CIOs would do well to tap into Apple's retail flare and improve IT's sour relationship with the business side. Specifically, Apple's super-friendly Genius Bar fosters a cozy connection with patrons. This stands in stark contrast to the often hair-pulling customer interaction of a traditional help desk call.
So why not an enterprise Genius Bar at your company? "It's a good face lift," says Mike Burgio, vice president of managed services operations at Inergex, an IT services firm.
Apple iPhones, iPads and retail stores have redefined people's relationship with technology, which, in turn, has helped drive the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. Rather than lament the loss of control that goes along with BYOD, CIOs can take a page from the BYOD playbook and turn their help desk into a retail-like service desk.
An enterprise Genius Bar is basically a walk-in center for employees to not only service their BYOD phones and tablets but also check out the latest gadgets on the market, receive tutorials on enterprise apps, and chat about where cool tech is heading. This doesn't mean that IT workers will have to wear Apple's trademark blue Genius shirts, but they will need retail people skills.
Enterprise Genius Bars aren't pie-in-the-sky concepts. Tech companies such as SAP have already built such next-generation service centers around the world. There are even a few of SAP's "mobile IT solution centers" in the United States.
Here's a video of SAP's flagship center at its headquarters in Waldorf, Germany.
SAP aside, most companies are still in the planning stages if they're evaluating an enterprise Genius Bar at all, says Burgio. A Genius Bar is a significant cultural shift for the IT department. If handled poorly, there's high risk of failure, he says. Burgio talked to CIO. com about the advantages, potential pitfalls and current state of the enterprise Genius Bar concept.
CIO.com: What's the payback of an enterprise Genius Bar?
Mike Burgio: With the traditional service desk model, people are driven by internal service level agreements (SLAs) and by looking at metrics. What are our hold times? What are our call times? But enterprise Genius Bars bring about better relationships. There's no clock running. Customers are helped from end to end, even if it doesn't have anything to do with what they came in for.
I rarely see people complain about bringing their devices into an Apple store, compared to the dread of calling the service desk. It's not just getting service; rather it's an educational experience for them. It's an opportunity to look at and touch the latest and greatest things.
CIO.com: Are you seeing a lot of enterprise Genius Bars?
Burgio: I'm not seeing the shift happen, but I am seeing the planning. Not a lot of our customers are executing it right now, but you'll see the big shift next year.
There's a connection between the consumer-driven BYOD and the enterprise Genius Bar. By 2016-2017, you're going to see a drastic decrease in the amount of IT assets that people are supplying to their end users. BYOD is going to take off, and IT is going to be pushed by their end users to supply the enterprise Genius Bar or something like it.
CIO.com: Who will be the early adopters?
Burgio: It's going to be the people in finance. A lot of changes seem to take place there anyways, such as regulations. Five years ago, finance companies were being told that they had to stick with products like BlackBerry for security reasons. That totally changed. Now the finance industry is starting to have all these different devices. People are usually more mobile in finance, too.
Finance companies are letting employees bring their own devices, and these devices are being utilized more. So they're the ones that'll be shifting to a lot of enterprise Genius Bars.
CIO.com: The shift away from the traditional help desk seems like a giant leap. How should CIOs get started?
Burgio: People have to look at what they have at their current service desk.
Are they taking the majority of calls about these types of [consumer] devices? Or are the calls being re-routed somewhere else? If they're already taking these calls on, they will just have to shift the resourcing from, say, 10 people sitting at a service desk to seven people sitting there and three sitting at an enterprise service bar.
[ Related: Killing the Help Desk Softly or Blowing It Up ]
It really just depends on the amount of users on these devices, in determining how quickly you're going to have to get up to speed. I also think it's going to expand beyond somebody just sitting at a location to a full service, where people are even getting the attention of someone coming out to visit them.
CIO.com: Do CIOs need to re-think their staff?
Burgio: Yes, absolutely. To be honest, CIOs have already started doing that. You can't look for people who are only very good from a technology standpoint. You need people who are also very good from a customer service and personality standpoint.
CIOs are thinking like this more because they don't want to be seen as a burden in the company. They're already a cost burden in most companies; they don't generate any revenue in the IT department. If you put poor customer service on top of that, it makes them look worse.
A lot of CIOs are bringing in people who have the personalities, who are able to speak to people either on the phone or face-to-face in a very likeable way, and also have the ability to solve technical problems.
CIO.com: Help desk resources have been dwindling, so how are CIOs able to finance the transition?
They need to get ahead of it, such as building some groups within the organization to test different devices-gadget groups-and training employees before putting this thing into effect. It's about finding employees they think can move into these types of enterprise Genius Bar roles and getting them experience with the types of devices so that they can take on the shift.
But the cost of setting up an enterprise Genius Bar is going to be a challenge. There's going to be an upfront cost. I don't know if you're going to be able to do a one-to-one replacement of a service desk analyst with someone who works at the Genius Bar.
CIO.com: What are the dangers of an enterprise Genius Bar?
Burgio: I think the biggest one is, how does it scale?
If you're a company with multiple locations across the globe and have [an enterprise Genius Bar] set up at one or two locations, the people who are getting the opportunity to visit one of them might talk about it and say they really like the experience. The other areas and employees will know they're still stuck with the traditional way of getting service.
CIO.com: Do you foresee a lot of failures?
Burgio: I think [CIOs] will have to do a lot of research first. You have to make sure that there is a need for this within the company. You need to make sure that any of the policies, the process for people to come in and visit, is set up properly. People are still going to have to use a traditional IT tool to schedule an appointment or submit a ticket or whatever it is to the enterprise Genius Bar.
But if a CIO tries to implement this [verbally] and doesn't take the time to do the research, I absolutely see that they can fail very easily.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org
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