By Pradipto Chakrabarty
Over the past few years, digital transformation has become a watchword for many businesses. In this new era defined by cloud computing, social media, and mobile strategies, companies are pursuing new IT tools, and it is clear that the best use of tools requires a disruption of operational procedures. As companies seek success with new products and new customers; there are many areas that must be addressed before one becomes a truly digital service provider. One of the critical success factors for service organizations is to understand how technical support, the backbone of customer satisfaction and customer retention, is evolving with regard to technology adoption and workforce skills.
The direct impact of technology on business outcomes is that it gives modern IT two objectives. – The first is to focus on strategic efforts and the second is a continuation of the current tactical work. The backbone of the service organization is to build an appropriate team structure with multifaceted competencies. The nature of work is changing. We cannot accurately estimate the overall impact on job numbers but with this change, but one thing is certain: technical skills will be in high demand. Even though job titles look familiar, it is important to understand how roles are changing in an environment defined by cloud computing, digital technologies, and mobile devices.
The Four Pillars of a Functional IT Framework:
However, before we discuss the workforce skill trends, let us first understand how technical support is evolving at a dramatically fast pace. Functional IT framework describes four primary IT disciplines—Infrastructure, Development, Security, and Data.
Infrastructure: The Infrastructure pillar is the bedrock of IT operations. With a broad reach and a long history, Infrastructure contains many of the rules most often associated with IT. At the core of this function, system administration and network operations, take care of the back-office tasks that have been part of IT since the mainframe era. However, today’s setup requires physical server maintenance, virtual system administration, network configuration, and storage planning. These tasks, which have traditionally centered on “on-prem” components, still establish the foundation for the rest of the IT architecture. Interestingly, we are observing a growing importance of application implementation. While Infrastructure pillar is not directly responsible for application development, they are accountable for installing applications and keeping them running. This activity is very relevant as it alludes to a definite connection point between Infrastructure and Development.
DEVELOPMENT: The second primary pillar for IT operations is Development. WhileInfrastructure focuses on hardware, Development centers on software.It is important to note that companies build external customers have separate product development teams. However, in times to come, there will clearly be an overlap between the software product team and infrastructure team and both will need to work seamlessly to provide the best application for the end user.
SECURITY: As technology needs become more complex and digital stakes get higher, security becomes the most important pillar of any organization. Security, most often, begins as an offshoot of Infrastructure, since the traditional security approach has been heavily focused on technology. The need for further specialization is driven by new layers of technical tools, business processes that establish secure practices. Traditionally organizations have used firewall and antivirus as the means for securing their infrastructure and endpoint devices. However, for digital organizations, this security perimeter is not sufficient, as applications and data regularly travel outside the walls of the firewall. New tools such as DLP (Data Loss Prevention), IAM (Identity and Access Management), and SIEM (Security Information and Event Management ) must be layered into operations along with firewall and antivirus, and security professionals need to shift their mindset from preventing all attacks to detecting the inevitable breach and acting quickly and decisively.
DATA: As Security is an offshoot of Infrastructure, Data is an offshoot of Development. The skills and thinking needed to translate well to Data, where there is an abstract component of dealing with bites and bytes. The recent growth in the amount, veracity, velocity, and variety of data that a company can manage has brought focus to certain specialized skills, but there is a foundation that must be built before moving to more advanced applications.
New age technical support competencies:
These four pillars and their overlap have created a complex environment which requires rethinking the strategic and tactical competency development of a technical service function.
To the extent that hardware is still at the core of technical services, technical support, responsibilities, too, have evolved in the past few years. From a PC running on Windows, most originations have started utilizing other operating systems and smartphones heavily. In many cases, enterprise applications are accessed over cloud by employees and customers. Pure hardware repair is a passé as companies explore BYOD and utilizes warranty support, but familiarity across multiple operating systems is needed as a basic step in ensuring productivity. Beyond devices, the first line of defense is now interacting with a complex back end system comprised of many components.
The four pillars mentioned above clearly allude to the fact that service desks must be familiar with all these areas in order to route issues to the proper experts. Networking knowledge is still a priority as connectivity is the one most important aspect of modern computing. High-profile back end approaches such as virtualization and cloud computing drive front end skills for troubleshooting application problems effectively.
Storage options must be well understood with regard to data handling.Even as cloud computing and mobility change the overall nature of infrastructure, the connection between the backend and the frontend remains a vital link for supporting tech-driven workforce.
Development is perhaps the least likely destination for a pure play technical support organization, but the momentum behind DevOps is creating more overlap than ever between Infrastructure and Development, so a transition from tech support to software coding is quite visible in near future.
For many organizations, security posture is primarily determined by the implementation of technology such as firewalls and antivirus. As such, level one support often has knowledge of security tools that ensure end users are properly protecting corporate assets. However, Security is growing to encompass processes such as regulatory compliance or risk management along with end user education. As companies develop new procedures, incorporate the service desk responsibilities will like to incorporate the relevant steps insecure operations.
The final IT pillar, Data, represents another stretch area for technical support functions. The support function has traditionally been“interrupt-driven”: a problem is logged and it gets resolved. As businesses recognize the value of analytics, there is significant potential for support technicians to collect and analyze data. The patterns they find could highlight widespread issues or suggest efficiency improvements.
Along with the technical skills that help the first line of defense respond to diverse issues, there is a growing need for knowledge in operational procedures and project management. Expertise in IT service management, using a framework like ITIL or COBIT, is usually the first step for support technicians.This knowledge is necessary to formalize processes for a growing number of requests and to ensure that those requests are properly cataloged. Beyond these, project management skills come into play with increasing manpower experience that start to analyze the collected information and attack any systemic problems.
Of all the changes happening across IT, the support desk role may be undergoing the most dramatic change. The required technical skills cover a broad range of topics, policies, and procedures which are needed to handle a large number of requests, and customer service is more important than ever.Whether the first line of support is managed in-house or outsourced, there is a growing need for a well-rounded technician to support digital strategy.
Information technology now attracts a more accentuated focus than ever before, and businesses are struggling to understand the best approach for this ever changing environment. With new trends increasingly popping up, on an annual basis, there is a rush to understand the implications of new innovation and the way forward from the legacy architecture. The technology industry has become incredibly dynamic and complex, and a tactical approach to technology support needs to become strategic. Otherwise, service providers will lose the plot against customers whose business needs force them to get rapidly digitalized.
(The writer is Regional Director, CompTIA, the voice of the world’s information technology industry. CompTIA is dedicated to advancing industry growth through its educational programs, professional certifications and public policy advocacy.)