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Offshore support; Onshore problems

By Richard Hutchings, CTO at Littlefish.

Faced with the changes to the pattern of work caused by the pandemic there is a need to focus on people-centric IT support to reduce obstacles to productivity. Now is not the time to cut costs by moving IT support offshore, according to Richard Hutchings, CTO of Managed IT and Cyber Security services provider Littlefish.

The way we have embraced home working and virtual meetings underplay the seismic shift in IT provisioning and management that have enabled this transformation. We also under-estimate at our peril the stresses that this puts on individual workers, trying to do their jobs as before but with the added joy of broadband outages, cyber threats and new collaboration tools, not to mention coping with an office in a corner of the lounge and childcare issues. Research by the Office of National Statistics found that there had been a 16% increase in the number of individuals experiencing stress or anxiety in 2020 compared to 2019, due to working from home.

Short-term thinking

The very least we can do is to help teams to reduce stress and improve productivity by making their IT experience as trouble-free as possible. That means providing support from engineers that know your set-up and your support history and have the tools and skills to resolve issues in minutes. But this requires investment and too often organisations don’t get the scale of the problem and see support as a simple cost overhead to be driven down. The result has been a trend to moving support offshore to low wage economies. I get the need to keep costs under control but wholesale offshoring can add to the stresses and strains rather than reduce them.

Offshore means: never having to talk the same person twice

Some of the issues with offshore support are well documented like language barriers and data security risks but the real issue is anonymity. The offshore support company’s motivation is to maximise staff utilisation so that every worker is fully occupied and earning money. That means never talking to the same person twice, even when handling the same support issue; a problem made worse by high levels of staff turnover and consequent loss of knowledge about your business. It means telling the “case history” over and over again, while frustration and work interruption levels continue to rise.

The human touch

So, what does “good” look like in terms of IT support in the new landscape? In a word, the answer is “personalised.” Imagine being able to talk to the same small group of people who know your organisation, your department, even the name of your cat, in some cases. More importantly, they know your support history and are familiar with your whole IT environment from infrastructure and security policies to custom applications. What’s more, they will have some “skin in the game.” The support company’s fortunes will be aligned with your own business success. Good IT support is about helping you to become more effective as a business. A personalised approach means spotting

opportunities to work more effectively as well as fixing day-to-day firewall problems. There may be opportunities to reduce the cost of support with process automation for routine tasks like software updates and desktop provisioning, while keeping a human-centric approach.

Show them you care

As well as making your people and your organisation more effective, a personalised approach to support says a lot about you as an employer. As the economy picks up, skilled employees will be looking above the parapet and thinking about how they are valued in the current role. If they are faced with patchy support and constant disruption to their day-to-day working, they may feel their skills will be appreciated more by an employer that provides higher levels of support.

As we face an uncertain future, where hybrid working is likely to become the norm, whatever the recent advances in vaccinations and treatments for COVID-19, the overriding need is to deliver the kind of support that helps us to do our jobs, that reduces stress and frustration and helps our organisations to thrive. None of this equates to short-term thinking based on cost reduction and trends like offshoring.

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