Outsourcing Your IT Help Desk? Don’t Forget These Cultural Considerations


From better utilization of resources to delivering a consistent customer experience, outsourcing your IT help desk can create a wealth of benefits for your institution. What’s more, an IT support partner can make a transformative difference in your response time, user satisfaction, and bottom line.

But before you start taking the first steps toward finding an IT support partner, there is an important and often overlooked consideration to take into account: the culture of your institution.

That was one of the messages Tracy Smith, Director of Service Support Operations at the University of Virginia, delivered during a recent webinar about approaching, launching, and managing a partnership with a support provider. Knowing the culture of your environment is key to a successful outsourcing partnership as it can help avoid many of the pitfalls that can compromise your help desk solution from reaching its maximum potential.

In his talk, Smith outlines four important areas to focus on:

1. Understand The Informal Culture of Your Institution.

This seems like a straight-forward point, but its importance is far-reaching. Knowing how your institution ticks beyond the formal culture—the written mission, values, practices, and policies of your institution—will help define your service requirements, identify risk areas, and give you insight into how to respond to those risks.

Questions to consider include:

  • Are your customers change-makers or are they resistant to change?
  • Will they complain about talking to someone off-campus, or worse, will they be unwilling to be helped at all?
  • Do your customers and end users have local or departmental IT support or is 100% of your IT support provided centrally?
  • How will they respond to the statement: “You need to call the service desk for that.”

 Discovering the answers to these questions and understanding how you will respond to them will ultimately help you smooth the way for a successful deployment.

2. Find out Where Your Financial Culture Stands.

Just as informal culture sets the stage for an IT help desk outsourcing solution, your financial culture will define several important requirements and dictate how that solution can be rolled out.

Questions to ask here include:

  • Is your IT service desk centrally funded and a common-good service for all?
  • Does the IT service desk cover all departments?
  • Is your institution siloed, with each department providing support for their own services?

This last question is particularly important, as siloed departments will be faced with a new centrally-controlled paradigm, which could translate into resistance to change.

3. What Are Your IT Support & Governance Leadership Cultures?

This area focuses on the fundamental question of who is ultimately responsible for support. These departments and decision-makers are critical in any IT help desk outsourcing discussion and key questions to ask are:

  • How do you define support?
  • How will an outsource partner be managed and folded into your existing IT culture?
  • How many Tier 2 teams do you have? Is their response process consistent?

Smith illustrates this last point with an anecdote of his own. Prior to outsourcing with Blackboard, the University of Virginia had eighty-six Tier 2 teams and each of them had a different response SLA for responding to tickets escalated to them. One of the university’s big projects soon after they partnered with Blackboard was to consolidate all of the SLAs so that every Tier 2 group provided the same service. Not only did that set the expectation with their customers, but the consistency ultimately increased customer satisfaction.

Knowing how the university’s IT support and governance culture functioned in this regard made it easier to streamline UVA’s solution—and with tangible results.

4. Be Sure You Have the Support or Service Desk Function Included In IT Projects.

Last but not least, there’s IT project culture. Making sure that you have the service desk function included in IT projects is important no matter what your organizational structure is, but is increasingly important with an outsource partner.

Are you like many organizations where a service is released or a change made and then the service desk is informed? As Smith points out, this is not the best transition process, to be sure. But using an outsource support partner highlights the need to make sure they are included early in technical projects, so you may need to work on what your project culture is in this regard and bring them into the fold..

Some Final Questions

Understanding the many aspects of your institution’s culture will not only help your outsourcing strategy succeed, but mitigate future challenges down the road.

Which leads us to some final questions you should ask yourself: What cultural challenges do you have and how can your potential outsourcing partner help? How well does a potential partner match the cultural norms of your organization? And what will you need to champion in terms of cultural change?

Once you have the answers to these, you’ll be well prepared for your next steps.

For more insights from the webinar, watch here or download the slide deck.