Self Service Concepts & Technology

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Self Service
Concepts & Technology

by Geoff Keston

Docid: 00021374

Publication Date: 1912

Report Type: TUTORIAL


Today’s IT users – both employees and
customers – increasingly prefer to order their own
technology. This self service model can save money and increase user
satisfaction, especially when organizations integrate the concept into
their other support systems and processes. But integrating
these functions requires an understanding of the technology
and, more importantly, of the business goals that are driving self
service’s development.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Spurred by the growth of cloud and mobile computing, the IT
industry over the past several years has shifted heavily toward
service-based models. 

Faulkner Reports
Service Delivery Models & Market
Center Market Trends
IT Service Management Tutorial

In response to this transition, vendors have created self
service applications that let users find their own information and
select their own IT assets as if ordering from a menu. This approach
replaces traditional methods in which IT departments decide what users
get and then completely handle the deployment. Self service
began largely as a feature of phone systems, but increasingly it is
being used by cloud customers and corporate employees.

The many commercial self service products now available offer
features including a knowledge base, data analysis tools, and a unified
dashboard to manage the system. These capabilities relieve an IT staff
of some of the burden of providing support, especially for repetitive
requests. And they give users a convenient way to order what they need,
an autonomous approach that many people now prefer. The market for
these products is growing, and the technology is becoming more
sophisticated, especially be adding artificial intelligence

The change to a self service model presents a big challenge. To meet
organizations must focus on their business needs, identifying the
metrics – like overall customer satisfaction or the
cost of a
single support request – that matter most to them.
Ultimately, the
change is more about adopting a new IT philosophy than about installing


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The concept of self service flips the traditional approach to IT
delivery on
its head. In the mainframe and client-server days, IT departments
the tools and features that users would get, and they strictly managed
technology deployments. In today’s era of cloud and mobile computing,
however, a new approach has arisen to meet new needs. In the self
model, a catalog lists the software, hardware, and services
and users choose which they want. Access to these items is
through a unified interface and shared database so that users can
all of the items they need in a single request instead of working with
different systems. Administrators control access to each item in the
based on user permissions.

This change is about more than technology. “The shift to
service is a cultural shift,” writes Web content management author
Gerry McGovern.1 “It is a shift to
simplicity; to what I actually need right now rather than what I might
need in the distant future. The service industry looks on things very
differently from the product/software industry. This is a genuine
revolution.” This change has occurred in many segments. For instance,
corporate human resources departments are using self service to provide
information, and governments are using it to help constituents.

Self service can be delivered in many ways. The concept has
its roots largely in phone-based systems that let users navigate
through menus by pressing numbers or speaking commands. These systems
remain popular in call centers. But more recently, there has
been a focus on using the concept in the cloud. These Web-based systems
offering the following features:

  • Knowledge bases. These repositories of
    information help users answer their own questions. Today’s
    knowledge bases typically support many forms of content, including HTML
    and video.
  • A dashboard. A dashboard is a single interface that depicts
    the progress of user requests through their lifecycles.
  • Process automation. Organizations can define processes for
    handling incidents, and systems then manage the distribution of
    information and the movement of requests from one phase to the
  • Analytic and reporting tools. These tools help
    administrators determine how the system is being used and how support
    efforts are measuring up to target metrics.
  • Survey tools. Some products can solicit and collect user

Some Web-based self service products integrate telephone-based
features, for instance, by combining phone-based interactive voice
response into a system that also offers cloud-based
interactions. The self service concept has also spawned kiosks
that are in use anywhere from fast food restaurants to movie
theaters.2 Kiosks let customers do things like
buy tickets and complete transactions, all without help, making the
devices a convenient, cost-effective replacement for cashiers.

IT self service is often viewed through the eyes of users, who
the following advantages:

  • Control over their own choices.
  • A wide range of options.
  • The convenience of ordering software and services at almost
    any time and from almost any device.
  • The ability to check the status of a request.

But the main advantages may actually be for IT. A report from Web self
service provider ComAround found that “an unexpectedly high
number of
… IT and support managers feel that web-based self service is a tool
is there primarily to support them rather than users.”3 These
managers view self service as a way to lessen the burdens of many
functions and to enable IT staff members to focus on other jobs.

From IT’s perspective, the advantages of self service are that

  • Automates routine support tasks like resetting passwords.
  • Enables support to be provided at all hours without hiring
    staff for nights and weekends.
  • Provides single sign-on for all services, thus unifying
    access to, and the operation of, multiple systems.
  • Facilitates the use of multiple platforms, such as mobile
    (including text messaging) and social media.
  • Tracks support requests and responses to them, thus
    automatically keeping records and statistics.

Current View

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Two trends have driven much of the recent boom in self
service: cloud computing and mobile communications. These technologies
are dispersed, reaching users across many locations while providing
them with access to resources that are similar to those offered onsite.
This scenario is much different from the client-server model in which
networked users are typically in the same building and IT staff
members can run down the hall to load software or swap out an
employee’s defective printer. Furthermore, cloud and mobile services
are often delivered to a heterogeneous array of devices. Today, IT does
not necessarily dictate the devices that employees and customers use,
and people expect to be able to access information and applications
from home or on the road, whether using a PC, tablet, or smartphone,
whether on an Apple, Android, or Windows platform.

To help enterprises meet these new expectations, many vendors
sell self service technology as a “white labeled” offering. In this
scenario, enterprises buy software that includes tools and templates
for delivering self service and then customize the software to suit
their particular needs. For instance, Oracle markets
its Service Cloud as allowing
customers to offer self service on “branded service pages that look and feel like your existing website.”4 Oracle’s
product also makes
knowledge base data accessible to search engines, so that Web users can
find it through search engines. Similarly, the AWS cloud
service offers user self service features that organizations can
provide to
their customers.5 Other leading providers of
white-labeled self service technology include the following:

  • AppDirect
  • Evolve IP
  • Zendesk


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A Growing Market

The forces driving the growth of self service are part of a
broad, long-term shift toward using service-based business models. Now,
there is infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a
service (Saas), monitoring as a service (MaaS), networks as a service
(NaaS), platforms as a service (PaaS), and communications as a service
(CaaS), to name a few.6 Even the term
“XaaS” – everything as a
service – has emerged to describe the fundamental
rethinking of IT’s role as being about delivering services to users.
The broad move toward service models has created a good environment for
letting users do their own shopping for IT. 

The worldwide market for self service technology has been forecast to
at a strong pace. Overall, it is expected to increase to $37.75 billion
2021, up from $15.70 billion in 2015.7 The market for kiosks, a
segment of the self service industry, is forecast to grow at a compound rate of
more than four percent until 2023.8 A
similar technology to kiosks are micro markets, which are freestanding
cases containing products that customers pay for through the machine
itself. Essentially, they are a more flexible, Internet-connected
version of vending machines. The emergence and growing popularity of
micro markets is one example of the expansion of the self-service
concept to various industries and applications.9

And the business intelligence segment of self service is predicted to
expand at a compound annual rate of 15.5 percent until 2023, when it
will reach $7.9 billion worldwide.10 As the
market grows, the direction it takes will be shaped in
part by research about what types of self service technologies
customers prefer. This research is still relatively new,
however, so user preferences may still take some time to be understood.11

Integrating AI

Artificial intelligence is increasingly being integrated into
self service technology. It is estimated that “[b]y 2021, 15 percent of all
customer service interactions will be completely handled by AI.”12
But rather than fundamentally changing self service, it is likely that,
at least for the foreseeable future, AI will handle simple, common
customer requests.13 More complex
interactions are likely to be handled by live agents rather than
self service tools.

Self service based on AI differs in two key ways:

  • It
    can redirect interactions with a customer during a call or chat
    session. Traditional self service tends to be rigid, based on common
    customer needs. But AI provides more flexibility, helping customers to
    navigate through a company’s support documents, which often aren’t
    well-organized or easy to find.14
  • In addition to
    making adjustments during a call, AI can make changes over time, using
    what it learns in one customer interaction to change how it
    handles future interactions.15


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Assess Business Drivers

Organizations have their own particular customer service
needs, and these unique goals drive decisions about many aspects of
self service:

  • The expectations of the user base
  • Access policies
  • The types of IT assets published in the services catalog
  • The platforms to be supported

An organization can also determine whether its customer service
stem from technical or logistical issues. Some organizations may need
focus on fixing their systems, while others may need to focus on
and processes. In terms of processes, a study by Sheryl E. Kimes of
and Joel E. Collier of Mississippi State found that in retail, while
customers generally liked self service, they also wanted human help if
technology failed or was hard to use.16 An
organization designing
a self service IT process might therefore include IT personnel rather
relying solely on technology.

Implement to Meet Business Goals

Self service applications are designed to be easy to set up,
but generic features and processes can only meet so many of an
organization’s goals. Factors such as the organization’s industry and
the characteristics of its customers create certain needs. To meet
these needs when implementing a self service system, an organization
would be wise to focus on the metrics that matter most to it. While
some organizations may care most about user convenience, for instance,
others might put more weight on reducing the cost of support.

Integrating self service processes into other functions, such as the
following, is also an important part of a good implementation:

  • Interactive phone systems
  • Web sites
  • E-mail
  • Ticketing systems
  • Social media

And many products include features that are not, strictly
speaking, self service, such as knowledge bases and chat software to be
used by live agents.

Reconsider Agent Training and Hiring

A key change is that with many customers using self service,
most of
the calls that reach a live agent will be special cases. “Because
self-service solves many of the simpler issues that customers have, the
inquiries that do make it through to contact center agents are the more
complex, difficult, or relationship-dependent ones,” says Ian Jacobs of
analyst group Forrester.17 “So, contact center
agents now
need to be prepared for solving harder problems than in the past.” With
this in mind, organizations may need to revise their training and
hiring practices for agents, focusing on higher-level skills needed to
address higher level support issues.

Approach Self Service as a Change in Philosophy

The concept of self service is part of a broader change in
which, over the last several years, organizations have begun to think
about IT in terms of delivering services. This new approach, called IT
service management, focuses on meeting the needs of users rather than
thinking first about managing hardware and software. (IT service
management is commonly implemented according to the ITIL framework.)
Implementing self service requires technology, and correctly selecting
and using that technology is important, but the core change is
philosophical. Making this philosophical shift requires rethinking how
IT measures itself and makes decisions. Doing this rethinking first,
before selecting self service tools, will help an organization to
successfully use IT self service. This change is best
approached as a multi-phase process, not as a single, turnkey


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About the Author

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Geoff Keston is the author of
more than 250 articles that help organizations find opportunities in
business trends and technology. He also works directly with clients to
develop communications strategies that improve processes and customer
relationships. Mr. Keston has worked as a project manager for a major
technology consulting and services company and is a Microsoft Certified
Systems Engineer and a Certified Novell Administrator.

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