Stephen Mann – ITSM Tool Verification: A Good Or Bad Thing?

ITSM Tool Certifications - Good or Bad Thing? What is your view?

This article has been contributed by Stephen Mann, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research.

I recently stumbled upon the fact that Pink Elephant had introduced a new PinkVERIFY “version,” PinkVERIFY 2011, I assume to move into line with ITIL 2011.

It reminded me that I still owed the IT Service Management (ITSM) Community a blog on such ITSM tool verification or certification schemes based on my own thinking and some quick-and-dirty analysis I did at the start of 2012.

I ran two polls – one I pushed out to 20 ITSM tool vendors and the other I made available to ITSM tool customers via a Forrester blog (“How Do You Value IT Service Management Tool Verification Or Certification Schemes?”).

A Summary of Vendor Responses: 

Firstly, please be advised that this was an unscientific, quick-and-dirty ITSM tool vendor survey and the results should be treated as such. I am just trying to “paint a picture” rather than be precise with a certain degree of accuracy. Of the 13 ITSM tool vendor respondents (2 could not help, 5 didn’t reply):

  1. 10/13 either have, or are planning to get, the latest PinkVERIFY endorsement (this was 3.1 back then). The other 3 all have a previous version of PinkVERIFY and consider it adequate (for now).
  2. Most have seen an increase in RFPs asking for PinkVERIFY (or similar) endorsement, particularly in Europe and North America – the larger the prospect, the more chance there is that they will ask for PinkVERIFY or similar.
  3. In terms of not having PinkVERIFY (or an alternative) being a barrier to shortlist, the consensus was that not having it definitely doesn’t help (Of all the questions answered this was the most vague).
  4. 7/13 of the respondents felt the version of PinkVERIFY certification held to be irrelevant – that RFPs just ask if the product is endorsed and then move on.
  5. All vendors still see PinkVERIFY as the de facto certification/endorsement scheme; with the OGC scheme having greatest traction in the UK and consequently appearing most in UK RFPs.

Customer poll feedback

It was a low response rate (77 responses versus 2000+ blog reads after a month):

As you can see, only 8% would not consider an ITSM tool that does not have an independent verification. In my opinion I think this is great – I expected it to be much higher. Although, from the vendor feedback, most prospective customers still ask for independent verification of some sort in RFP/RFIs. Hopefully customers are not using the lack of it as a barrier to entry.

At the other extreme, 35% place little value in a tool having the “stamp of approval.” Perhaps this is biased by the type of people that generally read my blog? I imagine that if this poll had been publicized via more traditional means this would have been considerably lower.

However, the main headline for me is that ¾ of respondents (thankfully) perceive ITSM tool verification to be a “lesser element” of the overall tool selection process; with just ¼ seeing it as a key part or its absence a deal breaker.

And thus my conclusions …

Whether it is for the right or the wrong reasons, ITSM vendors think that some form of product verification is needed to put a proverbial “tick-in-the-box” to the RFP question around certification. I can’t help think that certification is seen as a “necessary evil” by some and as a good marketing investment by others. The verification itself is not evil – one would like to think that it is purely intended to help organizations with ITSM tool selection – but does it really help? Does certification help find the perfect tool for a not-so-perfect organization? I personally think not, at least not in its current guise (or the popular perception of its current guise).

Such certifications are merely an MOT test (Wikipedia: an annual test of automobile safety, roadworthiness aspects and exhaust emissions required for most vehicles over three years old used on public roads in the United Kingdom) for ITSM tools rather than a robust mechanism for ITSM tool selection. And if the vendor feedback is indicative it is merely the waving of a piece of mandatory paper rather than showing that a tool is “fit-for-purpose” as of right now.

To me the “popularity” of such schemes (and the way that they are currently used) raises a number of thoughts/questions:

  • I have to question what is driving the demand for verification in RFPs: is it ill-informed purchasing functions or ill-informed ITSMers? This definitely needs further analysis. The customer poll response says otherwise (again please note the perceived bias assumed on my part) but maybe it is a little too much of “no one was ever sacked for buying Microsoft/IBM/etc.”
  • Does anyone ever fail verification/certification? I hope that some do at least to give some semblance of reliability and credibility to such schemes. In the case of PinkVERIFY shouldn’t failed certifications also be listed on the Pink Elephant website? At least the OGC shows a few failures have happened BUT without naming names http://www.itil-officialsite.com/SoftwareScheme/EndorsedSoftwareTools/EndorsedSoftwareTools.aspx
  • Maybe the real value is in focusing on the differentiators? Is the number of processes verified an indicator of the tool’s capabilities or of the vendor’s marketing budget? Should it focus more on the uncommon processes? Or newer processes? At least some form of process differentiation (at a glance) would allow prospective buyers to step back from the fact that it is 10 verified processes to see which they really need to be supported. Customers should also be educated in the fact that more verified processes doesn’t mean it is a better tool (as the listing by process numbers suggests).
  • Ultimately, the ITSM community needs better educating in the value and use of, and the differences between, certification schemes such as PinkVERIFY and OGC endorsement. BUT, before this, there is still that bigger education need – that of understanding that the current method of creating RFPs and selecting vendors based on a cut-and-paste, ask-for-everything-possible-mentality is so, so flawed. I eventually hope to address this is in a formal piece of work, Forrester willing.

So that’s my 2 cents on ITSM tool verification. How about depositing yours with the Bank of ITSM Review?

This article has been contributed by Stephen Mann, Senior Analyst at Forrester Research.