IT Support Staff Productivity – the Management Magic Bullet?

Some years ago,one of the more enlightened UK Servicedesk tool vendors and I partnered to build a framework with IT support staff productivity at its core. It did not go as planned.

I had designed the framework for measuring the effectiveness, not just of IT support services, but of the internal procedures that IT support runs in order to produce those services. With it, I intended to tackle two enduring memes of IT support tools – first that by and large the reports that come out of them by default are, and have been for years, next to useless; and second, that without proper data, making an informed management decision is impossible. This persistent lack of operational data dooms us all to guesswork in the most important function in IT. You can’t make informed management decisions without data.

At the heart of this framework was productivity, of support staff and services. Not the whip-’em-’til-they-work kind, you understand, but the nice kind. The one where your staff know what constitutes success in their jobs, how much work is enough. At what point the manager is satisfied that they’re doing a good job. The feeling that they can go home knowing, that by any objective measure, they have had a successful and productive day. Instead of joining the commute with nothing to look forward to but a backlog just as big tomorrow morning as it was on arrival today.

Foolish Boy

As it turned out, the vendor felt they must instead follow what the market was clamouring for, which at the time was solutions to the burgeoning BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) craze. From their point of view, it was more lucrative to sell the market something currently fashionable, than to incorporate a set of new functionality and teach the market to understand it. BYOD got the development priority and the moment passed.

We could, and I still believe should, have had the IT management measurement tools we’ve really needed for years – but as Beverley Knight so astutely points out, “Shoulda, woulda, coulda are the last words of a fool.”

It is interesting that the concept of productivity has, as it does from time to time, recently come to the fore of national politics. The UK government promotes the idea that the more productive the workforce, the more wealth is created statistically per member of that workforce, so in theory the richer its members. This is why ‘productivity’ lingers on the lips of our politicians, economists, and denizens of the boardroom.

Magic Bullet

But it works too at the scale of the corporate workforce, which for our sector means the Servicedesk and Desktop Support at least. I routinely advise my clients to measure and promote IT support staff productivity, because as I have proved to myself and to them time and again, in the right hands it is nothing less than a magic bullet.

Managed and thereby invariably increased productivity lowers costs of service provision. It acts as an inherent accelerant to service levels – the more productive the support team, the quicker and higher their output. As a result, it also increases customer satisfaction. And finally, for my part a killer reason to pay management attention to productivity, it makes the support job more entertaining to do, so it increases job satisfaction. Yes, you read me right – in my experience, when people work harder and faster, they are happier, and often healthier in their jobs.

During a recent client project, I was asked to find out why IT management were having difficulty increasing their range of IT support services. So as I often do, I took a number of measurements and interviews which, on cross-tabulation, resulted in a picture of support staff productivity. It saddened me to discover that on this site, there was an ingrained culture of staff who deliberately kept their productivity down and their working methods inefficient because they feared that if they were to work faster, their managers would make some of them redundant. Support staff productivity was in effect being sabotaged by the staff themselves. Management and staff were locked in a battle of one trying to increase variety and enjoyment in the work, while the other resisted it for fear of a non-existent trap.

The curious opposite is true – for as well as being a magic bullet to output and fun, productivity can also save your staff’s jobs. Read this next bit slowly.

Many Opportunities

In many organisations, given the low level to which second-line support staff productivity has fallen over the past decade; to replace a second-line Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) would require that the Service Desk increase its first line fix rate by a mere 5.5 enquiries in total, per day. Yep, 5.5 – i.e. next to nothing. Something you could achieve with a tiny procedural adjustment tomorrow, and that’s a full-time head gone. What’s worse, another related measurement shows that those 5.5 fixes take up less than half the working day to produce – highlighting inefficiency in the way that some second line groups work – so you probably wouldn’t miss that lost head. Clearly these measurements are more involved than can be explained in a single paragraph but they indicate underlying issues that IT Support has yet to fully address.

It is that fall in support productivity, rather than its increase, that puts jobs at risk. We only have to look at the opportunities for IT support staff, which we can’t take up because we’re “too busy”, for which read “we have no measure of productivity so we don’t have a clue what’s real or what’s possible”.

One example is BYOD and MDM (Mobile Device Management), which threaten to pretty much double the IT user installed estate from only a few years ago. Or how about instead of limiting our support response just to Wintel products, we became application usage experts as well as computer experts? That would make outsourcing far less likely. Or how about IT support getting more involved in development to help with our exasperatingly glacial move to an Agile environment? How much more we could do, with work for everybody and more besides. The opportunities are there – we should embrace, not fear the increase in productivity that would enable us to take them.

Either lower your costs or broaden your service portfolio. Speed up your output. Increase your value. Raise customer satisfaction. Increase job-satisfaction. Save your staff’s jobs. The management of your staff’s productivity can be a major contributor to all of these.

To learn more about the measurement and application of IT support staff productivity, see my one-day workshop ‘Getting the Best from Your IT Technicians‘.