Elizabeth Cholawsky says that people want to do more for themselves in solving IT problems, but that they're still going to need the option of an expert voice on the phone.
The VP and General Manager of IT Support and Access at Citrix keeps a careful eye on the trends in heading the division that includes the company's GoToAssist remote support service, and sees the self-service function as in line with a growing awareness among end users that they can solve some problems themselves. But they expect plenty of support, and are beginning to expect a service to warn them of potential problems before they arise.
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"End users want self-service as the first recourse," Cholawsky tells TRPro. "They don't want to have to pick up the phone but to get a solution immediately."
This can be seen in the proliferation of knowledge bases and forums for IT support, most of them focused on a specific software or piece of equipment, some providing a broader service.
But self-service resources have their limits, and the need for human support is not going away.
"There will always be a need for a human at some point," Cholawsky says. "Even as you've got more savvy end users doing their own support, you've got more sophisticated systems, more heterogeneous environments with machines and devices, and more ubiquitous applications."
She adds: "No matter how good the self-service sites get, the applications are getting more complex and humans are never going to know everything themselves. They will make mistakes and applications and devices will fail, so they will need the support pros.
"I don't think they (the IT professionals) need to fear being put out of a job by self-service. If anything they will be more desirable, as when you mess up you mess up really bad."
Cholawsky says the expert on the phone provides real value when they can help to solve a problem much more quickly than a user could themselves, and that one goal for support services is to get a better alignment between the two. One element of this is to develop a system that provides the support operative with information on what steps the end user has taken when they get in contact. This is going to give them a better chance of solving the problem quickly that if it is "cold" a handover, with no record of what they have done.
Another is to make the self-service process more precise and to let end users know exactly when they should contact the professional.
"One of the things we're working on is the ability to do rule based tracking in the knowledge base, and to be able to proactively tell the end user what they should look at and ensure it is done before they connect to a human," she says.
"There's also how you handle requests and scaling it to ensure you can get the right expertise to a chat at the time."
Touching the surface
Cholawsky says the industry is "just touching the surface" on helping users solve problems for themselves, and that this is more of a challenge as more companies get into mobile working and 'bring your own device' (BYOD).
These are creating more problems to solve, such as how to identify when a user is having difficulties with an application because it is faulty or because of a low bandwidth connection. Then there's the risks that come with BYOD as users download applications that can mess up work software or operating systems.
She says this is often a bigger issue for smaller companies, which are less likely to have formal BYOD policies and more likely to rely on an IT manager simply warning an employee to be careful. Large companies are more likely to give their IT departments remote control of a device to keep out unwanted applications, or even to lock one down if they detect a threat.
Underlying all this is a trend, which she relates the presence of a remote monitoring module on GoToAssist, that users now want problems to be anticipated and prevented. They are used to working with technology that seldom if ever breaks down, and have less patience if a repair can be made quickly.
Overall she sees that the role of IT support has changed, from what she calls a "break-fix model" to a business partner within a company, providing tools to support the business. These include the knowledge bases for self-service and the experts who can provide personal help, and she suggests there is more progress to be made in how they fit together.
"I think the really interesting innovations will come from bridging the gap between that end user wanting self-service and the IT professional doing more sophisticated service. If we can bridge that gap in interesting ways we will provide more value than just piece-part applications."