IT Problem Management – Preface

First edition; 208 pages
ISBN 0-13-030770-X
( by: Gary S. Walker )


In the past three decades, businesses have made staggering investments in technology to increase their productivity and efficiency. The technological infrastructure of these companies has become increasingly sophisticated and complex. Most companies today are extremely dependent on their technological infrastructure. Operating without it is like trying to run a business without a telephone or electricity. Businesses depend on their technology at least as much as, perhaps more than, any other utility. However, unlike the telephone and electric industries, technology has not had the benefit of 100 + years to mature under the control of a handful of companies. Thousands of companies contribute to technology, each doing whatever they think will sell the best. Extreme and rapid innovation is the rule, not the exception. Change is the rule, not the exception. The resulting complexity has posed a new challenge for companies: how to realize the potential and anticipated benefits of the investments in an environment of constant change.

Businesses are so reliant on technology that they need it to operate as reliably, consistently, and universally as the telephone and electricity. We are a long way from achieving that level of service. Businesses face rising costs because of constant failures that result in lost productivity. It is very difficult and expensive to find the resources with the expertise to manage and repair their infrastructures. It is extremely difficult and expensive to keep those resources trained to manage a constantly evolving environment.

But guess what. There is no choice but to invest in technology, because it has to bedone. Business cannot stop investing in technology or they will be crushed by the competition. So what have they done? They have standardized to limit the diversity, the expertise required, and the problems associated with diversity. They have striven to make the infrastructure as reliable as the telephone and to keep employees productive. And they have created a team that has the skills, the facilities, and the charter to fix existing problems and reduce future problems. That team is the service center, and this book shares how the best of those teams are doing just that.

Technology impacts more than just a business’s internal operations. What about the company’s customers? They often need support, as well. More companies are realizing the value of providing quality service to its customers. Some studies have indicated that keeping a customer costs one-tenth the price of getting a new one, while the return business from satisfied customers count for substantially more than one-tenth of a company’s revenue. It makes good economic sense to spend money on keeping existing clients satisfied. For many companies, that means providing customers with quality support for the products and services they purchase. So who in the company provides that service? You guessed it—the service center.

What is a service center? It is an organization whose charter and mission are to provide support services to internal or external customers, or to both. It is a concentration of expertise, processes, and tools dedicated to taking customers’ requests and fulfilling them in a timely and cost-effective manner, leaving the customer delighted with the experience. A service center has a defined range of service offerings, from fixing problems to providing value-added services, and everything in between.

This book is intended to help a company set up that service center and deliver those services cost effectively. The book focuses on structuring the organization and building the processes to move service requests efficiently and effectively through the organization to deliver quality service to the customer. It discusses the pitfalls that afflict many service centers and offers techniques and solutions to avoid those pitfalls. The book discusses the tools available to help a service center manage its business and deliver high quality cost-effective services to customers.

The traditional help desk is still around, but many have evolved into service centers. As more businesses are faced with increasing technology costsand increasing pressure to be productive and efficient internally—while delighting external customers—many more help desks will be forced to evolve. For a well-run help desk, the evolutionis natural and not overly difficult.

Most help desks were originally designed to provide one type of service, technical support. Help desks traditionally helped customers by fixing their problems and answering their questions. The help desk concentrated technical expertise, problem management processes, and tools to track and resolve customer problems, answer customer questions, and deliver that support as cost effectively as possible. Many help desks have done this quite successfully, and many have not. As their companies reengineer and look to streamline operations, many company executives have asked the simple question, “Today, you provide one type of service—technical support. How hard would it be to add additional services?” It’s a fair question, because the help desk already takes service requests, tracks them, makes delivery commitments to customers, delivers the services, and charges the customers. The organization, the processes, the tools are in place.

The evolution usually starts small, with simple, technology-related, value-added services, such as ordering PCs. You need a PC, contact the help desk. They’ll figure out what you need, order it, track the order, install it when it arrives, and then support you if you have any questions. Voila, the help desk is now providing value-added services. Since you are ordering the equipment and maintaining and fixing it all the time, how about keeping track of it? No one else does. Again, voila, you’re providing a value-added asset management service. Since you have all of that valuable information, can you report on it quarterly to the insurance and risk anagement department and the finance and accounting group? Yep, another—value added service. Hey, you guys are pretty good at this stuff. We need computer training. Can you make arrangements for that and then handle the scheduling? Its happened. You are no longer just a help desk—you are a service center, offering both traditional help desk support and value-added services to your customers.

This goes along for a while, and you tweak the processes and improve your delivery capability. Then, someone in the company gets the idea that a single point of contact for many internal services would be handy, and since you’re already capable of handling value-added servicesand you do it so well, you should consider handling many more. That certainly sounds reasonable. For example, how about a service for new employees. Instead of the HR department contacting the telecom department, the help desk, and the facilities department every time a new employee is hired, why don’t they just contact the service center and let them coordinate the rest. Like magic, you’ve added a service called New Employee Setup, or maybe even better, Amaze the New Employee.

You gather the vital information—her name, who she works for, when she starts, what budget to charge, where she’ll be sitting. You order her PC, you contact telecom to set up her phone and voice mailbox, and you contact facilities to set up her workspace. Then, you notify security and set up her appointment to get a badge, you schedule her into the next orientation class, and you schedule her in the next “PC and Networking in Our Company” class. Finally, you generate the standard welcome-on-board letter that tells her the classes she is scheduled for and where they are located. You have standard attachments that explain how to use the phone and how to log on to the PC, and most importantly, how to reach the service center. You email the package to HR, who is merely awaiting her arrival, secure in the knowledge that all is well, everything is ready, and that the new employee will be duly impressed with her new company.

Just as you do with the problems you handle, you follow up on this service to make sure the work is done on time. Now your follow-up includes telecom and facilities, who essentially act like any other tier 2 group. Instead of generating a trouble ticket, you generate a tracking ticket, which is associated with another new type of ticket, a work order. One work order is sent to telecom and another to facilities. The new tracking ticket looks amazingly similar to a trouble ticket. It has the same contact information—the customer name and location, the desired delivery date, the name of the agent who took the order, when the order was placed, the current status, and who else is involved. Work order tickets really aren’t much different than a traditional trouble ticket to dispatch, for example, a hardware support technician that includes information on where to go, what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, who is handling it, its current status and priority, and so on. The work order ticket even goes into a queue, just like a problem ticket dispatched to any tier 2 support group. And just as with trouble tickets, you have processes and tools in place to escalate the tracking and work order tickets, and to send notifications if there is a problem or if more work to be done.

The entire process is, logically, very similar to managing problems. The information must be tracked, people are assigned to do the work, the work is prioritized, time commitments are in place, processes are in place to handle work that can’t be done in the agreed upon time frame, additional levels of expertise are available to handle difficulties. Perhaps most importantly, it is all initiated, tracked, and closed centrally.

Many help desks resist this evolution. If their house is not in order and they are struggling to handle technical support, they should resist. Get the technical support in order first. Work on your problem management processes and take advantage of your existing tools. When your problem management processes are working, they’ll work just as well for other value-added services. That is the secret. If you can make and meet time commitmentsfor technical support to customers, you can easily add new value-added services to your repertoire. Value-added services are like the simplest, most common, recurring problems your customers call about. They’re easy because the request is common, so everyone is familiar with it. The solution is known; its predefined. Processes to deliver the solution are already in place. Processes to deal with unexpected complications are already defined and in use. Simple. You have the tools, the people, the processes, the organization, and the experience.


This book was written because problem management is one of the most important processes for any IT organization. Yet, of the hundreds of companies we have worked with, it is most often not done well. It seems that many companies consider problem management only as an afterthought, a necessary evil, overhead, or worse, all of the above.

So what is problem management? Problem management is a formal set of processes designed and implemented to quickly and efficiently resolve problems and questions. Those problems and questions come from customers, both internal and external.

Why is problem management important? Because how well you do at resolving those problems and questions determines how your customers perceive you. Further, how you provide those services can make an enormous difference in your overall costs—not only your costs, but also the costs your customers incur.

Do a poor job on your problem management processes and your customers will think ill of you. Internal customers can be the most vicious, because they know who to complain to. They also complain to each other, and before you know it, the entire company believes you to be incompetent, at least as far as problem management goes. Worse, that attitude can easily fail over to the entire IT department. Let’s face it—most of the IT department’s exposure is through the problem management function (the help desk) and that is where your reputation will be made or broken. It isn’t hard to justify spending to improve problem management when you calculate the number of hours of internal downtime and the average cost per hour the company absorbs for that downtime. Run the numbers and see for yourself.

External customers can be less vicious on a personal level, but from the business perspective, their impression is even more important. If they don’t like the way you handle problems, they may complain, but worse, they will most certainly vote with their dollar by taking it elsewhere—and will probably tell everyone they know to do the same. Your company worked hard and spent significant dollars to win that customer. To lose them because you provided poor service is an enormous waste. What will it cost you to win them back? Can you win them back? Can you ever win their friends and associates? Many studies have found that it is much cheaper to keep a customer than to win a new one. If your company hasn’t seen this light yet, you need to convince them.

This book was written to tell you what you can and should consider doing to improve your problem management processes. It is based on experience gained at many different sites and focuses on improving service delivery and efficiency. It’s true—you can do it better and cheaper. You may have to spend some capital up front, but a standard project cost/benefit analysis will show that you can recoup those costs quickly, and in some cases, can generate significant dollars.

This book was written for CIOs, vice presidents, help desk and service center managers, and the senior-level internal customers of the problem management department—anyone who can influence the problem management function and wants to understand more about what can and should be done to improve performance.

I appreciate any feedback you wish to provide. You can reach me at either or

Best of luck to you,
Gary Walker

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