Social IT Support: Didn’t We Do This In The 1990s?

A lot continues to be said about the impact of “social” on IT support and for some it is now “so 2009.” To me, it was inevitable in 2009, and I wonder how far we have moved on in reality. Yes, some IT service management (ITSM) tool vendors have added in shiny new capabilities inspired by the adoption of mainstream social facilities such as Facebook and Twitter; but how many IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) organizations really understand social (and how social will impact IT support)? This, however, is the meat for another blog from the Forrester Community deli – today I only have time to drop a few sourpuss-thoughts in “virtual ink.”

So why am I being such a sourpuss?

Firstly, I am burdened by “the collective history of the ITSM community.” How often have we seen a great ITSM idea murdered in its execution? Consider the word “execution” here – it seems somewhat appropriate methinks:

  • What did we learn with the “knees-up” that was CMDB adoption in the late 2000s? It was an expensive party that many would love to forget.
  • How many I&O organizations are now buying service catalog technology rather than adopting service catalog management best/good practice that is supported by technology?

Are we not destined to follow suit and buy social technology without seeing the bigger, people and even process-encompassing, picture? Ooh shiny technology anyone? Followed by mass distraction? Ooh technology is a weapon of mass distraction.

Our inherent technology-bias aside, think about the potential adverse impact of social IT support on the business. Think about the knowledge management failures of the early 2000s (sorry, I know you don’t like to admit to them or any other IT-related failures). Think about the behaviors of, and impact on, people:

  • We did social IT support in the 1990s. We all hated contacting the “chocolate teapot” that was the IT help desk, so we would sidle up to the office “IT geek” to seek their assistance with our IT issue or “how to?” request. It worked. It worked well. The issue though is that all of us, including the office IT geek, are far busier than we were in the 1990s – by an order of magnitude. Can we really afford to distract people from their core responsibilities and activities?
  • I&O also needs to think about the business, rather than the IT, impact of social (and self-service). Consider this Mickey Mouse example: senior business exec ($200k p.a.) has an IT issue and it takes a seasoned IT support professional ($45k p.a.) ten minutes to resolve it. With social (or self-service) it takes the senior business exec one hour to resolve it. I&O saves money, but the business “loses” money (not exactly true as the senior business exec probably just works an even longer day than usual). What is true though is that his/her perception of IT is probably going to be worse.

I have also seen organizations destroy social. It all starts well enough then corporate busybodies (probably those that do little more than send and receive emails all day) think that it is necessary to tell people what they can and can’t do with social, or how they must do things, or that they must do things. It is a social-killer. Sadly, my bet is that I&O (without proper guidance) will do one or more of these.

Finally, I don’t believe I&O organizations can do social IT support if they don’t understand social. I always ask the attendees of my presentations (IT people) how many are using Twitter: it is rarely more than 5%. Who really does understand social?

Subliminal message: please vote in the poll to the right.

Looking forward?

Notwithstanding the above, the business will demand (or at least expect some form of social IT). However, like a good Saturday morning TV serial I am going to leave you hanging. I will return, at a time of my choosing (and based on the discussions this blog initiates), to consider what needs to be done. If you want to contribute, please add your thoughts below.

A Jerry Springer-like final thought though: would it be too much a risk to unlock people’s corporate machines so that they can do more to help themselves when an issue arises? It would be nice for them to get better use of their business “hard-to-use-ware” before it is replaced with their personally-provisioned device(s).

As always, your thoughts, opinions, barbs, and financial donations are all appreciated.


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Exec self service a changing game

Excellent post as always Stephen.

Though your example of the exec time spent vs. IT staff has been traditionally true. I think the game is changing.
1) execs are increasingly more technical and base level IT services are more ubiquitous
2) human support structures inherently add latency to fulfillment.

So I see the scenario more like
Exec takes hit in service. (10 mins)
Calls support and gets ticket open (10 mins)
IT resolves issue (10 mins )
Follow up and resolution validation (10 mins)
Exec regroup and back to work (10 mins)

That's a fairly best case scenario. However the exec is feeling a loathing dependency on external people.
Whereas self service may have taken them longer, the perception of control will actually increase their value of the services.

Most execs understand things break. Question is, has the organization empowered itself to handle it? Or are we dependant on an organization that is so focused on control that it can not innovate.

Us execs like shiny new things. Not dead poodles.

I like your thinking ...

... poodles are the new kittens.

I agree that many people are now in some ways better positioned to solve their IT issues than the people they need to call up (service desk "script-bots" as I like to call them).

However, some will not be and in some instances self-help might be futile. It is not always the really difficult stuff either ... take the example of a home Wifi router, how many people set it up in 10 mins and how many take all day due to not appreciating that there might be compatibility issues (I have sorted many a neighbors Wifi in my time).

The answer as with most things in IT and life is choice.

Exec support, no poodles

Here's a more likely scenario, in my experience:
1) Senior business exec ($200k p.a.) has computer malfunction/question
2) Senior business exec tells admin assistant ($40k+)
3) Admin assistant spends 20 minutes trying to help while business exec either writhes in frustration or talks on mobile, or both
4) Admin assistant calls IT Ops senior manager ($120k+) to get assistance (because senior execs don't use support line)
5) IT Ops senior manager walks to service desk and states need
6) Service desk logs ticket and tosses to desktop support/field service for "kid gloves" assistance
7) Field service tech ($40k+) heads to exec office to fix
8) Exec has gone to meeting, admin assistant (luckily and against policy) knows password, let's tech get to work
9) Tech applies 10 minute fix
10) Tech returns to IT, stops at Ops senior manager's office to update
11) Tech stops at service desk to update
12) Tech updates ticket and marks Resolved
13) Admin assistant recounts "horror story" over lunch with another AA who knows fix and could have stepped in immediately


You are ...

... Naughty Roy

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery - Bob Marley

Stephen - great points. I think that using the term 'social' has an adverse effect on how people react to what is essentially "making support available to the customer through any channel they choose to use."

I'm impatient and don't like to wait for a resolution, so my last port of call is the official support channel. Nothing is more infuriating than speaking with technicians that appear to understand less about the issue than I do. I consider myself reasonably technical, so my first port of call when I have an issue is to Google it. Typically within seconds I've got the answer I need. If not, then I'll dig a bit deeper, or perhaps step through trouble-shooting guidance or FAQs. If I know a clever geek that could help, I'll ask them.

Not everyone is the same, but in my case, give me access to decent documentation (better still video) and enable me to do some self-diagnosis. Help me find others (not necessarily from IT) that might be able to help. If I need the service desk, I'll use it, but not until I've done some basic analysis myself. Other times I may not have time and will want to go direct to the service desk, but surely that choice should be mine and the channels should be there to support the route I want to take to get assistance.

Our own service desk sometimes finds customers griping about something they're not happy with, but they may not have complained to us. They voice their frustration through Twitter; we find their tweet and contact them to see if we can help. These customers are blown away when we're proactive and they don't have to log a request through 'official' channels before we react.

I hope IT doesn't make the mistake of thinking that 'social' is about technology. Most service desks already have all the technology they need. The trick is knowing where your customers may be speaking - being able to listen - and offer them access to any and all channels that may help when they're in a tight spot.

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery

Excellent point Patrick - well said. Social is an extension of people-to-people communications in the same way the email, the telehone, fax, telex, telegraph, semaphore and smoke signals all were/are. Social has a key ingredient that suggests it is indeed well-suited to IT support: by virtue of the fact that many people, including support, can see the problem, it allows for the possibility that the problem can be quickly resolved by people outside of IT - thus reducing the burden on IT. Personally, I'm a huge proponent of using social technologies throughout te enterprise, including IT support (see

I agree(ish)


I agree with Patrick's comment about "making support available to the customer through any channel they choose to use." - this is all about the organisational culture. Giving its employees the freedom to work in the way they want to work, and find help in the way they want to find help.

In this kind of culture I believe Social IT will thrive. Some people will interact directly with the Service Desk, some will interact with Google, some will ask colleagues etc. The senior exec in your example will have the option to receive support in exactly the way he or she wants it.

Re. Stephen's comments about technology being a distraction, let's not forget that technology has enabled the Social Media revolution! Website that look and feel great to use, mobile devices, apps - this is all technology that has changed how we interact with the world! Whilst technology isn't always the answer (and I agree we do tend to get distracted by it rather than focus on the problem we're trying to solve), IT needs to use this new shiny technology to WOW their customers and let them know we're still relevant.



Big impact on ITSM users and vendors

Dear all,
Social IT requires behavioural change within IT Service Management organizations. And the ITSM vendors need to wake up and enhance their products.
See my Forrester Report on "Empowered Users Will Change How Business Software Is Served" at

If not possible, let me know and I'll send you a copy.

I remember so well how my Infrastruture & Operations Professionals analyst colleagues at Forrester argued with me on this call.
Before your time, Stephen!
Peter O'Neill, VP & Principal Analyst, Forrester Research

Social IT won't scale without technology

So the backlash has begun before social IT has got into the air :)

It's a difficult one, as social IT can't exist without the technology that supports it. Without a technology platform, I can ask people in my office if they know how to resolve a problem - but my reach would end there if I didn't use the technology to expand reach into my wider network.

As ever, success is reliant on the people and process aspects - looking at how people are doing social media personally and drawing good practices they are familiar with into existing processes to augment them - not re-designing them for the sake of integrating a shiny new technology.

Definitely not a backlash ...

... hopefully more "sensible words of caution."

Most things will become "social" (even if we call it something else) and I just believe that for IT support there is the easy way and the hard way for I&O organizations. Seeing it as a technology "thing" (would we?) is the hard way.

Are there any case studies

Are there any case studies around on businesses that have successfully implemented social facilities within their IT Support? It would be particularly interesting to see if users have a greater 'experience' for it. 

Thinking about this from a people perspective rather than a 'can organisations understand and implement social properly perspective', this surely needs to be something that every company needs to start looking into? My corporate IT support doesn't have a social function to it, but we do have an enterprise social network where we have a dedicated group for people to talk about their IT issues. This group has proven to be so useful and valuable that I actually check here for answers to my IT 'issues' before contacting the Service Desk/real IT Support. I'm sure it must also be of value to the Service Desk as well because using the social platform allows for peer-to-peer support and must ultimately cut down on the number of 'same requests' that they receive. 

That said as you have clearly stated 'social' is a foreign word to many organisations, which is why I ask about case studies. Those that have had the courage to 'take the next step' need to be sharing with the world what they have achieved, how they have achieved it (from a practical perspective), what the impact has been on employees, and what the impact has been on the Service Desk itself. If people can see a clear value in using social media in conjunction with the service desk then they might just consider it, but unfortunately (in my opinion) 'social IT' is a phrase that makes so many run and hide, or argue, that it's not something that will be automatically adopted just because it's possible. I don't think organisations understand that 'going social' is just creating an alternative channel for users (and let's face it when something doesn't work we all want as many channels as possible to try fix the issue), and, as per Pat's comment, is giving people the option to receive support in the way want it. Instead organisations seem to think of 'social IT' as a permanent route to the Service Desk (I.e replacing other functions), and something that every single employee must use. But the question is, is this because they are naive and don't understand 'social'? Or because they can't comprehend / are scared of operating more than two (phone and ticket) channels of communication between the Service Desk and employees? Either way educating them, specifically via case studies / recommendations / similar surely has to be the answer?

IT revolution

Now someone is talking! I love how you inevitably tackle this underlying issue about social IT support in the 90s. Let's admit that technology has got a big contribution in our evolving and much improved social IT support and interaction.

IT Support