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How to drive digital transformation with an agile IT service desk

Nancy Louisnord Chief Marketing Officer, EasyVista

Practically every organization is either working on digital transformation or has plans to do so, and this trend has accelerated during the pandemic. IT has a big role in any digital transformation, so it is not surprising that a survey by McKinsey shows that having a strong technology organization is widely seen as both a competitive edge and a growth engine.

Steps critical to the success of the transformation are to elevate IT to a valued business partner, close culture and talent gaps, and ensure high employee and customer engagement and satisfaction.

Due to its role as a central point within organizations and a natural place to close feedback loops, the service desk can drive successful and lasting digital transformations by embracing agile methodology. With this approach, your service desk plays an even more critical role in building a strong technology organization that is customer-centric and business-engaged.

Here's what your team needs to know about applying agile methodology to your IT service desk.

Agile principles

The Agile Manifesto originated from the software development world, and nowadays, agile is becoming more widely used. The four core principles in the manifesto are:

  • Focus on individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Provide working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Engage in customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Respond to change over following a plan.

The first one stresses "individuals and interactions over processes and tools." Processes and tools can only go so far. You may have heard the saying, "A fool with a tool is still a fool." In other words, a tool or a bunch of processes will not solve anything.

When you focus on individuals and interactions, you learn to listen more closely and, as a result, you can do the right things. This will benefit customer centricity and employee engagement, and make IT more business engaged, all leading to a sturdy technology organization.

Pick the right metrics

The second principle it's important to talk about is "customer collaboration over contract negotiation." Many times, service desk metrics and strategy are based on meeting SLAs.

That's understandable, because it is an easy and very tangible way of measuring results at your service desk. However, SLAs may not always be the best measure of service desk success.

For example, you may have heard about watermelon SLAs, where the metrics will show all green (like the outside of a watermelon), but that's hiding one big red mess, because the metrics really don't say anything about what value the service desk is bringing or how satisfied the customers are.

The agile methodology helps you with customer centricity; you want to collaborate with the customer, and not put yourself at the other end of the negotiation table. You are in this together, all working toward increasing the revenue of the organization.

So, instead of focusing on metrics that can prove you are holding up to rigid contract negotiations, you want to make sure that you are flexible and able to change and evolve with your customers so that you can continuously help them.

The fourth point, "responding to change over following a plan," is also crucial. The world evolves so quickly that you want to have everything in place and be aimed at being able to respond to change rapidly and efficiently. Master plans of multiple years do not work.

Of course, you must have a long-term vision, but more importantly, you must make sure that you build in enough reflection moments to be able to adjust the plan.

Benefits of agile

There are many advantages to having an agile mindset. Companies that previously embedded agile practices more deeply in their operating models ranked higher on managing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, according to this McKinsey study because agile organizations are designed to be fast, resilient, and adaptable.

So, mature agile organizations that had implemented extensive enterprise-wide changes to their processes before the pandemic significantly outperformed those that had not yet gone through such a widespread transition.

Looking at the service desk specifically, these traits are crucial. With the rise of DevOps and—as a result—continuous software deployment and delivery, service desk teams increasingly must be adaptable, fast, and resilient. And since agile is about creating a culture that allows just that, it clearly is one of the big benefits.

It is exactly this type of culture that will bring a bigger focus on continual improvement—another benefit of embracing an agile mindset. Not only are teams set up to cope with change better, but they will strive to experiment and implement improvements as well.

Transparency is both a condition for agile transformation and a positive outcome of it, and collaboration goes hand in hand with it. Agile environments encourage collaboration across different teams to a point where self-organizing teams naturally form.

When working on certain improvements, for instance, stakeholders and experts from throughout the entire organization will come together and work on that specific project. To achieve this level of natural collaboration, transparency and a good business-IT relationship based on trust are key.

Fear of change

You might ask what's holding service desks back from embracing a more agile approach. Apart from the overall fear of change, the notion of agile is often associated with a fear of introducing (or re-introducing) risk at the service desk.

For years the service desk has been working on ITIL or other implementations, getting processes, procedures, agreements, and metrics in place to make its work more reliable and consistent. It is, therefore, understandable that any suggestion of paring down processes comes with a degree of resistance.

However, nowhere does agile state that processes should be abolished. Yes, agile favors interactions and individuals over processes, but it does not intend for you to get rid of processes.  Rather, look at them from a different perspective and make sure they fit in with what you and the business want to accomplish together.

In the end, you want to have the fewest processes and procedures in place that will still provide enough value to the business, all while mitigating risk.

Keys to success

Agile is about creating a culture change and a new mindset, and it's not easy. As with any change and initiative, communication and transparency are key, especially when it comes to the reason why you do things and the status, hurdles, challenges, and successes that exist. You want to create a culture in which agile is naturally embraced, not pushed top-down as a big-bang implementation.

Embracing the agile methodology at the service desk will elevate the IT-business relationship, encourage collaboration and transparency, and create a strong technology organization that will drive the entire business to have a more holistic approach. It is the central communication role of the service desk that can truly position IT as an enabler and true partner in a lasting digital transformation.

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