A mature process doesn't necessarily meet customer needs. A quick guide to Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Dave O'Reardon (Left) itSMF Australia Innovation of the Year award winner, and Aprill Allen (Right) - @knowledgebird
Dave O’Reardon (Left) itSMF Australia Innovation of the Year award winner, and Aprill Allen (Right) – @knowledgebird

Many IT leaders are already familiar with the kinds of surveys the common support tools send out on ticket closure. But, it turns out, we may not be going about it the best way. This year’s winner of itSMF Australia’s Innovation of the Year was Dave O’Reardon. Dave has had 25 years’ experience working in IT and his award-winning transactional Net Promoter service, CIO Pulse, provides a whole new way of looking at how IT leaders can improve their services and start creating value for the businesses and customers they support.

After I photo-bombed Dave’s official awards photos, he gracefully agreed to an interview.

Can you explain the fundamentals of Net Promoter?

Sure! Net Promoter is a proven way of improving customer loyalty, or satisfaction, with a product, company or service. And its a metric – a Net Promoter Score – for understanding your progress toward that goal and for benchmarking your performance. It is not a piece of software and it is not Intellectual Property – it’s free for anyone to use.

If you’ve ever been asked a question along the lines of “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?”, then you’ve come across a company that’s using Net Promoter. This question is usually followed by one or two open-ended questions. These follow-up questions ask the reason for the score and what could be done to improve. Based on a customer’s score (in response to the first question), they are categorised as either a Promoter (they scored 9 or 10), a Passive (they scored 7 or 8), or a Detractor (they scored 6 or below). Net Promoter then recommends a number of practices that can be used to convert Detractors and Passives into Promoters.

A Net Promoter Score is simply calculated by subtracting the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters. This calculation results in a score of between -100 (all your customers are Detractors) and +100 (all your customers are Promoters).

Net Promoter is commonly used in two different ways – transactional (also called operational or bottom-up) and relationship (also called brand or top-down). Transactional NPS is used to measure and improve the customer experience following a specific interaction (e.g. after an IT support ticket has been closed). Relationship NPS is used to measure and improve overall loyalty or satisfaction with a product, brand or service, e.g. via an annual survey.

Why is it important for IT teams to use a customer service improvement approach like Net Promoter?

There’s a few reasons.  First of all, IT teams often rely too much on service level agreements, such as incident response and resolution targets. These targets are great for helping support staff determine what to work on and when, but tell you nothing about the customers’ perceptions. If you’ve ever had a wall of green traffic lights for your SLAs and yet the customer still isn’t happy, then you know what I mean.  I like to call this the Watermelon Effect – SLA performance indicators are all green, but on the inside customers are red and angry.  Traditional SLAs don’t measure the customer experience and customer perceptions, Net Promoter does.

The second reason is that process maturity assessments – formal and informal – don’t help IT teams prioritise in any way that is meaningful.  We’re at maturity level 2 for Configuration Management, so what?! And on the flipside, even mature processes can be crap and fail to meet customers’ needs. Your Request Fulfillment process might be very mature – documented, automated, measured etc – and yet customers are still frustrated that hardware provision takes so long and that Jim is always gruff when asked for an update. A mature process doesn’t necessarily meet customer needs.

Bodies of knowledge like ITIL and COBIT are stuffed full of solutions. They are great to turn to when you’ve got a service issue and you want some ideas on how to solve it.  But how do you know you’ve got a problem and how do you know which problem is the most urgent?  If you want to improve service (and if you’re in the field of Service Management and you don’t, then you might be in the wrong field) you absolutely have to understand customer perceptions. Things such as service quality and value stem from customer’s perceptions.

Net Promoter is very widely used by consumer-facing organisations. How do you modify the typical Net Promoter format to suit internal teams like IT, HR and  so on?

That’s a great question. Net Promoter is often overlooked as an improvement methodology by internal service providers because of the first question – “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?”. It just doesn’t make sense to an internal customer. Who’s going to tell one of their mates at the pub that their IT Service Desk is fantastic and that they should give them a call the next time they have a problem with their iPad!  The trick is just to reword the question so that it makes sense to the customer, e.g. “On a scale of 0 to 10, overall how satisfied are you with your recent support experience?”.

What’s wrong with the traditional transactional survey that we’re more familiar with?

Two things:

  1. Firstly, because internal service providers all use different surveys and different scales they can’t benchmark their performance against each other.  Their scores are calculated in different ways and so one organisation can’t tell if another organisation is doing better than them or worse. Who should get improvement ideas from who?
  2. The second thing is a bigger issue. Most organisations just don’t know what to do with the data they’re collecting. They survey, they calculate some sort of satisfaction score, and then they report on that score in a management report of some sort. But that’s all.  And that’s a terrible shame, because there’s a bunch of behaviors that the transactional survey should be driving that can result in a significant improvement in customer satisfaction. But if all you do is survey and calculate a score, don’t expect anything to improve. I call this the ‘Chasm of Lost Opportunity’ –  the powerful things that are not done between a survey being completed and a score being reported. By adopting the behaviors and activities recommended by Net Promoter – bridging the chasm – I’ve seen internal service providers make significant improvements to internal customer satisfaction in just months.

What sort of problems and improvement opportunities have you seen coming out of IT teams that start paying attention to customer feedback? Any particular areas that standout in common?

The most common feedback theme we see with transactional surveys comes down to poor communication – support calls that seem to disappear into black holes, customers not having their expectations managed re fulfillment/resolution timeframes, and tickets being closed without the customer first verifying that they’re happy that the solution has worked.

When it comes to the relationship surveys, every client is unique.  We see everything from issues with network speed, being forced to use old PCs, poor system availability, inadequate engagement of the business in IT projects, releases introducing too many defects, service desk hours that don’t work for the business.  Pretty much everything.  And that’s why the top-down relationship survey is so important. When Net Promoter is used for periodically surveying internal customers, it provides really rich information on what the customer sees as IT’s strengths and weaknesses. The results often come as a surprise to IT management, which is a good thing, because, without that information they were in danger of investing limited improvement resources in areas that just aren’t important to the customer.

If you could distill all the experience you’ve had with transforming IT teams, is there one high-impact tip you could suggest?

Yes, but it’s more of a way of thinking than a tip per se.  And that is – don’t dismiss customer feedback as something fluffy and unimportant. If you’re in the business of delivering service to a customer, then understanding customer perceptions is very very important. Dismiss customer feedback as fluffy and unimportant at your peril! Quality and value are both the result of perceptions, not objective measures like availability percentages and average response times.

Net Promoter-based transactional surveys are a great way to drive continual improvement in the Service Desk and IT support functions – improving the way IT is perceived by the large majority of its customers. And Net Promoter-based relationship surveys provide a valuable source of input to IT strategy, ensuring that IT is investing in the areas that are truly important to the business, not just because Gartner says so.

When IT teams don’t understand, and actively seek to improve, customer perceptions of IT, the end result is sad and predictable – IT is managed like a cost-centre, budgets are cut, functions are outsourced, and IT leaders are replaced.  And at pubs and dinner parties, no matter what job we do in IT, our friends grumble at us because where they work, their IT department is crap.

Dave helps IT teams, and other internal service providers, adopt Net Promoter and provide better customer service, improve their reputation and increase internal customer satisfaction. He’s worked in IT for 25 years and is the CEO and founder of:

  • Silversix.com.au – a management consultancy that helps IT teams measure and improve internal customer satisfaction)
  • and cio-pulse.com (a transactional Net Promoter service that kicks the ass of the survey modules of ITSM tools).

Imprivata Case Study: Why Limit the Service Desk to IT?

Imprivata is a leading provider of authentication and access management solutions for the healthcare industry.

Recall the last time you visited a hospital or medical center, or perhaps watched your favorite medical drama. Health care professionals working in a busy medical environment don’t have time for usernames and passwords to access electronic medical records across multiple IT systems. The preferred security mechanism is a swipe of a badge or simply put your finger down on a biometric reader.

Imprivata provides this authentication and single sign on technology. The same badge tap or fingerprint recognition technology can also allow health care staff to access thousands of systems across the hospital. The bottom line benefit is health care staff spending more time helping patients and less time fiddling with technology.

Imprivata has experienced fast growth over the last year, and Alex Wong, CIO, recently discussed his experiences implementing a “corporate ticketing system” to support the rapidly increasing Imprivata employee count and his overall review of ManageEngine.

Imprivata

Imprivata

  • Founded 2002
  • Headquarters: Lexington, Massachusetts, USA
  • NYSE: IMPR
  • Annual Sales $82.2M USD
  • www.Imprivata.com

 

Alex Wong

Alex Wong

 


Note: ManageEngine commissioned this case study. Thank you to Alex from Imprivata for being so candid and sharing his opinions with the ITSM Review community. Kudos also to ManageEngine for the confidence to allow us to publish Alex’s opinions and review verbatim. The responses below, which I hope you will find to be balanced and honest, have not been edited by ManageEngine or exposed to the usual PR polish.


ITSM Review: Alex, can you explain your strategy for implementing a corporate ticketing system and how this differs from a traditional IT helpdesk?

Alex, Imprivata: We’re growing very fast. One year ago we were 260 staff, we’re now over 350.

When new employees join Imprivata and have issues, they want to know who to contact. We want to make that process easy for them. So we have developed a common platform so that they don’t need to know who to contact – they can just get their questions answered. The corporate ticketing system, built on ManageEngine, gives them the ability to do that.

We wanted to build a single ticketing system for all business departments, not just IT.

You’ve been CIO for just over a year. So things have happened pretty quickly. How long did it take to implement?

We invested in some training to implement ManageEngine. We used the training time to configure the system to our requirements. Within two to four weeks of the training, we had implemented ManageEngine for the IT department. Within another two months, HR and facilities came on board. Then our Business Desk team joined two weeks later.

Why ManageEngine? Could you not have done all of that with your previous technology platform?

We were previously using Zendesk. We also looked at Salesforce.com and JIRA. Ultimately, we felt that we’d be able to implement the quickest with ManageEngine.

We also like the categorization of data with ManageEngine. We can define tickets in terms of categories and sub-categories, which we couldn’t do easily in Zendesk.

Also, staff that have been with us for quite a while, or certain suppliers, are used to routing queries to dedicated email aliases such as facilities@imprivata.com. With ManageEngine we are able to route all tickets through the same system.

We’re pleased with the tool and how configurable it is.

 What impact has your corporate ticketing system had on business departments outside IT?

Teams have stated they have much better visibility into tickets. The old model was primarily email-driven, so a manager would be dependent on the team to gauge how things were going. Now, managers can see exactly what issues are arising and what issues remain outstanding to allow them to prepare for the next day. Having that visibility has been very helpful.

Visibility of issues has also been very useful for the responsiveness of departments. For example if an employee raises an issue with the heating in the UK and the office manager is out, a team in another country can address the issue and provide coverage. Previously, the issue would have been stuck in someone’s email inbox.

How are issues from all these different departments routed?

Our first line of defense is usually the service desk. A single tracking mechanism for all tickets across all departments on the same platform has been very helpful. We usually receive about 40-60 tickets a day.

Imprivata employees typically log issues via three main channels:

  1. More than half of all staff work in the corporate headquarters, so a good proportion of tickets are raised via walk-ups.
  2. Tickets can be logged via email through help@imprivata.com
  3. You can go into the system, http://help.imprivata.com, directly via a browser and log a ticket

Everything goes into this platform, from “it’s too cool in here” to “my machine is broken.” From here, our first priority is to understand what’s coming in and process it. We try to resolve the issue on the first line straight away or route the ticket to a department queue or specialist.

You’ve mentioned that categorisation of tickets was important in your tool selection process – why is this so important to Imprivata?

Classification is important to us because if we see common or repeated issues, we try to 1) group them into common problem sets, 2) solve them and understand the root cause, and 3) prevent it from happening again.

For example, our new hire process includes a list of things that need to be done to support a new hire. If I see a ticket from a new hire asking for help in printing something – that means we’ve failed in the new hire process. Printer drivers were not installed properly, or we don’t have the correct FAQs for them to turn to. This information lets us know how we’re doing from a process standpoint.

That seems quite advanced problem management compared to other organizations we speak to.

We try to be very, very, analytical about how we think about our support model.

We’re quite small, and we extensively use interns. So our support model and process has to be very well-defined for us to be successful.

How do you measure success?

We provide internal support, making sure folks on the frontline selling products to customers are getting the help they need. Our measure of success is happy customers and customer satisfaction.

We measure how long it takes to get back to people, how long does it take to close a ticket and resolve an issue. How often are we reopening a ticket because we didn’t get it right first time?

We also have a process for checking aged tickets out there. Our internal customers know that they can escalate tickets if they are not getting what they need. We’ve built some automation with ManageEngine to monitor and escalate against SLAs, but we’ve also built communication channels for customers to provide feedback.

Would you recommend ManageEngine?

I would.

It’s flexible enough to manage our tickets within a best practice framework. We’re a public company, and there are certain processes we need to follow to adhere to legislation. For example, anyone that requires access to the general ledger system needs pre-approval. We’re governed by regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley that we know we’re going to be audited on, so having a system that supports us with these elements while managing our business in an efficient manner was a key requirement. So far, ManageEngine has delivered on those requirements.

Is there anything you would change if you had the choice?

Certain things could be better from a reporting point of view. It is not always intuitive, so we are reliant on the support team to help us out quite a bit. There a few nit-pick items such as the ability to

classify tickets with more refinement than today. But overall, we are very satisfied with ManageEngine.

How has the ManageEngine team responded to these or issues suggestions?

It’s been a mixed bag. Sometimes they are very responsive; sometimes it takes a couple of days. Given how important the system is to us, we’d pay for a faster response time if it were available.

We’d also like to invest in consulting services to address our reporting needs but have been pointed back to the support team. These are nit-picks, not showstoppers; but if these areas were improved, we’d be extremely happy.

What version are you running? Are you on the free version?

We started with the free version but quickly transitioned to the paid model.


Overall Review of ManageEngine by Imprivata

servicedeskplus-ondemand-logo-img

 

 

 

“The investment in ManageEngine is very easy to justify. The cost of running ManageEngine is not very expensive. And the fact that we can automate ticketing for other business departments within the same budget as our previous IT helpdesk is a real bonus”

Strengths

  1.  General flexibility
  2. Ability to adapt to business requirements

Weaknesses

  1. More granularity in classifications
  2. Reporting requires more depth, it is not intuitive as it could be

Ratings

  • Product 8/10
  • Ease of use and intuitiveness 8/10
  • Reporting 8/10
  • Overall satisfaction with ManageEngine 9.5/10

Too much Shadow IT? Sunlight is the best disinfectant

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant”  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Could issues with Shadow IT be addressed by openness and communications?

A lot of people confuse the term Shadow IT for something more sinister, something straight out of a Tom Clancy cyber-espionage thriller.

If it were so, it’d be so much more cooler, of course, but on the contrary, Shadow IT is something far less sinister, something we have all been probably guilty of at some point in our careers. The act of purchasing or using technology for the workplace without the approval or knowledge of the IT department is called Shadow IT.

This could mean something as simple as someone using Dropbox to share company data or the DevOps team purchasing an instance of a caching server to increase performance of the website, all without the IT department’s knowledge or approval.

This phenomenon is commonplace thanks to a clear paradigm shift in enterprise buying patterns. Any manager armed with a credit card and access to the Internet can buy software thanks to vendors adopting the SaaS model, as long as it falls within the budget allocated to his department. With the consumerization of technology, it has only made things easier for credit card toting users. It is not only software that is gradually going beyond the scope of Shadow IT, but also hardware and gadgets. We live in an era where we can get a tablet delivered overnight from Amazon if the mobile testing team needs one immediately.

Gartner predicts that

By 2015, 35 percent of enterprise IT expenditures for most organizations will be managed outside the IT department’s budget.

Like any innovation or trend that emerges fast, there are two sides to this. The purchase of that SaaS marketing automation tool by the marketing department would definitely help the marketing team work efficiently towards the business goal of generating more leads, but that also means that there is an increased responsibility towards the IT department in making sure that there are no risks involved.

Some risks associated with Shadow IT

  • Acquisition of software from dubious sources – download sites, cloud services with poor security
  • Ill-researched information leading to bad tech choices
  • Bug infested software
  • Obvious data security risks
  • Risk of malware or virus infiltrating the corporate network

An important question is to be considered here is why do users bypass IT to make purchase decisions? A lot of people view the IT department as still stuck in the ‘80s or that the process of procurement is slow. With the market and competition moving at breakneck speed, businesses cannot afford to wait over a simple purchase that impacts business. With more and more businesses delegating decision making or opting for flat hierarchies, Shadow IT only makes more sense. In case of a sudden drop in performance, would the business rather have an engineer himself take the decision to purchase additional servers to balance load or an engineer who informs IT and waits for IT to supply the same, knowing it would take a few hours (or a few days?). IT would probably have to escalate to ask team leader, finance and a number of other stakeholders for approval resulting in unnecessary outage and hundreds and thousands of disgruntled customers. Phew!

Of course, such situations are not this black and white, but the challenge remains the same.

What can the IT department do to solve this deadlock?

  • Broad-minded CIO – The vision of the CEO is crucial in shaping the organisation; we know this. The same holds good for the IT department, for which the CIO needs to be open to innovation and new ideas. If that means getting rid of that legacy tool you have been using for the past decade, so be it.
  • Openness of the IT department – The IT department should not turn into a bureaucratic force in the organisation, slowing things down with a mindless adherence to the traditional way of doing things. It should act as a catalyst towards the ultimate goal of the organisation – to make more revenue and to be profitable. Understanding business needs and continuously reframing policies and processes is a given for a cutting edge IT department.
  • Communication – Business units must understand that it is good practice to keep the IT department involved in technology purchasing decisions, even ones which have to be taken fast. It becomes imperative for the IT department to reach out actively to business units and educate them about why they exist – not to slow them down, but to help them achieve their business goals. The IT department must use the announcements section of the service desk effectively, sending regular newsletters and engaging your users.
  • Protect and to serve – It is essential that business units and the IT department are on the same page when it comes to IT purchases. The IT team needs to be fully aware of the latest IT acquisition even if they are not directly involved in the purchase. At the end of the day, it is IT that are going to be firefighting if some security lapse arises. After all, you cannot really fight if you don’t know what exactly you are fighting. Step up on your internal training and empower your team to take decisions. Train your team on the latest IT technologies.

In conclusion…

Do not look at Shadow IT as something that will put the IT department out of a job – look at Shadow IT as a huge opportunity to take unnecessary burden off IT – why would you want to spend your time on a minor purchase when you can spend the same time thinking about the big picture – IT strategy?

Remember, Shadow IT is not a bad word. We cannot stop business units wanting to invest in new technology to grow the business. But what we can do is work with them to ensure a smooth and productive work environment.

 Image Credit

ITSM Industry News Roundup – Incl JP Morgan Chase Hack

8055196341_faa1890499_zNo time to read all the interesting news and info floating around social media and appearing in your inbox? Read our round up of what we’ve found interesting this week.

  • Why You Should Drop Staff Who Are Not Cloud Savvy – Cliff Saran explains why CIO’s need to lose traditional staff not ready to move to the cloud. Read more here
  • Understanding Services – It’s Not Really Magic – Ryan Ogilvie talks the magic of service. Read more here
  • This is Why the Enormous JP Morgan Chase Hack is so Scary – Chris Gayomali at Fast Company asks if banks are still our safest institutions. Read more here
  • I Tried Living on One Browser Tab and Almost Died – Remember last weeks People Who Jump From Screen to Screen Have Less Gray Matter post? Well here’s what happened to John Ness when he tried working in only one browser tab.
  • The Interface from Dev to Ops isn’t Going Away; it’s Rotating – Donnie Berkholz talks how the shift changes the roles of developers and operations teams Read more here (via @mselheimer)
  • The Unpatchable Malware That Infects USBs is Now on the Loose – Stakes are raised for USB makers after undetectable malware code is released on Github. Read more here
  • Big Data for Small Business –Why it Matters! – Bernard Marr explains why you don’t have to be big for big data to apply- read more here (Via LinkedIn)

Got some interesting news to share – say hello via @gobbymidget 

Image Credit

Live from LEADit, Conference Review

Meeting April Allen (@knowledgebird) at LEADit - the itSMFA conference
Meeting April Allen (@knowledgebird) at LEADit – the itSMFA conference

DAY ONE

I’m at the itSMF Australia LEADit conference in Melbourne. It started with a buzz of excitement with a healthy turnout of 674 expected during the 3 days.

The opening ceremony from itSMFA Chair Kathryn Heaton and Australian politician Gordon Rich-Phillips were very positive about the state of ITSM in Australia and the future plans for even better cooperation between IT and the Government. Gordon Rich-Phillips stated, “IT is an enabler of productivity and employment” and emphasized and the importance of holding events like these in Melbourne where it is commonly accepted as the hub of IT particularly in the State of Victoria.

The keynote from Peter Nikoletatos on Accelerated Connectedness was an entertaining and insightful look at how to maintain the basics (Hygiene IT) whilst introducing an agile approach.  The second keynote from Nigel Dalton was a well constructed debate and case study on whether adopting The Cloud is ‘all about money’ or is it actually the opportunity to succeed (albeit with a different approach to organizational structure) with his role as CIO at The REA group proved as a case study.

The main focus of the day from the perspective of the keynote and breakout sessions was the high level discussion on the ability to take Service Management beyond IT into other areas of business so they are integrated and not separate entities.

Some feedback from delegates suggested that more was needed in terms of how to implement ITSM outside IT. Some of the tool vendors I expressed concerns that the event had to develop this offering or miss the huge opportunity of being part of the larger business operation.

Peter Hepworth from Axelos provided an update on the 60 strong team now running the ITIL and Prince2 best practice frameworks including Prince2 for Agile.

Overall the first day of the LEADit conference has been incredibly productive and I have been very impressed by the amount of social interaction and discussions between end users, speakers and vendors alike in very relevant topics that many in Service Management face. This event is highly regarded by many of the attendees as one of the top five of itSMF events globally and at this stage I can only agree.

DAY TWO

Another really good day at the LEADit conference for ITSMF Australia in Melbourne. The keynotes in the morning were two of the best I have seen at any event and will live long in the memory.

The first keynote was from Jason McCartney, an AFL hero who was badly injured in the Bali bombings in 2002 and his story of how he overcame injuries to marry his wife ( less than 2 months later) and return to his passion of playing football at the highest level when doctors said he wouldn’t ever play again. It was a great uplifting speech and one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to watch. Jason held our attention from start to finish which most presentations rarely do.

“It’s not what you are dealt in life – it is how you deal with it” ~ Jason McCartney

The second keynote was also very good from ITSM Ambassador Malcolm Fry. His keynote was very original and was based around looking at various famous types of artwork like Banksy, Salvador Dali and Monet and how they relate to ITSM in that sometimes Service Management isn’t about the little details its about the bigger picture and that you can look at things in a different way especially how the Service Desk works.

The Breakout sessions were well attended again today and lots of positive and informative contributions from the speakers. A lot of focus of the event has been the whole ITIL vs Cobit and ITIL versus Agile debates with justified arguments on both sides. A lot of the end users I spoke to today were focused on delivering customer satisfaction and getting the basics right and were attending the courses relevant to these topics.

The final keynote of the day showcased the key findings of a collaboration between itSMFA and ISACA into problems faced when developing strategic IT plans (the ebook is available from the itSMFA or ISACA website).

Caption
Left to right: Peter Hepworth (CEO, Axelos), Kathryn Heaton (itSMFA Chair), Bruce Harvey (itSMFA) at the LEADit Gala dinner.

Evening entertainment was the Telstra Gala Dinner and ITSMF industry awards. A well attended evening (they could have filled the hall twice) to celebrate the successes of the year and show gratitude to long standing members to the itSMFA. Congratulations to Karen Ferris of Macanta Consulting for here lifetime achievement award.

Live from LEADit: REA smashing IT department stereotypes

I’m at ‘LeadIT‘, itSMF Australia’s annual conference. In this article I share how REA have transformed the image of their IT department. Nigel Dalton keynoted at LeadIT and Damian Fasciani led a breakout session.

How REA transformed IT

There’s a certain stereotype that comes to mind when we talk about enterprise IT support teams; it’s a bunch of dudes, (usually), sitting in a small, dimly lit room next to a rack of servers, and maybe playing Xbox until the next maintenance reboot. There’s a new breed of IT leaders at work striving to change that image. The REA Group, headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, have turned that stereotype on its head to create an approachable corporate IT team that colleagues are eager to work with.

Damian Fasciani leads the Technology Services team for Real Estate Australia. With the guidance of CIO, Nigel Dalton, Damian has restructured his team and rebuilt the corporate technology strategy to align with the digital business that REA has become.

REA is Australia’s biggest property website providing residential and commercial property listings. The grand plan is to turn property hunting into an experience, where people can spend time on the REA sites to research neighbourhoods, utilities, streets, schools, and so on. Damian’s team of 15, (one based remotely in the Sydney office), supports more than 1000 employees, globally.

The practices introduced to the Technology Services team, and the decision to adopt a cloud-based software strategy, have all been driven by the intention to put the focus back on employee relationships. Damian says, “we made a decision that our engineers shouldn’t be spending time in the data centre behind the servers. They should be sitting down with people in the organisation and talking about how the software resonates, and how to get the most out of technology.” And with a cloud-first strategy, he hasn’t shied away from integrating a number of solutions like Box, Zendesk, Leankit and Okta, to achieve the required outcomes.

MISSION-PRINT-A1

REA’s human-centred approach to corporate IT is clear, even to the outside observer. While I stood waiting at the Tech Services walk-up desk for the rest of my group to turn up for a tour and presentation Damian was soon to host, team members came to offer assistance, I could see posters promoting recent technology changes within the organisation, and there was a toy truck in sight with a digital display counting down to the opening of a brand new, purpose-built corporate headquarters down the road from where they are now.

The walk-up desk was a service REA started offering to staff a couple of years ago. In the first half of this year, the team have serviced 900 walk-ups, already. The service is popular and employees present a wide range of issues, from break-fix to forgotten laptops to questions about working more efficiently with technology choices. Nigel Dalton, describes the walk-up technology services desk as “vitally important” to their relationship with the business as a whole. So much so, that when the team relocates to the new building, the walk-up desk will gain extra resources with more space and staff, and the availability of tech-toys like 3D printers, Google Glass, and Oculus Rift goggles for colleagues to tinker with. Technology Services aims to become a kind of store-front for day to day tech needs as well as an R&D lab for finding innovative ways to improve the services REA provides to their customers—real estate agents.

As a digital business, technology and agility are fundamental to the way REA works. Damian could see the original structure of the IT support services wasn’t going to fit, so the team have combined a light ITIL framework with practices from Agile and Lean methodologies. One of the significant differences between REA’s IT team and what we’d normally expect from corporate IT, is that members are assigned to take gemba walks out on the floor amongst their colleagues. Gemba walks are a Lean management philosophy developed at Toyota, and they involve proactively walking the floor and talking to people. “Those conversations might just turn into Zendesk tickets, they may turn into an idea which inspires a $50000 IT project. It depends”, Damian says. “You’ll only find the truth when you talk to humans. Not inside tickets and not on the phone.”

tech-it-easy

While the Technology Services team have transformed their support services with an outside-in approach, they’ve taken to changing the culture from the inside out. The people we’d normally refer to as Desktop Support, REA call Technology Consultants. It’s amazing how a simple name change and a bit of rebranding and internal marketing conjures a whole new idea of what to expect from a relationship with IT. Instead of just fixing something when it’s broken, it’s about advice and training. It becomes a consultative relationship that enables all employees to get on with the job at hand.

Real Estate Australia is going through rapid growth and the changes to their IT systems, processes and behaviours have allowed them to scale with that expansion and fuel new projects. With a number of clear wins under the belt, REA’s human-centred approach to employee services and IT staff development is set to continue, and I hope it catches on across the industry.

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.

Things I didn’t learn in ITIL school

4902440868_5f916ccdb6_zWhile at the Pink Elephant Conference back in February, I successfully completed an ITIL intermediate class/exam and the really cool part of this is, that I’ve been able to use the knowledge gained in the course to change my company’s adoption plan and help streamline our strategy.

I was discussing this sequence of events and outcomes with colleagues. Our conversation kept circling back to the things we have to do in ITSM to help drive adoption and how many of those things that are not covered in ITIL courses. I have jotted them down here to help you in your planning, as these items can be the “sticking” points that disrupt and delay ITSM activities.

Sales/Selling

In any ITSM plan you need to have a sales strategy and sales plan. You are bringing concepts and ideas that may be seen as “threats” to the way your colleagues currently conduct business. You will need to be able to convey your message to senior/executive management, line staff, mid-level management, and customers.

You will not find much in the ITIL books that explain how to sell a new idea/change to your business. You will need to master this skill on your own and you will need to spend time outside of work perfecting it.

One other point to mention is that people sometimes swap the terms “sales” and “marketing” in similar context. Personally I do not think they are the same thing. Sales plans are designed to help decision makers “buy” your ideas/concepts. Marketing plans are designed to help teams adopt decisions. Of course, there is overlap in the definitions though. I encourage you to gain insight in to how your organization views these terms and plan accordingly.

Takeaways:

  • Have a “sales” plan for each ITSM item
  • Read books on selling or discuss with professionals who sell things for a living

Negotiation

You and your team will have wonderful ideas. While we know you have the organizations best interests at heart, not everyone may see your proposals as progress. You will need negotiation skills to help settle difference in opinions and reach the best possible outcome. You will need to assess attitudes, understand what knowledge is available, and draw on interpersonal skills to obtain a win-win situation.

Mastering this skill will not only benefit you in an ITSM role but may also help you be seen as a better candidate for future positions.

Takeaways:

  • Take courses on formal and informal negotiation techniques
  • Build a relationship/mentorship with a person who negotiates for a living. Practice negotiating with this person

Building Relationships

Of all the potential pitfalls you may encounter, building relationships can be the showstopper. This skill is necessary regardless of the work you do. You MUST learn to network and build relationships with people throughout your company/organization.

Think of it this way; a person’s decision whether to help you may depend on how you make them feel, how much they trust you, and their perception of how willing you are to work with them. Building good solid relationships with everyone who will execute your ITSM vision is critical for success.

Yes, it will be a lot of hard work. You will need to prove you put their needs before yours, be prepared to give consistently and receive occasionally, value the message and the messenger, and be willing to see the other person’s view without bias. You do not necessarily need to have deep, meaningful contact with everyone but you do need to have the ability to allow others to perceive they can be comfortable around you.

Takeaways:

  • Try to meet someone new in your company every day. Once you have met everyone in your company branch out to your community
  • Make notes on family, hobbies, likes, etc., on your contacts. Review these notes prior to meeting with the person
  • Use social media to meet people from around the globe
  • Do not force this – build relationships at the other person’s pace

The value equation

In ITSM, we spend a great deal of time discussing the value of a service. We discuss the importance to the business of showing value in the services we offer, we discuss the pitfalls off not showing value, and we discuss the criteria and mechanics of how to show value. Do we discuss how to show the value of ITSM adoption?

The CIO has made an investment in the IT department by deciding to adopt ITSM. The CIO most likely had to get someone above his/her role to agree this was a good idea as well. Regardless of stated requirements for your role, the CIO expects you to demonstrate value. You will need to show the ROI of an improved process, the TCO of service activities, how efficiently it has provided more resource capacity, how teams are now utilizing the additional resource capacity, and how the ITSM program is fit for purpose & fit for use.

Takeaways:

  • Understand how to calculate ROI and TCO and how your company interprets this information.
  • Be able to show the utility and warranty of your ITSM work.
  • Hold regularly scheduled reviews with senior leadership on ITSM value.

Final Thoughts

I learned about most of these items the hard way. Most (if not all) the things listed here are (possibly unstated) expectations of you. Remember:

  • Focus on building relationships. Good relationships will take you far in your journey.
  • While you need to be in charge of the sales plan, you do not have to be the chief seller. If others in your company are good at selling, enlist their help.
  • Make sure you understand what information/reports your boss and the CIO want/need regarding the value of the ITSM program
  • Do not get overwhelmed if you cannot quickly master these skills. These skills take time to learn and internalize. Remember this is an iterative process and little improvements on each interaction are good.
  • Do not forget to record your accomplishments somewhere. You’ll need them for your value calculations and discussion.
  •  Do not forget to enjoy what you do and have fun. You can quickly succumb to the negatives in ITSM work. At the end of the day, especially the tough days, ask if you helped make your company better. If the answer is no, regroup and try again tomorrow. If the answer is yes, pat yourself on the back move onto the next goal.

Image Credit

Stop Blaming Release Management!

When releases fail, we often point a finger at the release manager, expecting that person to make the necessary corrections to prevent similar failures in the future.  In doing so, we miss the real target – the service delivery flow.  This flow, with its many inputs, is in disarray in most organizations and the solution seems daunting.  This article proposes that there is a simple, inexpensive, and self-healing approach to improving the flow of service modification.

When a Release Goes Bad

The scene is too familiar.  The service desk, on the verge of panic, is swamped with increasingly irate calls.  The boss is on a bridge line with a host of managers and technicians trying to restore order.  The business units, demanding action, are banging on the CIO’s door and the echoes reverberate throughout IT.

Last night, IT distributed a major release of a critical business application.  Today, users are converging on IT with torches and pitchforks.  The business application update had an enormous impact on productivity and revenue.  The impact continues as the business owner demands that the changes be “backed out” – a request that IT finds exasperatingly difficult to satisfy.

When the dust settles, it is not uncommon to see root cause analysis identify the numerous mistakes made in the “release”.  The list might include:

Table1
Common Issues and Likely Culprits

Who is to blame?  Release management?  Of the 11 mistakes listed, 9 belong to groups outside release management.  Yet, in many cases, release management will still take the heat.  The purpose of this article is not so much to absolve release management but rather to bring understanding to the larger service lifecycle in hopes that the readers can address the true causes of release failures.

Know the River

Release and deployment management is just one part of a much larger lifecycle.  Think of it as a port along a river.  A business service starts out as an empty barge on the business dock.  In ITIL terms, the manager of that dock, Business requirements management (BRM), loads the barge with service requirements.  In the diagram, this is the “Identify” stage.

Service Flow - Stages, Participants, Output
Service Flow – Stages, Participants, Output

The barge makes a number of stops on its way down the river.  Along the way, the manifest of the barge is equivalent to the seldom referenced (but, in some form, always present) service design package of ITIL.

When the barge, stacked with cargo, finally pulls into the release and deployment dock, the only issue should be how to transport the contents of the barge effectively and safely to the appropriate recipients.  One could think of release and deployment as a trucking company.  The truckers did not design or build the cargo.  Nor are they to blame if the item in the package performs poorly.

I recently ordered a manual online.  The package arrived in the expected time frame and was intact.  As I read the manual, I noticed that an entire section was missing.  Should I blame the trucking company?  Of course not.  Likewise, we should not hold the release management responsible for defects over which it has (by design and best practice) no control.

The following table might help to identify the “river ports” where the service barge might be picking up sub-standard cargo.

Service Lifecycle River
Service Lifecycle River

Look Upstream

In order to effectively manage and improve the delivery of a release, we need to focus on three major points:

  • Transition review
  • Service delivery package
  • Project charter
Feeding the Transition Review
Feeding the Transition Review

Transition Review

The objective of the transition review (post implementation review) is simple: Learn from your mistakes.  When an organization first commits to regular PIRs, they may be a bit disorganized.  As inputs and outputs become better defined, so will the overall process.   The transition review is the spawning ground for improvement of this lifecycle.

Service Design Package

Although few enterprises seem to understand the concept of the SDP, it is, in my opinion, a brilliant addition to ITIL v3 2011.  When organizations address the output of Transition Reviews, they inevitably make adjustments to the SDP because it is the mechanism for improving consistency, governance, and effectiveness for the service modification lifecycle.

Project Charter

In most shops, the service modification lifecycle begins around a table of senior managers.  The beginning of a project needs to be less about hierarchy and more about process because this is not a hand-off; this is a flow.  Four players are critical to the project charter.

  • Business relationship manager – understands business requirements.
  • Service portfolio manager – understands the pipeline and service catalog.
  • Service level manager – understands issues that might impact service levels and process.
  • IT architecture – understands the importance of a consistent framework.
Deming's PDCA Organic Flow
Deming’s PDCA Organic Flow

With these, the organization understands business requirements, process, and infrastructure within the context of service delivery.

Completing the Circle

With the project charter, service design package, and Transition Review, we have completed the deming circle (Plan, Do, Check, Act).

Most shops fall short in planning and checking because these activities are poorly governed and too loosely integrated into the overall flow.  As Yoda would say, “Without plan, no do; without check, no act.”

Start Small but Start Smart

When a release fails (especially when it fails in a spectacular way), the fault generally lies in the process.  If, as I assume, this is common knowledge, why do these broken processes persist?  Because most enterprises perceive that process optimization costs too much money, takes too much time and does not meet more immediate business objectives.This reticence is understandable given the typical consulting approach.  A consulting firm will probably suggest starting with a comprehensive assessment that forms the basis for a massive proposal that drains resources from business-critical initiatives.

Instead, insist that any partner (consultancy) starts simply.

Enable the Flow to Manage the Activities

The degree to which this lifecycle is managed is inversely proportional to the likelihood of failure.  The simplest way to manage a lifecycle is shown above in the Deming diagram.  The idea is to implement the organic lifecycle flow and let the flow improve the subordinate activities.To accomplish this, we need to implement the flow with the associated roles.

Step 1 – Establish and Empower the BRM Role

The business relationship manager role usually exists in some tainted form.  We need to plug this role into the organic flow.  This role seeks to understand the needs of the business but, just as important, collaborates on those requirements throughout the service lifecycle.  As mentioned above, the BRM is critical to project initiation.

Step 2 – Establish and Empower the Enterprise Design Coordinator Role

The enterprise design coordinator is really the key to success.  There are three main tasks for this role.  Aside from coordinating design and build activities at a high level (not an application development manager), this role also a) ensures that the input from the BRM is adequate and b) ensures that the service design package is complete and accurate.

Step 3 – Establish Policies and Procedures for Transition Review

The release manager (hopefully already in place) will collaborate with the BRM, design coordinator and stakeholders to create policies and procedures for transition review.  The guiding principle for transition review should be that it examines service transition output (incidents, issue logs, metrics) to identify opportunities for process improvement.

Step 4 – Establish SIP Procedures

The output from the transition review will sometimes include a service improvement plan.  The organization needs a standardized procedure for initiating and implementing an SIP.

Step 5 – Do it and Keep Doing it

We have created the organic flow.  We only need to execute it.  Each SIP will improve the effectiveness of the service modification lifecycle.

Note on Change Management

Change management, from an enterprise perspective, plays a significant role in controlling the flow of the service lifecycle.  Most organizations perceive change management from an operational rather than an enterprise perspective – an outgrowth of legacy implementations of IT change requests.  This narrow focus deprives the organization of the true power of this governance process.  I would have enjoyed weaving into this article the benefits that a cohesive and integrated change management process could provide but it deserves a separate piece.

Conclusion

Release and deployment relies, for its success, on a number of upstream processes.  Business relationship management and design coordination, both new to ITIL v3 2011, are key to managing the upstream service lifecycle.  Though they may seem unfamiliar, everyone has implemented these processes to some degree but few have implemented them effectively.  This oversight poses a risk because any enterprise that does not consistently manage the entire lifecycle does not control the operational outcome.  In other words, every release is a roll of the dice.

Feeling lucky?

Is Darth Vadar in your ITSM project?

darthWhen I started my current role of Total Quality Manager, my CIO lovingly dubbed me “Darth Vader”.

In his view, Darth is the ultimate project manager and the CIO wanted the same qualities in me.

The CIO needed me to brutally prioritize tasks, make decisions based on data, honor commitments, manage risk, be persuasive, take on the big problems, and not be afraid to get my hands dirty.

Recently, the CIO asked me to morph out of Vader mode, so I thought I would take opportunity to reflect back on Vader moments in an ITSM project.

Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed

A lesson early on, an ITSM project is not about technology. The technology will only be as good as the process constructed. If your incident management process does not work when you execute it on paper, adding any technology is just going to accelerate the pain. Remember to include your stakeholder in the design and to put people first. Even if the process does not work, the people, if you have gained their trust, will quickly find a good workaround and help improve the next iteration.

Lesson Learned: Involve stakeholders and communicate intent. Use technology to accelerate good processes

Don’t underestimate the Force

As with any project, you will have your Jedi and Sith plus a lot of people simply trying to get through the rebellion. Dealing with Jedi and Sith is the easy part. The “political” alignment is easy to spot and understand. For me, the Jedi are teammates who help lead the “we’re not changing” attitude (i.e. the ITSM rebellion). While my Sith brethren actively and proudly helped build the “Death Star” (i.e ITSM processes).

The difficulty in my ITSM project was dealing with the “just trying to get through” crowd. We had:

  • Uncle Owen – wanted nothing to do with the rebellion (“just leave things alone”)
  • Greedo and Boba Fett (bounty hunters) –  worked to “take out” new process and changes
  • Droids (but not C-3PO or R2-D2) – folks you really could not communicate with and simply seemed to be focused on doing the next programmed task
  • Lando Calrissian – people who seemed to be on your side but you still are unsure of their motives
  • Admiral Ackbar – people who kept reminding others the project is “a trap”

This group is easily swayed by the Force and Jedi mind tricks from the Jedi and Sith. As we all know, the Force in our organizations is culture, and this is what binds everything together. Small shifts in the Force can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Need an example? Ever brought up an idea, just as a concept, with no intent of doing anything more than creating a discussion and suddenly you are fielding questions/comments/concerns about this idea? “When are we doing this?” “Nobody discussed this with me!” “You just can’t decide on your own to change my job” If you dig a little, you find members of the Jedi used the Force and Jedi mind tricks to build FUD and sometimes to derail the work.

Lesson Learned: There is a fine balance of culture in an organization. Little things (changes, ideas) may not upset the balance but a buildup of little things can cause a great disturbance. A lot of change can happen, sometimes quickly. Keep communication channels open. Let people express their concerns and take each concern seriously. Work to displace FUD.

And now, your highness, we will discuss the location of your hidden rebel base…

I knew we had “shadow systems” running in our support environment. Proving it, along with the issues caused, was difficult. We got to a point where we started asking, “If a shadow system works (really) well, should you disrupt it just because you are adopting a service management framework?”

We tackled this issue by talking to our Service Owners and finding out why the system was in place. In several cases, it was simply old design and the system worked so well, nobody felt there was an issue to address. We used the ISO/IEC 20000 standards to help determine if the system met the level of quality we desired. If it did, we worked to formalize the process. If not, we worked to transition to an appropriate process. Along the way, we continued to build trust and fight Jedi.

Lesson Learned: If something works well, meets your goals, and satisfies customers, stick with it.

You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor!

Confronting those who actively worked to disrupt the project is one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of the job. In any project, you must understand the FUD statements. Determine why your colleague(s) feel this way. It is important to listen carefully. Find out why they perceive the project as a “threat” to their job/career/lifestyle. Make sure you address why they feel they way they do.

Lesson Learned: LISTEN. Use crucial conversations. Remember, we’re all in this together.

What is thy bidding, my master?

You will receive many opinions while managing an ITSM adoption project. Keep in mind two things:

  • You are charged with getting the project to completion
  • Know who charged you to get this done.

Comedian Jerry Clower tells a story where he was hired to perform at a show. When Jerry walked into the theater, the lighting director walked up and asked “Mr. Clower, how would you like the lights tonight?” Jerry thinks for a moment and then responds, “Son, I don’t know. You’re a professional. Just make everything look as good as you can.”

Next, the makeup artist asks Jerry, “How would you like your makeup done?” Jerry responds with “You know, you ain’t got a lot to work with…just make me look as good as possible. I trust you”.

Finally, the manager of the theater asks, “Mr. Clower, would you mind coming through the audience and shaking hands as you come on stage?” Jerry responds with “Sir, it would be my pleasure to do so!” The manager pauses for a moment and then says “Mr. Clower, I’ve been talking with my staff. All of them tell me you are so friendly and trusting of their abilities. We get a lot of artists in here who just are not that way. Why are you so different?”

Jerry looks the manger dead in the eye and responds, “Son, did you forget? You hired me.”

The point of the story – don’t forget who you work for. The CIO wants this project done. Know the reasons why. Also, know and understand the level of support from the executive team, the service owners, and process owners. Everyone has to be on the same page for this to work.

Lesson Learned: It takes a village to adopt ITSM. Know the key reasons for the project. Know the stakeholders and their expectations. Remember who you work for. 

May the Force be with you

Finally, here are some additional thoughts:

  • You may be Darth Vader in your project. Just remember to stay true to people first then the project. Don’t give into the Dark Side.
  • Search your feelings – Always use as much data as you can but don’t forget to use intuition and the counsel of others to help make decisions.
  • “I’m altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further” – Remember, it’s a project. It’s not a recipe, cookbook or set of instructions. Know the scope of your efforts and be flexible as possible without compromising the quality of the project.

Can you relate to this? Which Star Wars character are you when it comes to your ITSM project?

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