Insights into Problem Management

Agilisys is one of the UK’s leading digital technology providers. Since 1998 they have been helping forward thinking organisations to transform services that make a difference to millions of people across the UK.

We have been speaking to Mark Dickinson, the Head of Problem Management at Agilisys, about their shift to proactive problem management. Read on to discover how it helps to drive success in their service desk.

How did you gain the knowledge to be able to develop this way of proactive problem management?

Throughout my 15 years of working in the industry, I have built up a lot of experience over time; ranging from Banking, E-Commerce, Travel, MSP, and Blue Light Sectors. I have carried out posts within all aspect of IT Service Management and experienced different ways of working within different organisations. Alongside this, I have built successful, high-performing teams, and challenged the status quo through CSIP and new processes. I have used the knowledge that I have gained to create a more proactive way of working, and I have put it into practice here at Agilisys.

How did you begin in your project?

The first steps were to understand what our weaknesses were, and to work with different teams to find out what they were working on. This allowed us to identify trends, and alleviate our future workload. For example, a problem task is better to be utilized and assigned to a specific team to solve, otherwise finding solutions could become less of a priority over other work, which creates a more reactive process. Being analytical with data allows us to understand what is going on and helps in adopting a proactive approach.

Identifying data trends in a call queues is key in bringing issues to the forefront. We use high powered trending engines and monitoring alerts to help and stay ahead of the curve. This analytical quality helps to maintain good client/business relationships, creating positive communicational links. These factors help to contribute to a system which prioritises problems and proactively targets them, rather than reactively dealing with them as and when they pop up.

Behind the scenes, we built business processes which picked out certain profile types based upon key words that were placed in there. That helps greatly with trending and bringing down recurring issues through the work IT Operations and service management undertake.

It is vital for this approach to be driven by the service desk. We found that outlook was far too slow in adapting to the approach which we were keen to implement. Because of this, we ring our customers to be ahead of the game. This helps us identify what is going wrong in its early stages and inform the relevant clients before the issues are detected, helping us stop the cause and problem in its track. This often prevents and stops small problems escalating into bigger ones. Additionally, by spotting issues and telling customers what they are dealing with, this prevents customers unnecessarily logging the incident. Therefore, this helps to save the customers time as well as the service desk’s.

What techniques did you need to develop?

You definitely have to be analytical with the data to understand what’s going on. You have to keep close to your clients and your customers. So rather than just literally highlighting something and raising it as a problem, we go on a problem management road show. We basically sit amongst client’s teams and other teams to really understand what is happening. This allows us to learn and truly understand as to what is really happening within the industry. This helps us prepare and get ahead of the game.

You almost have to be an expert in all areas. The lens is moving more onto problem management to help or provide guidance, because otherwise you’ll see bouncing incidents from one team to another. To meet these expectations, we adopted datum analysis, this involves utilising all processes and focusing on one specific issue at a time.

How has proactive problem management effected on your customers

In order for proactive problem management to be successful, customers need to be able to realise the value of problem management. Its easy for our customers to not be fully aware of the service desk’s proactivity; the aim is to spot issues quickly, and tell customers that we are dealing with it before they log an incident, or simply inform them about actions that we took to circumvent a greater impact after the fact.

In addition to us broadening our skills and expertise, we have pushed some responsibility to our customers. Our self-service portal and ITSM tools have options to submit incidents for review by the problem management team.

Will technical advancements impact problem management and your way of working?

Sometimes self-service can actually make our job harder, as quite often, customers don’t categorise or describe the incident correctly, which wastes time for both the service desk and the customers. We find that using Live Chat is often the best solution, especially with regards to password resets; around 35% of the calls taken to the service desk can drastically been reduced. With more time on our hands, we can effectively begin upskilling the service desk, which means that we can take on more advanced issues, therefore reducing the workload of other teams. This creates a positive Shift Left cycle of allowing what is effectively first-line support to take on the tasks of second-line teams, and so on and so forth. We are also working on the concept stage of Smart Robotics; this will allow us to stay ahead of the game and continue this positive Shift Left cycle.

What advice or tips would you give to service facilities looking to become more proactive?

First and foremost, Central teams will need to break down silos which may exist within the organisation, perhaps even undertaking a Shared Services project to amalgamate all service factions. This creates a natural platform for collaboration, which is key to proactive problem management.

Smaller desks, which may not have the bandwidth for a problem management process, can become more proactive by reviewing their service and infrastructure as whole holistically. This will allow them to highlight inefficiencies and areas where time, money, and resources could be saved in order to allow a shift towards proactive processes. However, smaller desks may be too tied up in firefighting, which could have an impact on their ability to review and change.

Nothing is ever concrete around best practices – one size doesn’t fit all circumstances. You must sit in with the service desk; understand, hear and listen to them. I would suggest that companies look at creating easy ways for teams to interact with different service management disciplines. As an example, within the ITSM tool we created a problem management candidate button helping all of IT operations and customer resolver groups easily highlight potential problems. Little things like that help to shift the status quo from being purely reactive to more proactive.

Above all, implementing a proactive problem management process needs to be taken in baby steps. With almost constant review, feedback, and improvement, armed with this information any organisation can succeed in creating a proactive mentality in problem management and any ITIL discipline.

Agilisys are members of the Service Desk Institute. Click here to find out more about SDI Membership today.

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