by Nancy Von Elsacker, TOPdesk

Service management refers to activities directed by policies, organized and structured in processes and supporting procedures that are performed by an organization or part of an organization to plan, deliver, operate and control services offered to customers.

Within an organization, this can mean the IT or human resources or facilities department all offer services to employees – something as simple as coffee services, email, a computer help desk and even payroll. The processes used to provide these procedures and policies to actually deliver these services is part of the organization’s service management offering.

There are three pillars to making service management successful: process, people and technology; all are equally important.

Improving service management by working in a more process-driven manner helps organizations achieve streamlined efficiencies. Bringing together the service management desks into a single function is even better for streamlining. Unfortunately, implementing a single service desk scares most people. A shared service desk is almost out of the question. Section leaders think such an undertaking will lead to an everlasting project, which they can only hope will be successful.

However, the idea of a shared service desk is probably more complicated on paper than it is to actually roll out. After looking at required essentials, introducing processes and examining real-life examples of how such a concept is likely to exist, suddenly implementing a shared service desk is not so scary anymore.

As a concept, shared service management is relatively new, but a lot of organizations are already taking steps toward a merged service desk. Many others are planning for the change, but it’s not always easy to know where to begin the process. An important first step is being aware of the differences between the departments and understanding where their processes come from and how they came to be. When you’re ready to begin merging processes throughout the organization, start by listing or inventorying the services that are currently offered instead of focusing too much on the current ways things are working or how tasks are getting done.

While service management processes within IT are well-defined and usually automated, they are not always structured or managed efficiently by all departments (especially those outside of IT). Usually there are considerable differences in how these processes are managed between IT and other departments within the organization. This fact is often evident in the tools used by various non-IT departments, including HR and facilities management, which utilize solutions tailored to facilitate data management activities (payroll, real estate management, etc.), but don’t necessarily support service-based interactions.

As a result, the non-IT department users often must rely on email correspondence, Post-it notes or other manual-based methods to follow up on their service delivery. These manual hoops proliferate the system as they try to get the services and support they need to do their jobs. This is a far cry from the well-defined and automated processes within the structured IT department.

According to a recent report by Infotech, nine in 10 managers say that their productivity depends on the efficiency of routine work processes provided by another department upstream. So, when a department relies on emails, spreadsheets, phone calls and personal visits to coordinate routine administrative tasks, the risk for errors is much higher than if there is a system that helps track and manage such tasks. Such disparate approaches limit visibility and reporting, depriving organizational leaders of key data to lead their departments, and fix the problems that need fixing. There is much to gain in merging service desks, especially since these mergers can help organizations overcome these obstacles. Doing so not only allows supporting departments to gain better insight into what is happening across their organization, but also provides a better overview of the demands of the business. This facilitates escalation and increases confidence in the services delivered, as well as confidence in those providing the services.

More importantly, internal customers benefit too. They gain one point of contact, usually through a portal, where they can request everything they need addressed, and can track the status of their request. They also gain more insight into what is happening, and because of the increased efficiency they will be helped more quickly.

A real-world example

Service management is everywhere. Restaurants are great examples of this. Often, they have successfully implemented service management protocols. Here’s how: They have the people to deliver the services, processes are clear for how to deliver the services and they have the technology at hand to address the services required of their clients.

The whole process begins when customers — in this case someone who would like to enjoy the restaurant’s offerings — come inside the restaurant and are assigned a designated waiter for their table. The waiter serves as the customer’s point of contact for the entire visit. He or she will take care of all communication to other “departments,” such as the bar and the kitchen, and will keep the customer informed of the status of their order (which is an actual service that was requested). If there is any delay, problem or additional information needed, the waiter will communicate that directly to the customer.

Additionally, there are dedicated people for specific tasks: dishwashers, bartenders, waiters, hosts, sommeliers, cooks, prep cooks, and the list goes on. They are even divided into front-of-house and back-of-house roles, similar to what we see in supporting departments within organizations with a front and back office. In this example, only front-of-house roles are in contact with the customer.

The processes and workflows are clearly defined. It takes a great deal of coordination and communication to make sure the restaurant’s customers get their food just as they ordered in a timely manner even if the customer asked for something that deviates from the standard menu offering. Restaurants also have the necessary technology at hand to support employees throughout the entire process.

Zooming out of this example shows that the processes other organizations face have much in common with restaurants. When, for example, a new employee has been hired and the setup of a work station has been requested, there are also a lot of activities to be done in a certain order while one person will be the one responsible for coordinating and communicating to the one that requested the service. Now it’s just about taking the scary part out of it and focusing on the right things to implement them successfully.

The service management pillars

The first pillar is processes. Implementing a more process-driven workflow starts with leaders describing the current and the desired outcomes for the process. Don’t expect that just writing these down and sending them to employees is all that needs to be done. This approach may have the opposite effect on an organization and create resistance with employees. Implementing these procedures step by step may allow them to be tested in practice, and adjusted where needed. Measuring the result of the steps taken to implement these procedures along the way is important. Describing a process is a first step toward working more efficiently. Doing so makes sure everyone knows what is to be expected and what needs to be done in a specific situation. Beware of the pitfall of becoming too bureaucratic and look for a healthy balance to ensure you remain flexible.

The second pillar is people. Focusing on the benefits processes offer people will improve your efficiency and keep organizational bureaucracy to a minimum. That is why it is important that people are aware they are part of a process. If one person does not follow it, their colleagues and, more importantly, the customer, will feel the nuisance.

Finally, the third pillar, technology, is equally important to the entire process. Technology not only supports communication as to the services offered, but also helps assist in following the workflows that are set out in the processes.

Even with these processes designed to create order for nearly every type of organization with two or more departments, there is something that makes even more of a difference in relation to creating more efficiency: shared service management. Let’s take a look at how this works, again using the restaurant as an example.

In the example, a restaurant serves a family who are hoping to enjoy a Sunday brunch. They want an order of grilled fish, a medium-cooked ribeye and a kid’s menu item of chicken fingers and mac and cheese. The traditional process would have the customer (the family and its members) each getting a separate waiter for their respective needs: one for the fish, one for the meat, one for the kids’ menu and one for the drinks. There would be more for desserts or other items, too.

Such a scenario would likely mean the family would not get its food at the table all at the same time, and would constantly be interrupted by one of the four waiters as they came to deliver items to the table. Needless to say, this approach would likely make the dining experience in that particular restaurant less than enjoyable. On top of that, this would probably be a very expensive experience with all the staff required to stay on top of every order at every table. Customers would probably not accept this and as a consequence would not go back.

Step back from the restaurant. Don’t most organizations operate in this manner? Don’t they employ teams of “waiters” to serve the needs of their customers? One waiter handles password resets and help desk inquiries? Another waiter addresses employee needs, such as meal services and room appointment. Another waiter likely handles the order of office supplies and services. Still another probably handles equipment (non-technology) problems and mechanics. That’s a lot of waiters at the table.

Here’s another illustrative example: Examine the process of onboarding a new hire. The process probably starts in HR for new employee paperwork to set up benefits and payroll, then the IT department is contacted to set up a computer, user software, email account and a phone. Next, don’t forget contacting the facilities department to request an office, furniture and keys.

Needless to say, this can be done much more efficiently if these departments work closely together, which is known as “shared service management.”

Implementing such an approach can take on various forms, from sharing a tool and processes to sharing one actual service desk. As with implementing a more process-driven way of working, implementing shared service management needs to be taken step by step. It should be seen as a growth model.

An easy first step could be to simply improve communication. For example, sit together with the various departments involved in the onboarding of new employees to define a workflow that has all the steps in there for the different departments and requires just one request of the employee — just like ordering different menu items in a restaurant with one waiter.

By sharing the services, organizations improve efficiency. One desk handles them all. An organization’s customers, in this case its employees, simply engage one area of the business for all of their work-related needs. No need for multiple waiters; no need for multiple service desks to spread the load. Keeping services separated only serves to keep work separated.

Contributor: Nancy Van Elsacker, TOPdesk
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Imaging Channel.
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