Staffing up your Service Desk - How many do you need?



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03-Jun-2019 11:27:13

In my last piece, I talked about Problem Management and how it is often confused with Major Incident management. In fact, while the two are linked, they are very different beasts. However strong your Problem Management, you must be ready for business critical incidents.

There is no magic formula or single, industry-wide benchmark for determining appropriate IT Service Desk staffing levels. But that’s not to say that your needs should be assessed based on rough-and-ready assumptions. Rather, by knowing which variables to analyse and which service-based KPIs to track, you should be suitably equipped to accurately gauge your requirements.

So, to help you assess and predict your current future staffing needs, here are some key factors to bear in mind…

The number of users is NOT all-important

To ensure that desired service levels are maintained - and to make sure that your resources budget is being put to best possible use, it’s good practice to subject Service Desk staffing levels under regular review. On top of this, wider business changes (e.g. merger, expansion or the introduction of new systems and processes) should also trigger the need for a staffing review.

As part of this review process, your IT managers might assume that there should be a direct ratio between the number of users within the organisation and the number of Service Desk analysts employed. However, different organisations and employee profiles and IT needs can vary greatly and in turn their reliance on the Service Desk.

Rather than basing staffing levels on the number of users to be supported, it is better to track the number of Service Desk staff to the number of end-user contacts. These could be contacts by phone, email, ticketing system or IVR that were serviced by the Service Desk in particular time frame. This is a much more meaningful staffing ratio to measure.

However even looking at this more accurate ratio in isolation is still dangerous. You may assume you want to maximise the number of contacts per Service Desk analyst and increase that ratio, but here are some variables that would suggest that’s not always the case....

Average Handle Time (AHT)

This refers to the length of time it takes for an analyst to resolve an end-user issue throughout its life cycle. Crucially, it includes more than just the direct dealings with that end-user. You should, for instance, include time spent on logging information into the Service Desk toolset and updating your knowledge base portal.

If you focus on Service Desk optimisation, you should find that a higher volume of easier issues are being dealt with through self-service. This should actually push up your Average Handle Time – as your analysts are spending more time on a lower number of more complex matters (rather than being bogged down in routine requests).

Service Desk Analyst Utilisation

This is the key metric for measuring IT Service Desk productivity – i.e. ‘busyness’. In the context of wider desk optimisation, a high AHT can be a positive sign- as it can indicate that your analysts are engaged in resolving the type of complex problems where their expertise is being put to proper use. So, you know they are doing high end work – but just how much of it are they doing? Are user requirements exceeding current capacity? Or alternatively, are you over-staffed? This Analyst Utilisation metric can help put you in the picture.

Analyst Utilisation is measured by calculating the average time the technician spends on service requests and responding to incidents in any given period, divided by the hours worked by the technician within that period.

Perhaps liaising with HR, management – not to mention the technicians themselves, you will need to define what ‘full capacity’ looks like. For this, you will need to take into account factors such as providing leeway for peak periods, technical training – and perhaps involvement in IT projects that lie outside of the Service Desk remit. When you are approaching full capacity, this is usually a sign to recruit further. That said, if your optimisation efforts are bearing fruit, you should find that the opposite is true: i.e. utilisation rates are falling, giving you the option of redeploying experienced analysts and technicians in projects more closely linked to the core goals of your business.

Business expectations: are you meeting them?

Note that we are concerned primarily with business rather than user expectations here. The two may be in harmony – but this may not be necessarily so. For instance, certain end users might consider it their ‘right’ to be able to bypass any self-service tools that may be in place; to contact the Service Desk for the most minor of queries and expect a near-instant response. Business expectations – as set out in the Service Level Agreement – may look very different to this.

The SLA should cover key elements such as the time taken to respond to initial queries and time to resolution for issues and events (usually broken down depending on the nature and severity of the issue and the extent it impacts core business functions).

If you have optimised your Service Desk performance and you still find yourself failing to consistently meet SLAs, this can be a key indicator that it’s time to consider increasing your workforce.

Economies of scale & number of office locations.

Bear in mind that a very small Service Desk is much more vulnerable to inefficiencies than a larger operation. With smaller desks, then proportionately speaking, you require much greater leeway to cope with contingencies such as unexpected sick leave, holiday leave and sudden spikes in issues. These issues can be compounded if you have few or no capabilities to deal with matters remotely and where end users are geographically scattered.

In these circumstances, you may well conclude that to deal with increased demand, outsourcing the entire function makes much more sense than boosting in-house personnel.

Optimisation: Areas to focus on…

Ultimately, your aim is to increase efficiencies while maintaining (or ideally, enhancing) your ability to meet business expectations. With this in mind, here are two areas of optimisation to pay particular attention to:

● Increased self-service. Examples include user portals, tailored walk-throughs and AI-driven search interfaces covering key business apps and processes. Especially when it comes to routine issues, such measures can equip users to resolve problems themselves, thereby reducing the need for analyst input.

● Proactive Knowledge management and improving Process Maturity. Examples include greater training and documentation for Service Desk analysts and also end-users when new applications are introduced, together with proactive outage and maintenance communications.

So, as a rule, never assume an automatic and direct correlation between employee numbers and likely Service Desk staffing requirements. The answer is not as simple as that. Rather, reviewing and benchmarking of those staffing levels should be an ongoing process. This allows you to discover how you may be able to do more with existing resources, to better meet your business expectations – and perhaps even to increase the possibility of diverting resources elsewhere. After this process, and through continually reviewing your KPIs, you should be much better equipped to assess your current and future staffing needs.

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