Back to basics: Why your change fell at the first hurdle

Stop
“If you don’t give us this information, we’ll make bad decisions which ultimately expose the business to unnecessary risk due to operational instability or sacrifice our responsiveness to changing business demands.”

Hands up if, as a change manager, you’ve seen some truly horrendous change requests?

Changes so mangled and broken that their only conceivable purpose could be to serve as a dreadful warning to other change requests to straighten up and get a job.

We are occasionally labelled as the ‘parking wardens of the ITSM world’. That’s not to say we’ll invent improbable and eye-watering fines, but we are on the lookout for likely offenders and we’ll be consciously (and sometimes subconsciously) assessing your change requests against a ‘bingo card’ of suspicious behaviour when giving each request an initial quality check.

Good quality changes present the right information to the right people to make the right decision – so what are common reasons for rejection at that first quality gate?

Dear Requestor – your change has been rejected because:

  • ‘N/A’. – Change forms are pretty generic, we get that – but the minimum we’re looking for here is a sensible reason why it isn’t applicable.
  • Risk/Impact = ‘None’ – If you’re touching production, I’d argue that the risk is never none. I’ll accept ‘negligible risk to production based on rehearsal test results’ or ‘no material impact to key business services; isolated on a separate vLAN’ but I’ve seen far too many ‘harmless’ changes killing production.
  • TBC’. – Ok, we’re not totally unreasonable, it takes time to get some information and we know you only had 20 minutes after identifying the need for change to get it in before the weekly CAB cutoff, but when will it be confirmed? What information are you waiting for? Will you have it in time for CAB?
  • Leaving blanks. If you’ve submitted it with key information missing (why, what, where, when, who & how) then we’d find it difficult to ask CAB to make a good decision based on missing information. Cover the basics well enough, and you might get occasional slight offences overlooked (especially if you arrive at CAB with delicious pastries).
  • Suspiciously short answers – ‘Rollback’ is not a remediation plan. ‘Rollback to last snapshot taken at start of deployment. Takes 10 mins, will cause an outage and need 30 mins further checks afterwards by the DBAs. Rollback has been used in the past with no issues’ is a much better starting point.
  • Suspiciously long answers – Just like the overdue motorist who starts winding up a long, complex and improbable excuse, if you’ve copied and pasted 37 pages of vendor release notes into a text field we’re going to examine the rest of the change even more carefully. By all means attach supporting documentation and give a summary. This one leads me directly to:
  • Change descriptions comprising only code – Look, I get that you’re smarter than me when it comes to development, query plans, subnetting, or many other fields of specialty. I’ve even had a change request comprising only an algorithm for a Kalman filter – which even experienced statisticians regard as voodoo. I’m looking for reasons to trust that you know what you’re doing when you raise a request. If you can wrap your code snippet in plain english to describe the problem it fixes and (at a high level) how, then we’re good. I’ll also understand more about your change which means I can help you make a case for it. We’d rather help than hinder.
  • “Step 1 – Do the change. The End.” If you look back at this in 6 months time, because a sneaky recurring problem started at about the same time and has been driving you insane trying to figure out what caused it, will you know what it was you did? And how do we trust that you really know what you’re doing? Even simple changes have more to them than ‘just do it’. (You’ll thank me for this at midnight on a friday in about a year from now.)

Here’s an example of an implementation plan for a really simple patch:

  1. Obtain patch from vendor site at www.vendor.site/patch-id=12345
  2. Extract binaries, verify release notes and checksum
  3. Check service & server monitoring for unexpected issues which may impact release. Escalate to Duty Ops Mgr if in doubt.
  4. Stop application service
  5. Deploy patch following (attached) vendor instructions with the following deviations [xxxxxxx]
  6. Check logfiles for [xxxxxxxx] errors
  7. Restart application service
  8. Check service & server monitoring after change
  9. Close change record and hand back to ops.

Why is missing a few bits of information such a drama?

Because change management is a decision game. And the only way to consistently win decision games is to make decisions based on the best information possible. If you don’t give us this information, we’ll make bad decisions which ultimately expose the business to unnecessary risk due to operational instability or sacrifice our responsiveness to changing business demands. Or to be brutally direct: garbage in, garbage out.

The Remedy

It’s unlikely that poor change requests are the result of malicious individuals (unless you’re really unlucky). It’s also overly-simplistic to call it laziness:

“Ordinary laziness was merely the absence of effort. Victor had passed through there a long time ago, had gone straight through commonplace idleness and out on the far side. He put more effort into avoiding work than most people put into hard labor.”
~ Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

I’ve witnessed requestors put more effort into arguing why they shouldn’t have to raise a change request than they have into following the process in the first place. Luckily, these events are the exception rather than the rule, but as change manager, ask yourself (or others for an objective view) these questions:

  1. Is the change process logical, efficient, intuitive and easy to understand? How about the form/tool they’re logged in?
  2. Are there any unnecessary bottlenecks that can be engineered out?
  3. Is your approach to managing change proportionate? Do you have lighter processes for simpler and less risky changes? Not just Standard (catalogue) changes, but minor technical one-off changes that may suffice with a peer review and change manager approval* and don’t need the full process?
  4. Do people know what a good change request looks like? Do you have ‘gold standard’ example change requests in the back of your policy/process document?
  5. In fact, do they know where to find the policy/process documents? (hint – put a link to them in your email signature)

(*for anyone aghast that the change manager can approve a change ex-CAB, check out the ITIL(R) (2011) Service Transition core publication in section 4.2.5.5 which in figure 4.5 shows an example of a graduated approval structure. Not all Normal changes necessarily have to go to CAB if that’s what you agree in your policy, based on risk & impact.)

If your processes, tools, forms and model changes are shining beacons of efficiency, clear simplicity and proportionate governance, then you likely have a training or cultural issue. Cultural issues are too complex for this article to deal with, but if you’ve studied frameworks such as ITIL, you’ll have an idea of how to sell the benefits of industry good practice to the people in charge, and you also have the option to create your own culture within Service Transition.

Training is an easier topic. Work out your most important message, stick to it and keep repeating it. Training problems will keep re-appearing as new staff arrive and as people forget, so keep your training materials handy and up to date. New staff induction training is one area to consider – you’ll get them whilst they’re still excited about their new job and keen to please. If this is impractical, then mandatory change training can be given before new users are allowed to raise change requests in the system. Weekly email tips/reminders is something else I’ve found to be useful in some situations.

If they still don’t get it

I’m often asked what to do about repeat offenders. An important message is that you are not here to knock down their changes or waste their time, you want to show them how they can create changes which can be processed quickly and efficiently.

I’ve seen HR policies and public shaming used to identify & punish people not following process. But apart from gross negligence, threatening to tell HR can have unpredictable results, and public shaming simply creates an unhealthy culture.

My graduated approach now is:

First Offence / Requests for help
Sit down with the requestor (geography permitting) and explain what needs to be improved and why. You can even help them (re)write it. It’s time well spent to show them the professional respect for their time that you’d want in return for the change process. If you can do this even before they submit their first change, so much the better. Prevention is, after all, better than cure.

A shot across the bows
Return it to the requestor with a short description of the gaps and a link to the process, policy and ‘gold standard’ example change. Offer to help if they’re struggling to articulate part of their change request; sometimes they might just need introducing to the relevant subject matter expert or someone who’s recently delivered a similar change.
Repeat this step at your discretion.

Defcon 3
Return it, but copying the requestor’s line manager as final warning informing them that the next step will lead to:

Sanctions
Remove the requestor’s ability to raise changes in the system via access control. It can only be reinstated by someone senior enough to cause the requestor discomfort in having to ask them.

I’ve rarely had to apply sanctions. But if handled correctly and objectively, it’s a proportionate response which is within the power of most Change Managers as a last resort.

And finally…

The parking warden analogy I opened with tells only half the story. It bears repeating that this isn’t about stopping requestors or making their lives difficult, it’s ultimately about protecting the business and responding to their needs. To do that we need to be able to make good decisions based on accurate and complete change request information as efficiently as possible.

Perhaps a better metaphor would be that of an Air Traffic Controller. We want you to land safely, but if you can’t evidence that know how, or if you list your destination as ‘Not Applicable’, then we’re not even going to let you start the engines, let alone get off the ground.

Image Credit

ITSM Tools Universe Preview: How aligned are ITSM tool vendors to their customers?

Rebecca Beach has been locked away in ITSM Review labs reviewing technology and crunching numbers for the last few months in preparation for our ITSM Tools Universe research.

I am very pleased to say that we’ll be lifting the lid on the research in the next few weeks.

In this article I’ll provide a quick preview.

How customizable is your ITSM tool?

ITSM Review readers have told us the ability to customize ITSM tools is a key requirement in selecting new technology. For our ITSM Tools Universe research we asked the customers of participating vendors:

Q. On a scale of 1 to 10 (whereby 1 is entirely customizable in-house and 10 is entirely dependent on consulting / training) please provide an estimate of the level of customization you are able to achieve with your ITSM tool?

The radar chart below compares the responses from customers (in red) versus the vendor opinion (in blue) of ability to customize. 1 means I can tweak everything myself, 10 means I’m not autonomous and need to get consultants in to help.

customize-in-house

Most customizable in the ITSM Industry?

The table below shows customer opinion of ability to customize in descending order.

Customers consider Cherwell and EasyVista to be the highest rated in terms of ability to customize in house.

Customers consider ServiceNow and Good Sign the least configurable in-house and dependent on consulting and training to make changes.

inhouse

Note: We only asked three customers per supplier so this is not an exhaustive study but I believe provides a good indicator of overall sentiment.

Disparity in Opinion?

For me, the most compelling metric for this data is not whether a tool is customizable or not (although this is clearly a key differentiator) – but the vendors ALIGNMENT with customer opinion.

How in touch are vendors with customer sentiment?

As a whole across all vendors there is a significant difference in opinion – by a factor of 39 to 69.83. i.e. Vendors think their technology is more customizable than customers believe. That might be a technology issue, a maturity issue, an education issue – whatever – it’s a big mismatch. 

The table below shows the disparity in opinion between customers and vendors in descending order. ITRP and customer sentiment is perfectly aligned. Cherwell believe their technology is mostly customizable in-house and their customers agree. To the other extreme, Axios customers believe their technology is quite customizable, Axios don’t agree. ServiceNow think their technology is customizable in-house – their customers have a completely different view.

comparison

The ITSM Tools Universe by Rebecca Beach will be published soon (free). Subscribe to the ITSM Review newsletter to receive a notification when it is published.

15th September: UPDATE – the results are being published here: www.EnterpriseOpinions.com

Building a CSI culture

Melbourne Skyline (Wikipedia): the 17th National LEADit Conference to be held Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 August 2014.
Melbourne Skyline (Wikipedia): the 17th National LEADit Conference to be held Wednesday 13 to Friday 15 August 2014.

I’ll be delivering a presentation on Continual Service Improvement (CSI) at the LeadIT conference run by itSMF Australia in August. I wanted to talk about CSI because I think it’s one of the biggest opportunities we have to create value for our customers, and most organizations I work with don’t even try to implement it.

The key thing to remember about CSI is that it’s NOT a process, and despite what the ITIL books say it’s not a stage in the service lifecycle either. CSI is a combination of attitudes, behaviour and culture. It’s a belief that we can always do better, and that we should always do better – even if we’re already meeting every commitment we have signed up to.  It’s a constant striving for excellence, it’s a culture that says we can and will do better next time.

The ITIL CSI publication describes lots of great techniques. The best of these are the CSI register, and the CSI approach.

CSI Register

A CSI register is very simple, it’s just a place to record all the improvement suggestions that anyone brings to you, so that you can

  • Remember them, even if you aren’t yet ready to act on the suggestion
  • Prioritize them in terms of cost, benefits and urgency
  • Discuss them with stakeholders and agree which ones you will invest in
  • Manage and track the ones you decide to implement to ensure they deliver what you expect
  • Measure the cost and benefit that you actually create with CSI so you can report this to your customers and encourage further investment in more improvements

A CSI register doesn’t have to be complex, it is typically based on a fairly simple spreadsheet.

I often hear people explain that they don’t need CSI because they can do all of this with their risk management, or change management or quality management process. This is of course true, you could log all of these improvement suggestions as change requests and use the change management process to manage CSI, or log them all on a risk register and use the risk management process. Either of these would probably work to some extent, but there are differences between these things and you are likely to overload the change management or risk management process if you try doing this.

I’ve worked with CSI registers at many customers for more than 10 years, and I can assure you that they are a very low overhead way of helping to manage continual improvement. During my session at LeadIT, I’ll talk about some of my experiences with customers and how we have created success using CSI registers.

The CSI Approach

The CSI approach is a very simple approach to an ITSM improvement project based on six steps. It was first described in the ITIL V2 publication “Planning to Implement Service Management” published in 2002.  It has since been updated and now forms one of the components of ITIL CSI. The six steps are:

  1. What is the vision?  Ensure that you understand the vision and mission, goals and objectives for the improvement project. You need this to ensure that your decision making is consistent and leads to desired outcomes. Otherwise there will be lack of clarity about what you’re trying to achieve, and there will almost certainly be conflict between the different stakeholders.
  2. Where are we now? Understand the current situation. This is needed because CSI is based on improving what you have, not throwing everything away and starting again.
  3. Where do we want to be? Set measureable targets for the improvement project, and short term goals for the first stage of the project. Ideally you will use an agile approach for the whole project in which case this is where you define your first sprint.
  4. How do we get there? This is the bit where you create a detailed plan, invest in the improvement activities, and actually make the improvements
  5. Did we get there? Make the measurements that you defined in step 3 and make sure you achieved your goals.
  6. How do we keep the momentum going? CSI is not a one-off project like activity, it is a constant activity that results in ongoing improvements. This is why an agile approach works so well. As you make each improvement (or complete each sprint) you should verify that you are still working towards the vision, mission, goals and objectives that you set out, and report your successes to both IT and business staff – this will help to ensure support for the next iteration (or the next sprint if you’re using agile).

That’s all there is to it. If you come to my LeadIT presentation in August then I’ll tell you some stories about how my customers have used the CSI approach, what worked, what didn’t, what we learned. I’ll also ask you to share your experiences so maybe I’ll learn something from you too.

Image Credit

How to use rapid communications to meet customer service goals using SLAs

teonphotolarge (1)
Teon Rosandic

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

IT leaders and engineers certainly have their hands full with ever more sophisticated internal customers who are more empowered and easily disappointed than ever.  They are placing greater demands to “get it right” and deliver immediate access to information, products and services.

End users want to know not just that a service or product will meet their expectations, but that IT will deliver first-class, instant customer service.

At the enterprise level, Service License Agreements (SLAs) have long acted as these guarantees of service among businesses – between IT departments and their internal customers or between IT departments and the technology service providers with whom they contract.  Conceptually, SLAs focus on accountability and liability, and over time communication about issues and outages has become the norm.  As issues in IT or service providers become more immediate and directly impact end users, timely communication and transparency is as critical as the service license itself.

It’s a different environment out there now, one where always-on and always-connected businesses depend on cloud-based services. This environment also translates to internal customers in the IT organisation, where such expectations are at an all time high. Imagine your corporate Internet connection went down. Employees would be without email, the web and all the services they rely on, including CRM, marketing automation, financial tracking and much more.

One-third of Service Provider Customers report that just a five-minute outage would cause a large percentage of employees to be unproductive, according to a Cloud VPS  Hosting report.

The scramble to remain productive during an outage would certainly lead to an avalanche of questions, notifications and complaints from employees – exactly the sort of activity that prevents IT from taking action more than helps it.  A more proactive approach that sent notifications from IT to employees would both give IT more time to devote to resolving issues and create better relations between IT and the company at large.

You can’t send after-the-fact communications about down or unavailable services anymore because employees experience these outages immediately and in every area of their work.  They want immediate answers; and if you don’t send them, you’ll get the avalanche.

Upping the Communications Ante

If your employees are hyper-connected now, just wait for the future. Virtually everyone has a smart phone and most have tablets, but by 2020, networks will host more than 30 billion wirelessly connected devices, according to ABI Research.  But a smart phone is one person’s lifeline and another person’s albatross.  It’s not enough to just communicate.  You have to communicate to the devices your audience checks.

With more devices linked to the cloud, employee expectations for superior customer service and SLA-level speed of issue resolution will sky rocket.  IT will have to answer to this demand. It is telling that 82%of consumers count rapid response as the number one attribute of great customer service, according to a study by LivePerson. For clients of the IT organization, time to resolution is even more important because that’s when they can be productive again.

Rapid Communication to the Rescue

Immediate, targeted notification and communication is the key to speedy resolution of IT service issues. The first step is to establish the infrastructure for automated interactions. If companies put this approach in place before any problems occur, then they can activate them instantaneously and communicate in real time during crucial moments.

The real trick to effective communication, even in a crisis, however, is to tailor the messages to specific audiences. It’s important to send the right information to the right people via the right channels. Businesses can and should follow suit, taking the initiative to target customers in the ways that suit them best and then keep them regularly informed throughout the resolution process, even if only to say the solution is a work in progress.

The targeting should be much more specific than just preferred devices. Depending on the situation, maybe not everyone needs to be notified.  So it is a good practice to targeted recipients as well. Targeting recipients will also reduce the number of responses IT is likely to receive. According to the 2014 Zendesk Global Benchmark, IT departments receive an average of 33 alerts per day – on top of routine notifications. Sending too many irrelevant alerts can make people inside and outside IT stop paying attention, a phenomenon called alert fatigue.

So if IT gets notified to fix an issue at one employee’s workstation, it makes more sense to alert the affected employee than it does to notify the entire company. As IT adopts a more strategic role in helping companies achieve strategic goals and meeting financial targets, they need to be cognizant of being more than just a fix-it shop or just keeping the lights on.

To make such SLA-type communications possible, businesses can employ communication platforms to help automate messages and distribute them thoughtfully, through multiple channels, all while monitoring continuously for network and equipment malfunctions. Having all of these functions in one place ensures companies can resolve issues quickly and uphold their promises to keep customers informed.

Executives should be asking themselves – how are my customers’ service expectations evolving in today’s uber-connected world? Is my company prepared to deliver “SLA-quality” service? How can rapid communication help me meet their productivity goals? If one or all of these answers involves the adoption of a rapid communication platform, then they are one step closer to ultimate end user satisfaction.

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

How Does Your Helpdesk Solution Contribute To The Health Of Your Overall IT Infrastructure?

4504031924_790b6af945_zGiven everyone’s reliance on technology, a helpdesk solution is an integral part of your organization’s IT infrastructure. Naturally, with a helpdesk you picture skilled IT technicians assisting end-users with workstation issues. While this might be the main purpose of a helpdesk, it goes beyond IT support tasks and actually helps you oversee the health of all your IT resources. In essence, your helpdesk can be a panacea for all your IT ills.

In a recent report commissioned by Emulex Corporation, the research team at Forrester surveyed 158 IT professionals regarding how they manage business-critical IT applications. The results offered insight into some of the key challenges IT professionals face in their day-to-day operations. Here are some key points from the survey:

  • 56% of those surveyed cited that 25% of their critical performance issues cannot be resolved within 24 hours.
  • IT pros spend the majority of their time troubleshooting network and security issues.
  • Network visibility is vital for resolving most IT issues.

The lack of network visibility impedes your ability to identify the root cause of IT issues. This impacts first-call resolution rates as well as cost-per-incident effectiveness.

Tips

Here are some tips for using your helpdesk solution to identify and remedy network issues:

  • Use helpdesk solution that integrates well with a network monitoring solution and lets you configure helpdesk alert filtering rules.
  • Configure your network monitoring tool to share its alerts with your helpdesk software.
  • Incorporate a standby server to back up your data. A failover server is helpful for switching over the data.
  • Set up your helpdesk solution to receive and assimilate alert data and automatically assign tickets to specific technicians.
  • Use a helpdesk solution that automatically triggers new alerts and notes updates on existing tickets according to changes within the network parameters.
  • Configure alert variables to filter alerts based on severity and location. (This can provide information about your operating system, machine type, IP address, DNS, total memory, system name, location, alert type, etc.)

Just like you, all IT pros need to accomplish more with smaller IT budgets and less resources. A helpdesk solution that effectively integrates with your network monitoring tool and quickly identifies network issues can be a panacea for all your IT ills.

Image Credit

IT Maturity: Chasing rainbows?

ITSM Maturity

It is surprising just how many organisations do NOT monitor their IT maturity. Where are we? Is it going up, or down? In fact an even more basic question is: exactly what is IT Maturity and is it an integer, percentage, score or grade?

It’s difficult to put a finger on what it looks like, and what the final output ‘Score’ is.  It reminds me of the famous book and film ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’…. Where after several years, the Mega computer that was tasked with finding the answer to ‘Life the Universe and Everything’, came up with the answer 42……Thank you – Very helpful.

IT Maturity is less about the answer, but more about the trend

There are many models that can be used from various analyst or consulting firms, and all use the same fundamentals (but scored differently, so don’t compare). I would point out that a lot of this is common sense and a great way to get IT properly connected with the business.

The building blocks centre on your PEOPLE, PROCESSES, TECHNOLOGY and MISSION; more on these foundations later.

However, the fact is, although it might be an interesting way to spend an afternoon, doing an IT maturity benchmark against other organisations (either in your sector or not) isn’t really relevant. There really isn’t an apples-for-apples comparison.  It may be close, but building a maturity model where you can score yourself-against-yourself (over time) will prove significantly more valuable and will be a whole lot easier to realize.

IT Maturity Model

There is no standard maturity model that works really well at outputting a set of actions that will deliver improvement for a particular business – and there never will be. There are too many variables to be considered. An accurate IT maturity assessment model would be far too complex and impractical – to build, or to use.

At the other end of the spectrum, too basic and irrelevant. Maturity models are either too loose (and have too few inputs to be useful), or they are too tight and require a whole heap of numbers you just don’t have to hand. Even the most simple of questions, like “do you have a service catalogue?” are rarely simple in the real world. Owning a service catalogue doesn’t indicate what it does or the value it delivers. Is it integrated with a service request system to manage execution, or is it just a front-end for the service desk? Are all of your services listed, or just some? IT is complex by nature and each question tends to spark a dozen deeper questions.

So, if general IT maturity models and assessments are questionable, how should you evaluate your own IT maturity? It turns out that the models that are out there can be of some use – as a starting point for your own custom maturity model. A model that can help you steer your own vision of IT and business harmony. When approached from a critical standpoint, you can get some good ideas on questions you can ask within your own organization to evaluate IT maturity in a way that is relevant to your business. When asking introspective questions about the status quo, things tend to fall into a natural path. When you boil it down, it can hardly fail to fall into the trusty old improvement model.

If you’re asking “What is our IT maturity level?” you’re really asking “Where are we now?” If you’re asking “What does the next level look like?” you’re actually asking “Where do we want to get to?” The whole thing starts to look suspiciously like an improvement roadmap.

The Glue

It occurs to me that the Service Management methodologies and tools play a critical role in the IT Maturity journey. The foundations of PEOPLE, PROCESSES, TECHNOLOGY AND MISSION all (or should) touch this common platform. ITSM could be the conductor of total IT maturity. Often relegated to the role of IT Help Desk, in fact you probably already have the tool that could transform your business, life and career.

ITSM pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…..

Utilizing your toolset and ITSM best practices in a business and IT maturity context can transform IT, the business and the ability to compete and react to business challenges.

Mission

What type of IT and business does the organization want?

What is the role of IT in the organization? Is it merely to provide compute, network and  applications to the business in a secure and compliant fashion, or perhaps, IT is the business (or needs to be the business, if your business for example is in payroll printing systems, but the vision is to become on e-billing and Payroll Company).

In order to build your own custom maturity model/roadmap, you really need a good understanding of the business KPIs and what factors influence them (both up and down). From this, you should be able to map out the IT capabilities that are most influential on those KPIs. When put in this context – one that is highly relevant to your own business – the concept of IT maturity is considerably more valuable. When you can say to the business “We are here…and this is what it means to the business. We want to get here…and this is what it will mean to the business” and they agree, then you know you’re heading in the right direction.

So Mission needs to define key business metrics, Governance, financial, planning, supply & sourcing.

People

Based on the mission, do we have the right people and skills?

This should score key skills and the quantity required (capacity to do the job), training, culture, organizational alignment and people management. Empowerment needs to be considered, do we centrally give the tools and services, or do we empower the staff/organizations to build what they need themselves?

Technology

Do we get value, quality, flexibility and interoperability that is secure?

Too often this topic is the sole focus, and typically scores quite well. It’s our heritage and passion, but recent development are clearly challenging sub topics such as Efficiency, Service Quality, Standards and Integration and the overall technology management capabilities. Don’t forget IT maturity does not necessarily provide you with the agility needed to redesign and deliver the services the business wants. In fact many organisations with cumbersome legacy solutions would score highly for IT maturity but have the turning circle of an oil tanker.

Processes

How digitized, efficient, automated and controlled are our processes?

Typically the lowest score in any IT maturity model score. Consider IT process. Consider non-IT process. Consider cross platform process integration. Best practice model alignment, process management and entire process lifecycle and where possible link all process scores to $$$$ metrics (staff cost, stock, license, and in the case of non-IT process, labor gains and efficiency gains)

Finally

I would recommend you build some simple BVD (Business Value dashboards) that link commercial data with IT data for your exec teams to see just how well IT is doing, improving and delivering real value to the business.

Oh look…. It’s raining and the suns out…..

 Image Credit

Technology Review: EasyVista

Easy VistaThis is a review of the EasyVista ITSM solution. The product (set) reviewed was:

  • EasyVista ServiceManager
  • EasyVista Service-Apps
  • EasyVista Click2Get

These collectively make up ‘EasyVista.com’ – the product set reviewed will be released on July 1st 2014.

At a glance

EasyVista is an established and growing player in the ITSM industry – from an initial start in 1988 through to a floated business in 2005 with a native Cloud platform, to its current position challenging the enterprise market.

The company focuses on EMEA and US markets with Head Offices based in both New York and Paris. Recent growth has been impressive and the company is expanding and developing into new markets and market areas. This review looks at EasyVista’s core capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, plus go-to-market strategy and vendor reach.

Summary of Key Findings

Strengths Weaknesses
Simple yet powerful customer presentation layer Limitations on vendor implementation capacity
Comprehensive ITSM functionality – good Service Catalog capability May need to develop more/new capabilities and project services for larger enterprise clients
Cradle to grave Asset Management – extensive financial capability Recent core focus on US has slightly hindered UK presence to date behind, however we understand that this is being addressed
Intuitive user-friendly workflow – NEO capability for tech-free design and admin Reporting capabilities and templates could be improved
Strong multi-language offerings
Impressive recent financial growth

Analysis

Overall EasyVista has a very strong product-set in the ITSM market.With a long pedigree, since 1988, as a mid-market vendor, with focus in some key geographical markets, EasyVista is now broadening its appeal and reach across wider global markets and is also becoming more tuned to enterprise organizations needs.

This is having some success with a number of recent wins over ServiceNow and Cherwell Software, who they view as main competitors. As is the case with these companies, EasyVista is also winning new business from legacy CA/HP/BMC sites with its modern, agile, user-friendly, and user-configurable approach and (web-based) product set; as well as competitive costing and minimized cost of upgrade path.

The product-set aims to provide a comprehensive, yet simple and intuitive interface for build and maintenance, reducing the time to implement and also the cost and skill level required for ongoing tailoring and configuration. A key concept is the simplified ‘presentation layer’, which effectively provides a simple and business-focused interface to allow user organisations to focus on business objectives and not be side-tracked by infrastructure and technical details and data. This also supports the approach that allows the underlying infrastructure and services details to change without impacting the presentation layer – i.e. the User Interface and outputs. EasyVista’s pitch aims to support the idea that the tool helps to reduce complexity around IT and ITSM delivery – by linking ‘Service Management with Content Management’ – so that all sources are presented/rendered consistently.

As an ITSM tool it has a full set of Service Management capabilities available, delivered in ‘standard’ tabular formats (i.e. process functions as expected for ITSM/ITIL processes and lifecycle) with the ability to make changes easily and without technical skills/support.The core Incident, Problem and Change processes are presented in a clean and simple format with the ability to use multiple layers of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Operating Level Agreements (OLAs) as required – e.g. for tracking, OLAs can be easily nested and tracked within a wider SLA. The Service Catalog functionality is extensive and compares well with other product offerings, featuring some straightforward and effective features like graphical displays of linked services, parent/child service ‘bundles’, and simple logical links to all other ITSM functions.

The asset and configuration elements of the toolset are also key features with function-rich capabilities around asset tracking and financial management (e.g. insurance values, residual value, depreciation etc). This includes an end-to-end approach with the ability to create orders and pick from stock as part of the asset lifecycle. Whilst this functionality has been around for many years in large enterprise products, it is encouraging to see this level of detail and control being made available from a mid-size vendor and product – with a modern, simplified and connected (social) interface.

image001

Discussion threads offer social capabilities that can be used effectively for approvals – e.g. for Change Advisory Boards (CABs) – and are a useful and social way to communicate (like a Facebook wall) and contribute to incidents and other events – i.e. beyond those simply on the escalation path. This can also be used for knowledge sharing and also to present real-time knowledge content within incidents. The ‘NEO’ function provides advanced capabilities without the need for technical skills, and is based on a graphical interface for workflow, forms design, tables, and field and screen creation that is simple to administer – i.e. using drag and drop. Development of the presentation layer for IT or departmental customers is supported by the NEO capability. EasyVista has built a range of widgets, such as charts, navigation, dashboard components, and HTML widgets, as well as provided access to a range of other web widgets from the likes of Google, Twitter etc. These widgets can be used to easily build Service Apps like CIO dashboards or Service Catalogs, enhancing functionality and integration of processes.

Reporting and monitoring are available with user-defined dashboards – i.e. that can include standard widgets as already mentioned. This could be further developed to provide more pre-canned templates and standards offerings to clients. EasyVista has strong language capabilities with 12 core languages available across a single meta-data structure – therefore global implementation can be effective across a single platform. EasyVista also provides a robust network of data centers across EMEA, the US and Singapore to provide continuous business continuity. There is also an extensive and effective global knowledge community sharing product information and guidance.

Languages available:

  • Bosnian
  • Brasilian
  • Catalan
  • Chinese (Traditional)
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • Dutch
  • English (UK)
  • English (US)
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Polish
  • Portugeze
  • Spanish

The vendor is expanding and recruiting to support its current growth and sales success. This is part of a continuing development plan to consolidate and build on an improving market position, and challenging enterprise vendors on price and flexibility, whilst still offering a full set of functionality plus innovation in the product that has been built as a native cloud-based system.

Revenues have grown from $11.5M (2010) to over $20M in 2013, with recurring revenue accounting for over 70% due to its SaaS customer base. The stock price has accordingly quadrupled (from $10.00 to $40.00) over the last year.

The vendor has been operating in the mid-market for several years and is now successfully engaging more with the enterprise market, where there may be more requirements from customers to deliver project and consultancy-based services. At present EasyVista have a global network of (40) implementation partners – with a majority of sales being made direct (95% direct in US, 50% direct in EMEA). Corporate resources are therefore focused on development, and sales and marketing, and less on implementation – this may need to be revised with more demanding enterprise-sized customers.

The challenges for EasyVista are in maintaining its focus on innovation, quality installations and client success, whilst also growing its market share and delivering successful implementations in new vertical and horizontal markets. This is recognized by the company with a recruitment programme and a renewed growth plan in the UK, which was consciously left alone some years ago when the focus was on building market share in the US and continental Europe. At that time the UK ITSM market was seen as stagnant, but there is now renewed interest in this market for replacement solutions following new innovations and the impact of disruptive (Cloud/SAAS) commercial models. EasyVista were left exposed in the UK and are now working to recoup some position in this market – however in future there may be issues in other areas if resources are stretched across multiple geographical markets and levels of the IT/ITSM market.

Delivery of sales message (which is seen to be good) and the ability to deliver to a new market area (enterprise) are also seen as major challenges – along with the ability to consolidate and maintain growth. The product set is comprehensive and possibly complex at first sight, therefore the ITSM Review recommends that EasyVista aligns its message (simplicity and business focus) with its overall presentation of the modules and areas of the product. The three product areas – Service Manager, Service Apps and Click2Get – plus the Neo function, sit over the ITSM modules with different pricing structures and this can initially look at odds with the company’s ‘simplify IT’ message, although we understand the pricing is very competitive. Whilst there are some corporate and delivery challenges, the product provides a comprehensive solution, is well positioned, and the pitch plays well to a market hungry for savings, simplicity and new ways of working.

On a comparative level with the upper mid-market and also at an enterprise level, the product-set has good functionality and offers innovation and a user-friendly operation. Development has been applied to the use and usability of the product and this should reduce the need for extensive consulting and implementation services. However there is always a need for implementation guidance and support for less-mature organisations. This is a gap and opportunity for EasyVista to provide more value-added services to support these clients’ implementations.

Overall, EasyVista is an excellent offering for customers/buyers who are mature, know what they want from ITSM (particularly in some key areas like Service Catalog and Asset Management), and are able to implement this mostly themselves.

image004

Key Capabilities

EasyVista is an integrated solution that covers IT Service and Asset Management. The modules provided are:

  • Service Operation: Incident, Problem, Service Request and Event Management. This module addresses core service desk functionality.
  • Service Transition: Change, Knowledge and Release Management. This addresses the ability to manage the entire lifecycle of Change records and how they relate to Releases in the CMDB. Additionally the knowledgebase is managed in this module allowing the management and subsequent publication of knowledge articles to technical and non-technical users.
  • Service Strategy: Financial areas such as Budget Planning/Control, Procurement, Charge Back, IT Costing etc. are provided by this module allowing customers to have fiscal control over all aspects of IT delivery.
  • Service Design: The management of SLAs/OLAs, Continuity Plans, Availability Targets, Catalog content etc. is managed in this module, providing the ability to create and manage all of these aspects ‘codelessly’ and quickly.
  • Asset Management: provides full financial lifecycle Asset Management for all assets as part of the core solution. This includes all aspects of Asset Management including request, order, delivery, contract, budget, loan, repair, depreciation etc.
  • Extended CMDB: The extended CMDB module provides a fully graphical interface for viewing and analyzing the relationships between CIs and ultimately assessing impact.
  • Business Relationship Management: This covers the areas of Self-Service Portal, Social IT, and Mobility, allowing customers to interact with all product areas in a variety of different ways.
  • Continual Service Improvement: A built-in, proprietary reporting engine providing Analytics, Dashboards, and Standard Reporting.
  • Business Process Management: Automated Workflow Engine, Business Rules Engine, and pre-defined Business Wizard Accelerators. These areas allow customers to build their own processes, automate workflow, and streamline their day-to-day tasks with no coding required.

These functions are presented in tabular form and generally follow the ITIL v3 lifecycle structure. The building of forms and functions (events, escalations, SLAs, validation approvals etc.) into processes can be done simply using a consistent graphical workflow tool – this can incorporate (e.g. Google) ‘widgets’ as required and can also simply be amended using ‘drag and drop’ functionality. As such, creation of ‘standard’ ITSM processes is simple, intuitive and extensive, based on a turnkey set of processes in the product-set – i.e. capable of delivering to a high level of complexity and detailed functionality for SME and enterprise requirements.

Key functions observed:

Incident Management – extensive, flexible form creation, escalations, tracking and filters, user-defined workflow, and knowledge integration.

Problem Management – as above, plus integrated reporting.

Change Management – includes the ability to use ‘discussion threads’ to manage approvals via social-lie interfaces.

Service Catalog – comprehensive functionality, well-presented multi-view and graphical representation of services and CMDB links. Good use of service ‘bundle’ approach – i.e. grouping of components together to build supply chain of IT services.

Service Level Management – extensive and capable of managing multiple levels of SLA, availability of services etc., plus ability to manage and track nested OLA timeframes within SLAs.

Asset Management – high level of specification and capability, particularly around financial management, depreciation, residual value etc.

Knowledge Management – using ‘widget’ plug-ins can bring a variety of options for presenting and managing associated knowledge articles.

Reporting – dashboards shown with the potential for extended functionality and flexibility. Vendor could develop more ‘templated’ report and dashboard content to enhance presentation.

Go-to-market Strategy

EasyVista’s sweet spot target clients:

Staff 2,000 – 20,000
IT Staff 25 – 600
Nodes 10,000 – 200,000
IT Maturity Medium – High
Market level Mid/upper mid-market and Enterprise, some F500Vertical and horizontal – no sector focus
Challenges Cost, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), global multi-language, need for flexibilty and ease of use

Regional focus:

  • Significant investment in the USA – Past 2 years has seen 100%+ growth per year
  • Continued expansion in EMEA – Past 2 years has seen 20% growth in a tough market
  • Tactical investment in APAC
  • Planned expansion and increased investment in the UK planned for late FY14

Channel Focus:

  • USA – 95% direct sales. 70% direct services and 30% through strategic partners.
  • EMEA – 50% direct and 50% indirect.
  • 40 fully accredited partners with 280 certified engineers worldwide.

Features delivered as part of the standard offering:

Service Manager, Asset Management, Service Apps and Click2Get are licensed independently. SaaS customers can obtain a product called myEasyVista, which is SaaS performance and administration portal – this is included in the SaaS subscription.

Service manager is sold with full functionality (all processes / and capabilities)

  • Incident Management
  • Problem Management
  • Availability Management
  • Service Asset and Configuration Management
  • IT Service Continuity Management
  • Service Catalog Management
  • Service Level Management
  • Service Portfolio Management
  • Request Fulfillment
  • Knowledge Management
  • Change Management
  • Asset Management

Licensing and Payments:

  • On premise = Concurrent
  • SaaS = Named or Concurrent

Range of project values for a typical installation:

  • SaaS: $75K/year – $300K/year
  • On Premise:  $100K – $500K

Annual maintenance and support cost:

  • 20% of On Premise software sale price.
  • 6 – 10 weeks average implementation time.

Key Reference Customers

OTD

Innovation, quality performance, integrity and teamwork – One Touch Direct is a premier call center service company and leader in developing customized direct marketing strategies. They specialize in developing integrated direct response marketing programs supported by state of the art call center services. OTD is based in North America, employs over 2000 team members and offers call center support in English, French and Spanish.

Domtar

Domtar-Centralizing IT Worldwide – Domtar was founded in 1848 and has grown from a widely diversified organization to an industry leader focused on paper manufacturing. The 1990s and the early 2000s were years of significant expansion, including the acquisition of Ris Paper Company Inc. and Georgia Pacific paper mills.

Expro

Expro delivers a true global SaaS ITSM solution in weeks with EasyVista – Expro is a world leader in well flow management technologies with core and more specialized services assisting customers to measure, improve, control and process flow from their wells. Expro’s expertise extends across the lifecycle of a well, reinforcing their ability to help customers achieve their goals – from Exploration & Appraisal through to Abandonment. Expro operates in all the major hydrocarbon producing areas of the world, employing more than 5,000 people in 50 countries.

Case studies available from these customers.

Geographical Coverage

Direct Presence Geographical area:

  • USA
  • Canada
  • UK
  • France
  • Germany
  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • Italy

Vendor Profile – In their own words

“We recognize the IT landscape we live in and therefore the ITSM requirement to our customers has radically changed. ITSM is no longer just about looking after the employees IT equipment and services, but also about how IT can build non-IT centric services and applications that improve your employee and business unit’s function, efficiency and service to the ultimate end customer.

Today’s ITSM challenge comes from these two ‘customer needs’ but also, the fundamental shift in the way we build IT. The number of systems we use directly or indirectly to transact business with our customers is x50 higher than it was just 3 years ago. All of this data and all of the new communication channels needs to be harnessed and coordinated to provide Service and SupportYet the current platforms that provide the service and support were built for a different age. They may support social, cloud and business analytics – but the hard way. Hard wired, ridged and very costly to administer, change and integrate.

IT is now at a pivotal moment in its corporate career. One that could transform the organization and make rock-stars out of IT leadership. The days of big, highly integrated, proprietary and complex platforms are dead. We live in the age of the web. The next generation of service and support will harness web architectures and services into a harmonious and dynamic service.

We would like to introduce you to a New Way. The Easy Way.

  • An Agile Web Service and Support Customer User Interface Engine.
  • An Agile Web Service and Support Workflow Engine.
  • An Agile Web Service and Support Asset Management Engine.
  • An Agile Web Service and Support Integration Engine.
  • With ‘Dynamic Orchestration’ – Not manual hard wired integration.

All codeless, and all joined up.”

Screenshots

Further resources

Contact details

www.easyvista.com

Phone: +1 (888) EZV ITSM

 

EASYVISTA

Summary

Strengths Weaknesses
Simple yet powerful customer presentation layer Limitations on vendor implementation capacity
Comprehensive ITSM functionality – good Service Catalog capability May need to develop more/new capabilities and project services for larger enterprise clients
Cradle to grave Asset Management – extensive financial capability Recent core focus on US has slightly hindered UK presence to date behind, however we understand that this is being addressed
Intuitive user-friendly workflow – NEO capability for tech-free design and admin Reporting capabilities and templates could be improved
Strong multi-language offerings
Impressive recent financial growth

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

The information contained in this review is based on sources and information believed to be accurate as of the time it was created.  Therefore, the completeness and current accuracy of the information provided cannot be guaranteed.  Readers should therefore use the contents of this review as a general guideline, and not as the ultimate source of truth.

Similarly, this review is not based on rigorous and exhaustive technical study.  The ITSM Review recommends that readers complete a thorough live evaluation before investing in technology.

This is a paid review, that is, the vendors included in this review paid to participate in exchange for all results and analysis being published free of charge, without registration.

For further information, please read our Disclosure page.

The secret to change success – understanding multiple perspectives

People
People are both the problem and the answer

A recent Forrester consulting study (commissioned by automation vendor Chef and downloadable from their website at the link above) found that 40% of Fortune 1000 IT leaders report first time change success rates below 80% (or they simply didn’t know what the first time change success rate was at all), with another 37% stating their first time change success rate was between 80% and 95%.

In the same study, 69% of these same Fortune 1000 IT leaders report it takes them more than a week to make infrastructure changes, and an equal 69% report that it takes them more than a week to release application code into production (mind you that’s not to develop, test, and release the code, but just release code that’s already been written and tested!). Finally, 46% report that more than 10% of their incidents were self-inflicted from IT changes and, shockingly, 31% say they don’t even know what percentage of incidents are caused by changes!

Why Otherwise Capable IT Leaders Struggle with Change

What is going on in these IT shops to produce such bad numbers?  Based on my experience with a number of Fortune 1000 IT organizations, I’d like to think that these study participants are  just as smart and capable as the IT leaders and professionals I regularly meet with. They are well educated, very experienced (as are their teams), and nearly all of them have some form of change process, changes management software and a change advisory board to assess risks before changes are made. So, why isn’t this enough to produce better results?

I submit that there are two problems, which are actually related to each other.

Problem One

Our environments have become extremely complex. The dependencies and relationships across multi-tiered applications / business services are way more than what one individual can know fully – no matter how talented and how long they’ve been working there.

Trends like virtualization, agile development, cloud, mobile, big data, etc. are also making this even harder as IT moves faster and faster to respond to business needs and as innovative new technologies proliferate.

Problem Two

We aren’t effectively capturing the input from multiple perspectives during the change planning process so we aren’t effectively identifying and mitigating risks.

Think about how a typical change and release planning process goes. It starts with a request for a change and a change planner filling out an electronic form about it. They assign various people to review and approve the change and this step might include consulting with a spreadsheet, perhaps looking at Configuration Item (CI) information in a CMDB, and maybe calling a meeting or sending out an email or two.  In a lot of cases, those selected to participate in the review will include managers or more senior roles who don’t have a very good working knowledge of the operational environment, so they consult with their teams (or at least we hope they will) and eventually the change gets brought forward to the Change Advisory Board (CAB) for a formal approval. It may have taken a week, two weeks, a month or more just to get to this point.

Then the CAB, which is often made up of even more senior people, reviews the planned change. Often one of the CAB members will recognize that a key team or expert wasn’t included in the review process and “kicks it back” for further input and the change approval is rescheduled to a future CAB meeting.  Equally often there’s a lot of pressure from the business to make the change happen right away (it could be a new application release the business has been waiting for), it could be a security fix and “we just can’t allow ourselves to be exposed by delaying it”, or maybe it’s just a firmware upgrade to a router and the vendor has said “it’s no big deal”.   So the CAB says “go” and hopes everything works out okay, but a lot of times it simply doesn’t.

People Are Both The Problem And The Answer

By now you may have guessed that the way we engage people in the change process is not only the problem, but it’s also the solution. There’s a great quote from the MIT artificial intelligence expert, Marvin Minsky, that I think is very relevant here: “You don’t really understand something until you understand it more than one way.”

This is, in effect, what we try to do by assigning multiple reviewers and approvers to a change request, but the problem is that we often guess about whom the best people are to involve so we end up oversubscribing the list and inundating people with emails and meetings or we undersubscribe and leave out key individuals.

The information these people have to work from is also very fragmented. Yes, we have our CMDBs and CI information, but they’re often incomplete and not always trusted, so people fall back on their tribal knowledge, which may also be incomplete and out of date.  A lot of the time, we might intentionally leave out groups because we think that will slow things down, “Do we really need to involve the network team on a SAN upgrade? Why do we need security involved in a database patch?” The network might have a direct impact on the success of the SAN upgrade, because we might need to optimize network device settings to handle additional load to the SAN. That database we’re patching might contain sensitive customer data and the right patch procedure better be followed or we’ll create a compliance problem. So if we leave out people that may be necessary, we create unexpected ripple effects from our changes too.

Engaging Relevant Experts to Collaborate Is The Key

I suggest that there are two things we need to do in order to better engage the right people so we can improve first change success rates, speed the time to execute changes, and reduce incidents from changes:

  1. We need to know up front who the right people are to involve (and who not to involve as well), so we can be sure we include all the right perspectives (and don’t unnecessarily pull people off of what they are already working on as well)
  2. We need to arm those we involve with accurate information about upstream and downstream dependencies so they can make informed and quicker recommendations

As an industry, this is what we should be focused on rather than whether a strict approval process alone was followed. By enabling our experts to opt-in to the things they are responsible for and care about, they can be automatically identified and engaged when it comes time to plan a change .  We also need to take a lesson from academic journals and apply a peer review process to our CMDB data so we can increase trust in its use and fill in the gaps with the tribal knowledge of our experts, validating that both sets of information are accurate and up to date. With this type of an approach, we can have a much stronger basis for smarter change decision-making. This is exactly the type of approach we’re taking in my organization, and I invite you to check out what the ITSM Review team has to say about it.

Image Credit