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ITSM Futures: The Inevitable Convergence of Internal and External Support

Written by on September 27, 2018

There’s much to think about with the future direction of IT service management (ITSM) – from digital transformation, through the management of new technologies, to dealing with people-related challenges and opportunities. And, in dealing with each of these discrete areas, it’s easy to miss some of the bigger picture trends and opportunities that are relevant to the ITSM community.

One, in particular, is that of the growing convergence of, or the potential for convergence between, internal IT and external customer support. And this blog explains why we need to pay more attention to both support worlds, no matter which we currently work in, with the bidirectional sharing of support good practices and the enabling technologies between them significantly improving the operations and outcomes for both parties.

This convergence may or may not ring true for you, so let me start by talking through some of the reasons why we don’t see as much sharing as we could. Before then talking about the why of what could, and should, be shared.

Why we don’t share: Sometimes we overlook “the obvious”

It’s human nature for us to compartmentalize things – it makes them, and life in general, easier to deal with. Thus, we tend to organize, and put, things “in their place.” However, this can limit the thinking we do about the validity, and opportunity, of things outside of “their place.”

Here, we put internal – IT support – and everything we associate with it – in one place, and external-customer support in another. Although the reality is probably even worse, in that we feel that we don’t need to understand about the latter when we are solely employed to focus on the former.

It, unfortunately, means that there’s potentially a disconnect between internal and external support capabilities/activities – with it easy to overlook the “obvious” similarities and the ability for one to learn from, and perhaps steal a few innovations, from the other.

Why we don’t share: Sometimes we look for inspiration, and help, in the wrong places

An Albert Einstein quote that’s often used to denote an inability to escape our rapidly-turning hamster wheel is that:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

And in many ways IT support professionals are guilty of this (as probably are many of the professionals working in any other business function) – with the hunt for new ways of working and innovations limited to the ITSM community of people, publications, events, and advisory services.

Meaning that we learn, and improve, from what has worked for other IT support, and ITSM, teams rather than taking advantage of what has worked in similar – but not internal IT – support scenarios.

Why we don’t share: Sometimes we are trying to “change in a vacuum”

Another great, and oft-used, quote is that:

“Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum” ~ source unknown.

And it’s important for IT support professionals to realize that there are now continually moving goal posts for their services. That, what was “good enough,” even just two years ago, no longer is – as the expectations of those supported, rise (there’s more on this in a moment).

Why we don’t share: Sometimes we only use one directional gear

I remember an old, war-related joke where a certain country’s tanks only had one gear – reverse.

There’s also a danger that this could be true for IT support and ITSM, with IT pushing out ITSM good practice and technology to customer support teams via enterprise service management strategies without looking at what could be received back in return. Such that the involved parties get collectively better.

And customer support teams potentially have a lot to share – especially in answering the newest challenges and opportunities faced by IT support teams…

The why of what could, and should, be shared

Most IT support teams are faced with challenges that get grouped into easy-to-remember phrases such as “delivering more with less” or “better, faster, cheaper.” And, of course, they are not alone (within the enterprise) in this.

And when we look at some of the key IT support opportunities and challenges, we can start to see the similarities with external customer support teams. For example:

  • Improving employee experience – as already mentioned, employees are expecting more from IT’s services and support thanks to consumerization, i.e. their personal-life, consumer-world experiences. Which in turn is being affected by corporate investments in customer experience (CX) and digital transformation strategies. So why not learn from what external customer support teams have already achieved?
  • Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) – whether as part of digital transformation initiatives or not, such investments in improving customer touchpoints and outcomes will probably be high priorities for organizations. For instance, the use of chatbots or the AI-assisted analysis of large data sets. Again, why not learn from what external customer support teams are currently achieving (plus the mistakes they make along the way)?

There are common challenges and opportunities too, where neither party is yet to have all the answers. For example, the impact of self-service success – where, because the simple issues and requests are now dealt with by the employee/customer, the contacts to the support function are more complex (and time-consuming) in nature. This requires an uplifting of support staff capabilities from script readers to problem solvers (plus, of course, an attitude for delivering a superior employee/customer experience) and more effective knowledge management capabilities.

Your external customer support organization is hopefully already investing in the above, so why not piggyback that investment, and learning, to improve IT support? It would be foolish not to.

Ultimately, both support functions have approaches, capabilities, and technologies that would be beneficial to each other. And, as these are shared, we will start to see more similarities between the two parties than there are differences. Why? Because they will both hopefully be working optimally through standardized practices and tools – with perhaps the caveat that some organizations will struggle to spend more on internal IT support due to the unfortunate mindset that it’s an unwanted “cost of quality” that needs to be minimized (as the last decade has frequently evidenced).

If you want to hear more, and will be in New York on the 12 October 2018, then I’ll be presenting on this topic at the Freshworks Refresh 18 event (in the Freshservice track). If you can’t, no problem because I’ll also be writing more on the topic post-event.

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Cover Image by Srinivas Dhotre

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