Running an efficient IT operation requires expertise in a number of functionally similar but logically distinct disciplines. While the skills and general operating approach to run a datacenter can carry over well to managing client services, the specific day-to-day activities are very different. Moreover, there is enough work to be done in large organizations that specialization of skills (and therefore separation of organizational groups) is necessary. When measuring IT efficiency and effectiveness, like in a benchmarking exercise, it makes sense to compartmentalize the overall organization into “tracks” or “towers” in order to make the measurement process more manageable. However, too narrow a view can mistake efficiency in a relatively small piece of the overall pie for general operations efficiency, therefore overlooking larger opportunities to improve.
Take client services, for example. Within this area of IT support, you have groups responsible for first-line or Tier 1 support (the IT Help Desk/Service Desk), client workstation support (Tier 2 desk-side support, procurement and licensing, etc.), and several other support services (messaging and collaboration, peripherals support, etc.). Again, to make things manageable, companies often focus measurements on one area at a time.
Let’s assume that an organization is interested in measuring their performance, and based on the desire for a positive “public face” impression of IT with business partners, the Service Desk is the most obvious area of focus. Through some comparative analysis involving several data points from similar organizations, it becomes apparent that this organization has a higher cost per Service Desk interaction (a call, chat, or email ticket) and a higher cost per supported end user (considering Service Desk costs only). This spurs a follow-up initiative to increase agent productivity, reduce call length, and close tickets (or escalate to other teams) as quickly as possible.
At face value, this could seemingly be a positive outcome. However, there can be significant negative impacts to other functionally-related areas to such a course of action. In their effort to reach productivity goals for the Service Desk, the team might be pushing issues onto the desk-side support team that could have been solved via Tier 1 support. Or perhaps the resources that were responsible for knowledge and process management in the Service Desk are shifted to front-line support in order to clear the ticket queue, resulting in an opportunity cost in terms of long-term process improvement and therefore service quality improvement.
Consider, also, that the Service Desk is generally 15% or less of the total client services budget, and even if it dramatically improves efficiency, it will have a minimal impact on the bottom line, especially when compared to the overall impact of an optimized client services organization as a whole.
As with any effective measurement program, the key is choosing the right scope of measurement. With this example, a more prudent course of action would have been to look at the full stack of client support services in a comparative manner, then focus attention on the component areas of that stack based on the macro-level comparisons. While the cost for one area might seem high/low for one of these components, that comparison can only be interpreted appropriately when placed in the context of the other related service areas. An effective benchmark utilizes the right process model, the right data, and places it in the right context.