Tiered Support Vs Swarming – Which Will Suit You?

With DevOps gaining momentum among leading organizations, there’s been a change in the way IT teams have worked. Of late, swarming – a new form of IT support has been in the spotlight. Experts have taken the side of this new swarming model and backed it to be ideal for IT orgs of any scale.

What we aim to discuss in this blog is to compare and contrast between these two approaches on the following aspects,

  • Swiftness in solving tickets
  • Ease of collaboration
  • Ease of implementation and adoption

Before we delve into the comparison, it’s important that we know how the two models work.

Traditional three-tiered IT support:

The three-tiered support model gained prominence with the growth of ITIL. ITIL defines organizing your IT support into 3 main pillars – the service desk (a single point of contact for end users), technical teams (server, database teams), applications & IT ops team. At any given point, these teams work together to,

  • Minimize outage
  • Keep the downtime to a minimum and
  • Ensure every stakeholder is satisfied

Tier-1 (the service desk) typically staffed with generalists solves most of the tickets, while a few tickets that require technical/domain expertise are passed on Tier-2 (The application management team). If things still don’t get smoothened out, the vendor or the development team (Tier-3) pitches in and solves the issue. As you would have noticed (or rather experienced) the three-tier model works on escalation basis, and is strictly hierarchical.

Swarming advantage - no escalations

Imagine this,

An IT team of 20 agents are trying to run a javascript(JS) to reaffirm security on laptops and handhelds for 1500 employees. Ideally, the IT folks would want the end users to change it by themselves, using the instructions sent over email.

But, boom – there are 300 tickets the next morning! People are at your service desk with  one issue after the other regarding the JS. In scenarios like these, you would ideally want the whole IT team to jump in, help out the employees and not wait for hierarchical approach. But the three-tier model puts all the burden on only a small number of service desk agents.

Enter swarming…


If there was a diametrically opposite model to tiered IT support, it would be swarming.IT-support-Swarming-model

It revolves around three simple basics,

  • Collaboration between agents
  • Flat hierarchy
  • No escalations

No escalation - Everyone huddles, solves a ticket, and moves onto the next one. Click To Tweet

Can an unstructured approach like swarming be all that rosy? Some of our customers who have talked about resistance in their IT teams to change, steep learning cycles, non-availability of set models to replicate and a lot of other reasons have started implementing swarming. Also, swarming has found greater success in organizations adopting DevOps compared to ones that haven’t.

That said, let’s see how they stack up against each other on various aspects that are important in solving day-to-day challenges.

Swiftness in solving tickets

The swarming method of IT support works on the pick-up, collaborate, solve and repeat model. Typically, anyone and everyone in the IT team is expected to ‘swarm’ on a user’s problem and solve it. 

While this model is seemingly nimble, the catch is that easily solvable tickets will reach overqualified agents.

A subject matter expert in databases shouldn’t be solving a password reset request. That’s what swarming could do.

Swarming experts like Jon Hall argue that the traditional three-tiered IT support doesn’t protect subject matter experts from high-volume low-difficult cases on daily basis. 

In a nutshell, what you wish to trade-off for solving tickets ‘quickly’ will determine the approach you take. If your organization is planning to adopt DevOps, the swarming model will ensure your key members and subject matter experts are innovating and not solving high escalation tickets. This should nullify the concern of talent misuse often associated with the model.

Ease of collaboration:

Collaboration is the very basis on which the swarming model is built. The entire IT team swings into action as soon as an issue is reported by an end user. Depending on the size of your IT team, the number of swarms you might have may vary.

On the other hand, collaboration in three-tiered model can be fairly straightforward only when,

  • Large number of issues coming to your service desk software are straightforward
  • Your support team is very small (say < 20 members)
  • The tickets and issues you face are repetitive in nature

For companies of smaller sizes, swarming model might seem like a no-brainer. Swarming is compatible with most IT orgs and the learning curve for an IT agent is almost linear.

So when it comes to collaboration, swarming has a slight edge because of its underlying principles of flatter approach to solving IT support. However, if your team size is small, and your service desk solves similar kind of tasks, three-tier support still holds good.

Ease of implementation and adoption:

As outlined from the start, the three-tiered model of IT support has been here forever. IT organisations have a template to follow as the approach has been implemented a million times with a fair amount of success. In addition to this, the fact that training material, courses etc., to set your IT team up for success are available at zero cost when you’re implementing the three-tiered model.

On the flipside, swarming model of IT support is relatively new and followed by very few organisations like Cisco and is seeing success. There’s not a lot of stories out there that you can readily duplicate for your IT support. Also the adoption of the swarming model depends on lot of factors like maturity of your team, their openness to change, organization culture, your development methodologies among others.

To sum it up, we have put together this really cool matrix on advantages and disadvantages of both these approaches. If you think we have missed out any factor in favor of/against these models, you know where the comments section is 😀 

Swarming and Tiered comparision

After comparing these factors, which one do you think is better? Well, it really depends on what YOU need. We’ve seen a lot of companies seeing success with both these approaches.

If neither works, why don’t you try a hybrid of swarming and three-tier?

Also, remember to tell us what you did. Your next beer will be on us.

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