The Shift-Left Approach to Service Desk Automation

Service desk automation is not a new topic but that one that I have revisited due to the advancements made in cloud provisioning. For years we spoke about the shift-left approach. Moving simple, repetitive, transactional activities to the lowest cost cost solution. Initially that meant moving tasks to the lower paid level 1 help desk analysts, or to an offshore resource.

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As technology has moved on, we are increasingly talking about shift-left to move resolutions closer to the end user through automation. Seen by the financial accounting teams as a cost reduction, service desk automation is in fact the ultimate Continual Service Improvement strategy.

Automation engineers out human-error and delivers the end-user a consistent level of service with the same outcome time and time again. Of course, done correctly, automation also reduces cost as people are re-prioritised onto activity further up the value chain.

What is Service Desk Automation?

Automation is nothing more than making a process, a set of defined and repeatable steps, operate without human operator intervention. Early examples of service desk automation included creating incidents from emails and password reset. Password reset alone was responsible for, on average, up to 30% of all calls to the desk. Automating the password reset process created a win /win for the desk and end-users. Users no longer had a frustrating wait to get through and have a password sent to a line manager and the desk saw a significant reduction in call volumes.

As ITSM tools have developed, complex automation workflow capability has emerged. It is now possible to automate procurement or software delivery with budgetary and technical approval built in. Logical flows allow for complex branching, decision trees and parallel processing of tasks.

Cloud and virtualisation have created a further dynamic. it is now possible to provision, deploy and tear down entire infrastructure and application stacks through an operator or end-user generated API call. Virtual desktop fixes can be as simple as re-provisioning a new instance that becomes almost instantaneously available.

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In my experience, the service desk has started to move into the Service Delivery domain previously dominated by Architects and Technical Project Managers. With a click of button on the Service Desk self-help portal it is not possible to provision cloud services through APi automation (using templates and recipe books set up by the Architects and PMs of course). arguable this moves the desk away from just being a cost centre into a value creation role.

Affect on KPIs and Measures

Of course there has been some impact on the role of the traditional Service Desk Manager and, where the desk is outsourced, impact on the Service Managers governing the desk performance. That becomes very noticeable when looking at service desk stats and KPIs. Without understanding the impact of automation, some of the numbers could be misinterpreted as negative.

  • First time fix rate drops
  • Call handle time goes up
  • Mean Time to resolve goes up
  • Number of incidents resolved per analyst goes down

Whilst these look like negative indicators, they are to be expected and are indicative of the fact that the desk is now concentrating on the more difficult & complex issues. new metrics take on greater importance such as:

  • Tickets created by auto-logging
  • Incidents per capita reported by end-users
  • Incidents resolved by automata
  • Visits to FAQ / Knowledge Base articles

A good service desk automation strategy should reduce the volume of incidents raised by end-users who are now able to self-serve. If you are still logging an incident when a user self-serves – to track volumes and produce MI – then look for an increase in resolution through automation. FAQ and knowledge base articles are useful to signpost self-serve capabilities but in themselves they must be well written, indexed and searchable.

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