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Measuring the performance of the Service Desk

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H. James Harrington was quoted as saying “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”

So any self-respecting IT organization must be able to measure end-to-end how it is delivering IT services that meet the requirements of the business. This means that at a service level, technology level and process level, the IT management must have visibility of measurements that reflect the value that the customer and the business gets from the IT service. Without these, IT will be unable to view the true customer experience from the services it provides, and therefore will no longer be aligned to the business in terms of value addition.

Since our focus area is the Service Desk, which happens to be the single point of contact for users of IT services, it is imperative that we look closely at how the Service Desk measures up towards delivery of value for the business. One of the first steps in developing a service measurement framework is to understand the business processes and identify those that are most critical to the delivery of value to the business. During building of the service management framework, an IT organization needs to ask what is needed to measure that will provide it with useful information that allows it to make strategic, tactical and/or operational decisions. It will also ask what measures will provide it with the data and information is needed, and then set targets for all measures by SLAs or service level targets/objectives that have been agreed internally within IT.

Service Desk performance must be measured regularly to assess the health, maturity, efficiency and effectiveness of its operations, and also identify any opportunities for improvement. Since the Service Desk is operational in nature, its metrics will most likely support the ITIL Service Operation processes i.e. Event Management, Incident Management, Problem Management, Request Fulfilment and Access Management processes. These measures must be realistic and carefully chosen, since the Service Desk has a lot of dependencies ranging from systems to people. It is not enough to measure the Service Desk on the basis of one set of measurements without holistically looking at every integrated dependency. For example, measuring the time taken to resolve a request ticket without considering tools, knowledge, approvals and escalations will give a wrong picture of the service desk performance.

Examples of Service Desk metrics include percentage of tickets closed without escalation to second or third line support, average cost of handling specific request types, average time to escalate a ticket, and percentage of users responding positively about how the service desk handled their requests. Other metrics include number of request tickets handled per individual service desk analyst, number of open tickets with the Service Desk that are past SLA targets, number and category of standard changes handled by the service desk, and number of access requests fulfilled by the service desk. All these measurements must be aligned to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Critical Success Factors (CSFs) which support organizational objectives, mission and vision. It is important that the metrics used to measure a service Desk be reviewed and discussed regularly between the service desk analysts and the IT management to ensure that there is close understanding of how they contribute to the business requirements at both individual and group level.

As a critical part of the service management framework, service desk performance measures should be timely, accurate, reliable, well-defined, specific, clear, relevant-in meeting business objectives, not create a negative behavior and also lead to improvement opportunities.Selecting a combination of measures is important to provide an accurate and balanced perspective. The measurement framework as a whole should be balanced and unbiased, and able to withstand change, whether at technology, process or person level. It is also important that service desk performance be used as part of end-to-end service measurements, looking particularly at its contribution to availability, capacity, continuity and security measurements.

Too many metrics particularly at the early life of a service desk or at an IT organization with limited service management best practices is not advisable. As the maturity of the IT organization grows, so should the quantity and quality of CSFs and KPIs applied to measuring how it delivers IT services. Crucially, metrics should be designed to have a balanced view between resources, functionality and schedule (mirroring the famous most important constraints in a project: scope, cost and time). These so called tension metrics will ensure that teams with shared responsibility are held accountable to the overall goal. An example would be to ensure that the service desk simply does not escalate tickets to higher level support when they realize that they can do this to avoid the SLA penalty yet it is in their power to address the ticket. In summary, CSFs and KPIs should enable the service desk perform its role without undue pressures, leading to better service for customers and better value for the business.

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Joseph NMeasuring the performance of the Service Desk
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