The spread of the Covid-19 virus has driven a shift to home working at scale, creating new challenges for service desks and accelerating the need for digital service desk capabilities. Covid-19 has put the spotlight firmly on IT and how it handles the mass shift from office to home working—and the service desk is the very visible face of IT. Organizations are struggling to maintain business-as-usual and a robust, digital-capable service desk is a big part of the solution. How the service desk responds to this challenge will have a profound and lasting impact on IT and the organization’s satisfaction with IT.
Challenge #1: Supporting the Shift to Home Working Without Interrupting Business Continuity
Organizations and employees want a seamless shift from office to home working so that staff productivity isn’t compromised. The service desk’s primary job is to ensure all home-working staff have suitable devices and access to the applications and services they need to continue working; effectively mirroring their normal office IT profile at home.
On top of this, many organizations must roll-out new collaboration technology to support effective communication among a now-distributed workforce—where communication was previously face-to-face.
But it is not enough just to provision staff with a collaboration platform. They will need training and support to help them learn the system and be able to communicate as effectively on-line as they would face-to-face. This isn’t a purely technical issue; there are human factors at play here. It is useful to provide some guidelines to help people cope with this transition. For example, recommend that people use video conferencing instead of plain teleconferencing. When you can see who you are talking to, you are not missing the non-verbal aspects of communication e.g. body language.
A service catalog is a good way to ensure all employees have access to the technology they need. By providing a catalog of services and applications, people can get quick access while bypassing the service desk call queue. This means service desk agents have more time to spend on the more complex issues that require creative solutions.
Challenge #2: An Explosion in the Variety of End Points to Support
In many cases, employees have left their corporate-issued devices in the office and are relying on their own desktops, laptops and tablets to be productive. Of course, these devices are not “standard build” devices, so they do not conform to the standard “known” device configurations (Windows version, application profile, security policies, settings, etc).
This makes the job of the service desk analyst more difficult because many of the fixes which work on corporate standard builds simply won’t work on employee’s non-standard devices. In almost every case, the procedure will need to be adapted to fit the employees device configuration—making support calls last longer at a time when call volumes are running at record levels for some organizations.
This is where configuration management, knowledge management and remote control can help. Agents need to quickly capture the rough specifications of employee’s personal devices—such as which version of Windows they are using, so that this information is not being repeated on every subsequent call. When knowledge management is tightly integrated into incident management, the specific resolution procedure for that configuration can be captured for re-use. For example, if another employee with the same version of windows has the same issue. In more complex situations, it is necessary for the service desk agent to see what the user sees—and take direct actions to resolve the issue—so they must be able to take remote control. This can significantly reduce call times versus a situation where the user must describe everything they see and the agent must struggle to diagnose the problem with no visibility.
Challenge #3: New End Points Outside the Firewall
Many large organizations are shifting tens of thousands of employees outside of the corporate firewall—meaning there are now at least as many end points sitting outside the normal security perimeter. They are not protected by the usual network security protections. Nor are employees home devices protected by the standard end-point security systems, configurations and protocols.
This represents a sudden explosion in the attack surface of the organization, and there will be many unknown vulnerabilities because the IT organization doesn’t have a map of what is outside the firewall. It’s a hackers dream.
In this scenario, the service desk and the broader Infrastructure & Operations group must work closely together to get a handle on the situation and associated risks. The challenge is to build a map of what’s being used out there and to keep track of who is using them, what they are accessing, and what needs to be done to ensure they are properly secured.
For example, when considering access to applications, it may be necessary to apply multi-factor authentication. When employees are accessing apps from within the firewall, this local presence is in itself an authentication factor. When employees move outside of the firewall, an alternative authentication factor should be considered—such as limiting access to devices which the employee registers as belonging to them.
And to secure data in-transit a VPN connection should be used to ensure hackers cannot intercept data between the employee’s house and your datacenter while it travels over the public internet. Many service desks have struggled to quickly increase VPN bandwidth to provide hundreds or thousands of times the “normal” VPN capacity so that employees can get access to the data they need, at a speed that enables them to work as normal.
Challenge #4: Providing Remote Support (Vs Desk-Side Support)
Physical desk-side support is no longer possible due to social-distancing regulations. To support home workers your service desk must provide a range of support alternatives—from self-service logging and resolution, to online collaborative peer support, to remote control solutions where desktop support agents can remotely resolve the most complex issues by taking over the employees computer.
We’ve already touched on the fact that it is sometimes necessary for an analyst to see what the user sees, but the service desk is not always the first line of support. When people have a technical issue, they often ask their colleagues first before they contact the service desk. The same applies in a home-working scenario, so employees will be looking for ways they can both get and give support.
Challenge #5: Keeping an Eye on Changes in Demand
In a unique situations like this, business demands on IT will evolve quickly. The service desk must have a finger on the pulse of the business in order to measure demand, anticipate changing patterns, and adapt to ensure employees have what they need. It is vital to have clear visibility of service usage and how this is changing.
Good reporting is essential. You need a clear picture of the types of incidents and service requests—across all channels—to give you visibility of the current situation and the changes in trends. You must be able to see where demand is rising or falling so that you can anticipate what happens next and be prepared.
Across your IT organization, you should have a number of role-based IT dashboards in place: showing CIOs and CTOs the top-level performance and status information; showing IT operations managers the status of networks and systems; showing service managers how their services are performing; and showing service desk leaders the key metrics for support performance.
Collectively, these make up your virtual IT command center. If you cannot all be in the same physical command center, you must still be able to see the status and trend information that you would normally use to maintain visibility and work pro-actively to ensure business continuity is maintained.
New Challenges Require New Capabilities
The response to the virus has pushed digital transformation of the service desk to the top of the IT agenda. Technologies like web self-service support—which many traditional organizations considered non-essential—are now must-have capabilities in the new context of mass home working.
Digital Solutions are the Key to Supporting Productive Home Working
Your service desk needs to manage demand quickly and efficiently and ensure employees get what they need to stay productive. Self-service access to services and support is the most effective model for handling thousands of service requests and support cases. Smart behind-the-scenes automations enable both instant delivery of services and real-time detect-and-correct infrastructure resilience. And effective knowledge management is critical to empowering service desk agents and employees to solve issues quickly and efficiently so that high productivity is maintained throughout.