. Since then I’ve been arguing that the entire concept of ITSM is problematic in relation to good human service.
This – heresy to some – is something I continue to repeat because in my view ITSM is mechanistic and anti-human at worst, and systemic at best. I have frequently argued that none of these characteristics are useful for the excellent and innovative IT service that enterprises in the 21st century require (see previous blog post).
It’s tricky to convey the detail of my approach in a short post. However, I wholly accept that mechanistic and systemic approaches to work have their rightful place (on production lines, and in some areas of an IT function). However, at the point of customer-to-service-provider interaction, such mechanistic and systemic thinking annihilates the service experience.
There are a number of reasons why this is so. Firstly, because (the mechanistic) pre-scripted best-practice processes are by definition unable to deal with the unexpected and the novel. As change is an increasing feature of the enterprise landscape this is an issue. Secondly, because the (systemic) pre-defined targets that are a feature of most ITSM service desks draw the attention of the agents away from the customer and their requirements, to the target and its fulfilment.
If the above doesn’t convince you try this – we experience these issues in our own lives. For example, you’re on a telephone call to a personal supplier – let’s say a mobile phone operator – and you’re trying to describe a complex problem that you’re experiencing. If the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t seem to be listening to you and is trying to fob you off with a facile answer that you feel doesn’t meet your needs, then you’re a victim of the agent working to targets. Or processes. Or both. He or she doesn’t care about you, they just need to satisfy some pre-determined criteria.
The conclusion that I have drawn from my extensive theorising (and frustrating experiences on the phone to call centres) is this: to become a truly valued part of the enterprise, an IT function must kill their service desk.
That’s right, rip up the template and start again.
True, I am a maverick, but that’s not the entire story. The reason why even I am daring to suggest such a draconian solution is because of the M in ITSM. Management. Or as I describe it in my talks control. By which I mean the building of customer service solutions on processes and targets alone. In my view, control is the grit in the machine that’s preventing the IT service experience from taking wing and soaring.
The remedy to this state of affairs has to be drains-up change for a simple reason. It is because control is at the philosophical heart of ITSM, which in turn guides all the thinking within IT service departments. ITSM without heavy layers of management is impossible. Similarly, the service desk without the heavy weight of top-down control is inconceivable; and that’s why this function as it is known today needs to die.
I’ve mentioned the problems with processes and targets above: management methods which murder the hope of a truly excellent customer experience along with responsiveness and innovation. So I am proposing something new. This new thing requires a brand new design and staffing policy. Most importantly it is based on a very different philosophy – not one of management control, but of free service passion.
Trust me. I’ve worked it out. It involves bringing into balance a trio of key human and organisational elements; and yes we can still retain a little bit of management and control, but far, far less than we’ve been used to over these past decades. It kinda works. It’s also new and exciting. The future isn’t trying to squeeze more out of the existing methods. Bronze age man knew when to give up the old paradigm and step up to iron. Even those ancient homo sapiens realised the benefits of getting rid of the old way and replacing it with something better.
It’s your turn now. You need to kill your service desk.