The History of Support Services: And the New Requirement for Collaborative Workflow

By TMCnet Special Guest
Igal Hauer
  |  August 03, 2012

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

In the 70s, a company’s IT needs were housed at the data center, and it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the IBM (News - Alert) PC was introduced to the industry. The new technology shifted computing responsibility away from large data centers and placed it in the hands of the company’s workers.

The empowerment of knowledge workers and the democratization of computing resources were historic shifts. Unfortunately, they upended offices’ problem-solving workflows in the process.

The new environment in which knowledge workers solved coworkers’ IT issues was plagued by trial and error, lacked standards, and constantly demanded staffers’ attention. Tech support not only came from the computer department team, but also frequently from any coworker with a bit of tech knowledge. While not explicitly tracked in financial statements, relying on peers for support placed a significant strain on employee productivity.

By the 1990s, leading research firms were showing that organizations were spending an alarming amount of money on peer and informal technical support: nearly triple the amount they were spending on hardware (this at a time when a typical IBM PC cost roughly $5,000). Many IT staff felt the PC revolution had spun out of control.

Out of sheer necessity, the modern help desk was born. The data center had lost its ability to assist the workplace’s IT needs, and the resulting support vacancy needed to be filled. The obvious first step for many organizations was automating and standardizing IT resolution standards. The earliest help desks used relatively straightforward workflows: A problem would be reported, routed to an IT staffer, resolved and closed. With the further development of decentralized computing in the post-data center era, more specialized workflow processes like configuration management, change management, and problem management further minimized IT costs. Like a modern-day iteration of Henry Ford’s Model T assembly line, these new workflow applications increased efficiency, uniformity of result and production.


The Social Boom

Many popular technologies have initially undergone a gestation period before they enjoyed widespread implementation. For example, services like CompuServe and America Online contained small facets of social computing prior to the explosion of Internet-driven social networking applications. Once these offerings took off, a burgeoning number of users started contributing to interest groups, spending time in chat rooms and using e-mail. Today, modern online communication and collaboration tools like chat rooms, e-mail, bulletin boards and Wikipedia are now embraced by an entire generation in decision-making positions.

While enterprises now see the importance of harnessing social software’s collaborative features within existing IT infrastructure, it’s important to remember that because standard social software tools like instant messaging or forums are not structured or goal oriented, they will fail to produce tangible results. Any social media benefits can only be anecdotal without stated timelines, commitments, goals and performance measurements.

The New Service Desk

It’s a truism that most industrialized economies rely on a massive service sector component.

Each year, an increased number of the Fortune 500 is service-based and fewer are manufacturing companies. This is often due to the service components of products – such as customer support, marketing, technical service and legal support – growing rapidly in the domestic market while the physical product is typically manufactured abroad. The costs of these services are then bundled into the product’s overhead, and are visible as a protection plan for a flat-screen TV or a two-year contract on a smartphone we get “for free.”

While bringing manufacturing back stateside is a perennial election-year talking point, services generally add a higher value to the economy. Therefore, the smarter decision is to retain a competitive edge by providing efficient services.

When it comes down to it, everyone in every department provides services for someone else, not just the people who work at the help desk. To maintain a competitive edge in the global marketplace, we need to provide better service at a more cost-effective price. This means that if we want to get the job done, we’re going to need both collaboration tools and the infrastructure.

Collaborative workflow is the combination of social software, such as instant messaging and document sharing, with service management (workflow) software where the synergy between the components adds efficiency to the process. By removing communication barriers among teams, collaborative workflow improves the productivity of projects and also breaks down organizational boundaries and information silos. Collaborative workflow provides critical structure to online social interactions, allowing them to be measured, structured and goal-oriented.

Being both goal-oriented and structured is the essential difference that collaborative workflow holds over pure-play collaboration software. Collaboration should be carried out in a project framework with specific goals in mind.

By empowering IT workers with added efficiency and effectiveness, collaborative workflow can advance business processes and escalate service productivity through the decrease of silos and the conventional business friction points of space, time and structure.

Igal Hauer is the CEO and founder of HelpSTAR (News - Alert) service desk software. His experience includes 30 years of quantitative analysis, optimization and software design. As part of the FAA task force study on airport capacity and delays, Igal developed an analytical model to determine time separation requirements for airspace intersections. He also conducted a study, sponsored by the Canadian Armed Forces, aimed at optimizing the search strategy for lost aircraft by Canadian Search and Rescue Squadrons. Igal was previously responsible for transportation risk analysis for site selection of a waste disposal facility for liquid industrial and hazardous wastes generated in Ontario. Igal holds an MBA degree from the University of Toronto.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi