Following mainstream adoption at the turn of the millennium, ITIL has set the pace for best practice in IT service management (ITSM), writes Patrick Bolger. By providing a practical framework for delivering and supporting IT services, ITIL has helped numerous organisations achieve greater maturity in ITSM. However, this grown-up approach to IT can often contrast with the rapid pace of change of technology itself.
There are countless technological developments, such as the management of virtual machines, the cloud and the increasing use of consumer devices in the workplace, which are not adequately covered by the current ITIL version 3 books. History has shown that business demand drives adoption of new technologies. Consequently, failure to proactively meet this need can bring into question the role of the service desk as a lynchpin of IT use in the business. Moreover, there must be sufficient flexibility in ITSM practice to quickly bring new technologies into the fold.
Social media: disruptive technology
Social media is a prime example of a technology that is clearly causing significant disruption in the ITSM environment. Not a day passes where you don't hear about a security, privacy or productivity issue related to the use of social media. Nonetheless, the use of these tools within business does not seem to be slowing down. In fact, analyst group Gartner recently predicted that in the next three years, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20% of business users.
As these tools become the preferred way to communicate and share data, all sorts of problems emerge for the service desk. There is the obvious challenge of having yet another service among hundreds to support. However, it is also inevitable that users will expect service desk staff to interact with them via social media with updates regarding service issues. In fact, it is already evident that service issues are lying dormant within these channels. Just type a search on Twitter for the hashtag "#Helpdesk" and (aside from the IT helpdesk jobs) you will see all manner of posts from users voicing their frustrations with IT services.
IT benefits of social media
Monitoring of social media may seem like the practice of a marketing or customer service team, but integrating this activity into the service desk can also have multiple benefits. First and foremost, it is possible to identify potential service issues long before a call is even logged with the service desk.
Although IT groups typically use monitoring tools to capture error messages to indicate that a server or application is failing, they often slip through the net. Users are the first to notice, and their first port of call is to check with other users to see if anyone else is experiencing the same issue.
If it is an issue that can be relatively easily addressed e.g. by restarting an unresponsive service, early knowledge can prevent a flood of inbound calls as more and more users call the service desk.
Most service desks have internal objectives aimed at reducing the number of support calls. If IT has the ability to discover service issues, react and provide updates to users via social media channels, this could be a strong contributor to reducing call volumes. Assuming Gartner's predictions around social media in the workplace ring true, it is even conceivable that a proactive IT service desk could eliminate 20% of calls in one fell swoop.
Connecting IT with the wider business
With less time spent dealing with call logging and more capacity to address service issues, the wider opportunity for service desks is to focus their efforts on the age-old challenge of addressing the IT and business disconnect. Instead of being seen as the "maintenance guys" who spend all their time performing the mundane, utility-type functions, IT staff can turn their expertise to helping introduce or improve services that support broader business goals.
With the new-found appreciation of social media, it is also possible to demonstrate how the business itself can better use these technologies. Companies are starting to use social media to speak with their customers, but only a small number have realised that the real benefit comes from listening and reacting.
The social media world is littered with examples of companies that are failing to apply good process around social media. In particular, businesses often monitor Facebook or Twitter for unhappy customers and directly engage with them to understand why they are unhappy, but then lack an adequate process for ensuring complaints are handled effectively. It is somewhat ironic that their IT teams are more than likely using a best-practice framework such as ITIL to improve service management.
Patrick Bolger is chief evangelist at Hornbill Service Management
This was first published in June 2011