In order to deliver quality service desk support at a competitive price, Managed Service Providers need to be smart with when and how they leverage their talented IT professionals, using the appropriate tools and processes to maximize their impact for all clients. This approach to resource allocation is referred to as “capacity management” or “workforce management” somewhat interchangeably and defined by Wikipedia as “an institutional process that maximizes performance levels and competency for an organization.”

Though there are numerous IT industry standard tools on the market that enable an effective workforce management strategy, the goal is the same: to ensure all technical resources are coordinated with pinpoint accuracy to deliver the biggest bang for your operational buck. Below are some common techniques that most service desk organizations employ.

Setting Staffing Levels

Many service desk organizations will find that most packaged workflow management tools have overlapping features with their ITSM platform and/or ACD. Whatever the tracking and reporting capabilities, the primary function of workforce management is to forecast workloads and staff accordingly. When managing a team of service desk agents on a 24 x 7 x 365 basis, staffing levels must be aligned with hourly fluctuation in demand as opposed to an 8-hour shift. Even if integration with the ITSM platform is not available, service desk organizations should be able to track hourly contact volume and analyze trends in order to anticipate and set core staffing levels. Using the below chart, service desk management should be able to give a rough estimate of how many agents should be scheduled to support this sample client any given hour of the week.

Unfortunately, no matter how much trending analysis and forecasting the service desk conducts to schedule the right number of agents, even the best-laid staffing plans can often go awry. An effective workforce management strategy also takes into account factors that contribute to unpredictable spikes in demand due to unanticipated impacts of new software rollouts, network outages, or any major changes that might contribute to an unstable IT environment. Flexible organizations understand that actual hourly volume is often a moving target and are able to scale up or down on a moment’s notice. That’s why even when supporting clients with a predictable hourly contact volume, a wise workforce management strategy leverages a shared team of service desk agents for momentary spikes in activity. As needed, the CRM or Team Lead adds available service desk agents to the specific account’s queue which is crucial to maintaining service levels such as ASA and abandon rates.

Monitoring Individual Productivity

Scheduling an accurate number of agents based on anticipated demand is only part of the workforce management solution. Part two of the solution is to diligently monitor individual agent performance and utilization not only to ensure they bring their “A game” to the live support equation and identify training opportunities, but to factor in variations in their productive output when setting staffing levels. For example, one agent may focus solely on AD Administration tasks while another may perform extensive remediation for out of compliance devices. It’s fair to say that even if their technical expertise were equal, there would be a broad discrepancy in the number of hourly contacts each agent would handle simply by virtue of the time required to resolve those very different tasks.  In another example, using agents of comparable skill sets, one may be assigned to handle the overnight shift for a US based client and another may support that same client during core hours. It stands to reason that the agent working the third shift might experience lower utilization than the one logged in during the weekday. Workforce management would be easy if every agent delivered the mean output or handled the same number of contacts per hour. Since that is not the case, incorporating utilization rates and other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with demand is a more accurate approach to calculating proper staffing.

At the service desk, KPIs are often tracked in the ACD which automatically captures contact data from all media (phone, email chat, text, etc.), but these measures can also be integrated with workforce management tools to determine more accurate resource allocation with regard to utilization. Since IT support is delivered by a team of individual agents, setting the correct levels hinges more on cumulative output than the averages.

Time and Attendance/Backfill

Since the primary function of workforce management is to make the most of available resources, the flip side of that coin is coordinating backfill for planned and unplanned absences. Replacing talent for talent is relatively easy for scheduled vacations or any time off taken with advance notice, but unplanned absences require a little a nimble response akin to call volume spikes. The person responsible for scheduling, whether it be the Service Desk Manager, CRM, or Team Lead typically monitors hotline notices for sudden absences and adds available service desk agents to whichever account’s queue that the absent agent would have supported assuming they have undergone the same client specific training.

Since most workforce management tools track time and attendance, organizations gain increased insight into the personnel costs of delivering IT support. Service desk supervisors and HR management leverage this feature to monitor when agents log in to the ACD and/or ITSM platform work and typically either cross-reference such time-stamped data with an electronic timesheet entry system or automatically sync both functions to ensure accuracy. This also reinforces agent and supervisor accountability when requesting time off as the approval process is documented and can be tracked for progress, minimizing the margin for error that accompanies manual processes.

The Big Picture

It cannot be overstated that in order to see the workforce management big picture properly, the service desk needs to retain every last kilobyte of detail. That means more than looking at inbound requests for support from clients on an ongoing basis. To see the big picture, service desk management must capture and monitor all agent activity including login, status, voice calls, emails, ticket data and notes, and navigation for quality and productivity measurement purposes regardless of whether service desk staff are located on-site at a call center or telecommuting from home offices. So long as the data is tracked, monitored, and analyzed to that end, the service desk can make informed moment to moment decisions with their workforce management from a staffing and training standpoint.

ABS Service Desk Manager Tyler Dameron was able to reduce operational costs when he noticed habitual overstaffing in support of a client project had not been adjusted upon conclusion. “In a dynamic 24 x 7 service desk operation you simply can’t manage your resources on a static, 9 to 5 basis,” says Dameron. “You have to keep a diligent finger on the pulse of an ever-fluctuating demand for IT support and make quick decisions with how you allocate those resources. Thankfully, workforce management tools enable precision alignment of staffing levels to deliver service quality with optimum efficiency. Compared to the old way it’s the difference between a scalpel and a meat cleaver.”

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