These days, people want options. And one of those options, says Ollie O’Donoghue, an analyst with Service Desk Institute, the professional association for workers in the IT service and support industry, is the ability to help themselves. “A good example is Amazon,” he says. “Customers can track their parcel and gain all the information they need through their portal. They don't need to speak to anyone.”
Now the world of enterprise IT is doing something similar. Staff in companies or organisations who need IT services or support can log onto a self-service portal and request it without calling anyone or without initiating a live chat session. In short: staff can help themselves — and serve themselves.
The increased adoption and popularity of self-help and self-service — combined with the automation and integration of manual and time-consuming processes — means that service desk professionals are becoming much more productive. And that, potentially, is more cost-effective for businesses.

Functionality

Yet IT self-help (where staff request an IT support service via an online form) and self-service (where staff try to fix an IT issue themselves, via FAQs or peer-to-peer support, for example) are not new ideas. “Both of these concepts have been around for about 10 years,” says O’Donoghue. “What we're seeing now, though, is a maturity of these technologies and processes. It used to be a bit of a pain to work through a self-service portal to find exactly the right request form. Now their functionality is better and they are much more intuitive and very good at categorising, which means that requests go directly to the right people. As a result, customers of enterprise IT services are happy to use them.”
According to a recent Service Desk Institute benchmarking report, roughly 80 per cent of enterprise IT organisations now offer self-service in a mature form; and 80 per cent offer self-help. “More and more are recognising the value it brings in terms of saving IT and service desk time — and also saving customer's time,” says O'Donoghue.

Effective

Which sounds great, in theory. But, actually, don't some people dislike self-service and self-help facilities? In shops, for instance, don't many customers avoid the self-service till if they can, preferring to speak to a human being instead? So doesn't the same attitude apply among the staff in companies and organisations?
O'Donoghue takes the point about shops, but says that people avoid self-service checkouts because in some cases these aren't any faster than manned tills. And it's not as though this is an either/or for enterprise IT. “I think it's unlikely that organisations are going to turn off the phone and the email so that their staff only use self-service,” he says.
He insists, though, that self-service and self-help technologies can be quick and effective if implemented correctly. Indeed, they are the way forward, he believes — so it's best to get in front of the wave now.
“It's a generational thing,” he says. “The point is that in the next few years a generation of people will be coming through to the workplace who have probably only ever accessed self-help services. I had to call someone about a year ago to reset a password and it felt so strange. Normally that sort of thing would be automated: I'd click 'reset password' — and that's it. I much prefer that. I want to fix the problem myself.”

Change

Recently, O'Donoghue gave a speech on enterprise IT self-help and self-service and admits that half of the room were nodding in agreement with him, while the other half looked skeptical. That half doesn't want to change, he says.
The trouble is, in the near future, a lack of self-help and self-service could make your organisation obsolete, he believes. “You need to remain relevant to your customers,” says O'Donoghue. “So I would say: you need to have self-help and self-service if you don't already for that younger generation who will be coming to your organisation. Because if you think they will pick up the phone to ask for IT help, you're going to be in for a big shock.”