A help desk can either be centralized or decentralized. The centralized IT support provides help to every user in the company irrespective of location or even department. Conversely, a decentralized support has several helpdesks within an institution.
In choosing the right help desk model, there are various considerations taken into account in determining to choose either centralized or decentralized systems; since each model has inherent advantages as well as well as disadvantages.
The centralized systems usually offer sizeable economies of scale advantage. Also, centralism of tasks eliminates redundancy of responsibility, which offers a united front to completion of duties and observance to the organizational standards. However, despite the obvious aforementioned benefits, centralized systems have some innate disadvantages. The centralized systems tend to be bureaucratic and respond slowly especially areas where speed is of prime necessity as in the case of IT support.
In contrast, there are decentralized IT units. This unit is advantageous because it tends to be extremely responsive, swift, and in harmony with the needs, as well as the objectives of the organization. However, the decentralized system also has shortcomings. In this structure, there is a tendency to duplicate efforts, expensive system to procure, and even lack of integration.
The pool staffing structure is a centralized system of support. Even though it primarily involves support staff being located in the central area where they receive calls and address the problems immediately. It is similar to a one-stop shop structure where support resolves all problems on the first call. This does not involve several layers of employees, which denotes the first employee whom responds must be able to handle the problems and needs of the client. This makes it expensive since all staff members require training.
In the dispatch model, the support person routes every call via a central call group. Thus, the customer requires knowing only one source to reach the dispatch group, and then they are transferred to the next level. The dispatch level is efficient since the first level employee does not require much training. However, this two level process is not swift and prone to delays.
The tiered model involves filtering of calls by the first level employees. In the first level, the support person resolves the issue of the client immediately. However, if the support cannot easily resolve the problem then support transfers it to the second level group, and the trend continues.
The specialized model involves the use of technology rather than people. This primarily involves preprogramming the system to respond to the queries of the customers. Unless the client requires complex assistance, then the system directs the client to a waiting attendant.
Recommendation on the Best Structure
Through considering the aforementioned structures, the most appropriate structure would be a tiered structure. This is because an augmented resolution rate in the first level consequently leading to a swift resolution hence greater client satisfaction level. Additionally, the first level employees will not require high training thus; it will be cheap for the organization to hire them.
Tools and Technologies (Week 2 IP)
A discussion about what technology is needed for each step of problem solving.
Most public relations officers define the help desk as a source of information concerning a certain organization or institution that is of interest to the user. The help desk’s main objective is to solve problems that have grave consequences to an organization. The help desk comprises of staff that have vast knowledge on the subject matter in question. They give information on products and services offered by these organizations.
Every help desk needs experts who are capable of identifying the problem that occurs in the organization. Secondly, there must be people to analyze the problem effectively in a bid to come up with a credible solution. Finally, an organization must have the ability to retrieve the software and hardware required to solve problems experienced in the help desk. An example of such software is the DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) Helpdesk. For better analysis, the technician can use analysis methods like the fishbone diagram, also known as a cause-and-effect structure figure that helps diagnose and solve issues.
The steps in solving issues
A computer technician can identify a problem in the help desk when he does routine checks. A user who may have to report the problem to the company’s customer care center can identify a problem such as poor performance of the help desk. Before doing this, the user has to be certain that the problem keeps re-occurring and is even persistent. The first level computer technician logs the user’s call and gets the important details about the problem. He then gives this information to a second level computer technician. This technician will analyze the problem. If he is unable to do so, he can direct the user to a senior technician. Technicians can solve this problem by installing technologies such as computer software in to the system. These will help institutions find out if there is any problem with their help desks. An example of such software is the DIT Helpdesk .
The next step in solving help desk problems is determining the cause of the problem. A computer technician, who analyses the problem after identification, can discover the root cause of a problem. This part of the process is important since it helps the organization understand the problem and its origin fully. This knowledge then enables the computer technicians to identify the proper corrective mechanism to apply in that particular situation. They also ensure that the corrective mechanism chosen will reduce the risk of that problem occurring again in the help desk. The computer experts can use analysis methods like the fishbone diagram. A technology like helpdesk software helps computer experts to determine the root cause of problems affecting their help desks. By finding the root cause, the computer experts can come up with preventive mechanisms, and thus give the help desk users a better experience. This is because they have the guarantee that the difficulty will not come forth in the future .
After determining the root cause of the problems, it is wise for the computer technicians to generate options that one can use to solve the problem at hand. The information technology expert is then responsible for coming up with solutions to the problem. Some of the issues that can arise when a user is using the help desk are slow response, inability to log into the help desk site or even the help desk site under attack by a virus. The computer experts have to come up with a list of solutions based on the magnitude, and the seriousness of the problem one faces by the help desk site. Simple solutions to the problems help desks face are many. For example, in the instance where the site is under attack by a virus, the help desk technicians can protect the entire site using antivirus software. They can also ensure that they put up able security measures that will protect the sites from professional site hackers who have malicious intentions. Thus in this step, the technology that an organization can put into use is the use of antivirus software.
The next step is to assess the options that are at the disposal of the technicians. After that, they give them due priority. Technicians can give serious problems high priority while they can deal with low risk problems after correcting the serious mishaps. Some problems in the help desk might have grave consequences if the concerned people do not deal with them appropriately. They might even lead to the collapse of the entire help desk. This creates a big problem since it serves the only link that the organization has with its customers . Therefore, it leaves clients as very dissatisfied users. The technician therefore has to discriminate and choose the high-risk problems. Therefore, they must receive high priority, and they deal with them accordingly. In some instances, if the damage has been quite extensive, this forces the computer technicians to close down the help desk and set up something new one since the preceding one is too damaged to be used by the customers.
Finally, the technicians have to determine a course of action. Here, they plan out the steps on how to solve the problem and they think the procedure through in order to come up with a flawless approach to the problem. If it is the case of a help desk that has been damaged by a virus, the organization has to first notify their customers, prevent further use of the site by their customers, and then notify them once the new help desk is in place . In conclusion, the help desk is a very helpful site for organizations and institutions since it deals with customer care. It should then be handled with care and any problems associated with it be dealt with as soon as possible.
The deliverables generated at each step in problem solving
In the first step, the technician identifies the problem and notices the problem that he has to tackle. In the second step after discovery, the technician will generate information about the origin of the issue. This will in turn help him generate the correct method of solving the problem. This also helps the technician to formulate preventive measures. These measures ensure that the problem does not occur in the future. The step where the technician arranges the available options for solving the problems enables them to formulate the prerequisite actions to solve the problem. This will definitely rely on the severity of the problem.
IT Systems Support (Week 3 IP)
Web-based self-service applications are the most convenient and easy to implement solutions today when applying looking for information system based solutions to an organization’s business processes. Technically speaking, a self-service software or application can be categorized as a knowledge management system. Its focus is its capability to conduct automated interviews to clients and come up with decisions that are based on the client’s answers.
With the use of self-service software, one can ensure that the questions answered by the clients are only those relevant to the topic in question, thus, ensuring that the results are given on a timely basis and answers are made straight to the point as most of the time, choices are provided to questions that are objective in nature. This type of system is commonly known as decision support systems or an expert system.
Online self-service software makes it more convenient for both the client and the organization to conduct customer support, technical support, and other needs as they are able to do this anywhere they want to, unlike onsite self-service software that requires the client to come to specific sites where the system is available. Likewise, since it is available online, the website can be accessed on different modes like mobile phones, kiosks, or computers. A good example of such application are services provided by government agencies where they transact businesses through a kiosk or the internet and can even apply for loans in a paperless way. The employees would just wait for confirmations from the agency’s representative. (Marsden, 2014)
Tools available in Web-based solutions
Several tools are readily available today to implement web-based self-service systems specifically in the help-desk environment. Information systems developers have created ready-made and customizable systems for companies to adapt.
The earliest commercially available web-based customer-support systems developed were WebLink and WebSupport. These two help-desk systems were capable of delivering the basic requirements in web-based, self-service help-desk systems providing access to a knowledge database and providing automatic diagnostic systems. This is done through the use of artificial intelligence technology.
Today, existing web-based help-desk systems are already enhanced to enable retrieval of service records of customers using different checkpoints to retrieve such data. For example, a client’s payments can be the only data retrieved or the history of technical assistance extended to him can be retrieved. Likewise, since most databases store data in English, an existing help-desk environment today provides provisions for translation of data, especially to its Asian customers. Establishment of video conferencing support is also being seen as one of the critical components of help-desk systems today to enhance the services the systems are providing their customers. This way, service engineers for example, are able to gain additional insight on the customer’s problems and can enhance the result of the diagnosis. Most of the current web based help desk environments that are commercially available have already embedded the above-listed features in the systems.
Although not a complete help-desk system but can be considered as users of help-desk systems, banks have been using web-based self service systems combined with the banks transaction processing systems. The best example for this is when a customer wants to apply for loans. The self-service systems use the client’s data from the transaction processing system to evaluate the eligibility of the client for the loan together with some real-time input or requirements from the user. After some time, the customer just needs to log back into the system to check whether the bank has approved or disapproved his loan and wait for it in his bank account without needing to visit the bank personally.
Real-time and delayed assistance
Web-based self service systems can either provide real-time assistance to its clients or a delayed assistance. Real-time assistance happens when everything is already automated. This means that decisions can be drawn immediately after the interview without needing the human intervention on the part of the organization. Right after the automated interview, the client can already get a result. On the other hand, delayed assistance happens when the client needs to wait for the results of the interview to be verified first by a person from the company before the client can get a result. This means that the result can be as early as one minute to months depending on the organizations response time.
Knowledge base in the help desk environment
Knowledge based systems have been proven to be of great help in managing help-desk environments. They have been playing a great role in helping customer assistants providing help desks in diagnosing the problems of the customers especially since the customer assistants are not face-to-face with the clients and their problems. They are just relying on a database of possible problems with possible solutions that depends on the combination of each. Because of this situation, knowledge based systems play a big part in enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of companies providing customer-support specifically those in a help-desk environment.
Processes and Problem Resolution (Week 4 IP)
Service level agreements
What is service level agreement? It is a contract document based on delivery of services in a given period to customers by suppliers. SLA is an agreement between two individuals or a large group of people with a common interest to the service being provided (Beech, 2006). It includes defined services, problem management, performance measurement, disaster recovery, warranties, customer duties and termination of the agreement. On the other hand, service level is the measurement of the output produced as a result of delivery of services from a vendor to his/her customers.
Service level is measured in percentage of defined service attended to by a given supplier. Examples of services include; the number of waiting customers to be served at a particular time, the percentage of customers satisfied with the service delivered and the percentage of calls made during follow ups by the supplier and the customer. This is commonly practiced in a supply chain environment where purchasing and supply are the order of the day. Most Organizations use it to manage their inventory by measuring the performance of their employees and movement of their products (Slowik et al., 2012). SLA is defined in a life cycle as shown below;
SLA uses performance metrics to pull information from a contracted set of services. SLA metrics are distinguished by their uses. Metrics is also used in violation detection on promised SLs. The monitor material transaction, accounting, metering and report generation. SLA metrics can be directly retrieved to manage the available resources within any organization. Taking the example of IT Company, they can be used to manage middleware, routers and servers among others (Paschke et al., 2013). Below are the main objectives of SLA metrics:
- Identification of the risks distributed within the system.
- Supporting long term or short term planning with SLM process.
- Provide decision on quality assessment.
- Verify the agreements arrived at between two or more people
- Building trust among those who are involved.
There are three categories of SLA metrics used in support of IT outsourcing; they include (Paschke et al., 2013): Automation grade, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) Process, and Service objects. Service objects separate basic service objects including software, hardware and network using composite metrics referred to as “end to end availabilities”. This is broken onto tiny direct metrics that are assigned these basic objects.
ITIL processes are structured about eleven ITIL processes. This enables the metrics to define procedures and responsibilities during the optimization process. Automation grade is an easy to collect metrics since it deals with questions used in measuring and identifying problems within SLA rules. Some of these rules are measured manually while others cannot be measured completely. These categories are involved in the design, analysis and implementation of the metric.
Metrics is categorized into five basic IT classes; software, hardware, network, help desk, and storage. Each object class is defined with its own set of quality metrics such as hardware that is embraced with servers hence the metrics are instructions per second. Software is embraced with ERP solutions hence the metrics include; response time, availability, service times, number of licenses and solution times. Network, on the other hand, is embraced with technical communications infrastructure hence the metrics include; throughput and availability (Slowik et al., 2012). Storage as a class is embraced with information and data persistency hence the metrics used include; bytes per second and volume for capacity.
However, Slowik et al., (2012) states that a service desk has the same meaning as a help desk as one of the key areas of study is embraced with user or customer interface hence the metrics involved include; service times, self-solution rates, response time and language variety. The consumers are more concerned with the service desk because they are also involved in it.
Both the IT firm and the customers are in mutual agreement on performance and credibility of services offered. In most cases, customer communication through phones, Facebook, Twitter, What’s Up and emailing systems are common, hence, the importance of the metrics.
The performance can be measured based on factors such as response time, language variety, service times, failure forwarding, availability through phones or communication channels and consistency (Beech, 2006). All these are measured in time, minutes, hours, number of languages available for use, and percentage. Customer feedback, therefore, is very important in this analysis at the end of the service rendered. Customers are concerned with service desk more than any other object class therefore; service desk metrics creates an impression on customers to a larger extent that determines the success or failure of SLA management (Beech, 2006).
In conclusion, SLAs that are presently used in many organizations are focused on services rendered to customers under QoS metrics, and they include; response time and availability. Customers use these two in making judgment on which company/organization offers the best service. IT management embraces this in order to also monitor how their systems work in relation to customer satisfaction.
Performance Management (Week 5 IP)
Help desk application securityThere is need to have application security for the helpdesk application. There is the sharing of the sensitive information with the clients over the internet. It is for this reason that the security of these clients be assured. The physical security of the desktop application needs to be provided. This can be achieved through the use of secure parameter and lock for the desktop equipment and tools. These tools should be protected from malicious damage and destruction. Most of the desktop applications do not have the physical security that will ensure that they are safe. They are to be placed in safe places where they are accessed by the personnel who have the authority to make use of the equipment. This is an important step so that the physical security of the computers is achieved (Baun, 2011).
Another security level in this desktop application level is that of network infrastructure security. There is a need to ensure that the network of the organization has been secured with the right mechanisms. This can be achieved with the use of firewall and the use of secure socket layer protocol in the connectivity to the clients. With the use of this service, it will be possible to have the security of the clients and what they are undertaking and ensure that there is safe access and use of the network. The firewall will ensure that the users of the desktop application will be safe and will get safe access and requests on the network (Kryvinska et al., 2013).
There is also the need to ensure that there is application security. This can be achieved with the use of network security mechanisms. One of the ways in which this can be achieved is that of access control. The desktop application will be available to the personnel who have the right and authority to access the desktop application. This way, the control of the application will be assured. With this mechanism in place only the personnel who have access to the application will have access to the application. They will be responsible for the security of other machines and the desktop application that have been installed in those machines. The application will also be secured if there the use of antivirus tools on the desktop environments. This will protect the clients from attacks over the internet.
Help desk business continuity
This is another area of concern with the use of web-based systems. There is a need to ensure that there is business continuity in case there is some disruption of the services. Web-based services are bound to undergo outages from one instance to another. There is a need to ensure that there is security assurance with the use of web-based services in the desktop environment. One of the ways in which this can be assured is have a disaster recovery plan that is for the organization. This should not be the responsibility of the cloud service provider. It is the responsibility of the business owner to ensure that there is business continuity that has been developed. One of the solutions is to have tools that are not specific to the vendor that is providing the web-based service, in this case the desktop support application. There are generic tools that are available and can be used to ensure that there is continuity of the business and that there is high services availability on the internet. If the tools are developed well, there are high chances of having seamless connectivity of the desktop applications.
Another step that can be done is to have a parallel system that is running critical systems. The desktop application can be installed to be running on a server from within the organization. In case there is internet outage, there is automatic take-over between the two applications and the two systems that are running. It is important to understand the need to have a local system that is running so that it will take care of the instances where there is outrage of the services. There should be measures put in place to ensure that there is connectivity between the two systems so that the users will not realize that there is change of server that is managing the system. This will be done if there is effort put in putting up a reliable disaster recovery plan (Subashini, & Kavitha, 2011).
Another method for this service is to have desktop application that will also be used to deliver the required desktop application. The business processes that can be offered offline can be offered with the use of the stand alone system. After there is restoration of the web services, there will be the synchronization of the data. This way, there will be continuity of the services over the network. It will be hard to know that there were issues that had occurred with the use of the web services. The stand alone system should be configured so that it will take over in case there is outage of the services of the internet. The system can be configured to be running in parallel or just there waiting for outage to occur. This option will ensure that there is minimum resource waste in terms of storage space.
Baun, C. (2011). Cloud computing: Web-based dynamic IT services. Springer.
Kryvinska, N., Baroková, A., Auer, L., Ivanochko, I., & Strauss, C. (2013). Business value assessment of services re–use on SOA using appropriate methodologies, metrics and models. International Journal of Services, Economics and Management, 5(4), 301-327.
Subashini, S., & Kavitha, V. (2011). A survey on security issues in service delivery models of cloud computing. Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 34(1), 1-11.