Cutting support desk costs by reducing staff, cutting hours, or outsourcing can help an IT department's bottom line.
And it can hurt the company overall if it reduces employee productivity.
If employees can't access critical systems, cutting support desk costs can also cut into billable hours, damage customer relationships, cut into production schedules... all sorts of bad stuff happens. (Think about the time wasted when an employee who needs help turns to a co-worker instead of IT.)
The answer may be to design applications in such a way that employees can help themselves.
Take, for example, password resets, which are typically responsible for 30 to 40 percent of all support calls. When you forget your password to an online application, there's usually a button to click on somewhere in the vicinity of the password field, which helps you out. Depending on the application, you can get a new password by return email, by text message, or by answering security questions.
As your company makes the transition from traditional, desktop-based applications to Web-based apps, it can be a good time to implement a single sign-on solution, or build password recovery into the individual apps.
Some suggestions for how to do it right:
Be context-aware. Figure out where problems are most likely to occur and put the solution right there. So in the case of the password reset, users are most likely to realize that they've forgotten their password when they're being asked to type it in. A password reset option that's buried somewhere deep will only create its own set of support calls.
Be fast. Don't take that password reset request and forward it to a staffer who'll get around to it... eventually. Don’t save it for an overnight batch process. Consumer-oriented Web applications have trained users to expect responses by return email. If the problem isn't solved immediately by an automated process, the user will assume something went wrong and call the help desk anyway. Plus, the longer the delay, the more productivity is lost.
Be reasonable. Yes, this is another plea for password sanity. Humans can't remember random strings of characters, especially if we're forced to change them every month, without reusing them, and with a different password for each application. According to the latest Trustwave security report, after an initial foothold in a system, 80 percent of security incidents were due to the use of weak administrative passwords. The reason? The more complex the password requirements, the harder users work to undermine them.
If you do it right, password resetting can save you big-time. TNT, a global courier company, recently saved around $1.7 million a year just by automating password resets.
Another task that often requires manual intervention is access authorization or new account creation. Again, if your company is moving an app to the browser, this is a good time to rethink the process. Here are some suggestions:
Automatic approval. If the employee has a particular type of job and is asking for permission to access an application commonly needed in that job, make the approval automatic, then forward it on to a manager for later review. It's the old Reagan “trust but verify” approach.
Limited time access. Require employees to request access only for a limited time -- a week, a month, a year -- and automatically terminate access after that time. This will cut down on the problem of having a lot of over-privileged users running around.
Require explanations. Knowing that a manager will be reading their explanation of why they need 20 years worth of access to a sensitive application will encourage employees to downscale their demands. Maybe they don't really need access for 20 years, but just for a couple of months while they're working on a particular project.
Not everything can be automated, and expecting employees to be technology experts can quickly become counterproductive. But letting employees handle the simple stuff on their own will free up the help desk to focus on more complex or systemic issues.
— Maria Korolov is president of Trombly International, an editorial services company that provides coverage of emerging technologies and markets. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years.