The IT Chat: Grant Harris, NHS Trust

When Grant Harris became the head of IT operations for Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, he brought with him over 20 years’ experience as an IT manager for multiple industries – food, engineering, and not to mention the 13 years with National Health Service (NHS). In a bold move for NHS, he successfully insourced the service desk with Freshservice, and significantly improved their IT support process. Freshservice talks to him about all of this and more for the benefit of other IT teams looking to improve the quality of their IT service delivery.

You’re the head of IT operations. For a successful IT team, what do you think are the three most important metrics in a service desk?

First contact resolution, time spent, and resolution time.

First contact resolution: Different from first line resolution, first contact resolution directly impacts end-user satisfaction. This helps users know that their calls won’t be stuck in limbo between teams, or that there might be delays in the resolution. In our service desk, the automation of service requests ensures that tickets get assigned to the right team. So we don’t really need to worry about first line resolution.

Time spent: In a complex IT environment like an acute hospital with over 500 systems, it is difficult to measure an engineer’s performance against the number of calls they close in a week as there are multiple variations that we need to take into account. So we measure engineers on the time they log for calls – this, in turn, encourages them to ensure that walk-ups too are recorded.

Resolution time: As a team, we have ditched measuring response time for resolution time. Ultimately, our end-users don’t really care how long it takes. They just want it fixed ASAP.

Considering the success of your IT team under the broad purview of a hospital environment, what’s your advice for someone building a new IT support structure or team?

I think the key action of building a new team from scratch should be to ensure the help desk is fully integrated with the second line support team. In my experience, there has always been an unspoken divide between the help desk and the second line teams – the help desk staff are undervalued. Our remit was to ensure that they felt part of the second line team. We enabled this by designating all the positions as “engineers,” to go with the rest of the staff.

Also, before our help desk went live, we set up a month-long training program for the engineers. Along with that, we also ensured that our second line engineers got to spend some time at the help desk one week at a time – this significantly improved their telephone manner while also acting as a knowledge-sharing exercise. For us, it was important to not silo the different support functions, which led to faster resolution times.

Given the scope of the service management industry, what do you think is the next big thing?

My belief about the next big thing in ITSM are tools allowing us to be more proactive. In this scenario, about logging tickets for more than just failures – to be able to raise a ticket for degradation of service and prevent interruptions altogether.

As someone who has had over two decades’ experience, what was one of the biggest challenges that you’ve overcome at work?

Our toughest challenge was setting up a new help desk within three months. With the contract of our outsourced service desk coming to an end, we were faced with a deadline that couldn’t be extended at any cost. The ease of implementation of our ITSM solution worked to our advantage while we were stuck in a difficult position having to replace our desktop management software as well.

We know from past conversations that the structure and team you have put together in Western Sussex are reflective of your broad style of working. Can you give us 5 tips for success in ITSM?

Grant Harris, Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

  1. Don’t feel constrained by what has been done in the past. While ITIL and other frameworks are useful, they should not become limiting factors while planning your help desk. Think outside the box.
  2. Break down the barriers between teams. Do not silo help desk, desktop, and infrastructure support functions.
  3. Analyze where the majority of the calls come from, and automate them as much as possible.  With our large user base, the vast majority of our calls were for new accounts and password resets. We tackled password resets by using the support portal, along with enforcing self-service. Our next step is to prevent users from calling the help desk for password resets – forcing them to resort to self-service.
  4. Measure your help desk performance, understand the statistics and what influences them. Find out what changes you can make to improve some of the metrics without impacting your service elsewhere.For positive adoption of a tool or product, ensure that the users of the tools are involved in choosing the new or replacement tool.
  5. Your team should be on board with any changes you make, and they should also understand the reason for making those changes in the first place.

What do you think are the top three things one should look for while buying a new tool?

  1. Automation is key: You want users to be able to log a call via the self-service portal and ensure that it goes to the right team the first time, instead of having to scramble for help.
  2. A user-friendly user portal: Considering that most users are familiar with online shopping sites like Amazon or eBay, it’s only wise to get a tool with a service catalog similar to the shopping cart layout.
  3. Data management: Get a tool that can integrate with your Active Directory environment to extract as much information about the user as possible, i.e., name, department, phone details, etc. so you don’t have to waste time on manually importing the data.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest ITSM or IT related myth you have come across?

The biggest myth has to be the idea that you need to buy a fully ITIL-aligned ITSM tool.

Unless your only business is IT support, organizations inadvertently wind up spending a lot of money supporting the ITIL processes that they will never use in the first place. Most businesses already have other tools in place to support the same functions.

Customer satisfaction is the biggest driver for successful organizations. What’s the one thing every IT leader should do every day for superior customer satisfaction?

Always have a customer satisfaction survey, and not just limit to one in five calls – ensure it goes out after every call. Also, encourage users to explain why they had a bad experience. There’s no point in a sad face response with no explanation – it gives you no indication of where exactly you went wrong, and how you can improve the service.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you began your career in IT?

How much money I could be earning by now if I had my own IT solutions company.

You’ve built a solid IT ecosystem at NHS. What’s the one thing that other IT support teams can follow?

Automation. Automate ticket creation from multiple IT support tools such as AV, printing and network monitoring, and API links.

The most valuable thing you’ve learned in your current role.

While some things look impossible, with a great team backing you, they become possible.