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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The itSMF Norway conference – it’s the one that I want!

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itSMF Norway Conference

Last week I had a last minute opportunity to attend the itSMF Norway conference in Oslo, and I have to say the stress of booking a flight, packing a bag and leaving my house within the space of an hour was completely 100% worth it. This was easily one of the best ITSM events that I’ve ever attended, both in terms of quality of content and overall experience, and one that I would highly recommend to others.

It’s also worth noting that I say this without really experiencing the entire event, as there was many sessions in Norwegian that I couldn’t attend (my Norwegian is a little rusty you see) all of which received great praise from the more local attendees. I was particularly sad that I couldn’t attend the session by Henrik Aase as it was literally all anybody was talking about throughout day one. However, the good news is that we are going to work with itSMF Norway to get some of the Norwegian sessions written in English as ITSM Review articles.

I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to share some of the key takeaways, advice and tips coming out from the event, and so I hereby present to you my summary of some of the sessions that I attended along with general thoughts about the conference.

The conference key messages

Bearing in mind that I didn’t attend all of the sessions (my takeaways may differ to other attendees. However, from the sessions that I attended and my conversations with other delegates I found three key reoccurring messages:

  • We can’t keep ignoring DevOps. The benefits are too great to miss out on
  • Be honest in everything that we do, both with ourselves and with our customers
  • We must work on continual service improvement to maintain success

Interestingly, ITIL barely came up in any of the presentations that I attended, nor was I party to any conversations (bar a quick catch up with AXELOS) discussing ITIL. I know it was discussed during the “future of IT service management” panel at the end of day two, but by that time I’d left for the airport and so I only picked it up on Twitter. I found this particularly refreshing, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t get stuck in a conversation going round and round in circles on the topic of ITIL. In fact, I heard ‘COBIT’ mentioned more often than ‘ITIL’. Perhaps this says something about Norway’s adoption of the best practice framework (but I guess not given that the conference tagline was “ITIL – tell me more, tell me more”), or perhaps I just don’t understand ITIL in Norwegian (although I still question that I understand it in English).

However, a topic that did come up on a number of occasions was one that I’d not personally heard being discussed in a long time. Project and portfolio management (PPM) seemed to be a key focus for many of the delegates that I spoke with, with their primary reason being that it helps them make faster and better business decisions.  Again, this could speak more about the country than a new trend, but when I spoke with some of the international delegates they seemed to be in agreement of its new found importance.

Other messages

To avoid this particular article becoming incredibly long, over the course of this week I will publish supplementary articles of the key takeaways and advice from the following sessions:

We have also invited speakers to write articles based on their presentations, which we hope to publish over the coming weeks.

The conference itself

I could easily write paragraph after paragraph about just how good the itSMF Norway conference was, but for everyone’s sake I will try and summarize my thoughts in bullet points:

  • The content overall (granted I can’t really speak for the Norwegian sessions, but talk amongst the delegates leads me to believe that my assessment is fair) was far superior to anything that I have seen at any other ITSM event
  • The atmosphere was much nicer than at any other event I have ever attended. It was relaxed, laid back and fun – there were no stressed out organizers either, they enjoyed every second of the conference just as much as any other delegate
  • The theme was brilliant (although I don’t know how many more days I can take of continuously having “Summer Nights” stuck in my head) and was consistent throughout the event, from the sessions to the entertainment to the roaming hotdog vendors dressed in full 50s attire.
  • The organizers were wonderful, in control and most importantly ­– happy! P.S. Thanks for extending the services of your 50s hair and make up artist to me!
  • The food was yummy (this is huge praise from me, I never touch the food at conferences) – many will tell me this is irrelevant, but it’s all part of the event experience as far as I am concerned
  • The entertainment was fantastic (although there were a few groans from some who could understand the Norwegian “dinner entertainer” – i.e. not me – that he wasn’t on par with the standard of previous years).  Who knew that dancing to Grease tunes with Tobias Nyberg, Kaimar Karu, Dagfinn Krog, Andrea Kis, Rae Ann Bruno and a bunch of Norwegian people that I don’t know could be so much fun?

My only criticism of the event, which I (and others) have already shared with the organizers, and I am already 100% confident will be fixed for next year, was that for those of us who couldn’t understand Norwegian there were often long periods of time when we were left with no English content (two hours and 15 minutes each day to be exact). Whilst, I wouldn’t expect a Norwegian conference to be delivered 100% in English, as itSMF Norway has become a victim of it’s own success with more international attendees each year (I met with delegates from Finland, UK, USA, Italy, and Germany just to name a few), it would be nice to find a way to ensure that we could still benefit from the Norwegian sessions.

This conference easily has the scope to become one of the biggest itSMF events in Europe. It’s inexpensive to attend compared to other ITSM events (even with flights from long haul destinations) and the quality is of an exceptional standard. To be honest, even with the gaps for non-native speakers I will still be recommending this conference to everyone that I speak to.

If you want to learn, pick up practical advice, meet amazing people, and all whilst having a huge amount of fun then make sure you get your tickets booked to next year’s itSMF Norway conference. I know for a fact there is no way that I intend to miss it.