The DIKW model for Knowledge Management

Following on from last week’s article about the advantages of Knowledge Management and how to get started, let’s look at the process in more detail. When I’m running ITIL foundation courses I generally hit Knowledge Management as part of the Service Transition stage of the lifecycle towards the end of day 2. Put yourselves in the shoes of the poor delegate for a second and think after 2 solid days learning about 20 odd processes and 4 functions even the brightest person in the room is starting to get a bit tired of all the terminology. To try and fix that; here’s my handy guide to Data Information Knowledge and Wisdom aka the Dick Whittington model for Knowledge Management.

DIKW

Data

First up we have Data. No, not the character from Star Trek TNG (although – spoiler alert – I’m still heartbroken by the ending of Nemesis) but the facts and figures which relay something specific. ITIL describes data as a discrete series of facts about events. When we talk about data; it’s raw in format, not organised in any way and providing no further information regarding patterns, structure or context. Data represents singular facts or numbers but by themselves, data items have little meaning.

The key Knowledge Management activities include:

  • Capturing accurate data
  • Reviewing data and adding context so that it can be transformed into information
  • Ensuring only relevant data that adds value is being captured as lets face it, anything else is just noise.

Information

Data becomes Information when it can be viewed in a specific context. According to ITIL, for data to become information it must be contextualised, categorised, calculated and condensed. If data is a series of facts, information is generally stored in some sort of structure for example, e-mails, documents or spreadsheets.

The key Knowledge Management process around information is managing the content in a way that adds value. In other words, ensuing information is easy to capture, query, find, reuse and re learn from experiences so we don’t keep making the same mistakes and duplication is reduced.

Knowledge

For information to become knowledge it must be processed organised or structured in some way, or else as being applied or put into action. Knowledge combines information with experience and can be used as a basis for decision-making or taking an action. Knowledge is made up of the experiences, ideas, insights, values and judgements of your people. When we introducing formal Knowledge Management; creating the right culture is absolutely critical so that people feel comfortable adding to Knowledge Bases and articles ensuring the right knowledge is captured. Done well, Knowledge Management will engage and up skill your people so it really is worth focusing on.

Wisdom

Wisdom is the trickiest stage to explain. ITIL defines wisdom as being the ultimate discernment of the material and having the application and contextual awareness to provide a strong, common sense judgement. I’ve been in IT long enough to realise that you can’t teach common sense but by having the right training and support in place goes a long way to avoid a herding cats situation.

My favourite way of explaining Wisdom to ITIL foundation delegates is this example from Irish legend Paul Howard (author of the Ross O’Carroll Kelly books)

In all seriousness though, by applying Wisdom, you have the ability to increase effectiveness. It’s the value add based on being able to improve accuracy, drive efficiency and support CSI.

So that’s the basics to the Data Information Knowledge Wisdom model, what do you think? Let us know in the comments!

 

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Knowledge Management 101

7967019132_3e8442065c_z (1)One of the ITIL processes that tends to be glossed over is Knowledge Management which is a shame because it’s the process that can empower your people the most. Used effectively, Knowledge Management can empower your people, reduce Incident resolution times and increase customer satisfaction.

So what is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management is the process responsible for sharing perspectives, ideas, experience and information, and for ensuring that these are available in the right place and at the right time. The Knowledge Management process enables informed decisions, and improves efficiency by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge.

In other words, Knowledge Management is the process that takes all the information rattling around in our heads and puts it into a database / management system where it can be captured, shared and backed up.


 

What are the benefits? Too many to count!

  • How about increased engagement and staff retention? Take it from someone who knows staff attrition can be a nightmare especially in a Service Desk environment. Anything that can be done to improve morale and self esteem will increase engagement and help with staff retention. This can be in the form of training, mentoring or shift left.
  • Improved first time fix rates and improved Incident resolution times. If your people have the right skills, they will be able to resolve Incidents more quickly reducing call waiting times, improving up time and increasing ability to meet agreed service levels.
  • Less failed Changes. If service information is captured correctly the Change can be impact assessed more accurately and your team will be less likely to miss things. You know those wash up meetings where a Change has broken something because of a really daft reason? The meetings where the Incident and Change Managers are trying to write to the business explaining said daft reason?  It happens all the time. Off the top of my head I can remember a critical trade floor application being out of service for 8 hours because a time change wasn’t done correctly and the time the transactional website of a large retail back was down for over 2 hours because we forgot to restart a database as part of a planned Release. Both really daft things that caught us out because when we went back to look at our processes, they weren’t documented properly.

 

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Don’t get caught out, document your processes properly
  • Easier to find the right information at the right time – no more faffing about trying to find that key how to guide – it will be saved and linked to in one central location. This is particularly important in big organisations where things can get lost or misplaced within massive intranets.
  • No more reinventing the wheel. Having a Knowledge Management process means that reusing ideas, processes and experience is so much easier – making our processes repeatable and accurate using models and templates.
  • Getting the message out – again it’s about getting it right first time – the right information to the right audience.The Knowledge Base can be a great way to communicate with our customers;  think about it – if it’s the go to place for  everyone to check in use it to communicate new services or maintenance windows.
  • Promoting accurate, repeatable processes procedures and work instructions – a standard way of working that stands up to audit and external review. If everything is templated in a central location with an agreed review process, your processes and procedures will be accurate, useful and have a consistent look and feel.
  • Making niche or specialised knowledge more widely available. When I worked in second line support for a tech company 15 years ago, I was fascinated with Lotus Notes. It used to really bug me that every time we had a user call in with a Notes issue we had to sanity check and then bounce the call to third line support, so one day I went to see the e-mail team and asked them if there were some basic things they could teach me. There may have been some beer related bribery involved but I got some solid experience supporting the application and was able to share with the rest of the team. Also – when the Notes guys were looking for guinea pigs to try out a new instant messaging product – guess who was first in line? Everyone was a winner!
  • Empowering your customers and taking their experience to the next level – Self service and self help. We live in the world of Google, Amazon and Facebook; no one wants to spend 10 – 15 minutes on the phone to the Service Desk if it’s something they can take care of themselves so let’s start building this into our Service Desk functions!
  • Struggling to know what level of empowerment to aim for? This is how I’d love every business customer to feel when using IT services.
  • Speed of delivery– you can react quicker if you’re lean, streamlined and organised. If you have effective Knowledge Management in place you can be quicker to market – no more faffing about for a key document. RFP response template or spreadsheet – they’re all stored in one place.
  • Continual Service Improvement or CSI – improve improve improve. Knowledge Management drives CSI – gathering Data and processing Wisdom (more about this soon) enables us to focus on the most business critical areas to improve. Keep getting better. As the saying goes- knowledge is power so use it to ensure quality is inherent in everything you do.

What’s not to love?

How do I get started?

Let’s start with the basics. I know ITIL suggests the SKMS but being realistic – not everyone can afford a tool which has been hyped up to be effectively Google. Also – there is no one size fits all; the Knowledge Management requirements of a global investment bank regulated to the hilt will be completely different to those of a tech startup made up of thirty people so flex your approach accordingly.

If you don’t have a tool can you start capturing the basics on a network share or simple SharePoint form?

Have a chat with the Service Desk. Chances are they’re already doing some sort of Knowledge Management even if it’s pretty informal. Look at the shift left principle; empowering those the next tech level down from you to drive efficiency. If you work on the Service Desk, invite the second line support guys to your team meetings once a month to give you trouble shooting tips.  The first line support guys get to add to their skillset and second line support are freed up to concentrate on the more complex issues.

The main thing? Do something. Seriously – it’s that simple.

Anything you do will be better than not having anything in place. Start with the system that you know you’re on dodgy ground with support wise. Think about it – there’s always some quirky legacy system that depends on the expertise of one or two people. Having support rockstars is all well and good but what if they get sick or win the lotto and decide to relocate to Disneyworld? Ask them what their top ten support tips are and stick them in your Knowledge Base – even if it’s just a spreadsheet or word document. You’ve made a start in capturing key information about a difficult to support system so I’m calling that a win. At least it’s a start right? And that’s the thing – once you’ve made a start with Knowledge Management you can build on it over time until you’ve got a process that supports and empowers your people.


 

Up next I’ll be talking about the Knowledge Management process and the DIKW model so stay tuned. What are your thoughts on getting started with Knowledge Management? Let us know in the comments!

Knowledge Image Credit

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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.

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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.

Technology Review: EasyVista

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

  • EasyVista ServiceManager
  • EasyVista Service-Apps
  • EasyVista Click2Get

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

At a glance

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

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

Summary of Key Findings

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Languages available:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

image004

Key Capabilities

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

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

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

Key functions observed:

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

Problem Management – as above, plus integrated reporting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go-to-market Strategy

EasyVista’s sweet spot target clients:

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

Regional focus:

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

Channel Focus:

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

Features delivered as part of the standard offering:

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

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

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

Licensing and Payments:

  • On premise = Concurrent
  • SaaS = Named or Concurrent

Range of project values for a typical installation:

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

Annual maintenance and support cost:

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

Key Reference Customers

OTD

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

Domtar

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

Expro

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

Case studies available from these customers.

Geographical Coverage

Direct Presence Geographical area:

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

Vendor Profile – In their own words

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

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

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

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

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

All codeless, and all joined up.”

Screenshots

Further resources

Contact details

www.easyvista.com

Phone: +1 (888) EZV ITSM

 

EASYVISTA

Summary

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

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

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

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

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

For further information, please read our Disclosure page.

Podcast Episode 4: Tribal Knowledge with Earl Begley

ManageEngine
Thanks to our friends at ManageEngine for sponsoring this podcast.

Episode 4 of the ITSM Review podcast hosted by Barclay Rae.

Guests:

Agenda

ITAM Review and ITSM Review Feeds

Image Credit

ITSM Review Q&A Forum

Q&A-ForumWe will be rolling out a new Q&A forum and knowledge base for The ITSM Review shortly.

This is a short blog to discuss our goals and direction for the project (code name Angels on a Pin).

Why a Q&A Forum?

LinkedIn and Facebook are proving popular for discussion of ITSM topics. The weakness of these platforms is that a) the good stuff gets lost in the stream and b) common questions get repeated over and over. Noise and ‘the stream’ take precedent.

Our new forum aims to curate and moderate discussions and tag and categorize content for future reference.

The ITSM Review Q&A Forum

Our objective is to provide a useful, independent resource for worldwide ITSM professionals.

Guiding principles

  • Actively moderated to remove spam or promotional messages in accordance with an open published code of conduct
  • Moderated to tag and categorize questions to avoid duplicates and allow the good stuff to be found
  • Curated to generate knowledge base articles for most popular topics and discussion areas
  • Game mechanics – proactively reward participation and the best answers
  • All content published creative commons / [UPDATE] non-commercial license
  • Free to access
  • Respect Intellectual Property – Give credit where it is due, only link to content that is freely accessible
  • Egalitarian – everyone has a voice. Provide a destination for newcomers and experts alike.
  • Knowledge Management – proactively clip the best content into a knowledge base for easy navigation.

I would appreciate your feedback to this project. Good, bad or indifferent.

Transforming the IT service experience

Left to right: Lori Krikorian, Dana Swanstrom, and Sally Shane accepted the Project of the Year award in Las Vegas in February.
Left to right: Lori Krikorian, Dana Swanstrom, and Sally Shane accepted the Project of the Year award in Las Vegas in February.

EMC Corporation’s IT organization (EMC IT) has been on a multiyear transformational journey, transitioning to a virtual and private cloud infrastructure and modifying its operating model to be one of a competitive service provider. They have also been working to unlock the capabilities to deliver more agility to its business customer through optimized service delivery and modern application development aligned to IT trends of cloud, mobile, social, and Big Data. But, the company’s IT service management (ITSM) processes lacked agility to meet the evolving needs of its internal customers. Couple this obstacle with unstable, obsolete, and unintegrated technologies that lacked mobility, community, and self-help functionality.  EMC IT launched its UnITy program to address this significant challenge.

UnITy Program

The UnITy program began in July 2012 to optimize ITSM processes, replace its previous ITSM technology platforms, and transform IT into a customer-focused organization committed to consistently delivering collaborative support.

To start, the team conducted more than 100 interviews and numerous workshops to collectively understand the challenges IT faced and secure leadership support for the problem, business drivers, critical success factors, and solutions. From these sessions, the team defined the program’s vision as: “To delight EMC IT’s clients by transforming their IT service experience through optimized service management processes and technologies.”

The program then set out to address four key points in EMC IT.

  1. Enhance the customer experience for EMC’s 60,000 users by evolving IT’s to be service-focused and allow the customer experience to drive prioritization and responsiveness.
  2. Enable IT to operate as a business by optimizing processes and improving transparency through service metrics and better service quality.
  3. Align IT’s resources with customer expectations and improve capabilities such as self-service and the availability of better decision making data.
  4. Optimize IT support so the company will, in time, realize millions in annual savings by reducing the use of in-house production support and managed service providers, decommissioning redundant IT systems, and using self-service to reduce calls to the service desk.

Program Phases

In Phase I, the program released the new ITSM platform along with three processes – incident management, request fulfillment, and knowledge management. In Phase II, the program rolled out an improved configuration management database, a new service taxonomy, and three more processes – problem management, change management and service asset and configuration management.

At the core of UnITy was a mountain of change for EMC IT to adapt. To usher in the necessary cultural changes we created three workstreams – process optimization, technology, and transformation. While the workstreams focused on their respective topics, the entire team worked cohesively to evangelize the program by sharing a common understanding of the capabilities and benefits being delivered by UnITy. Perhaps most importantly, the transformation workstream led the organizational change in EMC IT, providing training, communication, and engagement at all levels in IT to drive the cultural evolution toward one of customer focus.

On the training side, the team built its own custom, instructor-led and computer-based training and enlisted 100 global users who went through week-long training on the new platform, processes, and way of thinking. In turn, these users held day-long training sessions with more than 1,000 users across our global EMC IT sites. As program champions, these individuals evangelized the program and provided support in the field before and after. Additionally, another 1,500+ users received computer-based training.

On the communications side, the UnITy program engaged a multi-channel campaign to provide information in a number of accessible and easily digestible ways. This included:

  • An intranet site that consistently ranked among the most-visited EMC IT sites
  • A regularly published email newsletter
  • Regularly scheduled global town hall meetings
  • A user engagement network that met weekly, championed the program, and provided feedback
  • A series of videos that featured IT leaders and program members delivering key messages

The UnITy team also used its leadership steering committee to validate decisions, in some cases make decisions, clear hurdles, and champion the program throughout IT. This was vital to pushing change through an organization and program sponsors helped communicate expectations to EMC IT through video messages, personal emails, and even shared goals for training and adoption.

So, what did EMC IT learn from this complex and culture-changing program?

  1. Engagement at all levels of the EMC IT organization was vital. Having leadership support made it easier to push changes through, but having employee understanding of why the changes were happening and how they would benefit the individual and organization accelerated adoption.
  2. No customizations! Sticking with the out-of-the-box ITSM functionality kept the program on course using best practices and ITIL processes, instead of bending the technology to match the way IT operated in the past.
  3. Listen to the pros. We brought in experts to guide us in process adoption and tool deployment. When in doubt, we turned to the experts on best practices and moved ahead with their guidance.

EMC IT are currently in Phase III of the UnITy program to expand the service management platform and processes to businesses outside of IT. They remain focused on the metrics and reporting analysis to identify areas for continuous improvement. While it was a tremendous initiative for the whole EMC IT organization, they now have the technology and processes in place to continue to evolve the organization and to continue to provide the highest quality services for the future.

In February this year, EMC IT won the Project of the Year Award at the Pink Elephant Annual Conference in Las Vegas. If you would like to learn more about the UnITy program’s journey, you can read this blog post by program lead Dana Swanstrom.


 

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

Change and Release Management: What are they? What’s missing?

Daniel Breston
Daniel Breston

This article was contributed by Daniel Breston, Consultant at Qriosity Limited.

I was recently challenged by Mike Orzen (co-founder of Lean in IT practises and my mentor) to answer a simple question: what do you think the purpose of change and release management is in ITIL or any other IT best practice framework?

I started by asking what aren’t they?

Change is not about doing the change, and release is not about managing the approval of a request to change. Change helps me make a decision; it answers the question WHY with a “yes” or “no”. But “yes” or “no” to what?

How many times has a request been approved, but what was delivered did not match what was approved? If IT has no value until it releases something that is usable to a customer, we better be sure that “yes” and “approved” are used for getting an organisation to be competitive, compliant, reliable, secure and cost-efficient as quickly as possible. Lean helps by creating a value stream from idea to solution, in a similar fashion to the ITIL lifecycle of service strategy to service operation. In both cases, the solution to the customer needs to be delivered as timely as possible.

You can’t manually approve every request as this would block the flow in the IT value stream. So the creation of standard change types assist in identifying low-impact, repetitive, and easy to fix types of requests.  LeanIT likes standard work, as once you know if the request or change will not place the organisation at risk of losing a customer or wasting money, you can then automate the decision process to flow the request to the design phase, if required. If it will impose a risk or loss, then the request can be routed to a more formal approval process that can also be leaned over time.

Change should control every aspect of a release (the doing process of an approved change), so we have to look at all of the places change gets involved to help design a fast, flowing stream across IT, and ultimately one that works from the customer (pull) instead of IT pushing releases to the customer.

So where does or should change get involved?

An example:

The above could form the basis of a release process. I am sure more questions are needed, but if we allow the various teams to continuously improve the above, we can release valued services into the organisation. The teams might use lean methods such as kanban boards to control work, kaizen to improve work and agile or DevOPS to get services developed and agreed.  Another aspect of lean that the table demonstrates is waste removal. If the change gateposts help to reduce defects, re-work, wait time between tests via automation or script reuse, for instance, then the flow of the value stream is enhanced end to end. Removing or automating/facilitating the gates in a formal process will also help increase flow resulting in a better time to market, quality enhancement, productivity improvement and cost reduction.

Configuration management – the needed process for ITSM & lean success

To be effective (first) and efficient (second), we need data.  Where are requests, business cases, regulatory and architectural requirements for design, code, tests, or service acceptance criteria kept for example? We turn data into information to gain knowledge to deliver value. Configuration management is the data to knowledge management process. The information in a configuration management database (CMDB) can be used to enhance the way a process, team or tool performs. For instance, if we create a cycle of CCRCCR: (change to configuration to release to change to configuration to release…) to be as fast as possible; then the agility of creating solutions in a timely manner becomes our standard culture or way of working.

How do we start?

I suggest by mapping the value stream, as much as possible, from end to end.  At first you may only be able to do the parts internal to IT but keep adding until you have the entire value stream from requester to customer mapped.  Lean value stream mapping helps improve how an IT organisation, business enterprise and partners create and improve ways of work.  Get as many representatives as possible involved in a mapping exercise and use post-it notes to visualise the current way of working.   Try to get the people that do the work involved as this generates buy-in for future change improvements.  Your post-it notes could include time of steps, teams involved, tools used, etc.  Don’t trust what you create in a conference room.  Go out and see (lean calls this “gemba”) to validate your understanding.

Now return to the conference room armed with your knowledge and improve the flow of the stream (steps). Add a few measures to control the flow of the stream and most importantly BEGIN.  Don’t wait for the tool changes or other procrastination reasons: start using the new way. Check how changes are approved, the steps performed to create a release, the results of any improvement (agreed and tracked) and use the CMDB to maintain the information such as your review of other ITSM processes. You can continue to create a unified view of your IT practices, processes, tools, capabilities, etc. The lean trick is to make checks or improvement a daily part of work, not something owned by the program team, but by the people doing the activities all along the stream. Let them own and celebrate the success.

Set some stretch goals for how long it should take to agree a requestor, how fast to perform a release etc. Look at quality, productivity, stock reduction (number of tests or environments needed) as examples.  PLEASE note that cost is a benefit and if you see that as a target it may be viewed as a job-cutting exercise when it should be viewed as a job enhancement opportunity.

Please let me know what you think and try blending Lean into your ITSM world.  Have fun doing it!

This article was contributed by Daniel Breston, Consultant at Qriosity Limited.

Technology Review: Solarwinds Web Help Desk (WHD) V 12.1

solarwinds-inc-logoThis is an independent review of Solarwinds Web Help Desk, reviewed in March 2014.

AT A GLANCE

A global leader in the market of service automation software and remote management
SolarWinds mission is to provide purpose-built products designed to make IT professional’s jobs easier.

This review takes a look at the core capabilities, the route to market, competitive strengths and weaknesses, product development roadmap and market reach of SolarWinds Web Help Desk (WHD) V 12.1, which was released in January 2014.

Available as both self-hosted and SaaS (through their partner Loop1) SolarWinds WHD has an intuitive browser-based user interface with customizable forms, easy to create rule-based workflow and integration with many network and application management tools.

SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS

Strengths

Weaknesses

Easy installation and deployment  Separate Change Management area needed
Consistent look and feel with other SolarWinds products   No Release Management
Easy scalability   No graphical representation of asset relationships
125,000 strong user community   No Service Catalog

PRIMARY MARKET FOCUS

Although encompassing a broad range of industries and sizes of organization, SolarWinds WHD is popular in the Education sector and with SMB’s.

70% of SolarWinds customers are currently based in North America but purchase is being made in both EMEA & APAC.

With several products that fit into the ITSM space, namely Dameware Remote Support, Patch Manager and Mobile Admin, SolarWinds are now actively promoting these together and plan to offer bundled sales packages.

ANALYSIS

Named as Forbes Best Small Company in America in 2012, SolarWinds provides a wealth of network and system management tools including over 30 free offerings.

In 2012 SolarWinds made the logical move to add a ticketing tool to their product portfolio by procuring Web Help Desk, at the time their seventh acquisition since 2011.

Products are grouped into the following categories:

  • Application and Server Management
  • Log and Security Information Management
  • IT Alert and On Call Management
  • Network Management
  • IT Help Desk
  • Virtualization Management
  • Storage Management
  • Database Management
  • File Transfer

The company has headquarters in Austin, Texas and operates out of a growing number of worldwide regional offices (eight at the time of writing).

SolarWinds community, Thwack, has over 125,000 users worldwide who collaborate and share.  As a result with a little searching you can find a Knowledge Base article or forum post with the answer to almost any question you may have.

With advanced and well integrated suites within almost every aspect of IT Management this competitive differentiator means that they are a good fit for network support heavy IT Departments wanting to track tickets and assets with the minimum of fuss.

Fully customizable forms make fitting the tool around your processes much easier than with some others.  It’s surprisingly easy to define complex rule-based workflow meaning that no matter how obscure some of your processes are, with careful consideration and time spent on Thwack you’re sure to find a way.

Native asset discovery and integration with 3rd party software platforms for asset discover and asset management.  This together with the Parts area of the tool which helps to catalogue spares such as keyboards, mice, etc. should help to ensure that even the most controlling of Asset Managers are happy.

Most current competitors offer some kind of integration to third party discovery/event management tools but not to the extent or with the ease of SolarWinds WHD and are often accompanied by extended consulting engagements. With the right marketing SolarWinds with their cost effective tool and highly integratable portfolio should climb the ITSM tool vendor ladder swiftly.

The Self Service portal along with the Tech area contains a reservation desk to check in or out assets and warranty and lease alerts are configurable to ensure vendor maintenance contracts are maintained.

SolarWinds WHD has the ability to easily scale to the largest of organisations whilst still maintaining the ease-of-deployment and use that has made SolarWinds among the most popular vendors for the mid-market.

SolarWinds WHD is an excellent entry nearing mid-range Service Desk tool.  However with the development of Change Management/Release Management this would raise the profile of the tool considerably.

Like Asset Management, Change Management is not an area usually dealt with by the Service Desk Analysts and as such I believe it warrants it’s own area separate from tickets.  A dedicated Change calendar would also be useful with the ability to set blackout schedules.  This combined with some degree of Release Management, even if basic, would open SolarWinds to a much larger audience.

SolarWinds face the challenge of educating the market of their new capabilities in ITSM in a market crowded with competitors. However, they face these challenges with an already huge existing user base and from a position of proven track record in the IT Management sector.

ss1 ss2

KEY CAPABILITIES

The table below shows the key capabilities of SolarWinds WHD

Tickets
  • Eases migration by importing tickets from legacy ticket systems
  • Enables configuration of multiple tiers and groups of IT staff and assignment of triage and escalation tasks to tiers and groups
  • Includes easily-customizable and dynamic ticket forms with unlimited custom fields
  • Simplifies ticket organization by allowing linking of unlimited incident tickets to a single problem
  • Dynamically routes and assigns help desk tickets to a specific technician or group of technicians
  • Each ticket’s processing sequence is time stamped and user tagged, including system updates and automation decisions
  • Automates load balancing of ticket assignment

 

Asset Management
  • Easy to build parent/child relationships between assets
  • Shows software licensing distributions across network, including how many license keys of a particular software are in the field versus ready for assignment
  • Calculates warranty and lease end dates based on purchase order information
  • Tracks by asset type, status, location, manufacturer and model
  • Enables you to manage who uses what by associating an end user with a specific asset or group of assets
  • Associates end-users to service requests or incident tickets with a specific asset or group of assets
  • Provides a running history of all service requests for a given asset
  • Allows end users to select their current location and then provides a list of all assets in that specific location for easy asset identification
  • Asset discovery data from any source can be scheduled to import regularly or on-demand
  • Includes a Reservation Center that allows end users to request a designated check-out time and date range for a specific asset
  • An overdue alert system easily identifies lost or stolen inventory

 

Change Management
  • Enables association of service request types with approval and change processes
  • Approvers can approve or deny directly from email or via the web interface
  • Supports individual voting and voting by panel
  • Approval processes can be simple or complex as needed, from a one step sign-off to multiple levels of succession
  • Approvers can be configured based on roles, ensuring the request is addressed by the appropriate individual based on location, department and position

 

Knowledge Base
  • Enables you to query a knowledge base article that resolves a request and inject a hot link to a FAQ or tool tip into the trouble ticket note
  • Offers related FAQs and tool tips to end users as they submit a service ticket
  • Supports embedded videos and file attachments
  • When technical knowledge base articles are intended primarily for internal use or reference, SolarWinds Web Help Desk can organize your knowledge base articles and flag visibility to the departments of your choice
  • Enables you to grow your knowledge base organically by letting your IT staff easily submit common ticket resolutions as potential knowledge base articles for internal or external public consumption
  • Automatically flags each newly submitted article as “unapproved” requiring final approval from your knowledge base manager before becoming visible

 

GO-TO-MARKET STRATEGY

Founded in 1999 SolarWinds have grown year on year and provide over 50 IT management tools in their portfolio.

SolarWinds sells it’s products through an inside sales model and through channel partners all over the world.  Rather than involve consultants, potential SolarWinds customers are encouraged to self evaluate for a period of 30 days and visit the user community, Thwack, to witness the sharing and support that take place.

With a good solid grounding in the network, systems and application management arena the move into the Service Desk area completes a very comprehensive set of IT tools.

With the consistent look and feel of the SolarWinds products WHD will

It is estimated that the average user now deploys 2.5 of the main product groupings.

SolarWinds WHD is licensed per user/technician in a perpetual licensing mode which is scaled down as users are added.

Prices start at $695 per user and scales down as users are added.

Business Partner Summary

Key Business Partners
  • Loop1 (Loop One)

Market Penetration

Number of customers on maintenance 4,000+
Typical Customer
  • Small-medium business
  • Based in North America
  • Late adopters

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IMPLEMENTATION

Typical Installation

Installation of SolarWinds WHD is fast and straightforward taking anything from 10 minutes to a few hours to set up depending on the complexity of importing/migrating configuration data such as tickets, locations, request types, FAQ’s etc.

SolarWinds WHD can be implemented/deployed using only internal staff and typically can be dealt with by one technician/engineer.

Full installation requirements (please note this is not the case for evaluation installations):

Software Requirements
Operating System
  • Windows Server 2003 32/64-bit, Windows Server 2008 32/64-bit, Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit, Windows Server 2012 32/64-bit, Windows Server 2012 R2 32/64-bit
  • Recommended for installations with more than 20 technicians, Windows Server 2003, 2008 or 2008 R2, and 2012 64-bit OS .

 

Web Console Browser
  • Chrome 30, 31, and 32
  • Firefox 24, 25, and 26
  • Internet Explorer (IE) 8, 9, and 10
  • Safari 5 and 6

Note: Chrome v32 and Mozilla v26 are the latest versions of those browsers tested with WHD 12.1.0. Because Google and Mozilla release new versions of their browsers so often, testing WHD on the very latest browser is not always possible. It is likely, however, that WHDv12.1.0 will work with Chrome and Firefox releases newer than those it has been tested on.

Hardware
  • CPU Speed – Dual Core 2.0 GHz or faster
  • Hard Drive Speed – 20 GB
  • Mac Architecture – 64-bit Intel
  • Memory – 3 GB (add 1 GB for every 10 additional technicians/engineers)
  • Application Ports – 8081 (or alternate browser port), 1433 (SQL)

The installer configures the application and the optional embedded PostgreSQL database automatically.  A setup wizard walks the administrator through initial configuration steps.  It is suggested that you run the SolarWinds WHD application and external database on separate servers for optimal performance.

As an alternative to Windows, Mac, and Linux installer applications, a Linux-based virtual appliance is also available.

To fully benefit from all features, WHD requires configuration (e.g. email, Active Directory/LDAP connection, Asset synchronization etc.) however it is possible to use it almost instantly by using web UI to raise tickets, auto-creation of users and the Free version requires very little configuration and is basically a straight-out-of-the-box solution for very simple use.

Time to Value

The short time required to install SolarWinds WHD together with the ease of use, scalability and minimal manpower costs for deployment suggests a rapid ROI.

Resources Required

As with all ticketing systems the tool is only as good as the information inputted.  Ongoing maintenance and data verification will be required especially with regard to Knowledge Management and Asset Management.

Scalability

The application is implemented as a J2EE servlet running under Tomcat, with JDBC connections to a relational database that can run on a separate server or cluster. (Comes bundled with an optional embedded PostgreSQL database. MySQL and SQL Server are also supported.) Additional servlet containers, running on the same or separate nodes, can be configured as needed. For most SMB customers, the application’s caching mechanisms facilitate scaling to increased performance requirements by simply allocating additional memory, without requiring additional hardware nodes. For larger customers, a common configuration separates background daemon processes such as asset discovery and e-mail processing onto a second server, which can be set up using the standard application installer

PRODUCT ROADMAP

SolarWinds have several directions in which they plan to further grow Web Help Desk

  • Provide tighter integration with other SolarWinds products, particularly Orion based, to provide streamlined problem resolution and the remote support product, Dameware
  • Enhance the reporting capabilities to provide data that will help customers understand and foresee issues for greater IT control.
  • Further develop configurability and ability of Web Help Desk to adapt to the customers processes
  • Enhanced project management capabilities

The next product release is tentatively scheduled for September 2014.  There are usually 1 major and 1-2 minor releases per year.

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PRODUCT PORTFOLIO

  • Server and Application Monitor
  • Virtualization Manager
  • Storage Manager, Powered by Profiler
  • Patch Manager
  • Log and Event Manager – Affordable SIEM
  • Web Performance Manager
  • Web Help Desk
  • Dameware Remote Support
  • Dameware Mini Remote Control
  • Serv-U Managed File Transfer Server
  • Mobile Admin
  • System Center Extension Pack
  • Virtualized Application Performance Pack
  • Web App Monitoring App
  • Log and Security Information Management
  • Log and Event Manager – Affordable SIEM
  • Firewall Security Manager
  • Alert Central
  • Network Performance Monitor
  • Netflow Traffic Analyzer
  • Network Configuration Manager
  • IP Address Manager
  • User Device Tracker
  • VoIP and Network Quality Manager
  • Engineer’s Toolset
  • Network Topology Mapper
  • Database Performance Analyzer
  • Database Performance Analyzer – VM Option

COVERAGE

Head Office Austin, Texas
Regional Offices Utah, Colorado, Canada, Czech Republic, India, Singapore, Australia, Ireland

FURTHER RESOURCES

Website – http://www.webhelpdesk.com

Demo – http://www.webhelpdesk.com/download-demo/

VENDOR PROFILE

In their own words:

“Named by Forbes as one of the top 10 fastest growing technology companies, SolarWinds is improving the way IT management software is developed, priced, purchased, delivered, and used. At SolarWinds, we are fanatical about putting our users first in everything we do. We strive every day to deliver powerful functionality that is easy to use with one of the fastest and longest lasting ROIs in the market.

Our IT monitoring and management software is built for SysAdmins and network engineers who need powerful, affordable, and easy-to-use network and server monitoring software that saves time and simply gets the job done. Evaluating, buying, deploying, and using enterprise software shouldn’t be complex. IT management and monitoring software from SolarWinds is easy to try, buy, deploy and use. That’s unexpected simplicity.”

CONTACT DETAILS

SolarWinds Contact Details

Head Office 3711 South MoPac Expressway, Building Two, Austin, Texas 78746 P: 866.530.8100 F: 512.682.9301
Other Locations EMEA Headquarters Unit 1101, Building 1000, City Gate, Mahon, Cork, Ireland P: +353 21 5002900 F: +353 212 380 232APAC Headquarters Intec House, Level 22 – SolarWinds, 215 Adelaide Street, Brisbane, QLD, 4000 P: 1 800 090 386 F: +61 (07) 3319 6401Tulsa, OK 4111 S. Darlington Ave. Suite 500, Tulsa, OK 74135New Zealand Duckworths Building, 20-22 Munroe Street, Napier, New Zealand

Singapore 6 Temasek Boulevard #39-01/02, Suntec Tower Four, Singapore 038986 Tel : +65 6593 7600 Fax : +65 (0)6 491 5123

Dallas, TX 4040 McEwen Road, Suite 240, Dallas TX 75244

India Module 4, 6th Floor, Block A, SP Infocity, #40

MGR Salai, Perungudi
Chennai – 600 096, Tamil Nadu

Brno, Czech Republic Holandská 6/873, 639 00 Brno, Czech Republic

Post Falls, ID 510 S Clearwater Loop # 100, Post Falls, ID 83854

Lehi, Utah 2500 West Executive Parkway, Suite 300 Lehi, UT 84043 385-374-7000

SUMMARY

SolarWinds WHD is a good fit for SMBs and organizations in the Education sector with IT Departments heavily dependent on network monitoring and event management.

Strengths

Weaknesses

Easy installation and deployment   Separate Change Management area needed
Consistent look and feel with other SolarWinds products   No Release Management
 Easy scalability   No graphical representation of asset relationships
125,000 strong user community  No Service Catalog

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

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

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

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

For further information, please read our Disclosure page.

Navy 311: Reinventing service and support

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Following on from my trip to itSMF Norway last week, I wanted to share with ITSM Review readers my thoughts on Susan Reisinger’s presentation along with some of the key pieces of advice that she presented.

This was an interesting session, not least because it focused on such a huge organization (the US Navy) that operates globally. I would perhaps say that the session focused a little too much on the “what was done” and not enough on the “how you can do this / fit this to your business”, but nevertheless it was a very educating session.

Susan explained how Navy 311 is not a new program, but a new approach to service and support. The US Navy’s IT operations had been complex, with multiple service desks spread across numerous countries with limited communication between them. They needed both an efficient and cost effective way to fix this problem with no available budget (this is the government that we’re talking about here). This was where the 311 model came in.

What is Navy 311?

The 311 model was adopted by the US Navy for all non-emergency services, from a captain on a ship who had a minor problem to a member of the public enquiring whether the ship they had just seen in a port belonged to the Navy or not (hey they were just wondering!). However, Navy 311 comprises of more than just call center support, it has four key capabilities:

  • Customer interface – ensuring consistency of support from initial service request through to issue resolution
  • Shore-based infrastructure – a network of authorized service providers and call center professionals as well as the IT assets that support them. Previously if there had been a fault on a ship a technician would have had to have been shipped out to fix it. Now technicians can advise via telephone and people on board can carry out what needs to be done to fix the issue. One technician can now be working on several issues at once, versus previously where they would have had to travel and only been able to deal with one issue/ship at a time. The result? Quicker resolutions and a huge saving on travel expenses
  • Knowledge management – a repository of all records to enable data mining to identify trends and thereby enable process improvements and total cost ownership (TCO) reduction analysis
  • Program management ­– business management functions such as information and systems assurance, program execution and financial accountability. All of which provides transparency to the business.

The improvements

Susan explained that adopting the 311 approach can work for any organization regardless of size. The key improvements delivered to sailors and the leadership in the US Navy were:

  • Reactive service delivery
  • Proactive service delivery
  • Predictive analysis
  • Metrics
  • Call center optimization

The presentation with a story

As previously stated it would have been nice to hear more of the “how you can do this” and perhaps a clearer explanation of what the 311 program (adopted by over 400 cities across the globe) is would have been good too. That said, Susan wins the prize for telling my favourite story of the entire conference:

Shortly after the 311 program had been rolled out, when the Iraq war was at its peak, one US Navy call center received a call from a man who was clearly distraught. The man explained that he had heard that the ship his son was deployed on had been struck and that there were numerous injuries and fatalities. He wanted to know if the next of kin had been alerted as he was desperate for news of his son.

The agent explained that she didn’t have the information to hand but she would find out and get back to him as soon as possible. Pre-Navy 311 it might have taken the agent hours, maybe even days, to be able to source the necessary information to get back to that man quickly. However, thanks to the fact that they now operated as a global, multi-functional team with strong communication and transparent operations, that agent was able to quickly reach the closest unit to the attack.

The result? Within 45 minutes of the man contacting the US Navy call center he had a call back from the agent and an email from his son confirming he was safe and well.

Susan finishing on this story, left me in no doubt about the wider impact that IT service can have not just on the business itself, but on external businesses and individuals as well.

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