Announcer: This episode of SolarWinds TechPod is brought to you by SolarWinds Service Desk, an affordable, cloud-based IT service management and IT asset management platform. Now, more than ever, users in your organization depend on the technology IT supports get up and running with no code configuration, and fast time to value. SolarWinds Service Desk: ITSM simplified. Visit solarwinds.com/service-desk
Liz: Thanks for tuning in to SolarWinds TechPod, I’m your host and Head Geek, Liz Beavers. Internal service providers keep the business running smoothly, supporting organizational operations and initiatives to ultimately ensure employee productivity, but with a range of departmental resources and knowledge, have you ever gotten confused about where you should be sending a question or reporting a problem?
Liz: This episode will explore how internal service departments, beyond IT, can benefit from a shared IT service management solution. One of my favorite conversations, especially when I was a sales engineer for SolarWinds Service Desk, is around expanding the service desk’s footprint to teams outside of IT. While IT is a key contributor to connecting employees with services, they aren’t the only internal service provider who could benefit from streamlining their processes.
Liz: Uniting internal service providers under one solution may seem daunting, but doing so can promote a positive user experience and heightened cross-functional collaboration. I have several incredible guests joining me today to discuss their IT service management journey ranging from the initial implementation of their service desk platform, to how they scaled and nurtured cross-departmental collaboration.
Liz: Welcome Noel, Mikhail, and Brody. We’ve got a full house, so let’s take a moment to meet the crew. Noel, let’s start things with you.
Noel: Hey Liz, thanks for having us. I am the IT’s enterprise service delivery manager for SolarWinds. I oversee end user services and help desk operations for the American regions at SolarWinds. I lead an amazing team of 12 help desk analysts that provides internal IT support to our employees, and we call our employees Solarians here, also to our vendors and contractors.
Noel: And we do many things like resolving IT technical issues from hardware and software. We fulfill multiple IT service requests. We provide end user provisioning. We stand up new hires. We provide onsite support to large events and meetings. And also along with managing the IT service delivery team, I also manage multiple initiative projects that improve service delivery to our customers. So, that’s kind of what I do here at SolarWinds.
Liz: Love it. So with that, Mikhail, I’ll kick things to you.
Mikhail: Hi, I’m the IT manager, one of the many IT managers, here at SolarWinds and I manage, currently, three teams. One of them being the modern endpoint management team, the second one being one of the more kind of tiger-team teams that does Active Directory clean up and organization as the current project. And then the third team is managing the team that actually supports and builds out the functionality within SolarWinds help desk right now.
Liz: Super helpful to know. And as we kind of round things out, Brody, I’ll let you take a moment to introduce yourself.
Brody: Yeah, sure, thanks for having me. I lead both Mikhail and Noel and a few other leaders within the IT organization here at SolarWinds. So, as Noel kind of touched on, get the opportunity to work with a lot of our end users globally in their challenges, work with other business units to help facilitate their IT needs, whether it be with SolarWinds Service Desk or with other needs in the business.
Brody: And I had the chance to implement SolarWinds Service Desk probably about a year and a half ago, but preceding that in previous roles, I’ve implemented several other service management platforms. And it’s always a great challenge and opportunity to enhance how the end users interact with IT because that is the interaction point at a lot of points for users to IT.
Liz: Absolutely. So, I think you all can see we’ve got a great crowd joining us with lots of really good knowledge and experience around all things service management. So, Brody actually just touched on it and I want to set the stage for our listeners by working our way from the top, getting started and implementing a new solution.
Liz: Typically, when selecting a service desk, you have a defined set of objectives or pain points you’re hoping to overcome by selecting a new solution. Brody, what were some of the top goals that drove your evaluation and helped tee up your implementation?
Brody: Yeah, the key things we were looking for are really, again, those interaction points with end users. So, every ticketing system or service management platform does incident management. And that’s not really the interface we focus on for our solution. That seems to be more bread and butter.
Brody: Where we did focus more is self-service where end users interact with IT in the way of service requests typically, and then sometimes knowledge base. And then analytics and reporting, because everything that is going into self-service, everything that’s going into IT, we need to report up to our business stakeholders, our owners, such as my CIO, on what are the trends taking place in the environment? What are the things we need to optimize? What are the things we need to automate within the service management platform or other supporting processes?
Liz: Definitely. And I love this notion of self-service. I think that is a goal that many teams often begin with when identifying the need for a new solution or if they have an existing service desk, that’s what they’re ultimately hoping to achieve or advance, is those self-service motions. And also automation, that’s a huge topic of conversation in the community. I don’t think it’s ever going to go away, but how you can go through and streamline your service offerings for the most exceptional experience.
Liz: So, having had those objectives in mind, I want to talk a little bit about how you started to map your implementation. Both Brody and Noel, I know that you guys were key in having that get initiated. So, Noel, I’ll have you actually start things off and walk us through a bit of the implementation, objectives and how you phased that.
Noel: Just like any good project, we gather our business of requirements and we work with a person you know very well, Sarah Nielsen, who actually took our requirements and designed it in the SolarWinds Service Desk solution that we have. Once that design was completed, we work with an engineer, Sean Sebring, to help us build up our sandbox instance. Then our key stakeholders and Brody, and a whole slew of people tested the heck of that sandbox.
Noel: We made a lot of tweaks and adjustments along the way until we’re satisfied with the results of the testing. And then we communicate with our user base along the journey that we were going live. And we went live the last week of May 2019. And I know Brody said we implemented a year and a half, it’s been two and a half years. Time flies by since we’ve implemented SolarWinds Service Desk.
Noel: And the crazy thing about this, Liz, is that we did this inside the month and that was crazy to me. I’ve been part of three ITSM implementations and each one of them took three to six months easy. And it was just… It was actually my first week when we implemented it. And I just couldn’t believe that we implemented a global solution in less than a month.
Noel: And, I think our success was because our business requirements. We took the crawl, walk, and run approach. And SolarWinds Service Desk is a beast, has a lot of different functionalities, a lot of the different modules. But the only thing we really implemented is the incident manage module. And we decided not to bite off more than we could chew. A few weeks later, we progress into report modules and self-service modules and CMDB where we’re tracking our asset, and week over week, month over month, we have matured to the place we are today.
Liz: I think that that’s a really important point that you bring up is with really any ITSM solution, you often are going to find there is a lot packed in there. So, it’s critical when you are getting started to map out your business requirements, what you want to achieve from a service management perspective, and what’s realistic based on the timeframe in which you’re looking to execute that. I think that that is some of the best advice that you can have is crawl, walk, run, because it’s not just project management, it’s not simply just getting things configured, but you also have a responsibility to educate the individuals who are going to be using your solution.
Noel: Some modules, we didn’t even have process for, like problem management. We don’t have a solid policy and process as of now, but we’re building that out to leverage the solution. And so that’s the maturity process, you don’t have to implement everything now. We used what we were good at and what we’d known, what we had written policies and process for, and you will evolve over time.
Liz: Exactly. And I also think in having that type of approach, really phasing your growth, it not only gives you the opportunity to naturally scale as you grow so you’re able to leverage the different modules and arenas that are appropriate for you as you build those processes out, but it also gives you time to receive feedback so that you can continuously improve upon what you’ve implemented. Really making the most out of your service management investment.
Brody: There are a lot of idle processes that you can implement. And obviously that is a journey. Thankfully, the SolarWinds Service Desk tool gives you a lot of those modules and processes out of the box, but you do have to choose which ones to focus on first and phase that implementation so that you can be successful. So you implement it, then compartmentalize the results and then improve it and evolve it. And that’s where we are today as we continue to grow and evolve our footprint in the tool, continuing to evolve our support model in alignment with the idle processes that are reflected in SolarWinds Service Desk.
Liz: Absolutely. And that’s a great point too, Brody. And I love this notion, and it’s often a very similar analogy that I use when talking, really about anything ITIL based, is it’s a journey. And there’s not really a start or an end point. It’s this wonderful evolution where you’re able to continue to improve, step back, take a look at things and move forward.
Liz: But ultimately we’re progressing to improve the experience for all of our users, be that the technicians that are administering the system or for your, in our case employees, on the other end that are actually going through and putting these requests in. So, that actually leads me to my next question for you all. What are some of the benefits that you really started to see for both users at the ends of the spectrum, your technicians in the business, as well as your employees?
Brody: I’ll start on that one. I think one of the big gains for the implementation is the digitalization of service requests and forms. End users get frustrated by having to type it into an email and it not being the correct and we go back three or four times asking for the same information. And then the technician is frustrated that they’re spending time typing this in. So, digitizing those forms is something that absolutely enhanced the user experience. And then as we see how those forms get used, putting workflow and automation on the back end in order to optimize the operations and the service desk or the infrastructure team’s day, gives them more self worth.
Brody: People don’t feel challenged by doing a password reset or the same repetitive thing. They want to be challenged in IT. So, as much as we can optimize those processes, it allows them to focus on the more important, more challenging projects that help them feel more fulfilled in our IT journey.
Noel: Yeah, and I want to add. Reporting is a big part, a big value of SolarWinds Service Desk. Let me give you just a use case. Earlier, I say Q1, Q2 this year, SolarWinds was expanding like crazy. Security by design, implementation was going on, we were hiring all these contractors and full-time employees, and we had our spinoff with N-able.
Noel: So we were hiring all these contractors and with trends analysis, looking at the tickets, I could see that our average new hires were increasing double. And so it put us some position to evaluate those trends and purchase three times amount of equipment we would usually purchase to meet the demands of the company. So reporting, I mean, that’s just one of many thousands of the examples how reporting and the ITSM solution could give the business what they need.
Mikhail: Yeah, and I want to add to that as well. And if you think about it, you can also use reporting to see what categories of tickets get submitted the most, and then optimize the self-help portal so that the users can actually go in there and try to submit a ticket and then they would get an automatic help desk article that would pop up and be like, “Hey, have you tried this to fix it?” And it reduces the amount of time that the technician would then have to spend on it. So, there’s a lot of that that can be done as well.
Liz: Definitely. And I think those are all good examples, to be honest with you guys, I probably could go down a rabbit hole for each of those that you talked about. Not only because I’m so passionate about it, but also being, Noel as you mentioned, a Solarian myself, those are things that I certainly feel similarly about.
Liz: I want to be able, if I do have a password reset, I need that to be instantaneous because I’m trying to get my work done. We’re working remotely these days, I’m not able to go and find my favorite technician in the physical office who I know would get a reset for me within five minutes. Not that I should be doing that, but now having these digital resources at my fingertips as an employee, I’m able to do self-help that might even curb my need to put in a ticket or, Brody to your point as well, being able to go through a digital catalog of service offerings.
Liz: I, instead of having to ask around to a bunch of people or even fill out a physical piece of paper, I can go to what’s available on my employee portal and easily fill out the information that my team needs from me. And then you guys can be initiating that service and getting that streamlined and fulfilled as quickly as possible. So, certainly a lot of benefits to be found there.
Noel: Yeah. And when you do submit an issue through the portal or email, you get notifications that we’re on it and that we’re actually working on the ticket. And so, it provides transparency between the IT service desk and the end user, Solarians, vendors, contractors, whoever needs our service.
Liz: And I think that that’s such a wonderful point to bring up as well, that not only contributes to the end users ultimate experience, but it also fosters a degree of trust between IT and the users on the other end of the business really fostering and helping nurture the service desk be evidenced as a trusted and valuable resource. So it now becomes a place that employees or contractors should want to go to, to submit their issues or request the need for a service. So, I think that that’s a huge component about the overall experience as well.
Liz: So, having spent some time talking about the beginning of your team’s journey with SolarWinds Service Desk, I think that’s shared by other organizations as well, both from the notion of evaluating, defining objectives that you want to achieve, but also through implementation, the continuous evaluation and refining of processes.
Liz: But as I put my previous sales engineer hat on, we also hear pretty often about this natural expansion or interest in adopting the service desk by other internal service providers. So, once other teams have seen the success of IT’s implementation, they too begin to have an interest in automating their offerings. Here at SolarWinds we have other departments who were certainly involved with the service desk, ranging from folks like legal or HR, finance. How exactly did some of these other teams get involved? I’d love to hear about that from you all and what those conversations looked like.
Brody: I guess I’ll take that one on. As we did do the implementation and we were representing up to our leadership team, what types of requests were coming through, how it was improving the operation, it kind of grew organically. We had people in the legal department that were handling requests for things, I don’t want to be too expansive there, that they could improve the process and improve their team by having visibility to those requests, similar with HR for name request changes.
Brody: They recognized some of the improvements there and organically moved towards that, versus other departments like information security, groups like that, we pulled into the initial implementation because we recognize those business cases. And now where we are within our journey is we continue to work with groups, understand their business challenges. When do we want to use Office 365 to improve something. When we want to use a SolarWinds Service Desk to improve something.
Brody: It’s not a one solution fits all, but for a lot of the requests and request fulfillment, having a single shop and a single pane of glass to drive users to, has allowed more and more service requests for legal, HR facilities is another great group that we we’ve added to that catalog, allows users to not have to go to 50,000 different things for different support. They go to one portal to request service.
Mikhail: If I could summarize who would be a good candidate to use a ticketing system for, it would be anybody that’s using a distribution list to handle some sort of a workload that requires some actions being taken on the email. And in HR’s case, if you submit a request, it’s also really nice to see in a ticketing system when it gets assigned to somebody, when somebody puts it in, “In progress,” versus just being assigned.
Mikhail: Getting updates on the tickets without having to bug the distribution list, “Hey, where am I on this journey of getting this completed?” It’s being able to see that progress, knowing what some of those SLAs, that have been set, what they are so that you can be amid against them. So, I find that to help a lot to the end users to be more confident in the service that they’re requesting and that they’re getting.
Noel: Yeah, and I believe the reason why departments have made the jump now to an ITSM solution because it’s not as daunting as it used to be. They saw that IT implemented the solution in 21 days, “Hey, we could do that. We’ve been using emails…”, like to Mikhail’s point, “…be tracking our issues and workloads.” And they saw how easy it was to implement.
Noel: And so everybody and their mama came out the woodwork wanting a piece of SWDC, and so we kind of had to bat them down, but to Brody’s point and Mikhail’s point, now we have implemented to HR and facilities, and legals team. And I believe sales enablement is looking at the solution. So a lot of different departments within SolarWinds that’s not in IT is using the ITSM solution, which I think is fantastic.
Liz: I totally agree with you guys. And this used to be one of my favorite conversations when I was working with prospective customers, as well as existing clients on the service desk, because there are certainly… As IT is kind of the gatekeeper and begins the initial implementation, there are certainly existing processes that already call in the need for other internal departments’ assistance. You have that natural overlap in some of your processes and by helping show the good word, if you will, that there’s an opportunity for other internal service providers to be able to mirror, automate, and execute their processes more seamlessly with a service management solution, just by what they saw what was capable from IT.
Liz: I think that that’s a great model to follow after. And Mikhail, just as you said, the removal of email distribution list is huge. It not only heightens response time, but it goes back to that notion of enhanced visibility and transparency and communication, but it links back to some of the earlier points that you guys alluded to as well with reporting.
Liz: Not only can the users that we’re helping see it, but now we’ve actually got the meat behind what it is we’re working on, the volume of what we’re working on, and our response time. The list is endless, I could continue to throw out ideas, but I think that that’s such a salient story that really resonates with so many folks.
Liz: So, with some of these ideas as well, it’s not just those other internal service providers, but we also see expanded use within IT and how they’re handling some of those services as well. Noel, can you talk us through a little bit about some of those cross-functional and expanded uses within IT?
Noel: Yeah, Liz. So, when we get a new hire a master ticket gets created, but beneath the surface there’s a whole bunch of dependencies tickets, child tickets that we call, that gets assigned to that master ticket. And the IT help desk don’t actually work on all those tickets. We work with different departments within IT to fulfill this request. So for example, if a email account needs to be built out, that’ll go to our systems team. If we need an account for Coupa that’ll go to the BizApps team. And so we work alongside with every department within IT to help this new hire come to fruition.
Liz: Absolutely. And I think with that as well, and Mikhail, you, it seems, I’m sure have had this experience too, as you’re building out these processes, it also requires a degree of categorization, but also ensuring appropriate visibility. And I think that’s often something that teams find to be a bit daunting about involving these other service providers. Can you talk through us some of the ways that you’ve been ensuring the seamless categorization and ensuring the appropriate access and visibility and how you’ve worked through that?
Mikhail: Great question. No, I cannot. No, I don’t want to go ahead and start putting things out there that I don’t know because the categories have been built out earlier. During the creation, we just add them in as needed. During this process of what Noel was talking about, one thing we could talk about, is how we automate some of those automatic child creations. When you create that master ticket, there are steps that can be followed based on criterias in the request form.
Brody: And the only thing I’d add there, Mikhail, is that that process does involve other teams as well, outside of IT. So it can involve facilities for a batch, we may pivot to that as well to show how other groups are using the ITSM system.
Liz: So with this idea of these parent tickets and enhanced automation, Mikhail, can you walk us through how you all established some of those different points of automation to ensure that seamless fulfillment?
Mikhail: Yeah, absolutely. So when the parent ticket comes in, there are fields that we can reference and decide what actions can be taken and what child tickets need to be created and to what teams need to go to. Like Noel mentioned, some go to internal IT, different IT teams, but not just that, we also can hand tickets off to facilities in order to create a badge for the user, depending on the office that they’re located in. The flexibility there is endless. There are multiple things, multiple teams, you can categorize things to and kick child tickets off to the respective teams that need to actually procure the work.
Liz: And with that, it sounds like there’s a handful of different teams that are truly working with this as well. Who are some of those other facets that are involved in this process that kind of eludes to that additional expansion and shared solution that we’ve been chatting about?
Noel: We have multiple departments that use SolarWinds to work on those child tickets like facilities creating badges. We have a UC team, which is unified communications, that subs our telephones and make sure the agents are set correctly in the phone queue. We have our BizApps teams and our Salesforce teams that’s giving our end users the necessary permissions to do the job correctly. And Brody and Mikhail, I might be missing others, but there’s a ton of departments that use SolarWinds Service Desk.
Brody: Yeah, I think you hit on the major ones. I think onboarding and off boarding users is always the great case to start with whenever you’re building out a catalog because that hits on a lot of the different request types, a hardware, a software access, facilities, access such as a badge, where that person’s going to sit. So obviously, facilities has a big component into that. And dependent on a role, it could engage with other teams such as the business analytics team, because they need to do Tableau or some other access.
Brody: It’s really, I think the word Mikhail said was, it’s kind of endless possibilities. So, anybody who can touch a new hire and that’s part of that default process can be a support entity within the SolarWinds Service Desk and we can either automate or manually have a process and a ticket to track that work. And really, kind of going back, that tracking and visibility is what I think is really important to an end user.
Liz: Some teams do feel that it is a little bit daunting once they’ve kind of gotten the reins on IT, it may seem that it’s a huge hurdle to get these other involved, but just as you were mentioning this kind of natural progression and natural inclusion based on some of your existing business processes with other cross-functional departments is a great way to incite that collaboration helping enhance visibility, communication, and ultimately, and improve that user experience.
Liz: So, kind of within that same vein, where have you seen value in having multiple departments within the same solution? Has it altered or improved how you guys work cross-functionally?
Brody: Yes, it has because of the opportunities and the tool in an ITSM solution. As you put together these processes, you naturally ask other groups that are handling a new hire or off-boarding, what are the steps? What are the questions? And then you start to understand their process and decompose them. And you can ask more questions that IT may be able to facilitate with the form, or it may be something else we need to tweak in our process. It really becomes kind of that gateway to open up the door for a conversation that didn’t necessarily exist when you didn’t have a tool that could enhance or automate the workflow.
Liz: I’d love to hear about some of the lessons you’ve learned both in implementing a service desk, as well as other departments engaged. So what are some of those lessons or what are some words of encouragement that you would have, or have folks consider as they’re looking to take on a service desk. Mikhail, I’ll kick things to you first.
Mikhail: One of the biggest things that we have seen is for departments or organizations that are understaffed, for one reason or another at the time, a lot of times they can be struggling and it feels like they are just drowning, and when you implement a ticketing system for them, it helps them view it in a single pane of glass versus trying to dig through emails. And it allows them to prioritize these different cases. It allows the end-users to actually show statuses and some movements in their case so they don’t feel like they’re being ignored because they know that a case has been assigned. They know that somebody’s actually actively working on it. They can post a comment on it. They can update the user a little bit on it, even if they’re not necessarily solving it.
Mikhail: But the end-user actually gets some feel like, “Hey, I’m being taken care of.” And those smaller teams also have a better way of tracking. And then if they are understaffed, they can again use reporting and be like, “Hey, our team just answered 200 tickets this month with two people on staff. That’s a lot of work. We can’t keep this going,” type of deal. So it’s a great case for that as well.
Liz: And I think to that point too, Mikhail, so many people feel that way, especially over the course of the pandemic. So, being able to have a solution, but also the data to help support what you’ve been able to accomplish, but also advocating for additional headcount in hopes to avoid burnout, I think is a huge plus with a service desk.
Mikhail: Most absolutely.
Noel: My advice would be to use the crawl, walk, and run approach. When you implement ITSM solution, our main focus should be our customers, but we cannot forget the teams that we lead as well, too. Are we setting them up for success? Our processes and procedures are in place that we can leverage the ITSM solution to be servants to our customers.
Noel: And so, I always put myself into user shoes, that’s my job, put myself in the place of Liz and other folks, that’s my job. But we have a obligation to set up our team, who’s providing services, we need to set them up for success as well. So my advice is not bite off too much that you could chew, set up our customers and our internal support teams for success, and continually grow and mature in your process along the way.
Liz: That’s a great reminder, Noel, that people are actually behind the technology you’re administering and the technology that is providing services to other. I think that that’s something that’s really resonated with me through the pandemic and my time working with other folks with the service desk is people are helping people. So we have to make sure that that experience is accepted both for those administering and those receiving the assistance. Any other words of advice or encouragement, Brody, that you would have for folks either initially beginning their service desk journey, or even as they look to expand to other teams?
Brody: Noel hit on a lot of it, which is compartmentalize as you implement, set up some success criteria. The only thing I would add to that is defining out the data you want to get from reporting, and then designing your system, your ticketing system, your categorization, your support groups, so that as you implement the tool, you can get those reports out of it. So you need to be very mindful of the data and how you can figure that data.
Brody: But everything else that Noel said about really setting up milestones and implementing this in phases, I think is absolutely critical both for your IT department so you don’t confuse them and cause them mass chaos, but also so that you can market and do change management with your end users so they understand why this is being implemented and when to use it, because frustrating end users is only going to force them away from the tool and that’s not what we want. We want them to be engaged with the tool and the more we can make them successful, the more compelled they will be to come back and use that system again.
Liz: Exactly. I couldn’t agree with each of those sentiments more, those are certainly little nuggets of wisdom for, I think anybody to take on their service management journey. Be it at the top of defining what they want their evaluation to look like for those who are implementing a new tool or for those who have had a solution for several years and are looking for ways to zhuzh up what it is they’re providing to their employees.
Liz: I know I mentioned it earlier, but this really is one of my favorite discussions to have, your overarching service management journey as well as the opportunities for expanding within a shared solution. I probably, and by probably I mean definitely, could talk about it for much longer, but that’s all we have time for.
Liz: From the stories that were shared today, it’s clear, while IT is nested in the acronym for IT service management, they certainly aren’t the only internal service provider who can benefit from streamlining their service engagements. Noel, Mikhail, Brody, thank you all for spending time reflecting on your experiences and giving us a sense of the potential a service management solution can hold for the entire business.
Noel: Hey, thank you for having us Liz.
Mikhail: Thanks, Liz.
Brody: Yeah, thanks Liz.
Liz: Want to learn more about SolarWinds Service Desk? Head to solarwinds.com/service-desk. If you enjoyed what you heard today and are interested in listening to other TechPod conversations, take a moment to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. That’s it for me. Be well.