Original Date: 08/26/1996
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Best Practice : MIS Customer Service
Weirton Steel Corporation (WSC) undertook a Management Information Systems (MIS) outsourcing initiative to improve its performance in this critical area. The internal evaluation revealed that the primary problems were lack of accountability for project priority or cost, and the fact that MIS viewed itself as a staff function rather than a service function. Benefits offered by external service providers were accountability, discipline, and service. Rather than outsourcing MIS, WSC decided to develop its internal organization into a world-class supplier of information services by maximizing people, processes, and technology. The Customer Service plan was launched in 1994 to bring about the organizational realignment and change needed to develop a world-class service organization. Now the MIS Department is run as a profit center focusing on customer service. A chargeback system has been established. End users are now involved in all project phases including accountability for performance.
A steering committee, which includes senior managers from manufacturing systems, business systems, and the MIS planning committee, directs and oversees Customer Service operations. This committee establishes project prioritization processes; authorizes additional resources to meet justified project needs; measures MIS performance against established objectives; implements a chargeback mechanism; and continues to build and evolve annual, business unit plans to form a corporate systems plan.
Application owners and service coordinators are assigned to each business area. Application owners are primary end users responsible for managing the strategic direction of a system (group of applications), as well as all application software and hardware requests affecting that system. They are responsible for managing application software systems from a business perspective. Application owners review the business justification of each project request, and then approve and prioritize the requests. They develop a business plan and work with MIS to obtain the necessary resources for successful completion. Service coordinators are designated MIS advisors responsible for coordinating the delivery of MIS services to the respective business area for that application owner. They manage application software systems from a technical perspective. Service coordinators serve as a liaison between the business area and MIS. They provide technical consulting services (customer support and training) and ensure that service level agreements are met. The application owner and the service coordinator meet informally, communicate on a daily basis, and have formal project meetings monthly.
Service level agreements are written agreements between MIS and customers that define the services provided and the completion time frames for each type of service offered. The goal of the service agreement is to ensure timely and consistent customer service from MIS by defining the responsibilities and expectations associated with a successful, service request process.
Four types of customer service requests (emergency, ad hoc, hardware, and software) are managed under the Customer Service plan. Emergency requests involve work stoppage and are business-critical in nature. These are immediately acted upon without the application owner’s approval. Ad hoc requests, typically completed in 30 minutes or less, are handled informally without formal approval, often without chargeback. Hardware requests require formal approval and are used for all hardware needs (computers, telephones, facsimiles, copiers, etc.), physical moves, and security. Software requests require formal approval, and require a baseline document if the project duration is greater than one week. Projects less than 320 hours in duration are considered minor projects and are normally paid for out of business unit resources. Projects exceeding 320 hours are considered major projects and must compete for corporate resources.
Customer focus is the driving force behind the Customer Service plan. Results from annual customer satisfaction surveys are published throughout the mill and used to improve performance. MIS provides initial training, documentation, and a train-the-trainer program to allow end users to take control of the technology.
The Customer Service plan approach has been very successful. It has eliminated the need to outsource the MIS function and provides an efficient business-driven capability that is responsive and customer focused. Nice-to-have and non-critical projects have been eliminated by placing project responsibility and prioritization in the hands of the application owners rather than the MIS Department. Users feel more in control, and are encouraged by the process to think strategically and to manage their budget and resource limits. The WSC Data Center was recently ranked in the top 25% in a national benchmarking study of major corporations conducted by the Mark Levon Company.
In developing the Customer Service plan, WSC learned that one key to success was to carefully choose and screen the service coordinators. Not only should they be technically competent but they must also have strong interpersonal skills, be able to manage multiple tasks, and be resilient. Charging the cost of services back to the users to force the accountability and efficient use of resources is essential. Better internal communications between the departments and business units are needed so that customer requirements can be more effectively met with standardized solutions.
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