When organizations grow big enough, they often migrate the first line of the IT Helpdesk service away from the local offices. This trend is quite common and it even seems like the best practice to centralize this service. Why it is better to keep the first line away from local sites? What are the main benefits from the centralization projects costing often hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Let’s start with the purpose of the first line. What this service is designed for? Service Desk KPIs mentioned by the ITIL-related resources should give us some hints about it:

  • Incidents resolution time and SLA Compliance Ratio – Issues should be solved quickly and effectively. Nobody as a user like for his or her issue to be affecting them for a long time. Tickets should also meet the SLA to keep the promise given by the IT Department to the business. Not meeting the SLA result in bad consequeces – from decreasing trust to the IT services to penalty fees.
  • First call resolution rate and number of tickets reassignments – Issues should be solved in majority by the first line specialists. Escalations of tasks create additional time of them waiting in queues of each team it’s assinged to and potentially expose user to explain the issue many times to different people, which definetely doesn’t make the user like the service more.
  • Users satisfaction survey – This KPI means a lot of things. People are different and different factors may be decisive for each given rating. Even for the same person it may be different according to the matter of the ticket, the mood of the user and few other factors. Usually however the users’ satisfaction comes down to few main aspects: incident resolution time, proper feedback amount (not too much, but not to little) and the quality of interactions between the user and the technicians in the process of solving the issue.
  • Cost per ticket – Keeping the Helpdesk service relatively cheap is quite important not only for the business financing the service, but for the IT itself too. These days it is very easy to outsource IT services to one vendor to another. If one gets too expensive and the other can provide the same quality for lower price it’s usually no brainer for business to change vendor.

Keeping all of these metrics on a good level needs a good Helpdesk team and of course proper management. And this is the management’s decision where to keep the first line – should it be dispatched locally to each branch or centralized in global call centers. Let’s see the benefits of both approaches starting with the latter.

The centralized global Helpdesk usually utilizes the resources more efficiently in a few ways. Issues often come in waves. There are periods when there are not many tickets and it’s quite calm, and suddenly everyone seems to have issues at the same time. The global helpdesk won’t eliminate this strange effect but can minimize it, as when there is a calm period in one branch or region, it may be quite busy in another. Global technicians can have a more stable workload, while local support teams would be more exposed to the changing conditions. On the other hand, when there is a global issue, it may be very hard to have any response from the global helpdesk, as it’s stuck with very many tickets coming from everywhere.

A single centralized support team or even two or three teams in a follow-the-sun mode are much easier to manage than multiple teams distributed in many different sites. Creating procedures of actions, fitting it to the environment, and verifying proper usage of them, in reality, may become very challenging and costly when you have to do it across dozens of places and teams. At every site, there is a management team that has its own interests and goals, which often don’t include using globally defined processes, sometimes even going against them. The only solution to ensure compliance with corporate norms are audits, which may be very costly to conduct on the scale of multiple local sites.

Gathering reliable measurements in a distributed model may also become difficult. With a centralized team, you can be pretty sure that all of the issues reported have their corresponding tickets in the ITSM system. With many teams on many sites, it isn’t that obvious. It may not be intentional to bypass the regulations and procedures, but technicians may not open tickets just to be more productive. On a very busy day omitting to open a few tickets may result in solving a few more small issues, which may result in quite significant difference for a local branch’s business. Local teams playing the first line role are usually very busy with various different kinds of tasks.

A first line located in a global call center takes a lot of responsibilities away from the local deskside support teams. Local teams don’t have to worry about tickets incoming from many sources, they don’t have to manage the tickets and look for proper teams to escalate them to. If the ticket is not solvable by the local team, they just send it back to the first line. In this model, local teams don’t have to worry about a large amount of the software issues too as they should be solved at the first line or the specialized second line teams dedicated to the particular type of software. Local deskside support in this model can focus mostly on the hardware issues and some basic operating systems or network issues affecting contact with global support teams.

Sharing tasks between the global first line and the local second line may result in better performance too. When the local team is focused on solving mostly hardware-related issues, the first line may focus on tickets management and software problems. In theory, it should result in better and more efficient tickets management. As in many global corporations, the centralized first line operates on a 24/7 mode, the work on tickets should proceed even when the affected user is asleep. Every shift in the first line team should do all they can for every ticket on their list to be solved or escalated as soon as possible.

Many aspects of the first line helpdesk service seem to be operating better in a centralized global model. Are there any advantages to having this service distributed in the local teams then?

What makes the local team better fitted to the business is a close acquaintance with the local office non-IT teams. The global team may be aware of what the company does globally, but there is no possibility for them to know what the employees in every single department do on a daily basis. They have no clues what are the main struggles the users have and how it affects their work on computers and within the IT systems. Local helpdesk team members, on the other hand, have some relationships around the office they work in. Some of them are even very close. If the local office hires less than 200 people it is very possible that everyone knows everyone at least briefly. The person acting as a helpdesk manager also knows and is known by everyone individually. And it improves the helpdesk service to a whole different level.

If the user knows Helpdesk team members well, he or she can choose the technician for the job needed, not just send an impersonal ticket to an impersonal service. This practice has its drawbacks of course, as usually it leads to an overload of work for the best technicians and lack of work for the others. On the other hand, it’s even easier for the manager to recognize the best Helpdesk employees as they are the guys which are chosen most often. The manager can direct both team and the workload accordingly to put the situation right again. On the other hand, the user has a possibility to contact the person from the Helpdesk team, which suits him or her the most. As described in the article The Real Value Of The Helpdesk For Organization And IT, recurring interactions with friendly and effective people in the Helpdesk build a better, warmer image of the whole IT department in the eyes of users and result in the better overall evaluation of the IT in the organization.

This kind of direct and close communication is not only nicer but also more efficient. The user doesn’t have to explain every aspect of the issue to the technician every time, as the colleague-technician or even the friend-technician knows most of the user’s environment and usual computer struggles from many previous interactions. Opening a ticket, proceeding with it, and solving it can be much more efficient in these conditions.

When the affected user and the Helpdesk technician work in the same branch office, they both represent the office in front of the corporation. And it is a very different feeling than representing the whole company hiring dozens of thousands of employees in front of a market. In a team where there are relatively close relationships, this feeling of belonging is much stronger. It gives the local technician a different kind of motivation to solve the ticket with the best possible performance than the global team technician has when working on a ticket opened by someone fairly anonymous from another end of the world, working on a topic the technician has no idea about.

The local technicians have limited exposure to a variety of tickets topics, as they need to care only about the types of issues occurring in their local office. A local branch usually doesn’t use all of the software that is available in the corporation, but only a subset of it. For the local technician, it means that he or she doesn’t have to know all of the specialized teams supported all of the different kinds of software. After some time, with some experience, the local technician may even memorize the most common support teams and even recognize their different support lines of them.

As described in The Most Valuable Skills In The Helpdesk Job article, the first line employees can build relationships with engineers in the specialized higher lines teams to manage the tickets more efficiently. It seems that the local helpdesk guys can do it more effectively. As they have a smaller number of higher-level teams to work with, they can easier identify in which teams they need these relationships the most, based on the frequency of occurrence of different kinds of issues.

And speaking of different kinds of issues and the teams solving them… A big part of the tickets submitted to the global first is just forwarded to the local teams to be either solved or investigated. Even if potentially the global first line could solve it, it is so optimized in terms of resources, that it cannot do a deep examination of each ticket because of a simple lack of time. The local Helpdesk team, knowing the users and their issues better, can potentially solve or troubleshoot it faster. As a result all the global first line does in many cases is opening a ticket for the local team. In these situations, it may be inconvenient, unpleasant, and incomprehensible for the users why they need to contact someone in a potentially different part of the world just to have it solved by their colleague next door. Contacting the colleague next door directly seems so much more efficient in many aspects, especially from the users’ point of view. In many cases, it leads to “shortcuts” when the users just try to ask the technician for help directly. One of the worst things the technician can tell the user in this situation is: “in order for me to help you, you need to open a ticket first”. In the ears of the user, it sounds exactly the same as “go away”, or even worse. In these situations, happening a lot in practice, the local first line can provide a much better experience for the user by opening ticket themselves and solving it instantly.

Last but not least, many people are not very into doing the same tasks repetitively every day for a long period of time. Considering this aspect, dedicating the first line to ticket dispatchment and the local helpdesk to hardware-related tickets only may result in burn-out for employees in both of these teams. It is quite obvious that the burned-out employees don’t work with high performance or efficiency. In the local first line situation, on the other hand, it may be motivating for the local Helpdesk teams to have an opportunity to work with different global teams of high specialization and to be given a chance to improve processes of opening and management of the tickets in their own branch.

As you may see, the global first line and the local first line are kind of different approaches, which can have significant results in both performance and the visibility of the IT Department in the organization. Centralized, global teams usually can utilize the resources – the technicians – more effectively and help to divide the work to separate parts: one of managing tickets and solving software issues and second of solving issues that need direct interaction – mostly hardware problems. It seems that the global first line works very well and provides great metrics in theory. In practice, however, the local service may work even more efficiently and provide a much better user experience resulting in much better visibility for the IT Department. In very big organizations these circumstances led to solutions where looking from the users’ perspective there is a global team in front of the local team, but there is another local team in front of the global team just to help users to open their tickets locally. But is it more efficient than all-in-one local helpdesk?…

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