Opportunity lies all around: Two key tips to help you use Level 2 to improve your overall IT Service Management processes

A brief overview of terminology – when we refer to Level 1, we mean “the first level of support” – typically a service or helpdesk of some kind, designed to be the first point of contact a user can have with IT support. Often when organizations decide that they are going to “do” ITIL (a set of practices for IT service management – ITSM – that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business) or implement similar best practices methodologies or related improvements, they will start with Level 1 services and work their way up. While this can certainly be a successful approach, we would like to discuss some of the benefits of a more “middle-outward” approach, starting at Level 2. We believe that with the proper team and approach, a strong Level 2 group can become an engine, capable of moving your whole support organization forward.

When an incident or support request is logged with Level 1, some triage, information gathering and basic troubleshooting is typically done. If further help is required, the incident or support request is assigned to Level 2, which is typically made up of more senior staffs who are “technical” experts. In some cases, Level 2 will need to pass the work on to Level 3, which is usually staffed by developers, architects and the like.

We are often asked to take over Level 2 support from a team which had been handling it previously and which was staffed by the client, by another vendor, or some combination of both. The first challenge in this situation is NOT to simply take over and do things the way they have always been done. This may seem obvious, but the forces of organizational inertia can weigh particularly heavy on Level 2 teams, since they may feel as though they are just the inner links of a larger process over which they have no control. However, it is this very positioning that can also provide Level 2 teams with the ability to slowly but surely move the quality and efficiency needle forward – not just for Level 2, but for the whole IT support organization. Here’s how:

  • Make sure you understand what you really are (and what you really want to be).
  • Make sure others understand how to get what they want from you (and how you will get what you want from them).

Make sure you understand what you really are (and what you really want to be). We often see Level 2 teams that are either lost in the shadows, meaning their focus, responsibilities and accountabilities are nearly indistinguishable from other levels, or too much in the light, where the team not only covers typical Level 2 duties but in many cases also takes on much of what Level 1 and 3 would usually be responsible for. These situations are often the result of a lack of definition regarding the fundamental goals and scope of the services to be provided. Sometimes this is as simple as the fact that no one has ever actually put down on paper basic facts about Level 2 such as who makes up the team, what applications they support, who owns those applications and how to escalate when necessary. Other times the situation is more subtle and may relate to internal enterprise politics or a desire to preserve organizational leverage. In all cases, a lack of service definition will lead to unnecessary wasted time and effort and is not an environment you want to use as a foundation for building future success.

TIP #1: Take the time necessary to plan out and design your service with your end state and goals in mind. This should be as much about the process of creation, which should involve all affected or interested stakeholders, as it is about the end result, which should provide an easily understandable and also measurable and achievable set of goals. These goals will act as a roadmap to keep all involved moving in the same direction and will enable shared agreement regarding what it means to “arrive” at their shared destination.

Make sure others understand how to get what they want from you (and how you will get what you want from them). Being in the middle can be challenging, no doubt about it. Living in Level 2 support can often feel like you are getting squeezed from all sides, but this is where you can use a bit of “organizational jiu-jitsu” and use the energy being thrown at you from others to your advantage. Level 2 teams, by their very nature and positioning as the critical transfer point between idea/delivery and reality/support, are critical to the success of any IT organization. This also means that they are able to have an inordinate amount of influence over how any IT organization behaves.

Level 2 can become the guide, teacher and service management process facilitator for both Level 1 and Level 3. As outlined above, this needs to start with a clear definition of the services Level 2 provides; it should then progress to clearly defining the boundaries, interchanges, communication flows, inputs and outputs between Level 2 and Levels 1 and 3. By actively defining the service pathways in and out of your team and then managing the demand/delivery flow, you can take control of IT service delivery in ways that, over time, will begin to reshape the entire IT organization.

TIP #2: Define agreements between Level 2 and Levels 1 and 3 within the context of shared contractual commitments to the business. This can often take the form of a Service Level Agreement (SLA) defined between the business and IT, with underlying supporting agreements defined between the various groups necessary (including Levels 1-3) to deliver the goals defined in the SLA. These shared commitments put everyone “in the same boat” and make it much easier to define, implement and sustain measurable performance improvements.

We are under no illusions that any of this is easy to accomplish. It can be particularly challenging for support teams to find the time to engage in the kind of activities outlined in this article. Further, the experience, knowledge and facilitative approach necessary to achieve the desired results are often lacking in IT support organizations. Finally, it will often take the intervention or active presence of a “higher power” (or at least a power outside of themselves), to provide sufficient motivation for many of the necessary players to come together in the manner described here.

Next time we’ll talk about how to use project management to address some of these challenges.