Organization – Centralized or Decentralized

Finally,there is the issue of centralized versus decentralized support. This can actually take two different forms. In some cases, you may have a central support organization and field representatives who solve customer problems on-site. This is different from an organization that has multiple support centers where the analysts do not go to the customer’s site. Even with an internal help desk, either of these models is possible. In fact, depending on your organization and its support needs, you could have a mixture of these.

For example, I worked in one company with a few-dozen branch offices spread out across the country and throughout the world. The larger offices had their own support staff (maybe just one or two people). For the most part, they acted almost completely independent of the central support organization. The smaller offices got all of their support from either the headquarters or one of these larger branch offices, depending on the size and location of the branch office.

If the support required someone to be on-site, what was done also varied from office to office. Those offices that were within a couple of hours driving distance from either the company headquarters or one of larger branch offices got their support from that office. Those offices that were farther away got their support from a local computer supplier or some other local source.

In some cases, the users may demand it. In that same company that I just discussed, there were cases where the branch manager did not want someone from the outside to solve his problem, but rather someone from the headquarters. Obviously, if you’re working in the fee-based support system and the customer is willing to pay, there is nothing wrong with sending an analyst to the remote location.

There are two important things to consider with field-based support. First, how does the field rep get access to the same tools that the others have? Recording information into your problem database may be as simple as writing down the specifics and in recording it on the rep’s return. But what about your solutions database? How do field analysts get access to that? If your solutions database is stored as accessible from Web pages, it could be made available across the Internet (maybe requiring a password).

The next issue is the whole logistics of field-based support. You’re going to have to deal with transportation, accommodations, and communication between the field analyst and headquarters. This is not simply a matter of giving the analyst a mobile phone so that he or she can contact headquarters whenever necessary. It includes such mundane things as whether or not someone is accessible by phone. If the time zone difference between the central support office and the branch office is large enough, the overlap of working hours can be extremely small or may be even nonexistent.

For example, if your headquarters is on the East Coast of the United States and your field analyst is in Malaysia, there is a 12-hour difference between the two. There is generally no overlap at all for normal workday. What does the field analyst do if he or she needs information from headquarters? Email is not necessarily good, because in the best case, you first get your answer the next morning. Often this is unacceptable.

Solutions to these kinds of problems are not easy. In this case, you either accept the time delay or expect that someone either start earlier or work longer in order that there be sufficient overlap between two locations.

If all the support is centralized, there is no fear of having incompatible procedures or software. However, I feel that the administrative burden is greater in this case. First, you need to ensure that communication works much more effectively, not only communication between the remote offices and the central office, but within the help desk itself. If changes are made in the remote office, everyone needs to be made aware of them. This can be a problem when you work for a multinational corporation where there is no common language.

The central office would also have the responsibility to establish and coordinate standards, not just for the help desk, but all computer system-related functions. This includes network protocols, database systems, email, and so on. The advantage is that there is one single place to call for all computer-related problems. It is therefore easier to coordinate the service that you provide. There will probably be fewer staff members, as you do not need experts at every site.