Three Tips for Shift-Left Service Management with System Center 2012

A couple of weeks ago, our own Sarina Williams wrote a short piece on the “Shift-Left” strategy for service management shared with her at a local user group meeting of ITSM professionals. The concept of shift-left is a reference to the strategy for service management that seeks to reduce costs by moving issue resolution to the front line or as close to the customer as possible. We don’t have to think about that concept for long to see that it makes good sense and its benefits are not limited to service management in IT. However, like most initiatives aimed at more efficient business or IT operations, there is a “people” element to successful implementation, a “process” element, and a “technology” or tools elements.

People stuff is hard, so for today let’s focus on the quick wins through manageable adjustments to our tools and processes with System Center and with the affordable (and sometimes free) software components available from Cireson. If we boil this issue down to it’s most basic element, a good portion of what we are talking about is helping folks help themselves and if necessary, open tickets without picking up the phone to call the help desk (the most expensive option). Let’s look at some options in this vein.

Tip 1: Meet people where they live

When I say “meet people where they live”, I mean this in the physical sense of the word and today, many folks live in e-mail. Most organizations have embraced productivity from mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.) or are in the process of doing so. System Center 2012 Service Management (SCSM) does offer us one productivity option that meets this mantra, which is e-mail workflow. Using the Exchange Connector, we can configure SCSM to create new work items (incidents, service requests) from email messages sent to a monitored mailbox, and even update review and manual activities on service requests and change requests. This is free and doesn’t take long to configure.

However, there are some limitations with email workflow processing in SCSM, such as in scenarios where you would like end-user and analyst automatically receive email notifications every time an update is made to a work item. One could spend days automating this process (with mixed results) in PowerShell, SMA or Orchestrator.

Cireson offers several free and low-cost apps to take email workflow in SCSM to the next level, including:

  • Action Log Notify (free)
  • Notify Analyst (free and commercial versions)
  • Advanced Email Send (free)
  • Honorable mention: Lync Integration (which enables an analyst to hop to context-based view of the user in the Cireson Portal)

You can find all of these in the Cireson Store at

Tip 2: A Device-friendly Web Experience

E-mail is great, but not everyone likes to work on a tiny screen, and not everyone likes to carry a smart phone that so big it looks like a tablet. For this crowd, a web portal that responds well on tablets as well as PCs is another great way to reduce phone calls to the help desk. If you are familiar with the self-service portal that comes with SCSM out-of-the-box, you may already know that it is Silverlight-based, and thus not at all device friendly (requires a PC with Silverlight installed). What’s more, the native self-service portal lacks the functionality necessary to perform analyst duties in a web browser.

Cireson’s Web Portal offers a rich experience for both end-users and analysts (and change managers for that matter) all in a device friendly HTML portal that employs some very clever background caching to deliver an ultra-responsive portal experience (let’s face it slow web pages of any kind suck, don’t they?). It so happens the Cireson portal look very similar to the Microsoft Azure portal, providing a very consistent user experience to some your heaviest portal users. If you like, you can adjust the portal appearance to a look a bit more consistent with your corporate color scheme.

In fact, we love what the Cireson Portal(pictured below) brings to the SCSM service management experience that we use it as our internal and customer-facing support portal!

Check it out in the Cireson Store


Tip 3: Adopt a “Self-Help First” Service Desk Strategy

A self-help first strategy for service management has been showcased by some of the world’s largest companies as an avenue to massive cost savings. Even though the video is titled “How Microsoft IT Integrates Lync and Helpdesk”, you will notice that before users chat with a service desk analyst, they are encouraged and enabled the search for an answer to their problem in the corporate knowledge base. While the highly customized solution Microsoft presented in this video is great, you can take a big step in the direction of “self-help first” with two simple components: 1) a device friendly web portal and 2) a web-based knowledge base to go along with it.

Sadly, SCSM has answers for neither of these two off-the-shelf. We’ve already discussed the limitations of the native self-service portal, but the native knowledge base is a similar problem. KB articles in SCSM are rendered in Rich text format (rtf), which is really inconvenient if you’re working on a tablet.

Cireson to the rescue again, with our HTML-based Knowledge Base extension for SCSM in our device-friendly web portal…also in (you guessed it) the Cireson Store.

Tip 4: ?

P.S. – I have a 4th tip I’d like to share with you for implementing Shift-Left service management in a big way, which I will save for a future installment (coming soon).

SCSM, Cireson and Azure

I mentioned that here at Cireson we leverage SCSM and the Cireson Portal for all of our internal and customer-facing support needs, but did I mention we host our environment in Microsoft Azure?

My colleague Chris Ross and I will be talking about SCSM, Cireson and Azure in a free webinar on Wed, February 18th. Feel free to join us by registering for the session at

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