A mature process doesn't necessarily meet customer needs. A quick guide to Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Dave O'Reardon (Left) itSMF Australia Innovation of the Year award winner, and Aprill Allen (Right) - @knowledgebird
Dave O’Reardon (Left) itSMF Australia Innovation of the Year award winner, and Aprill Allen (Right) – @knowledgebird

Many IT leaders are already familiar with the kinds of surveys the common support tools send out on ticket closure. But, it turns out, we may not be going about it the best way. This year’s winner of itSMF Australia’s Innovation of the Year was Dave O’Reardon. Dave has had 25 years’ experience working in IT and his award-winning transactional Net Promoter service, CIO Pulse, provides a whole new way of looking at how IT leaders can improve their services and start creating value for the businesses and customers they support.

After I photo-bombed Dave’s official awards photos, he gracefully agreed to an interview.

Can you explain the fundamentals of Net Promoter?

Sure! Net Promoter is a proven way of improving customer loyalty, or satisfaction, with a product, company or service. And its a metric – a Net Promoter Score – for understanding your progress toward that goal and for benchmarking your performance. It is not a piece of software and it is not Intellectual Property – it’s free for anyone to use.

If you’ve ever been asked a question along the lines of “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?”, then you’ve come across a company that’s using Net Promoter. This question is usually followed by one or two open-ended questions. These follow-up questions ask the reason for the score and what could be done to improve. Based on a customer’s score (in response to the first question), they are categorised as either a Promoter (they scored 9 or 10), a Passive (they scored 7 or 8), or a Detractor (they scored 6 or below). Net Promoter then recommends a number of practices that can be used to convert Detractors and Passives into Promoters.

A Net Promoter Score is simply calculated by subtracting the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of Promoters. This calculation results in a score of between -100 (all your customers are Detractors) and +100 (all your customers are Promoters).

Net Promoter is commonly used in two different ways – transactional (also called operational or bottom-up) and relationship (also called brand or top-down). Transactional NPS is used to measure and improve the customer experience following a specific interaction (e.g. after an IT support ticket has been closed). Relationship NPS is used to measure and improve overall loyalty or satisfaction with a product, brand or service, e.g. via an annual survey.

Why is it important for IT teams to use a customer service improvement approach like Net Promoter?

There’s a few reasons.  First of all, IT teams often rely too much on service level agreements, such as incident response and resolution targets. These targets are great for helping support staff determine what to work on and when, but tell you nothing about the customers’ perceptions. If you’ve ever had a wall of green traffic lights for your SLAs and yet the customer still isn’t happy, then you know what I mean.  I like to call this the Watermelon Effect – SLA performance indicators are all green, but on the inside customers are red and angry.  Traditional SLAs don’t measure the customer experience and customer perceptions, Net Promoter does.

The second reason is that process maturity assessments – formal and informal – don’t help IT teams prioritise in any way that is meaningful.  We’re at maturity level 2 for Configuration Management, so what?! And on the flipside, even mature processes can be crap and fail to meet customers’ needs. Your Request Fulfillment process might be very mature – documented, automated, measured etc – and yet customers are still frustrated that hardware provision takes so long and that Jim is always gruff when asked for an update. A mature process doesn’t necessarily meet customer needs.

Bodies of knowledge like ITIL and COBIT are stuffed full of solutions. They are great to turn to when you’ve got a service issue and you want some ideas on how to solve it.  But how do you know you’ve got a problem and how do you know which problem is the most urgent?  If you want to improve service (and if you’re in the field of Service Management and you don’t, then you might be in the wrong field) you absolutely have to understand customer perceptions. Things such as service quality and value stem from customer’s perceptions.

Net Promoter is very widely used by consumer-facing organisations. How do you modify the typical Net Promoter format to suit internal teams like IT, HR and  so on?

That’s a great question. Net Promoter is often overlooked as an improvement methodology by internal service providers because of the first question – “How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague?”. It just doesn’t make sense to an internal customer. Who’s going to tell one of their mates at the pub that their IT Service Desk is fantastic and that they should give them a call the next time they have a problem with their iPad!  The trick is just to reword the question so that it makes sense to the customer, e.g. “On a scale of 0 to 10, overall how satisfied are you with your recent support experience?”.

What’s wrong with the traditional transactional survey that we’re more familiar with?

Two things:

  1. Firstly, because internal service providers all use different surveys and different scales they can’t benchmark their performance against each other.  Their scores are calculated in different ways and so one organisation can’t tell if another organisation is doing better than them or worse. Who should get improvement ideas from who?
  2. The second thing is a bigger issue. Most organisations just don’t know what to do with the data they’re collecting. They survey, they calculate some sort of satisfaction score, and then they report on that score in a management report of some sort. But that’s all.  And that’s a terrible shame, because there’s a bunch of behaviors that the transactional survey should be driving that can result in a significant improvement in customer satisfaction. But if all you do is survey and calculate a score, don’t expect anything to improve. I call this the ‘Chasm of Lost Opportunity’ –  the powerful things that are not done between a survey being completed and a score being reported. By adopting the behaviors and activities recommended by Net Promoter – bridging the chasm – I’ve seen internal service providers make significant improvements to internal customer satisfaction in just months.

What sort of problems and improvement opportunities have you seen coming out of IT teams that start paying attention to customer feedback? Any particular areas that standout in common?

The most common feedback theme we see with transactional surveys comes down to poor communication – support calls that seem to disappear into black holes, customers not having their expectations managed re fulfillment/resolution timeframes, and tickets being closed without the customer first verifying that they’re happy that the solution has worked.

When it comes to the relationship surveys, every client is unique.  We see everything from issues with network speed, being forced to use old PCs, poor system availability, inadequate engagement of the business in IT projects, releases introducing too many defects, service desk hours that don’t work for the business.  Pretty much everything.  And that’s why the top-down relationship survey is so important. When Net Promoter is used for periodically surveying internal customers, it provides really rich information on what the customer sees as IT’s strengths and weaknesses. The results often come as a surprise to IT management, which is a good thing, because, without that information they were in danger of investing limited improvement resources in areas that just aren’t important to the customer.

If you could distill all the experience you’ve had with transforming IT teams, is there one high-impact tip you could suggest?

Yes, but it’s more of a way of thinking than a tip per se.  And that is – don’t dismiss customer feedback as something fluffy and unimportant. If you’re in the business of delivering service to a customer, then understanding customer perceptions is very very important. Dismiss customer feedback as fluffy and unimportant at your peril! Quality and value are both the result of perceptions, not objective measures like availability percentages and average response times.

Net Promoter-based transactional surveys are a great way to drive continual improvement in the Service Desk and IT support functions – improving the way IT is perceived by the large majority of its customers. And Net Promoter-based relationship surveys provide a valuable source of input to IT strategy, ensuring that IT is investing in the areas that are truly important to the business, not just because Gartner says so.

When IT teams don’t understand, and actively seek to improve, customer perceptions of IT, the end result is sad and predictable – IT is managed like a cost-centre, budgets are cut, functions are outsourced, and IT leaders are replaced.  And at pubs and dinner parties, no matter what job we do in IT, our friends grumble at us because where they work, their IT department is crap.

Dave helps IT teams, and other internal service providers, adopt Net Promoter and provide better customer service, improve their reputation and increase internal customer satisfaction. He’s worked in IT for 25 years and is the CEO and founder of:

  • Silversix.com.au – a management consultancy that helps IT teams measure and improve internal customer satisfaction)
  • and cio-pulse.com (a transactional Net Promoter service that kicks the ass of the survey modules of ITSM tools).

The Top Five Worries for IT Service Managers

Stressing
What keeps you up at night?

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

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

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

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

Alert Fatigue

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

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

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

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

BYOD

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

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

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

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

Job Changes

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

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

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

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

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

Will I Even Have a Job?

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

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

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

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

M2M (Machine-to-Machine)

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Image Credit

Next Generation Service Desk: Are you prepared?

Nev Wilshire keynoting at SDI
Nev Wilshire keynoting at SDI

Last week The ITSM Review was the Social Partner at the annual Service Desk Institute (SDI) conference. The tagline was “be inspired, take action, and be better” and I certainly get the impression that delegates left the conference with a big to-do list for improvement.

Despite the strong emphasis on the “future of technology” in the agenda, for me the primary message and theme running throughout the conference was the need for IT to stay relevant to the business. To put it bluntly, if IT doesn’t understand and share common goals with the business, then IT has no future.

From the sessions, to discussions in the bar, even to chatter in the lift (that was me earwigging on two delegates’ conversation), “the business” was a huge talking point. And correctly so in my opinion. And for once it was nice to step away from the process-driven IT service management (ITSM) conversations to look at the bigger picture.

With this in mind, rather than give you a running commentary of the event, I’ve chosen to focus on the advice given in two presentations which relate to this topic.

Kill Your IT Service Desk – Chris Matchett, Gartner

The primary difference between this presentation and most of the others is that Chris didn’t just tell us what the problems are and why we need to fix them, he actually gave us insight into HOW to fix them.

Chris discussed how most service desks are currently not meeting business expectations. This shouldn’t be news to most of you, as I think we all know that IT is struggling to cope with changes in customer behaviours and technologies, with an inability to meet consumer-driven employee expectations of service and support.  He further discussed how we’ve moved from “how do we stop Shadow IT”, to “how do we control Shadow IT” to “how do we harness Shadow IT?” Chris then outlined an improvement model to enable us to harness it and to get the service desk working in conjunction with the rest of the business.

Chris gave some excellent advice on how we need to move to a four-tiered support approach and how to develop an improvement roadmap for this.

In addition, Chris also highlighted how service desk analysts need to make the transition to become “business engagement analysts”.  A business engagement analyst has knowledge of business processes and is a leader with the ability to build partnerships and influence others.  He or she invests in softer skills, invests in design fundamentals, shadows the business, and engages the community.

Some extra pieces of advice from Chris:

  • Remember you need to control and embrace change or risk getting left behind it
  • Just because you’re performing well against industry standards this does not automatically equate to value to the business. Talk to your customers
  • Remember that one metric never tells the whole story. Place less emphasis on First Call Resolution (FCR) rates for example as the minute you fix the easy stuff like automating password reset your FCR will go down as the average incident gets more difficult. The automation is a good thing, but your FCR metric will make it look the opposite
  • Overwhelmed by password requests? Look to implement self service and give control back to your users
  • Remember that any new initiative needs management buy-in. Any change needs to be led from the top down.

Oh and then there was my favourite quote from Chris: “Is a password reset a request or an incident? Who cares, it’s just a pain in the arse”.

Service Catalog – Extending the Role Of The Service Desk – Olaf Van Der Vossen, CERN

Those of you who read The ITSM Review on a regular basis will know that Martin Thompson has written about CERN’s approach to service management before. So why am I repeating what he’s likely already said? That’s easy, because for me it was one of the stand-out presentations of the conference. Everybody is forever talking about how the IT will be dropped from ITSM and how IT needs to be better aligned with the business, only rather than just talking about it, CERN has actually done it.

CERN has implemented ITSM best practices across both IT and the rest of the business. This means that the service desk doesn’t just operate within IT but also manages requests and incidents from HR, finance, etc. They believe that you should make life simple for your customers by using ONE point of contact, ONE behavior, ONE tool, and ONE service description.

In this session, Olaf specifically looked at how a comprehensive Business Service Catalog is essential for success when extending service management beyond IT. You need to:

  • Know what you are supposed to be doing
  • Understand how these services are provided (and by whom)
  • Drive automation and smooth assignment and escalation

Olaf also spoke about how extending beyond IT can make things more complex. To address this you should:

  • Invest in training for your service desk staff
  • Provide extra coaching for non-IT support staff
  • Use a Service Portal to hide the complexity of your Business Service Catalog

I also want to mention a great question from a member of the audience:

“In such a large organization, how do you provide your service desk staff with the knowledge to answer every single request and incident that comes in?”

The answer was simple: You train dedicated teams of second and third line support in specific business areas. This then means that first line support teams can delegate the more difficult queries as required. You also need service desk analysts who can communicate well, as extra effort is needed here when dealing with enquiries on subjects you don’t understand (potentially from customers in other global offices with whom you’ve never had any interaction before).

Olaf also jokingly advised that teams should prepare for really random questions like  “I’m coming to Geneva tomorrow, what’s the weather going to be like?”

In addition to the content of the presentation, I also want to mention Olaf himself, primarily because he made me smile (much like Olaf in Frozen really!). He was very personable, made the audience laugh, and was very easy to relate to. I would have quite happily stayed for a further 45 minutes to listen to him present more on what CERN has achieved.

In Summary

The atmosphere was great, and the awards dinner was definitely one of the best I’ve attended recently (likely down to the brilliant finalist videos – here is my favourite). Congratulations again to all of this year’s winners.

Some of the keynotes I felt lacked the “wow” factor, but I really am the hardest person to please when it comes to keynotes (my favourite is still John O’Leary) as I literally want my socks to be blown off every time I see one (which probably is wrong on my part, nobody else’s).

That said I did very much enjoy listening to Neville Wilshire, even though he made me sing and dance to The Killers at 9.30am. His advice regarding looking after your employees and providing excellent customer service was spot on, plus he made me giggle when he told us we all needed BIG BALLS (yes I am a giggling 7 year old inside).

Mr Happy Man Alexander Kjerulf was not totally my cup of tea (sorry but he said it himself – it’s because I’m British!), but I thank him for providing us with entertainment long after he’d left (I don’t think I’ve ever high fived so many people or heard as many “you’re awesome” statements in my life before).

Overall it was a good conference, with what I think has great potential to be even better next year. For me the main thing that I felt was missing from some of the sessions was the “how”, but honestly this isn’t specific to SDI as I generally feel this way about all ITSM conferences. Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming cynical because I attend so many of these events, but upon chatting to delegates I definitely got the impression that focusing on the HOW would make the event even more beneficial to them.

Would I recommend that you attend this conference? Yes most definitely, but don’t just take it from this cynical, giggling 7-year old. Just look at what the delegates had to say:

BYOD concerns? It's time to dust off the ITIL service strategy book!

It's time to grab the duster to dust off your ITIL service strategy book
It’s time to grab the duster to dust off your ITIL service strategy book

At this year’s itSMF Australia LEADIT14 Conference I am speaking about what the BYOD revolution means for ITSM evolution. I will be looking at each of the 26 ITIL processes and how they will need to change or adapt in the face of BYOD.

Whether we like it or not, BYOD is here to stay

Recent research by Gartner states that by:

  • 2016, 38% of companies expect to stop providing devices to workers
  • 2017, half of employers will require their employees to provide their own devices
  • 2020, 85% of companies will provide some sort of BYOD program

Despite the challenges that BYOD brings, the proven benefits of BYOD can be recognised with a sound BYOD strategy. Increased productivity, increased staff satisfaction, attraction and retention of talent are some of the benefits that can be realised.

The ITSM processes within the ITIL Service Strategy are pivotal in ensuring that you get your BYOD strategy right.

Start with Strategy Management for IT Services

Is the driver for BYOD within your organisation the result of senior managers wanting to access corporate data on their latest device? Or does it align with the organisational strategy and business drivers such as cost reduction, increased productivity, increased mobility, talent attraction and retention, competitive advantage etc?

How will BYOD enable the organisation to achieve its business outcomes?

Once it has been decided that BYOD is an integral part of the organisational strategy, the strategy for the BYOD service can be defined during the Service Portfolio Management process and documented in the Service Portfolio.

Service Portfolio Management

The Service Portfolio Management approach of ‘define, analyse, approve and charter’ applies to the BYOD service as it does to any other service under consideration as an offering to the organisation.

Questions that need to be asked during ‘Define’ include:

  • Which employees, employee groups or user profiles need access to BYOD?
    Does BYOD extend to consultants, contractors, partners etc?
  • What sort of mobility is required and by which employee groups? Are they home based, office and home, on the road?
  • What types of devices will they want to use?
  • What privileges or permissions do they need?
  • What data will they need access to?
  • What is the risk profile of the data?
  • What applications do they need?
  • When will they need access to resources and which resources?
  • What functionality will they need e.g. initiate web-conferences, run reports on corporate data, access HR systems etc?
  • What integrations will be needed e.g. CRM, ERP etc?
  • What is the best way to engage employees to accommodate modification necessary to their devices for security such as encryption or authentication?
  • How will devices be supported? Do we outsource support? Do we ‘time-box’ support in that support only spends so long trying to resolve an issue and after that the user is on their own? Do we only support commonly used devices?

The list goes on.

Service Portfolio Management will also need to look at what will be contained within the BYOD policy. The trick – and easier than it sounds – is to come up with a common-sense policy that allows employees to use their devices without jeopardising security.

The reason I say this is that recent research of 3,200 employees between the ages of 21 and 32 (the Gen Y demographic) revealed that more than half (51%) of the study’s respondents stated that they would bypass any BYOD policy at work. We have to recognise that these workers were raised to consider access to information a right, not a privilege. They are accustomed to being connected to information – and one another – at all times.

There is not enough space in this article to go into detail about what should be included in a BYOD policy but there is much available on the subject via the Internet.

When the BYOD service has been defined, analysed and approved, it can then be chartered. Service Portfolio Management will need to ensure that the provision of BYOD as a service remains viable and where it is not, consider whether elements of the service can be retired.

Financial Management

You’ll need Financial Management to investigate the cost of providing a BYOD service including the Return on Investment  (ROI) and Return on Value (ROV). Whilst organisations may realise cost savings through reduced hardware purchases and perhaps support costs, there may be increased costs in additional security and administrative systems and infrastructure investment.

Organisations may have to provide equipment allowances such as employee interest-free loans for new devices, stipends etc. and allowances for applications purchased for work-related purposes. These additional costs need to be weighed up against the inherent purchase and support cost savings of BYOD along with the ROV of employee engagement, retention, satisfaction, and productivity.

Financial Management needs to consider aspects such as – who pays for the device usage? If an organisation only wants to recompense for work related calls and data, this could put a large burden on the financial team who will have to validate all claims. This poses a challenge to forecast and manage cash flow.

Business Relationship Management (BRM)

BRM is crucial in the establishment of a BYOD service and determination of the business need behind why people want to use specific devices. Is it just a new fad or is there a real business driver? BRM should work with the business to look for business efficiencies and technology advances that can make jobs easier or provide benefit to the organisation.

Demand Management

This will be pivotal in determining the demand for the service? Where and when will the demand come from?

At itSMF Australia 

So that is just a taster of how the Service Strategy processes will need to operate to support BYOD. If you want to hear how all the other ITSM processes will have to adapt for BYOD, come and hear my presentation at LEADIT14. We haven’t even touched on Information Security yet!! You can find out everything you need to know about the conference here.

Image Credit

SDI Annual Conference

Last year's conference
Last year’s conference

We are excited to announce that we will be the Social Partner for the annual SDI Conference, 17-18 June 2014, at the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham, UK.

What you can expect

  • 6 keynote presentations covering a multitude topics – motivation, customer service, change, team building, IT challenges and the future of work
  • Hear from practitioners and industry experts on topics such as problem management, IT costs, service catalog, the future of the service desk, IT security, metrics and KPI’s, delivering service excellence and more
  • Networking opportunities with peers

Both Rebecca Beach and I will also be in attendance. If you would like to schedule a meeting with either of us at the conference please email me. We are interested in hearing from all attendees whether you are a vendor, practitioner, consultant or other!

We hope to see you there!


Event Summary

WHAT

SDI Annual Conference

WHERE

Hilton Metropole, Birmingham, UK

WHEN

17th-18th June

BOOKING

Booking rates are available online

Free, the new normal

Arvind Parthiban Sr.Marketing Manager - ITSM, ManageEngine "Why pay for helpdesk?"
Arvind Parthiban
Sr.Marketing Manager – ITSM, ManageEngine “Why pay for helpdesk?”

A new inflection point was reached in the service desk technology market space this week.

A free service desk.

Whilst free and open source ITSM technology has been available for quite a while – this is the first supplier I’ve seen to offer a free service desk without limitation on number of analysts (please let me know if otherwise).

What is perhaps most significant is that the vendor, ManageEngine, already has a huge number of customers, is recognized on the Gartner ITSSM quadrant and has the resources to make a dent.

Techcrunch report today that Zoho/ManageEngine revenue is ‘9 figures USD’, growing at 30% per annum.

The entry level Service Desk offering from ManageEngine is now free. The previous ‘standard’ edition offered a Service Desk for up to five analysts for free – now it’s completely free for any size organization. Customers just pay for premium optional upgrades.

The new normal?

This sort of ‘Freemium’ business model is becoming increasingly popular in a world of very low cost or free apps and cloud-based delivery. Freemium is whereby the vast majority of users of a service can take advantage for free and the business can turn a profit from a small proportion that adopt premium upgrades.

For example Spotify the music streaming service has 6 million paying customers versus 20 million active monthly users and it is estimated that only around 10% of LinkedIn’s 200M users pay to use the service.

Will this kill the market?

No, I don’t think so.

Whilst it is disruptive and gutsy move at market share I don’t think it is necessarily going to kill the market. It will certainly mean existing competitors will have to seriously re-evaluate their value-add but it’s not the end of the world. Spiceworks (ad supported) is free and versions of OTRS (Open source) are free. Vendors have been competing against these for years and should know how to articulate their value. Great software supported by, rather aptly, great support.


However I would say that more fragile competitors should be worried. We’re yet to dig into the finer details of the detailed differences between the free standard edition and professional but at first glance there seems to be a lot under the hood considering the price.

Barclay Rae, commenting on the news said:

“It is certainly a brave and audacious move. I think there is no doubt that some core aspects of ITSM tool functionality is pretty much a commodity, so I guess ME are using this as a level to expand their client base and brand awareness, particularly into new markets and market areas.

ITSM still requires some levels of implementation and integration intelligence, along with organisational change etc., so there will need to be some recognition of the need to develop support mechanisms around the free product that safeguard the brand via successful implementation.

I’d expect ME will need to look at developing their support and professional service capability to support this, particularly for the enterprise market.

However this is still a brave and market shifting move – I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this in due course.”

ManageEngine can presumably offer this for free because:

  • a) The marginal costs of additional customers on a cloud based infrastructure is negligible – assuming the product works ok without hitch
  • b) ManageEngine are betting that a sufficient number of free customers explore paid upgrades and other products in the ManageEngine range.
  • c) The cost of acquiring new customers into the marketing pipeline just got a lot cheaper – albeit at the cost of forgone revenue. Customers can now be convinced with delivery, rather than a short trial or promises, before parting with their cash. Theoretically they might be free customers for years before parting with any paid upgrades. Meanwhile ManageEngine has the all-important resource in the Internet economy – the customer’s attention.

As ManageEngine state in their press release – if it wasn’t already, the basic service desk has just become commoditized.

More info here:

http://www.manageengine.com/products/service-desk/free-it-help-desk-software.html?banner

2013: A Year in ITSM Review

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

As 2013 begins to draw to a close, I thought it would be nice to finish off the year with a final article that’s an overview of what has happened at the ITSM Review over the last 12 months.  That’s right, this will be our last post for 2013 because the entire team is heading off to fill their faces with mince pies and sherry. But don’t worry we’ll be back in 2014 with slightly bigger waistlines and lots of exciting plans for 2014 (insight into which you can find at the end of this article).

Ironically I like neither mince pies nor sherry. 

Visits and Growth

  • We have had nearly 230,000 page views this year, an increase of a whopping 210% from 2012!!! A huge thank you to the circa 120,000 of you for coming to read our content.
  • Visits to our site increased by an astounding 58% between the end of June and end of July alone, and then continued to grow on average by 5.5% every month.
  • Our Twitter followers increased by 193%.

One thing that I think it’s worth pointing out here as well is that the bulk of our readers are not actually situated in the UK (which is what a lot of people presume given that this is where we are based). In 2013, 17% of our readers were from the UK, but an impressive 30% were actually from the USA. Perhaps we should open a US office?! A large proportion of visitors also came from India, Germany, Australia, Canada, The Netherlands, France and Sweden, as well as plenty of other countries too.

Owing to us attracting more and more visitors year-on-year from outside of the UK and America, we are increasingly being asked to produce region-specific content. We are therefore looking for practitioners, consultants or analysts based in Asia, South America, Africa, and Europe who would be interested in writing about their experiences of ITSM in other countries. If you are interested please get in touch.

What was popular?

The top 3 most-viewed articles of the year were:

  1. 7 Benefits of using a Known Error Database (by Simon Morris)
  2. Gartner Magic Quadrant for IT Service Support Management Tools (Martin Thompson)
  3. AXELOS: Capita and ITIL joint venture lift lid on new brand (Martin Thompson)

Of those articles only number 3 was actually written and published in 2013.

I have to say congratulations specifically to Simon Morris here as well, because his KEDB article was not only the most-read article of the year, but it achieved 37% more hits than the second most popular article of the year! (And that’s not counting the hits it originally got in the year it was published).

Of the articles written and contributed in 2013, the top 3 were:

  1. Future of ITIL workshop – a little insight (Stuart Rance and Stephen Mann)
  2. Four Problem Management SLAs you really can’t live without (Simon Higginson)
  3. 7 golden rules for getting the most from the Service Catalogue (Yemsrach Hallemariam)

Is there a specific topic that you would like us to write about? Are there are practical pieces that you would like to see us cover to help you in your day-to-day job? Please let us know.

Content Contributors

In 2013, we were pleased to welcome 3 new, regular content contributors to the ITSM Review.  These are people who now write for us on a regular basis (roughly once a month), so you can expect to see a lot more great content from them in 2014. They are:

We also published content for the first time from the following companies: Cancer Research UK; EasyVista; Fruition Partners; GamingWorks; LANdesk; Macro4; Oregon Department of Transportation; Service Management Art Inc; and xMatters.

A great big thank-you to all of our regular and ad hoc contributors for helping supply with us with such fantastic content.

If you’re reading this and think you might be interested in contributing content (we welcome content from all, including) please get in touch.

Top Searches

Given that we had over 230,000 pages view this year, I thought that many of you might be interested to see what it was that people were searching for on our site.  The top 20 searches of the year were as follows:

  1. KEDB
  2. AXELOS
  3. Known Error Database
  4. ITSM
  5. Issue Log
  6. Proactive Problem Management
  7. ITSM Software
  8. Gartner ITSM
  9. What is Service Management
  10. Cherwell Software Review
  11. Gartner ITSM Magic Quadrant
  12. ServiceNow Review
  13. ITSM Software Review
  14. ITSM News
  15. Major Incident Management Process
  16. Free ITIL Training
  17. RemedyForce Review
  18. BMC Footprints
  19. KEDB in ITIL
  20. Process Owner

Are there any search terms that you are surprised to see on there?  Or anything that you would have expected to see that isn’t?

Events

In 2013 we branched out and kicked off Media Partnerships at the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition (Birmingham) and itSMF Estonia Conference (Tallin).

Our aim was not only to spread the word about The ITSM Review, but to spend time with delegates to find out what things they are struggling with and how we might be able to help them.

Next year you can expect to see us the PINK conference in Las Vegas, and we hope to announce some other new, exciting partnerships for 2015 in the New Year!

Launches

In May we launched the ITSM Review App (Search ‘ITSM’ in the Apple App Store). 

Then there is the ITSM Tools Universe, which we launched at the end of November. The Tools Universe hopes to shed light on the emerging ITSM players (as well as the major competitors) and, over time, the changes in the position of the companies involved and moves in market share. Most importantly it is free to participate and unlike any Magic Quadrant or Wave, the ITSM Tools Universe is open to ALL ITSM vendors. 9 vendors are already confirmed.

If you are a Vendor and are interested in learning more the ITSM Tools Universe please contact us.

Additions to the team

As of 1st January 2013 the ITSM Review was still simply just the man you all know and love Martin Thompson (he tried desperately to get me to remove what I just said there… modest and all that jazz).

However, ITSM Review finished 2013 with an additional 3 employees:

  • In January 2013 Glenn Thompson (you’d be right to suspect that they might be related) joined full-time as the company’s Commercial Director. For some reason there was no official announcement (we’ll blame Martin) so for some of you this might be the first you’ve heard of it! Without Glenn we’d struggle to continue to offer all of our content to readers free of charge, so despite the fact that he’s a Chelsea fan, you’ve got to like him.
  • In July, for some reason Martin decided it would be a good move to hire some strange blonde lady who liked penguins (that would be me) as the Marketing and Community Manager.
  • Finally, in October Rebecca Beach joined as a Research Analyst. Famous for being a “gobby midget”, Rebecca will be writing most of our ITSM research and reviews in 2014. Rebecca also spends time (in conjunction with me) making fun of Martin and Glenn on a regular basis (it’s not our fault they make it so easy).

So then there was 4.

If you’re interested in any upcoming job opportunities at the ITSM Review (or ITAM Review), then please let us know.  We certainly plan on increasing that number 4 in 2014.

What’s planned for 2014?

Next year we are hoping to broaden our coverage of the ITSM space even further by securing new content contributors; participating in more industry events; launching new products (such as video product reviews, webinars, and case studies); and more.

We’re also looking very seriously at the possibility of running regular ‘social meet ups’ like we recently did with the Christmas get-together.

In addition to the publication of our ITSM Tools Universe in the Spring we will also be continuing our Group Tests, and a full list of topics for the Group Test series will be published early January.

In addition to the above we also have some planned changes in the works for our website. Nothing too major (it will still look like the ITSM Review that you know and love), just some cosmetic updates to make it easier on the eye and increase your ability to easily find what you are looking for.

Watch this space and we’ll keep you updated of our plans throughout 2014!

Oh and if you’re interested in the 2013 review and plans for 2014 from the ITAM Review, you can read them here.

Is there anything you would like to see us doing in 2014 that we’re not doing currently? Are there any changes that you would like to suggest to the website? Would you be interested in a tooling event or social get-togethers? Are you a Vendor who is interested in our Group Tests? We welcome your feedback, so please get in touch.

And so…

2013 is drawing to a close. Our success and growth throughout the year has made everybody here happy bunnies; but most importantly we hope that our content / site / presence this year has made YOU a bunch of happy bunnies. The whole purpose of the ITSM Review is to help ITSM practitioners, and everything we do has that end goal in mind.  Even if we only gain an additional 5 readers in 2014, so long as our content aids those 5 people and makes their work lives easier then these bunnies will continue to have smiles on their faces.

So with that image of turning the entire ITSM industry into smiley rabbits, I bid you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Thanks for reading throughout 2013; without you… the ITSM Review doesn’t exist.

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Service management for a more mobile world – is anything different?

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Don’t get lost in the mobile world

Ask any consumer what their favorite new tech gadget is, and odds-on it won’t be a new PC, but a tablet or smartphone. It’s the same in the enterprise: the number of traditional desktop machines being bought is continuing to slide according to Gartner, with a drop of around 8.4% in sales this year compared to 2012. At the same time, tablet sales for 2013 grew by 53.4% to an estimated 184 million devices.

This changing landscape not only changes the way we work, it also greatly impacts IT service management and support strategies. Gartner recently reported that the volume of requests for support of mobile devices will increase significantly, from less than 10% of help-desk requests today to more than 25% of requests by 2016.

This shift in device types and working locations will lead to changes in the type of support issues that service desk technicians will have to deal with. This will force the service desk to skill up around all those different platforms that will be in use, rather than just understanding traditional desktop operating systems, as well as handling requests in new ways.

To help service desks cope with this influx of calls, there are a number of things that service desk managers and ITSM professionals should consider.

Mobile Device Management (MDM) or Mobile Application Management (MAM) tools may not provide everything you need

MDM and MAM typically allow enterprises to secure, provision and manage mobile devices, whether they are company-owned or bought in by employees. Most of these activities are performed on a mass scale across groups of devices. But beyond remote locking and wiping features, most mobile management tools provide limited functionality for incident support.

Remote support refers to the tools and technologies that service desks use to access, troubleshoot and control remote systems, typically when an individual has an issue with one specific device or application. Basic remote support functionality has been used for years to access and fix traditional desktops and laptops, but many of the legacy remote access tools don’t work with smartphones and tablets.

Part of the issue is that some mobile operating systems, such as Apple iOS and some instances of Android, limit screen-sharing functionality, but there are a number of remote support tools that let you view system information, configure settings, co-browse, and transfer files to and from the device, which all greatly improve the service desk’s ability to fix an issue. In addition, some solutions offer application-level remote support, where the service desk technician can view and control a specific application.

Users want consistency in their support experience, no matter the device

Unsurprisingly, another limitation with MDM and MAM tools are that they only work with mobile devices. But according to a recent report by Enterprise Management Associates, 87% of all business device users regularly use a PC and at least one mobile device. If users have a bad support experience on one device, this typically drags down their perception of the provider as a whole.

Since service desks normally provide support for end-users that are utilizing both traditional and mobile devices, they should have the ability to use the same remote support tools regardless of what the end user device is. This is important both for efficiency of the service desk – after all, having to run multiple tools to achieve a specific result is a significant drag on productivity – and it enhances the end-user experience if it is seamless and crisp.

New skills will be required for mobile support, and collaboration

As part of its research into service desks, Gartner reports that mobile devices have increased the service desk workload over the last two years for 81% of organizations. However, the majority of these have not increased their staff in line with this. While smarter use of tools like self-service portals, chat technologies and remote support have made service desk professionals more efficient in general, the rise in mobile devices will call for more training and a wider knowledge base across the team.

One way IT teams can boost on-the-job training is by using collaboration functionality and session recordings within remote support sessions. Some solutions allow a front line representative to invite an internal or external subject matter expert (SME) into a session so they can share the case history, do joint issue research, share screen control and ultimately help fix the issue.

Bringing this SME into a support session can help get a customer problem fixed faster, but it also allows the frontline representatives to see how to fix the issue first-hand. It’s even better if that session can be videoed for internal training or used as the basis for a knowledge base article. This means that those esoteric issues can then be dealt with by the first-tier team in the future, reducing costs and improving first-call resolution rates.

In summary

The influx of mobile devices into the work place will have an impact on what service desks have to provide to end-users. However, planning for this now should enable service to be consistent and efficient in meeting those ever-changing needs.

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A game is just nice to have right? – Wrong!

Paul Wilkinson
Paul Wilkinson

This article has been contributed by Paul Wilkinson, Co-Director and Co-Owner at GamingWorks. Ahead of his presentation at the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition, Paul discusses Gaming – perceptions, deployments, benefits and more…

I must admit to being tired, frustrated, disappointed and angry at the latest mega hype around ‘gamification’. Why? You would think that being a company that develops business simulation games  we would be happy, right? Or perhaps you are still asking “what has ‘gaming’ got to do with ITSM”? You are probably thinking that gaming is just a nice way to make training more fun and interesting. You couldn’t be MORE wrong, I will show you why shortly.

I am happy that ‘gaming’ is getting attention. I am NOT happy about the general perceptions being created about gaming and I am NOT happy with the general way in which they are deployed.

These perceptions and poor deployment are damaging the credibility of gaming as valuable intervention instruments. In this article I want to try and demonstrate to you that a game isn’t just a nice to have add-on to ITIL training to make it less boring, nor simply a great way of creating more ‘awareness’. These are the LEAST valuable benefits of gaming.

General perceptions

The general perceptions, partly prompted by the new breed of software developers, is that gamification is all about digital, video, on-line, and engagement type games with leader boards, badges and rewards; great for marketing and driving traffic to web-sites.

When I talk to people about business simulation games they often ask “Where can we download it?”, “Is there an on-line demo we can play?”, “Can I install it on my iPad”, “Do I get to shoot people in the game?”….the last one was a joke by the way. It seems that people are prepared to queue up all through the night to buy the latest game that allows them to shoot people and score points! But they don’t want to invest in a business game because they don’t see how it adds value!

I am NOT saying that these computer based games are of no value. They are extremely powerful if used correctly, with a clear set of business objectives. I am simply saying there is more to gaming, such as classroom based business simulation games – dynamic, interactive, experiential learning environments  in which people have to work together, face-to-face to solve problems and learn.

Learning to discuss, engage in dialogue, make agreements, give and receive feedback, resolve conflicts, and convince somebody of the business case, these  are all difficult to simulate in a computer game.

Yet these are some of the competences required when deploying best practices such as ITIL, and these are some of the key reasons ITSM improvement initiatives fail! A simulation game is a great way to test and explore these types of behavior.

Deployment

People leap onto games as the next TOOL. Just like many organizations used ITIL as a TOOL to be ‘implemented’ – and generally failed, just like organizations who buy expensive service management TOOLS and then find they aren’t being used properly.

One of the top ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) worst practice cards chosen in workshops world-wide is  ‘A Fool with a tool is still a fool’  – It’s not about the TOOL, it’s about what you do with it. I often hear people say ‘We played a game…..didn’t see the results we HOPED for’. ‘It was fun, created energy but…’. That is because they deployed the game as a TOOL; a product.

A game is not a one-size-fits all, just like ITIL needs to be customized to the needs of the organization, just like a tool needs to be customized to the needs of the organization, so too a game facilitation needs to be customized to the needs of the organization.

Gartner predicted that 80% of gamification investments would fail because of poor design – not aligning them with the organization’s needs. Questions need to be explored such as: what problem are we trying to solve, what behavior do we want to confront, to learn, to test, to explore, who needs to play which roles and why? What will we do with the captured learning and improvement points? Basically a game needs to be played in the context of the organization to ensure a maximum return on the investment. However when done well the returns are high.

A game needs to be part of the learning process

This means that a game needs to be part of a learning process:

  • Before activities (customization)
  • During activities (facilitation, fit-for-purpose, fit-for-use)
  • After activities (transfer & embedding).

Unfortunately many organizations do not do this, they simply say “let’s play an ITIL game and let people learn about ITIL”! – just like many  people don’t do this with ITIL training either  – “let’s send people on ITIL foundation training to get an ITIL certificate and learn about ITIL” they say.  “Oh?” we ask “and what problem do we HOPE to solve by sending them on the training? How will we ensure the learning is transferred to the workplace”? – questions which are often just meets with blank stares!

Is it any wonder that with more than 1.5 million ITIL certificates still many organizations fail to get the HOPED for value?

So how is a game going to help with all this?

I’m glad you asked.

We recently conducted a survey with training organizations and customer organizations into the effectiveness and benefits of simulation games. This survey was conducted with consulting and training companies offering games and customer organizations who have used games. It is interesting to see the difference in perceived benefits between the training companies offering the games and the customer organizations who took the time and effort to do the groundwork (before-during-after).

Our first survey question was ‘when are simulation games most effective?’ The answers were:

  • To support culture change initiatives
  • To create understanding and ‘buy-in’ for a best practice (such as ITIL, Prince2, PMI, BPM, CoBIT)
  • Translating theory into practice
  • Breaking down silos and creating end-t0-end, ‘team working’

5clubscardjpegAs you can see simple ‘awareness and understanding’ scores number 2 in the list and supporting a culture change initiative within IT scores the highest.  Failure to address organizational culture was named as the top reason for ITSM initiatives failing according to the OGC planning to implement service management book. This is one of the reasons we published the ‘ABC of ICT’ book and assessment (card set) to help address these issues, and this is where a simulation game starts to get serious.

Serious gaming to solve serious problems.

Our second question was ‘what are the benefits of simulation games?’.

Attitude change

  • Better understanding and buy-in for ITSM best practices, experiencing the benefits
  • Better understanding of other groups perspective
  • Better understanding of customer expectations and customer centric behaviour
  • Agreed improvement actions captured and a willingess and commitment to execute them

Behaviour change

  • Improved quality of services resulting from the change in behaviour as agreed in the simulation game experience
  • People started applying the behaviour they had experienced in the simulation game
  • Reduces time, cost and effort to implement as people have a better understanding of how to apply after following a simulation

Culture change

  • People started confronting each other on ‘undesirable behaviour’ as they had experienced in the simulation
  • People got together more after a simulation game to analyze and improve their work together, ‘improving your work is your work’ – CSI

As can be seen from the responses games are considerably more than simply instruments to make training more fun or just to help create awareness.

Top benefits as perceived by training and consulting organizations

  1.  ‘Better understanding and buy-in for the benefits of ITSM best practices’, which helps address the biggest reason for ITSM improvement program failures – Resistance to change.
  2. Better understanding of other groups perspectives’, which demonstrates a simulation’s effect at ‘breaking down organizational silos’ and helping to ‘foster end-to-end working’ and ‘more effective team working and collaboration’.
  3. Better understanding of customer expectations and customer centric behavior’, which shows a simulation helps ‘IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority’, and ‘IT is too internally focused’.
  4. Agreed improvement actions captured and a willingness and commitment to carry them out’. Which shows how a simulation can help provide input to a service improvement initiative. Creating a shared perception of improvement needs. This helps ‘Empower’ people to improve their own work.

Top benefits as perceived by the supplier organization

  1.  ‘Improved quality of service resulting from the change in behavior as agreed in the simulation game’. This shows how a simulation has a positive impact on creating ‘desirable behavior’. Participants learn how to translate ‘knowledge into results’, which leads to quality improvements.
  2. People started applying the behavior they had experienced in the simulation game’. This shows how a simulation helps ‘translate theory into practice’. This also demonstrates not only buy-in to the new ways of working, but also a commitment to execute.
  3. Reduces time, cost and effort to implement (best practices) as people have a better understanding of how to apply after following a simulation’. This shows how a simulation can help reduce risks of an ITSM improvement initiative from failing (70% still do not gain the hoped for value from an initiative), as well as speed up the adoption and value realization.
  4. People got together more after the simulation game to analyze and improve their work together’.  This shows how a simulation helps foster a culture of ‘continual service improvement’ and enables people to apply a pragmatic approach to analyzing and improving their work.

So back to the title. ‘A game is just nice to have right?’ – yes if you want to simply use it as an off the shelf TOOL to create awareness.  Wrong! If you want to help change the attitude, behavior and culture in your organization and ensure a sustainable, lasting improvement that delivers value.

Want to hear more from Paul? He will be presenting in Birmingham at the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition, 4-5 November. You can catch him on day 1 for his session “Grab@Pizza – Experience Business & IT Alignment in ACTION” (please note that this session has limited attendance), and/or day 2 looking at “Creating a Measurable Return on Value of an ITSM Training Investment”.

About Paul:

Paul has been working in the IT Industry for more than 30 years fulfilling a wide variety of roles from Computer Operator, to Systems manager to IT Services manager. Paul has been actively involved in ITSM for more than 20 years as both an Senior consultant, Service development manager and as ITIL author. He was a project team leader for the original BITE (Business IT Excellence) ITIL process-modeling initiative, and co-author of the ITIL publication “Planning to Implement IT Service Management”. He was a member of the ITIL advisory group for ITIL Version 3. Paul is also co-director and co-owner of GamingWorks, the company that developed the internationally renowned ‘Apollo 13 – an ITSM case experience’ ITIL simulation game. He was also co-author and cartoonist for the itSMF ‘Worst practice’ publication “IT Service management from Hell” and more recently the ‘ABC-of-ICT’ publications focusing on Attitude, behavior and Culture within IT organizations.

Why the CIO won't go the same way as the VP of Electricity

Dead as a...
CIO, Dead as a… ?

Commoditisation is, without doubt, a massive and revolutionary trend in IT. In just a handful of years, a huge range of industrialised, cost-effective solutions have created rapid change, so much so that some commentators now predict the end of the corporate IT department altogether.

Info-Tech Research Group’s June 2013 article highlights a comparison made by some, between today’s CIO, and the “VP of Electricity” role apparently ubiquitous in large organisations at the turn of the last century.

As electricity supply standardised and industrialised, the argument goes, the unsuspecting VP of Electricity (and presumably their whole department) found themselves anachronistic and redundant.

It’s a very flawed comparison. There can be no doubt that consumerisation is a reality, but business IT and electricity provision are very different things.

IT Service is not a light switch

Utility electricity is what it is: we may have a choice of billing suppliers, and perhaps several different options at the point of connection (such as smart metering), but the end user sees very little difference: it’s the same product from the same wires. I flip the light switch, and the light comes on. There is very little scope to vary the service, at the point of consumption, to gain significant competitive edge.

Hence, from the end-user’s point of view, electricity is an absolute service: it’s either there, or it isn’t (and usually, it’s there: Britain’s national grid, for instance, works to – and achieves – a 99.9999% reliability target. By comparison, the granddaddy of commoditised IT infrastructure, Amazon AWS, offers 99.95% – lower by a factor of 500).

By contrast, our customers experience IT as much more than a simple on/off service. It is far more complex, multi-faceted, and variable. We could frequently change our electricity supplier, and our customers and end-users would never be aware. However, change one of the many elements of IT with which they interact, though, and we can make a significant difference to their working day.

For many end-users, in fact, the “light switch” experience seems a long way off. A Forrester study of 900 end users and 900 IT professionals, in January 2013, found, for example, that 84% of business users experienced a severe or moderate impact on their ability to be productive on a monthly basis, as a direct result of IT issues. 14% experience difficulties at least once per day. The study also revealed that there’s a large gap between how the business thinks about IT and how IT thinks about itself. The difference varies regionally, between 13 to 16 percentage points.

If it’s done well, however, IT is an immensely powerful and proven asset to the business. MITSloan’s seminal 2007 study, “Avoiding the Alignment Trap in Information Technology“, identified a best-of-breed group of organisations delivering true “IT-enabled growth”. This group, representing the top 7% of their large sample, was found to be achieving an average of 35% compound annual growth rate, while spending 15% less than the study average on IT.

Commoditised tools

In our IT Service Management functions, commoditisation is just as much a reality as in any other facet of IT. As Gartner Research Director Jeff Brooks put it, “In the ITSM space, and more specifically the use of ITSM tools for IT Service Desk, we continue to see vendors provide commoditised tools”.  Does that mean, then, all of those tools, and the functions which use them, are as good as they will ever be? Clearly not: in January 2012, Brooks’s organisation observed that the average maturity level in IT Infrastructure and Operations was 2.35 on their 1-to-5 scale: a “disheartening conclusion”. As Brooks added: “Opportunities for differentiation exist, but the vendors have yet to capitalise on those prospects”.

He’s right. Even as the service desk, or any other ITSM function, becomes ubiquitous enough to be considered by many to have become commoditised, our customers expectations evolve and change. The age of the smartphone has increased mobility, and put leading-edge, location-aware, always-on technologies into homes and pockets. New-look frontline services like Apple’s Genius Bar have created demand for new ways to get support. On-demand commodity services, though convenient, create new management challenges around costs, control, and alignment. We should never consider ourselves finished.

Growth is driven by effective alignment of technology and processes. Henry Ford did not change the car industry simply by switching to standardised services. He created differentiation by aligning great processes with great technology. Some of those technologies, such as his electricity supply, would likely have been the same commodity service consumed by all of Ford’s rivals, but he made the difference with the things he created around them.  Fundamentally, as long as technology and innovation can give one business an edge over another, the role of the technologist – including the CIO and their business unit – will be relevant.

After all, if all companies were to standardise on a single set of commoditised IT offerings today, by tomorrow some of them would have found significant advantages in breaking out of the pattern.

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