Why I Don't Buy Into "Shift Left" Strategy for IT Support

Independent IT Consultant
Darren Wright
Independent IT Consultant
Why I Don't Buy Into "Shift Left" Strategy for IT Support
June 12, 2024

When people say “shift left”, how this is often interpreted is “get support to the lowest cost point from for the IT budget.” That usually means moving from field support to the Service Desk or from the Service Desk to Self-Help. At its core, this is a very “inside out” view of IT support and not really considering the end-users.

Working in IT Support, you have a constant balance to find between the efficiency, effectiveness and cost of IT alongside the needs, experience and productivity of your IT end-users. Woven between those two dimensions is ensuring solid compliance and security.

So why don’t I buy into this concept? Two main reasons –

1. “Outside In” View

Go ask your business customers how they would like to receive their IT support. Would they prefer self-service and a badly implemented chat bot or would they prefer an IT Support person on site to partner with them, resolving local incidents and enabling the local business? I am sure the majority will opt for the human they can see where practical and possible. Therefore if we want to do the right thing for the customer, we cannot just blindly shout “shift left” and expect great results. We need to consider an outside in (customer) view.

Think about getting your car serviced; If your local dealership had a strategy of “shift left” then we perhaps can expect to service our own cars with the dealership supplying us some tools and overalls. Probably very cost effective but most of us don’t have the skills or the inclination to service our own car even if it’s cheaper for the dealership. Same applies to IT support.

When you talk with your business customers (to see how they would like to be supported), we can also establish “why” they want to be supported that way. If we understand the underlying why then that should help us shape the optimum support model.

But to be clear, I am not advocating that we should “shift right” and put support people everywhere to provide IT support like it’s 1989 again, but we should not blindly be “shifting left” either.

If we understand the needs of the customer, we should then be able to look at the different business needs and determine the best way to serve customers. This will help determine the type of work that can go to self-service, or automation or service desk because that is the best way to accomplish it. It also helps to have an understanding then of what might still need the local and “human touch”. We are then not stuck with shifting left or right but rather finding balance between IT efficiency and business enablement.

2. Proactive Capabilities

The second reason I struggle with “shift left” strategy is that we should be challenging ourselves with how to avoid the need for the support in the first place. Not just think about where this support could be / should be done but look at how we can proactively eliminate it leveraging analytics, automation, ML and even AI.

Over five years in my previous role, we got very smart and determining the type of event that had the potential to cause a customer an issue before it happened. Leveraging the best of analytics and automation, we were able to identify those patterns and proactively resolve them before there was any customer impact.

We started small with specific use cases but over time, we were using Nexthink technology to identify and resolve without any need for the customer to be involved. This resulted in over 70% of our incidents being proactively identified and resolved without the customer logging a ticket or calling the service desk. This strategy enabled cost reduction but was a positive experience for the customer versus self-service or a lower cost support technician.

So if not “Shift Left” then what -

Think about these five points as a broader way to define your strategy and find that magical middle ground of IT effectiveness with customer productivity and enablement -

1. Shifting Left from expensive third- and second- level support should be one of your desired outcomes and therefore part of a broader strategy but not the strategy.

2. Don’t overlook your Change Management process. Many IT issues are caused when we change something that has not been tested properly. Managing Change more effectively means less things will go wrong and reduce the need for IT support.

3. Work with your business customers and listen. Understand what they want, what they need and WHY. You probably can’t satisfy all the requirements as you look for that balance but you are at least taking that “outside in” view into consideration into your strategy.

4. Have your product owners and service owners take more accountability and incentivized by the performance and stability of their services. IT Support is a “safety net” when things go wrong, but all too often, IT service owners just assume that “Support will take care of it” rather than take the appropriate accountability.

5. Implement a technology to identify potential issues before they become incidents. Leverage analytics and automation to reduce the reactive incidents that cause the IT customers to need IT support in the first place.

This five step approach should allow you to build a far more comprehensive strategy for your IT support and enable the strategic outcomes of reducing IT cost in balance with enabling productive IT customers.

Darren is an independent IT consultant specializing in End User Computing and the Digital Workplace. He has operated as a senior Global IT Leader at a Fortune 100 company with over 25 years of experience. He has forged his career through thought leadership, strategy development and execution, delivering digital transformations resulting in service excellence, IT cost reduction and digital transformation. 

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