Q&A: Why CIOs Must Pay More Attention To Their Support Desks - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
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Rob Preston
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Q&A: Why CIOs Must Pay More Attention To Their Support Desks

It comes down to both perceptions and operational priorities, says Craig Baxter, managing director of HDI.

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Craig Baxter
HDI's managing director
HDI, founded in 1989, is the world's largest membership, training, and certification association for technical support professionals. Also known as the Help Desk Institute, it was rebranded in 2005 to acknowledge the expanding role of the support center and the maturing service management industry, and the organization became part of TechWeb, InformationWeek's parent company, earlier this month. InformationWeek editor in chief Rob Preston recently caught up with HDI's managing director, Craig Baxter, prior to the group's annual conference in Orlando, Fla., March 16 to 19.

InformationWeek: Your organization caters mostly to technical support professionals, but you've argued that the IT help desk is far more strategic than people think, as it's "the face of IT." Explain.

Baxter: A couple of things come to mind for me with regard to strategic value. One is the realization that the average person working for a company outside of IT derives their perception of what IT is and does for the company through their interactions with support people -- the service/help desk or desktop support. At the same time, the average budget for support is less than 10% of the overall IT budget. This is based on a report from MetricNet, which reports that something like 84% of the people they surveyed indicated they derive their perception of IT from interactions with the service/help desk. Support represents a small portion of spend in IT but is truly the "face" of IT. CIOs should be asking themselves if they're putting their best face forward.

InformationWeek: How else are IT support desks underappreciated or even underutilized?

Baxter: The support groups in IT are the ones who take the pulse of the IT infrastructure on a daily basis and see how it's impacting business in real time. They are the first to see issues, hear about needs, and the first to respond. Based on what they see and track, they're in the best position to understand if there's a major underlying problem that is affecting an entire enterprise or, worse, its external customers. For example, after fixing 10 different system access issues, a good support center has the processes in place to notice the probability of a severe network problem and engages the network engineering team. Do CIOs know if their support organization is positioned not only for incident management, but also problem management? Are these departments properly integrated with the rest of the IT organization? Are they viewed as just a necessary evil/cost, or are they valued as a critical business function that enables all business departments to function and keeps revenue flowing?

InformationWeek: HDI has done some work with IT support metrics. What are you helping your members measure exactly? And is that just a low-level IT function or does it include business metrics?

Baxter: We help them identify meaningful metrics and valid approaches to benchmarking. A key thing to understand is that there is no standard answer to exactly what you measure or what a good value is for any given measurement. Those vary depending on industry, business objectives, culture, and a variety of other parameters. Frequently, it makes sense for organizations to track things like first contact resolution rate, cost per incident, abandon rates, reopened incident rates, average time to respond -- the list goes on and on. What's critical is that IT organizations work closely with their business customers to develop a metrics program that drives service levels consistent with business needs. The business must be able to derive meaningful information from the metrics you track. For example, if someone has a software-as-a-service business and customers expect 24x7 access to that service, they may want to seriously consider tracking server uptime.

InformationWeek: Let's get back to your association, HDI. It sounds like your members aren't just low-level support people, but are you actually engaging CIOs and other IT execs?

Baxter: We are. Actually, a higher percentage of our members are managers and directors. We also have a fair number of people at the VP level. Admittedly, we don't typically see CIOs become members, but they do derive great value by having their staff utilize us. HDI is a professional development source for roles across the entire support organization. We enable service excellence at the individual and organizational level. This comes through a variety of content, training, and events. Equally as important, we provide the means to network with industry peers, to learn from each other, share experiences, and help each other develop solutions and improve operations. Senior-level people are often looking for those opportunities to collaborate. Many have established a policy for their support analysts to be HDI-certified to ensure high competency. A number have also made the strategic decision to certify their centers against the HDI Support Center Standard, an internationally recognized award that acknowledges excellence in methodology, service, and quality.

InformationWeek: You have your big annual conference in about two weeks. What might a senior IT professional get from that conference?

Baxter: The conference has 80 educational sessions addressing strategy and leadership, essentials for support managers, achieving operational excellence, maximizing team performance, best practice models, and more. We offer pre-conference training for professionals at the director, manager, team lead, and technician levels. There's also training for Knowledge Centered Support and ITIL Foundations. Each of these prepares the student for internationally recognized certification. And of course there are several keynote speakers providing motivational value and leadership education. It's an event that re-energizes, promotes direction, and provides true learning that can be applied immediately.

As the managing director of HDI, Craig Baxter oversees the world's largest IT service and support membership organization and the industry's premier certification and training body. HDI, which hosts leading annual conferences for IT service and support professionals, also maintains the international standards for IT Service and Support Center best practices and behaviors, as well as all key support center roles, from analyst to director. HDI is part of TechWeb, a division of United Business Media LLC.

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