Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 6

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on October 23, 2017

This is my sixth installment to a brief series on simplicity and complexity in business communications, and in carrying out and evaluating the results of business processes, tasks and projects (see Social Networking and Business 2), postings 257 and loosely following for Parts 1-5.)

I began discussing business communications processes and practices in Part 4 and Part 5 of this series, in terms of how they would fit into and support business needs. And to be more specific here, I did so in terms of an organizing model for thinking about and understanding business processes and practices, that aligns them along a very specific type of spectrum, that runs from:

• Type 1 business processes that are essentially rote-standardized and for what is done and how and by whom, and with what expected inputs and outputs, through to
• Type 2 business processes that have to explicitly accommodate change and even explicit uncertainty – and that can even be in place and use in order to help the business to flexibly accommodate change.

I briefly discussed both these endpoint types as well as more intermediary possibilities in Part 5: processes and practices that are not entirely routine and standardized and that are not entirely change-driven either, but that have to be able to accommodate elements of both. And then at the end of Part 5, I made note of a point that would probably be obvious by now to anyone more actively following this series: I have been writing about these issues here, in an almost entirely abstract manner and without specific referencing consideration of any particular examples, and either for specific businesses or for specific functional areas or activities within them.

I stated at the end of Part 5 that I would address that gap here, at least beginning to take the issues raised up to here out of the abstract. And I do so by citing a type of example that I have dealt with many times in my own professional career, and both from working with and running such resources and for accessing them as a service customer: in-house Information Technology department help desks. I add in anticipation of what is to follow, that virtually all that I will offer here in the way of detail and analysis applies to outwardly facing and interacting customer service and support desks too. But to keep this simpler for how I phrase what follows, I will express this posting in terms of the one type of working example.

• Information Technology help desks service the needs of essentially everyone and anyone in their business organization, where questions and issues might arise regarding the computers, tablets, handhelds and other information technology or communications hardware in use, that is provided or supported by the business for business use, as well as computer network and login issues regarding online connectivity through in-house systems such as intranets, and through the more general internet, or through more protected outwardly connecting channels (e.g. virtual private networks (VPNs).) And they generally hold as wide-ranging a responsibility for business-provided and supported software in use there, as they do for hardware or networking capability supported. This means that help desk personnel at least collectively have to be able to address and resolve problems and issues that cover a tremendously wide array of separate areas of professional expertise. And this range is only expanded when cyber security is added to the just-offered list, where this has to enter into all of the areas of possible activity and impact listed there.
• I have at times in this blog, noted how some 90% or more of the work tickets that are opened for resolving help desk requests, generally fit into a “top 10” or “top dozen” list of recurringly common problems. And to cite an obvious entry for most businesses and for most “top” lists that their help desk personnel could compile, I cite the questions that arrive regarding new and lost passwords, and helping people login to their computers, their email, and any of a wide range of other resources (e.g. their intranet account, or the online message sharing group set up there for some committee that they have just been assigned to.)
• But let’s set aside the issues of how common or rare a particular type of help desk request is. In principle, a well run help desk has to be prepared for the rarer outliers too. And I have to add in this context, that a once rare outlier can suddenly become a recurring challenge and for many reaching out to that help desk, and particularly if some area of the business has just found itself facing a single point of failure or other sudden disruptively challenging event. So for purposes of this discussion, I would set the commonest recurring problems faced and the more outlier, “long tail” events that also arise on an equal footing and as holding an event-type by event-type, equal value and significance.
• Some of the problems that arise and to a level of significance as to prompt a call to the help desk are going to be more type 2 in nature, to cite my above-repeated scale and its endpoint terminology. And given the change and the uncertainty that would be expected there, that is to be expected and even routinely so and certainly for businesses that have significant numbers of type 2 processes, and systems dependent on them, to contend with. But more problematically, some will involve more genuinely type 1 processes too.
• These are tightly structured processes that should in principle be all but bullet proof against breakdown. So when one of them does break for a user and to a degree that calls for corrective help, that should raise a red flag. Either at least some aspect of this process is broken, or training for using it is. And if several calls suddenly start coming into the help desk regarding the same or very similar issues for what should be a type 1 process or set of them, that can only mean one thing: the business is facing an emerging disruptive problem such as a single point of failure, or a tipping point has been reached where what should be a slow breakdown, has reached a point of no return from not having been preemptively addressed soon enough.

This line of discussion addresses the What issues that I would raise here. Now let’s consider the communications issues that go into smoothly and efficiently identifying and understanding all of this, and knowing when even a seemingly routine “top 10” help request might really represent the tip of the iceberg of what is actually a more complex and serious problem. And with that, I turn back to a point that I made earlier in this posting about the complexity and diversity of what a large help desk covers, technologically and how this calls for a wide diversity of expertise and of information technology specialists. And all of them have to be able to effectively communicate with each other and even when they tend to use differing jargon: differing specialized terminology in their separate areas of expertise.

• Long tail, rare events happen and with time are guaranteed to do so, and the same can be said for disruptively emergent problems and challenges.
• The true measure of how well a help desk is run, and of how effectively it functions, is not in how quickly and efficiently it handles its flow of known and expected “top” list help requests. It is in how quickly and effectively that help desk identifies and clarifies and resolves the less individually predictable problems that it is called upon to help with, and with all of the help desk ticket escalations and all of the less routine communications that enter into resolving them too.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will address speeding up and disintermediating help desk communications, and particularly when a business and its information systems users confront the disruptively unexpected, with all of the non-standard features and requirements that that brings. And I will also pick up on and discuss customer service and support desks, as cited in passing above as a source of working examples, in order to more fully discuss this series’ set of issues. I add in anticipation of that, that I will explicitly consider how the issues of this series play out when services such as Information Technology help desks, and Sales and Marketing supportive customer services are maintained and run in-house and when they are outsourced.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And also see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, for its more generally applicable discussion of focused message best practices per se. I offer that with a specific case in point jobs and careers focus, but the approaches raised and discussed there are more generally applicable. You can find that series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, as its postings 342-358.

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