An alternative source of talent for your service desk?

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Due to the advances in healthcare and longer life expectancy it is estimated that within 15 years of the date of this article almost a third of the UK workforce will be in the over 50-age bracket.

Do you have an apprentice working in your IT department? Perhaps on your Service Desk learning the ropes, planning their rise through the ranks to Database Administrator or Network Engineer? I of course am generalizing and there may well be many apprentices out there wanting to pursue a career purely as a Service Desk Analyst it’s just that I have never met one.

I did however once meet a man called Paul who started working with me, not in IT admittedly, but who, having been made redundant and failing for over 18 months to procure a similar role, decided to apply for an entry level position in a very different sector to one he had worked in before. Paul was 58 years old.

The Office of National Statistics estimates that in July of this year approximately 325,000 people in the UK age between 50-64 were unemployed. Although this is thought to be about half of the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds, the prospects for the 50+ demographic finding long-term employment are considerably bleaker with almost 50% of those over 50’s having been unemployed for one year or more or forced into underemployment working part-time or to zero hour contracts.

Paul was extremely able, had an excellent manner and was very patient with the callers on the end of the line. His customer service skills were exemplary and in contrast to others, including myself at the time, he did not see the role as a rung on a ladder to somewhere else. He just wanted to help people and do the job to the best of his ability.

Looking back I can see that Paul would have made an excellent Service Desk Analyst. I very much doubt though that at the time, when this particular IT Department contained only one person over the age of 50 who was widely regarded by his colleagues as a dinosaur treading water until retirement, that Paul would ever have been considered.

Despite possessing a healthy interest in IT and possessing good IT skills, pretty much all that can be hoped for when attempting to employ an apprentice, the suggestion that Paul could take on the apprentice role would have no doubt received much laughter.

Luckily things are changing…

Although traditionally apprenticeships have been for young people fresh from education, the 50+ demographic is moving in. In the last year more than 34,000 people over the age of 50 have started an apprenticeship, with many applying for a ‘professional’ apprenticeship in areas that would normally be dominated by graduates.

Please don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support helping young people into work, my own working life started out this way and I am forever grateful for the opportunity but I think that organisations are missing a trick!

I believe that this older age group is an excellent fit for the Service Desk. With more decision-making and problem solving experience older workers already have a lot of the skills that would need to be taught to a young person alongside technical skills. And then there’s the general life experience aspect. Website Customer Champions carried out a survey on below average customer service and found that people over 50 are the most dissatisfied. It stands to reason that if you have received poor customer service you will work hard to ensure that your customers do not receive a similar service.

Opening up apprenticeships to the 50+ demographic also helps to create a larger pool of suitable candidates, something which in my experience is greatly needed and, as I previously mentioned, with older workers more likely to see working on the service desk as a career rather than a stepping-stone to other things your return on your investment will be far higher.

So do yourself a favour when looking for an apprentice and actively encourage applications from the over 50’s…they have a lot to offer

Types of apprenticeships

Currently in the UK there are over 200 different types of apprenticeships in areas such as retail, education, manufacturing, engineering and of course Information and Communication Technology.

Specific ICT Apprenticeships:

  • IT Application Specialist – providing apprentices with the competence, skills and knowledge to work effectively and efficiently with IT systems, communication and productivity tools and software applications
  • IT, Software, Web and Telecoms Professionals – with the choice of focusing on either telecoms or IT this apprenticeship covers work in a broad range of digital technologies that help to use and share information.

Less obvious apprenticeships that may also be considered by an IT organisation:

  • Customer Service – teaching the apprentice the skills to provide excellent customer service as a customer facing employee
  • Contact Centre Operations – providing the apprentice skills in customer service, communication, problem solving and team working

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Hiring the right people for your Service Desk

276639499_f2b002ceaa_zHiring people for a service desk is a major challenge, but an important one. Without good people, even the best processes and tools will fail to deliver high quality services and support.

So where do you start?

Planning out a recruitment process is critical to helping you find the right person quickly. IT Recruitment is complex and requires good project management (although it is a process that rarely gets the attention it needs). You will need to set out clear stages and tasks, create supporting documentation, and involve people from across the organization, including IT, HR and perhaps even the marketing department.

Work out who you need

Recruiting for any part of an organization tends to fail when the business doesn’t have a clear understanding of what they need. Most often this is due to assumptions made. It might look like an easy option to recycle an existing Service Desk Analyst job specification but your requirements might have changed since it was used. In the end, you’ll get what you ask for, so if you’re asking for the wrong person, you’ll get the wrong person. It will pay dividends later in the process to start with a clear picture of what you need.

The service desk is the friendly face of IT, so an effective service desk analyst requires a mix of interpersonal, technical and problem-solving skills to succeed. In general, an analyst should be polite, considerate, patient, calm and respectful. The technical skills they require will depend on your own organization. What applications do your business people use? How do they communicate with the service desk? What tools do the service desk use? The technical problem-solving skills they will require will depend on where you draw the line between the service desk and 2nd line support e.g. which issues will they be expected to handle on the front line and which will they escalate to the technical support teams.

Work out what you need to pay

People cost money, so you’ll need to work out how much money is available to hire someone new for the service desk. You might already have a “default” salary range for analysts, but salaries change over time and you get what you pay for, so you might need to revise your budget.

If you are going to have to pay more to get somebody who is up to the job, you will probably need to justify this, so you might need to articulate the business case. What value do you need a new analyst to bring? The trigger for recruiting a new service desk analyst is usually one of two things: to replace somebody who is moving on, or to scale up support capacity to handle increased demand from the business. By presenting the case in terms the business can understand – such as an increase in the number of incidents/service requests logged per month, or an increase in the number of SLA breaches – it should become clear as to exactly why a new analyst is required, and the difference they will make.

Work out what they need and expect

Try as you might, if you’re paying under market value you won’t net the right people for your service desk – and support quality will suffer. But salary is just one component of the package. A prospective employee will also want to know about incentives, benefits package, training and career path. They might also check the reputation of the company using social sites like Glassdoor, so it pays to keep an eye on who is saying what about you so that you can respond to any negative comments. Talk to your HR department for guidance on expectations you need to meet as an employer, as well as any reputation issues you might need to counter.

Where do you find good service desk candidates?

The chances are, the best service desk analysts are currently working in a service desk elsewhere. Most service desk’s have a high turnover of staff (much higher than average across the organization)  but this is more reflective of the absence of a staff retention strategy, rather than down to the general calibre of people on the service desk. With analysts changing jobs frequently, they will eventually settle in to an organization that both recognizes and rewards their talents, so this is where you will find the star employees. Companies need to compete for the best staff, but the pay-off is outstanding IT support and happy end users. You’re going to have to pay to get them, and work hard to keep them. Remember, it’s not just about you finding the right employee. It’s also about the employee finding the right company.

In order to reach these star candidates, you’ll need to use a mix of channels. Consider how you can use your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, specialist forums, industry events and word of mouth – as well as outsourcing to recruitment agencies – to let people know you’re hiring. Wherever service desk people are hanging out, that’s where you need to get your message. Your marketing department may be able to help you spread the word across an array of digital and social channels.

It was highly possible that not paying the market rate was having a detrimental affect on service
It was highly possible that not paying the market rate was having a detrimental affect on service

Candidate Shortlisting

If you are offering a competitive package and you’re putting word out in the right places you can expect a flood of responses. With such a high turnover of staff happening across the service desk industry there are always plenty of people looking to move to an organization that provides better career prospects. Some people are just not good at writing a CV that really sells their potential value (particularly in IT where the focus is still very much on technical skill sets), so a short phone interview will help you get a clearer picture. Depending on your corporate vetting policy this might be done by HR, so make sure they have a clear list of criteria to work with and a set of poignant questions to ask.

After all of this, if you’re still not getting CVs of the calibre you require, it might be time to ask the HR department to headhunt candidates who are not actively/openly looking for a new role.

The interview process

Make sure you have a plan for a structured interview. Too often, organizations waste time talking through the candidate’s CV, instead of focusing on meeting their specific requirements. If you have spent the time documenting your requirements to begin with, interviews should be a simple process of “checking off” the skills of the candidate against what you need them to do. Going beyond the set of technical, interpersonal and problem-solving skills you have specified, you should also look at:

  • Qualifications: What qualifications do they have that support their application e.g. ITIL Foundation, the SDI Service Desk Qualification or one of the many more general customer service qualifications? Qualifications aren’t everything, although they will give you a quick indication of capability. Make sure you balance qualifications against real-world experience to ensure you will gain value within a reasonable timescale – without putting too heavy a burden on the rest of the service desk.
  • Culture: You will need to assess whether they will be able to operate effectively within your organisation’s own unique culture. Are they from a similar size of organisation in the same industry? You may favour hiring from similar organisations. A proven track record in the same area of business will be of value, but analysts who have spent time in a number of different types of organisation will have experienced a higher variety of support and are likely to be more adaptable. They may also bring more ideas for improvements with them, so if this is something you’re looking for, gaining some insight into their background will be important. By nature, large organisations tend to emphasis rigid processes and escalation paths to handle the challenges of scalability, whereas Small-to-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups foster greater flexibility and problem-solving. How much will a new analyst need to work within the constraints of your existing framework? And how much room is there for more creative approaches to problem-solving? Many large businesses are seeing the value in recruiting people with problem-solving skills and entrepreneurial attitudes that are bred by necessity within start-ups and SMEs.

Conclusions

  • Upfront planning and analysis is critical to successful recruitment. Bring members of your service desk team in at an early stage to help you work out exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Finding the right person takes time, money and effort, but the legwork is essential to net somebody who will fulfil the requirements in the long term. You don’t want to have to go through the process all over again in six months.
  • IT recruitment doesn’t work well if it only involves IT people, nor if it only involves HR people. You need both to find and recruit the right person.
  • Once you have your team of service desk superstars, you’ll need to work hard to keep them. Work with the HR department to put together a staff retention strategy that sets out an ongoing process of evaluation, engagement and reward.

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Review: Cherwell

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch Cherwell use intelligent interfaces and well constructed forms to automate the basics of the processes in a comprehensive and informative way.
Strengths
  • Core stages of process management as part of the user interface
  • In-context configuration mapping that makes handling concurrent incident and problem mapping management very easy
  • Potential depth of customisation in terms of use of forms (Specifics) lends itself to improving/enhancing investigation and first-time-fix.
Weaknesses
  • While promotion to a Major Incident, automatic raising of a Problem, linkage to the Global Alerts feature and the ability for users to indicate they are affected too from Self Service is great, that indication is linked to the automatically opened problem record, not the Major Incident.
  • Customers seem to have indicated interest in linkage to the Major Incident as an out-of-the-box capability and it would make sense to provide it.
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, Cherwell actively market to customers of all sizes(Small <100 to Very Large >10,000)They are classified for this review as:Specialised Service Management Suite – Offering ITIL v3 processes and proprietary discovery tooling.

They use a best of breed approach to Monitoring and also Third Party discovery tools.

Commercial Summary

Vendor Cherwell Software
Product Cherwell Service Management
Version reviewed V4.3
Date of version release December 2012
Year founded 2003
Customers 400+
Pricing Structure Fully inclusive concurrent user usage for both perpetual and SaaS licensing models.
Competitive Differentiators
  • Completely integrated management processes and totally configurable against an organisation’s current and future service request models, without the need to write a single line of code via programming or scripting services.
  • Integrated Platform as a Service (PaaS) technology to empower users to easy develop and deliver integrated business services offerings.
  • Quick, easy, seamless system upgrades and low cost of ownership for ongoing system management overheads.
Additional Features Integrated application development platform. Integrated Project Portfolio Management module. Full social media integration and features for BYOD management. Multi portal, multi user, fully configurable web portal technology.

Independent Review

There was an interesting debate to be had about the incorporation of the core elements of recording an incident, as part of the record – Record, Classify, Investigate, Resolve, Close.

This “Breadcrumb Trail” is an effective way to have the system reinforce best practices.

One of the best features is the ability to create as much automation around the investigation phase of incident recording.

Cherwell make use of a form structure (“Specifics”) that are presented crisply and succinctly within the record to help the service desk to work through some very simple initial investigation queries.

Several are supplied out of the box but can be easily built.

Using business language in the impact and urgency matrices (again primarily for Incident) shows that Cherwell recognise that ITSM tools need to work across organisations.

There is a lot to like out of the box for Cherwell, and their 80/20 philosophy pays off again, in trying to expedite the processes.

Logging & Categorisation

From the moment an incident record is opened, the interface can bring up all kinds of neat interfaces for example:

The level of integration demonstrated within the tool allows for callers to be identified by just first name and department (if they so chose) and also bring up a wealth of information about the caller if required for example assets related to them, information about any surveys they have responded to, and other record they have opened.

The Categories and Sub-Categories are dependent on the type of service selected (the Sub-Category determines if that record is indeed an Incident, or a Service Request).

But behind that the “Specifics” form structure that Cherwell provide (both out of the box and customisable) provide the Service Desk Analyst with a number of queries to try and drive a first-time-fix resolution.

Tracking and Escalations

From the start point of a Service Desk Analyst to transferring to support teams, the depth of information is primarily controlled by macros (called “One-Steps”).

These macros are used to automate as much of the process as possible.

As tools evolve, the more of the mundane that can be automated, the better the focus can be on the user experience, and One-Steps are a great mechanism for taking care of those repetitive actions.

The key, as with any tool, will be to ensure that the process (i.e. the point at which a record is transferred) is clear and concise and that the tool can provide that transition as seamlessly as possible.

When it comes to creating a Problem from an existing Incident, Cherwell offer a visual configuration map, which allows in-context updates to the related Incident and/or Problem without the need to navigate away from the map itself.

Prioritisation

Another great feature is the wording on the Impact and Urgency matrix.

The Matrix applies to a specific service and when customised, can display terminology that the business understands.

Instead of values of High, Medium and Low, having terminology like: Individual, Department, Building to describe the impact makes it a lot less like describing an IT problem, and a lot more like describing a business issue.

Closure

Coming back to those “breadcrumbs” – if a customer wishes to re-open a resolved incident, the core stages turn an angry red, with a warning triangle and escalation mark to make it very obvious this is a record that needs continued action.

Of course, those incidents that are resolved without further issues are seen as a soft-closure until the service desk receives concurrence from the user that the record can be closed.

Major Incident/Problems

There is not a separate workflow for Major Incidents (or Problems for that matter), and out of the box, there is a button to promote an incident to be Major.

This in turn triggers off the creation of a problem, and can update a Global Alert section on the Self Service Portal so that end users can see that there is something happening on a wider scale.

They can even indicate that they are affected too, but currently this will create a link to the Problem that was created when the Incident was promoted.

It can be easily resolved by the creation of a new business object for a Major Incident, and indeed customers have fed this back, so it is a little bit of an oversight that it works this way.

Conclusion

The value is how that experience can be enhanced to enable the Service Desk to achieve higher First-Time-Fix, and how terminology can be modified to appeal to the wider business, and not just those who read ITIL books at night.

The star of the Incident and Problem show were the Specifics forms – Business Objects that Cherwell have developed that sit within a record (across a number of processes) with meaningful prompts and questions.

Obviously this does not happen by magic – there is a case for a knowledgeable administrator who understands more than just playing with technical toys.

To really get the most out of this system, an administrator would need to understand the business processes in play, a level of system design knowledge, and the ability to not get carried away adding forms and macros.

Of course, the extremely customisable nature means that this is by no means guaranteed, but the level of knowledge given in demonstrations should ensure that organisations receive good advice.

The only glitch for me was the Global Alert link for affected users not lining up with the incident – this is easily fixable though and really is a minor pick, rather than a fundamental faux-pas.

Cherwell Service Management Customers

Screenshots

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.

From the Cherwell Brochure

  • 11 PinkVERIFY™ ITSM processes
  • Intuitive wizards and simple drag-and-drop functionality
  • With Cherwell’s Codeless Business Application Technology (CBAT), you never need to write a line of code or script. Upgrades are effortless.
  • Rapid easy implementation and easily adaptable over time
  • Out-of-the-box processes to assist customers with critical Business Alignment

In Their Own Words:

Cherwell Software

The Complete IT Service Management Solution

Cherwell Software is the developer of Cherwell Service Management™ – a fully integrated solution for IT and support professionals.  The Cherwell solution offers complete choice of software deployment and licensing models: on premise or hosted; perpetual purchase or subscription; you choose!

Designed using Microsoft’s .NET platform and Web 2.0 technology, Cherwell delivers 11 fully integrated ITIL v3 PinkVERIFY accredited management processes straight ‘out-of-the-box’, including Incident, Problem, Change, CMBD, Request, SLA, Service Catalogue and Knowledge.

Web portal technology and social media integration is key to the future success of the Service Desk. With increasing business demand for enhanced services and improved access to information, Service Desks need agile, innovative and flexible web based technologies to meet the high expectations of  users.

Cherwell’s latest Web Browser Portal experience uses leading edge and cross-platform technologies (HTML5/CSS3, Ajax and jQuery) built from the ground up to provide a very responsive application-like experience with no browser plug-ins needed.

Cherwell Service Management is 100% configurable and customisable by its end users and delivers a highly scalable and extensible development platform.  Its CBAT platform enables customers to develop integrated business applications such as: CRM, HR, Project Management, Student Records and Facilities Management systems.

Offering a truly holistic approach to service management, Cherwell empowers IT and support departments to fully align themselves with the organisation they support.  Quick to deploy and easy to use, Cherwell delivers true enterprise functionality at lower costs and without the need for any programming resources.

Further Information

Group Test Index

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.