Guest Post from Michael Holley of Switchfast Technologies in Chicago
In any industry, processes must be continually evaluated and tweaked to remain scalable. At the center of the outsourced IT support industry is client workflow: how tickets are organized, how projects are prioritized, and how all of this is communicated to the client.
How does one determine what constitutes a “high-priority” ticket? How does one tell a frustrated client that his or her ticket is in line behind more urgent projects? When is it acceptable to interrupt something that’s partway finished?
In an attempt to deal with these problems, many IT support companies are moving from a traditional “push” system to a “pull” system as their client bases reach a critical mass. As with most anything, there are pros and cons to each approach:
The “Push” System
The “Push” system is common because it is the most intuitive manner in which to handle workflow when a company is relatively small – and most companies obviously start out small.
In this system, requests for work are distributed evenly throughout the staff based on initial assessments of time and complexity, and then escalated as necessary. Most IT support companies have some type of hierarchy: “level 1” staff handles routine issues and transfers issues that are unexpectedly complex or time-consuming to “level 2” or “level 3” staff later. Within the “push” system, each individual technician is tasked with managing and prioritizing his or her own work independently.
While the “push” system is easy to implement and understand, myriad issues can arise when the IT company’s client base gets larger. This system encourages multi-tasking, as trouble tickets seldom arrive in a consistent manner. This leads to many routine issues being “swept under the rug” in instances where the workload is higher than normal or where time-sensitive issues emerge.
Thus, many issues that can be resolved with an hour or less of work can remain idle for hours or days as each technician struggles to juggle a mounting pile of trouble tickets of various degrees of urgency. Since work is essentially distributed randomly, some technicians can be overloaded while others are looking for more work.
While some of this can be mitigated by having overloaded techs pass work to others as needed, the only way to ensure that all issues are resolved as quickly as possible in all instances is for the IT support company to maintain staff appropriate for peak activity rather than average activity – an inefficient practice that causes the IT company to lose money.
The “Pull” System
The “pull” system takes the task of documenting and prioritizing work away from technicians and puts it in the hands of a separate team.
A small team of employees answers phones, responds to Internet requests for issues, and creates tickets that go into a queue. An IT manager monitors the queue and modifies the priority of incoming issues in real-time, sometimes bypassing the “level 1” team altogether.
Technicians simply “pull” one ticket at a time from the queue in the order determined by the queue manager, allowing technicians to work on each issue with undivided attention and ensuring that no issue is ever left on the “back burner” for long.
Although the “pull” system has many advantages, it requires a larger and more specialized staff, which can make it prohibitive to smaller IT support companies or some businesses’ internal IT teams.
What are some additional pros and cons of each approach? Are there other emerging approaches that may yield better results? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
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About the Author
Michael Holley is the Director of Marketing for Switchfast Technologies, a Chicago IT Consulting and Support provider.