Swarming is an innovative model used in IT support management. Learn more about this concept, its applications, and challenges

What is swarming? How can it help improve IT support?

Seeking to increase efficiency in IT service management, swarming has been used as an innovative method to structure IT support activities. This article provides information about this concept, its applications, and the main challenges involved in its deployment.

What is swarming?

Swarming is an alternative IT support model to the traditional tiered customer service model. The name refers to the use of collective intelligence to resolve a ticket.

In this new model, only one employee handles a ticket from start to finish. Even if this professional doesn’t have the necessary resources to resolve a request, he/she will not transfer it to another level of support. Instead, the team will help resolve the issue.

It is opposed to the traditional model with several support tiers, where each tier has different assignments and resources. Inspired by agile development methods and the recommendations of ITIL V4, swarming is based on the following principles:

  • Support groups are not structured in tiers/levels;
  • Tickets are not escalated from one group to another;
  • A ticket is forwarded to the person most likely to resolve it;
  • The person in charge must monitor the case until it is resolved;
  • The team identifies the most qualified professionals to take care of each case.

How can swarming help improve IT support?

As you can see, swarming is completely different from what we usually see in most IT teams with a hierarchical structure. The traditional tiered service involves some recurring disadvantages:

  • The number of tickets in progress increases as the tier 1 team fails to resolve them and transfers them to the next level;
  • Much time is often wasted until the service reaches the right professional to resolve it;
  • In some cases, a ticket can go back and forth from one level to another, especially when the origin of the problem is not clear;
  • Most incidents end up in the hands of a few experts, who become overloaded.

Swarming seeks to eliminate problems of the service desk by replacing the hierarchical structure with a flexible model, in which a cross-functional team is organized to meet the demands more dynamically.

Although there is no definitive consensus on all possible types of swarming, we can list some of the most common types:

Dispatch Swarm

In this model, the team has several meetings throughout the day to review incoming demands. The objective of these meetings, which are held every 60 or 90 minutes, is to identify the tickets that are easier to solve and check whether the information for ticket resolution is already available.

Severity 1 Swarm

This model focuses on critical cases to resolve them as quickly as possible. Three support agents are responsible for prioritizing and distributing the tickets.

Backlog Swarm

In Backlog Swarm, more experienced experts meet to address more complex tickets forwarded by the support team or other professionals.

Drop-in Swarm

Experts are constantly monitoring the activity of other teams and have the autonomy to decide whether they should get involved and resolve certain tickets.

Challenges in swarming deployment

As you can imagine, the adoption of swarming is quite challenging, as it involves a paradigm shift. In most companies, it will be necessary to review almost all IT governance practices. The aspects requiring more attention include:

Possible increase in costs at a first moment

As swarming involves a more qualified team in the first stages of the service flow, the cost may increase in the beginning.

Changes in how performance is evaluated

The performance metrics will have to be adjusted because, as swarming is a collaboration-based model, it is more difficult to measure individual contributions. As problems are resolved collaboratively, it will be necessary to measure team effectiveness.

Changes in the organizational culture

It is important to encourage a culture of innovation and make the team understand the dynamics of collaborative work. Ideally, discussions and decision making should not be commanded or constantly interrupted by individuals who show deeper technical or methodological knowledge.

Forget about inflexible processes

A successful implementation of swarming must have the support of senior management. Swarming requires flexibility, so limited processes actually disturb its deployment. An open mind will be required so that everything will be adjusted gradually.

Over time, the adoption of swarming favors joint learning of the entire team, so the professionals gain autonomy and work with more transparency. Although it requires additional efforts at first, the transition from the traditional model to this new way of managing daily activities can increase productivity and efficiency.

But if your company still prioritizes the tiered IT support model, find out how to optimize incident management with simple and flexible tools!


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