Quick Guide to Knowledge Management

This quick guide has been contributed by Mike Simpson of CIH Solutions.

The guide discusses how Knowledge Management (KM) can be used to manage risk and control costs in an IT Service Management environment. The guide identifies four ‘hot spots’ based on the author’s experience and outlines common problems and suggests solutions using KM.

Introduction

Author: Mike Simpson, CIH Solutions
Author: Mike Simpson, CIH Solutions

As with most terms found in IT the term Knowledge Management means different things to different people. There is much available on the subject of KM and the term is often interchangeable with other terms such as intellectual capital, information management, data management and document management. In reality, KM embraces all of these.

So, what is my definition of KM in relation to an ITSM organisation?

First, this is not about scale. A KM system can operate just as effectively in a small organisation as a large enterprise. The principles remain the same – identifying, collating, storing and retrieving knowledge for use by all personnel in their day-to-day tasks. Also, this is not just about documents and data. When the experience of personnel is added into the mix we get Knowledge and this needs to be captured and stored for future use.

Second, from my experience the key feature of a KM system within an ITSM organisation is the understanding that different information has different values depending on circumstances. For me assigning value to information is vital and has priority over the capture of all available material.

At this point I should add that I do not differentiate between an MSP serving external clients and an internal IT service provider. The same KM principles apply. Also, the KM system described in this guide should be considered a ‘practical solution’ that can be implemented with limited resources and budget and extended over time.

I want to begin by briefly describing two KM systems that I have encountered in the course of my consultancy work.

Example One

I’ve seen only one truly outstanding example of an enterprise wide KM system and that was at a European pharmaceutical company. What struck me about this KM system was the sheer scale of the repository containing research papers, trials results and project documents covering decades of research amounting to many millions of pages and database entries. The success of this KM system was of course the strength of the underlying thesaurus that enabled scientists to discover (or perhaps re-discover) knowledge to support the design of a new R&D programme.

Example Two

My second example is at the other end of the scale. This is a local KM system that supports an IT organisation that provides hosting support for external SAP clients. This KM system also impressed me but for a different reason. Without any real top down sponsorship or funding the technical teams had created their own KM system based on a single central repository, but where all the content was created, published and maintained under very strict guidelines by a few key members of staff, but accessed by many. The rationale for using this approach was to bring discipline to the management of documents and data that were considered vital to the successful running of their IT organisation.

KM Model for ITSM

The rationale for the second example above sounds somewhat obvious, but the background problem as explained to me was one of long term ill-discipline in the day-to-day management of key information. Individuals, both staff and sub-contractors, would create multiple documents, held in isolated repositories or held on local drives, resulting in poor retrieval and inaccurate information.

The problem is a familiar one. Admittedly, this KM system is basically document management, plus some other information formats and a simple data classification system, but in my view this doesn’t matter as the problem of badly managed information was controlled by introducing a strong KM framework with a central repository to address a specific local need.

It is this model of KM that I want to discuss as the starting point for KM for ITSM, but first I need to say something about the concept of assigning value to information.

Defining Business Value

I mentioned above that assigning value to information is vital.

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I call this category High Business Value information. So, what does it mean exactly? Essentially, this is a category of business information that covers all the vital and irreplaceable business records, documents, information and data that are associated with sensitive areas like customer data, compliance, security, personnel, finance and legal and commercial activities.

It is this category that has the potential to damage an ITSM organisation should this material be compromised by loss, breach of security, inaccuracy or the inability to locate and retrieve quickly when needed. It is the failure to identify, capture, publish and retrieve this category of knowledge that can have a significant impact on the management of risk and cost control.

Whilst all information is valuable, depending on circumstances, some information suddenly becomes more valuable.

KM Framework

Our first step is to build a KM Framework. This framework must define the KM life cycle to create, capture, review, release, amend, publish and retire content. In addition, the KM Framework must define a system of classification for the ITSM information. We have already identified a need to segregate high value information – I’m calling this Layer 1 information. All the remainder of the ITSM information and data is collected into Layer 2.

Basically, for Layer 1 we know what we want and where it is – hence we can find it quickly using a hierarchy with a controlled vocabulary where everything is tagged.

However, for Layer 2 the structure is more linear using a Thesaurus and non-controlled vocabulary. This allows for a more ‘search and discover’ approach.

Finally, the framework will identify the ITSM knowledge managers who will be responsible for implementing the framework, plus a KM Steering Committee.

Five Stages of the KM Framework

There are five stages within the KM Framework and these are shown in Figure 1 below. By following this five stage sequence all the information considered as High Business Value can be identified and either uploaded into the KM Database or retained in local repositories (known as source databases). This is the Integrate stage that is covered in detail later on under the Hot Spot scenarios.

Each stage should be followed for Layer 1 and then repeated for Layer 2.

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Figure 1 – Five Stages of KM Framework

  • Audit – once the categories within Layer 1 have been identified all the material to be included in each category needs to be identified. The audit will do this and will cover different media formats such as PDF, database tables, e-mails, webinars and HTML et al.
  • Map – during the audit the location of the material is identified. This is mapping and will be needed when the KM database is designed and built to identify what material should be transferred to the KMDB and what material should remain in local repositories.
  • Classify – once all the information has been identified for the categories of Layer 1, the documents and data can be classified according to the controlled vocabulary system and the hierarchy structure.
  • Assemble – once classified and physically located, the content for each category should be assembled as a schedule of descriptive metadata tables complete with information titles, document numbers, versions, data sets and physical location.
  • Integrate – once all the information has been assembled the metadata tables can be used to manage the population of the KMDB – either directly with content or connected to other repositories to extract the content. These are known as source databases.

 Classification

As mentioned above it is important to classify by value as well as classify by subject. For example, all customer data should always be considered high value, but the exact list will depend on the types of client and services that are supported by the ITSM organisation.

When it comes to the subject of classification there are many standards1 on taxonomy and debates about linear versus the hierarchy structure approach. I’m therefore suggesting that it makes sense to divide our total ITSM information into two distinct groups – the High Business Value information already discussed and a second group which is essentially everything else. I’m calling the first grouping Layer 1 and the second grouping Layer 2.

Once all the information has been divided into these two layers we must structure the information in two different ways. Figure 2 below shows this division.

Layer 1 should be structured using a taxonomy with a hierarchy and controlled vocabulary. This scheme will identify the information according to importance, sensitivity and security level, and will be used to control access to the information in Layer 1. The search tools that underpin our KM system will then be able to locate and retrieve any of the information in Layer 1 very quickly. Layer 1 will typically have the lowest volume.

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Figure 2 – Grouping Information by Layers

For our second layer – Layer 2 – I suggest a thesaurus with a more linear structure that will allow more of a free form of search and retrieval based on a smaller number of the terms.

Not everything needs to be tagged in Layer 2, instead broader searches and cross searches can be adopted to allow a more ‘search and discovery’ approach even ‘looking inside’ some documents and files to locate content of interest.

This makes sense as the population of Layer 2 will cover all manner of archived project material, design documentation, presentations, non-critical business records et al. Layer 2 will typically have the highest volume.

Hierarchy of Layer 1

Given the relatively simple structure of our KM system I suggest a top down approach for Layer 1, based on a hierarchy of Categories and Sub-categories using a controlled vocabulary to tag documents and data sets. An example is shown in Figure 3 below. As Layer 1 is the primary focus of our initial KM design and build it’s not my intention to outline the structure of Layer 2.

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Figure 3 – Classification Hierarchy

Once all the constituents of Layer 1 have been identified during our Audit stage all the information and data can be divided into Categories. These categories will be assembled under various functional headings, for example:

Category 1 – Customer Data
Category 2 – Compliance
Category 3 – Legal
Category 4 – Service Continuity
Category 5 – Finance
Category n – Security

Once all the Categories have been identified then the material should be further sub-divided into Sub-categories. I would suggest that these three drill-downs are sufficient to hold all the information in Layer 1. The Sub-categories will contain all the specific document and data sets that relate to a particular Category and this can be assigned by client or customer type or by any other specific grouping.

This hierarchy is not meant to be in any way prescriptive, just examples on the concept of Categories and Sub-categories.

Example ‘Hot Spots’

I’ve identified four possible ‘hot spots’ based on personal observations of real life events and these are shown in Figure 4. Clearly, there will be others depending on the set-up of a particular ITSM organisation and the types of client it supports.

The figure is based on a simplified ITSM organisation that could be either a MSP dedicated to external clients, or an ITSM organisation providing IT services to an internal client. The IT Operations can be either internal or external hosting with or without applications support. For the purpose of this guide it is assumed that the IT Operations is in-house and provides hosting, communications and applications support – within an overall governance framework.

There are four example ‘hot ‘spots’ shown in Figure 4.

  • Client Portal – Risk to reputation due to poor quality of customer information
  • Legal and Commercial – Cost of litigation due to incomplete contract audit trail
  • Compliance – Cost of compliance due to audit failure and forced re-work
  • Service Continuity – Risk to IT service continuity due to inadequate preparation

All of the above examples relate to the absence, inaccuracy or timely retrieval of information.

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Figure 4 – Example Hot Spots

Risk to Reputation (Hot Spot 1)

In this scenario I’ve created a simple Service Operation (SO) organisation that has responsibility for managing the information available to customers via a Client Portal. I should state at this point that not all of the information available through the portal is the responsibility of the SO team. Some material will be supplied direct from the Client for uploading onto the portal – material from the Marketing Department such as prospectus and application forms.

The remainder of material will be service and technical support information produced within SO and cover such topics as service availability status, technical self-help and how-to-do-it video clips. The client portal also has a secure area for the client customer groups to access data on performance against SLAs.

The ‘Risk’ we are trying to mitigate here is out-of-date, missing and inaccurate information being posted to the client portal. The current arrangement within our SO is that information is currently held in separate repositories. Information is identified and collected and then manually or semi-automatically uploaded onto the Client Portal database using scripts. The risk here is that:

  • not all information is collected at the right time (like monthly SLA data updates)
  • incorrect information is selected for the right location
  • correct information is uploaded to the wrong location
  • not all information is collected

All the above risks can be minimised by the correct processes and checks in place and rigorously enforced. However, experience has shown that this manual and semi-automatic process can break down over time and quality – and reputation – can be impacted.

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Figure 5 – KM Integration of Client Portal Information

All the client information that was previously managed manually has now been compiled into metadata tables from the AuditMap ClassifyAssemble stages. We can now move to the Integrate stage. The metadata tables will hold the locations of all the information and data needed to be accessed by the client portal and the KMDB will use distributed queries to collect all the information and data from these locations. In practice these will be permitted areas within local repositories (or tool set databases) – known as source databases. See Figure 5.

For example, the Known Error database (KEDB) could supply diagnostic help and work-arounds for self-service customers for the most common errors. The KEDB will also collect Event and Incident Management data in support of the SLA reporting that is provided to the client business units via the portal. The Configuration Management database (CMDB) will also be another source database for the supply of data to the client on service configuration.

Cost of Litigation (Hot Spot 2)

My second scenario relates to the threat of litigation as a result of a breach of contract. Whilst this sounds dramatic it is important not to underestimate the legal and commercial requirements to hold and maintain all contractual material and associated business records.

Most service based agreements come with some form of service credit arrangement. However, a decrease in payment may not fully compensate a client for poor service particularly when a number of service failures occur in quick succession or a major outage lasting several days hits not just the client but the client’s customers. Such a scenario could be considered a breach of contract resulting in litigation to seek damages and a termination of the service contract.

Any move to litigation will result in a demand from the client’s legal team for all relevant information to be handed over. This is known as e-discovery2 and the Service Operation team along with the organisation’s legal department will need to respond very quickly in a short time frame.

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Figure 6 – KM Integration of Legal Information

This is another example of how the KMDB can be used to store high business value information. Figure 6 shows how the KMDB can contain a Legal DB segment that is used to store in one location all contractual and historical SLA information relating to an individual client. As with Scenario 1, the metadata tables will hold the locations of all the information and data needed to be accessed by the Legal KMDB segment. Again, distributed queries are used to collect all the information and data from these source DB locations.

The information will include all versions of contracts, contract amendments, SLAs including email trails between the client and the IT Service Provider. This latter point of email capture is increasingly used to highlight any communication that might indicate an implied contract variation by either party. I would suggest the inclusion of a Message Record Management (MRM) system as part of the KM solution.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 10.37.56

Also, it will be necessary to install an activity monitor to log and track activity of users of the KMDB segment. In reality, this would be good practice across all of the KMDB segments but essential in this instance.

One final point. Where the service provider is internal to an organisation, for example the public sector, the risk of litigation is negligible. However, be aware that a consistent under performance against SLA targets could be a fast track to IT outsourcing.
Here is another example of the importance of a KM sub-set of material that can be assembled on the basis of a specific demand. During a compliance audit, ISO27001 for example, there will be a specific document set that will need to be made available to the auditors for the certification process.

Cost of Compliance (Hot Spot 3)

I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions. Although this is usually presented as an exercise in cost saving, invariably it is driven by a long term dissatisfaction in the performance of the internal service provider.

Without a rigorous KM approach there is the risk of auditors finding a shortfall in the control objectives and controls. This will result in low auditor marking and possible non-compliance. There is now a real cost involved with the remedial work needed for a re-run of the audit, particularly with the high daily rates charged by external auditors.

The material can range from Information Security Policies to Physical and Environmental Security. There is a wide range of different types of information and data and the Audit and Map stages of the KM Framework will require a lot of research and agreement from the KM Stakeholders on what should be included in this KMDB Compliance segment. It is likely that some of the lower level information may be located in Layer 2. If this is the case then it might make sense to leave it where it is and simply connect between the two layers. It is also true that the scope of ISO270013 is such that the KM will need to connect to a wider range of tools and assets.

One particular example is software asset management (ISO 27001 – Clause A8: Asset Management). Under this heading auditors will check the number and validity of software contracts held and check that the licences cover all the users who actually use the software. This could be addressed by setting up a source DB within a SAM tool and extracting all the data needed for the audit (as a controlled set) and then sending it to the KMDB. This is actually a very common failure point.

Risk to Service Continuity (Hot Spot 4)

In this final scenario I want to look at how the KMDB can be used to support Service Continuity. This has a much broader scope than just KM and I’m not intending to cover the whole subject of Business Continuity Management (BCM). Again, there are multiple terms involved here – like Disaster Recovery, Business Recovery and Service Recovery. In the case of ITSM and KM, I’m going to describe how KM can be used in support of Service Recovery within the broader BCM that covers the end-to-end business of a client.

The dilemma facing an ITSM organisation is no one can really identify all the situations likely to occur. Certainly, the evacuation of a data centre due to fire and flood is an obvious scenario, but thankfully not one that occurs very often. Clearly you can’t prepare for every instance but it is possible to target some common ‘knowns’.

So, here is a possible starting point. In our Layer 1 (High Business Value) under the Service Continuity category, the sub-categories should be constructed to reflect various ‘threat scenarios’ – one per sub-category, such as cyber threat, data theft and denial of service to name a few. We could also add major software outages that can and do occur from time to time.

Each ‘threat scenario’ can then be structured along the scope and guidelines of ISO223014. This will create a consistent framework for compiling all the recovery procedures, communication escalations and fall back plans for each scenario. Clearly, there is much more to discuss here but there is a future article that will address all of these aspects of service recovery which is planned for publication later in 2015.

Conclusion

What this guide attempts to outline is a number of possible solutions to common issues around both risk and cost control in an ITSM organisation. It is not intended to be prescriptive. The KM system described here should be considered an ‘entry level’ system, but with the capability of extension as time and budget permit. This KM system is also predicated on content being held within existing repositories, as well as a central KMDB, but extracted on demand. The success of implementing a KM system will always reside with the management and staff of an ITSM organisation and not the technology. Hence the emphasis must always be on developing a KM Framework as the starting point.

This quick guide has been contributed by Mike Simpson of CIH Solutions.

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.

ISO/IEC 20000 – An Opportunity to Grow

Drago 3This article is a guest post and has been contributed by Drago Topalovic, ITIL & ISO20000 expert.

 

The first thing to consider when implementing best practices and standards in service management is motive.

Why Should We Do It?

When you provide IT services, you have to be the BEST you can. In other IT areas like development, infrastructure, and business system deployment, you can perform slightly under par and still add perceivable value to a customer’s business. In service management, your good performance is usually taken for granted, and every error is highly visible. Service downtimes adversely impact a customer’s business, and SLA breaches are penalized.

Every resource and every configuration item (CI) has to be utilized efficiently. Business processes and functions have to be organized with defined roles, responsibilities, and action sequences. Ambiguities and a lack of definitions and organization promptly lead to user dissatisfaction. So, IT service organizations should take any help they can get.

 

Is ITIL Enough?

ITIL is abundant with best practices, describing life as it should and could be in IT service management. You have all the options laid out in front of you – the sky is the limit. Like living in a big city, you can go to theatres, fancy clubs, and whatnot. But, do you? Living with ITIL alone tends to move you to roads more travelled, and to neglect service management components you don’t feel comfortable with. Knowing your ITIL is good; you can competently implement all the interesting processes and functions, and safely ignore the other ones, knowing that you can turn to them when the time comes.

It differs from one type of service provider to the other, but typical evaded processes in IT are financial management, supplier and customer management, and Documentation management.

For some insight on ITIL benefits, please have a look at the article Why ITIL?.

When you live with ITIL long enough, whether you are a managed services company or internal IT in a small/midsize/large company, you start to realize a few downsides of doing ITIL alone:

  • ITIL certification is personal, and as people come and go, you start to wish for a way to keep your organization’s intellectual property more anchored, instead of being strongly affected by the fluctuation of your staff.
  • With all the options of best practices, it is hard to get the firm management commitment to what really has to be done, and without it, you are on a slippery slope. There are always more urgent things to attend to.
  • ITIL 2011 addresses more processes and functions then before, and implementing all of them seems like mission impossible.
  • It is really difficult to say when enough is enough.

Once you have improved those processes that cause you the most pain, you may realize that your focus shifts to things you didn’t consider important at first. For example, you implement Incident and Change management, and it suddenly becomes obvious to you that your Configuration management lacks the power to support these processes. That’s a good sign that your organization is growing. And, it’s usually a sign that you should start considering ISO/IEC 20000.

 

ISO20000 – An Opportunity to Grow

ISO/IEC 20000 provides a very strict set of requirements for implementation. The scope can prove to be very demanding for most of the growing IT service companies in the beginning. But, as you mature, you start to consider the advantages of a service management system that takes care of what SHALL be done in order to make you a competent IT service management organization, as opposed to what could or should be done.

At some point, this set of opportunities will start to feel more appealing to an organization.

SMS
ISO/IEC 20000 process groups

 

ISO 20000 Benefits

By implementing ISO/IEC20000, the organization benefits from the following:

 

  • Integrated Service Management System (SMS) supporting the vital service management functions.
  • Organization focuses on all key processes. Measurements and control of integrated SMS brings new perspectives and ideas about organization’s service management business. Since all 16 processes are implemented, combined results from say, Budgeting and accounting with Capacity management will give you the better idea on which customers are more valuable to you.
  • Better alignment of IT services and the business it supports. Adopting the common language and the knowledge about processes usually helps in building trust and confidence of customers.
  • Better reputation on the market. Having an ISO20000 certificate is still not a very common thing; it proves you are serious about your business.
  • ISO/IEC 20000 certificate stays with the company, not individuals. The SMS helps to keep knowledge about service management business within the company, as its intellectual property.
  • Roles, responsibilities, and ownership of all processes remove bottlenecks and ambiguities in service management domain.
  • By defining key processes and agreeing about them internally, ISO20000 helps to overcome natural barriers between organizational units. For example, Sales is forced to cooperate more tightly with internal IT in order to offer more cost-effective services to external customers.
  • Vertical communication in the organization is usually greatly enhanced. Management is involved in the process from the beginning, and the feedback they receive regularly enables better quality of tactical and strategic decisions.

 

I am fully aware that the above benefits are primarily aligned with an IT management perspective. These are the pains immediately recognized by the IT members of the community. So, I intend to provide a separate post where they will be properly addressed from a business point of view. I would love to see some of the visitors’ comments regarding this.

 

Conclusion

The certification process for ISO/IEC 20000 is not an easy one. It’s a very demanding project, requiring a lot of resources. That is one of the major reasons it is not a common certificate. On the other hand, this makes it even more appreciated on the market.

If you are an experienced IT organization with good internal knowledge of key ITIL processes, the above-mentioned benefits should be inspiring to consider ISO20000. From my experience, it looks harder than it is. Just take the first step.

 

 


Drago is an IT Business Consultant oriented to Service Management and Customer Relationship Management, project management in SW development.

Specialties: ITIL Expert certificate, Implementation of service management tools, methodologies and processes. Preparation and implementation of ISO/IEC 20000.

You can follow Drago on Twitter here

 

Podcast Episode 10 – Self Service & Automation

In Episode 10 of the podcast Barclay Rae discusses the Self Service and automation with Simon Kent, Chief Innovation Officer at Sollertis Limited, Doug Tedder, ITSM Consultant at Tedder Consulting LLC  and Eddie Vidal, Manager of the UMIT Service Desk at the University of Miami.

Topics include:

  • What is self service?
  • The disconnect between domestic self service and ITSM self service
  • Self service beyond IT
  • Customer experience
  • Keeping up with demand

View all our podcasts on SoundCloud or iTunes.

Image Credit

Meet the Reader: Carl Chapman of Capital Support

Portrait0106
Carl Chapman, COO at Capital Support

Meeting in a coffee shop and sharing a cupcake doesn’t sound like the opening to a discussion on ITSM, but then when meeting Carl Chapman from Capital Support the conversation can traverse many topics from Service Desk to Expectation Management and yet remain firmly rooted in delivery of excellent service to every customer every day.

I first met Carl at an SDI Software Showcase. He had a refreshing manner about him, cutting through the sales banter trying to identify the value and practical use of each of the systems on show. I distinctly recall him describing the process of application selection as similar to choosing a prize cow. When I questioned this analogy he quickly responded by saying the nuances in the applications were the value, not the similarities. He’s sparked my interest and given a different perspective on a process we’ve all encountered on numerous occasions.

So, Cappuccino in hand we found a quiet corner to see how Carl has used his near 30 years of IT experience to help deliver the promise of excellent delivery to both large corporates and still translate his skills to grow traditional SMEs.

“It’s all about the bits we don’t write down” starts Carl. “The inherent desire to deliver great service and through that Service Management without the need to read the manual every time a question comes up”. I take from this he’s about to go head long into an expansive story pulled from his past where he’s taken a stuttering IT function and helped it improve by educating, cajoling or just enunciating the benefits of ITSM, but instead his focus is on the contents of our table.

You can teach someone to make a cup of coffee but what separates the best Barista from someone who makes instant coffee served in a soft foam cup at the side of the A1 is their passion to do the best they can and to adapt the instructions to make the magic happen.

I understand the context, but how does that translate into a real world IT situation where calls are flowing in, services are failing and the general consensus of opinion is that IT is just not good enough. I can’t accept the immediate comparison but can see Carl isn’t going to let this go without explaining why he is able to draw this conclusion.

I’m a strong believer in the individual and the role of the individual in delivering success through collective engagement and delivery. Since I started my career as a field service engineer back in the early 1980’s I’ve always felt my role was to fix people; people who just happen to have IT problems. Before ITSM was a set of books or a global community I therefore simply asked my teams to focus on the person and not the problem. You can fix the problem but if the person is not happy then you’ve failed. Equally, fix the person, make them feel valued, give them your time and in parallel fix the problem and you’ve got a 6-0 Cup Final win.

While I couldn’t fault Carl’s logic I wondered how you draw a line from ITSM fixing people to the original comment about great coffee. For me, it sounded like Carl was holding back on how you use ITSM to empower people to deliver peak performance.

Ultimately ITSM is a simple menu. A set of instructions on how you should do things in order to meet the needs and desires of your customers. Following the instructions will ultimately give you delivery, be it coffee or IT. It’ll be functional and adequate. The real magic happens when people use the knowledge from ITSM as a bond to expand their collective desire to be a little bit better than OK. In my experience opening the eyes of your teams to ITSM is the same as giving mountain climbers the best possible equipment they need to reach the peak. It’s a common language, with interlinked objectives that map out how to go from ground zero to the peak. On many occasions opening up a team to ITSM creates a light bulb moment; when delivery teams understand see how they can be impacted by change and how capacity management can support availability. The magic is taking the best people and giving them the understanding of how to make IT easier. Don’t get me wrong, if your people are rubbish then no end of ITSM will help them, but if you start with good people in any business, give them a successful menu, encourage their growth and development and you are significantly more likely to deliver success.

Coffee nearly over I ask Carl for a closing comment on how to breach the gap between adequate and excellent and how ITSM supports this objective.

“Great question, Rebecca. I’d simply say in all organisations you have professional trained people delivering services such as Legal or Finance. In my view a knowledge of ITSM is our equivalent. It’s critical to know how each element works in unison and provides the opportunity for excellence. Ultimately with or without ITSM you’ll still be able to deliver, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could do it a little bit better than everyone else?”

 

If you would like to take part in our interviews with readers series or would like to know more about someone in the industry and their experiences of ITSM then please contact us and we will do our best to make it happen.


 

Carl’s bio:

Having worked in IT since the early 80’s Carl has built an enviable reputation as someone who leads teams in a positive and respectful manner to deliver tangible bottom line improvement by having the best people using the most appropriately aligned processes. The starting point in his career was in field services, fixing IBM PCs, and since then he’s taken every rung on the ladder to his COO status in his stride. Carl has remained grounded, has an acute understanding of service delivery and how it can positively impact not only the customer but also the morale of the team and still has the skills to translate complex technical problems in terms which everyone can relate to. Regardless of whether it’s a global team of hundreds or a local team of a few, those who work for Carl will tell you one of the most powerful things he does is to give them the space and support to do the job they are paid to do, to the best of their ability.

 

Transforming the User Experience

4813041825_072902db4e_zWe often hear that we need to do more to transform the ‘experience’ of our IT Customers. Transforming what? Why do we need to do this?

Well because so many IT customers and users complain about the quality and level of communications and feedback when dealing with IT departments. This can vary from simply being too slow to respond, or slow to run projects, being negative or resistant to change, (the department that likes to say no). Also there is the need to keep up with new technologies and it seems that our internal IT departments can’t keep up. In the past IT users didn’t have anything to compare this ‘experience’ with, but now everyone buys IT in some way and this has (justifiably) raised much higher expectations.

Here’s some points I regularly find mentioned by IT Customers and business people about their IT departments

 

  • Not easy to ‘do business with’
  • Too much senior focus on technical detail and components
  • Defensive, over protective ‘old IT’ approach
  • Lack of relationship – need to get out and talk/listen more
  • Poor communications across  management and teams
  • Lack of valuable Management Information – or clear targets/service criteria to measure
  • Clunky horrible old tools that we are expected to use

 

For me the case for transformation is absolutely clear and there is right now a great opportunity to do this and win back hearts and minds around the skills and value of IT. We can change from the ‘blocker’ to be the enabler and the solution provider, simply by

 

  1. Realising we can’t do everything ourselves – so we need to use more automation and shared sourcing to free up our time and resources
  2. Using freed up time to focus on customer and business priorities
  3. Using new tools and innovations to improve the experience of dealing with IT – and beyond

 

We can’t keep up with all the latest trends and new tech, particularly if we are constantly firefighting and chasing our tails with inefficient processes and tools. There are areas that can be automated like request management and provisioning, password maintenance, procurement and standard implementation that can free up significant technical resources. In addition its no longer acceptable to get users to use old menu based and confusing, non-user friendly portal and tools – particularly if this is sold as being ‘progress’. Its vital to get colleagues and customers on board by offering a seamless and enjoyable experience when ordering kit or requesting new services – and the tools on offer really can help here.

If we also accept that we probably need to use some sort of shared sourcing model, then there is emerging experience and expertise in this areas – SIAM or Service Integration and Management provides the opportunity to really think through end-to-end service delivery and the associated supply and value-chain activities required. In the past it was too easy to simply outsource a problem, or an area that apparently wasn’t adding value –like a service desk. However it’s important to understand firstly the supply chain (i.e. what is done to deliver a service) and then the value chain (where the areas of value, cost and efficiency lie in this chain) – in order to identify what needs to be kept in-house and what can be outsourced, and still meet business objectives.

All of this requires IT organisations to get out and talk/listen to their customers, as well as building a clear model and understating of what they deliver and how it provides value – so service design and catalogue are key elements. However the real point is the need to first engage then deliver what is really needed by your customers. Sometimes this requires a first step of appreciating and accepting what the current ‘experience’ is like. It’s a good idea to try and use your own services and then listen to those that have to do this regularly – for feedback.

Overall we need to be able to ‘walk in our customer shoes’ and use this as input to drive the best possible experience when dealing with us. It’s easy to talk about doing this but a harder job actually getting out and doing it and also translating the feedback into something truly transformational and enjoyable for customers, and not just another IT-driven tool that is there to serve the IT departments way of working.  So, in order to transform the User Experience, we also need to transform the way that IT works and does business.

Ultimately we can use this approach to develop our service mantra beyond IT – and many are doing this, using portal and request management tools as a starting point to implement single tools and process across a number of internal and external departments – HR, Finance and marketing. As such many forward thinking IT organisations have managed to transform themselves as part of this into clear ‘value providers’ , rather than the guys who like to say ‘no.

 

So let’s say ‘YES’ to transformation – both the User/Customer experience and of course ourselves…

 


 

ITSM Review Transforming User Experience event – how can we help?

The event will focus on the underlying issues, opportunities and solutions available to help you make your transformation. The day will include expert guidance including output from recent ITSM review studies and the current ‘Self Service’ Review.

ITSM Vendors will be on hand to show how their solutions have been used in new and innovative ways to help their IT customers achieve success and value together with a selection of workshops facilitated by a mix of industry peers, practitioners, consultants and vendors to discuss and map out practical strategies to help make your transformation a success.

Click here for more information!

 

Image Credit

Support Provision & the Changing Landscape of the Service Desk

Graph With Stacks Of CoinsService desk teams provide support and service to company employees, helping them to make the most of the IT assets that the company provides. At least, that was always the role that IT Service Management teams saw themselves providing. The overall goal may not have altered, but how this is fulfilled has been changing.

The traditional methods that service desk teams use to demonstrate their value don’t effectively capture all that the ITSM function can deliver. At the same time, new initiatives like Bring Your Own Device, cloud applications and self-service portals are entering business IT. This means that key performance indicators (KPIs) have to be changed. However, are we changing our approaches to keep up, or are we being forced into this? As the service desk landscape changes, how can we take back control and demonstrate more value?

 

Where are we today?

Many service desk teams will still use first-time fix as their number one demonstration of value. However, while this metric is still valid, it’s very quantitative, and only one step above looking at the overall volume of calls being handled. Service desks today have to deal with a larger number of channels than before, so how calls are categorised is a good place to start thinking differently.

The key questions to ask here are: “How do my customers want to interact with me? Are they happy with more traditional email and phone requests, or would they like more options such as chat?” For many teams, answering these questions can be difficult, as options are grafted on over time rather than being thought through strategically.

For a service desk manager looking at all the different traffic coming in, it can be difficult to assign weighting on the requests that come in. Should social media or chat interaction be counted in the same way as a phone request? A lot of this will depend on the process that customers go through as their incidents are handled. This will also affect how success is measured in the future as well.

 

Where do we go from here?

There are two avenues open to the service desk manager here – one is prescriptive, and one is to allow more freedom in how incidents are handled. The first approach would be based on mapping out all the most common problems that are encountered by users, and then looking at the workflow for those incidents across different communication methods.

This can work well when you have a large number of service desk operatives and need to get consistency on customer support experience. Putting this together would provide both guidance on how to handle requests that come through, and also ensure quality of service.

However, there is one issue with this approach, it takes away a lot of the flexibility that service desk professionals can have in solving problems and ensuring that the customer is happy at the end of the call or interaction. Now, for regulated industries where security and compliance are important, this is something that will just have to be accepted but for other businesses, allowing more leeway on how calls and requests are handled can be both better for the customer and for the service desk personnel. Allowing service desk staff to help customers in the way that best suits them – and the customers that make the request – can help to provide better service, both in terms of quality and service levels.

 

Looking at a bigger picture

Thinking about specific targets for the service desk team also involves looking at how ITSM is incorporated into the overall business or organisational goals. Is the service team delivery part of external-facing, “paying customer” work, or more around internal customer or employee satisfaction and keeping users productive? Building up metrics around customer retention and satisfaction leads to a very different set of KPIs compared to this internal service delivery, where efficiency is paramount.

Setting out new KPIs involves looking at what the customer expectations are around service, as well as what the company or organisation wants to deliver. This is a very different approach to the quantitative approach that many service desks are used to. Instead, it has to be more qualitative. Often, there will be larger company goals that will help frame KPIs in the right way.

As an example, your company may provide a product with premium branding. Service delivery around this should therefore match that perception. Creating a measurement KPI around delivering “five star service,” with personnel encouraged to go the extra mile, would be more effective than simply looking at how many calls or requests were handled. Conversely, companies that pride themselves in efficiency would want the same approach to be reflected in their service strategy.

For public sector organisations, efficiency and call handling will still be important metrics to track as well. However, the growth of online and digital service delivery means that requests that might previously have been calls can be answered either through information on websites or email/chat requests. This will leave more personal interaction time for staff, providing a better quality of care for those that really need it.

Alongside these changes in KPIs, the way that service desk teams manage themselves may have to change as well. For too long, the tiered service desk approach has been less about dealing with front line problems and more about managing how skilled professionals can provide support where it is needed. The change from solely supporting phone and email over to using multiple channels should be seen as an opportunity to increase skills for everyone.

 

Managing service interactions more efficiently

It’s also worth considering how sessions are handled. For requests that have a technical or specialist knowledge requirement, playing telephone tag and having the customer explain their issues multiple times can be a painful process. Instead, it should be possible to use those with specialist knowledge in a more efficient way through collaborative sessions.

This approach involves letting third parties join calls securely – particularly if there is a remote access session involved. Rather than depending on the third party and customer to get connected, the service desk can manage this themselves, cutting down on time taken and providing a better experience for the customer. Bringing together assets in this way does mean that the front-line staff have to be aware of what challenges they may face that are intricate or require outside help, but that does not mean that they have to hand a call straight over to someone else.

The growth of online support and services is only going to go up, as more people prefer to work directly through chat or social channels rather than more traditional phone systems. The make-up of the workforce is changing as well. In the higher education sector, research by the Service Desk Institute found that 76 per cent of students preferred using the web form for raising a request rather than picking up the phone or emailing directly, while 37 per cent were happy to use social media channels to contact the service desk.

As these students move from university and enter the workforce, their expectations of support will be very different to what has gone before. Maintaining a consistency of approach when trying to keep all these options open is a real challenge, but it can be delivered by thinking through the problems that are due to come up.

Rethinking your KPIs so they are more aligned with the needs of the business is a good first step. From this, you can then look at how to work more closely with line of business teams, too. Ultimately, the service desk can start to think about changing the perception it has within the organisation, from one of only being there when things go wrong to providing more guidance about how to make things go right in the first place.

There seem to be as many choices on how to manage interaction with customers as there are service desks, particularly as customers want to interact in new ways. However many channels you have to support, the important distinction is around customer service, not just IT support. ITSM teams have to look beyond their role as IT professionals and think about displaying their acumen around other areas, too.

Setting out KPIs is one way to achieve this aim. By linking the aim of the business to the quality of service that is delivered, ITSM teams can look to demonstrate more of the value that they create for the business every day.

 

Image Credit

Review: Cherwell for Outside IT 2014

logo_cherwell-softwareCherwell Service Management

This independent review is part of our Outside IT Review.

To download the full report as a PDF please visit : http://download.itassetmanagement.net/outside-it/

 

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch Cherwell is an established vendor within the ITSM market, with a particular focus on Customer Experience. It has a growing emphasis on use of its product and service management beyond the IT/ITSM area, and is seen to market and promote the concepts of IT enablement positively and consistently.Cherwell boasts a number of customer success stories and positive case studies of the use of the product beyond IT. There is a clear connection between their marketing messages and implementation stories in this area.Cherwell provides fully inclusive concurrent user usage for both perpetual and SaaS licensing models. Product is sold as one complete application, i.e. not modular
Strengths
  • Intuitive interface for building and maintaining workflow and extended functionality – attractive object based forms, workflow and reports
  • Product provides secure framework for user-developed configuration that is protected for upgrades
  • Vendor promotes positive and experienced approach to customer experience and tools as enabler for service management and business functions
Weaknesses
  • Vendor will need to maintain focus on where to sell and implement – IT and beyond – as organisation is still growing
  • Product can look extensive and perhaps complicated – turnkey non-IT applications/canned versions would be helpful
  • No turnkey Outside IT applications currently available
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, Cherwell Service Management is primarily a mid-market solution with the ability to be scaled-up to enterprise class organisations.

Commercial Summary

Vendor Cherwell Software
Product Cherwell Service Management
Version reviewed 4.6
Date of version Release March 2014
Year Founded 2004
Customers 600+ ITSM customers worldwide.
Pricing Structure Fully inclusive concurrent user usage for both perpetual and SaaS licensing models.
Competitive Differentiators
  • Codeless, flexible and fully configurable
  • Ability to design and build to specific business requirements – or use ‘out-of-the-box’
  • Cherwell Service Management is a useful enabling toolset to support IT and business transformation due to the ease of use and flexible nature of the product

Independent Review

Cherwell is emerging as a leader in the service management and extended shared services markets due to the scope and quality of its product, its focus on business value and its quality approach to implementation.

In The ITSM Review’s opinion, Cherwell is particularly appropriate for medium-to-large sized organisations. Whilst it does have very large (enterprise) clients, its own focus and organisation better fits the medium-large sized demographic. The product has extensive flexibility and capability, and can be developed for large or very large organisations use as required.

Marketing and messaging is focussed on speaking directly to IT and ITSM organisations, providing them with the opportunity to improve their service and provide value to their own customers. We view this as a positive, although we do believe that there is a need to develop more specific and targeted non-IT turnkey solutions in conjunction with associated marketing approaches that may be sold beyond IT.

Cherwell is set on selling to IT people and letting them sell-on the product to other areas of the business, which seems to work well, however we do feel that this may need to become a more proactive channel in order to compete with other Enterprise Service Management (ESM) solutions in the market.

Product

In The ITSM Review’s opinion Cherwell offers a strong mix of product capability, and its ease of use and non-technical capability of the product should be well supported by (IT) customers – thus easy to sell-on within organisations.

The simple and inclusive upgrade path also works well as a positive alternative to legacy and large enterprise solutions where bespoke product development can add risk, cost and delay to upgrading. Cherwell have a model which provides a secure technical framework that clients can work within to build their own solutions and which is then protected as part of the upgrade path.

Marketing

The vendors’ organisation and approach is focussed on promoting and supporting IT as an enabler and driver for business success. Cherwell take a pragmatic approach to this, depending on the maturity and needs of the client as identified during the sales process.

In terms of industry and media messaging, we feel that Cherwell has adopted a positive and engaging set of value propositions around traditional values, people and customer experience. The focus on traditional values is centred around the need for back to basics implementations, focussed on customer needs, simple ITSM concepts and the need to engage with people – i.e. Cherwell push out the message that the product is not the answer to everything.

Sales Strategy

Cherwell has had to work to improve its brand visibility over the last few years and is now well placed and recognised in the ITSM market place. Approach to sales is seen to be positive, professional and consultative, developing dialogue where possible to engage and provide prospects with confidence in the product and company.

In our view, Cherwell will need to maintain focus on where to sell and implement IT, and beyond, as the organisation is still growing.

Current Use

Examples of current customers using Cherwell Service Management outside of IT include implementations in HR, Finance, Legal, and Sales and Marketing.

In Summary

We feel that Cherwell Service Manager is a good option to consider for those medium-to-large organisations looking to develop their service management practices starting from their existing ITSM implementation. The product is simple to develop and configure as a business application so should have a fast time-to-value. Our only reservation would be around the need for turnkey non-IT applications to be provided in order to further provide timesaving solutions for IT and non-IT clients.

In The ITSM Review’s opinion, in the future Cherwell needs to consider where to focus its sales and messaging for implementation – i.e. marketing/selling solely to IT organisations or engaging with other business areas. As the organisation is still growing it needs to ensure that it does not spread its resources too thinly, as otherwise it risks losing focus on key markets. The approach to let IT customers ‘sell-on’ is laudable, although this may need to be strengthened with more turnkey offerings in order to compete and provide clear differentiators.

In Their Own Words

“Cherwell Software is one of the fastest growing IT service management software providers. It began with simple goals: to make service desk software it would want to use and to do business honestly, putting customers first. Cherwell Software is passionate about customer care and is dedicated to creating “innovative technology built upon yesterday values.”

Cherwell Software is one of the fastest growing IT service management software providers with corporate headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO, U.S.A. and EMEA headquarters in Swindon, U.K. A global team of dedicated employees and expert partners who appreciate the technology – but love customers – serve in North America, South America, Asia and Australia. Cherwell Software recently received the SDI Best Vendor of the Year award.

Cherwell’s flagship product, Cherwell Service ManagementTM, delivers an innovative, award-winning and holistic approach to service management, allowing IT and support departments to align with organisation strategy and to deliver maximum IT business value. Cherwell Service Management is the affordable, easy-to-use, ITSM suite with maximum portability. With Cherwell ChoiceTM concurrent licensing and flexible hosting model, you can choose what works best for your business — SaaS or purchase, and hosted on-premises, hosted by Cherwell or hosted by a third party.”

To download the full report as a PDF please visit : http://download.itassetmanagement.net/outside-it/

Review: Outside IT 2014

OutsideITTo download the full report as a PDF please visit : Outside IT 5th August 2014

This is a competitive review of software vendors who offer Outside IT capabilities as part of their IT service management (ITSM) solution.
Products reviewed:

 

Outside IT 2014 – Best in Class

ServiceNow(R)_logo_STANDARD_RGB_226px_122012(1)[1]

In The ITSM Review’s opinion, ServiceNow is an excellent option for large-and-very large sized businesses looking to achieve synergy and efficiency of cross-departmental operations, as well as flexibility in their IT and wider non-IT shared service operations. Furthermore, we believe it is an excellent option for large and very large organisations implementing service management and work automation across and beyond IT.

We feel that ESM is a strong and forward-thinking message and an excellent opportunity for real success through ITSM and wider service management and automation. In our opinion, this is a stronger and more sustainable message than ServiceNow’s earlier focus on Cloud/commercial models, community and flexibility (although useful and helpful) as the ESM message transcends IT and straddles business areas and can finally take ITSM to a C-Level audience for sales and delivered value.

In our view, continued expansion via the ESM message and product capability for Global Enterprises should be the ServiceNow goal, possibly with some options on how to take this message to the mid-market market in future.

Overview

This report has been unusual in terms of a normal industry product/vendor review – for two reasons:

  1. The initial review criteria were quite generic (by necessity) and to some extent vague (i.e. “what have you done with your product outside of IT?”) and
  2. The results and outcomes are not particularly (or only) related to functionality or product capability – and this relates strongly to marketing, positioning and implementation approach.

As a review of what vendors can or are doing with their (ITSM) products outside of the IT and ITSM operational area, this review had to be somewhat open-ended, giving the participating vendors specific requirements to follow, but also opening up the options for them to show us what else they can do and are doing outside of IT. This includes not just options on software functionality but also how the vendors are positioning themselves in the market.

Each vendor in this report provides ITSM tools that can be used to build forms and workflow based automation for administration of ‘back-office’ work, this includes: managing workloads; requests; automating approvals and escalations; automating spreadsheets and other databases centrally to remove risk; provide customer service and call centre tools; manage work schedules; provide knowledge repositories, calendars, reports dashboards and customer portals etc. In addition, they each provide this functionality in a modern, social, mobile and intuitive ‘connected’ environment that can be quickly implemented and maintained with minimum technical resources.

So what are the differences between the vendors in this report? How can we distinguish and identify differentiators, pros and cons between them? If all products can be used to develop work automation, logging and escalation/ownership and tracking of tasks etc., does this mean that the differences between vendors go beyond simple software functionality? This review looks at how to differentiate the vendors’ approach for beyond IT across the ITSM market.

Industry Context

There has been a move in recent times to develop more applications and tools that can cross the boundaries of internal service departments. The ITSM toolsets available have helped to drive practice in this area, in particular service catalogues, service portals, automated fulfilment processing, approvals etc. and for many organisations this is a huge opportunity for IT to be the department of solutions and success rather than simply the folks who say ‘no’ all the time.

Most manufacturers of ITSM tools report that their sales engagement process usually now involve the inclusion of non-IT people as the norm which has happened historically although not consistently with many vendors also reporting the fact that, once their ITSM tool has been successfully implemented, their clients in IT then help to ‘sell on’ the wider use of the toolsets within and across their own organisations.

Much of this has been driven by the opportunities offered via Cloud solutions and also via assorted sourcing options. However, the barriers between IT and its internal customers/departments are now also breaking down such that, finally, there is the appreciation that the overall needs of the organisation they support can be met via a ‘supply chain’ approach rather than a siloed one. Commoditisation of IT has led to greater awareness of, and demand for, proper end-to-end solutions and collaborative working. Toolsets are the final piece in this jigsaw, as they offer simple and effective solutions for this.

Opportunities for IT organisations

This is therefore a time of huge opportunity for IT organisations to re-invent themselves and to show their true value to the organisations that they serve. This moves away from just being inward-looking and self preserving around their own (IT) processes but to also being the facilitator, catalyst and ‘solution superheroes’ for the whole organisation. This can help to develop efficiency and remove risk by automating manual and single point of failure processes and systems, e.g. spreadsheets that still provide key business functions.

IT can show leadership in their own businesses if they grasp the nettle and use the skills they have developed via ITSM and the associated toolsets, relationship management, value-demonstration, service monitoring, and cost management. It’s the time and opportunity to take ITSM to the next level and IT organisations and their people are best placed to deliver this.

Client maturity

Whilst this sounds exciting, there is also the question of maturity and awareness, and this brave new world cannot apply across all organisations evenly. There are those IT organisations that have the maturity and drive to take their knowledge and skills forward to capitalise on these opportunities. These organisations will respond well to vendor positioning and messaging around business-led IT and the value of service management beyond IT.

However, there are also many (probably most) IT organisations that don’t yet have the vision, awareness, bandwidth and ITSM maturity to do this.

This is where intelligent use of new sourcing models can help to ensure that IT is moving with the times and delivering in response to needs and not just “treading water” and “sweating assets”.

These organisations will also be at risk of being by-passed in the sales process of forward thinking vendors who can then sell direct to other service areas (not IT) with their products and solutions. Vendors with mature implementations and good client relationships can also develop these accounts to “sell inwardly” as mentioned, and get the message across about collaborative working – with variable success depending on their ability to reach and get the right messages to the C-Levels working in their clients.

The new world of corporate collaboration

The message here for the vendor market – and in the context of this review – is therefore that ITSM vendors wishing to retain and increase their market share into new areas need to consider the positioning of their products in a wider context than just IT.

Products and vendors that only focus on internal IT – sold to internally focussed IT departments who don’t see the opportunities for collaboration – will be at risk, or at least will risk falling behind in the long run. There may be continuing opportunities for relatively straightforward ITSM-only sales in the short-term, but ultimately this will not be a sustainable strategy.

Vendors also need to be clear on how to reach non-IT people where necessary, as well as having clear strategies for up-selling their products beyond IT in existing and new accounts. Overall they will need to be clear as to the extent to which they take and promote these messages – from presenting either a business-focussed/business-enabled solution, to an IT-internally-focused only approach.

So whilst there is still a lively traditional ITSM ‘core market’ that vendors can focus on – where the prospects may not be interested in Outside IT (i.e. applications and their focus is solely on ITSM) – there is also a longer-term and potentially larger opportunity around selling to the wider organisation.

Clearly for vendors this requires some strategic decision making around positioning and marketing, with some implications around sales approach and targeting. This in turn may have significant cost and structural implications for vendors, and some may not have the resources to meet these requirements.

So the traditional sale to mid-management IT Operations may be simpler and easier in the short-term, but longer-term vendors may need to rethink their sales and marketing approach, collateral, and even the language used in the sales process.

So how do we evaluate the current Market?

The four vendors who participated in this review all have the capabilities to provide additional functionality outside of the ITSM/IT area and they also all have varying levels of customer adoption of this. These vendors cover a broad spectrum in terms of size, capability, and corporate coverage and their focus reflects this. All vendors also have different sales and marketing approaches to the concept of Outside IT. Details and examples of their individual offerings are shown below.

All four vendors can deliver non-IT applications with varying levels of toolkits, engagement approaches, and turnkey offerings.

 

To download the full report as a PDF please visit : http://download.itassetmanagement.net/outside-it/

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.


The ITSM Review are holding a series of seminars this year headed by ITSM superstar Barclay Rae. We will be starting in March with Transforming User Experience – Enterprise Service Management & Self Service. For more information click here

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.

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