Leveraging the ITIL Service Support Framework

Service desks exist to resolve end-user computing incidents. But in many cases, the front-line service desk acts as little more than an answering service, logging incidents and forwarding them to a more senior IT person for resolution. Further, service desks often lack the information needed to address end-user incidents — particularly those that involve proprietary applications.

The under-utilization of front-line service desks poses both cost and credibility problems for IT organizations. Incident resolution costs (and indirect opportunity costs) increase as cases are passed on to more senior IT specialists. Business users suffer from productivity declines and perceptions of IT often sour as customers fail to see their issues being addressed in a timely fashion.

One approach in addressing these challenges is the implementation of integrated Service Management processes that enable the IT organization to better integrate and manage change and the flow of information between groups and disciplines within IT.

The Problem

Service desks typically function as the primary point of contact between IT and the end-user community. Despite this critical role as IT ambassadors, front-line service desks often are ill-equipped to handle many technical issues beyond the most basic desktop and networking functions such as permissions and password resets.

Service desk team members generally possess only a basic understanding of the IT infrastructure’s components (network components and desktops) and their interrelationships. Further, service desks are often not informed of planned changes to the environment. Instead, front-line service desks tend to focus more on answering the phone quickly, ensuring good customer service skills, and resolving basic and “known” incidents and service requests.

Organizations with this orientation generally exhibit the following conditions:

  • A lack of shared tools and information across IT disciplines
  • A lack of effective knowledge transfer from various teams and disciplines within the IT organization to the front-line service desk
  • Poorly adhered to, or nonexistent, processes governing IT operations

In configurations where the front-line service desk is underutilized, there exists the opportunity to significantly enhance the desk’s value by increasing its ability to resolve a larger and broader set of issues. This in turn will help contribute to reduced incident resolution costs and help to support good relations between IT and the business.

The Solution

To enhance the capacity of the service desk to provide sustained higher-end incident resolution, changes across the entire IT operation are required. This can be done by instituting integrated IT Service Management best practices that will:

  • Significantly enhance the efficiency and reliability of IT systems and infrastructure
  • Provide substantial resources to the front-line service desk to provide informed high-quality support to end users that will reduce the flow of cases to more expensive IT resources

One of the leading best practice frameworks in the provision of IT Service Management is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, popularly known as ITIL. ITIL was developed in the 1980s when the British government determined that IT service quality provided by both internal and external resources was inadequate to its needs. Bodies within the government, in partnership with various contractors, developed the standards to be general enough to apply to public and private sector organizations of varied size and industry and with all sorts of unique needs and challenges.

Today, thousands of organizations use all or some of the ITIL standards to provide a framework to manage the provision of IT services.

Three sub-disciplines (or modules) of the ITIL best practice framework directly address key functions within the IT operation that have a direct impact on the quality of service delivered by the front-line service desk. They are:

Configuration Management

In the ITIL framework, Configuration Management is a discipline that organizations use to gain and maintain control and proper oversight of their IT infrastructure in order to deliver high-quality, consistent, and economical services to their organization. This is done by creating a comprehensive model of the IT infrastructure and its asset components, particularly focusing on the relationships between assets. In practice, Configuration Management involves the maintenance of a Configuration Management Database (CMDB), which contains details of the current state of all elements of the IT infrastructure and their relationships to one another.

Change Management

Change Management is a structured process and approach toward making changes to the IT infrastructure. It is designed to gather suggested changes from multiple constituencies, and to ensure that changes are authorized, prioritized on an enterprise basis, and that all impacts have been recognized and considered, thus reducing the potential for support incidents in the user community.

Release Management

Release Management is an ITIL discipline that uses a series of prescribed procedures and checks to ensure that any changed or new elements slated for release into the IT infrastructure do not negatively impact the live environment or its users. Release Management involves building a set of release components, testing them, assessing potential impacts, scheduling the release, and performing the release.


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