Why ‘shift left’ is an important approach to IT service management

Why ‘shift left’ is an important approach to IT service management Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord is president of TOPdesk US, a division of the global provider of IT service management solutions and services.



Organisational leaders and the helpdesk are a significant source of support and comfort to employees who try to navigate the daily operations of the business environment. These departments are service centres designed to help others so they can continue to do their jobs and help other people, but part of the issue that IT leaders and helpdesk pros face is answering the same questions over and over again or completing simple transactions that customers could handle by themselves. The key to reducing that administrative workload is training support staff to help others become more self-sufficient and automate routine information.

In doing so, these teams are able to educate users on the use of product and features and engage them in conversations time and time again, without the need to cover the same ground over and over again. For organisations that don’t understand these protocols, they might ask how best to bottle these conversations up and provide the best and most relevant information to the right users when they need the most appropriate information.

Shifting left is fairly simple. Members of an organisation’s internal helpdesk team researches problems others on the team have already discovered the solutions to. They then collate and collect these resources and make the information available to customers. In so doing, the organisation is able to immediately address thousands of calls and queries from customers, many of them redundant. It’s also good to keep in mind that no matter the size of the support desk, more questions always will come from customers who have the same needs as the person before them on the queue. Once they are easily able to access it, there’s not need to staff unnecessarily to manage volume when most of the questions can be answered via the posted resources.

Consider, if you will, what would happen when an employee goes on medical or family leave. There’s a good chance that your organisation still relies on physical paperwork or a string of emails to deal with the employee’s request for the time away from work. These manual tasks are disparaging and create overwhelming amounts of work, to say nothing of possible information silos that these approaches stimulate.

The problem is not one left to internal customers. External customers can face the negative effects of information not being made available and openly ready for them. Unfortunately, organisations’ service teams often leave out this part when caring for customers, the ultimate end users, by not only keeping information from external teams but, also keeping information from all members of the service organisation who support internal clients of people who then, in turn, serve an organisation’s outside clients. The thought here is that by allowing your all-star service team members the ability to handle the more challenging service requests for external customers, the jack-of-all-trade service team members can handle most of the easier to answer issues.

Here’s an illustration of the problem. Members of internal helpdesk teams research problems others on the team have already discovered the solutions to. So, in addressing thousands of calls, many of them multiple and redundant, more questions always come from customers who have the same needs as those ahead of them in the queue.

Taking steps to democratise services so that more information is available to more people means customers are able to access needed information as they need it and all internal service team members can address any need that may arise if the customer is not able to serve themselves through a series of educational materials that are posted and made public for sharing.

For example, at my firm TOPdesk, even with 40 or more support personnel handling more than 5,000 calls a month, we still had problems efficiently monitoring all of the incoming calls for service. Moving to a ‘shift left’ model, we began to looking for ways to catch and resolve issues as efficiently as possible, making services smarter, quicker and more scalable by bringing everyone in to the process and publishing the answers to the most often asked questions. This new solution for us works to improve the availability of information to customers and reduces the time internal teams spend looking for answers to questions their colleagues have already found. Pushing solutions to the ultimate end users has led us to adopt a strategy known as ‘shift left left’.

By shifting even further to the left, customers can gain access to needed information more quickly than without. As highly skilled technicians make their expertise and insight more available to less experienced colleagues, the less experienced technical support staff can gain needed organisational knowledge and begin sharing it with their customers. In doing so, an entire organisation raises itself to a higher place intellectually. “Shift left” means that skilled technicians make their answers more available to less experienced colleagues so they can help customers using already posted and readily available solutions. “Shift left left” then is the next logical step in bringing information and resources to customers and users. The philosophy means providing customers with access to solutions and leading them to resources where they’re able to find the answers to their questions themselves on their own time and as needed.

With email or other more traditional approaches to sharing knowledge, for example, there‘s no easy nor efficient way to serve individuals – those within the organisation who seek answers for customers or external customers who need to be served by your organisation. At the same time, if a request is stalled, or you need to pinpoint and eliminate process bottlenecks, email is hard to analyse and respond to employee needs – for instance, identifying frequently requested information and making sure this is available online.

Thus, you don’t get great customer experience without great internal service, and organisations that don’t provide great customer experiences don’t grow as fast as those that do not. So, organisations that do not excel, and those that do not place service as a key fundamental business object, tend to have customers that are less happy and employees who are less enthused about working with or recommending the organisation to others. In sum, organisations that don’t make service a priority have compromised value systems.

What makes people happiest is getting things done. Service centres designed with this in mind tend to provide the best service to all so focus on getting more things done – through a service desk designed to serve even if that means allowing the information its members possess to the public. 

Read more: These are the top five reasons why employees call the IT help desk


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