Intelligent Swarming: A Smarter Way to Organize People and Work

Intelligent Swarmingsm, developed by the Members of the Consortium for Service Innovation, unlocks the full potential of an organization. It challenges 30 years of accepted practice by removing tiers of support and instead leverages the collective expertise of your team. Evolved workflows keep pace with today’s more complex environments and increased customer expectations.

In today’s growing complex environments, the traditional tiered support model has outlived its usefulness.  This model is based on linear escalation processes that treat every issue the same.  We try to improve the operational efficiency within the silo, often at the expense of others and almost always to the detriment of the customer.  Traditional support models create rework, inefficiency, and frustration for the customer and employee. 

We need to replace the static, linear, hierarchy-based model with a dynamic, fluid, adaptive organization based on an unbounded network.  Intelligent Swarming accomplishes this by building an environment that:

  • Improves Relevance:  Interactions are emergent based on the work to be accomplished
  • Expands Reach: Taps into the network of talented people to support each other
  • Increases Diversity: Develops a broad range of perspectives, skills, and knowledge 
  • Enables Collaboration:  It’s easy to work across arbitrary boundaries

Early adopters of this methodology have experienced improvements in all key operational measures of support, including time to resolve, employee skills development, and most importantly, customer effort and loyalty.

In this video, Matt Seaman takes us through the dynamics that have led to the need for Intelligent Swarming, the three practices of Connect, Collaborate, and Recognize, and shares the new resources available to help you on your Intelligent Swarming journey, including the Intelligent Swarming Practices Guide, the Intelligent Swarming Fundamentals Online Training, and the Intelligent Swarming Fundamentals Certification.

Additional Resources

Chat Transcript and Q&A

Alex van Dijk: equivalent to sports… “assist” vs “score”. Recognizing “assisters” is critical
Kelly Murray, Consortium, Seattle: Alex, that makes me think about reference vs resolution articles in KCS – might be interesting to explore reference people vs resolver people!
Alex van Dijk: and minimize transfers… 1 work owner maintains continuity and drives cust sat
Jennifer Crippen | DB Kay: “resolver people”! 👍🏻

Christophe Albert: Like this is being done for KCS, does CSI publish the list of tools that enables “Intelligent Swarming” ?
Kelly Murray, Consortium, Seattle: Hi Christophe, Consortium Members are just now starting to think about what a “verified” program might look like for Intelligent Swarming tools. So the short answer is: not yet.
Matt Seaman: There’s lots of tools that support Intelligent Swarming. I think one of the reasons that it is gaining real traction is tools like Slack and Teams and all the collaboration tools that allow us to break down silos, regardless of time and space. It’s making it easier to implement and easier to think about. And we know some of the vendors out there are working on tools, specifically around Intelligent Swarming. So I think you’ll see acceleration in the tooling around Intelligent Swarming in the coming year or two.
Christophe Albert: Great.. thank you

Kachina Miller: One of my favorite moments was when a customer sent their resolvers a king cake (Louisiana specialty) because they were so grateful for how successfully and completely an outstanding issue was resolved through Intelligent Swarming – it was an awesome validation of the power of the model!

Mel Mathis: This sounds like a great methodology. What usually is the biggest issue companies face when trying to implement something like this?
Matt Seaman: I think one of the biggest challenges is really shifting our thinking in the organization to a collaborative culture, and making everybody aware: you’re still going to be recognized for your diverse skills. We’re not making our senior level experts into traditional frontline support engineers. We are also changing how frontline managers think about the contribution of their teams. Those are the things that usually hinder the implementations. The support teams love Intelligent Swarming, they jump into it really quickly, mainly because they’re already collaborating. A lot of times, we see companies start pulling out all the processes they put in place to hinder collaboration, just to let collaboration start. And from that you see great things begin.
Alex van Dijk: I think a big challenge is culture change
sarfraz: The biggest challenge seems to be the culture of the organisation.
Alex van Dijk: for culture challenge: I recommend you begin with a small team (perhaps a subset of product and/or questions) and monitor their success. Then demonstrate how they are performing better than the hierarchical model. [this can mean working with some basic tools like Excel until Mgmt “buys in” to automation). Show the quicker Time-To-Solve and you’ll get buy-in more easily
Laurel Poertner: +1 for Culture. This can also help build the culture you want.

Doug.Johnson: How long is the typical process to get the certification offered?
Kelly Murray: The Intelligent Swarming Fundamentals Online Training course takes about 45 minutes to complete, and reviewing the Study Guide takes another 45-90 minutes. The Intelligent Swarming Fundamentals Certification exam is 32 mostly multiple choice questions and has a time limit of 45 minutes.

Virginie: Excellent presentation ! How do you manage language barriers in Intelligent Swarming ?
Matt Seaman: It’s a good question. We absolutely see incredibly large enterprises that have implemented Intelligent Swarming; it’s not for just large companies, or just small companies, it scales everywhere. I don’t know how you would specifically handle if you have two organizations that absolutely can’t speak the same language and can’t communicate in the same language. I haven’t run across that very frequently. We know some companies out there are playing with a lot of the latest translation technologies to translate in the workflow. So that might be a way to do it. But I haven’t actually run into many companies that are struggling with language being the barrier to opening up a collaborative culture.

Teressa Williamson -ACCT: The recognize component is interesting. Can you recommend further resources to learn more about this?
Matt Seaman: The Intelligent Swarming Practices Guide has a section on Recognize and the KCS v6 Practices Guide as well. The two bodies of work fit really well together and talk a lot about motivation – ways to recognize people and tap into intrinsic motivators. I’d say reputation models are still an emergent practice for us in the Consortium. Companies like Akamai are playing with it. Poly has been playing with it. We’re looking forward to learning more!

Libby Healy: Matt, thank you so much for this, it has given me so many good ideas. I think one of the things that that I struggle with is: everyone who’s important gets this and wants this so badly, until you start talking about hiring resources. And then managers say, “Right now with everything being so tight, not only do you have to justify a new hire, you have to justify a replacement.” And the only way I can do that is by counting how much work we do. Or counting cases or counting something. I think so often the disconnect is not within the support hierarchy, it’s within resource and justification for resourcing. I can talk all about how ultimately this will make our need for resources go down, but it’s the “right now” that often is the stumbling point for managers.
Matt Seaman: Absolutely, moving away from the case being the currency of services, or an IT service management organization, is challenging. We’re definitely seeing more and more companies understanding that our engagement picture is much more broad. I mean, we need to fund doing self service, we need to fund communities, we need to fund all these things. And that’s why we talk so much about how you attach Intelligent Swarming to the real business outcomes and drivers. But it absolutely is still an uphill battle in getting people to stop counting things. It’s easy to count things. And because it’s easy to count things, we tend to use them in our our ways we think about the organization. The Understanding Success by Channel paper does a good job of putting some of these things into context in terms of how the investment we make in efficient knowledge capture and delivery fulfills pent up customer demand and extends the company’s reach as a whole.

sarfraz: Triaging and taking ownership seems to be the biggest challenge we also have. First touch is key any tips?
Matt Seaman: It’s often a concern we hear: “Well, what if people don’t pick up the work?” Rarely does that play out, and the recognition models play a big part in people wanting to opt in. Designing a recognition model that says, you’re recognized for taking hard work, you’re recognized for taking the challenging work – NOT you’re recognized for taking the most cases or the most things I can count. But we do also have to design for exceptions. So at the end of the day, we still need the work to be taken; there still has to be some kind of boundaries or rules put in place around making sure that work is getting done. But rarely is opt in a stumbling block for the knowledge workers; it’s usually a stumbling block for the management team because of our traditional recognition models.

Tom Dufault: How can you find the right balance between exposing swarm requests publicly to allow for opt in assistance without creating so much noise that swarm assisters start to ignore requests?
Matt Seaman: I would say the relevance to the request is key; we want to think through how we design it so the right people are seeing the right work. And part of the way we want to monitor and measure it is making sure that people are asking for help, or making help requests at the right time, not too early and not too late. We want people searching the knowledge base, we want people doing their basic diagnostic techniques, whatever is part of the problem solving process, so that I am reaching out for help when I actually need help.

Howard Blackith: What are some of the main things you have seen implemented that prevent “the experts” being the ones that are always called on in collaboration?
Kai Altenfelder | pro accessio | Hannover, DE: @Howard – the people profiles let you know who is skilled within your org and let you find those that can be addressed. Not always the seniors are required.
Matt Seaman: Again, it comes down to visibility and how you design the collaboration. How do you make the request for help visible to the next best person to help me – not the best person in the company to help me. We don’t want it to be an expert finder where all I do is ask the most senior person every question I have, because we want that most senior person working on the really challenging work that is appropriate for them to be working on. Monitoring the collaboration, monitoring the requests for help, and looking at who’s opting in to help are all things you can use to iterate and continuously improve this system.

Katie Ellis (she/her): So is this [swarming] only for difficult issues?
Matt Seaman: It’s not only for difficult issues, because difficult is in the eye of the beholder. It really is for anything that will help me get my work done. And if I’m new to the company, and I have a low skill set, or a low competency in something, being able to reach out to and get help from other people who know a little bit more than me, will help upskill me. So we don’t want to make it just the super challenging issues. We almost want to let the teams themselves decide on what is the right way to collaborate and what is the right level of things to be reaching out to and asking about.
Kai Altenfelder | pro accessio | Hannover, DE: @Katie, there is a list of criteria to check whether Swarming is for you
Katie Ellis (she/her): Thanks!

Intelligent Swarmingsm is a service mark of the Consortium for Service Innovationtm.

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