Friday, March 29, 2013

Your Helpdesk Has Flatlined

So this blog is about the role of the CIO, navigating the ins-and-outs of IT, and how to be strategically focused.  Why then would I dedicate a whole posting to discussing the Helpdesk?  Good question.

Let's start off by using a sports analogy about American Football.  By now you know how much I love sports analogies.  Which players on an NFL team are consistently paid the highest amount of money, per contract.  Many would say it's the quarterbacks, especially since we've seen recent high dollar deals with the likes of Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, and Tom Brady.  But if you said QBs, you'd be wrong.  The players making the consistently highest amount of money are offensive linemen.  For those uninitiated into the "greatest sport", the positions on the offensive line are:
  • Tackles (OT)
  • Guards (OG)
  • Centers (C)
There is a very good reason for these men to make the big bucks.  If the offensive line isn't good, in every case the whole team will underperform.  The offensive linemen open the holes for running backs, provide pass protection that extends the careers of NFL quarterbacks, and are chiefly responsible for wearing down the opposition's defense.  (A tired defense tends to give up a lot of points in the fourth quarter.)  Even if you don't hear much about them, offensive linemen are the heart and soul of every football team.  In the mock drafts projected for this year (2013), 25% of the positions in the first round will likely involve picking offensive linemen.

How does my football discussion relate to IT?  Everything in IT is built on a the same foundation - customer service.  You can read all the articles about process improvement, strategy, innovation, relationship building, etc.  But if your core services are not excellent, you will be at best a mediocre CIO.

Take a moment to think about where the majority of interactions with your customers occur.  Can you guess?  They happen between your users and the helpdesk, service desk, support center, or whatever you want to call it.  If these individuals are not good at their jobs - professional, knowledgeable, efficient - that's the perception your customers will tend to have about your whole group.  Which brings me to an interesting point.  In most IT shops, the Helpdesk staff tend to be paid the less and are viewed as the least important function.  Consequently it's no wonder that a lot of Helpdesk organizations make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To rectify a situation where your Helpdesk is hindrance to your overall organization there are several steps you can take.
  1. Put a truly competent manager in charge of the Helpdesk team and make the role a peer to other key managers
  2. Stop paying them less.  Hire people who are business analysts, not interns
  3. Make it a requirement for each individual to achieve a Helpdesk Professional (HDI) certification as a prerequisite for promotion or advancement
  4. Rotate functional analysts from other areas through the Helpdesk for short durations.  Nothing enhances the appreciation for the difficulties of being on the Helpdesk more quickly than having to be there to field calls personally
  5. Metrics/Metrics/Metrics!!  Keep score, so to speak, to show just how effective your Helpdesk is to the mission of your organization.  Trumpet the successes of the Helpdesk and reward exceptional performance
No matter what type of leader you are or aspire to be, don't forget to takes steps to address the "blocking and tackling" that is so critical to your success.  Investments in a great Helpdesk will repay you many times over in the future.

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