Are you wasting your IT Application Support budget?

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The concept of Lean is based on eliminating waste from a process. Application Maintenance and Support is one of the largest IT costs for an enterprise. Waste from a large project can have significant short-term impacts. Waste in the Application Support area can far exceed project waste because of the long-term nature of support.

What is Application Maintenance and Support? If you are typical, you have Application Maintenance and Support teams consisting of a fixed number of resources deployed to provide following types of services:

1. Resolution of Incidents and Problems
2. Consultation Services – Answer questions about the operation of the system and provide planning services to customer
3. Scheduled services such as planned enhancements to add capabilities or provide custom one-time access to information

Do you have the right number of people assigned to the support team? How well do you handle spikes in support requirements? Are the support services beneficial or are they simply “busy work” to occupy a fixed team of resources? Are the supported applications providing value to the business?

Most of support activities are short in duration and require detailed knowledge of the system or time-consuming analysis and research. In order to avoid the time-consuming analysis, support teams are typically staffed with knowledgeable experts. It takes so long for a person to learn the application, organizations resist transferring staff which limits staffing flexibility, adds costs, and increases waste.

Support teams are staffed to handle spikes in problems that may occur during peak periods. A spike in enhancement requests may lead to a growing backlog because of the difficulty in orienting staff. A lull in priority work may leave the team under-utilized.

Most support teams encounter the following challenges:

1. Balancing variable demand for Incident resolution and consulting with scheduled support activities.
2. The need for rapid resolution of high priority problems requires a pre-trained staff which cannot easily be replaced or re-deployed. Staff may be “trapped” in support assignments for long periods of time. As a result, many IT professionals do not want to work on support teams.
3. Business priorities are focused on strategic projects. Application support receives little management attention unless there is a disruption. As a result, there are few tools and processes for managing support. Success is measured by “lack of noise” from the business.
4. Many support requests are communicated directly to a support analyst and are not logged. Insufficient logging and management of support requests results in a reactive LIFO approach (Last in First Out or Loudest in First Out) which impacts the completion of high priority or high value requests.
5. Knowledge is undocumented. Original documentation from development teams includes user guides or design specifications. Neither type of documentation is updated to reflect changes. They also do not provide the type of knowledge required by support teams.
6. Failure to permanently fix recurring problems means the support team must respond to each occurrence.

How do we address these issues, reduce waste, and improve the value of the support services?

1. Log and prioritize all requests based on their impact or value to the business. This should include standard prioritization criteria agreed to by the business.
2. Define rules and service level goals for balancing scheduled and unscheduled requests that considers priority, business impact, and value to the business.
3. Document the support knowledge required to understand the application in order to facilitate communication with the business and analysis and research activities.
4. Track time against each request in order to report trends that will help to anticipate spikes in demand and so that effective staff sizes can be determined.
5. Develop metrics that measure staff performance and the value of the support services to the business. This will provide a business justification for the support costs and provide management with the visibility to reward and promote.

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