Enterprise Release Management Tools: Plutora

Introduction

image3Enterprise Release Management is an increasingly prominent discipline, occupying the intersection of technical release management, project delivery and change management. Its focus is on understanding and governing the full portfolio of multi-stream changes, be they quarterly ERP releases, one-off project deliveries or monthly patching.

The demands on enterprise level release managers are many: governing and managing individual releases, maintaining the forward schedule as far as 12 months ahead, making sure non-production environments are efficiently used and more. Most release managers will have built and refined an array of spreadsheets and calendars to manage everything from release scope, defect lists, release gateway checklists, cutover plans and forward schedules.

Spreadsheets and calendars can work perfectly well when there are only half a dozen releases to track across 2-3 test environments, but once this starts scaling up – especially with multiple release managers – keeping these spreadsheets up to date becomes an administrative challenge and resource drain, letting inevitable errors creep into manual processes.

This is the tipping point where dedicated Enterprise Release Management tools make their case. The initial benefits are obvious: moving spreadsheets online to offer a single version of the truth slashes administrative waste and allows for pivoted views of the same data. Common tasks or release governance structures can be defined and re-used.

Clever reporting can replace hours of spread sheet and Powerpoint wrangling with the click of a button, and this is only scraping the surface. In this review, we’ll see what else leading vendor, Plutora, has built into their tool to add some real intelligence into the process far beyond simply lifting and shifting a spreadsheet online.

Quick facts & review highlights

Version Reviewed

Plutora V 3.5
October 2014

Market focus & customer counts

Large/very large IT organisations with a strong or dedicated project delivery arm who are presently struggling with visibility of their forward release schedule, environment utilisation or quality of repeatable release activity.

Customers:

  • USA: 18
  • EUROPE: 8
  • ASIA PAC: 15

License Options

SaaS licenses available in packs of 25 or unlimited enterprise option.

Competitive Differentiators

  1. Purpose-Built and Comprehensive: Plutora Enterprise Release Manager enables all of your end-to-end release management processes out of the box. Plutora is differentiated with its capability to combine release management, test environment management, deployment management and self-service reporting in a single comprehensive tool.
  2. Enterprise SaaS: Plutora is 100% SaaS to ensure rapid implementation and adoption of the solution within your organization. Plutora scales in the cloud to meet the growing complexity of your organization as teams become increasingly distributed.
  3. Vendor-neutral integrations: To provide a unified view across all your releases, Plutora integrates seamlessly into your landscape with an open API and adapters to your existing Project Portfolio Management, Application Lifecycle, Quality Management and IT Service Management tools.

Products

  • Plutora Enterprise Release Manager
  • Plutora Test Environment Manager
  • Plutora Deployment Manager

We think Plutora is stronger in…

Conversion of simple, powerful & common tools frequently used (and easily recognised) by release managers into a web application and expanded to make the most of pivotable underpinning data.

Strong & flexible presentation of critical information, both from pre-configured views & reports, and user-built reporting.

Powerful deployment management command & control function.

Clever system impact matrix with regression-test flagging.

We think Plutora is weaker in…

As a release-focused tool, less emphasis on non- transition related IT Service Management information may mean release decisions are taken in isolation and solved problems are not learned. Plutora offers the ability to add customized data fields and comments for non-transition related information.

Not aggregating change/feature resource cost into release-level capacity monitoring (and instead doing this manually) feels like a missed opportunity.

Some medium-sized IT organisations do not have 25 users, Plutora’s minimum license. Less focus on technical release aspects such as build/integration tooling, though this is on the feature roadmap.

In their own words…

Plutora’s purpose-built SaaS solution for Enterprise Release Management, Test Environment Management and Deployment Management enable you to manage complex application releases with transparency and control. Using Plutora, organizations can deliver higher quality software more frequently to meet customer demand with no impact on downtime.

Plutora ensures high-quality, on-schedule releases by driving enhanced enterprise collaboration and coordination for all key elements of a successful release: timing, composition, status, and stakeholders across their lifecycle – with ease. Real-time dashboards show release schedules and how they are tracking according to governance gates within the release framework.

Plutora provides a unified repository for all release information where users can source data, including project dependencies, without needing to piece together the shape of a release from multiple sources. Plutora integrates with your existing IT management tools to ensure that no data needs to be manually re-entered by users.

Customers

Over 30 enterprises across the globe as of March 2015, including Telstra, ING Direct, Boots UK, News Corporation, and GSK, manage $5 billion of releases using Plutora.

About this review

This was an unusual review, since Enterprise Release Management is an emergent discipline, combining both technical release management and project-delivery capabilities, but with an operational focus.

As an emergent discipline, there are no standard ways of dealing with the inherent challenges in this field, so the assessment of quality comes both from a mixture of judgements made during the review, in-depth use* and trusted industry awards. In this last category, Plutora has pedigree: named by Gartner as ‘Cool Vendor of the Year’ in 2014.

This review was written on the basis of a maximum 2 hour demonstration of the 5 key capabilities by each of the vendors. It is not exhaustive, and some capabilities which you especially require may be present in the tools but not covered in this review. As such, if you believe that Enterprise Release Management tooling is appropriate for your organisation, it is worth speaking to Plutora to ascertain best fit for your specific objectives.

*and thus not part of this review

Assessment Criteria

  • Tracking and managing a release with repeatable & templated processes
  • Tracking the entire release portfolio and presenting this information to diverse stakeholders
  • Managing resource and environment usage
  • Using data inside or connected to the tool and built-in intelligence to help inform release activities.
  • A single tool to remove reliance on spread sheets, calendars or manual processes.

Functional Review

Plutora is purpose built to enable end-to-end release tracking in a single solution. It comprises 3 modules: Enterprise Release Manager, Test Environment Manager and Deployment Manager.

A release in Plutora comprises a number of customer-specified phases that focus on their respective exit gates, and each has a checklist of activities or exit criteria a release manager would need to have completed before moving to the next. For example, a ‘QA’ phase exit gate would be reliant on, say, Completion of Functional Testing, Completion of Performance Testing and Signed Off Test Completion Report as activities required to move to the next phase.

Once a release ‘model’ has been built using these phases and checklists, it is then very easy to clone this to a new release. According to Plutora, many of its customers prefer using this cloning approach to template their releases rather than building dedicated theoretical templates which may themselves require overhead to manage and keep up to date. The cloning approach allows a maturing release management organisation to learn and adapt quickly to changing situations – taking only the elements they know work and evolving them organically.

Additionally, some customers of Plutora also use this cloning feature and general checklist features to build operational maintenance checklists – so, although the tool is heavily targeted at the change delivery side of the organisation, it can also be of significant benefit to operational and technical maintenance functions.

The templating and checklist functionality doesn’t stop there. Implementing a release is another area often devolved to shared spreadsheets, but Plutora delivers not just a single-source-of-truth replacement for these spreadsheets, but in Deployment Manager a clever, real-time command and control capability to let a single release manager monitor, trigger and track deployment steps in multiple releases simultaneously with internal or external delivery teams.

Once the work has been put into ensuring that the individual releases are accurate, the aggregate view starts to take shape and provide value. The Plutora Enterprise Release Schedule provides a tailored view of all releases. The schedule can be detailed, showing all phases, gateways and environments, or quickly summarised into a powerful senior stakeholder view. The schedule also supports diverse delivery approaches, whether agile, continuous delivery or more traditional waterfall as well as the simple operational checklists mentioned earlier.

However release management tooling is not just about visibility of the release schedule or implementing releases effectively. Plutora has two additional features, the release capacity planner and the systems impact matrix which add data-driven intelligence to release management.

The systems impact matrix is a simple-seeming view of dependencies between systems and releases. This on its own is a useful tool, giving a summary of which releases touch which applications. But the really clever bit is how Plutora not only identifies which systems are being touched by the release, but which linked systems are also impacted thus needing a regression test. This feature alone could make the business case to purchase Plutora.

The release capacity planner is also a useful feature. It allows release resource ‘containers’ (eg. number of test cases) to be specified and tracked in an accessible and easily summarised view, letting release managers clearly articulate release capacity. However my only major criticism of Plutora is that this capacity specification is manual and performed by the release manager. Since many ALM tools with which Plutora can share data (eg. Jira) can contain the development & test effort within their own records, it would seem logical for Plutora to take in this change-level data and aggregate it into a total release effort measure (adding extra overhead as necessary for release-level activities). The overall size of the release container can still be defined by the release manager, but the usage of each container could, and in fact should come from the individual change/feature records, and Plutora doesn’t do this. Despite this, the capacity tool is still incredibly useful for discussions with the business about setting realistic delivery expectations and customized fields can be added to incorporate additional information relevant to the release management process.

The last core area of functionality is test environment management. Test Environment Management in Plutora is fairly tightly coupled with the rest of the release functionality in planning and executing releases, but there are a couple of additional features worth noting.

Plutora contains an environment request and approval tracking system to allow projects or releases to book time in specific environments. Combined with the system impact matrix described above, Plutora’s ability to ingest data from external configuration/discovery tools and the ability to define complex environment groups of related systems makes for a powerful management suite to make better use of non-production environments.

The Test Environment Manager also has its own version of the release schedule (but from an environment-centric view) and likewise can be used to easily identify & articulate over or under utilisation at a glance. In addition, by specifying those stakeholders within the tool and enabling message broadcasts, clashing stakeholders can be made aware of contentions and work to resolve the issue.

This feature actually extends throughout all of Plutora. Stakeholders, systems, organisations and more are specified when initially configuring the tool and message broadcasting can be selectively activated at release or environment level.

Finally, reporting. Plutora has obviously invested considerable time and effort in getting reporting right, with pre-configured single-page overview reports providing real value to release managers as well as keeping senior stakeholders happy. The reporting dashboard is also configurable, allowing release managers to build graphs and displays from data within the system and then combining these into a personalised dashboard. This isn’t revolutionary functionality, but it is solid and well executed in Plutora.

Verdict

Enterprise Release Management tooling is ostensibly about removing the array of spreadsheets that proliferate to manage scope, timelines, environment usage and cutover plans. Plutora not only does this exceedingly well, its also used the opportunity to add some intelligence and polish to the tool to make people’s lives easier and improve the quality of the release passing through it.

Plutora is the tool one release manager would build for another. Plutora has taken existing practices, made them collaborative, structured and business-ready, then extended them to both pre-empt and answer the most common questions asked of release managers or that release managers ask of themselves.

Feature by Feature Summary Scoring

Tracking and managing a release with repeatable & template processes ★★★★
Tracking the entire release portfolio and presenting this information to diverse stakeholders

★★★★★

Managing resource and environment usage ★★★★★
Using data inside or connected to the tool and built in intelligence to help inform release activities.

★★★★

A single tool to remove reliance on spreadsheets, calendars or manual processes.

★★★★

Scoring Key

★★★★★ – Advanced features well developed

★★★★ – Advanced features present

★★★ – Solid coverage of basic requirements with some additional/advanced features

★★ – Basic requirements covered, some less thoroughly than expected or with minor gaps

★ – Not all basic requirements, significant gaps

Last words

Plutora is the tool which, in the reviewer’s opinion, embodies the term ‘Enterprise Release Management’.

It will work well in busy, large IT organisations and whilst it has a place in supporting operations, it feels targeted firmly at the development/delivery side of the IT organisation where teams of project managers, release & environment managers and more can collaborate with tooling they already instinctively know how to use.

Appendix – Screenshots

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. This is a paid review. That is, suppliers included in this review paid to participate in exchange for all results and analysis being published free of charge. The ITSM Review © 2015.

How to Transition from a Reactive to Proactive Support Center

 This article has been contributed by Sid Suri, Vice President of Marketing for Atlassians’s JIRA Service Desk. 

Sid Suri, Vice President of Marketing for Atlassian's JIRA Service Desk
Sid Suri, Vice President of Marketing for Atlassian’s JIRA Service Desk

For years, support centers have focused on reacting to problems. According to research from SDI (Service Desk Institute), 67% of of a service desk’s time is spent firefighting. This reactive approach often leads to burnout and a lack of processes that can scale. On top of that, support centers are faced with the ever present challenge of scaling their services, decreasing costs and showing value to their business constituents.

We’d all prefer a situation where IT teams didn’t have to wait for their queue to fill up with angry tickets before they looked into a problem. What if a failing machine knew it was failing and sent out an SOS? Imagine seeing several of those SOSs as things got worse, so that all the right experts could spring into action, saving the poor server before it collapses completely. Sounds like science fiction? It’s not. It’s a new wave of IT and DevOps that aims to take a proactive approach to IT.

Here are four ways you can get started:

1) Set up server alerts

Often, support teams find out about problems after customers do. When it comes to servers, problems like high load, outages, or full disk space can be fixed before they snowball. Smart IT teams set up CPU or memory alerts to notify the team when things are heading towards a bad place, either by watching the server or running smoketests at regular intervals. This lets them correct an issue before it actually becomes a problem.

2) Monitoring automation

Along with setting up alerts, you might want the machine to do “something” according to every response. Proactive support means automating monitoring with the right combination of tools (application monitoring, service desk, chat and more). Here’s how you might automate the escalation process for a server issue:

  • Whenever servers hit a low threshold, send a chat message to the service desk room to notify all team members.
  • If it hits a second threshold, then open a service desk ticket and add a history log to the ticket.
  • If it hits a third threshold, then automatically contact the on-call engineer directly by phone or SMS.

3) Get smart with ChatOps

When urgent issues come in, they need fast answers. Often, managers aren’t notified right away, resulting in lost time. Other times, domain experts need to get involved and aren’t quickly reachable. Many chat applications help overcome these challenges with real-time messaging. This means you can collaborate and solve problems in real-time, involving all the right experts instantly.

More than just chatting, what the DevOps community is now calling ChatOps, is about integrating bots and plugins to a standard chat application to automate tasks. With a chat bot, you can get notified of any critical tickets that need to be assigned right away. Mentioned previously, you can also set up server monitoring bots that send out notifications if there’s ever a problem, so you stay ahead of issues. More advanced chat bots let you type commands that fetch information, execute deployments and more.

4) Deflect repetitive issues with self-service

Taking a break from bots and automation, an IT team can also be proactive when it comes to repetitive incidents (and there is no shortage of those).

Here are the costs of support, according to industry standard:

  • Level 3 support is around $100 per contact.
  • Level 2 costs are $45-$75 per contact
  • Level 1 is $12-27.50 per contact.
  • Self-service, or Level 0, is 10 cents or less.

As organizations grow, self-service reduces cost per incident whereas manned incidents will rise in costs with company growth. If growth and costs are concerns for your support team, implementing self-service is a great way to proactively solve repetitive issues. This means developing a knowledge base for customers to access and self-serve answers to their problems.

The transition from reactive to proactive IT support is happening now, and it’s more than just getting the right tools – it’s a cultural transformation. It’s about taking traditionally separate functions and encouraging cross-team collaboration – like passing information between IT and development teams. These two sides combined, tools and culture, help break down silos across the organization.

ITIL Roles – Which Roles Can Be Filled By One Person?

NevenZitek
Neven Zitek, SPAN

Just by looking at the sheer number of ITIL functions and roles may leave you wondering – how do you fit a limited number of IT staff into so many roles? It’s obvious that one person will act in several roles, but how do you optimally combine them? Of course, it all depends on the size of your organization, and which ITIL processes that you’ve implemented, but none of that changes the fact that some roles fit well together, and some of them don’t.

 

 ITIL roles that fit together within the Service Lifecycle

ITIL-CombinedRoles (1)

 

Figure 1: ITIL roles that can be managed by a single person, and the relationship between role and ITIL Service Lifecycle.

The Business Relationship Manager role is responsible for managing and maintaining good relationships with customers, and most importantly, ensuring that the Service Catalogue is adequately meeting customer needs. Because part of customer relationship is agreeing upon and respecting agreed Service Levels, the Service Level Manager and Business Relationship Manager roles fit well together. The Service Level Manager’s focus is more oriented toward initial negotiations of service levels, but that makes him a good candidate for Business Relationship Manager, as he will be very familiar with the customer’s needs.

Risk Manager and Service Continuity Manager are both oriented toward the future, looking for the best possible outcome in case of undesired events. They fit well together, as both roles are responsible for risk management, threat identification and mitigation, and ensuring minimum / or acceptable impact on service delivery in case those events actually occur. The difference is that the Service Continuity Manager is focused on Force majeure and disaster scenario events, and the Risk Manager is focused on risk assessment of individual assets and their vulnerabilities. However, even with those differences, these two roles can easily be filled by a single person.

The Capacity Managers responsibility is ensuring that all infrastructure and services (if provided externally) are able to deliver performance and capacity within agreed levels, in a cost-effective manner. These responsibilities match nicely with the Availability Manager role, adding responsibility for meeting the agreed service availability. Both roles include planning, measuring, analyzing and improving of available resources against agreed and expected service levels; however, Capacity Management is concerned with personnel resources as well (e.g., overnight backup not completed, as there was no technician to change tapes), and Availability Management is not. As both roles include monitoring / measuring performance of individual service components, this might be a perfect match to include the Problem Management role as well, as the Problem Managers main task is to prevent incidents from happening, and minimize the impact of incidents that do happen. Having insight into individual service components’ status should be a good argument for fitting the Capacity and Availability Manager roles within the Problem Manager role.

The responsibility of maintaining information about assets, Configuration Items (CI) and their relationship is upon the Service Asset and Configuration Manager. This very important, yet laborious role is very similar to the Knowledge Manager‘s role, whose responsibility is to maintain information about knowledge available. That similarity in processes justifies the decision to share those two roles within a single person.

And, as I mentioned before in an earlier post Incident Management: How to separate roles at different support levels, another good role-sharing fit is Incident Manager and Service Desk Manager. Even though the Service Desk Manager has a slightly larger scope of responsibilities, what those two roles have in common is the aim to resolve incidents as soon as possible. In general, Service Desk is the place where all incidents will be reported; therefore, it makes perfect sense to try and resolve them on the spot.

Combining roles is a challenge for both smaller and larger companies. Obviously, smaller companies are de facto forced to fit as may roles as humanly possible into a single person, as there is no alternative. Larger companies may have the luxury of splitting roles among as many persons as they find fit; however, with so many ITIL roles available, it may not be wise to dedicate a single person to ever single role just because you can. If you are so fortunate as to have all necessary personnel available to take all the roles, think about the workload across the lifecycle. For example, if you don’t plan on releasing new services on a daily basis, do you need one Test Manager and one Release Manager? (Note that you shouldn’t combine those two roles, so please continue reading to find out why.)

In my opinion and experience, combining ITIL roles is always an option, as long as you take workload and common sense into consideration.

ITIL roles that shouldn’t be mixed together within the Service Lifecycle

While these are good examples of a single person acting in a multi-role environment, there are some obvious and less obvious role combinations that should be avoided.

The obvious role combination that should be avoided is service Test Manager and Release Manager. While the Release Manager is responsible to plan, control and release a service into the live / operational environment, the Test Manager is responsible to perform all necessary testing to ensure that the service deployed meets requirements. It’s an obvious conflict of interest, as the Release Manager will strive to get the service operational as soon as possible, while the Test Manager will always want to take as much time as possible in order to test the service properly.

A less-obvious role combination that ITIL experts commonly agree should be avoided is Incident Manager and Problem Manager. The Incident Manger is responsible to handle an incident in a way that will result in fast incident resolution or workaround. The Problem Manager, on the other hand, is not interested in quick fixes, but rather on the root cause of the incident – which may take much more time than any Incident Manager is ready to accept.

Another less-obvious combination of ITIL roles that should be avoided is making a Service Owner (any) Process Owner as well. The Service Owner is responsible for delivering the service in question (e.g., e-mail service) within agreed service levels. A Process Owner (e.g., Change Management, Incident management, Service Portfolio Management, etc.) is responsible for ensuring that the process in question is fit for its purpose and is run in an optimal way. As Process Owner, this person is in charge of all other services he does not own for that particular process, and may start looking at other services through “Service Owner glasses,” which should be avoided if possible.

Combining ITIL roles – if at first you don’t succeed, try again

Just remember that ITIL is best practice framework with logical and easy to follow structure. Combining multiple roles for one person should be done using common sense – you wouldn’t appoint the same person to report to himself, or approve his own recommendations, budget, and technical solution, the same way you wouldn’t appoint a wolf to guard the sheep. Combining ITIL roles is a challenge, and it takes time and experience to understand and foresee potential pitfalls certain role combinations may bring upon you. On the other hand, you can use that time to notice and change eventual “bad fits” that may already exist.  Just don’t be afraid to make a change; if anything, ITIL is all about the change.

 

This article was contributed by Neven Ziteck of SPAN

Self-service – The value of Social

Stuart Power Mar 2014
Stuart Power, Matrix42

We’ve seen the future of IT service support – and it’s social!

An increasing number of corporate IT departments are evolving from fire-fighting cost centers, into service-delivering profit centers. Perhaps yours is one of them. But although this evolution is significant, it’s not the end of the story. In most cases, a centralized IT service delivery and workspace environment, with all its automation and self-service capabilities, is still run using linear processes and relationships. For example, a user creates a support ticket, and a service desk agent records and directs it to the right team. The team then addresses the issue on a first come, first served basis, and informs the user when it has been resolved. This isn’t really collaborative in the truest sense, and the support function doesn’t really ‘live’ as an ecosystem. For many of today’s employees, especially the ‘digital native’ generation, that means there’s something missing: the social element.

After all, the vast majority of employees use some form of social media in their personal and business lives already. That’s why introducing social ITSM can be the next logical step in creating a user-centric IT environment, after IT service delivery automation and implementing a corporate App Store with user self-service capabilities.

Typical use cases

There are several different ways in which social can be integrated into the ITSM and support processes, including:

Social walls: Users submit an issue to a support wall, just like you find on Twitter and Facebook, and other users with the same problem join the discussion, either to notify support or to provide tips and fixes. In some cases, this means a ticket never needs to be raised, reducing the overall support workload. In others, IT can see in real-time what and where current issues are, and then prioritize and address them more quickly than would otherwise be possible. Not only that, resolved issues can be added to a knowledgebase that improves users’ ability to resolve their IT incidents via self-service. As a result, the service provider (IT department) gets access to the big picture i.e what’s really going on in the organization from a support request perspective at any given moment.

Service desk chat: Chat functionality is integrated with a simplified incident report form that can be completed collaboratively. Users can see if someone is online and available for chat and, if their query has to be put in a queue, they are notified when a service agent is free. Alternatively, if a response takes too long, a standard incident ticket is created automatically.

Interactive incident reporting: A browser-based reporting function lets users create an incident via a mini-form that enables them to quickly capture error logs and screenshots, and submit them to IT with a short description of the issue.

More than just old wine in new bottles?

Of course, introducing social media capabilities does not fundamentally change how tickets are resolved in the back end. We’re not talking about throwing the ITIL baby out with the social bathwater. Nevertheless, using social elements in the ways described above creates a different relationship between users and the IT department. Support becomes faster, more responsive, collaborative and fun. IT becomes more closely integrated with the business, and can be seen more readily as a business enabler. And the user experience is transformed from being static and reactive, to dynamic and proactive.

The benefits outweigh the risks

You could argue that adding a social element to ITSM increases complexity and can reduce transparency, because it can bypass traditional processes and happens so quickly that managers find it hard to keep up with what is happening. Moreover, usage policies must be defined and policed, creating additional workload.

However, the risks of not embracing social within ITSM are significant. Without it, the IT department is likely to be seen as out of touch, especially by the digital native generation, and users are more likely to bypass official communication and support channels as a result. It may also become more difficult to attract and retain the best new talent if your competitors are offering a more socially–enabled working environment. The good news is, you should be able to measure the benefits it delivers quite easily in terms of faster ticket resolution and up to 50% fewer tickets overall.

Five steps to social ITSM success

While on the increase, the use of social media within ITSM is still immature and few best practices exist. At Matrix42, we recommend organizations focus on the following areas to maximize their chances of success.

 

  1. Define your goals: The biggest mistake you can make in social ITSM is to just do it because you think you should. Clear business objectives such as reducing support costs or improving employee retention figures should be the drivers.
  2. Choose your tools: Are you going to create user communities, leverage chat functionality, use existing internal platforms or invest in 3rd-party solutions? You need to find the best fit for your existing investments, ensure ease of integration and maximize process automation.
  3. Integrate your channels: Social media can become an information silo just as easily as any other communication channel. Social ITSM interactions must be easy to track and extract information from, in order to measure success and further support user self-service by adding the details of successfully resolved issues to the support knowledgebase.
  4. Create policies: You need to define the rules about acceptable usage, service levels, compliance and security – collaboration should not be chaotic!
  1. Measure the results. Social ITSM is an investment like any other – you need to be able to prove the business benefits. KPIs like monthly incident ticket creation, speed of incident resolution and user satisfaction indices, are all useful benchmarks.

Conclusion

As the proportion of digital natives in the workforce increases, the introduction of social channels into the IT service support environment will become increasingly essential for maximizing user satisfaction with IT. While new investments will be required, the benefits will outweigh the costs, as long as you use the five steps outlined above to guide the transformation.

This article has been contributed by Stuart Power, UK Sales Manager at Matrix42.

Image Credit

Mobile: the new frontier for self-service

Artificial Intelligence on the service desk [Holly from RedDwarf]
Artificial Intelligence on the service desk [Holly from RedDwarf]
Google searches performed on a mobile device outstripped desktop searches (in certain territories), according to figures released last week.

That’s an important milestone in the meteoric use of mobile.

Of course, the searches refer to global use of Google, including consumers searching for the nearest pizza joint, and are not necessarily reflective of enterprise IT – but we all know, since the introduction of the blackberry, iPad and then current smart phones, of the increasing business demands for mobile.

Will your service work on mobile devices? Will it provide a frictionless consumer-like experience, Does it matter who owns the device? And so on.

It doesn’t matter that we’re not delivering consumer services and that we might be delivering services in heavily regulated industries with back-breaking governance hoops to jump through – the demand for mobility and flexibility continue unabated.

Mobility promises the ability to avoid speaking to pesky humans, get things done, keep track and unlock me from the constraints of a physical office.

Avoiding speaking to people is an important point: In terms of human interaction it’s a case of quality over quantity. When I do (occasionally) speak with a human – I want a great customer focussed experience. You’ve only got to look at the growth (or is it a return?) of IT concierge desks resourced with IT staff especially selected for their more extrovert nature to witness this.

The premise: automate as much as possible, help the customer help themselves, if they do need to speak to us, make it a great experience (which doesn’t necessarily mean fixing everything).

With this in mind it has been great to see traditional ITSM providers innovating with mobile.

The future is here, just unevenly distributed

The terms artificial intelligence and augmented reality go hand-in-hand with the Jetsons, self driving cars and the fridge that knows to order more beer and lettuce. But look carefully, and it’s slowly permeating everywhere, including the humble service desk.

Smart-phone owners might be familiar with Apple’s SIRI, Google’s Voice Search or Microsoft’s Cortana as a personal navigator (Voice recognition to intelligent search / actions).  Similarly consumers might be familiar with Word Lens (Image to language translation) or Evernote (handwriting to textual search).

SnapIT from LANDESK promises smartphone image capture to knowledge base lookup. Sharing screenshots or remote sharing with end user customers to identify issues is a staple of the service desk toolkit – but what about cutting out the middle-man and connecting customers directly with help by snapping a picture of the issue on a mobile device?

Direct link to Video

LANDESK have offered this new capability with no extra charge to existing customers. It’s available via iOS, Android or simply via a browser.

I look forward to seeing this and other innovation at the ITSM show next month, we’ll be on stand 723 collecting customer reviews for TOOLSADVISOR.net (think trip advisor meets itsm tools). Come and say hi!

Image Credit

Review: Atlassian JIRA Service Desk and Confluence

This independent review is part of our Self Service Market Review.

Also participating:

Commercial Summary

Vendor Atlassian
Product JIRA Service Desk and Confluence
Version reviewed 2.2-OD-08
Date of version Release December 2014
Year Founded 2002
Customers 9000 including starter licenses
Pricing Structure Agent based pricing

Review

Elevator Pitch Simple clean transactional / collaboration tool with good standard functionality, based around service desk and back office support functions.
Industry areas Nice approach on pitch around HR/Finance and IT service model.

 

Looks easy to use, simple to develop with standard functions.

Unique points No ‘sales team’ – sold via web.

 

Primarily for SMB and mid size. Enterprise sold via partners (‘experts’) – do have some good Enterprise clients – Twitter, Citi.

Target market SMB, SME or teams within large organisations.
Solutions/ issues solved Looks like product that can get support and self service up and running quickly for small organisations and discrete teams in larger organisations.
Product/vendor gaps End user configuration and access is limited – i.e. to using a specific Service Desk. So no user-based filed level security and e.g. dashboard views.
Positives
  • Some nice presentations of filtered views, based around multiple business portals. Set up using simple non tech, non-ITIL language
  • SLAs are defined from tagged lists and can be set in the background, transparent to users
  • Workload tab – nice quick view of tickets / SLAs per analyst
  •  Quick, standard implementation
  • Well set up for non-IT people
  • Simple toggle between customer and analyst view
  • UI Language – user friendly – What do you need? Why do you need this?
  • Knowledge articles – have ‘likes’ – and can add comments – as per social
  • Analyst Q – ordered in time to resolution – shows breached SLAs and views as required
  • Workflow – simple graphical overview
  • Atlassian Marketplace – can download or buy workflows and add-ons from large app store
Negatives
  • Editing and configuring the system e.g. workflow is limited in some areas and requires more technical updates for some basic functions – e.g. serial/parallel workflow activities
  • UX looks basic in comparison to other products
  • Basic social interface, Knowledgebase
  • Customer portal has limited choices only
  • Partitioning – by Service Desk – will show by SD level. Not by user level.
  • Limited flexibility in user reporting
Overall view
  • Works well as part of larger Atlassian offering and sells well via Web (No Sales Force pitch) – 9,000 customers.
  • Atlassian ‘marketplace’ community is useful for canned data and models that can be used or bought.
  • Good for simple/fast implementations
  • Limited appeal for Enterprise unless bought via partners who have to configure.

Vendor information

jiraservicedesk_rgb_blue_atlassian JIRA Service Desk is new service management software that IT and business teams actually like to use.

Built on Atlassian’s JIRA, the market leader in helping teams get work done, JIRA Service Desk delivers an effortless service experience, adapts to your needs, with pricing and set up time at a fraction of competitors.

Redefine what IT means to your business at www.atlassian.com/servicedesk

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Review: Cased Dimensions SCSM Self-Service Portal

This independent review is part of our Self Service Market Review.

Also participating:

Commercial Summary

Vendor Cased Dimensions
Product SCSM Self-Service Portal
Version reviewed 2.2
Date of version Release December 2014
Year Founded 2009
Customers 40+
Pricing Structure Number of employees in a company (priced per user).

Review

Elevator Pitch Portal and request management capability for ITSM and beyond.
 
Aimed only at Microsoft Customers with MS system center.
Industry areas MS clients wanting to build on System Centre and SD – building automation.
Unique points HTML5 compliant (BYO and varied hardware devices are supported such as Microsoft and Apple tablets)
Single Sign on (AD integration).
Chat integration.
Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and System Center integration
Target market SME to enterprise – MS clients only. 500 employees to 30,000+ employee.
Solutions/ issues solved Integrated with Asset Management. Single CMBD with auto discovery ensuring data is in one place to aid Process Efficiency.
 
Integration with MS – canned from vendor.
Product/vendor gaps Lacks a bit of user friendliness – presentation shown looks a bit complex.
 
Microsoft only solution. Microsoft vendor aligned.
Positives
  • Microsoft focus
  • Microsoft integration – eg with System Center, SharePoint, AD, Exchange & Lync
  •  Lots of pre-built processes
  • Bespoke/Consultancy approach – working closely to address customers requirements
  •  Microsoft Trusted Alliance Partner
  • High-end client solutions
Negatives
  • Microsoft FocusSmall client base (new entrant)
  • Product looks a little busy/complex
Overall view A niche offering for clients wishing to build process management and automation using the Microsoft platform.
 
Cased Dimensions has deployed Self-Service Portal to support not only IT Service Management Self-Service but also HR, Facilities Management and Finance Self-Service.
 
Vendor is also niche as a provider of solutions rather than simply software, so the solutions are high-end, bespoke and consultative rather than turnkey.

 Vendor information

download (1)Cased Dimension’s Self-Service Portal allows access to Self-Help from any hand held device – PC, Laptop, iPhone, Windows Phone, Android, MAC etc… Many other vendors lock users out due to a reliance on Silverlight, Flash or old HTML languages which do not work on Smart Phones or tablets.

Our focus is to enable a Self-Service platform similar to Amazon shopping or Internet Banking. Usability is easy for the typical employee with little or no training. We have had clients train 24,000+ plus employees with a 5 min video on “how to”.

Other Vendors deliver Portals which are typically technical / ’clicky’ and difficult for employees to use. Our portal is similar to an Amazon-Shopping Kart experience or online banking where features and usability aligns to ‘Journeys’ employees are already trained in.

Our platform supports Business IT, HR, Finance, Facility and other departmental Self-Service Portal Processes. For Managed Service providers, we support “client” specific Portals for Self-Service.

Standard Features exist including departmental home pages, help area categorization with easy to use menu’s. In addition, we also support Chat Integration, Asset Management Integration, Software Distribution, Password Rest and much more….

Cased Dimensions allows Enterprises to “GO DIGITAL” for all areas of their business in Self-Help (IT included).

For administrators, configuration is “type and save”. Our platform is a “zero code environment” from a configuration perspective. All features are configurable & updatable by administrators.

With clients ranging from 500 employees up to clients with 30,000+ employees, our platform is excellent for small and large alike.

Client references state a call logging threshold of 70%.

For further information, please visit Cased Dimensions or Contact Us.

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Review: SMTX Service Catalogue SSP

This independent review is part of our Self Service Market Review.

Also participating:

Commercial Summary

Vendor SMT-X
Product SSP
Version reviewed 7.1
Date of version Release October 2014
Year Founded 2009
Customers 45
Pricing Structure #End Users

Review

Elevator Pitch High End Service Catalogue and fulfillment engine, with a user-friendly front end. Suitable to be used in conjunction with legacy ITSM tools.Extensive functionality and control, plus integration experience. Also built to include other enterprise functions such as HR and Finance, room booking etc. Good front end to make an existing IT department engaging/accessible, without having to replace a legacy tool.
Industry areas Aimed at IT and back office functions in large enterprise organizations. Nice front end tool for big IT departments and service operations.
Unique points Nicely built and thought out applications for e.g. HR – requesting future managers, creating email addresses etc.
 
Asset functions built around good practical functions, e.g. lost and stolen kit.
Target market Enterprise organisations and their IT and back office functions.
Solutions/ issues solved For large Enterprise organisations – no coding, just configuration.Organisations to gain control over internal and external services.
Product/vendor gaps
  • Not an ITSM tool, so obviously doesn’t do ITSM standard functionality.
  • Workflow design looks a bit clunky and could be more visually appealing
Positives
  • Product looks good and is generally intuitive.
  • Well-presented pitch, approach and product
  • Planned feature to provide strategic business level Catalog views
  • Future Service Catalogue – ITIL
  • Can define multiple bundled business services, SLAs etc
  • Good functions about asset lifecycle – including lost/stolen status
  • Established links with ITSM tools – Assyst, ServiceNow, BMC, HP TopDesk
  • HR onboarding -some nice features around future roles and working relationships, creating an email address
  • Nice graphics showing progress bar
Negatives
  • It isn’t an ITSM tool, so obviously doesn’t do that standard functionality.   Workflow design looks a bit clunky and could be more visually appealing
  • Company is currently small and may have to make strong choices on direction and sales and marketing approach
  •  Small company at present
  • Workflow forms -looks a bit complicated, not beautiful graphics
Overall view
  • A good option where a front end and user collaboration tool is needed, but the ITSM tool is embedded and may take time to replace – this can sit on top of that and deliver relatively quick results.
  • Projects a professional image to the IT dept.
  • Currently most clients are on premise
  •  If they stick to their niche it could do well – may benefit from some strategic partnership approaches for targeting

 Vendor information

smtx logoSMT-X is a specialized software company, providing a state-of-the-art Self Service solution with a strong ability to integrate. Its flagship solution, SSP, provides a solid basis for any IT department wishing to provide an easy to use and easy to understand service catalog to their users. Through webshops, appstores, dynamic request forms, reservations, mobile apps, and workflows, SSP enables these IT departments to streamline even the most complex requests, removing complexity for the end-users, and providing end-to-end control to service owners, service delivery managers, service level managers, and department heads.

End-users can browse through their service catalogue showing only those services of interest to them. End-users will never be confronted with complex back-office solutions again and always know where to go for new orders.

By using out-of-the-box integration adapters existing IT service management solutions can be fully integrated with SMT-X’s SSP solution.

SSP offers service request templates containing commonly used forms, like employee onboarding, software distribution, file access management, meeting room reservations, and hardware ordering, making it easy to set up the relevant catalog(s) and start rolling it out.

SSP’s administration is fully web-based and doesn’t require any programming skills. Adding products to a shop and releasing them to any number of users is done in minutes. A complete new request form with dynamic question trees and approval workflow is realized within a single day.

Get in touch with SMT-X to learn how you can add more value to your customers by offering your customers a state-of-the-art request management portal.

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Self Service Review [2015] – The Results

logoThis is a review of software products and vendors with their products in the ‘Self Service’ market area.

Products reviewed:

1 Overview

1.1 Self Service and the ITSM Market

‘Self Service’ is a current buzzword for vendors and practitioners alike in the ITSM world.

For some time this simply referred to the process whereby users/customers could carry out some standard contact/communications activities via a portal or an Intranet page, rather than call a Service Desk. So for example, this would include: raising and tracking tickets, ordering kit and browsing FAQs and other published pieces of information relating to IT.

These are of course key functions – and most product offerings include them – and have done for some years. The context of this has changed somewhat in recent times due to the demands for better user interfaces and customer experience (no one these days wants or expects to use an old IT menu-driven ‘greenscreen’).

The capability of automation and collaboration products has also increased expectation and potential around what these types of interface can deliver and achieve, not only for IT departments and their users, but also for wider enterprise orgnaisations beyond IT.

In short, Self Service is now the entry point towards great efficiency and as a means of transformation and collaboration. It is an opportunity for IT departments to reverse their fortunes and improve their image and effectiveness, by automating repeatable and manual processes, thereby affording more time for strategy and customer engagement.

So what sorts of capabilities are available? Above and beyond the classic areas referred to above: – e.g. Ticket logging, tracking and escalating, request logging tracking and escalating:

  • Automated password resetting
  • Mobile support and facilitation
  • Automated delivery – e.g. software provisioning, product ordering, account creation
  • Non-technical interfaces for Workflow and process creation
  • Simple development of work management tools
  • Real-time collaboration and social interfaces
  • Real-time dashboards and dynamic reporting

All of these functions – particularly around ease of use and automation – are highly valued in the current market, due to the need for IT organisations to use these tools as a means of managing their work more efficiently, whilst at the same time offering a greatly improved user experience of interacting with IT – and other back office departments like HR/Finance – through familiar and easy to use interfaces.

1.2 Market Observations

Recent developments have seen a number of technical innovations that have allowed increased automation, faster delivery and provisioning, which many of the products reviewed can deliver in some form or another.

The areas of differentiation in the market are therefore defined in the following terms:

Target clients – SME, Mid-market and Enterprise, Product and vendor (e.g. Microsoft/VMware) focus.

Some products are clearly only aimed at one specific market niche, or by client size and ITSM maturity. In some areas such as product or vendor focus this is clear, although many of the SME vendors aspire to move into the Enterprise space, which may confuse and squeeze the market.

Flexibility and ease of implementation – including non-technical tailoring, ease of use/skills needed, ability to tailor without coding, vendor implementation support.

A significant focus area for many vendors centres on the ‘codeless’ capability of their products, whereby applications and workflows can be simply modified without technical skills. The level to which this is delivered is a highly useful feature given the need to implement and update portals, workflows and catalogues quickly and efficiently.

This also works well in support of ‘non-IT’ implementation – i.e. for process collaboration across internal service departments.

Complementary products and capabilities – including IT Management, automation, provisioning, security, ITSM capability.

For many buyers, particularly at the enterprise level, simply buying the ‘front end’ or self-service function (and even just ITSM functionality) is not enough.

There is a growing need to procure and implement products that go beyond process and service management, so the need to identify those with the capacity to provide or at least interface with other IT Management tools is becoming a key requirement.

1.3 Market Product Review and Comparison

In summary, LANDESK and Cherwell are seen to be the most complete solutions, with LANDESK having greater capability to deliver to the Enterprise client, whereas Cherwell has the best UI and is more suited to the upper middle market.

EasyVista and Alemba are also seen as excellent products that would fit the enterprise as well as upper mid market.

SMT-X is an excellent option for a front-end solution that can be added to existing ITSM tools for large organisations.

Cased Dimensions is a good option for bespoke solutions – based on a Microsoft System Center platform.

Atlassian and Freshservice are also excellent options for SMEs or discrete teams to get Self Service up and running, with minimum tailoring or bespoking.

 

Pros Cons Overall Review Rating
Alemba
  • Clean and fresh interface – simplified but functional
  • Technical integration and virtualized capability
  • Legacy product well regarded
  • Still being developed to compete at high end of marketSmall
    company, now independent from
  • VMware – still growing
  • Limited social and collaborative interfaces and functionality
8
Atlassian
  • Easy and simple fo use for fast implementation
  • Workload tab – nice quick view of tickets / SLAs per analyst
  • Well set up for non-IT people
  • User access limited functionality
  • Only basic workflow functions can be edited non-techlimited
    innovation or eg social interfaces
7
Cased Dimensions
  • MS focus
  • MS integration – eg with System Center
  • Lots of pre-built processes
  • MS FocusSmall company
  • Bepsoke/consultancy approach won’t work for every organisation /
    small organisations
7
Cherwell
  • Functional capability
  • UX and ease of use
  • Vendor approach and focus
  • Competition from both ends of the market
  • Capability to deliver in tier 1 – though growing in size
  • Multi-tenancy not native
9
EasyVista
  • Good standard self service functionality
  • Open, flexible, using industry tools
  • Global network of data on use and performance
  • Workflows and configurations look complex and not
    intuitive/graphical ITSM tool looks strong although slightly dated
  • May need to focus target market/position
8
Freshservice
  • Low cost
  • Simple, straightforward operability
  • Gamification
  • Limited non-tech configuration
  • Org not set up for Enterprise customers
  • Lacks some key interfaces, social, provisioning
7
BEST IN CLASS:
LANDESK
  • ITSM complete
  • User friendly to develop and manage
  • Focus on automation to improve efficiency
  • May be overkill for some smaller organisations
  • Self service not available standalone
  • Social not embedded in tool – minor
10
SMT-X
  • Clear market niche well defined – good positioning
  • Product is multi-functional/function rich
  • Professional looking – will engage non IT people
  • Company size – small
  • Not an ITSM tool – limited and reducing market as competition
    improves
  • Could improve UI for workflow/design
7

 

Target Clients Flexibility /implementation Complementary Products
Alemba Enterprise and large IT and ITSM organisations –
particularly VMware customers.
Broad level of flexibility, vendor supports
implementation
VMware product integration
Atlassian SMB, SME or teams within large orgs Limited flexibility, client drives implementation Other Atlassian products
Cased Dimensions Large IT organisations, using Microsoft Systems Center –
looking for bespoke build
Highly flexible, vendor drives build and implementation Microsoft
Cherwell Large SMEs and medium enterprise organisations Customer tailorable, vendor/partners offer
implementation support
Numerous industry products. MS Partner
EasyVista Medium to large and some enterprise organisations Good level of flexibility, vendor moving from SME to
enterprise offering
A number of established links to industry products
Freshservice SME/SMB, small enterprises Limited flexibility, client drives implementation APIs in progress – e.g. Azure
LANDESK Large/Medium and enterprise IT organisations Highly and easily flexible, Vendor offers multi-level
implementation services
Numerous LANDESK offerings and industry integrations
SMT-X Enterprise organisations and their IT and back office
functions
Flexible and configurable, Vendor supports
implementation – limited resources
Established links to ITSM tools

 

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 the ‘Group Tests’ section, on our Disclosure page.

Review: Cherwell Software Service Management

This independent review is part of our Self Service Market Review.

Also participating:

Commercial Summary

Vendor Cherwell SoftwareTM
Product Cherwell Service Management®
Version reviewed 5.1
Date of version Release December 2014
Year Founded 2007
Customers 700+
Pricing Structure # of IT Users, Concurrent Licensing

 

Review

Elevator Pitch Fully functional ITSM and self service capability. Product looks good and is simple to manage and maintain. Ticks the boxes for functionality, positioning (ITSM and Front end) and vendor approach.
Industry areas Mid market upwards. Organisations that want to be self-sufficient and to be able to control their own technology.
Flexible and function rich – self service is well designed for user engagement.
Unique points
  • One Step is simple micro template for workflow – can be applied across processes.
  • Process design / workflow are strong and well designed – good UX.Reporting and dashboards are also good quality.Vendor pitch leads on depth and quality of self-sufficiency and integration capability.
  • Merge-able Apps – (app-store) across customers also very useful to provide users with canned applications.
Target market Large SME – Mid sized and large Enterprise market – in-house IT and back office services.
Solutions/ issues solved Provides an engaging UX for customers. Simple to use and administer. Well integrated with other tools and platforms (e.g. Microsoft).
Product/vendor gaps Product doesn’t handle multi-tenancy easily.
 
Vendor still relatively small and growing – partner base recently tripled.
Positives
  • Workflow – editing is recorded – blueprint allows roll back if mistakes are made.
  • My Items – tracking on details of requests, incidents, problems and major incidents.
  • Consumerised product look and feel.
  • Can trigger other tools for Software distribution.
  • One step – workflow templates – micro workflow.
  • Now part of Microsoft Partnership Program.
Negatives
  • Dashboards for users – can run but not create dashboards.
  • Password reset – requires registration – link to AD or other validation resetting tool.
  • Scripting only for links to other tools – via API.
  • Product doesn’t handle multi-tenancy easily – not target (MSP) market.
Overall view Good all round solution, Vendor’s challenge is squeezed between low end low cost offerings – which it beats on quality and functionality – and high end ‘big 5’, where it can’t compete in corporate terms, but can on usability and self-sufficiency.
 
Cherwell in top area of the mid-size tier 2 market and now potentially challenging the large enterprise vendors.

Vendor information

download (2)As Cherwell Software was founded on a strategic vision to provide “Innovative technology built on timeless values”—a consummate commitment to build both great software solutions and exceptional customer relationships. Cherwell accomplishes this through a simple yet time-tested approach: we listen to our customers and serve their needs.

Cherwell Service Management® delivers exceptional business technology and business revenue enablement in an innovative and business consumer-oriented way, meeting our customers’ service desk software needs and giving them a powerful development platform to solve their long-term business process challenges throughout any organization – from HR to Facilities to Legal, creating a basis for strategic Service Relationship Management. Other competitors offer a development platform – we just do it better, easier, and make it more affordable.

Screenshots