Failure to launch: IT, we have a (self-service) problem!

While modern self-service is working for consumers, IT self-service portals are stuck on the launch pad. However, IT delivering out of this world service to its customers is a mission that’s far too important to abort. Instead we must conduct an honest assessment of our current state and chart a new path forward.

In my conversations with IT leaders, I too often hear anecdotes such as “companies like Amazon, Uber, and AirBnB have set unrealistic expectations for self-service” or “people just don’t like self-service”. While such claims may serve as temporary relief, they’re making IT accept mediocrity. In reality, it has become increasingly accepted, if not desired, to leverage self-service to conduct numerous daily tasks in our personal lives such as scheduling appointments, making purchases, and paying bills online without any direct contact with a customer service representative.

The stalled adoption of IT self-service is not due to lack of demand. In fact, according to Forrester Research, 72% of customers prefer self-service to resolve their support issues over picking up the phone or sending an email. Likewise, more and more employees are entering the workforce with an expectation that the same convenient and simplistic service experience that they receive as consumers will be matched at work.

It has been years since IT service catalogs were first introduced in ITIL v3, yet most IT organizations continue to struggle with effectively managing the implementation, promotion and utilization of IT self-service. In all fairness, modern consumer self-service offerings certainly have advantages in terms of being “born in the cloud” and being able to take advantage of social and big data advancements. Whereas, IT self-service portals must contend with issues and perceptions that are often a product of legacy tools and less refined processes.

For instance, IT self-service has primarily focused on benefits for IT as opposed to customer experience. Many CIOs view self-service in terms of IT efficiency and headcount, service desk managers sought a magic bullet to reduce call volumes, and IT analysts imagined empty ticket queues. Where self-service matters most – the user experience – is where what’s offered today is broken. Users find current portals to be frustrating, complex, and inefficient.

Most IT self-service portals have been built using static service catalogs that require users to manually search through an exhaustive list of technologies to find the resources they need. Once users select an item, they are often provided with a link to a form or need to call the service desk to submit a request. What customers want is an actionable service portal that provides a personalized view of the IT service offerings that align to their job function, location and role and deliver the request services quickly with limited friction.

It’s the lack of personalization and automation, coupled with service portal complexity that frustrates users and ultimately drives them back to traditional support channels like voice and email. Designing the portal experience with users in mind is a must to drive self-service adoption. This requires going above and beyond implementing a shiny UI. IT must identify the business goals that will motivate employees to utilize self-service, then correlate those goals with the appropriate IT resources to be made available in the service portal.

With the business’ dependence on innovative technologies for growth, aligning business users with just-in-time IT services will require an iterative approach, involving continuous customer input. However, IT also has access to an enormous amount of user related data within service catalogs, CMDBs, as well as financial and HR systems etc. Effectively aggregating and surfacing this valuable information requires IT to re-think how service is delivered and use data to continuously monitor and improve self-service usability. Onward and upward! 

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