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Focusing on vanity IT support metrics? Here's what you should be measuring.

Here are the top IT service desk and support metrics IT leaders can use to understand their teams’ performance.

IT metrics are crucial to assess your team's performance, make data-driven decisions, and associate goals with action items. 

But the challenge with IT metrics, which also makes them fascinating, is they are constantly evolving. The metric that seems accurate today might be completely irrelevant tomorrow. By tracking the wrong set of metrics, IT leaders fail to actually understand their teams’ performance despite having access to multiple datasets. 

Watch out for deceptive IT support metrics

Your IT metrics should be user-centric. There may be a lot of vanity metrics that make you feel good about your IT operations. But if you dig deeper, these metrics are not taking you anywhere. 

Here are three potentially misleading metrics that you are probably measuring as we write this article. 

Mean time to repair (MTTR)

MTTR refers to the average time an IT team needs to resolve an issue. 

While it is a significant metric, it becomes misleading if you don’t measure it accurately. What if a support team member marks a problem as “resolved” before it is thoroughly addressed? In that case, the issue will be reopened later in a new ticket, and the MTTR will be flawed.  

“You could be using MTTR for a break-fix issue that may not even involve downtime. Or it might be affecting one user as opposed to an entire department or the entire enterprise. It doesn’t take into account how important that issue is.

- Adam Tallinger, Senior Director, Digital & Strategy Delivery, Huron. 

MTTR is applicable only when there is a well-documented process in place where it is clearly explained when to mark an issue as resolved, when to communicate the issue status with the stakeholders, what are the exceptions, etc. Additionally, it's important to consider how MTTR relates to other metrics to better understand the numbers.

First call resolution

This metric measures the number of issues resolved with a single call or interaction with the support team. Again, this metric does not apply only to simple issues. For example, if it is a “forgot password” issue, first-call resolution is a relevant metric. But what if the issue is related to enterprise-wide privacy challenges? Do you expect such a critical and complex issue to be resolved with a single call?

What’s more important is understanding what your FCR rate can tell you about the health of your service desk. For such a seemingly simple number the answer is not as simple as you might think.”

- Craig Whytock, Solution Consulting Manager, IFS assyst Europe

To figure out what your FCR number means for your organization and how to improve it, you need to collect data on the incidents that occur, analyze it, and talk to the service desk agents about their work. By studying the system and understanding its nuances, you can identify why your First Call Resolution rate might be too high or too low.

Ticket volume

This metric gives you an understanding of how many complaints are being raised over a certain period and how sustainable the prior solutions of the IT team are. Ticket volume can help identify potential patterns that may be driving increases or decreases in ticket count. And by leveraging this data, you can strategically assign support agents to handle high-volume periods.

However, tracking ticket volume alone does not give an accurate picture of your IT team’s performance. The amount of tickets received can be influenced by various factors such as the complexity of the issue and the time it takes to resolve it. A large quantity of tickets does not necessarily imply poor performance or low user satisfaction. It could simply be a result of company growth or a one-off spike in user demand. 

Every ticket is unique and deserves the appropriate amount of attention. It's important to monitor other user satisfaction metrics along with the ticket volume to gain a holistic view of the team's effectiveness and employee satisfaction.

Avoid the common mistakes while choosing IT support metrics

Found a familiar metric in the previous section and wondering where you went wrong? 

You're not alone. Here are some common mistakes that companies often make when deciding on their IT metrics:

1. Focusing solely on outputs

The output of an activity is often not the same as the impact it creates. By prioritizing outputs, your IT team may risk jeopardizing the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) decided at the beginning of the contract, which may lead to a loss of reputation

On the contrary, by focusing on the impact factor associated with each output, you are giving central focus on the value generated. 

For example, 

  • Your internal helpdesk resolved seven onboarding queries from the finance team within a day - you are just focusing on output here. 
  • Your internal helpdesk created an automated onboarding workflow for the finance team to avoid back-and-forth communication - this is an impact that your output has made. 

“Prioritize what most directly impacts the business decision your user is trying to make. Modern CIOs and analytics leaders need to be adept at pulling together the key metrics that will drive the most impact for a team and presenting them in a way that makes sense to the user and will help guide their behavior.”

- John Loury, president and CEO, Cause + Effect Strategy

2. Emphasizing way too much on benchmarking 

Many organizations focus solely on benchmarking while deciding the ideal metrics. This brings us back to the same question - how do you know the benchmarks are relevant to you

Aggressive competitor benchmarking only leads to half-baked metrics and KPIs. Irrelevant metrics will fail to address the real issues specific to your business. 

While benchmarking is not a bad practice, IT team leads should be mindful of how they do it. Perform in-depth research to identify your closest competitors or the most relevant benchmark data from the market and match these metrics with your decision factors before shortlisting the final list. 

“Metrics are only one tool for decision-making. Therefore, approach metrics with skepticism. It’s important to understand the research and data behind the metrics”

- Judith Hurwitz, CEO, Hurwitz Strategies. 

3. Prioritizing quantity over quality 

Numbers have a strange hold over us. In IT operations, it's easy to become consumed with numbers and prioritize quantity over quality when it comes to defining IT metrics. And the challenge is that in the midst of all these numbers, IT leaders often overlook the importance of measuring the underlying significance of those numbers.

For example, stating that "my team resolved 100 internal IT queries" may seem like a positive accomplishment, but what does it actually mean? How complex were these queries? Can they be automated to prevent them from recurring? 

Quantity doesn't answer these questions.

 “It’s vitally important to make sure you completely understand how the data is collected and what’s included in the scope before you can make a determination on what it’s telling you…System metrics can be particularly misleading because they often provide metrics for a very small part of a large, complex system. That narrow view can easily lead you down a rabbit hole.”

- Brian Winters, CTO, ECI Software Solutions.

4. Fixating on “SMART” metrics

It's often assumed that all metrics need to be "SMART" (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) for them to be valuable. However, this isn't always the case. Not all metrics can fit into the SMART framework, and that doesn't necessarily make them irrelevant.

For example, consider the "Responsiveness" of an IT service desk. Responsiveness is a critical metric that measures how quickly queries from employees or customers are addressed. However, it's impossible to specify this metric or set a quantifiable target because it depends on a variety of qualitative factors such as the support department's bandwidth, the complexity of issues, and the skills of the support team.

It's important to remember that not all metrics can be "SMART." Focus on the metrics that are relevant and useful for the specific situation, even if they don't fit into a neat framework.

Start with the people 

When it comes to your IT metrics, context matters as much as the numbers themselves. 

For example, to measure user satisfaction, sending out a blanket survey to everyone or a follow-up survey to users after they receive support may seem like the best way forward. While the intention is right, without proper preparation, this approach might fail.

Sending out a survey overnight can generate too much data and variability among the people you're reaching out to at a specific point in time.

Instead, focus on building relationships with departmental or organization leaders to discuss how you plan to measure your IT team in the future. This way, you can get feedback from them as well. Use a survey after forming these relationships.

An effective way to prioritize and measure IT projects is to sit down with leaders from every department individually to understand their requirements, the number of hours and other resources required, and the expected business benefits from the project. 

It would then be easier and more effective for you to monitor the actual time and resources spent on the project, and whether the project achieved the desired business results or not.

“KPIs tell me which way the wind is blowing, but not necessarily the weather for today or forecast for tomorrow. It’s the conversations around KPIs that matter.”

- Craig Williams, CIO, Ciena.

End with the business 

In a report titled "Breaking Barriers 2020: How CIOs are Shaping the Future of Work" by Fuze, findings from a survey with 900 IT leaders around the world show that more than three-quarters believe IT is crucial for business success. They also stress the importance of IT being innovative to drive overall business progress.

Despite this, a significant number of IT leaders feel that business executives are too focused on cutting costs. Almost half (49%) are not satisfied with how their IT departments' success is being measured, indicating a disconnect between perception and actual performance.

Note that even with the right metrics, you still might not get a full picture of IT performance. At least, not the insights that matter the most. 

A shift is in order, in terms of how IT success is evaluated. Previously, metrics like uptime and meeting service-level agreements were the main focus. Targets like 99.999 percent availability and resolving a specific number of tickets were prioritized. Now, while IT needs to still keep an eye on these metrics internally, the emphasis must shift toward the ultimate users—the employees, and in turn, the business performance.

Think value, business enablement, and contributions to profitability. Connect each metric to a specific business outcome and make sure those results are achieved.

“Unless a key performance indicator (KPI) can be tied to business objectives or results, it’s a ‘vanity metric,’ that may make IT look good to itself, but doesn’t deliver real value.”

- Dawn Parzych, director, Catchpoint

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