Back to basics: Why your change fell at the first hurdle

Stop
“If you don’t give us this information, we’ll make bad decisions which ultimately expose the business to unnecessary risk due to operational instability or sacrifice our responsiveness to changing business demands.”

Hands up if, as a change manager, you’ve seen some truly horrendous change requests?

Changes so mangled and broken that their only conceivable purpose could be to serve as a dreadful warning to other change requests to straighten up and get a job.

We are occasionally labelled as the ‘parking wardens of the ITSM world’. That’s not to say we’ll invent improbable and eye-watering fines, but we are on the lookout for likely offenders and we’ll be consciously (and sometimes subconsciously) assessing your change requests against a ‘bingo card’ of suspicious behaviour when giving each request an initial quality check.

Good quality changes present the right information to the right people to make the right decision – so what are common reasons for rejection at that first quality gate?

Dear Requestor – your change has been rejected because:

  • ‘N/A’. – Change forms are pretty generic, we get that – but the minimum we’re looking for here is a sensible reason why it isn’t applicable.
  • Risk/Impact = ‘None’ – If you’re touching production, I’d argue that the risk is never none. I’ll accept ‘negligible risk to production based on rehearsal test results’ or ‘no material impact to key business services; isolated on a separate vLAN’ but I’ve seen far too many ‘harmless’ changes killing production.
  • TBC’. – Ok, we’re not totally unreasonable, it takes time to get some information and we know you only had 20 minutes after identifying the need for change to get it in before the weekly CAB cutoff, but when will it be confirmed? What information are you waiting for? Will you have it in time for CAB?
  • Leaving blanks. If you’ve submitted it with key information missing (why, what, where, when, who & how) then we’d find it difficult to ask CAB to make a good decision based on missing information. Cover the basics well enough, and you might get occasional slight offences overlooked (especially if you arrive at CAB with delicious pastries).
  • Suspiciously short answers – ‘Rollback’ is not a remediation plan. ‘Rollback to last snapshot taken at start of deployment. Takes 10 mins, will cause an outage and need 30 mins further checks afterwards by the DBAs. Rollback has been used in the past with no issues’ is a much better starting point.
  • Suspiciously long answers – Just like the overdue motorist who starts winding up a long, complex and improbable excuse, if you’ve copied and pasted 37 pages of vendor release notes into a text field we’re going to examine the rest of the change even more carefully. By all means attach supporting documentation and give a summary. This one leads me directly to:
  • Change descriptions comprising only code – Look, I get that you’re smarter than me when it comes to development, query plans, subnetting, or many other fields of specialty. I’ve even had a change request comprising only an algorithm for a Kalman filter – which even experienced statisticians regard as voodoo. I’m looking for reasons to trust that you know what you’re doing when you raise a request. If you can wrap your code snippet in plain english to describe the problem it fixes and (at a high level) how, then we’re good. I’ll also understand more about your change which means I can help you make a case for it. We’d rather help than hinder.
  • “Step 1 – Do the change. The End.” If you look back at this in 6 months time, because a sneaky recurring problem started at about the same time and has been driving you insane trying to figure out what caused it, will you know what it was you did? And how do we trust that you really know what you’re doing? Even simple changes have more to them than ‘just do it’. (You’ll thank me for this at midnight on a friday in about a year from now.)

Here’s an example of an implementation plan for a really simple patch:

  1. Obtain patch from vendor site at www.vendor.site/patch-id=12345
  2. Extract binaries, verify release notes and checksum
  3. Check service & server monitoring for unexpected issues which may impact release. Escalate to Duty Ops Mgr if in doubt.
  4. Stop application service
  5. Deploy patch following (attached) vendor instructions with the following deviations [xxxxxxx]
  6. Check logfiles for [xxxxxxxx] errors
  7. Restart application service
  8. Check service & server monitoring after change
  9. Close change record and hand back to ops.

Why is missing a few bits of information such a drama?

Because change management is a decision game. And the only way to consistently win decision games is to make decisions based on the best information possible. If you don’t give us this information, we’ll make bad decisions which ultimately expose the business to unnecessary risk due to operational instability or sacrifice our responsiveness to changing business demands. Or to be brutally direct: garbage in, garbage out.

The Remedy

It’s unlikely that poor change requests are the result of malicious individuals (unless you’re really unlucky). It’s also overly-simplistic to call it laziness:

“Ordinary laziness was merely the absence of effort. Victor had passed through there a long time ago, had gone straight through commonplace idleness and out on the far side. He put more effort into avoiding work than most people put into hard labor.”
~ Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

I’ve witnessed requestors put more effort into arguing why they shouldn’t have to raise a change request than they have into following the process in the first place. Luckily, these events are the exception rather than the rule, but as change manager, ask yourself (or others for an objective view) these questions:

  1. Is the change process logical, efficient, intuitive and easy to understand? How about the form/tool they’re logged in?
  2. Are there any unnecessary bottlenecks that can be engineered out?
  3. Is your approach to managing change proportionate? Do you have lighter processes for simpler and less risky changes? Not just Standard (catalogue) changes, but minor technical one-off changes that may suffice with a peer review and change manager approval* and don’t need the full process?
  4. Do people know what a good change request looks like? Do you have ‘gold standard’ example change requests in the back of your policy/process document?
  5. In fact, do they know where to find the policy/process documents? (hint – put a link to them in your email signature)

(*for anyone aghast that the change manager can approve a change ex-CAB, check out the ITIL(R) (2011) Service Transition core publication in section 4.2.5.5 which in figure 4.5 shows an example of a graduated approval structure. Not all Normal changes necessarily have to go to CAB if that’s what you agree in your policy, based on risk & impact.)

If your processes, tools, forms and model changes are shining beacons of efficiency, clear simplicity and proportionate governance, then you likely have a training or cultural issue. Cultural issues are too complex for this article to deal with, but if you’ve studied frameworks such as ITIL, you’ll have an idea of how to sell the benefits of industry good practice to the people in charge, and you also have the option to create your own culture within Service Transition.

Training is an easier topic. Work out your most important message, stick to it and keep repeating it. Training problems will keep re-appearing as new staff arrive and as people forget, so keep your training materials handy and up to date. New staff induction training is one area to consider – you’ll get them whilst they’re still excited about their new job and keen to please. If this is impractical, then mandatory change training can be given before new users are allowed to raise change requests in the system. Weekly email tips/reminders is something else I’ve found to be useful in some situations.

If they still don’t get it

I’m often asked what to do about repeat offenders. An important message is that you are not here to knock down their changes or waste their time, you want to show them how they can create changes which can be processed quickly and efficiently.

I’ve seen HR policies and public shaming used to identify & punish people not following process. But apart from gross negligence, threatening to tell HR can have unpredictable results, and public shaming simply creates an unhealthy culture.

My graduated approach now is:

First Offence / Requests for help
Sit down with the requestor (geography permitting) and explain what needs to be improved and why. You can even help them (re)write it. It’s time well spent to show them the professional respect for their time that you’d want in return for the change process. If you can do this even before they submit their first change, so much the better. Prevention is, after all, better than cure.

A shot across the bows
Return it to the requestor with a short description of the gaps and a link to the process, policy and ‘gold standard’ example change. Offer to help if they’re struggling to articulate part of their change request; sometimes they might just need introducing to the relevant subject matter expert or someone who’s recently delivered a similar change.
Repeat this step at your discretion.

Defcon 3
Return it, but copying the requestor’s line manager as final warning informing them that the next step will lead to:

Sanctions
Remove the requestor’s ability to raise changes in the system via access control. It can only be reinstated by someone senior enough to cause the requestor discomfort in having to ask them.

I’ve rarely had to apply sanctions. But if handled correctly and objectively, it’s a proportionate response which is within the power of most Change Managers as a last resort.

And finally…

The parking warden analogy I opened with tells only half the story. It bears repeating that this isn’t about stopping requestors or making their lives difficult, it’s ultimately about protecting the business and responding to their needs. To do that we need to be able to make good decisions based on accurate and complete change request information as efficiently as possible.

Perhaps a better metaphor would be that of an Air Traffic Controller. We want you to land safely, but if you can’t evidence that know how, or if you list your destination as ‘Not Applicable’, then we’re not even going to let you start the engines, let alone get off the ground.

Image Credit

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.

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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.

The secret to change success – understanding multiple perspectives

People
People are both the problem and the answer

A recent Forrester consulting study (commissioned by automation vendor Chef and downloadable from their website at the link above) found that 40% of Fortune 1000 IT leaders report first time change success rates below 80% (or they simply didn’t know what the first time change success rate was at all), with another 37% stating their first time change success rate was between 80% and 95%.

In the same study, 69% of these same Fortune 1000 IT leaders report it takes them more than a week to make infrastructure changes, and an equal 69% report that it takes them more than a week to release application code into production (mind you that’s not to develop, test, and release the code, but just release code that’s already been written and tested!). Finally, 46% report that more than 10% of their incidents were self-inflicted from IT changes and, shockingly, 31% say they don’t even know what percentage of incidents are caused by changes!

Why Otherwise Capable IT Leaders Struggle with Change

What is going on in these IT shops to produce such bad numbers?  Based on my experience with a number of Fortune 1000 IT organizations, I’d like to think that these study participants are  just as smart and capable as the IT leaders and professionals I regularly meet with. They are well educated, very experienced (as are their teams), and nearly all of them have some form of change process, changes management software and a change advisory board to assess risks before changes are made. So, why isn’t this enough to produce better results?

I submit that there are two problems, which are actually related to each other.

Problem One

Our environments have become extremely complex. The dependencies and relationships across multi-tiered applications / business services are way more than what one individual can know fully – no matter how talented and how long they’ve been working there.

Trends like virtualization, agile development, cloud, mobile, big data, etc. are also making this even harder as IT moves faster and faster to respond to business needs and as innovative new technologies proliferate.

Problem Two

We aren’t effectively capturing the input from multiple perspectives during the change planning process so we aren’t effectively identifying and mitigating risks.

Think about how a typical change and release planning process goes. It starts with a request for a change and a change planner filling out an electronic form about it. They assign various people to review and approve the change and this step might include consulting with a spreadsheet, perhaps looking at Configuration Item (CI) information in a CMDB, and maybe calling a meeting or sending out an email or two.  In a lot of cases, those selected to participate in the review will include managers or more senior roles who don’t have a very good working knowledge of the operational environment, so they consult with their teams (or at least we hope they will) and eventually the change gets brought forward to the Change Advisory Board (CAB) for a formal approval. It may have taken a week, two weeks, a month or more just to get to this point.

Then the CAB, which is often made up of even more senior people, reviews the planned change. Often one of the CAB members will recognize that a key team or expert wasn’t included in the review process and “kicks it back” for further input and the change approval is rescheduled to a future CAB meeting.  Equally often there’s a lot of pressure from the business to make the change happen right away (it could be a new application release the business has been waiting for), it could be a security fix and “we just can’t allow ourselves to be exposed by delaying it”, or maybe it’s just a firmware upgrade to a router and the vendor has said “it’s no big deal”.   So the CAB says “go” and hopes everything works out okay, but a lot of times it simply doesn’t.

People Are Both The Problem And The Answer

By now you may have guessed that the way we engage people in the change process is not only the problem, but it’s also the solution. There’s a great quote from the MIT artificial intelligence expert, Marvin Minsky, that I think is very relevant here: “You don’t really understand something until you understand it more than one way.”

This is, in effect, what we try to do by assigning multiple reviewers and approvers to a change request, but the problem is that we often guess about whom the best people are to involve so we end up oversubscribing the list and inundating people with emails and meetings or we undersubscribe and leave out key individuals.

The information these people have to work from is also very fragmented. Yes, we have our CMDBs and CI information, but they’re often incomplete and not always trusted, so people fall back on their tribal knowledge, which may also be incomplete and out of date.  A lot of the time, we might intentionally leave out groups because we think that will slow things down, “Do we really need to involve the network team on a SAN upgrade? Why do we need security involved in a database patch?” The network might have a direct impact on the success of the SAN upgrade, because we might need to optimize network device settings to handle additional load to the SAN. That database we’re patching might contain sensitive customer data and the right patch procedure better be followed or we’ll create a compliance problem. So if we leave out people that may be necessary, we create unexpected ripple effects from our changes too.

Engaging Relevant Experts to Collaborate Is The Key

I suggest that there are two things we need to do in order to better engage the right people so we can improve first change success rates, speed the time to execute changes, and reduce incidents from changes:

  1. We need to know up front who the right people are to involve (and who not to involve as well), so we can be sure we include all the right perspectives (and don’t unnecessarily pull people off of what they are already working on as well)
  2. We need to arm those we involve with accurate information about upstream and downstream dependencies so they can make informed and quicker recommendations

As an industry, this is what we should be focused on rather than whether a strict approval process alone was followed. By enabling our experts to opt-in to the things they are responsible for and care about, they can be automatically identified and engaged when it comes time to plan a change .  We also need to take a lesson from academic journals and apply a peer review process to our CMDB data so we can increase trust in its use and fill in the gaps with the tribal knowledge of our experts, validating that both sets of information are accurate and up to date. With this type of an approach, we can have a much stronger basis for smarter change decision-making. This is exactly the type of approach we’re taking in my organization, and I invite you to check out what the ITSM Review team has to say about it.

Image Credit

Advice for Building Your House of Change Management

Winston Churchill
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” – Winston Churchill

It’s inevitable that we will encounter change throughout our personal and professional lives. New products are launched by businesses; people move house and football teams get promoted (but sadly not my beloved Derby County this season).

Many organisations will have some sort of Change process, but in my experience, that process is often applied rigidly to police implementations to the production environment; constrained by our ITSM tool; and is mired in bureaucracy leaving people to get bogged down – and sadly – miss its true value.

As IT professionals, we must be able to understand, plan for, adapt to, and deliver our customers’ needs whilst balancing quality, control, and conduct effective operation of our services. This is no mean feat.

What I want to share with you in this article is how you can build on your existing change process or processes and bring them together to help develop an end-to-end solution that works for you.

Meet the people

When I started looking at our existing change process, I quickly became concerned (and bored) reading a lot of documents ranging from lengthy procedural documents to copious meeting minutes.  As a Change Manager, if you struggle to make it most of the way through the documentation, you can’t expect everyone to follow and appreciate it.

I quickly realised that the best way to learn about – and gauge opinion on – the subject was to meet the people that carried it out – the IT professionals of the organisation. The easiest way to meet vast majority of people was by arranging informal 1:1 meetings; have impromptu chats over the water cooler and buying the odd coffee or two.

Additionally, be sure to meet your customers to understand their perception of how the IT department delivered their change-related needs.

Very quickly, you can get different pictures and interpretations of how a process works in practice just by talking to people. Equally, I was able to draw some common themes by getting responses along the lines of:

  • “We’re good at big projects but not at the smaller stuff”
  • “There is little or no documentation or communication”
  • “It’s quicker to code a solution than get anything done in our tool”
  • “There’s so many obstacles and bits paper to fill in”
  • “We only hear about a change when it’s about to go live or after the event”
  • “It’s just a box ticking exercise”

Quick Wins – Work with what you have

Against a backdrop of varied opinions, unwieldy documentation and difficulties with the tool, it’s easy to think there’s a mountain to climb!

So I looked at what low hanging fruit we could work on and developed a short term plan focusing on what small improvements I could make with the tools I had. Quick wins included:

  • Developing a few “Standard Change Templates” with a couple of teams for changes that were routine, repeatable and had known risk and impact.
  • Introducing a series of questions on the change records for people to complete – effectively giving them a script to follow covering the risk, impact and implementation surrounding the change.
  • Attending team meetings to demonstrate how to raise a change in the tool.
  • Sending out a fortnightly newsletter giving advice on how to complete change tickets, inviting people to make suggestions and so on.

Get Everyone Involved – Revolution by Evolution

As much as the quick wins helped, for the longer term, it was apparent we needed to not only improve on our Change Control Process but push the understanding that change starts a lot earlier than being simply ready to ‘go-live’.

In order to achieve this, I needed resource and senior management support to make it happen. That is when I developed the idea for a “Change Away Day” which included:

  • Representatives of all teams within the IT department with a variety of experience in the change process
  • A proposal to Senior Management outlining the issues, setting objectives for workshop and providing a timeline of not only the day – but the next 3-6 months.
  • A basic introduction to Change Management replacing the jargon with a theme people can relate to. We used the idea of building or moving house:
    • “What” (are my requirements) i.e. where do I want to live?
    • “How” (am I going to design it) i.e. architects will to design it with me before any trenches are dug by the builders
    • “Why” (do I want to live there) i.e. assess and evaluate things that you like and dislike; the local schools; getting a mortgage and so on
    • “When” (is it going to happen) and “Who” (is involved in delivering it) i.e. you can’t move overnight and will need some help to do it
    • “Quality” (is it fit for purpose) i.e. do we have a safety certificate, are the utilities working and so on?
    • “Approval” i.e. those final checks like exchanging contracts, moving van ready and packing your bags
    • Guest speakers from department covering other processes and how they interact with Change Management – in this case, Testing and Solution Design Assurance.
    • Lunch!
    • A range of activities that:
      • helped with the learning;
      • reviewed the current change control process
      • developed principles to incorporate Change Management into the earlier lifecycle of development and projects

As away-days can be expensive from a time, resource and cost perspective, a series of follow up meetings – lasting no more than an hour -were held over the next couple of months to review, improve and ratify specific changes to the process.

From Change Control to Change Governance

After the workshops were complete, the main principle was that Change had a start point, a delivery mechanism and an end point. From this, we developed a Framework to incorporate processes that were involved with these principles, namely:

The Start Point

  • RFC Review – a mechanism to initially capture customer demand and suggest its feasibility, size and so on

Change Delivery

  • For large changes requiring effort this could become a formal project following the established Project Management process
  • For smaller changes, we would look to group these together as releases.
  • It is possible for projects and releases to overlap for delivery – but this is a subject for another time

The End Point

  • Before implementation of any change to the live environment, the existing Change Control process had to be followed to obtain final approval.
  • We also use the opportunity to realise the following improvements including:A new CAB structure with specifically invited attendees and a new agenda format
  • A Risk & Impact Calculator to help score changes in terms of “Technical Risk” and “Service Impact”
  • The increased use of Standard Change Templates

Underpinning Strategies & Processes

  • A broad summary of the areas that need to be engaged or considered as part of any Change-related delivery.

framework

Sealing (and documenting) the Deal

This is arguably the most important point, without engaging people; the re-launch was never going to get out of the starting blocks. The key points and activities to consider were:

  • Presenting back to Senior and Middle Management the key points and what they have gotten for committing time and resource
  • It’s important to treat changes to processes like any other change – I took this to CAB for review and approval before implementing and communicating the framework. After all, you cannot expect people to follow processes if you do not lead by example!
  • Tailor the communication to your audience – for me, I identified three types and the level of information they needed:
    • Partnering and Project Management – a group consisting of Business Relationship people – received a strategic overview of the Framework that incorporated their processes
    • Implementers – typically technical staff involved in developing, raising, assessing and implementing changes –  received an overview the framework, their responsibilities within the process and the changes to Change Control
    • Impacted teams – (teams impacted by change implementation e.g. Service Desk) –received a high level overview of the framework, how/where to find information about upcoming changes and why it matters
    • Documentation needs to be succinct and will have varying levels of detail, specifically for us, we produced:
      • Change Policy – the overarching document covering the Framework, the processes and the “rules of engagement”
      • Processes that were straightforward documents combining the high level process flows with simple procedures for each step required. Areas included:
        • RFC Review – an initiation process owned by the IT Business Partners to bring customer’s request for change to receive a quick review or ‘first pass’ by Technology experts in terms of strategy, estimates and being worthwhile.
        • Project Management – the formal methodology for delivering projects
        • Release Management – for combining and scheduling the build, test and deployment of changes
        • Change Control – to implement a change to the production environment.
  • Training Guide – short and to the point – these were given as small A5 hand-outs to staff involved at different levels of the process.

Summing up

  • Don’t let Change Management become restricted to ONLY the production environment. It’s important to protect it, but it’s even more important to help plan and facilitate change at the beginning rather than the end.
  • There is more than one “CAB” – keep in mind that throughout the lifecycle of a change it will be reviewed, rejected and approved many times at the Business, Project and Technology levels before it is ready for implementation.
  • Play the game – as a Change Manager, you will be expecting people to follow the rules for technology, and it’s only fair you do the same for process.
  • Make sure you baseline – be pragmatic about what you can achieve and be transparent about what is in scope. For example, we started off with formal Change Control for a couple of years, then brought in the Framework and are now working on linking it to Release Management.
  • Get everyone involved – by engaging people at the beginning, it makes the improvement process a lot easier – especially when’s “for them, by them”

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Running Your Change Management Process

"When implementing Changes it’s not just a case of hitting a bit red button and shouting “fly my pretties, fly” to an imaginary army of flying monkeys"
“When implementing Changes it’s not just a case of hitting a bit red button and shouting “fly my pretties, fly” to an imaginary army of flying monkeys”

Following on from my previous post about surviving implementation, here’s some advise on running your Change Management process aka The Day Job.

In Change Management your key areas to focus on are:

  • Recording and processing the Change
  • Change assessment
  • Change Advisory Board (CAB)
  • Build and Test
  • Implement
  • Review

Raising the Change

So first up; recording the Change. Ensure your Change Management policy covers who can request a Change i.e. can anyone raise a Change? Just IT? What about the business? Each organisation will be different but one thing to keep in mind is making sure your policy gives clear guidelines on the difference between a Change and a Service Request i.e. with Request Fulfilment ends and where Change Management begins.

Create a Change form so that Changes can be raised in a standard way. It’s really important to have consistent information in your Change requests so when reviewing and approving Changes, you have all the facts needed to make the right decision for your customers. If you have a sparkly, all powerful toolset to do it for you then happy days. If not, and there are lots of organisations just getting started with Change Management, then it’s time to get creative. In the past, I’ve set up Change request forms using Word or Excel (tweet me if you would like to see some examples).

Things to consider for your form:

  • —  Title
  • —  Description
  • —  Reason
  • —  Service affected
  • —  Impacted Cis
  • —  Will the CMDB (if you have one)  need to be updated afterwards
  • —  Risk
  • —  Implementation windows
  • —  Implementation teams
  • —  Pre implementation testing
  • —  Implementation plan
  • —  Post implementation verification
  • —  Back out plan
  • —  Impact to other environments
  • —  Will the change be replicated to your DR environment?

You need to have a lifecycle approach for raising Changes for example; the process for a standard Change will be very different to an emergency, sorting something out in the middle of the night type Change. Ensure this ties back in to your policy with criteria and examples so there’s no confusion.

Look at how Changes are classified and prioritised. If every Change is urgent, high priority, which one do you implement first? Classification is also really important – make your Change owners accountable for risk and impact assessments. If your company or Change Management tool has a Risk calculator use it  as it enables  Change requestors to assign a tangible risk to the Change (it removes the “if in doubt click medium” behaviour type) if not, I have some templates that I can share.

Change Assessment

Next up is our old friend, the Change Assessment stage. This is the initial check that the Change is reasonable and makes sense, a sanity check if you will. Sounds obvious but unfortunately you can’t teach common sense. On one memorable occasion, I was reviewing a list of Changes on my pre-CAB FSC and one jumped out at me. The Change was to move a business critical server from a secure Data Centre environment to the Server technician’s desk. The Change justification? “My little legs are getting tired from walking to the server room all the time”. Needless to say words were had and the Change was removed from the schedule (I just wish I’d taken a screen shot).

Things to bear in mind when assessing a Change are benefits, both technical and to the business. There’s no point in having the newest most gadgetastic server is the world if your end users don’t see any benefit from it. Really think about the risk involved with the proposed activity for example:

  • Number of people affected
  • Financial
  • Regulatory
  • Reputational
  • Loss of productivity
  • Downtime
  • Seasonal considerations

Make sure you have clear assessment criteria for managing Changes. Some examples could include:

  • Pre implementation testing – how do we know this Change will go as planned?
  • Deployment plan – does it make sense, if other teams are involved are they aware and do we have contact details for them? Are there any dodgy areas where we might need check point calls or additional support to mitigate risk?
  • Post implementation verification – ok we’ve done the Change, how do we make sure everything is as it should be?
  • Back out plan – hope for the best but prepare for the worst. What happens if something goes wrong on the night? Do we fix on fail or roll back? Are the Change implementers empowered to make a decision or is escalation needed?
  • Impact to other environments – “who cares about other environments?” I hear you ask. Let Aunty Vawns tell you why it matters from personal experience. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away I worked for a large investment bank in the city. A code Change to one of the most business critical systems (the market data feed to our trade floors) took longer than expected so instead of updating both the production and DR environments, only the production environment was updated. The implementation team planned on updating the DR environment but got distracted with other operational priorities. Fast forward to 6 weeks later, a crisis hits the trading floor, the call is made to invoke DR but we couldn’t because our market data services were out of sync. Cue a hugely stressful 2 hours where the whole IT organisation and its mum desperately scrambled to find a fix and an estimated cost to the business of over $8 million. Lesson more definitely learned that day.

The CAB

So we’ve raised our Change and sanity checked it to make sure what we’re planning on implementing is sensible and won’t, you know, set anything on fire. The next step is the Change Advisory Board or CAB. When setting up your CAB, make sure you have a clear Terms of Reference statement which will give attendees a steer on how to prepare, good meeting behaviours and how to represent Changes effectively.

Not every Change has to go to CAB. In fact, I’d say you should use CAB for your big, complicated Changes that would have a major impact on the business. Monthly, BAU server patching? That’s a candidate for a standard Change. Keep CAB simple and uncluttered with an agenda that deals with Changes that are high risk, major impacting or have lots of complicated detail. Make sure the right people turn up and that all areas are represented (don’t forget Security if you have any ISO 27001 or NGN regulatory requirements).

An effective CAB agenda could look something like this:

  • Review of implemented Changes
  • Incidents (or if time is short Major Incidents) caused by Change
  • Lessons Learned
  • Forward schedule of Change
  • Candidates for templates / standard Changes
  • Improvements / CSI
  • Good news stories

Remember, CABs don’t have to be a 2 hour meeting where everyone is locked in a conference room. Look at Agile or Lean on how you can make efficiency savings, consider virtual Cabs where you can approve most things via your toolset and make full use of technology such as conference calls, WebEx’s or Skype.

The next stage of the process is Build & Test. The first thing to look at is developing standard build methods. Use automation where appropriate, it saves duplication work, reduces the probability of human area and the economies of scale can be huge. If automation is too expensive, ensure build methods are well documented and templated where possible.

Look at your testing environments and ensure they are fit for purpose. Every organisation will have different needs but when looking at this – do you have enough to cover your operational work eg a live environment for production work, a DR environment in case the worst happens and an environment dedicated to testing and training? If you are limited do you have a booking system in place so that testing / training / dev time can be allocated fairly?

What about Changes to non production environments? Are they covered by your Change process? Is there a monthly environment refresh just in case?

How do you test Changes before go live. Is it Bob from the Server team saying – “this’ll do” or so you have something more formal in place. Are the business willing to help support with Change testing? Getting the business to support testing can have huge benefits. One client I worked with has huge challenges with keeping the Marketing department happy with Changes that they had requested to the company website. The Marketing team didn’t provide any post Change validation and the amount of backed out Changes to the website or emergency Changes to fix errors such as typos were common place. By engaging with the Marketing team and asking for someone to be available for a set 20 minute period of the Change window (we called it the smoke testing phase) our effectiveness increased and so did our customer engagement.

When implementing Changes it’s not just a case of hitting a bit red button and shouting “fly my pretties, fly” to an imaginary army of flying monkeys (although that would be so cool). A professional approach and great communication are key to making this stage a success.

First up, your Change Schedule (aka your Forward Schedule of Change or FSC). Make sure it’s easily accessible to your stakeholders so stored somewhere central that’s easy to navigate. Make sure it’s dynamic and relevant – otherwise you risk your data being obsolete within minutes of hitting the print button. Make sure it’s fit for purpose, states what Changes are being carried out, when and by which Service. You don’t need expensive toolsets for this; you can do it in Excel.

Something that goes hand in hand with your FSC is your Projected Service Availability or PSA. Yes, I know ITIL 3 insists on calling it a PSO (Projected Service Outage) but lets not frighten the horses. Planned Service Availability implies we’ve got this. Everything is planned, tested and safe; you have nothing to worry about. In contrast PSO just says downtime. What do our customers not like? Downtime – no matter how well planned out. Again, Excel can be your friend here, keep it simple, a list of your Services – green for those that are up and running, amber for those due some maintenance time.

When looking at Change windows ensure they have been agreed in advance with the business and that they are codified as maintenance windows on any SLAs. Try and negotiate pre-approved Change slots where possible eg the third Thursday of every month between 22:00 and 01:00 we will be doing security patching. If you know in advance that a Change needs to take place outside the usual Change window – ask nicely! If you’re really good you might be able to get some SLAs relaxed so that as an organisation, you’re not penalised for carrying out break / fix work.

Change Reviews

Finally, we have the Review stage. We’ve done our Change and everything has (hopefully) gone to plan. So let’s carry out a review of our implemented Changes. When things go well, brilliant! You have new candidates for standard Changes, work instructions or templates. If things go badly or you really do end up setting something on fire then let’s look at how we can do better next time. Carry out a Change review to look at what happened, what went wrong, what was the root cause, how did we fix it and how do we stop it from happening again? Involve Incident & Problem Management here as they have super powers in these areas. Above all you want your lessons learned to be captured, discussed and acted on. This could be a regular agenda at CAB meetings or form part of a Service Improvement Plan or SIP.

When reviewing Changes look at the benefits. In terms of business benefits, did we achieve the expected results? Have we got any customer feedback? We also need to look at the technical benefits i.e. have we increased stability, added resilience or fixed any Known Errors. If we have – brilliant – tell the Service desk so they can let our customers know.

Final Points

I’d like to finish by saying that Change Management really is a critical process for managing controlling and protecting your live environment. As Change Managers we get to ask all the hard or awkward questions but on the bright side, we’re usually the first to know about cool new projects or sparkly new gadgets. Keep smiling, it will be fine. And if it isn’t, tweet me, I’m always happy to help!

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Change, Configuration and Release Review – The results (2014)

CCRThis is a competitive review of software vendors who offer Change, Configuration and Release capabilities as part of their IT service management (ITSM) solution.

Products reviewed:

Change, Configuration and Release 2014 Best in Class

ITinvolve has taken huge strides in the ITSM arena with Service Manager by embracing the adage “knowledge is power”.  We feel that the developments that ITinvolve Service Manager has made with the fundamentals of knowledge and collaboration, ensuring that all relevant information is available to the right people at the right time (and in a straightforward way), enables risk assessment capabilities that far outweigh those of other ITSM solutions. This provides increased value to its Change, Configuration and Release capabilities.

Change, Configuration and Release Review Best in Class: ITinvolve
Change, Configuration and Release Review Best in Class: ITinvolve

The way that these capabilities support and mold Change, Configuration and Release creates a product that gives control, intelligence and awareness back to the IT organisation.

Offered as a SaaS-only solution, ITinvolve states that Service Manager integrates with discovery products, and we feel proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.

Best for On-Premise

For those organisations looking for Change, Configuration and Release capabilities in an on-premise solution then Cherwell Service Management® would be our recommendation (please note that Cherwell Service Management® is also available as a SaaS solution).

We believe that Cherwell Service Management® has the functionality the vast majority of organisations require to operate an efficient and successful management of Change, Configuration and Release processes.

Introduction

The only thing constant in life is change, and this is never truer than in an IT organisation.

In order to get a handle on the myriad of modifications and developments occurring within IT many organisations turn to frameworks, such as ITIL, for guidance on best practice.  Change, Configuration and Release Management are three processes that group together favourably and are a valuable continuance for businesses unsure where to progress following successful adoption of Incident, and in some cases Problem Management.

  • Configuration Management is the process used to track individual Configuration Items (CIs) and the way in which they interact with one another
  • Change Management is the process used to track and communicate any changes in service that may impact the customer, such as when systems are taken offline for updates
  • Release Management is the process of managing software releases from development right through to release

Each process can be used individually, but more often than not you will find these processes intertwined.  For example, when considering either a Change or Release you will need to know the CI’s that will be affected before you begin.

As listed above it is ITSM Review’s opinion that Configuration should come first.  We believe that if you can get Configuration right then Change and Release will be infinitely more straightforward.  Establishing that any prospective ITSM tool can record all information for a CI in an easy-to-document-and-locate approach will minimise risk both to individuals and the organisation as a whole.

Too often we see cases where needless mistakes occur during the management of Change and Release due to critical information not being easily accessible.  Upon investigation the result is usually that the documentation was circulated and then filed away with the expectation that it would be read in infinite detail and re-read upon any future modifications of said item.  There are several issues with this:

  • There is a finite amount of time in a day to read the multitude of documents one comes across
  • There is a finite amount of storage within a brain to remember which items have related documents squirreled away
  • People only know what they know

You can blame individuals after mistakes occur by stating that documentation should have been sought out, or you can employ processes that take the guess work (and leg work) out of the equation in conjunction with using an ITSM tool that offers up the information to the right people at the right time.

In this review we have looked at a range of ITSM products covering Change, Configuration and Release Management, targeting all market sizes.

Market Positioning (Target Market Size)

For the purposes of this review, vendors were classified based on their primary market focus, and product capabilities.

Vendor Small Medium Large Very Large
Axios 0% 0% 75% 25%
Cherwell 1% 14% 65% 20%
ITinvolve 0% 75% 12.5% 12.5%
TOPdesk 35.32% 53.63% 10.47% 0.54%

Approach

Vendor On Premise/Saas Separate Release Module Discovery Tool own/Third Party
Axios Both No Both (version dependent)
Cherwell Both No Both
ITinvolve Saas No Third Party
TOPdesk Both No Both (version dependent)

Competitive Overview

Vendor Elevator Pitch Strengths Weaknesses
Axios Axios assyst is a solid, mature and well-rounded tool marketed towards organisation with 1,000+ end users.The functionality and design of assyst provides the ability to manage both simple and complex workflow processes to support the management of change and request.Available both as a SaaS solution and on premise – with concurrent and named licenses – assyst provides a flexible model to fit around your business.
  • Relationships between configuration items, services and users are clearly displayed via a visual impact explorer
  • Drag and drop calendar functionality
  • Easy to collaborate on changes etc., reducing the need for the use of external software
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
Cherwell Cherwell Service Management is a functionality-rich and user-friendly tool.The flexibility of Cherwell Service Management allows customers to automate existing change and configuration processes without the need to compromise the status quo to fit around the tool.With Cherwell Choice concurrent licensing and flexible hosting model, you can choose what works best for your business — Pay-as-you-go or perpetual license,.  Hosted on-premise, by Cherwell or by a third party.
  • Offers multiple ways to achieve the same outcome (e.g. creating a change request) meaning that users can work whichever way best suits them and their requirements
  • Mature change calendar with drag and drop functionality and ability to create changes direct from the calendar view
  • Robust collision detection
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
ITinvolve ITinvolve Service Manager is a progressive and ambitious product.Uniquely combining knowledge capture, analysis, and social collaboration, Service Manager proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.Saas based, Service Manager is licenced per user with an additional annual cost for the platform.
  • Advanced and proactive delivery of knowledge
  • Dynamic identification, analysis and engagement of changes
  • Key settings can be recorded against individual items/objects and are immediately obvious from all areas of the application
  • No drag and drop or create functionality from within the calendar
TOPdesk TOPdesk 5 is a visually pleasing and easy to navigate tool.TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different sized organisations. All products include extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning resources.Web-based hosted as a service or on-site Service Management software, TOPdesk has made the transition from IT into Facilities Management and HR.
  • Tabbed working (ability to have more than one active record open at a time)
  • Attractive GUI which will be appealing to the wider business
  • Form Designer is not available to customers of the Professional version
  • No drag and drop capability on change/release calendar
  • Blackout and maintenance windows not created against Configuration Item (CI) or Service but instead in the Event and Actions module

Customers

customers-graph

Analysis

Vendor Functionality Competitive Differentiators Analysis
Axios Mature, well-rounded tool covering the larger end of the ITSM market with solid change, configuration and release functionality with strong risk assessment capabilities.
  • All ITSM process integrated into one app – non-modular
  • Visual Impact Explorer provides clear graphical views of infrastructure and relevant relationships
  • Drag and drop change/release process design
Assyst offers solid change, configuration and release functionality with strong risk assessment capabilities. I therefore believe that it is a good offering for both large and enterprise organisations with moderate to mature change processes in place.
Cherwell Functionality rich and user friendly tool ensures that no matter how you want to do something you’re likely to be able to do it.
  • Fully integrated management processes that are 100% configurable against an organisation’s current and future service request models, without the need to write a single line of code via programming or scripting services
  • Integrated Platform as a Service (PaaS) technology to empower users to easily develop and deliver integrated business services offerings
  • Quick, easy, and seamless system upgrades, as well as low cost of ownership for on-going system management overheads
Unless you are an organisation with advanced or complex release management requirements, I highly recommend that you consider Cherwell Service Management as your tool of choice.
ITinvolve Progressive, ambitious and agile product with exceptional use of knowledge and collaboration to underpin Change, Configuration and Release as well as all other processes.
  • Comprehensive understanding of not only configuration dependencies but also compliance and key settings
  • Dynamic identification and engagement of all relevant change stakeholders with facilitated collaboration and risk assessment prior to formal change approval workflows
  • Knowledge is proactively delivered to IT staff in the context of the change/release being created/worked on
Despite the lack of drag and drop and create option functionality from within the calendar, regardless of the size of your organisation I strongly believe that you can’t go wrong with considering ITinvolve Service Manager as your ITSM solution for Change, Configuration and Release.
TOPdesk Modern, attractive and easy to navigate tool which is likely to appeal to the wider business as well as IT.
  • Integrates multiple support processes into a unified system, which can be used by the wider business
  • Licensing structure is based on the number of end users rather than operators
  • Comprehensive and modular solution that allows customers to add new processes as they grow
If you are a purely reactive IT organisation, of basic to moderate maturity, with a low to medium number of change requests, then the Enterprise or Ultimate offering of TOPdesk 5 would be a suitable candidate for your organisation.

Deep Dive

Further details for each vendor can be found by using the links below:

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

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

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

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

For further information, please read the ‘Group Tests’ section, on our Disclosure page.

Review: TOPdesk for Change, Configuration and Release

Logo TOPdesk Service Management Simplified CMYKTOPdesk

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch TOPdesk 5 is a visually pleasing and easy to navigate tool.TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different-sized organisations. All products include extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning resources.Web-based hosted as a service, or on-site Service Management software, TOPdesk has made the transition from IT into Facilities Management and HR.
Strengths
  • Tabbed working (ability to have more than one active record open at a time)
  • Attractive GUI which helps make the product simple to use and requires no coding experience
Weaknesses
  • Form Designer is only available to customers in the Enterprise version
  • No drag and drop capability on change/release calendar
  • Blackout and maintenance windows not created against Configuration Item (CI) or Service but instead in the Event and Actions module
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, TOPdesk markets to organisations ranging from small (-100 users) to very large, multi-national companies (10,000+ users)

Commercial Summary

Vendor TOPdesk
Product TOPdesk
Version reviewed 5
Date of version release 2012
Year founded 1993
Customers 4,000+
Pricing structure The licensing structure is based on the number of end users that the customer wishes to support with the software. This structure allows customers to have an unlimited number of agents, operators and technicians working on the tickets themselves.Both on-premise installations and SaaS options, hosted by TOPdesk, are available.
Competitive differentiators
  • Shared Service Management and One-Stop-Shop application integrates multiple support processes into a unified system, which can be used by multiple departments either coupled with IT or independently within the business
  • Licensing structure is based on the number of end users rather than operators
  • Comprehensive and modular solution that allows customers to add new processes as they grow

Independent Review

With a modern and attractive interface TOPdesk 5 will likely appeal to the wider business, as well as IT, due to its differing from the usual use of the Windows Explorer-style in favour of a more intuitive GUI.  Whilst most ITSM tool vendors are now looking at ways to enable the integration of their tools outside of IT, in my opinion TOPdesk has been involved in leading the way in a shift towards Enterprise Service Management (ESM).

Our impression of the tool is that the Enterprise edition would be suitable for organisations with a basic to moderate maturity of change/release process with low to medium volume.  The choice to create actions in the Event and Alert module to notify of blackout and maintenance windows after the change has been requested, seems like an afterthought, and is the primary reason why we would not recommend the tool to organisations with a high maturity of change/release.

Without Form Designer, which lets you design your own forms ensuring you gather the correct information, the Professional edition lacks, what we believe, should be basic functionality. However, the processes link well together and the GUI is intuitive, with the ability to create new changes etc. from most areas without the need to navigate away from the current page.

In ITSM Review’s opinion, TOPdesk 5 is a solid ITSM tool, but unfortunately change and release is not its strongest area.  Our recommendation to TOPdesk would be to add Form Designer to its basic offering and to make a few changes to the change calendar (such as: creation of changes from calendar view and drag and drop of change requests) as well as to revise how maintenance and blackout windows function in all editions. This would then ensure that the tool is better suited to organisations with more complex change/release requirements.

General

As with a number of other tools included in this review, TOPdesk 5 combines release with change and the Project Management module (available to Enterprise customers) can also be used to plan releases.

TOPdesk has two offerings: Professional (basic) and Enterprise (standard). The Professional package allows customers to choose the modules, functions and processes that they require, paying only for what they need but with the flexibility to add new processes as they grow. However, as not all modules are available in Professional, should you wish to implement telephony integration, log or update calls on the go, or run surveys for continuous improvement then you will need to upgrade to the Enterprise offering.

TOPdesk states that Change, Configuration and Release are offered as part its Enterprise package. However for potential customers investigating capabilities, we feel that the website lacks clarity as to the inclusion of Configuration and Release as part of its offering. Furthermore, in our opinion little information is provided as to what functionalities can be included as part of the Professional package. It is therefore our recommendation that potential customers contact TOPdesk directly to discussion their Change, Configuration and Release requirements.

Change

As with the other processes in TOPdesk 5, change is easy to access from every screen.  The change record can be linked from incidents, problems, known errors etc. and provides a very good overview of the history of the issue. Change workflow can be configured to create a variety of change types dependent upon the processes an individual organisation has set up.

Configurable dashboards make change management easy to monitor with various widgets available to show you the relevant information you need, such as all current changes awaiting approval etc.  Dashboards can be set on a role-by-role basis giving an “at a glance” view to workload.

Although there are no change templates available out-of-the-box, TOPdesk states that these can be easily created by the customer and copied.

If your role requires you to wear more than one hat i.e. not just Change Manager, then TOPdesk 5 could be useful to you.  TOPdesk 5 has tabbed working that means that you can work on other areas (such as raising an incident) even if you are in the middle of creating a long and complicated change.  This is something that we personally feel is missing from a lot of tools in the market offering Change, Configuration and Release, and is an extremely useful component not just in change but all aspects of working in a busy IT department.

Configuration

For discovery and inventory within TOPdesk you can either use the additional network scanning tool “TOPsis” or integrate with a third party application.  There is also a Barcode scanner module available to Enterprise customers, which enables you to scan a room and attach labels to an item or object, with all relevant data being sent to directly to TOPdesk.

CI forms are fully configurable within Form Designer . The Form Designer allows customers to design forms for calls and requests for change, enabling them to determine which information must be filled in. Whilst Form Designer is part of the Enterprise package, we were surprised to find that this basic functionality is not included as part of the Professional edition. With many other tools containing similar functionality to Form Designer as part of their basic offerings we believe that TOPdesk needs to revisit its decision to not include Form Designer as part of its basic package.

The links wizard allows CI’s to be linked to changes, incidents etc. and each CI has a tab showing a trail of all operation changes.  It is possible within this tab to access all linked records by double clicking or single clicking for a quick overview.

Calendar    

Although TOPdesk 5 does not have the most basic of change calendars it’s not the most advanced either.

Creating blackout and maintenance windows is not as straightforward as it could be.  Rather than creating a window against a CI or a Service that would show on the calendar, these need to be created within the Events and Actions module (available in all versions), which triggers an email after submission dependant upon the parameters set.  We don’t think that it would be an inconvenience if you could go straight to the calendar, check the dates and then create the change from there, but unfortunately this is also not possible.

We feel that were we customers of TOPdesk, we would be frustrated by the toing and froing required to check dates and create requests.

There is also no drag & drop capability for changes on the calendar.  This is certainly by no means a deal breaker, but in the interest of making life as easy as possible for the user this is a possible enhancement TOPdesk could make in the future.

Approvals

Multiple activities can be created within a change, with different tasks involved that have specific time constraints.

Approvers and evaluators of changes can be person or role based.  There are fully customisable drag and drop workflow approval paths, which can be as simple or as complex as your organisation requires with the option for single and CAB approval.

Notifications or emails are automatically sent to approvers with details of the change request and these can be responded to via email or within the tool itself.

In Summary

If you are a purely reactive IT organisation, of basic to moderate maturity, with a low to medium number of change requests, then the Enterprise offering of TOPdesk 5 would be a suitable candidate for your organisation.

In Their Own Words:

TOPdesk develops ITIL-aligned Service Management Software for IT, Facilities Management, and eHRM helpdesks and is among the top five service management tools offered worldwide. Our award-winning solution, along with our ITIL verified consultants and outstanding customer support has helped over 4,000 unique customers to process questions, complaints and malfunctions. With over 20 years of service management experience, we have assisted businesses, to optimize their services with our 100% web-based and user-friendly application. TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different sized organisations. TOPdesk can be hosted as a Service or can be installed on-site. All products include: extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning your resources. Every day, millions of users across 47 countries trust in TOPdesk as their service management solution. Raising your service levels and reducing your workload and costs have never been easier.

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Review: ITinvolve for Change, Configuration and Release [BEST IN CLASS]

logoITinvolve

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch ITinvolve Service Manager is a progressive and ambitious product.Uniquely combining knowledge capture, analysis, and social collaboration, Service Manager proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.Saas based, Service Manager is licenced per user with an additional annual cost for the platform.
Strengths
  • Advanced and proactive delivery of knowledge
  • Dynamic identification, analysis and engagement of changes
  • Key settings can be recorded against individual items/objects and are immediately obvious from all areas of the application
Weaknesses
  • No drag and drop or create functionality from within the calendar
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, ITinvolve primarily targets the medium to enterprise market

Commercial Summary

Vendor ITinvolve
Product ITinvolve Service Manager
Version reviewed Winter ‘14
Date of version Release December 2013
Year Founded 2011
Customers 8 current customers using ITinvolve Service Manager
Pricing Structure The licencing structure is based on IT users, Business users, i.e. approvers, and Portal users with pricing set accordingly. Service Manager is SaaS-based.
Competitive Differentiators
  • Comprehensive understanding of not only configuration dependencies but also compliance and key settings
  • Dynamic identification and engagement of all relevant change stakeholders with facilitated collaboration and risk assessment prior to formal change approval workflows
  • Knowledge is proactively delivered to IT staff in the context of the change/release being created/worked on

Independent Review

ITinvolve seem to be heading in a slightly different direction to the other vendors in this Change, Configuration and Release review, which is refreshing to see. With emphasis for the other vendors being on broadening the scope into the wider business (outside IT), ITinvolve’s “Agility Application” is focusing on its use within IT and concentrating on helping to take the hard work out of capturing undocumented information, the “collective wisdom” – known by some but not easily accessible by all.

This product is far more dynamic than any of the others in this review and hits the knowledge management angle far harder than anyone else.  If our experience within IT has taught us anything it’s that you can have the best quality knowledge documented but if it’s not immediately available to you it’s not very useful. Ensuring that intelligence is not just recorded, but is immediately accessible to those that need it, as and when they need it, without the need to search through hordes of documentation is key to mature and successful ITSM.  With knowledge management nailed everything else seems infinitely easier and more straightforward.

Change, Configuration and Release work smoothly and effectively in this product.  The collaboration component and Key Settings establish a clear understanding of the needs of the IT department. In my view, doing both these two things exceptionally well, as ITinvolve Service Manager does, supports and benefits all other processes within the product.

In ITSM Review’s opinion ITinvolve Service Manager (hereafter referred to as “Service Manager”) would be suitable for organisation of all sizes, especially the more “forward-thinking market” looking to bring a more proactive way of distributing knowledge to the right audience in order to reduce risk and speed time to execution for change, configuration and release activities.

General

As with other tools in this review, release and changes are both created from within the change area of the tool, but with the difference here being that ITinvolve also handles releases as individual change items within a change record rather than just as a change.

Service Manager is built on the Salesforce1 platform and leverages the APIs, data integration facilities, and connectors available to integrate with third party systems such as discovery tools, CMDBs, systems management tools, etc.

Change

Service Manager supports pre-approved, normal and emergency change with the facility to configure these to your organisational needs.

The interesting thing about the way Service Manager works compared to other tools is that it gives interested parties a chance to weigh in on change requests before they go to the approval stage.  Proactive identification, analysis and engagement of changes ensures that everyone that needs consulting is consulted – avoiding the all to common “loop” where changes are brought forward to the CAB only to be pushed back for further analysis.

Service Manager is built with collaboration capabilities throughout, including the ability to follow particular items (which ITinvolve calls objects) such as applications, policies, and infrastructure components if you have a vested interest in them. Users can build a perspective (think of a “hot” Visio diagram) that includes all the objects valuable to their role rather than having to filter through information. This, in turn, enables the ITinvolve application to recommend the relevant experts to change planners for change, configuration and release activities.

These stakeholders are then able to collaborate virtually with one another on the change, adding or removing associations with other objects and engaging other stakeholders as necessary. The visual impact analysis is continuously updated during this activity, helping collaborators to easily see potential upstream and downstream impacts.

Additionally, any key setting information, policy information, or relevant knowledge objects/articles are inherited to the change for the objects associated, ensuring that all stakeholders have advanced access to the information they need to assess the change accurately and quickly without having to hunt for information.

Key settings for an object are able to be recorded and shown in the Activity Stream, as an icon within the Impact Analysis and within the Impact Factors tab, ensuring that important intelligence does not have to be hunted for and should never be missed.

This is by far the most agile and proactive change and release (as this is bundled also) product that we have reviewed so far.

Configuration

Service Manager supports a variety of integrations to leverage existing discovery and asset management data, but does not directly provide auto-discovery itself.  Objects in Service Manager support common attributes found in inventory control, asset management tools and barcode scanners making synchronization frictionless and consistent.

All automated updates to objects are written into the Activity Stream and followers of the object are updated immediately and are able to review, validate and correct revised information.  This creates a continuous mechanism for verification between expected and actual configuration avoiding the configuration inaccuracy challenges so common in CMDB implementations.

Service Manager supports a visual model of relationship mapping between objects including business services, applications, servers, databases, networking devices, policies, knowledge, etc., and also support custom objects.  Service Manager’s Impact Analysis not only shows which objects, services etc. are relative to one another, but utilizes badges to also show where changes and issues may be in effect for specific objects, as well as any key settings or information that you may need to be aware of.

What ITSM Review likes most about Service Manager is that you don’t have to go searching for relevant information.  Although there are times when you will want to manually attach information to an object, Service Manager does so intelligently without the need to perform extra steps or leave the screen you are on and go to a different area of the product.

Calendar    

The ability to set change/release blackouts/maintenance periods against individual objects as well as records that contain multiple objects, provides the opportunity to manage changes from a macro-level to a meticulous calendar ensuring that a change/release is only able to be requested for time periods that have been pre-approved.

One thing that we were surprised to find is that there is no drag and drop or create-from calendar ability within Service Manager.  Although this is not vital, it’s absence seemed a bit surprising given the other functionality contained. However this is functionality that ITinvolve states is on its roadmap for a future release.

Approvals

Once the change requester has performed an initial association of objects, including the business impact for the associated objects, relevant stakeholders are automatically identified based on those individuals, or groups that have included one or more of those objects in their perspectives (mentioned earlier within Change section).

Potential upstream and downstream impacts are visually represented ensuring that those stakeholders can easily spot any potential areas of concern.  Stakeholders are able to collaborate virtually with one another on the change, adding and removing associations with other objects and engaging other potentially interested parties, including business stakeholders as necessary. This “extra step” actually streamlines change approvals enabling greater change velocity.

Change and release approvals can be set to individuals or teams on a one/majority/percentage etc. must approve basis, e.g. a high risk change/release requires 100% agreement from all stakeholders before approval is granted. Escalations are also automated based on lack of stakeholder response within define timeframes.

Approvals, the same as all activities within the product, are documented and in effect creates a public audit that can be questioned, crowd sourced and peer reviewed.

In Summary

Despite the one noted absence of drag and drop and create option functionality from within the calendar, regardless of the size of your organisation, we strongly believe that you can’t go wrong with considering ITinvolve Service Manager as your ITSM tool for Change, Configuration and Release.

In Their Own Words:

ITinvolve Service Manager transforms IT Service Management (ITSM) with a unique, breakthrough approach.

Cloud computing, virtualization, and BYOD are making greater demands on traditional service management tools and processes. Unfortunately, commoditized service desk tools offer little more than ticketing and more “enterprise class” products are process-heavy and difficult to configure. What’s more, the collaboration capabilities they contain are afterthoughts at best and lack the context required for effective engagement.

ITinvolve challenges this status quo.

Product Highlights:

  • Provides a unified self-service portal for incidents, requests, and help information
  • Supports ITIL processes for incident, problem, change, and request management
  • Brings valuable, but scattered, IT knowledge and data together in one place – displaying it visually
  • Captures undocumented, expert tribal knowledge through easy-to-use social collaboration
  • Ensures teams have a trusted, complete, and accurate foundation for rapid decision making and risk analysis

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Review: Cherwell for Change, Configuration and Release

logo_cherwell-softwareCherwell Service Management

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch Cherwell Service Management® is a functionality-rich and user friendly tool.

The flexibility of Cherwell Service Management allows customers to automate existing change and configuration processes without the need to compromise the status quo to fit around the tool.

With Cherwell Choice™ concurrent licensing and flexible hosting model, you can choose what works best for your business — Pay-as-you-go or perpetual license, Hosted on-premise, by Cherwell or by a third party.

Strengths
  • Offers multiple ways to achieve the same outcome (e.g. creating a change request) meaning that users can work whichever way best suits them and their requirements
  • Mature change calendar with drag and drop functionality and ability to create changes direct from the calendar view
  • Robust collision detection
Weaknesses
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, Cherwell Service Management is primarily a mid-market solution with the ability to be scaled-up to enterprise class organisations

Commercial Summary

Vendor Cherwell Software
Product Cherwell Service Management
Version reviewed 4.6
Date of version Release November 2013
Year Founded 2004
Customers 600+ ITSM customers worldwide
Pricing Structure Fully inclusive concurrent user usage for both perpetual and SaaS licensing models
Competitive Differentiators
  • Fully integrated management processes that are 100% configurable against an organisation’s current and future service request models, without the need to write a single line of code via programming or scripting services
  • Integrated Platform as a Service (PaaS) technology to empower users to easily develop and deliver integrated business services offerings
  • Quick, easy, and seamless system upgrades, as well as low cost of ownership for on-going system management overheads

Independent Review

Cherwell Service Management® (hereafter referred to as “CSM”) is a tool that is a relatively straightforward to use. This is not because there is only one way to achieve a particular outcome but rather that there are many ways to achieve the same goal – with the ability to choose the one that better suits your style of working, rather than having to tailor around the tool.

Cherwell admits that previously it has tried to be “everything to everyone” but that it is now working to better provide for its target audience.  With Change, Configuration and Release Management generally being somewhat “hit and miss” amongst vendors, CSM is a well-rounded tool that manages to be both straightforward and robust enough for all but the most complicated of change and release processes.

In ITSM Review’s opinion, CSM would be suitable for all types and sizes of organisations, except for those that already have a heavy and complex release management process in place.  Whilst we believe that it is possible to successfully configure CSM to meet more complex release needs (such as these), given the time, energy and expertise required to do so, it is likely that that an alternative tool would be a better fit for your organization.

For the vast majority of organisations, we believe that CSM has all the functionality required to compliment your change, release and configuration processes to operate an efficient and successful management service.

In our opinion, CSM looks marginally older fashioned than its rivals in this group test, but what it lacks in style, it makes up for in operation.  Easy to navigate, with all the functionality that anyone other than the most demanding release connoisseur could ever need, we see this tool as being a welcome addition to many IT organisations.

General

Release and changes are both created from within the change area of the tool.  Although CSM change management has solid out-of-the box functionality, which is easy to implement and is suitable for any organisation, release management almost always needs configuration by the customer.

This having been said, CSM states that it prides itself on being highly configurable without requiring scripting know-how, and we can see how with a little time and perseverance even someone brand new to the tool, like ITSM Review for example, could create a perfectly adequate, although basic, release management process with CSM.  However, if your existing release management mechanism is complex and entrenched then implementation will require a little more time and experience to ensure success.

Change

Changes are broken down into three types;

  • Emergency
  • Standard (repeatable)
  • Normal

Each change type has it’s own thread to follow and contains templates that can be configured and set for pre-approval.

Normal changes follow a step-by-step form designed to ensure that no area is missed with the added bonus of an expanded view that shows all steps in one go.  This feature would be especially useful to newcomers or occasional change coordinators who are unsure of all the information required for a change to be submitted.  The expanded feature is only available in Read Only to ensure that all steps are completed.

When creating a change, the Risk Impact is dynamically updated by the ticking and un-ticking of certain pre-defined (and customisable) check boxes.  The priority is then easy to identify from a table that shows the impact vs. urgency.

Where more than one undertaking is required during a change, tasks can be created to divide work and responsibility.  Tasks can be set to run concurrently or once the previous task is completed depending upon configuration, which is again customisable. For more complex changes, the ITPT (IT Project Tracking) can be used.  Resources for Tasks (as with Approvers) can either be individuals, teams or expression-based. Expression-based refers to individuals who, for example, are responsible for a specific Configuration Item (CI) (this would change based on which CI was being changed).

Time limits can be set on tasks with the ability for notifications to be sent via e-mail, Dashboards, RSS Feeds or mobile devices.

Changes can be bundled into a release for deployment together.  Although these bundled changes may not aggregate a release in the strictest sense, this option is a good one as for the vast majority of organisations, there is no real need for a separate area for this functionality.

Configuration

For discovery and inventory within CSM, you can either use the internal tool or integrate with a third-party application such as SCCM, Altiris, Express Metrics etc. Via OLEDB/ODBC drivers, SQL views, web services or the API.

Whenever a CI is introduced into the CMDB, a snapshot is taken of the CI, and from that point, any changes made to it are noted in the Baseline Changes Tab.

CI forms, like the rest of the tool, are highly configurable with the ability to set fields as mandatory, read-only etc., as you would expect.  CIs are easily filterable and easy to locate from within other areas of the system.

CSM has a mature impact analysis tool, which shows a graphical representation of CIs, Services AND Users with the ability to click-through on each type to see historical changes, problems and incidents. Many IT organisations only have a vague idea of what could adversely be affected by changes – if you are one of these organisations we feel that a demonstration of CSM will likely give you hope that it is possible to create a change in complete confidence that everything will not fall down around your ears!

Calendar    

In our opinion, the change calendar is one of the most advanced calendars within this Change, Configuration and Release Management review.

There are unlimited maintenance and blackout windows that can be set, and the Collision Detection tool is able to intelligently suggest adjustments to proposed changes, such as escalation to Emergency change if it detects that the date is not within the maintenance window, or date change if the change falls during a blackout window.

The change calendar view is customisable by person, group or role (by admin) and contains a number of filters and sorting capabilities for even the most saturated of change environments.  If however you decide to use a calendar function external to Cherwell Service Management, (although we have no idea why you would want to) items in the calendar can be exported in iCal or vCal format and can be automated using one-step automation actions.

Functionality that ITSM Review especially likes is the ability to create a change from within the calendar and also “drag and drop” changes to another date.

What never ceases to amaze us is the amount of change processes that make life so complicated for change manager’s/coordinator’s etc., which means that they spend more time requesting changes than actually doing them.  Although Cherwell can do nothing about your specific process implemented within your organization, it has at least made it such that CSM is no longer a further hindrance.

One size does not fit all with ITSM tools, and being able to do the same things several ways suggests to me that Cherwell is more about fitting the tool around the people and process than vice versa.

Approvals

As mentioned with Tasks, Approvers can either be individuals, teams or expression-based, and time limits can be set with approvals being able to be sent via e-mail or by logging into the tool (including on mobile devices).

The approval matrix can be set to a straight Yes/No response or a percentage response option giving approvers the ability to accept, decline or abstain the request.

Depending on your personal set up, approvals can go to backup approvers or auto decline etc. In the event that there is no response by the end of the time specified.  Using workflow in CSM approvals provides infinite possibilities with even the most complicated approval process feasible.

All requested approvals are stored in the database and can be viewed via a report on the dashboard.

In Summary

Unless you are an organisation with advanced or complex release management requirements, we highly recommend that you consider Cherwell Service Management as your tool of choice.

In Their Own Words:

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

The company has  corporate headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO, U.S.A. and EMEA headquarters in Swindon,  U.K. A global team of dedicated employees and expert partners who appreciate the technology – but love customers – serve in North America, South America, Asia and Australia. Cherwell Software  received the 2013 SDI Best Vendor for Customer Service  award.

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

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Review: Axios for Change, Configuration and Release

PrintAxios

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch Axios assyst is a solid, mature and well-rounded tool marketed towards organisation with 1,000+ end users.The functionality and design of assyst provides the ability to manage both simple and complex workflow processes to support the management of change and request.Available both as a SaaS solution and on premise – with concurrent and named licenses – assyst provides a flexible model to fit around your business.
Strengths
  • Relationships between configuration items, services and users are clearly displayed via a visual impact explorer
  • Drag and drop calendar functionality
  • Easy to collaborate on changes etc., reducing the need for the use of external software
Weaknesses
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided Axios assyst is exclusively used by large to very large organisations (circa 1000+ users)

Commercial Summary

Vendor Axios
Product assyst
Version reviewed V10.4
Date of version Release January 2014
Year Founded 1998
Customers 1,000+
Pricing Structure Available both as a SaaS solution and on premise, with concurrent and named licenses
Competitive Differentiators
  • All ITSM process integrated into one app – non-modular
  • Visual Impact Explorer provides clear graphical views of infrastructure and relevant relationships
  • Drag and drop change/release process design

Independent Review

Axios assyst (hereafter referred to as “assyst”) is an extremely mature and well-rounded tool, which covers the larger end of the ITSM market, i.e. 1,000+ users.  Requiring no development or programming know-how, users of assyst are able to use the templates and workflows to tailor the system to their organisational needs with minimal training.

Axios boasts that it has 18+ years experience of service management experience in the wider business, not just in IT, and as a result is in a better position to cater to the expanding market of Enterprise Service Management.  However, although I would agree that assyst is capable of catering to this market, I feel that the look and feel would be less conducive to the wider business than in some of the other tools featured in this Change, Configuration and Release Review. It is my opinion that assyst currently looks like an IT tool trying to expand into other areas, rather than a tool that can already sufficiently work outside of IT and would benefit from some superficial user experience enhancements to make it less IT department centric

My overall impression of the tool is that assyst would be suitable for large (1,000 – 9,999 users) to very large organisations (10,000+ users) with moderate to mature change processes in place.  Release will take these organisations additional time and manpower to configure due to the need to modify change to resemble your release process, however, provided that this is not too complex, this should be fairly painless and relatively straight forward to implement.

If you are looking for a solid tool that interacts well with other processes (such as Incident and Problem Management), and gives a clear graphical view of your infrastructure for risk assessment, then provided that you are part of an organisation with 1,000+ users, I believe that assyst would be a strong candidate for your consideration.  Whilst assyst could certainly be considered by smaller organisations, I feel that cost may be prohibitive.

General

assyst performs release via the change area of the tool.  A change form can be used to record the release details and is categorised as a ‘Major Release’ or ‘Minor Release’, with these categories being fully customisable.

assyst contains a number of standard release processes that can be easily modified, together with a set of common stages, such as approval escalation based on monetary thresholds, which can be used to rapidly build custom release processes (Stage Library).  If your release process is uncomplicated then implementation of this mechanism should be fairly straightforward.

Forms within assyst are dynamic, which means that dependent upon which fields are selected, other areas will appear or disappear, thus tailoring the experience and making it easier to gain exactly the information you require.  I believe this advancement will make for a more positive interaction for the self-service customer.

Change

assyst comes with a number of standard release processes that can be easily modified to suit an organisation’s individual needs.  These can be configured to provide analysts with the ability to select Change/Release templates, including pre-approved, from a pre-defined list.

assyst features a “visual impact explorer”, which provides clear graphical views (i.e., service-oriented, hierarchic, impacted users and peer-to-peer) of the infrastructure.  Clicking on an item, i.e. a server, will change the view to show all the relationships that will be affected by a change.  This is one particular feature that I can see being especially useful for organisations with complicated infrastructure, and use of it should greatly reduce the time spent on risk assessment.

As you would expect all Changes logged require a Category, an Impact / Urgency and a Service Department to be assigned to it for resolution.  Dependent upon the configuration of the change template and fields completed, the risk is calculated and set as either minor, major, or significant, and the proper Workflow is then initiated to match the risk level calculated.

The link types are fully configurable enabling customers to rename with terminology appropriate to their organisation and is particularly useful for widening the use of the tool into Enterprise Service Management and shows that the expanded use of the tool has been taken into consideration by Axios.

Pre-approved Change/Release templates are available for selection from a pre-defined list.  The template and workflow associated can be fully customized using the visual Process Manager.  Dependent upon set up, the Workflow Processor will automatically route the request to the appropriate staff for the relevant authorization, decision and fulfillment tasks to be completed.

Configuration

assyst provides functionality to design and manage both simple and complex workflow processes to support the management of change and request. A workflow process is constructed from a series of stages, which are in turn constructed from a series of Tasks that can comprise of actions to be taken, authorizations and decisions.

Tasks are assigned dynamically based on information held within the CMDB by setting “Task Expressions”, and as a result authorisation can be advanced to a more senior employee if the cost of the change is above a certain threshold value.  The workflow engine manages the control of this process and is capable of handling multiple threads simultaneously.  This means that for standard requests, such as new starters, where several change requests could require processing, they can be run concurrently saving valuable time.

assyst allows each user to customise their view of the system which means that Dashboards and Reports can be tailored individually, permission allowing.

Calendar    

The change calendar is able to detect conflicts on a number of levels including blackout periods, maintenance windows or instances where more than one change is planned against the same item or system/service at the same time.

Changes can be dragged/right clicked to move to a more appropriate time, such as within a maintenance window.  Drag and drop functionality within the change calendar is extremely useful and something that I hope more vendors incorporate within their change management tool.

Approvals

As with the rest of the tool, change management security is based on group and role permissions, access to which is dynamically allocated based on operation process roles set by the customer. assyst allows for the creation of multiple groups, for example CAB’s, and users can be associated to any number of these groups.

Individuals and groups can be assigned tasks within a change, due to assyst’s workflow capabilities, and the workflow process can be configured by the customer to include multiple stages and tasks. These can include any number of authorisations, approvals and decision stages, which can dynamically alter the flow of the process.

assyst is another tool that is applying collaboration within the solution, and change is certainly an area that can benefit from keeping communication in one place. Groups of users can create an online CAB meeting from the Change and invite other members to review changes, post comments and approvals without requiring tasks to be assigned to individuals.  I can see this being a well-used area especially with dispersed teams and CAB’s.

In Summary

assyst offers solid change, configuration and release functionality with strong risk assessment capabilities. I therefore believe that it is a good offering for both large and enterprise organisations with moderate to mature change processes in place.

In Their Own Words:

Axios was formed in 1988 with one single objective in mind – to deliver software that better enables Strategic IT Service Management (ITSM) initiatives for the professionals that deliver world-class IT services within their organizations daily.

With over 2 decades immersed in ITSM routed in ITIL and R&D investment in our software, we believe that we offer customers an unrivaled combination of product functionality, depth of understanding of ITSM and the ability to execute delivery of ITSM initiatives with customers with a world class Global Services organization. Our long-standing involvement also means that as ITIL has evolved, our solution has evolved and matured, allowing us to better support and enable organizations navigate the complexities of practical implementation of best practice to strategic, value driven ITSM.

The assyst product has been developed from inception as an ‘out of the box’ IT Service Management (ITSM) solution, fully compliant with the recognised PinkVERIFY / ITIL and BS15000 (now ISO 20000) philosophies for Service Management Best Practice.

assyst fully supports both ITIL V2 and ITIL V3. assyst is currently used by a number of customers to support IT governance initiatives (such as Sarbanes Oxley).

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.