Help is at hand

Despite the rise of service management standards, the service desk concept still remains a struggle for many enterprises. ACN speaks to regional service desk experts to discover the secrets of their success.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  February 3, 2008

Despite the rise of service management standards, the service desk concept still remains a struggle for many enterprises. ACN speaks to regional service desk experts to discover the secrets of their success.

Service desks are a function, not a process. This is the only function that every IT department has to start with - the service desk is meant to be the single point of contact between business and IT.

The issue in the Middle East is that 90% of companies are categorised as SMBs. The size of a company is not as big as in the US or Europe.

It's supposed to bridge the relationship between the business and IT, whenever it comes to a request or to provide information, or attend to IT issues - and also the reverse; a service desk has to be able to provide results and metrics and data to the business."

So says Zaki Sabbagh, CIO of Zamil Industrial Investment Company (ZIIC), on the subject of service desks. Sabbagh's definition is probably one of the most concise and complete basic outlines of a service desk it is possible to give - but behind the simplicity of his statement lies a complex set of standards, processes, best practices - and business politics.

With the rise of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) set of best practices, the term ‘service desk' has largely supplanted the more traditional ‘help desk' in the lexicon of enterprise IT.

Far from being a mere name change, though, proponents of ITIL and IT Service Management (ITSM) concepts claim a service desk delivers far more value than its predecessor.

"The primary purpose of the traditional help desk is to manage and coordinate and resolve incidents as quickly as possible. It is also its responsibility to ensure no request is lost or forgotten," explains Saheem Ibrahim, ITSM manager at Doha Bank.

But when we talk about service desks, the role is much more mature. The service desk extends the range of services to the business - it not only handles incidents, problems, queries and change request, it also provides an interface between the business and IT, for SLAs, for consolidation management, for availability management, for financial and IT service continuity. It also continually educates and trains the business.

As Ibrahim makes clear, though, the majority of organisations - Doha Bank included - start with a help desk, and then evolve and develop this to a full-fledged service desk. A critical issue in this development is finding a way to demonstrate the value of a service desk to the business - a process which is harder for smaller organisations.

Sabbagh says: "The issue in the Middle East is that 90% of companies are categorised as SMBs - the size of a company is not as big as in the US or Europe.

So the implementation of a service desk in these companies would not be as easy, as it's touching the IT area more than the business area - at least from the business point of view. Despite that, the results would be very much to the favour of the business.

The challenge of IT in this area is big, and the pressure is big - so making a proof-of-concept for a service desk is important in order to justify it. This is why I don't see a lot of effort in this regard in SMBs."

Despite Sabbagh's scepticism, some industry hands in the region do see smaller enterprises adopting service desks - as well as larger organisations taking service concepts a step further. Prashant Maiti, senior consultant for business service optimisation at management software vendor CA, sees increasing numbers of SMBs taking on the service desk model.

"The idea of service desk has moved from being just an enterprise concept, down into small and medium businesses as well. More and more people are adopting the service desk - it shows in our selling graph, more people are adopting service desk as a core, and are building solutions around it.

People have come out of the service desk, and are moving towards a service management model. As enterprises have matured, they are trying to adopt the service provider model - I would say, in fact, that we have many clients that have adopted, or have the vision to adopt, the service provider model," he says.

One firm which has actually adopted the latter model is Sabbagh's ZIIC - it now operates its IT department as a separate profit centre within the business, and has recently moved into the ITSM business itself, following the successful adoption within ZIIC of an on-demand service management provider.

"ZIIC is a typical example - before, we were using systems from a major vendor, one of the three leading IT service management vendors. But we moved from this vendor to Service-Now.com, which is a purely on-demand solution - and we are more than satisfied as a customer.

These days the issue is not the money - it's the time. For instance, when we used to work on the old system, we needed licences, software, hardware, and the most important part for us - the skilled people to run it, both internally and at the vendor," explains Sabbagh.

"Now, all these hassles have gone, with the concept of on-demand. It's not only saving money, it's also saving a lot of time.

For instance, with these concepts now, we're able to implement all these processes in a fraction of the time - it took us years with the legacy systems, and now with the new system we did it in a few weeks. Now the platform is available, everything is open and customisable - all that's required is internet access. You don't need to get into unnecessary issues around administration," he adds.

ZIIC was so impressed with Service-Now.com that it promptly went into partnership with the service's parent company, Navigis. The resulting joint venture - Zamil Navigis - was launched at last year's GITEX Technology Week in Dubai; and in the course of this, Sabbagh discovered many organisations that were unaware of ITIL - something which came as a surprise.

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