What Top Athletes and IT Managers Have in Common

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For centuries, athletes have shared one common goal: to win. No matter the sport, the best athletes face strict regimens, long hours, setbacks and victories, remaining agile through it all, in order to achieve their goals. Today’s top-performing, globally competitive and increasingly technology driven businesses are no different.

Nowhere is this athletic nature more apparent than in a business’ IT organization. With IT spending expected to reach $3.5 trillion by year’s end, an IT organization carries with it a big prize – one that, based on tools and technologies purchased and deployed, can either support or hinder the business’ overall ability to compete. As such, today’s most strategic IT organizations are adopting new protocols and performance measurements, such as IT service management, to drive efficiency and maximize their value-add to the business. It’s the IT manager’s job to ensure the IT organization has the right people, processes and technology in place so that the organization can meet its business goals.

Similar to how elite athletes approach their strict regimens – with a focus on mindset, health and wellness, training, and performance measurement – these rigorous disciplines can also be applied to how some of the most competitive businesses are getting ahead with seamlessly delivered IT services.

Having the Right Mindset, With the Help of Analytics

For starters, athletes and IT managers alike must encompass discipline and drive to be recognized for their performance. Similar to a top athlete looking to shave off even a tenth of their record time, IT managers must employ the same rigor to drive improvements in their service delivery. But how can the right mindset make IT more effective?

One of the biggest examples of an IT leadership’s mindset shift has been around the adoption of business analytics. While IT has often been the source of intelligence and inspiration for other departments, IT organizations have paradoxically lagged in terms of deploying their own analytics to support service improvement. In this instance, the change came after IT teams watched as other departments deployed analytics solutions and became more effective – much like watching another athlete win, while you’re sitting on the sideline.

Where IT managers traditionally used Excel spreadsheets to track and present their data on project management and operational and financial performance, the new shift in mindset and deployment of analytics has allowed for less time and money to be spent on IT operations and more on innovation that enhances customer experiences and outshines the competition.

Healthy & Wellness: The Drivers of Productivity

The world’s best athletes assess health and wellness by tracking everything from diet, exercise and oxygen levels, using that data to set goals for remaining in their best condition. In an IT organization, it’s the operational dollars that often keep it in top shape. However, it’s also about having access to data that provides a better view of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses to maintain the utmost productivity and justify continued investment.

For example, as part of IT wellness, many IT managers aim to make their service desk more productive by minimizing reassignments, tiering escalations and reducing backlog.

Using data analytics to tackle this effort, IT managers can capture a visual analysis of the data, including outliers to reveal which service desk tickets are going unaddressed and which types of service tickets are creating the highest costs to manage.

Analytics are also increasing productivity by making managers more aware of strong and weak performers within the IT organization, providing detailed insights on who’s cherry-picking easy tickets and who’s slow at resolving business-critical tickets. This enables managers to more effectively guide their staff to proactively route incidents and requests to the right engineers from the beginning – remaining healthy from the start of any IT initiative.

The Benefits of High-Impact Training

Similar to the way athletes follow a regimented training schedule, IT departments must also develop a routine for implementing best practices and procedures. Just as with athletes, when there’s a new procedure or challenge at hand, training typically supports the behavioral change needed for realizing success.

In tracking training programs and success factors, many IT managers have deployed analytics with capabilities to provide regular progress reports on team members and their ability to adapt to the change. In the spirit of competitive nature, some managers even have a visible leader board showing which IT team members have learned the most or developed the furthest on what they’re being trained on, such as a new database technology.

Performance Measurement for Future Success

While IT managers and top-performing athletes share many similarities, it’s the goal of winning that is perhaps the biggest common denominator. For both, measuring performance is critical to future success.

Specifically within IT organizations, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is one of the main ways IT managers’ standardize their organization’s success to overall business goals. The ITIL framework encompasses processes, procedures, tasks and checklists, allowing the IT organization to establish a baseline from which it can plan, implement and measure against overall goals. It is also used to demonstrate compliance and measure service improvement.

Additionally, the implementation of problem management with IT organizations has helped to identify issues like recurring tickets, supporting IT managers in prioritizing changes and making recommendations that eliminate structural flaws. The result is defined metrics that reflect both successes and areas of improvement – the equivalent to a post-game talk from an athlete’s coach applauding a win but not losing sight of the next big match.

Winning With IT Analytics

For businesses to succeed in increasingly global markets, it’s important that they adopt an almost-athletic posture. Just like athletes, an IT manager’s job is never complete. Managers and athletes alike are competing for limited resources and need metrics to improve performance on an ongoing basis. Particularly within a business’ IT organization, a focus on the right mindset, health and wellness, training, and performance measurement, in addition to the integration of technologies like an analytics platform, will enable any company to remain competitive, with a more clearly defined path for their success.

This article was contributed by Simon King, Sr. Director – Solution Marketing, Numerify.

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The Scourge of Jargon

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This article has been contributed by Chris Lee – currently working with Six Degrees Group who provide integrated managed data services linking people, places and clouds.

 

“Going forward, and with enough synergy, we can push the envelope on this project. We know it has social currency; we know it’s on brand. Let’s ship it by COP Friday.”

We all know someone who talks like this. Whether it’s your colleague, your boss, or even you! Nobody’s safe from the scourge of jargon and, what we like to call, “jargonistas” – the people who like nothing better than to throw some jargon into their sentences to both infuriate and isolate people out-of-the-know.

 

Of course, a world without jargon would be a peaceful, wonderful world, but it would also be a world where it would take much longer to explain concepts and tasks, and the office would be awash with people explaining things. Of course jargon isn’t tied to a specific industry, so who uses it the most?

A survey conducted by Six Degrees found that people perceive IT professionals as using more jargon than bankers, lawyers and politicians combined. This finding complimented by the fact that the meaning of the jargon is often unknown: 22% believed Platform as a Service (PaaS) was a new philosophy in railway management, while 16% thought Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) was a new road project.

 

The Internet is arguably the centre of the jargonista’s universe – for whatever reason, people online seem to use jargon whenever and wherever they can. We’ve had a look and found the following description of an every-day program that millions of people use daily, which was obviously written by a jargonista. Can you identify this service from the jargon-filled description?

[Service] is a cloud storage service that enables users to store files on remote cloud servers and the ability to share files within a synchronized format. [Service] provides an online storage solution powered by cloud computing service model of infrastructure as a service (IaaS). [Service] works by installing an application on client system, which immediately uploads the data to their own cloud storage servers. The uploaded data can be accessed from the installed application or through an online control panel. [Service] file sharing works in cohesion with file synchronization which keeps the file routinely updated across all shared nodes even if it’s shared among many people, therefore every single recipient will always receive the latest version of the file. [Service] is an example of a storage-as-a-service business model.

Got the answer? No? You may know it as as ‘Dropbox’ (definition source).

 

Jargon is hardly a new phenomenon, though it is a self-perpetuating one: an article from a 1987 issue of the Journal of Business and Technical Communication says “jargon persists because people think that business letters should use jargon and because using jargon enables authors to write or dictate quickly” (source).

Using the Six Degrees jargon buster we looked at which terms have the most use, and have given jargon-free definitions of the terms below. These illustrate how seemingly simple statements can be turned into tremendously tumultuous titles.

 

SaaS: 60,500 searches per month

“In a SaaS model, the cloud service provider is responsible for all technical elements from infrastructure, through platform, to the application itself. The customer will typically pay on a “per user, per month” model, e.g. if they wish to rent Microsoft Exchange mailboxes, this is delivery by the provider from their multi-tenant platform”

Example of this service: Gmail

 

PaaS: 3,600 searches per month

“A PaaS offering provides a suite of tools designed to provide the necessary database, management, development and deployment tools for the creation and delivery of business applications, mobile apps, social apps, microsites, websites, and other software-driven solution”

Example of this service: Google App Engine

 

IaaS: 1,900 searches per month

“The first few layers of the hosting value chain (see The Hosting Stack for more details) whereby cloud-based infrastructure (e.g. compute and storage) is provided as a Service for a time-based rental model (per minute, hour, day, week, month, etc)”

Example of this service: Amazon Web Services

 

Conclusion

Obviously jargon has its place (technical descriptions or emails where you’re trying to sound clever in front of your colleagues being the only two we can think of), however using it in your day-to-day speech isn’t always necessary.

Understanding which situations require language like the above, and then which terms to choose, is the hallmark of a successful communicator, whilst using terms like the above to communicate to anyone you meet is the hallmark of a jargonista. Feel free to deploy jargon in a situation where all involved will understand. Just be aware of the risk coming from when you use it to communicate with someone who isn’t clued-up on the terminology. Your colleague might understand what you’re referring to, but your mates at the pub? Probably not.

 


Chris Lee has 6 years’ experience in the online marketing and SEO space and has an interest in technology and cloud related projects. He is currently working with the Six Degrees Group to promote such projects in an interesting and accessible way.

 

An alternative source of talent for your service desk?

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Due to the advances in healthcare and longer life expectancy it is estimated that within 15 years of the date of this article almost a third of the UK workforce will be in the over 50-age bracket.

Do you have an apprentice working in your IT department? Perhaps on your Service Desk learning the ropes, planning their rise through the ranks to Database Administrator or Network Engineer? I of course am generalizing and there may well be many apprentices out there wanting to pursue a career purely as a Service Desk Analyst it’s just that I have never met one.

I did however once meet a man called Paul who started working with me, not in IT admittedly, but who, having been made redundant and failing for over 18 months to procure a similar role, decided to apply for an entry level position in a very different sector to one he had worked in before. Paul was 58 years old.

The Office of National Statistics estimates that in July of this year approximately 325,000 people in the UK age between 50-64 were unemployed. Although this is thought to be about half of the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds, the prospects for the 50+ demographic finding long-term employment are considerably bleaker with almost 50% of those over 50’s having been unemployed for one year or more or forced into underemployment working part-time or to zero hour contracts.

Paul was extremely able, had an excellent manner and was very patient with the callers on the end of the line. His customer service skills were exemplary and in contrast to others, including myself at the time, he did not see the role as a rung on a ladder to somewhere else. He just wanted to help people and do the job to the best of his ability.

Looking back I can see that Paul would have made an excellent Service Desk Analyst. I very much doubt though that at the time, when this particular IT Department contained only one person over the age of 50 who was widely regarded by his colleagues as a dinosaur treading water until retirement, that Paul would ever have been considered.

Despite possessing a healthy interest in IT and possessing good IT skills, pretty much all that can be hoped for when attempting to employ an apprentice, the suggestion that Paul could take on the apprentice role would have no doubt received much laughter.

Luckily things are changing…

Although traditionally apprenticeships have been for young people fresh from education, the 50+ demographic is moving in. In the last year more than 34,000 people over the age of 50 have started an apprenticeship, with many applying for a ‘professional’ apprenticeship in areas that would normally be dominated by graduates.

Please don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly support helping young people into work, my own working life started out this way and I am forever grateful for the opportunity but I think that organisations are missing a trick!

I believe that this older age group is an excellent fit for the Service Desk. With more decision-making and problem solving experience older workers already have a lot of the skills that would need to be taught to a young person alongside technical skills. And then there’s the general life experience aspect. Website Customer Champions carried out a survey on below average customer service and found that people over 50 are the most dissatisfied. It stands to reason that if you have received poor customer service you will work hard to ensure that your customers do not receive a similar service.

Opening up apprenticeships to the 50+ demographic also helps to create a larger pool of suitable candidates, something which in my experience is greatly needed and, as I previously mentioned, with older workers more likely to see working on the service desk as a career rather than a stepping-stone to other things your return on your investment will be far higher.

So do yourself a favour when looking for an apprentice and actively encourage applications from the over 50’s…they have a lot to offer

Types of apprenticeships

Currently in the UK there are over 200 different types of apprenticeships in areas such as retail, education, manufacturing, engineering and of course Information and Communication Technology.

Specific ICT Apprenticeships:

  • IT Application Specialist – providing apprentices with the competence, skills and knowledge to work effectively and efficiently with IT systems, communication and productivity tools and software applications
  • IT, Software, Web and Telecoms Professionals – with the choice of focusing on either telecoms or IT this apprenticeship covers work in a broad range of digital technologies that help to use and share information.

Less obvious apprenticeships that may also be considered by an IT organisation:

  • Customer Service – teaching the apprentice the skills to provide excellent customer service as a customer facing employee
  • Contact Centre Operations – providing the apprentice skills in customer service, communication, problem solving and team working

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The Top Five Worries for IT Service Managers

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What keeps you up at night?

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

What keeps you up at night? People love to ask business leaders this question. You can find the worries for IT service managers in the headlines of your favorite news sources every day.

IT service managers have to contend with everything from routine service tickets to critical connectivity outages. However, IT service organisations are no longer just incident response customer service representatives. Today, they are strategic departments working closely with IT resolution teams and other business units.

What we believe to be the top five worries for IT Service Managers:

Alert Fatigue

When a major retailer suffered a data breach in 2013, more than one IT employee on the front lines saw alerts but nobody acted. Why? Large IT organisations can receive up to 150,000 alerts per day from their monitoring systems. How are IT employees supposed to sort through them all to pick out the one or two legitimate threats? They can’t, of course.

So many similar alerts come in, many of them routine notifications, that alert fatigue sets in and IT service workers move them to alternate folders or just delete them. Some 86% of data breach victims had the alerts in their logs at the time of attack, but didn’t act because they had too many alerts. Some IT organisations have backup call center employees. On-call employees sometimes take advantage and let calls and emails go through, and as a result no one takes action.

Your IT organisation can be more strategic by establishing rules and automating which alerts reach a threat threshold that requires review by IT resolution teams. Establish clear escalation processes to maintain open communication.

Another good strategy is to automate proactive communications. Often one event can cause hundreds of alerts and notifications from employees, partners and customers. If your service providers are too overwhelmed by inquiries to fix issues, proactive communications can limit these inquiries and enable more effective resolution.

BYOD

There is little value in resisting the BYOD movement. Embrace it so you can manage it. And it’s happening – most large enterprises now allow their employees to bring their own mobile devices to work.

The good news is that employees who bring their own devices are happy and productive. In fact, a study by CIO Magazine indicates that employees who use their own devices work an extra two hours and send 20 more emails every day. One-third of BYOD employees check work email before the workday between 6-7 am.

The downside is that IT departments can’t ensure that employee devices are one the same platform versions, are using only approved apps, and are visiting only approved websites. Mobile phones are no longer immune from malware and if you don’t know their own mobile landscape, you’ll have a difficult time maintaining a safe environment.

Trust your employees to use good judgment, but inform them of best practices and be vigilant about alerts. Calls to your IT service desk for mobile issues can be very time-consuming because your representatives might have to test issues and fixes on mobile phones in the office.

Job Changes

Business continuity and disaster recovery situations used to revolve around whether the building would still be standing after a storm or a fire. Today the building is just where the data happens to reside. And the data is what matters.

Major issues like data breaches or malware attacks can threaten the future of a business. For large global enterprises, the challenges can be enormous. Business continuity situations require issue resolution and communication, combined with the pressures of speed. Time, after all, is money, and downtime is frequently estimated at more than £5,000 per minute. So pressure is squarely on IT service providers to be prepared when critical incidents cause alerts and notifications. Gathering disparate information sources, assessing the causes and communicating with departments around the world requires technology, flexibility and strategy.

Conditions can change frequently, so be organised and prepared. If you and your front-line service representatives are calm, your company will likely stay calm, and eliminating panic could be the difference between disaster and recovery.

Your processes have to be agile as well just to deal with business change. Re-organisations happen all the time, and your people will have to learn new skills and work with new people. Make sure they can.

Finally, the cloud is changing the way IT departments provide services too. Cloud-based infrastructure was once an afterthought. As of September 2013, DMG Consulting estimates that more than 62% of organisations were using some cloud-based contact center application as part of their operations, and nearly half the hold-outs were planning to convert within the next year.

Will I Even Have a Job?

The role of the IT service desk continues to evolve. Just a few years ago, IT desks were very reactive. They fixed issues, implemented updates and prevented disasters. Today they must play a more strategic role, aligning with other business units to address fixers with clients in today’s more distributed workforces.

More and more clients expect to use self-service tools to resolve their issues. In its Q2 2014 Benchmark Report, Zendesk says 27% of customers have tried to resolve an issue using self-service tools in the last six months.

Looking a little further ahead, your clients might be expecting to use virtual agents in their attempts at issue resolution. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2015, 50% of online customer self-service search activities will be via a virtual assistant. ICMI research shows that 64% of contact center leaders feel that advanced self-service options such as virtual agents improve the overall customer experience.

If you’re going to provide virtual agents and self-service options, though, do it well. In 2013, Zendesk stated that 72% of customers were going online to serve themselves, but only 52% were finding the information they needed.

M2M (Machine-to-Machine)

Are you tired of hearing about the Internet of Things and connected devices? Are you tired of the #IoT and #M2M hashtags? Well, sorry. Just when you thought you had your world on a string, connected devices are creating a future you could never have imagined just a few years ago.

Your servers are monitoring appliances, devices and machines. Something as innocuous as a down printer can seriously impact the ability of sales or finance to do their jobs. Servers, laptops and mobile devices have obvious business productivity consequences. At hospitals, equipment and wearable devices have to be connected to monitor patient health.

It’s important that the machines are not separate from the IT departments. In other words, your IT service teams should have intimate knowledge of all the connected devices, and the ability to apply swift resolutions.

Conclusion

In today’s business and technology environment, there is always a lot to think about when it comes to managing IT departments. The above list of our suggested top five worries for IT Service Managers could go on for much longer. IT Service Managers have to contend with basic routine service tickets to business critical connectivity outages. Within that spectrum, the sheer volume of alerts, the increasing workforce demands of BYOD, job uncertainty along with M2M & IoT continue to challenge the Service Manager.

However, as we have outlined, you have to manage this workload and uncertainty, so take control, be organised, and continue to be a strategic partner to your business. Today, there are a number of strategic departments working closely with IT resolution teams and other business units, in harmony, to plan for and manage the burden. To do so will help you reduce the stress and worry that this challenging and exciting role brings.

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

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

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Teon Rosandic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upping the Communications Ante

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

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

Rapid Communication to the Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power to the People

How Social IT Rebalances the People Process Technology Equation

A remarkable transformation is taking place in the world of information technology today. It reflects a new generation of knowledge workers utilizing social media to improve problem-solving, foster collaboration and spark innovation.

However, despite the continued reference to the traditional triad of success encompassing people, process and technology, the IT world has typically focused more on the process and technology sides rather than emphasizing the ‘people’ component.

This has been particularly true of IT products, consultants, and executives who have emphasized a command and control approach to IT that tends to downplay and minimize the people factor.

While a highly industrialized, mechanistic view of IT over the last five plus years has led to enormous gains in automation and productivity, the IT industry has now reached a point where differentiation around process and technology has become smaller and smaller. At the same time, innovations such as tablets and smartphones have introduced a new era of enterprise IT consumerization that is dramatically changing workplace habits and forms of communication and collaboration within and between organizations worldwide.

Get on board the collaboration economy!

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, among others, has proclaimed a paradigm shift to a new “collaboration economy” that allows people, teams and companies to effectively organize and focus their activities on creating value and driving profitability. Thus, the traditional IT emphasis on process and technology is giving way to new ways of thinking that recognize the increasing importance of the social or people component in IT in order to unlock new sources of productivity and value through greater knowledge sharing and collaboration.

The following five key behavioral attributes are necessary to increase people engagement and rebalance the IT operations equation for success:

  1. Divide and Conquer – Overcome limitations of traditional mechanistic approaches to IT information discovery and share the knowledge and expertise of IT staff across the enterprise
  2. Feed and Engage – Facilitate new ways of engagement to break down traditional barriers to communication and collaboration among IT teams and stakeholders
  3. Assign and Trust – Foster accountability for knowledge, so that individuals take on responsibilities that go beyond traditional IT processes and systems and their peers trust in the knowledge captured
  4. Make it Second Nature – Use approaches that feel natural and interact intuitively to increase adoption and value
  5. Reinforce and Reward – Compel executives and IT managers to recognize and reward collaborative behavior among IT staff and stakeholders

Behavior #1: Divide and Conquer

Most IT organizations today conduct operations with a heavy emphasis on machine-driven automated discovery and monolithic configuration management databases (CMDBs) that attempt to capture all information about the IT environment. In many cases, these tools and databases are managed by a specialized team charged with keeping information current. However, these teams often have far less institutional knowledge and expertise than others within the IT organization. Those who do have the most knowledge are either blocked from directly accessing and updating these tools and databases, or they refuse to do so because they are already comfortable with their own personal spreadsheets, wikis, and other tools.

This results in a situation where IT departments all too frequently spend limited budget dollars to staff full- time resources to establish a “single source of truth” that is, in fact, either out of date, not trusted by many in their own organization, or both.

As a consequence, IT departments either do not use these tools and databases for their intended purposes, or IT professionals are forced to rely on inaccurate information to assess issues or problems and make decisions.

In contrast, social knowledge management gives everyone in IT a stake in contributing to and verifying the accuracy of the knowledge about the IT environment. The “burden” of maintenance doesn’t fall on any single person or team, but is the collective responsibility of everyone participating.

This is not to say there isn’t value in machine discovered knowledge. Instead, machine knowledge must be augmented by human knowledge and validated so that the organization can confidently make decisions. Stated another way, rather than trying to eliminate the human factor, as traditional approaches have done, social IT actually encourages all knowledgeable individuals to share their expertise and contribute to the knowledge pool by creating and following a new breed of “social objects” that leverage well-known principles from Wikipedia and Facebook-style news feeds.

Behavior #2: Feed and Engage

IT organizations that emphasize process and technology at the expense of people often tend to erect boundaries between individuals and teams in an effort to strictly manage operations through a hierarchical command and control structure. This approach reinforces the traditional technology silos in IT and exacerbates them by creating new process silos. For example, if the network is up and running, why should the network group worry if an application is slow? “It’s not our problem” is a typical reaction when IT behavior is siloed and not collaborative.

Social IT-based crowdsourcing and peer review of knowledge, on the other hand, taps into the human instinct to fill in the gaps of known and unknown information. Then, when confronting incidents, problems, and changes, the organization can make better decisions by better coordinating team effort where individuals contribute to issues they feel connected to and care about based on their responsibilities, their expertise, or simply their individual interests. This can be accomplished by leveraging familiar social media principles and “following” the objects IT manages (such as servers, network devices, applications, etc.) and by automatically assigning experts to collaboration activities around incidents, problems, and changes. With this approach, individuals can also be alerted and fed new information as social objects are updated leading to an organization that is continually current on the latest IT environment reality.

With such an approach, rather than hoarding knowledge for job security, individuals are encouraged to take ownership of objects in their sphere of influence and responsibility, keep those objects updated with new knowledge, create new objects when performing daily tasks, and then automatically share their activities with others who are affected by or depend on them.

Behavior #3: Assign and Trust

If the people potential of IT is to be fully realized by pooling collective knowledge and continuous engagement via social media types of communication and collaboration, then individuals must be accountable to others for their contribution and actions. In other words, you can crowd source knowledge but all knowledge is not created equal. Even though multiple individuals can contribute knowledge, a single individual or role should have sole ownership of a “social object.” In this manner, the organization can increase its trust of the knowledge about that object, or, if it is not being accurately maintained, replace the individual who is responsible.

Behavior #4: Make it Second Nature

IT organizations and bookshelves are littered with the bones of projects that have tried to enforce processes that individuals pay lip service to and then promptly ignore in their daily operational activities. What’s more, IT professionals are usually some of the busiest employees in the organization, so adding on a new set of activities can easily be met with skepticism.

The real potential and promise of social IT stems from its ability to foster ways of communicating and working that feel natural and intuitive to human beings without adding more to the plates of those who already feel overworked. The fact is, IT organizations are inherently social already. IT teams just haven’t had tools that are designed to support collaboration and the capture of knowledge.

IT teams that use email or instant messaging, conduct daily SCRUM meetings, or hold regular Change Advisory Board reviews, are ripe for the benefits of Social IT. But to leverage social IT requires products that fit naturally into the work IT professionals are already doing, and that augment existing processes and practices without being seen as another thing that must be done in the course of a day.

By taking this approach, IT organizations will find that “offline” communication methods like email and instant messaging will be used less and less in favor of the social knowledge management system. They will also find that SCRUM meetings are more productive and CAB meetings focused more on the changes that have the biggest risk.

Behavior #5: Reinforce and Reward

As human beings, we pay close attention to the kinds of behavior that are actually valued and rewarded in the workplace by management. Therefore, it’s imperative that executive and IT management understand and reward social IT activities that contribute to the knowledge and collaboration necessary to improve problem-solving and decision-making among IT staff members.

IT leadership must create a culture of collaboration that encourages and rewards individuals who participate in social IT by assuming responsibility and ownership of objects in their sphere of influence and actively contributing on a daily basis. One IT organization that I know of set a goal for getting a specific number of social objects into their knowledge management system by a certain day, and then paid a bonus to those who contributed to meeting that objective. You might consider providing incentives through bonuses like this and/or as part of annual performance reviews for those who make decisions by consulting the social IT knowledge management system.

Finally: An unprecedented opportunity to improve IT productivity

The introduction of social technologies into the IT workplace presents an unprecedented opportunity to improve productivity and even job satisfaction of IT professionals. Taking advantage of that opportunity, however, requires that IT leaders rebalance the people, process, technology equation by driving behavioral change and equipping teams with the proper tools and incentives to achieve success.

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Can ITSM Projects do the Kanban?

In these uncertain economic times the watch words of the moment seem to be:

“Do more with (continually) less”

The effects of outsourcing both to clients of service providers and within their own organisations too means that support groups need to be as efficient as they can with (quite frankly) what they have left.

Could the visual scheduling tool LeanKitKanban, a web-based virtual signboard and card system, help Service Management support groups manage their time more efficiently and perhaps help bring about a more proactive approach to certain disciplines?

Lean and IT

Lean has its roots in manufacturing and production.  It is a practice that views the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be waste, and therefore should be eliminated.

Value in this context an action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.

Stretch this out to IT, and what Lean is trying to achieve is less wasted time by support resources and more efficiency in how they work. 

Kanban

Kanban is a Japanese words that quite literally means “signboard” and is a concept related to lean production, and looking at Just-In-Time production in particular.

In a production perspective, kanban is a scheduling system, used to determine what, when and how much to produce.

So, looking at it from an ITSM perspective, what are you working on, when are you scheduled to finish it, and how much more are you juggling.

At a glance, therefore, you can see where work is being bottlenecked and better utilise the team to reduce the overall workload.

LeanKitKanban

The key aims are:

  • Map out your organisation’s processes onto virtual whiteboards
  • On each board, processes are represented in vertical and horizontal lanes
  • Team members use Cards to represent work items which they can update and move across the board
  • The idea is that managers, customers, project managers can view this board for updates.

Pre-defined Board Templates

When you register, you get a number of pre-defined templates to select from, that best defines your business, so I looked at their IT Operations templates.

Of the two available, only Business Process Maintenance  seemed to come close to mapping processes across an organisation.

Using Cards

Within this template are categories of Cards:

  • Defect, Feature, Improvement, Task

Just looking around the template, you could have cards allocated to team members to look at:

  • Production Problems
  • Planned Business Need (with varying due dates and High/Low impacts)
  • Routine (Tasks)
  • Unplanned (Incidents)
  • Platform Improvements

How ITSM projects could use this

The idea sounds great but the practice needs a little thought.

The boards provided in the evaluation version are probably more geared towards Software Development or wider Business Process Re-engineering.

I like how team members show up against the cards so that you can see at any one time who is working on what, but what immediately struck me was duplication of effort.

Tool vs Kanban – Incident Ticket Lifecycle

I mapped out the key parts of the Incident management process, listing how an Incident Record would move through its lifecycle in a tool, versus how that same progression could be simply mapped in LeanKitKanban.

Process Steps

ITSM

KanBan

Incident Logging Incident Record Defect Card
Incident Categorisation Pre-Defined in Tool Free Text
Incident Prioritisation Pre-Defined in Tool 4 definitions in Template
Investigation and Diagnosis Assign to Team member Assign to tean member
Resolution and Recovery Update tcket as appropriate Update as appropriate but no auditing
Incident Closure Often auto-closure configured after resolution “Done” and archive functionality after a number of days

In order for someone outside the immediate support team or service management team to understand the progress of a ticket, they would normally be expected to have access to the ITSM tool, and to be able to see open Incidents and their progress as part of a steady state.

The idea behind LeanKitKanban is that it allows people maybe outside of that to have “visibility of progress”.

For Business As Usual, people outside the immediate support teams would normally receive Service Management reports with pertinent information.

Kanban and ITSM Solution Development

Moving away from Business As Usual, I thought I would consider its use when an ITSM solution is being developed and implemented.

Some tools do offer the capability to project manage development and testing work within the tool itself, but it does mean that people who may not ordinarily expect to use an ITSM tool would have to spend time working in it to work out progress.

Where software development is being managed using the Agile methodology, there is a useful board for that template.  If the ITSM tool itself does not provide Project/Development tracking modules, then this tool would be ideal for tracking tool development and customisation.

Putting it into practice?

LeanKitKanban have a good repertoire of reference clients on their website, although I think it lends itself more to the Software Development side than more traditional ITSM implementations.

In reality, however, time pressures on an implementation project are such that sometimes even visual summaries such as these may get discarded.

For every ticket that is being worked on, a corresponding ticket would have to be created in Kanban, so who would realistically do this, and maintain it?

It makes sense for it to be a Team Leader or Project Manager, in order to have a view of progressing work, and to keep the working team free from “management noise”.

In reality, most project management calls with teams revolve around a simple status Powerpoint with Tasks achieved, Tasks to do, Issues, so now it is the project managers that are faced with duplication of effort in maintaining reporting.

In order for this to work, this tool would need to be at the heart of project reporting and most likely a more comprehensive version than the initial trial.

To get the best from this tool, you would need:

  • Full buy-in from all levels of Project Management to have it as the tool of choice
  • It would need some customisation effort for anything outside of the templates provided – which are available in the Professional Edition pricing options
  • Some level of buy in from the teams having to provide input for the tool, as there is a danger for duplication of effort from the teams below.
  • It looks most suitable for development and implementation efforts rather than as part of ongoing steady state operations.

I would also recommend using the Personal Kanban board and template as part of the free offering, which offers users a chance to split tasks into 4 project lanes, and provides columns to help users track their to-dos.

For those spread across multiple projects, it provides a little more of a visual, virtual structure than scrawling To-Do lists on paper/sticky notes, and I am finding it helpful for working on distinct areas of work.

Further Information

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“May You Live in Interesting Times” – The Impact of Cloud Computing

Changing of the Guard
Changing of the Guard

Kylie Fowler is a regular columnist for The ITSM Review, see previous articles from Kylie here.

It’s not often that most people get to experience a true paradigm shift, even in IT where change is endemic and part of the lifeblood of the industry. However there is no doubt that cloud computing and the commoditization of processor power and storage represent a true metamorphosis in the way we think about and structure IT services.

Cloud computing is actually the next step in a long series of IT developments which have promoted the decentralization of computing in businesses. The gradual decentralization of corporate IT can be tracked from highly centralized mainframes with their bespoke software, through the development of client server computing, the commoditization of software and finally, with cloud computing, the commoditization of processor power. This shift will have dramatic implications for how and where IT professionals will carry out their roles in future,

Right back at the beginning of corporate IT (in the dark ages known as the 1970s) computing power was served up from giant mainframes to users sitting at dumb terminals who carried out business functions using highly centralized in-house applications. Believe it or not, some of these old systems, developed on punch cards by engineers are still in use today, generally because they are too expensive to redevelop on a more modern platform, or the risks of doing so are too high.

The first steps towards the decentralization of IT came in the next era of computing, the one most of us are familiar with – the era of client-server computing. Significantly lower processor costs mean that processor power can be co-located with users (although largely separated from storage to ensure data security), while large clusters of servers provide basic services such as network access and email. For most businesses, day to day IT operations are still architected, managed and controlled within the organisation, albeit on highly commoditised hardware. In contrast, software has been largely commoditised, with powerful software publishers selling software for use under license. Complex applications are still modified in-house to meet corporate needs, but the underlying intellectual property is owned by the software vendor. This is the era of Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

However we’re gradually moving into a new era, where the configuration and day to day management of hardware, software and the actual processing of bits and bytes are moving out of the corporation altogether. More and more organisations are asking themselves whether it is really cost effective to host basic services like email or word processing or spreadsheet analysis in-house when high quality services are available on-line for minimal cost.

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be servers and desktops and laptops, just as there are still mainframes, while large organisations may decide to develop private clouds to take advantage of economies of scale while reducing the risks inherent in trusting data to a third party, but the paradigm shift, the change in the computing world view that we are experiencing at the moment, is every bit as profound as the shift from mainframes to client-server computing was 20 years ago.

So what will the impact of this paradigm shift be for real people like you and me? Here are some of my predictions.

Service Operations will migrate out of the business

The essence of cloud computing is that what we have traditionally thought of as ‘IT’ has become a commodity. Most companies will no longer find they have a requirement for staff who can build a PC or a server as this requirement will have either been outsourced, virtualized or hosted on the cloud. But as is the case for mainframes, there will always be the odd niche where techies will thrive, so don’t despair!

Despite the growing importance of the actual connection to the cloud, network operation skills will also be outsourced, despite the fact that a secure, robust network to access cloud services will be even more critical than it is now.

Service Strategy and Service Design will become the core competence of IT Departments

The main business of IT is providing services that meet the needs of the business, but the new world of the cloud means most of those services will actually be provided by external companies. Logically, then, the core function of an IT department will be to decide HOW to provide the services to the business. Questions for Service Strategists and Designers will include: Which services do we put on the cloud, and which do we keep in house?  How will we ensure there is a seamless blend between the two? Which services should be provided as a unit, and which can be provided be different suppliers? How do we manage our suppliers to ensure they work together to ensure effective provision of all the services we need?

Service Transition will be vital for keeping suppliers on their toes

One of the biggest risks inherent in cloud computing is the danger of being locked into poorly performing, costly services which are either too risky or too expensive to escape. Service transition skills will be critical in keeping suppliers on their toes by giving management the confidence that it is possible to walk away if the service isn’t up to scratch while ensuring that new services are up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Peripheral skills will move to the core

Areas which are currently considered peripheral to the operation of an IT organisation will become more prominent. The ability of Strategic Procurement to negotiate contracts that create value and minimise costs and risks will determine whether IT brings competitive advantage to the business, or, at the opposite extreme, becomes a costly white elephant that reduces productivity. IT Vendor and Asset Management will focus on ensuring the business achieves the value it expects from its Service Providers and will manage the fall-out when things go wrong, while Information Security will become more akin to Business Risk Management, assessing information risks and ensuring safeguards are in place to protect the organisation’s reputation.

How to survive the coming change?

The move to cloud computing resembles the slow grind of tectonic plates rather than a sudden tsunami devouring everything in its path. As with the movement of the continents, the shift to cloud computing will be slow but both inevitable and unstoppable. There will be the odd earthquake, of course, devastating for those on the fault line, but many people will find it has no major effect on their careers, and in some instances, may even enhance them.

IT folk are inured to change, but it has to be said that many of us lack flexibility. Be willing to shift sideways, or into a different industry (or onto the cloud itself) and be open to alternative ways of using your existing skills – perhaps move into consultancy or (shudder) sales. Broaden your skills base and see continuous professional development as a fundamental part of your working life – on a par with your morning commute or annual review.

Develop your soft skills, particularly communication. It’s hard to be a consultant, for instance, helping organisations change, unless you can communicate effectively and work with a wide range of people on many different levels.

Make it your business to understand the business. IT exists only because it offers businesses competitive advantage. The higher the competitive advantage provided by IT, the higher the rate of investment – you just need to compare the level of investment between the Finance and Construction industries to see clear evidence of that! Understand how IT offers your business competitive advantage and make sure your work supports this. If the business asks you to change because you are no longer helping it succeed, then change!

Find a niche. There are still jobs out there supporting mainframes, and there will always be jobs maintaining server based in-house applications. The jobs will be limited, but if you find a niche or have an obscure skill that a particular company can’t survive without, then the rest of your career could be very comfortable indeed. But don’t forget to be flexible! If your bosses out-source 90% of the niche jobs to India, it will be your ability to manage the outsourcer effectively that means you keep your job!

Kylie Fowler

It’s an exciting time to be working in IT, and although some people will suffer from the shift to the cloud, I am optimistic that the old Chinese proverb ‘may you live in interesting times’ will turn out to be a blessing rather than a curse for most IT professionals.

Note: if you are interested in reading more about the impact of the shift to the cloud, the Silicon.com website has an extensive special feature on the impact of the cloud which can be accessed at the link below.

http://www.silicon.com/special-features/cloud-security/

Kylie Fowler is a regular columnist for The ITSM Review, see previous articles from Kylie here.