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Implementing a swarmed IT management approach

communication technology
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

While the helpdesk or service desk, whatever you call it in your organization, is evolving and approaches to problems and issues are evolving, there’s still a high chance your organization employs the traditional three-tiered support model.

Many IT support teams currently resolve tickets based on the traditional three-tiered support model. Instead, swarming might suit your organization better. A tactic on the rise in IT support circles, it’s worth discussing the benefits for your customers and employees. In the following, we talk about why swarming is more about culture than structure.

Taking apart the traditional IT support model

A three-tier support structure has been the norm since IT service management's origin. In this structure, information is organized into three logical and physical computing tiers: the presentation tier, the application tier, and the data tier.

Each tier runs on its own infrastructure, is developed simultaneously by a separate development team, and updated as needed without impacting the other tiers.

The presentation tier is the user interface and communication layer of the application. Here, the end user interacts with the application. Its primary purpose is to display information to and collect information from the user.

The middle tier is where information is collected and processed through business logic and business rules.

The data tier is where the information processed by the application is stored and managed.

In the tier support model, customers are presented with a single communication channel to the IT support, regardless of the nature of their issue; general support skills work in Tier 1, and Tier 2 are readily available in the workforce; and specialist technical resources can be insulated from direct contact, ensuring that only correctly triaged issues reach them.

However, for organizational leaders wanting to deconstruct this way of providing service, swarming may be most beneficial because resolving a ticket is less expensive, and tiered support can lead to the clumsy handoff of support cases bouncing and issues getting disembarked from their natural resolution.

Cost of a tiered ticket

Many attempts to benchmark the cost of resolving a ticket at each support level have turned up various outcomes. Still, this 2014 study shows the average price of a Level 1 resolution at $22; Level 2 resolutions run about $62 and Level 3 resolutions at about $85. This is only one estimate. Others are higher, some lower.

On top of this, tiered support leads to cases bouncing. In tiered support, moving a case between them is to change the team assigned to it, typically carried out by the assigning team to those assigned the work. These tickets often bounce because the more specialized team requires further information to proceed or because the assignment to them is incorrect.

Collaboration is at the heart of DevOps between operational and development professionals. Vertical and horizontal silos of tiered support are in opposition to cooperation.

Based on escalation, the three-tiered support model is hierarchical. The service desk solves most of the tickets. If they can't resolve the ticket, they pass it on to the second tier. If the service ticket requires even more expertise, it moves on to third-line support.

The differences are stark but easy to understand. In swarming, the support teams function as a single team of people with various skills who collaborate on resolving issues. There are no levels one, two, or three and no escalations within the support team, which is significant. The service employee taking the case owns it until it is resolved. This eliminates queue bouncing.

The purpose of swarming

In the swarming model, the support team creates capability and capacity while optimizing people’s ability to contribute; it increases engagement and loyalty; improves customer success and value through enhanced problem solving by increasing reach and relevance (based on profiles and reputation).

Swarming is very different than the three-tiered approach: it’s collaboration-based instead of escalation-based. In a swarming model, a member of the service team handles a ticket from start to finish instead of forcing it through a tiered support model.

In a swarming model, the team member that can handle the ticket the quickest is tasked with resolving that ticket. When a user needs help, instead of passing tickets back and forth between teams, the support team “swarms” around the problem, finding the answer until the ticket is resolved.

Benefits of swarming: Transparency

The three-tiered support model often leaves employees and customers confused as the service desk employee who passes on a second-tier ticket never learns the ticket's resolution. In swarming, the first-line support team doesn’t have to struggle with users get the help they need, nor does their second-line support wonder how and why a specific ticket got to them in the first place. In the swarmed approach, users are assured that their ticket is taken up with the utmost importance by the most likely expert on the service team capable of addressing the service request.

Swarming responses forces first-line support teams to take initiative and swarm members of development teams to find the answer to a problem. This way, first-line support passes on the customer's voice to your developers, so they know what works best for your customers.

Also, in the three-tiered system, first-line support employees typically get very little training and have to stick to a script to resolve tickets. When on the never-ending line of call after call, these service professionals tend to move on sooner than later. Swarming tends to keep employees motivated because they have the opportunity to learn new skills and grow their expertise.

Implementing a swarmed approach

When implementing a swarmed service approach, there are several factors to consider. Key among them is how success metrics are measured. You've got to prioritize customer satisfaction and place customer satisfaction before meeting targets. If they identify opportunities to improve IT support, they should be empowered to do so. For the organization's sake and the user's satisfaction, this should override personal statistics, metrics, or missed targets. Empower employees to keep users updated during the service process to know exactly how things are progressing.

Swarming is about ensuring that the people most likely to solve any user issues as quickly as possible. In a swarming model, the person who takes ownership of the problem often owns the case until it is resolved, which is of immense value to the organization and all users' well-being.

Collaboration enables skill development and how to help and encourage users. In the swarming model, you're allowing people to develop the range of most valuable skills to the organization and the best value of everyone in it.

Ruben Franzen, president, TOPdesk US