Proactive Problem Management: A cycle of prosperity

Many service desks view proactive problem management as a luxury, a pursuit for organisations with the time and resources to do it justice. Instead, all efforts focus on fixing the broken, commonly titled ‘firefighting’. Firefighting itself is not necessarily a bad thing, after all restoring IT services is the name of the game for the traditional service desk. However, this model is only sustainable in an organisation where there is little or no change. The businesses requirements remain static, so the support can also.

With digital transformation on most business agendas, innovation and change in IT have never been under a brighter spotlight. In this environment, firefighting not only becomes unsuitable but can quickly push a support organisation into a downward spiral. With all resources dedicated to keeping the lights on, business demand for change will overwhelm the support operation.

However, the same dynamics that make the firefighting spiral so dangerous can be used to create a cycle of prosperity. [1]  If service desks can reallocate a small percentage of their resources to proactive problem management, there are two considerable benefits. First, you’ll have happier customers; a problem proactively tackled is an issue they’ll never need to report. The second, and by far the most important as far as this blog is concerned, is the freeing up of resources. For example, the analysts that would have been required to support customers as a result of the problem, no longer need to do so. Their time can now be dedicated to even more proactive problem management, which will free up more resources.

As fewer resources are needed to firefight as proactive support reduces demand, the service desk can dedicate more to innovations that the business is demanding. These are innovations that would have swamped the same service desk if it had simply remained firefighting.

To demonstrate this, let’s say a frequent issue crops up involving a printer. The issue is so common the service desk receives at least one call a day taking up 30 minutes of an analyst’s time. A weekly burden of two and a half hours. To tackle this issue once and for all, the service desk manager asks an analyst to figure out a permanent solution, spending 30 minutes a week for however long is needed.  This analyst is a really good problem solver and within two months has a permanent fix. Technically, the service desk now has two and a half hours of resource a week to play with. So now the service desk manager finds a trickier problem that takes up even more service desk time. This time, however, the analyst has three hours a week.

By following this method, service and support organisations need only dedicate a small amount of their total resources initially, and with minimal risk to the current quality of service but, in the long term, can build a resource pool for proactive pursuits and innovations that will continue to return greater dividends.

As a final tip, there’s plenty of advice out there from organisations who are driving down firefighting with a similar approach. For example, Jim Higham from the University of Kent offers some tremendous insight in this webinar.

In fact, I’ll finish this blog off with one of the key points from Jim’s presentation – organisations setting out with problem management should first tackle the most common incidents, problems or questions to have the greatest resource impact and as a result, free up the most resources to tackle other problem areas.

[1] I have borrowed the terms ‘spiral’ and ‘cycle’ from Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, who used them to describe his ‘New Deal’ during the great depression. At the time, the united states economy was described to be in a spiral of depression, whereas the new deal would reverse their economic fortunes and build a cycle of prosperity.

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