Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) Quick Guide

I know, it actually sounds like something they used to show early in the morning when I was growing up as part of an adult learning initiative, long before children’s television schedules took off.

The first I heard of it was at the itSMF Regional Seminar in Staines, as part of the “speed-dating” networking sessions, as Matthew Burrows had just finished writing the pocket book.

Before chatting to him further on the subject, I took a browse through the website, where I spent a while trying to understand just what it actually means.

SFIA in a nutshell

The idea is to give employers a common terminology framework around a set of generic business skills, and seven defined areas of responsibility, starting with entry level (Level 1) and taking you up to Level 7 where you would expect someone to be defining strategy and mobilising organisations to achieve business goals.

7

Set strategy, Inspire, Mobilise

6

Initiate/Influence

5

Ensure/Advise

4

Enable

3

Apply

2

Assist

1

Follow

This approach makes it quite straightforward to understand, as most people can typically follow the concept of an experience curve.

Some surprises

The biggest surprise for me was that this framework has been around for a long time.

Matthew explained:

“I started using it nearly 11 years ago for an organisation redesign project.

“I discovered SFIA, rather than invent something new, and found it really useful.”

He sees himself as a practitioner (indeed, he is one of the SFIA Accredited Consultants) and has been using it ever since.

Going through the material, I began to recognise skill profiles that I used to have to annually update in one of my previous companies, who have representatives on the SFIA Council and have chosen to adapt and adopt the framework.

Access to the materials

As with many things, there are no two ways about it, you have to register, but it is free to do so.

Once you register you are taken immediately to all the materials, without having to wait for a confirmation email.

  • A3 Size Summary Chart
  • Complete Reference Guide
  • Working With SFIA Guide
  • PDF detailing the changes between V4/4G and V5 (latest)
  • Skills Reminder Card
  • Skills in a spreadsheet form

The skills and descriptions in the Reference Guide are the most valuable resource – the generic description of the skills, and the specific descriptions for the various levels.

How it helps professionals & organisations

  • Recruitment/CV Development

Recruiters these days find the few, rather than attract the many, and you might be more likely to see jobs advertised that use the same language.

Matthew said:

“I saw one [job] the other day which mentioned the specific skill and specific level, right in the headline of the job.

“The more recruitment consultants use SFIA, the more intelligent their matching becomes because if they can educate their customer (who is specifying the role), or if the customer is already aware of SFIA, they can list a couple of core skills”

Using the specific descriptions, matched with the skill level in CVs could help professionals become one of the few.

  • Continual Professional Development & Mentoring

The progression through the levels of responsibility can be charted within disciplines (for example Project Management – starting with leading a single project and progressing to managing a number of projects, or managing project managers.

Training companies have started using SFIA to describe their training offerings, showing where the course is designed to provide which skill and which level.

Mentoring works in exactly in the same way – if you want to get to a certain level, use the SFIA framework to find a mentor with a skill at a particular level.

  • Organisational Skills Planning and (Re)Design

From a company point of view, they can baseline their current skills, and forecast what skills are going to be required, and do a gap analysis between the two, using that to define training and recruitment plans.

It can help in providing informed decisions around restricting and reorganisation.  If a couple is looking to outsource some activity, then assessing those skill needs and gaps can help.

Pitfalls

SFIA only provides you with definitions of professional skills.

It does not describe behavioural skills or specific technical knowledge.

Think of it as helping you put the self-promotional phrases that are all important in CVs and at appraisal time, backed up with specific technical qualifications and those all important softer skills that make someone a rounded professional.

Matthew warned against putting too much faith in the categories and subcategories:

“The categories and sub-categories are just convenient labels.  Don’t read too much into them.

“Service Management doesn’t include all the skills associates with Service Management, so if you were defining a process ownership role, you would find they would have some of the skills in the Service Management category, and some of the skills in the Strategy and Architecture category, so I find the skill names are really useful.”

Who makes it happen and where to find out more

The SFIA Foundation is a non-profit organisation.

There are five Foundation members who fund the Foundation, produce the material and make it available for people:

  • itSMF UK (The IT Service Management Forum)
  • IET (The Institute of Engineering and Technology)
  • e-skills UK (Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology)
  • IMIS (The Institute for the Management of Information Systems)
  • BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT)

Each of these organisations has a member on the SFIA Board, and in addition there is an SFIA council with other members from companies and corporations who use SFIA.

Funding comes in from the Foundation members, and from Accredited SFIA Consultants who pay a percentage of their fee to the central pot.

To register for SFIA materials, and to find out more, visit the SFIA Website.

Service Management’s 4 Golden C’s: Codeless Configuration & Complete Customisation

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Park.

Cherwell Software has won a new customer for its Service Desk software solutions in the shape of Baillie Gifford, an independent investment management partnership based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Baillie Gifford is one of the largest investment trust managers in the UK. The firm is wholly owned by 36 partners and manages in excess of £75 billion with 700 staff.

Complete Customisation

Having opted for the firm’s own-branded Cherwell Service Management product from Cherwell Software, Baillie Gifford says that it was drawn to its decision via the option to gain “complete customisation and seamless upgrades” with the tool.

Baillie Gifford’s IT service desk manager Rob Whittaker asserts that Cherwell has an intuitive product (with some products reviewed he found it difficult even to see how to log a call at first glance) that works using single step effectiveness i.e. it can be launched manually or automatically — and that this would help his team to save time and automate regular, repeatable tasks.

Codeless configuration

For its part, Cherwell also champions its “codeless configuration” technology and upgrades that could potentially save time and effort.

“When we started the review process, we had not heard of Cherwell Software,” said Gifford. ‘The company came up in an Internet search, and based on the demos and videos on its website and the fact that its sole business focus is ITSM, it became a candidate we wanted to see more from.”

Prior to the itSMF Annual Conference in November 2011, Baillie Gifford narrowed down its prospective list and reviewed four solutions at the show.

“During the two days, we visited the Cherwell stand three times,” said Gifford. “Unlike other stands, when we asked questions we weren’t just given a standard demo we were shown how the product would function. With the other vendors, features were always ‘coming soon’ or ‘could potentially’ do what we were looking for.  The Cherwell product matched what we had learned from their website. It’s built from the ground up and is not just shoe-horned onto another product.”

Before “go live”…

Following what it has described as a “stringent” software testing and evaluation process starting at the end of 2011, Baillie Gifford placed its order with Cherwell in early March 2012 and went ‘live’ with Cherwell Service Management on 21 May 2012. The company then spent a weekend migrating final data, live testing and rolling out.

“Cherwell offered us the product to test and evaluate prior to making a purchasing commitment,” said Gifford. “No one else offered us that. They allowed us to go away and actually use the software to make sure it met our needs. This told me that the company is confident that the product can do what they promise it will do.”

Cherwell Software 
is headquartered in Colorado Springs, USA and with its EMEA offices based in the UK. Cherwell’s wizard driven CBAT application development platform empowers users to create new screens, business processes and to develop additional business applications without the need for developer resources, bespoke coding or scripting services.

Photo Credit

itSMF 2012: 21 Years Of Knowledge & Vision

Service Management should always be capitalised in full when it precedes the word Forum — in relation to the itSMF UK’s Conference and Exhibition. With this rule of protocol laid down then, we can now point to the ITSM12 conference, which is this year being staged from November 5th to 6th at the Novotel London West.

NOTE: That’s W6 8DR and Hammersmith Tube for those of you that want to mark your diary now. The 5th is a Monday.

This year’s event is billed as the largest industry gathering yet with an opening keynote from Simon Wardley, one of the UK’s top 50 “most influential people” in IT (as voted by Computer Weekly readers). Wardley will apparently focus on IT strategy and new technologies as he has a background in defining future directions for companies in the FMCG, retail and IT industries.

The itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition itself sets out to try and provide education and networking opportunities along with the “highly popular” Service Management Awards dinner.

So what’s really inside?

  • Over 50 educational workshops are scheduled.
  • Presentations from all the itSMF’s special interest groups — with an entire series of sessions dedicated to problem management.
  • Experience-based talks from user organisations including Tesco Bank, The Co-Operative Bank, Oxford University and Everything Everywhere.
  • An interactive plenary session will also be returning this year, allowing the audience to vote on discussion topics via interactive keypads.

Alongside the conference, the industry exhibition includes all the industry’s leading tool vendors, product suppliers and consultancies.

“This year’s conference is set to be our biggest ever. We’re pulling out all the stops for our 21st birthday and we are planning to make this an event to remember, said Ben Clacy itSMF UK chief executive. “We have a really packed two days and so many excellent speakers, delegates really will be spoilt for choice – the only problem will be fitting it all in!”

The Service Management Awards will follow the conference on the Monday night, recognising the outstanding achievements and significant contributions of Service Management professionals, teams, contributors, trainers and students. Details of all this year’s award categories are available at www.itsmf.co.uk/Awards2012.

Colin Rudd, chairman of itSMF UK, commented, “This year’s conference marks my first anniversary at the helm of the organisation. I’m really looking forward to helping the itSMF UK to celebrate its 21st birthday at the conference, a significant milestone in our history.”

Coming Soon: BMC vs. Cherwell vs. Marval vs. PMG vs. ServiceNow

BMC, Cherwell & ServiceNow will fight it out over Request Fulfilment

ITSM Industry heavyweights BMC, Cherwell, Marval, PMG and ServiceNow are confirmed participants for our upcoming ‘Request Fulfilment’ review.

Our approach to product reviews is significantly different to other ITSM industry research:

  1. TOOLS NOT FRAMEWORKS: We focus on market differentiators and strengths. Our goal is to present prospective buyers and influencers with the the key differences between products.
  2. INDEPENDENT, OPEN RESEARCH: All information is published free of charge in a permanent online archive for future reference. Reports can be shared, distributed and discussed online without paywalls or registration. We don’t have to tip-toe around partnerships and politics – we can just tell it how it is.
  3. TECHNOLOGY FOCUS: We credit our readers with the intelligence to make their own decisions. We want to help organizations develop their shortlist for a new tool, not pick a new tool for them. We want to arm prospective buyers with the business intelligence to make a decision, not spoon feed them product choices.

Reviewers: Martin Thompson & Ros Satar
Assessment Criteria for Request Fulfilment

Subscribe to the ITSM Review newsletter or follow us on Twitter to receive a notification when the research is published.

Jarod Greene, Gartner "The players haven’t changed, but the game has"

Who will be the winners and losers in the new Gartner Quadrant to define the ITSM market?
Who will be the winners and losers in the new Gartner Quadrant to define the ITSM market?

This interview has been contributed by Aprill Allen of Knowledgebird.

If your helpdesk experience is anything like mine was, you’ve been taking calls and tracking tickets in whatever software solution the decision makers handed down. So, when I first heard my experienced ITSM colleagues discussing the Gartner Magic Quadrant, I wondered what they were on about (Let’s just call it the MQ). 

Was it just some analytical mumbo-jumbo, or does it mean something to those of us who might still be in operational roles, today? When I met Gartner’s Jarod Greene at Knowledge12, he seemed like a nice enough guy, so I thought I’d throw a few questions his way for enlightenment.

Can you tell us about your role as Research Analyst at Gartner—what that involves and the career experience that lead you there?

I have been with Gartner for 8 years. I took a rather unconventional path to becoming an Analyst. I came to Gartner in 2004 with the end goal of becoming an Analyst at some point in the future. I started off working in Gartner’s customer support organization as Research Engagement Specialist, which positioned me directly between our customers and our research deliverables. My job was to properly align Gartner clients to the most appropriate analysts based on their needs, which required a deep understanding of the IT Operations Management market.

I used the tools at my disposal to learn the space from the inside out and identify trends. I would dissect client questions, probe vendors for details and reference materials, and listen in on analyst inquiries. I was learning IT operations from the most knowledgeable and influential minds in the industry. I made my analyst aspirations known to the analysts I supported who became my mentors with no hesitation. Specifically David Coyle and the late Kris Brittain served as my official mentors, but anytime I had a question I had places to go to get answers. For 3 years I played a de-facto duty analyst role, writing research and taking basic inquiries and continuing to working closely with our IT operations management analysts. I joined the team officially as a Research Analyst in February of 2011. It’s been quite the ride ever since!

I worked in operations for close to 15 years, and so much has changed, but so much has stayed the same. How have you seen the IT Ops sector change over the years?

In my 6 years of observing this space, I’ve found that we are still facing the same challenges associated with doing more with less and meeting the needs of the business at a competitive price. The difference is that it has been difficult for IT organizations to keep pace with the rate and pace of technology change they acquire to gain efficiencies.

These tools often introduce their own set of challenges, which compounds the issue! For example, when I began supporting IT Operations management, CMDB was the hottest topic on the planet. Organizations literally could not spell it CMDB right, but knew an IT service view CMDB would be their salvation and cure all organizational ails.  Well, here we stand and we still don’t see as many in production as expected, and it still remains one of the most daunting challenges in IT. I see the same cycle with IT Service Catalog today – great value proposition (and ITIL says you need one), but it introduces challenges and requires a maturity level and resources that the vast majority of organizations do not have.

I’ve asked you to take part in this interview, so I could find out more about the Magic Quadrant. What is the MQ and how does it apply to people working in the IT Operations sector?

Ah, the million dollar question! Essentially the end user organizations looking at a Magic Quadrant should understand that is a visual snapshot of a market’s direction, maturity, and participants. It is designed to help organizations choose a product or service, but only if that organization properly understands the methodology.

The biggest misconception of an MQ is that it should be used as a vendor selection tool. That is not the case. It should help an organization analyze a market and help to focus their search on important criteria. MQ’s do not provide the details needed during the vendor selection process to align YOUR requirements to a vendor. This leaves the onus on the organization to make best vendor selection based on their specific set of requirements. Often making a vendor selection based on MQ positioning can be disastrous, as I’ve seen many times over the years.

What’s involved from the analyst perspective in putting the document together, and what input did you have, personally?

Jeff Brooks and I first have to identify a distinct and viable market.  2 years ago, Gartner retired the IT Service Desk MQ for a variety of reasons. Most significantly was the fact that the IT service desk market was very mature and well established, with low barriers to entry and little consolidation. MQ’s are for the middle phases of a market life cycle, so as a market begins declining, an MQ is no longer an appropriate methodology. Furthermore, the concept of purchasing a standalone IT service desk tool for ticking and reporting was all but gone.

IT service desk tool requirements (for organizations of all sizes) include modules that were pieces of a much larger IT service support strategy consisting of change, release, service request, and service level management, along with data center management components such as asset management, CMDB, and service Catalog. The personal input I have is in recognizing these changing dynamics and “creating” the market I’m set to analyze. The goal is to put forth an analysis that provides insights to help clients with planning and evaluating tools that fit common requirements.

From what I’ve heard, it’s a fairly rigorous exercise for the vendors aiming for inclusion in the document. What does Gartner look for from a vendor for consideration?

The biggest challenge with the document is setting the inclusion criteria. It is just not possible to include every vendor in the market, so you must focus your analysis on vendors we consider to be the most important best suited to our clients’ needs. When you set the inclusion criteria, you define what it takes to me considered for this market. It does not imply that a vendor is not viable or competitive; it just means a vendor may have a slightly different strategy or functional match, or it addressed a different target market. As Jeff and I research the market through various activities (client inquiries, vendor briefings, vendor provided-references, public sources, industry contacts, etc) we develop and understanding of vendors we believe meet the inclusion criteria, but also reach out through the community to see if we have missed someone.

This is where vendor briefings can be important – Gartner cannot get you on their radar if they don’t know you exist. Every vendor usually wants to be considered, but the criterion determines whether or not they will be evaluated. ITSSM annual license revenue for example may exclude a vendor from evaluation if they do not meet the pre-defined threshold. In some cases, being on a MQ can be a bad thing for a vendor if they do not have the resources to execute on increased demand.  There are cases where vendors have been on MQ’s one year, and insolvent shortly thereafter.

The MQ is a bit of a hot-button topic out there in the community of ITSM vendors and consultants, and it seems to becoming an almost lofty goal for those vendors serving the small to medium enterprises (SMEs). In my view, every vendor (of ANY software solution) should be aiming for a consistent ability to execute and a completeness of vision, anyway, but is it really how a recent CIO article explained—are the MQ authors limited to highlighting those vendors who focus on large enterprises?

I loved Richard’s article– very timely! As he pointed out, the majority of Gartner clients are enterprise organizations. 76% of the Global 500 support their decisions with Gartner advice, and we have over 12,000 customers worldwide, the majority of which are larger organizations. Speaking only to ITSM toolsets, larger organizations typically have a much more robust set of requirements than SMB clients.

An organization that needs to manage multiple service levels in multiple geographies in multiple languages may narrow their focus to vendors who can demonstrate this scalability consistently. For an SMB customer who has simpler requirements, it may not make sense to choose the vendor who demonstrates scalability that is not 100% pertinent to their needs. I also think every vendor, regardless of whether or not they are in an MQ should strive to execute on their vision of the market. They should also understand that Gartner will question a vendor’s execution capabilities and may not agree with that vendor’s vision of the market, and that’s fine, because ultimately the IT organization has to make the decision on which tool is most appropriate, given their requirements, not Gartner’s. If your requirements are fairly common, then it may make your evaluation process easier. However it’s not a given that choosing a tool in the leader quadrant means your organization improves processes and services automatically.

I was too far down the food chain to be involved in any tool selection process, but I can tell you, in the last operational role I had (at a small financial institution) the data centre manager googled helpdesk software and chose the local product. What practical advice can you give IT managers about to embark on the tool selection process?

I’m not 100% against that approach!! The standalone IT service desk tools I mentioned before are commodities- you can get ticketing and reporting from just about anyone. The web can be a great start to your market analysis, but at some point you will need to rely on the guidance of a trusted advisor. My market analysis is based on over one thousands of end user inquiries per year. I validate vendor claims against customer references and I review a vendor’s ability to document and commit to development roadmaps. I have no agenda or any bias towards any one particular vendor. I can be one of your trusted advisors!

I can help you navigate this market, but I’m not naive enough to believe you cannot gain value in peer communities, particularly with users who live and breathe these tools on a day to day basis. There is a lot of good information out there, but I think it’s important to always understand who exactly is providing this information, what is their agenda for providing information, and what can you validate their information against.In terms of advice for IT managers set to embark on a tool selection process, I say purchase with your stomach, and not your eyes.

We find that organizations replace ITSM toolsets every 5 years, a trend our friend Karen Ferris calls “IT groundhog day” (I love that btw). That’s crazy when you think about it. There is a lot of conspicuous consumption in ITSM – meaning they think they are what they buy. IT managers buy what they think the mature shops use, as if the tool was the only thing that enabled them to be mature. The purchase of an IT service desk or ITSSM tool suite is often the first step in an organization gaining visibility and managing their infrastructure environment, and organizations believe that within a reasonable timeframe they will gain the process maturity necessary to implement industry best practices, mature and integrate processes, and integrate other systems management tools.  This does not happen automatically. There is a considerable amount of effort required to mature across people, process, business management, and technology dimensions, and often that work is discounted.

No tool, in itself, will make you a mature shop – so first develop an IT roadmap to maturity and align your tool purchase accordingly. If you are a reactive, fire fighting organization with ad hoc processes and low customer confidence, start with point, basic IT service desk ticketing tools that come at a relatively low cost and do not require professional services.  If you are on the path to higher levels of maturity, consider the ITSSM tools across both licensing models so that you have the capabilities you need when you are ready to use them. If you already are a mature shop, it’s very unlikely you are looking to replace your IT service desk tool, but consider tools that allow you to stay the course of continual service improvement and easily integrate with other systems management tools.

The next IT Service Support Management (ITSSM) Magic quadrant is coming next quarter, can you tell us if the formula may have changed from previous MQs and, without giving away any spoilers, if there are any new entries or surprises?

We are in the final stretch and I’m confident we will be done soon. The formula has changed considerably- keep in mind this is a new market, so it’s a new MQ. The players haven’t changed, but the game has. Yes, IT service desk (incident, problem, change, self service, knowledge, and reporting) is a component of the offering evaluated, but new to our analysis are release governance and SLA management (with regard to incident and service request management). We also wanted all vendors to offer qualifying products licensed in BOTH the perpetual and software as a service licensing models. This is becoming a requirement for customers who want the short term benefits of SaaS and the long term benefits of an on premise solution. Lastly, we wanted next generation support capabilities that offered usage of the product for mobile devices, social and collaboration capabilities, richer information analytics, and the ability to visually map an IT service view to support the incident, problem, and change management processes (so not quite CMDB, but providing similar visualization benefits).

We believe these are critical capabilities to meet the demands of the modern workforce. I don’t know how to describe the MQ without giving any spoilers away! There are some vendors who you did not see on the IT Service Desk MQ, but again, this is a new analysis. As per usual, where the dots are will be fiercely debated, but it may be more interesting to note where you don’t see dots.

Thanks, Jarod, for taking the time to answer the hefty questions. I look forward to some lively debate when the new analysis is released.

This interview has been contributed by Aprill Allen of Knowledgebird.

Supplier Relationship Management – An emerging capability in the ITSM toolbox

"Development opportunities can be completely missed because the two organizations have not properly explored how to grow together, indeed contractor enthusiasm may be misinterpreted as land grabbing."

Paul Mallory is VP Europe and Africa for the IACCM, with responsibility for member services, training and certification and research.

The recent article on the role that SLAs play in the relationship style between two organizations made me think. For some relationships, SLAs replace or even reduce the effort that an organization puts into managing the strategic development of opportunities between client and contractor.

If the contractor is seen to be achieving their SLAs then they are considered to be doing their job effectively.  If they are missing their SLAs then there is a large focus on understanding why they have failed and potentially much discussion around any mitigating circumstances the contractor puts forward.

SLAs definitely have their place as they allow the client and contractor to look at service development and continuous performance improvement through stretch targets based on the existing contractual agreement.

However, supplier relationship management (SRM) comes into effect when you want to truly transform the way in which you work with your suppliers.

So first up, how should we define SRM?

In our recently launched SRM training course, the IACCM defines SRM as:

“The function that seeks to develop successful, collaborative relationships with key suppliers for the delivery of significant tangible business benefits for both parties”.

Why is SRM important?

The average tenure of a CIO is about 4.5 years.  Most IT Service Management contracts (be it for any of the ITIL disciplines, applications or data centre outsourcing) are for between 5 and 10 years, with public sector contracts often reaching and even exceeding the upper end of that range.  Therefore it follows that those people who were in place at the outset, and developing the IT strategy, may not be there further down the contract lifecycle, yet the contractual relationship continues to exist and needs the right management practices to bring the expected benefit to both sides.

Furthermore, with the cost of IT services re-procurement often being around 30% of the annual contract cost (once transition, exit and procurement time has been taken into consideration), implementing a successful contract extension becomes a financial KPI.

Keld Jensen, Chairman of the Centre for Negotiation at the Copenhagen Business School, has identified that 42% of contract value is left on the table and not even addressed or even recognised by either party during the initial negotiations.  This means that in ITSM contracts there is great opportunity for both parties to access that 42% once the negotiation and procurement teams have left the room.  The supplier relationship manager is part of the mechanism to enable that.

What does a Supplier Relationship Manager do?

First, we must remember that IT Service contracts can incorporate a number of inter-related disciplines (especially if we take the ITIL view).  Each of those teams is going to be heavily focussed on their immediate needs and how their portion of the supply chain is delivering to them.  They will also be interested in where there are process hand-offs, but my experience has shown me that often there is a poor, singular joined up view across IT disciplines.

If this is the case, a weak supplier will maximise this to their advantage, especially where they are delivering many facets of ITSM.  They will minimise exposure to their service shortcomings and keep their network of relationships separate and distinct.  A good supplier though may just accept the frustration of dealing with a discordant IT department and focus its development opportunities on its other customers, the “customers of choice”.

In both scenarios the client does not access the 42% of value that Keld Jensen discusses, it may be from fire-fighting performance issues or an inability to properly interact with the supplier through a lack of focal point.  This is where the supplier relationship manager steps in, because they are there to:

  • Manage all aspects of the inter-company relationship, especially where the supplier’s remit goes beyond ITSM
  • They look to build trust through open communications, both internally and with the supply chain
  • They understand the full capability of the supply chain and will seek to develop successful, collaborative relationships with key, strategic suppliers
  • They share company strategy, mission and values with the suppliers
  • They ensure that the relationship follows appropriate governance requirements
  • They have ready access to, and influence from the top levels of management
Paul Mallory, IACCM
Paul Mallory, IACCM

By understanding not only the strategy of IT but also of the company as a whole, they are in a position to create a collaborative relationship with the strategic suppliers where mutual win-win opportunities are developed and encouraged.  Innovation can be targeted at the right teams, process efficiency can be realised and cross fertilisation of ideas can occur between teams who may not have realised they were working towards similar outcomes.

The supplier is turned into a strategic asset that can positively affect your organisations success, rather than an entity whose invoices are paid each month if service targets were met.

Through the conversations that the IACCM is having with its membership, we see that SRM is an emerging discipline which is becoming more important in these times of austerity.  There needs to be value for every pound, dollar or euro an organisation spends.  Effective SRM is there to ensure that value is realised.

Paul Mallory is VP Europe and Africa for the IACCM, with responsibility for member services, training and certification and research.

The RBS Glitch – A Wake Up Call?

More than a fortnight (from the last couple of weeks of June) after a “glitch” affected Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Natwest and Ulster Bank accounts, the fall-out continues with the manual processing backlog still affecting Ulster Bank customers.

Now, the Online Oxford Dictionary defines a glitch as:
a sudden, usually temporary malfunction or fault of equipment

I don’t think anyone affected would see it in quite the same way.

So when did this all happen?

The first I knew about was a plaintive text from a friend who wanted to check her balance, and could not because:
“My bank’s computers are down”
By the time the evening rolled around, the issue was becoming national news and very clear that this was more than just a simple outage.

On the night of Tuesday 19th June, batch processes to update accounts were not being processed and branches were seeing customer complaints about their balances.

As the week progressed, it became clear that this was no simple ‘glitch’, but the result of some failure somewhere, affecting 17 million customers.

What actually happened?

As most people can appreciate, transactions to and from people’s accounts are typically handled and updated using batch processing technology.

However, that software requires maintenance, and an upgrade to the software had to be backed out, but as part of the back out, it appears that the scheduling queue was deleted.

As a result, inbound payments were not being registered, balances were not being updated correctly, with the obvious knock on effect of funds showing as unavailable for bills to be paid, and so on.

The work to fix the issues meant that all the information that had been wiped had to be re-entered.

Apparently the order of re-establishing accounts were RBS first, then NatWest, and customers at Ulster Bank were still suffering the effects as we moved into early July.

All the while news stories were coming in thick and fast.

The BBC reported of someone who had to remain an extra night in jail as his parole bond could not be verified.

House sales were left in jeopardy as money was not showing as being transferred.

Even if you did not have your main banking with any of the three banks in the RBS group, you were likely to be effected.

If anyone in your payment chain banked with any of those banks, transactions were likely to be affected.

Interestingly enough, I called in to a local branch of the one of the affected banks in the week of the crisis as it was the only day I had to pay in money, and it was utter chaos.

And I called in again this week and casually asked my business account manager how things had been.

The branches had very little information coming to them at the height of the situation.

When your own business manager found their card declined while buying groceries that week, you have to wonder about the credibility of their processes.

Breaking this down, based on what we know

Understandably, RBS has been reticent to provide full details, and there has been plenty of discussion as to the reasons, which we will get to, but let’s start by breaking down the events based on what we know.

  • Batch Processing Software

What we are told is that RBS using CA Technologies CA-7 Batch processing software.

A back-out error was made after a failed update to the software, when the batch schedule was completely deleted.

  •  Incidents Reported

Customers were reporting issues with balance updates to accounts early on in the week commencing 20th June, and soon it became clear that thousands of accounts were affected across the three banks.

Frustratingly some, but not all services were affected – ATMs were still working for small withdrawals, but some online functions were unavailable.

  •  Major Incident

As the days dragged on, and the backlog of transactions grew, the reputation of RBS and Natwest particular came under fire.

By the 21st June, there was still no official fix date, and branches of NatWest were being kept open for customers to be able to get cash.

  •  Change Management

Now we get to the rub.

Initial media leaks pointed to a junior administrator making an error in backing out the software update and wiping the entire schedule, causing the automated batch process to fail.

But what raised eyebrows in the IT industry initially, was the thorny subject of outsourcing.

RBS, (let me stress like MANY companies), has outsourced elements of IT support off-shore.

Some of that has included administration support for their batch processing, but with a group also still in the UK.

Many of these complex systems have unique little quirks.  Teams develop “in-house” knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Initial reports seemed to indicate that the fault lay with the support and administration for the batch processing software, some of which was off-shore.

Lack of familiarity with the system also pointed to perhaps issues in the off-shoring process.

However, in a letter to the Treasury Select Committee, RBS CEO Stephen Hester informed the committee that the maintenance error had occurred within the UK based team.

  •  Documentation

The other factor is human need to have an edge on the competition – after all, knowledge if power.

Where functions are outsourcers, there are two vital elements that must be focussed on (and all to often are either marginalised/ignored due to costs):

1)      Knowledge Transfer

I have worked on many clients where staff who will be supporting the services to be outsourced are brought over to learn (often from the people whose jobs they will be replacing).

Do not underestimate what a very daunting and disturbing experience this will be, for both parties concerned.

2)      Documentation

Even if jobs are not being outsourced, documentation is often the scourge of the technical support team.  It is almost a rite of passage to learn the nuances of complex systems.

Could better processes help?

It is such a negative situation, I think it is worth looking at the effort that went into resolving it.

The issues were made worse by the fact that the team working to resolve the problem could not access the record of transactions that were processed before the batch process failed.

But – the processes do exist for them to manually intervene and recreate the transactions, albeit die to lengthy manual intervention.

Teams worked round the clock to clear the backlog, as batches would need to be reconstructed once they worked out where they failed.

In Ulster Bank’s case, they were dependant on some NatWest systems, so again something somewhere must dictate the order in which to recover, else people would be trying to update accounts all over the place.

Could adherence to processes have prevented the issue in the first place?

Well undoubtedly.  After all, this is not the first time the support teams will have updated their batch software, nor will it have been the first time they have backed out a change.

Will they be reviewing their procedures?

I would like to hope that the support teams on and off shore are collaborating to make sure that processes are understood and that documentation is bang up-to-date.

What can we learn from this?

Apart from maybe putting our money under the mattress, I think this has been a wake up call for many people who, over the years, have put all their faith in the systems that allow us to live our lives.

Not only that, though, but in an environment where quite possibly people have been the target of outsourcing in their own jobs, it was a rude awakening to some of the risks of shifting support for complex integrated systems without effective training, documentation, and more importantly back up support.

Prior to Mr Hester’s written response to the Treasury Select Committee, I had no problem believing that elements such as poor documentation/handover, and a remote unfamiliarity with a system could have resulted in a mistaken wipe of a schedule.

What this proves is that anyone, in ANY part of the world can make a mistake.

Free ITIL Training?

Free ITIL TrainingI have a confession – I am a data squirrel.

Any template, anything Visio-flavoured, anything that might prove useful for meetings, documentation – I snaffle it and put it somewhere safe.

Freebie ITIL material, however, is a different beast.  There are things out there if you look, some useful, somewhere one might have to be a bit more creative, but there is stuff out there.

Free ITIL Training

There is no getting away from the fact the ITIL books and initial training costs money.  So to stumble across a free ITIL training overview merited a look.

First up – you cannot get away from this, you HAVE to register for most of the freebie-offers.  If handing over a decent, credible email is not your cup of tea, then this quest is not for you, traveller.

The prospect of a two-hour ITIL “taster” came to me through an e-newsletter from The ITIL Training Zone and I settled down to run through the training.

The Free ITIL Training course does require an email to access it, which will need verification, and will come back your ID and password, within a matter of minutes.

Registering

You are asked if you are a total beginner, someone who has Foundation certification, or if you are an expert (on the first pass) and then takes you to the course.  I logged in again to see if it changed the presentation depending on what you pick, but didn’t see the options again, so maybe this is more for analytical purposes.

It would be fascinating to see what the spread of participants are.

The course itself

The layout appears on the right and is broken down to handy links so you can just dip into what you want if you need to.

  • Introduction – The first bit covers a lot of probably the least useful bits of ITIL training in ANY course, if I am being honest – the history of ITIL. But it constantly asks the user to imagine how everything that is being taught relates to your own environment, putting it in context from the start. It introduces the concept of a case study that you follow throughout the course as well.
  • The core books – This is maybe the most daunting bit – there are lots of sections to go through, but they are in smallish chunks of around 6-10 minutes, and can be paused.
  • The last bit – With the case study that you follow throughout the course, and examples of real cases, the course constantly reiterates that you need to look at the wider piece and understand how it can help you in your organization.

What I liked

It’s nice and concise and it covers the details that you need.

It is worth noting that it doesn’t go through all the processes in Transition, and with good reason – this is a FREE taster to give people the basics of ITIL ahead of maybe doing the courses for real.

Maybe because I have worked across a range of roles, I can look across the piece and understand the larger end-to-end picture.  It constantly reiterates the approach of applying what you are being told to your own organisation.

People approaching ITIL education in general need to be of a mindset that it is a journey and not a quick-fix.

What people might NOT like

Globalisation

The first company I worked for was a multi-national corporation, centred in the US and the majority of our online training is produced in the US.  I have absolutely NO issue with hearing an American voice, but I have been on courses where people whine about Americanisms (there’s always one!).

Globalisation is prevalent in our industry and if this is an issue for you then perhaps this is not the course for you (or dare I say it the industry for you!)

Implementing ITIL

One of the things that always amuses me from trawling the Linked In groups is the sharp responses to queries about:

“I want to implement ITIL… give me x, y, z”

You will invariably see people slap that down with:

“You do not implement ITIL, you adopt, adapt, create and define policies and processes and deploy an ITSM tool to enforce, etc”

The course validates this phrase with talking about the processes and how they interact, and again this is an introduction to the basics.

And above all, it mentions the “journey” that you take in Service Management, which is often the answer given to the “implement ITIL” queries – so I think the course makes that distinction as you delve into it.

For beginners – this is in terms they understand – but would be interesting to see if more advanced courses still talk in those terms, or whether they make the “adopt/adapt/journey” distinction.

ITIL Lite – free or chargeable?

This is a taster course for offerings run by a training company – and there are links to a more formal corporate targetted ITIL Lite course on their website.

The benefit is, understandably, no additional marketing and links.

Just to reiterate – I am reviewing the completely free, ads-and-all version.

Would I recommend this?

I would definitely point people starting out in ITIL at this course, and in fact chatted to someone at a Regional itSMF UK seminar about this very course as an awareness starter for their staff.  They had also looked at it, so it is getting known as a key free resource.

A much respected ITAM colleague asked me whether it was worth their going for their ITIL certification, concerned about learning.  Unfortunately there is no short cut or free ride to the certification, but I would certainly point them at this for the basics, and leave them to make their mind up as to whether to go any further.

My final point focuses around the PDF “Report” that you are also able to download.

It boils down the concepts covered in the course, as well as the focus on applying the case, and packs a lot in to 80 pages.

Calling it a report really does not do it justice – it is the course material in its own right – showcase it as such, and maybe make this a core part of the ITIL Lite branding.

All in all this is a great introduction to ITIL for people thinking about certification, or getting people up to speed with the terminology.