Mix the terms \u201csoftware\u201d and \u201ccustomer service\u201d in the same sentence, and many individuals on the other end of a phone call might wonder what they ever did to you.\u00a0\nStill, on-call scheduling software is being used by a growing number of organizations. And it\u2019s not just for frustrated external customers who want to vent at somebody \u2026 anybody. Many IT organizations are using the software to match up internal users with much-needed tech expertise in the IT department.\u00a0\nThose, in fact, are the two most common uses for on-call scheduling software, according to Katherine Jones, a partner in the Talent Information Systems practice at research firm Mercer, in San Mateo, Calif. Basically, any situation that involves somebody having a question or needing assistance is what on-call scheduling software was made for. In the case of IT, it is also helping to usher in the new era of IT-as-a-service.\n\u00a0\u201cI think it\u2019s pretty common now,\u201d Jones says. \u201cAny place where you\u2019ve got the potential for a user asking a question that would impede their progress at work, and the question is answerable, there is often a help desk of some sort to move them through the process to a solution.\u201d\u00a0\nIt certainly sounds simple enough. But the real challenge is how to customize the software program in the most efficient, and least objectionable, way. By that, Jones says that IT managers need to \u201clayer\u201d prompts into the system that get a user to the right tech resource quickly, and correctly. Too few layered questions and the user may not be connected with the right IT staffer. Too many, and they won\u2019t want to be.\u00a0\nThe \u2018always on\u2019 IT department\u00a0\nThink of this new IT-as-service model as the \u201calways on\u201d IT department, says Geoff Woolacott, principal analyst and practice manager at Technology Business Research.\u00a0\n\u201cThe easiest thing I can think of is like the deli counter, and taking a number. The customer comes in and says, \u2018I need this.\u201d But not just any meat slicer will do. \u201cThe on-call scheduling is looking at the number and matching it to the right slicer. I need the turkey slicer guy up in 15 minutes, because that\u2019s what the customer needs,\u201d Woolacott says.\u00a0\n[Related: IT pros don\u2019t fear rise of the robots]\u00a0\nThe same principle holds for IT-as-a-service.\u00a0\n\u201cWithin the IT department, if you think of the different technical skills that an enterprise shop would have, [it becomes a matter of] what task has the end user requested, who has the skills to get it done, [and how do we best schedule that expertise],\u201d Woolacott says.\u00a0\nA perfect environment for on-call scheduling is agile development and daily scrums, Wollacott notes. Think in terms of \u201cwhat needs to get done, show is going to do what, and what is the logical sequencing.\u201d\u00a0\nIn many ways, on-call scheduling is a throw-back to the days of the mainframe and time-shared services, Wollacott says.\u00a0\n\u201cIt\u2019s like wide ties, narrow ties \u2013 it\u2019s popular again,\u201d he says.\u00a0\nBut there is also a difference \u2013 the pace of today\u2019s IT organization versus that of yesterday.\u00a0\n\u201cThe pace is far faster, so that scheduling component is going to be far more necessary for efficiency as well as for customer responsiveness,\u201d Woolacott says. \u201cIt\u2019s the consumerization of IT, baby!\u201d\u00a0\nGetting your \u2018buckets\u2019 right\u00a0\nSo how does the CIO best make on-call scheduling work?\u00a0\n\u201cThey work best when \u2013 and this has to do with the programming of it at the organizational level \u2013 they first have very clear \u2018buckets\u2019 that the person is calling into,\u201d Jones says. These \u201cbuckets\u201d are the quick choice options that enable the user to proceed through each layer, with each subsequent layer getting more specific in detail. That enables IT to quickly narrow the topic and potential remedy and hand the user off to the right staffer.\u00a0\n[Related: It's time for IT teams to digitize like the startups do]\u00a0\nTo be effective, and considerate, the IT department should have no more than four to six layers for the user to navigate through. Fewer than four and the user\u2019s problem really can\u2019t be identified with enough certainty. More than six, and the user is probably going to get very perturbed.\u00a0\n\u201cThe first thing is programming [the on-call scheduling system] as explicitly as possible,\u201d Jones says. \u201cWe know people don\u2019t want to sit through 10 different choices, but the more choices you have, the more likely you are to get somebody to the right place. Still, there\u2019s a limit to the number of buttons on a phone \u2013 and usually we don\u2019t want 10 choices \u2013 you can\u2019t use a zero because that will call an operator, theoretically.\u00a0 This is the dilemma, because to be explicit and to be quick and to the point, and also be easy to program are often totally at odds with each other.\u201d\u00a0\nWhatever the organization ultimately does, it should be driven by the user experience.\u00a0\n\u201cThe key point of all of this is to ensure that the continued productivity of the worker \u2013 whether at home or at work \u2013 is not impeded,\u201d Jones says.\u00a0\n\u201cWe should probably put all of those things to together because efficiency, productivity and revenue generation is all tied together,\u201d Jones says.