CXO

Swapping old help desk technology for new saves money and boosts service

The issues in choosing and installing a new technology


Two years after rolling out a new IT service management tool for its help desk, Jostens, Inc. has saved more than $100,000 and improved service by 40 percent, among other positive metrics, said Selmer Peterson, director of client and technology services for the Minneapolis-based company.

In the spring of 2001, Jostens learned that Tivoli Service Desk would no longer be supported and, because Jostens had not installed the most current release of Tivoli, the installed software was creating conflicts with its client-side application and other Jostens applications. So, facing the decision to upgrade a phased-out product or replace it, Jostens chose the replacement route, Peterson said.

Here's the story of how Jostens swapped old help desk technology for new to keep customer support at its peek. Others can use these lessons to help them evaluate and install software, train staff, and launch the right solution for their help desks.

Evaluating new technology
In his search for a substitute, Peterson sought a solution that required no client-side desktop application. Along with presenting fewer opportunities to conflict with other software applications, browser-based solutions appeal to help desk managers because of their efficiency. There's nothing to install on the desktop, and field workers can more easily close tickets and verify whether new work awaits from any desktop they're working on, Peterson said. Previously, Jostens' field workers had to close out tickets in a central location and wait for new work orders to be printed in the morning.

Today, BMC's Remedy and Computer Associates' Unicenter service management tools are Web-enabled, according to Warren Cook, director of product management at Network Associates. But at the time Peterson started shopping for a new IT help desk tool, browser-based solutions were only beginning to emerge. Peterson said none of the products he evaluated—Peregrine, Remedy, and FrontRange Solutions' HEAT—were fully Web-based.

Ultimately, Jostens chose Magic Solutions' Magic Service Desk for a variety of reasons. The browser-based solution was a definite selling point as was the promise of a speedy install: Magic Solutions, a Network Associates business, says the average install can be done in two weeks. Further, Magic's change management process matched Peterson's philosophy. Peterson was comfortable with Network Associates' commitment to the product's future and the viability of the company as a whole, he said.

Along with the factors Peterson and Jostens considered, Aberdeen Group research director Karen Smith said companies evaluating possible help desk solutions might also want to consider future functional uses, such as the system's adaptability to other departmental uses and the possibility of using the support function in tandem with CRM applications.

Also, pricing is clearly a consideration. Jostens declined to state the price of its software license. However, Carlos Hidalgo, director of product marketing at Santa Clara, CA-based Network Associates, said Magic Service Desk Enterprise Edition lists at $5,000 per seat. The nonenterprise version, called simply Magic Service Desk, runs $3,500 per seat. Both versions include a number of components to make it easier to integrate business rules, manage the production environment, keep track of assets on the desktops, and create real-time reports on the help desk staff's performance. Both versions are sold under a concurrent licensing model with various levels of service support available at an additional price.

Installation tip: Plan for business processes
With the product selected, Jostens' planning and testing began in late November 2001. Among the initial tasks of Peterson's team was to build a pilot version of the project to make sure the project "does what it says it will do," Peterson said. Following the pilot, the group set about customizing the application to suit Jostens' needs, based on careful planning.

Hidalgo said one way to ensure a smooth install is to have thorough project documentation in hand. While the advice sounds obvious, Hidalgo said some companies try to install Magic Service Desk without a spec. "People look at it as a software purchase and installation rather than a business process," he said.

Failure to customize the software to mirror actual business processes can result in software that forces new processes on the help desk, creating all manner of headaches for workers. To avoid this mistake, all aspects of the business process should be outlined, with a level of specificity narrowly defining things such as elements of a user's screen workflow distribution.

A senior help desk analyst from Jostens worked as the lead on the project, doing the planning and implementation. Because Jostens chose to serve the application itself, running the application on a dedicated Windows 2000 server with a shared HPUX server running the Oracle database, Jostens also brought in one of its Oracle database specialists to assist in test implementation and launch. The database component can also run on SQL Server, according to the vendor. Jostens did not migrate all of the Tivoli data to Magic. Instead, the company decided to keep the old Tivoli database available for reference in the first year under the new system.

To support its own efforts, Jostens purchased two weeks of consultant time from Network Associates. The training aspect of the project was rather simple. Jostens' lead help desk analyst designed classroom lessons and ran the help desk staff through two hours of training with hands-on practice on the actual tool in its staging environment. Not much more training than that is usually required, Hidalgo said. "If you understand basic Web navigation, there's not much training involved."

However, for the administrators of the system and those involved in customization, Network Associates offers multiple training outlets: online self-paced courses or on-site training at Magic University in Dallas, where the Magic product line is supported.

Magic rolls out
On Jan. 16, 2002, within five days of starting the install and customization, the help desk team was trained and the application was launched in Jostens' Minneapolis and Owatonna, MN, locations. Jostens is using Magic Service Desk Enterprise Edition to support its 2,500 employees who are computer users, 1,000 of whom are in Minnesota and the remaining in 14 different plants from coast to coast. These workers get direct help desk service support from seven agents in the home office and two field workers, one in Minneapolis and one in Owatonna. The help desk agents log 550 tickets and 280 work orders weekly. According to Network Associates, the product can handle 40,000 incident creations per hour, but no customers as of yet have tested that limit.

Cost savings
In the two years that Jostens' help desk has been running Magic Service Desk, the company has reaped a significant return on investment, Peterson said. Although not all cost reductions could be attributed to Magic Service Desk, the tool has helped the company reduce help desk expenses by 20 percent, according to Peterson.

The savings largely come from being able to automate some of the company's workflow. Tickets are easier to enter under the new system, and they are then routed automatically to the right people, he said. Appropriately assigned workflow has freed up help desk agents on the front line to answer telephone calls more rapidly. Today, 80 percent of help desk calls are resolved in under a minute, and for 18 consecutive weeks this year, 90 percent of the calls were resolved in less than five minutes.

"Any help desk tool will do that if you work with it," Peterson said, but having a more efficient tool in place allowed Jostens to see these gains. As for the $100,000-plus savings mentioned earlier, this return came by replacing two contract field workers with one full-time person. Jostens' two remaining field workers have been able to cut the backlog of service tickets to 24 per day, from a pre-Magic backlog of 40 tickets daily.

Moving forward
Because of the success of Magic Service Desk on the help desk, Jostens has since rolled out the project to its 14 locations around the nation to assist in facilities management. This adaptation of the product allows facility managers to log and track work orders for things such as changing lightbulbs, fixing doors or bathrooms, ordering supplies, or making adjustments to heating and ventilation systems.

The versatility of the application continues to satisfy Jostens. "Magic Service Desk has applicability to other environments," Peterson said. The company has plans to offer Magic to yet another department within the company in the near future.

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