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Anatomy of the Service Desk

Written by Daniel Wood Head of Research Service Desk Institute

Sponsored by

Published by
SDI Europe 21 High Street Green Street Green Orpington Kent BR6 6BG United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0) 1689 889100 Fax: +44 (0) 1689 889227 Website: www.sdi-europe.com E-mail: info@sdi-e.com

Disclaimer
While every care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of this report, the results, estimates and opinions stated are based on sources which, while we believe them to be reliable, are not guaranteed. No liability can be accepted by SDI, its Directors or Employees for any loss to any person acting or failing to act as a result of anything contained in or omitted from this report, or conclusions stated.

Publishers Note
Copyright 2012 by SDI. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of SDI.

Table of Contents
Key findings Introduction Team 1. On what day of the week do you feel that your service desk is most productive? 2. At what time of day do you receive most of your calls? 3. How far do you agree with the following statements 1. We have enough resources to deliver the level of service that we aspire to 2. We need to be more efficient 3. There are not enough hours in the day 4. Do you believe that the service desk team all work equally as hard? Personal 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Do you think that the rest of the service desk team work as hard as you do? Do you feel guilty for the rest of the team when you take a holiday? Do you ever take your allocated lunch break? Do you often finish work on time? Do you have a good work/life balance? 4 5 6 6 7 8 8 9 10 11 12 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

10. Do you feel under pressure at work? 11. Do you feel stressed at work? 12. How many industry events do you attend per year? 13. Do you plan how you will spend your time? 14. Do you stick to these plans? 15. Do you prioritise your work? 16. What do you think is your biggest time drain? 17. How many hours (roughly) do you spend on your biggest time drain (per week)? 18. What percentage of your time is spent on fire fighting versus strategy? Conclusion

67%
Team

of a Service Desks time is spent on fire-fighting

Key findings
41 percent stated that there was no difference in their teams productivity across the week Most service desk calls are received between 8-10am 52 percent said that they did not have enough resources to deliver the level of service that they aspire to 93 percent agreed or strongly agreed that their service desk needs to be more efficient 60 percent agreed with the statement that there are not enough hours in the day 58 percent felt that the service desk team did not all work equally as hard

Personal
38 percent dont believe that the rest of the team work as hard as they do 49 percent feel guilty for the rest of the team when they take a holiday Only 14 percent always take their allotted lunch break 55 percent often or always finish work on time Only 28 percent stated that work did not encroach on their personal life 79 percent said that they felt under pressure at work 65 percent feel stressed at work 34 percent of respondents do not attend any industry events 86 percent plan how they will spend their time, but 39 percent rarely stick to these plans 98 percent prioritise their work People management was identified as the biggest time drain 67 percent of a service desks time is spent on fire-fighting

Introduction
So how do todays service desks spend their time? It was this question that formed the catalyst for this report, as we wanted to discover just how service desks were spending their time, and whether they were spending it efficiently. We all know that service desks can be places of stress, anxiety and constant tension due to the unpredictable nature of the work (and by extension, the vagaries of IT itself) and its important to understand how people are dealing with these pressures, and the impact that this is having. In the first report of its kind in the UK, the findings contained in this whitepaper were both illuminating and somewhat troubling and should make for interesting reading for anyone involved in the ITSM sphere. This report was created from the responses to an online survey sent out to over 10,000 ITSM senior professionals during November and December 2011. From their candid and open responses we have been able to create a rich and full picture of the service desk industry, and can offer some telling insights into how and why time is such a big issue for todays service desk professionals.

Team
1. On what day of the week do you feel that your service desk is most productive?
50

40

Percentage

30

20

10

ay nd o

es Tu

y da ed W

s ne

y da Th

s ur

y da

id Fr

ay s os cr th

ee ew

dif

en fer

ce

As the graph shows, 38 percent of respondents felt that there was no difference in productivity across the week, which suggests that the volume of work remains fairly constant and employees are engaged and productive. Wednesday and Friday appear to be the least productive days, and Monday and Tuesday the most productive which is probably an accurate reflection of most peoples workplace. Service desks are productive when they are fixing incidents and answering calls, so the results suggest that most calls come through on a Monday and Tuesday, but for the majority, the calls are spread evenly across the week.

2. At what time of day do you receive most of your calls?


60

50

40

Percentage

30

20

10

8a

-1

0a

m 10 am

-1

2p

m 12 pm

-2

pm 2p m

-4

pm 4p m

-6

pm

Following on from the first question, this chart establishes that most calls are received at the start of the day. The reasons for this are that customers might have problems logging on as they have forgotten their password, or that they need something to be fixed before they can start their working day. It may also be the case that customers have the foresight to anticipate which IT services and software they will need to use later that day, and thus log the call early to give the desk time to offer a resolution.

3. How far do you agree with the following statements 1. We have enough resources to deliver the level of service that we aspire to
40

35

30

25

Percentage

20

15

10

0
n tro gl

e re ag y

Ag

e re D

g isa

e re S ng tro ly d

g isa

e re

This question produced some interesting results. For some, the question will have been answered from a position of knowledge, where metrics reveal that calls are going unanswered and SLAs are being missed which points to a lack of resources. For others, they will have answered this question from a gut feel perspective. Whatever way they have answered it, the results show that overall slightly more (52 percent) do not feel that they have enough resources to deliver the level of service that they would like to.

2. We need to be more efficient


60

93%
agree or strongly agree they need to be more efficient

50

40

Percentage

30

20

10

0
n tro gl

e re ag y

Ag

e re D

isa

ee gr S n tro gly

a dis

ee gr

This question produced a clear result that shows that the vast majority (93 percent) believe that they need to be more efficient. A possible reason for this answer is that service desks have heavy workloads and feel under pressure to deliver results, and therefore need to be more efficient to meet the demands. Efficiency is derived from many different sources including hardware and software and human resources. Efficiency gains can also be realised through having the correct processes and procedures to ensure consistency and that the correct result is achieved each and every time.

3. There are not enough hours in the day


40

35

30

25

Percentage

20

15

10

0
ro St ng l

e re ag y

Ag

e re D

g isa

e re S ng tro ly d

g isa

e re

Intrinsically related to time management and efficiency, this question shows that the majority of respondents feel that there is not enough time in the working day to achieve everything that they want to accomplish. There could be numerous reasons for this, but the most likely answers are those that have already been identified in that service desks need to be more efficient and need more resources to handle their every-increasing workloads.

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4. Do you believe that the service desk team all work equally as hard?

Yes 21% No

79%

This was a contentious question, and one that could be based on tangible or intangible factors, or indeed a combination of both. The answers could also be subjective some employees will be perceived as not working as hard as others simply by the way they conduct themselves and the way that they approach their work. However, the chart does clearly show that there is a perception that the service desk team do not all work equally as hard.

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Personal
5. Do you think that the rest of the service desk team work as hard as you do?

38%

Yes No

62%

The previous question demonstrated that only 32 percent of respondents felt that the service desk team all worked as hard as each other. However, for this question a much larger percentage (62 percent) felt that their colleagues matched their own efforts at work.

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6. Do you feel guilty for the rest of the team when you take a holiday?

Yes No

51%

49%

Given what we have learnt about service desks issues with time (namely lack of resources, lack of time, and a need to improve efficiency), this question determined whether respondents felt any guilt when taking a holiday. Given how stretched service desks appear to be, losing a member of staff could have a marked impact. The result for this question was virtually split down the middle, which shows just how involved and invested people are with the service desks that they work on. For many people, taking a holiday is a guiltless pleasure, but this is clearly not the case for our respondents, as they are conscious of the increased workload that will be inflicted upon the rest of the team. Increased workloads do not have to be the status quo when people take holiday, as pragmatic resourcing of personnel can help to minimise the impact of absent people. Some ideas to help manage holidays include making sure that there are not too many people off at the same time; resourcing people from other teams to help on first line; and ensuring that people book holiday in advance so that the necessary plans and preparation can be put into place.

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7. Do you ever take your allocated lunch break?


50

40

30

Percentage

20

10

s Ye

s ay alw eo or ft

en

th

an

t no

ly re Ra

er ev

This chart provides more compelling evidence that service desks are stretched and that resources are at a premium. Taking an allocated lunch appears to be a rare occurrence, with only 14 percent stating that they always take their allotted time for a lunch break. These results suggest that people are working through their lunch breaks (or at least part of them). It could also be a case of business culture, and that in the whole organisation lunch breaks are not routinely followed and it is expected that employees will work through some or all of their lunch break.

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8. Do you often finish work on time?


50

40

30

Percentage

20

10

s Ye

s ay alw eo or ft

en

th

an

t no

ly re Ra

er ev

This was a neat comparison to the lunch break question. That result showed that most people did not take their allocated lunch break, but the chart above shows that most people (55 percent) finish work on time. There are some possible reasons for this. One could be that, as shown in the lunch break chart, people are working through their lunch hour to ensure that they are able to leave work on time. Another reason could be that people are starting work earlier, again to make sure that they can leave on time. For some of course, leaving work on time is not negotiable due to personal commitments.

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9. Do you have a good work/life balance?


50

40

30

Percentage

20

10

ot s n my e do on life rk ch nal o a , w ro rso es enc pe Y

s t he bu ac l life d tter o o cr na go be en rso t's be I d n l te pe of my ou c k or on W

or W

ki

yl sm

ife

Again, much in keeping with what has been demonstrated thus far, work appears not to spill out into our respondents personal lives. Indeed, only 28 percent said that work did not encroach on their personal life. What we can draw from these results is a validation of what has already been shown, but also that, such is the nature of service desk work, its very hard to separate work and personal life.There will doubtless be instances (perhaps regularly) when our respondents have had to work at weekends, or take support calls out-of-hours. Work encroaches on peoples lives away from work despite the fact that, as the previous question demonstrated, the majority of respondents invariably finished work on time.Thus, there must be other reasons for respondents stating that work impacted on their personal life it might not just be out-of-hours work that is an issue here, but perhaps respondents find it difficult to leave the pressures and stress of work at work and instead take them home with them, thus never fully leaving work behind.

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10. Do you feel under pressure at work?

Yes 21% No

79%

This was the question that the results of the survey thus far have been leading towards. Given that service desks seem strapped for resources and have indicated a clear problem with a lack of time, it is perhaps unsurprising that these factors have manifested themselves in tangible pressure being placed on the service desk to deliver and meet expectations. Pressure is of course subjective, but in the world of service desks there is never such a thing as a typical day, and thus competing with the various challenges and problems that are thrown their way becomes more pressurised when there is a lack of resources available to handle them. Still, despite the fact that there are numerous reasons for service desk employees feeling stressed, it is still disconcerting that such a high percentage feel under pressure at work.

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11. Do you feel stressed at work?

Yes 35% No

65%

In light of what the results have revealed so far, it is clear that the service desk is a highly pressurised environment, but discouragingly this pressure creates a stressful place of work. Stress is largely negative and can have an impact on mental and physical health. That nearly two-thirds of respondents stated that they felt stressed at work is an important finding and demonstrates that there is a real need to alleviate some of the causes of stress before they have long term and longer lasting impacts. Stressful environments are evidently not positive places to work, and this can have wider reaching impacts including staff morale, the desks performance and efficiency.

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12. How many industry events do you attend per year?


Please note that for conferences, each day counted as a separate event.

Comments: No budget for these this year. Lots of changes taking place, still identifying which staff are appropriate to attend which conferences. Dont seem to have the time to attend. No financials in the budget.

35

30

25

Management dont seem to take the desk seriously. Funding and time. Dont have the time.

Percentage

20

15

No free time. There is rarely any time and even if there is, no budget is allocated. No interest from management in improving Service Desk quality.
0 1 2 3 4 5 More than 5

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In keeping with the trends seen throughout this paper thus far, it is perhaps not surprising that 34 percent of respondents do not attend any industry events. As the comments below highlight, time is a major factor in being unable to attend, but budget features prominently as well. The number of events attended steadily declines across the chart, with only 7 percent attending more than 5 events this year. It is a little disappointing that so few respondents manage to attend industry events, as they can prove an invaluable resource in learning from others; networking; and considering new approaches and ways of working. Sometimes its just important to spend some time away from the desk to see things in a new perspective. However, until the problems of lack of time budget are overcome, then it is likely that this trend will continue.

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13. Do you plan how you will spend your time?

14%

Yes No

86%

With all the tasks that service desks have to tackle on a daily basis, its important to plan how the day will pan out. This question is really looking at how well service desks plan their time, and is the follow on question from if there are enough hours in the day. It is clear that time is an issue, but interestingly 86 percent do plan how they will allocate their time. Evidently, unforeseen issues are drawing time away from allocated tasks, or the time supposed to be spent on each task has been miscalculated.

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14. Do you stick to these plans?

2%

Always Often

39%

Rarely

59%

As shown 86 percent plan their time, but 39 percent do not stick to these plans. A couple of reasons for this have already been suggested (the unpredictable nature of the service desk, miscalculation of the time needed for each task) but there are doubtless many many more. Still, 61 percent always or often stick to their time plans, which demonstrates that plans are effective and are a vital tool in managing an ever-increasing and daunting workload. In such a pressurised environment, time management is an indispensable tool, as without it the most important tasks would not be completed.

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15. Do you prioritise your work?

2%

Yes No

98%

This was a clear result, with the vast majority of respondents stating that they prioritise their work. With the myriad and often overwhelming number of tasks that service desks have to contend with on a daily basis, it is perhaps not surprising that so many prioritise their time.

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16. What do you think is your biggest time drain?


40

36%
think people management is their biggest time drain

35

30

25

Percentage

20

15

10

0
p in/ ap e

or rw

k e gr l so ve

e rt

am

s lem cu st

om

er

s d or sw s

s re

et

s pl em an a

m ge

en

Ch This was an interesting result. A clear majority identified people management as their biggest time drain, which meant that actually managing the people on the service desk took up more time than any other of the available activities. Perhaps the reason for this is that people management encompasses many different areas, ranging from training and development to appraisals and career planning. Related to people management is the paper work and administration that accompanies it, which perhaps accounts for its place in second on the chart above.

Ad

in as

ob Pr

Pa

o Pe

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17. How many hours (roughly) do you spend on your biggest time drain (per week)?
30

25

20

Percentage

15

10

les

h st

an

ho

ur 12

ho

ur

s 3

2-

ho

ur

s 34

ho

ur

s 45

ho

ur

s 6

5-

ho

ur

s 67

ho

ur

s 78

ho

ur

s 89

ho

ur

s 10 10

9-

ho h

ur

s so rm

e or

r ou

Over the course of a week, the range of responses here may not seem like a very significant number. However, this is still time that is taken away from other tasks, and of course does not include the time spent on the other time drains listed above and all the additional ones that did not necessarily fit neatly into the categories.

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18. What percentage of your time is spent on fire fighting versus strategy?

Strategy 33% Fire fighting

67%

This question signifies the culmination of all of the results that we have seen so far, and is perhaps not a surprising one. With the nature of the service desk and the constraints that our respondents were evidently operating under, there is clearly a lack of time available for creating strategy as the primary focus is on fire fighting and keeping the lights on. Actually having the time to sit back, reflect, and plan a service desk strategy appears to be more of a luxury than a way of life. What this ultimately means is that there is little scope for improving some of the drains highlighted in this report (lack of time, resources, efficiency) as these are very much dependent on having the correct strategy in place. If fire fighting is the primary concern, then this explains (in part) why service desks are a stressful and highly pressurised environment. Having the correct service desk strategy and an array of processes and procedures helps to alleviate some of the all hands to the pump way of working and permits a forward looking attitude that can help anticipate and prepare for certain events in advance. Whilst dedicating time to strategizing may sound more than a little idealistic given the noted time and resource constraints highlighted in this report, it does not mean that it is not important or indeed achievable. There are only a fixed number of hours in the day, but planning ahead and creating the right strategy can ensure that more of those hours are spent productively and can help to counteract the stress and pressure that are currently engulfing service desks.

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Conclusion
This whitepaper has covered a wide range of questions and activities surrounding the service desk, but a clear trend has emerged. It is quite evident that service desks are highly pressurised and largely stressful places to work, and there are clear issues around time and how time is planned and managed. From this, certain questions arise. Is the service desk unique in this respect, or are most jobs and professions stressful and time at a premium? And, perhaps more importantly, what can be done to reverse this trend? We all know that we could and should manage our time better, but a large part of the problem is that there are an appreciable lack of resources, which in turn is creating more pressure and stress. This is particularly disappointing, as it is shown that service desks aspire to deliver a better service, but are being held back by a distinct lack of resources. However, there are some positive results. There is a clear belief that respondents felt that they could be more efficient, which if they were to make improvements in this area would help to counteract the resource problem. The good news is that there are more ways than ever to improve efficiency (be it through technology, refining and developing processes and procedures, training and many others) so with a concerted effort, efficiency gains can be made. Its also important that time is set aside for industry events and networking as just one good idea can make a huge difference to your service desk operations. Additionally, there is a perception that not all of the service desk team are producing the same amount of effort, which will of course not only lead to a loss of efficiency but also cause broader problems such as colleagues resenting each other or general team disharmony. In this paper we just asked for an opinion on whether the team all worked equally as hard; to really qualify this impression a comprehensive analysis of KPIs and other key measures would need to be performed for each member of staff. This would also allow you to see where potential efficiency improvements could be made. As the old adage goes, you cant manage what you cant measure so make sure that people are being measured on a regular basis to ensure that they are being managed effectively.

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About The Service Desk Institute (SDI)


Founded in 1988 by Howard Kendall, the Service Desk Institute (SDI) is the leading authority on service desk and IT support related issues, providing specialist information and research about the technologies, tools and trends of the industry. It is Europes only support network for IT service desk professionals, and its 800 organisation members span numerous industries. Acting as an independent adviser, SDI captures and disseminates creative and innovative ideas for tomorrows service desk and support operation. SDI sets the best practice standards for the IT support industry and is the conduit for delivering knowledge and career enhancing skills to the professional community, through membership, training, conferences, events and its publication SupportWorld magazine. It also offers the opportunity for international recognition of the support centre operation through its globally recognised Service Desk Certification audit programme.

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