Bridging the chasm between electronic and physical service delivery

Electronic service delivery may be virtually fantastic, but automation is should complement, not replace, physical service delivery involving real human beings.

Traditionally, IT departments have concentrated their re-engineering efforts on the electronic side of service

delivery –- e.g. help desk services. It's easy to make improvements here, but they bring relatively small returns. We've stayed away from the physical service delivery side –- e.g., installations, moves, adds, changes, inventory –- because fragmentation makes it hard to re-engineer. But new, consolidated tools offer quick paybacks measured in the millions of dollars and doubled productivity.

Best Processes
with Greg Lenox

The squeeze is on

It's a rare organization in today's economy that isn't under intense pressure. Do the phrases "leaner and meaner" and "work smarter" sound familiar? When you have to make your annual plan, the slogans shake out as budget dollars and head count. Yet, your performance is measured by performance levels. What's a manager to do?

The promised land of automation

To the untrained eye, so much of IT service delivery looks routine on the surface. Reset a password. Replace a hard drive. If it's a task your department does dozens of times a day or week, then it's only natural to think automation. Build the process and expertise into the system, and let the good times roll, right? But you and I know it's not that simple.

Fingers versus feet

The reality is that there is a divide between electronic and physical service delivery. Electronic service delivery is typically high volume and low cost per transaction or incident. Physical service delivery is just the opposite -- lower volume and a much higher cost per transaction or incident. For example, some tasks, such as resetting a password, distributing software, network monitoring and event management, or setting up phone service can be done without ever leaving your keyboard and mouse (electronic). But many service delivery tasks, such as replacing a network card or doing a rollout, require you to put a body (or bodies) on site with skills, tools and parts (physical).

The lure of low-hanging fruit

As you can imagine, there's a lot more complexity on the physical service delivery side. Scheduling, work orders, asset configuration and location all need to be coordinated. The parts need to get on the shelf and then into the hands of the service technician. Faced with all of the elements that must be integrated before they can be re-engineered, it's much easier to look for improvements where processes and procedures are already somewhat automated. So IT departments mine electronic service delivery systems for improvements, such as more calls per help desk operator and shorter call durations.

Thinking bigger for bigger rewards

The problem with this state of affairs is the huge opportunity missed. If a project can remove 20% of just labor costs from a task, then which gives you the better return, the $8 task or the $500 task? No question; it's the hard drive swap, not the password reset. Now suppose your solution can also reduce inventory and shrinkage while increasing expense recovery from salvage and RMAs? The fact is that even a small improvement on the physical service delivery side can result in substantial returns.

Seize the opportunity

The great news is that new tools coming on the market enable you to overlay integrated processes, practices, and data on the physical services delivery side. In our business, we've seen successful paybacks measured in months with cost savings in the tens of millions annually. Plus service technician productivity/capacity increases of 50% to 100% and higher.

As you can see, it pays to broaden your quest for improvements beyond electronic service delivery. And if you do it right, you can even turn IT from a cost-cutting target into a profit center, as I'll explain in a later column.


Greg Lenox, an expert in the processes, methods and practices of IT operations for customer support, help desk, asset management, inventory management, telecommunications management and change management, is president and CEO of Entuition Inc., a maker of operations management solutions in the infrastructure logistics marketplace. At Entuition and in previous positions, he led several major re-engineering projects. His clients included SunTrust Banks, Citibank, Target, GlaxoSmithKline, Baxter Healthcare, Nations Bank, Wachovia Bank, First Union Bank, BB&T, CCNB, CNA Insurance and others.

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