The service desk can make or break a business. A good one, one that responds to problems promptly and usefully, gives a company a good reputation.
One that customers hate dealing with can ruin it, no matter how good the product or service is. Just how do you run a successful service desk? It’s a complicated job, but there’s a one-stop set of answers: ITIL. Software that follows ITIL’s principles can provide a significantly better customer experience.
ITIL nominally stands for “Information Technology Infrastructure Library.” It began in the eighties as a set of documents which the British government created as a guide to IT management. Today it’s much more than just the documents; it’s a widely accepted set of best practices for IT service management (ITSM) and service delivery.
AXELOS, a joint venture of the UK government and the British company Capita, holds the trademark for ITIL, oversees its development, and accredits examiners. Currently ITIL is in Version 3. Its purpose isn’t to set up a single model for all IT services, but to recommend a set of practices which organizations can adopt according to their capacity and requirements. It would be senseless for a very small organization, with one person running help, to attempt every ITIL practice, but it provides a guide on where to start.
Service support can involve several management processes:
- Incident management
- Problem management
- Change management
- Release management
- Configuration management
Dealing with a report starts and ends with incident management. An “incident” is any kind of interruption in normal service. The job here is to get from reporting to resolution, identifying it, giving it a priority, and determining what to do next. A simple interruption, like a paper jam, might never go beyond this level. If multiple related incidents occur, though, it may be necessary to refer the issue to problem management.
Problem management deals with finding and fixing the underlying causes of incidents. For example, a printer’s failure to print anything is an incident, and a paper jam is the problem behind it. If paper is constantly jamming because the feeder is worn out, though, then the feeder’s condition is the actual problem. If that’s an easy repair, the issue ends here. If the printer needs replacement, that becomes a change management issue.
Change management is a broad category. It covers not just fixing problems but all changes in IT service. ITIL details best practices on prioritizing changes, meeting the obligations of Service Level Agreements, and handling requests for change in a stable and predictable way. It’s at this level that an organization needs to balance correcting ongoing problems with performing upgrades and introducing new services.
Release management answers to a lot more than just service support. Bug fixes are just one part of a typical product release. If a problem is a bug in a product such as a service application, then a new release is necessary to fix it, and problem management has to address whether it in fact solved the logged problem. If so, the service desk can finally close the original incidents.
Configuration management deals with assets in relationship to one another. It provides context to incidents and problems, dealing with issues such as what a problem may affect and what resources are available to fix it.
Managing knowledge about an organization’s assets is a major concern of ITIL. All service management processes rely on it. The Service Knowledge Management System (SKMS), also called the knowledge base, is the repository for the information needed to manage services. The framework says nothing about what kind of information structure it should be, but it has to be complete and flexible enough to cover the range of information a service desk will address.
For incident management, the SKMS can provide information on similar past incidents so that the service desk can tell if they fit into a known problem, and whether a ready solution is available. At the problem level, it can provide information about the affected hardware or software, helping the investigator to consider possible causes and remedies.
The Known Error Database (KEDB) lists errors that are identified but not yet solved. This allows problem management to recognize when incidents fit into known problems. If they don’t, it’s necessary to make a new entry in the KEDB.
Training and qualification
ITIL training is available from many sources. Accredited certification comes at five levels: Foundation, Practitioner, Intermediate, Expert, and Master.
Foundation level qualification indicates a basic understanding of the framework and requires passing a single examination. It’s a prerequisite to the higher levels. The examination for the Practitioner level, added in 2015, requires demonstrating ability to apply the ideas to concrete situations. The Intermediate level is modular; examinations are available in several different specialties, and applicant can qualify in as many modules as they like. Each module gives points in the ITIL Credit System.
The Expert level acknowledges broad knowledge of the framework, requiring a specified number of credits plus the Managing Across the Lifecycle (MALC) examination. The highest level of qualification is Master, which requires Expert qualification, five years of ITIL experience, a proposal for a service improvement, a work package, and an assessment interview.
Software based on ITIL
Software that follows the ITIL framework lets service desks track incidents and problems with the aid of a Knowledge Base and Known Error Database. Vision Helpdesk’s Service Desk software provides the tools to manage assets, incidents, problems, changes, and releases, using a multilevel knowledge base. By following a proven model, it covers all the requirements for dealing with service issues.