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Incident Management and ROI

When we look at the overall picture of IT Service Management, the process that stands out as the most vulnerable is Incident Management. Whether we like it or not, Incident Management is one of the most present and visible of the ITIL® processes.  This process is also the one we tend to spend the least amount of time and, above all, resources on. It usually is the last hurdle, the last thing that we need to arrange, and if we choose to start with it in our implementation process, it usually means that we want to get it out of our way.

Why is that? And why is it so difficult to properly arrange Incident Management, arrange it in such a way that our clients, our customers, and our employees actually enjoy the fact we put all that effort into designing that process?

ITIL theory is very clear on the reason why we should have Incident Management implemented. Both Service Operation and Operational Support and Analysis describe the crucial role Incident Management plays in the cyclical process called CSI: Continual Service Improvement. Not as a scape goat, or a compliance issue, but really as part of our process implementation that actually has an added value to the quality control and availability and improvement of our work environment.

So why, again, is it that most of the companies manage at best to implement a rudimentary form of Incident Management? The answer, quite simply, is money. Not the long term benefits but the short term gains we see by taking a shortcut prevail during the decision making process. And that is a shame. If other choices would be made, Incident Management would save money. Instead, due to the sub optimal implementations of Incident Management, costs are actually higher; so much for the shortcut.

But the ROI is very difficult to calculate, as the biggest part of the costs will always be an investment upfront, and the gains will most likely be translated in “just” customer satisfaction instead of hard cash. Yet, there rests the gold to be harvested: employees want to stay, clients will stay and customers will come back. So although the direct ROI is not straightforwardly calculable, the indirect return on investment will be clearer. Moreover, the better the support, the lower the fallout, the lower the idleness of systems, the less time your clients will be looking the other way (where the competition is!) and the higher the availability and productivity and therefore the profit, your ROI.

Of course, this can never work solely on a high quality implementation of Incident Management. IT Service Management is a string of pearls, and each pearl adds value to the chain. In one of my jobs, I had to rearrange a Service Desk team, which consisted of 7 employees who rotated shifts on client support, Service Requests, procurement and second line support. Their user base consisted of thousand clients who were very heterogeneous in their requirements and expectations. Varying from power users to people who needed constant training on the job to account managers on the go to CEOs, all divided over three business units with specific application pools and deadlines. The team was frustrated, the users disappointed, and management not happy.

My first actions were to design calculation models to determine where the weak points were and where they hurt the most. The last user satisfaction survey had shown that the frustration of the users mainly translated into accessibility of the Service Desk and its knowledge of the business. Sure, rebooting a PC or resetting a password was a breeze, but understanding why application x and period y were important to the organization lacked and required more attention. But the numbers were not in favor of the Service Desk either making it difficult to anticipate. What I learned there and then was ITIL is great, but only a thankful subject for the in crowd. Us service managers, IT managers and the likes love the processes offered by ITIL. But don’t forget, business usually doesn’t think in terms of ITIL and couldn’t care less as long as the job gets done and maybe rightfully so. Strangely, the overall service orientation was and is the only and prevailing sense a business has when it comes to aligning IT with the business. Incident Management, of all available processes, is our business card when talking with the business. That’s what they see, what they feel and what they encounter on a daily basis. Therefore, investing in that Service Desk is crucial and can’t be ignored, if longevity is your goal.

I built my case around that understanding, and focused on three things:

  1. Education, both in IT and business
  2. Team overhaul with team building and coaching
  3. Team extension based on approved and proven metrics

Every step costs money. You won’t get anything for free. But using RLANG Calculations for the Service Desk hugely improved availability and accessibility, a must for both knowledge intensive businesses and skilled helpdesks alike. But as we all know, input creates output. Preparing the backend was just as important: skills, career paths and individual and group responsibilities create a sense of urgency and a shared goal that propels a team to higher levels. And the coaching and training of IT staff in business processes proved to be an investment which paid for itself on several levels: Goodwill with the business, mutual understanding as more face time was created between IT and the business, and, most of all, a much better prioritization of Incidents and better communication towards the business.

To conclude: Incident Management is crucial, but you must translate Incidents to the business and their priorities, align your goals with these of the business, make sure you understand the business you service, make sure the business processes are visible in Incident types and prioritization, and invest in the only team EVERYBODY has an opinion of. And track and trace the results by well-built satisfaction surveys. The profit lies in uptime of systems, productivity of all users, quality of the systems used and the limitation of loss of business opportunity through a well aligned IT Service Desk.

And coaching of both management and operators is a small additional cost that will pay back in internal priorities that have business alignment and quality as their core set of parameters.


About this author:

Angel Prusinowski

Angel is a leading ITIL® instructor at Ashford Global IT.

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