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Shadow IT on the sprawl

Shadow IT on the sprawl

Study cites the causes and ways to manage it.

Increasing budgets for IT support are not achieving the benefits that would be expected in user satisfaction with the support service, according to a recent survey by Unisys across organisations in the Asia-Pacific. The median reported increase in expenditure on support is between 51 and 75 per cent over the past five years. Such growth is reported by 42 per cent of Australia and New Zealand users, with 14 per cent reporting their support costs have more than doubled in that time. Yet still only 72 per cent of service managers believe their users would rate support as “good” or “excellent”. Twenty-four per cent say support is rated as “satisfactory” and 4 per cent say it is “poor”.

Unisys identifies a number of factors increasing pressure on IT support, one of which is increasing dependence on IT. The technology has also become more complex, but another significant factor is the number of IT-related devices that users acquire themselves and use, at least partly, for work.

Faced with cumbersome approval procedures for the purchase of technology, more and more users will “go around” the IT department and use their own devices or even install their own software on their work PC.

Where introduction of user-chosen devices is approved, it means support has to be provided for an increasing range of devices. Use of the same devices for home and work tasks also poses a security threat and hence a further load on the support functions.

An increasing number of users take their technology “on the road” or operate it permanently away from head office, posing the challenge of providing support remotely. With an increasing range of technology users, from novices to IT experts, it has become more difficult for service professionals to determine who deserves the most support and what kind of support they need. In general, says Unisys, there is too little effort spent in differentiating support in terms of the value to the company of the particular user staying productive, and the likelihood a particular kind of fault in a particular device will make the user non-productive.

Unisys identified organisations providing good and unsatisfactory support to get a handle on what techniques work. “We compared two sets of survey respondents: Those who said their end-users would rate support as excellent (‘leaders’) and those who said support would be rated as satisfactory, poor, or unsatisfactory (‘laggards’).”

Unisys found six support practices that distinguished the leaders from the laggards:

Firstly, leaders “base support levels on the organisational impact of end-users’ jobs, and place increased IT resources on the most worthy end-user segments — not only for technology support, but also for improvements in their business processes.

“Leaders were more than twice as likely as laggards to provide high support levels to their customer service function; nearly four times more likely to provide high support to sales and R&D and far more likely to provide high support levels to marketing (a function for which none of the laggards provided high support). Leaders were also somewhat less likely to provide high support levels to the top executives.”

The leaders are more likely to collect and share the knowledge of their in-house and third-party support personnel and to track each incident so resolutions for previously known problems can be stored in a “knowledge base”, speeding future diagnosis and repair.

Leaders are likely to have standards for the technology in use in their organisations, Unisys reports. However, this is not always possible; some valued staff members will always have legitimate special needs. In these cases it is important, the survey finds, to standardise support policies and procedures.

Leaders “exploit technologies that automate support processes, including technologies that take control of support [remotely],” the survey finds.

They also “strike the proper balance between central and field support”. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this means concentrating on an efficient central support function, rather than spreading resources over a number of sites.

Lastly, in measuring the results of IT support, leaders avoid focusing on the support staff themselves and imposing blanket service-level agreements. Rather they concentrate on tracking end-users’ job effectiveness.

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