Problem management challenges and critical success factors

Following his presentation on “problem management challenges and critical success factors” at the 8th annual itSMF Estonia conference in December, Tõnu Vahtra, Head of Service Operations at Playtech (the world’s largest publicly-traded online gambling software supplier) gives us his advice on understanding problem management, steps to follow when implementing the process, and how to make it successful. 

Tõnu Vahtra
Tõnu Vahtra

Problem management is not a standalone process

Incident management and event management

It cannot exist without the incident management process and there is a strong correlation between incident management maturity and problem management efficiency/results. Incident management needs to ensure that problems are detected and properly documented (e.g. the basic incident management requirement that all requests need to be registered). Incident management works back-to-back with the event management process, if both of these processes are KPI managed then any anomalies in alarm or incident trends can be valuable input to problem management. Incident management also has to ensure that in parallel to restoring service during an incident it has to be ensured that relevant information is collected during or right after resolution (e.g. server memory dump before restart) so that there would be more information available to identify incident root cause(s).

Critical incident management

Problem management at Playtech gains a lot from the critical incident management function, which is carried out by dedicated Critical Incident Managers who have the widest logical understanding of all products and services and years of experience with solving critical incidents. They perform incident post mortem analysis following all major incidents, and they also start with initial root cause analysis (RCA) before handing this task over to problem management. RCA is handed over to Problem Managers within 24 hours from incident end time during which the Critical Incident Manager is collecting and organizing all information available about the incident. Critical Incident Managers usually do not have any problems with allocating support/troubleshooting resources from all support levels as critical incident troubleshooting and initial preventive measures are considered the highest priority within the mandate from highest corporate management. All the above ensures high quality input for problem management on a timely manner.

Change management and knowledge management

In Error Control phase the two most important processes for problem management are change management and knowledge management. Most action items identified during RCA are implemented through change management, the stronger the process the less problem management has to be involved directly in change planning (providing abstract goals VS concrete action plan or task list for implementation) and the smaller the risks of additional incidents during change implementation. Change management also needs to have the capability and documented process flow to implement emergency changes in an organized way with minimum impact to stop reoccurring critical incidents as fast as possible.

Knowledge management is vital for incident management for ensuring that service desk specialists would be able to quickly find and action specific workarounds for known errors until their resolution is still in progress by problem management. Regular input and high attention is needed from problem management to ensure that every stakeholder for known error database (KEDB) would be able to easily locate information relevant to his/her role, all units would be aware of information relevant to them and that all the information in KEDB would be relevant and up to date. In Playtech problem management is also managing process errors identified from root cause analysis and process improvements only last when properly documented, communicated to all relevant stakeholders and additional controls are put in place to detect deflections from optimal process. Local and cross-disciplinary knowledge management for process knowledge has an important role here.

Defect management

Problem management has to go beyond ITSM processes in a software development/services corporation like Playtech and also integrate to software development lifecycle (SDLC). For this purpose in Playtech a separate defect management sub-process has been established under problem management. Defect management is managing the lifecycle of all significant software defects identified from production environments and aligning defect fixing expectations between business and development departments. Defect Managers ensure a consistent prioritized overview of all significant outstanding software defects, which warrants optimal usage of development resources and minimizes overall business impact from defects. They act as a single point of contact for all defect related communication and ensure high transparency of defect fixing process and fix ETA’s. Defect Managers define the defect prioritization framework between business and development key stakeholders and govern the agreed targets.

Software problem management

Problem management is leading the software problem management process through defect management. Under the software problem management process (which is usually being ran by a quality assurance team in relevant development units) development teams are performing root cause analysis for defects highlighted for RCA by problem management or raised internally. Every defect is analyzed from two aspects: firstly why the defect was created by development and secondly if the defect was created then why was it not identified during internal QA and reported from production environment first. Root causes and action items are defined from both questions and tracked with relevant stakeholders. This process ensures that similar defects will not be created or will be identified internally in the future. Even more importantly there is a direct feedback channel from the field to the respective developer or team who created the defect so that they get full understanding of the business implications in relation to their activities.

Important steps to take problem management to the next level

The problem management unit has to become more proactive, to get more involved in service design and service transition phases to identify and eliminate problems before they reach production environments. Problem management needs resources to accommodate contributing to pre-production risk management and even more importantly this involvement has to be valued and enforced by corporate senior management as it may take additional resources and delay time-to-market in some situations.

The Problem Management Team itself can get more resources for proactive tasks by reducing their direct participation in reactive Problem management activities. This has to be done via advocating the Problem management mindset across the entire corporation (encouraging people to think in terms of cause and effect with the desire to understand issue causes and push their resolution for continuous improvement) so each major domain would have their Problem Coordinators and identify root causes/track action items independently and problem management could take more a defining and governing role. To assert the value created from problem management and enlist more people to spread the word about problem management ideas for them to go viral, it is essential to visualize the process and explain the relations between incidents, root causes and action items to all stakeholders for them to understand how their task is contributing to the bigger picture.

There is a high number of operationally independent problem management stakeholders in Playtech and implementing KPI framework that would be fit to measure and achieve problem management goals and be applicable to all major stakeholders individually and cross stakeholders seems almost impossible a task. The saying ”You get what you measure“ is very true in problem management and no stakeholder wants to be measured by problems that involves other stakeholders and are taking actions to remove such problems from their statistics instead of focusing on the problem and its solution. At the same time problem management tends to be most inefficient and difficult for problems spreading across multiple division. A Problem Manager’s role and assertiveness in facilitating a constructive and systematic process towards the resolution of such problems is crucial. And still problem management needs to find a creative approach to reflect such problems in KPI reports to present then as part of the big picture and sell them to executive management to get their sponsorship for major improvement tasks that compete with business development projects for the same resources while the latter has a much clearer ROI.

No problem exists in isolation and the problem records in KEDB can be related to specific categories/ domains and also related hierarchically to each other (there can be major principal problems that consist of smaller problems), also specific action items can contribute to the resolution of more than one problem. Problem categories cannot be restricted to fixed list as it can have multiple triggers and causes, it should be possible to relate a problem record to all interested stakeholders, for this dynamic tagging seems to be a better approach than limited number of categories (for example list of problems that are related to a big project). Instead of looking into each problem in isolation each problem should be approached and prioritized in the right context fully considering its implications and surroundings. No ITSM tool today provides the full capabilities for problem tagging or creating the mentioned relations without development, not to mention the visualization of such relations that would be a powerful tool in trend or WHAT-IF analysis and problem prioritization. Playtech is still looking for the most optimal problem categorization model and the tool that would enable the usage of such model.

Advice to organizations that are planning to start the implementation of the problem management process

For organizations starting the implementation of problem management process  my advice is don’t take all the process activities from the ITIL book and start blindly implementing them, this is not the way to start the implementation of this process or any other. Problem management success depends mostly on a specific mindset and in an already established organization it may take years for the right mindset to be universally accepted. Problem management formal process should be initially mostly invisible to all the stakeholders outside of the Problem Management Team to avoid the natural psychological tendency to resist change.

It is essential to allocate dedicated resources to problem management (Playtech assigned dedicated person to problem management in 2007, and any problem management activities prior to that were ad-hoc and non-consistent). The problem management unit should start from performing root cause analysis and removing the root causes of present major incidents that have the highest financial and reputational impact on the organization. If such incidents are being closely monitored by senior management and key stakeholders, solving them can earn the essential credits for problem management to get attention and resources for solving problems elsewhere. Secondly problem management should look at the most obvious reoccurring alarm and incident trends that result in a high support/maintenance cost. By resolving such problems they gain the trust of support and operational teams whose workload is reduced and they are more willing to contribute and cooperate in future root cause analysis. Problem final review before closure is a task often neglected but to improve the process it is essential to assess if the given problem was handled efficiently and to give feedback about problem solution to all relevant parties. Proactive problem management or KPI’s are not essential to start with and Problem Managers should concentrate on activities with highest exposure and clear value.

In summary

There will definitely be setbacks in problem management and in order to make a real difference with this process and increase the process maturity over time it has to have at least three things. A strong and assertive leader who is persistent in advocating the problem management; a continuous improvement mindset throughout the organization; and the ability to find a way forward from dead-end situations with out of the box thinking. When there is no such leader then involving external problem management experts may also help as a temporary measure to get the focus back on the most important activities. However, this measure is not sufficient in the long-term as the problem management process constantly needs to evolve with its organization and adjust with significant operational changes to be fit for purpose and remain relevant.

You can download Tõnu’s presentation in full here.

itSMF UK Conference 2013 – the practitioner perspective

Meeting the famous ITSM Penguin
Meeting the famous ITSM Penguin

When I got a tweet from Sophie saying I’d won the ITSM Review Competition for a free ticket to the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition I seriously couldn’t wait to tell people…especially my manager who was delighted. I’ve never been to Birmingham and I’d certainly never been to an itSMF UK conference and now I had the chance to be there in a more interactive capacity than the odd twitter stream comment…wow…time to get organised and get up there.

Drawing from my submission I hoped to get the following from attending:

  • Learning from others – practical hints, tips and experiences from other practitioners. Their journey using service management techniques to improve their company’s IT landscape. The sort of thing that money can’t buy – the sort of thing you don’t necessarily read about …rolling the sleeves up and getting to the nitty gritty.
  • Networking – I was going to be rubbing shoulders with the some of the most respected and nicest people from the global ITSM community. People whom I follow on various social media streams, the ITSM Review crew and people I’d got to know over the past couple of years. As well of course to make some new friends along the way…well I thought gregarious by name, gregarious by nature.
  • Innovation – finding out what’s new with the industry and what’s coming our way in the future.

Sunday networking

On sunday afternoon I beamed up to Birmingham to join everyone at the Hyatt hotel. The first thing that struck me was that so many people were there that are involved in the same IT discipline that I am…it was time to immerse myself and get involved.

The idea behind Sunday evening is to have informal drinks, network and enjoy your time getting a feel for what is going to unfold over the next couple of days. Take my example, randomly, I found myself sat at a table with fellow practitioners, consultants, trainers, mentors and even the Chairman of the ITSMF UK – Colin Rudd. Where else could this happen? Where else would all these Service Management experts be in one place? Where else I could I bump into Pengi? It was then that I realised the true value of being there…and I knew it was going to be good.

Opening Keynote

Monday morning came round fast and kicked off with an awakening electro charged sound track and video with Colin Rudd and departing Chief Executive, Ben Clacy introducing the conference.

Colin went on to say this was the 22nd ITSMF UK conference, featuring delegates from over 20 countries.

He discussed how Service Management will be more important than ever before through the use of service integration and the ability to demonstrate the value of IT services to the business – Service Catalogue will be key.

Looking jazzy with ITSM Review
Looking jazzy with ITSM Review

It was reassuring to hear that AXELOS (the new commercial owners of the best practice management portfolio) are engaging with itSMF UK and that they were to be a big presence at the conference.

Round table discussions to discuss the Big4 agenda were mentioned. The concept whereby delegates have the opportunity to share their views on what they think the four key topics in ITSM for itSMF UK to focus on should be for 2014.

Ben went on to introduce MONITOR, which is an online ITSM self-assessment and benchmarking tool that helps IT align with business goals. The contents of which have been “crowd sourced” from industry experts.

The opening session was then finished by Jo Salter, the opening keynote speaker. Jo is Britain’s first female fast jet fighter pilot and in my opinion re-defined the meaning of stress at work. If flying at the height of a tree wasn’t bad enough – try doing so at 600MPH – that requires not only fast thinking, but cat-like reflexes. She put the attribute of “speed and response” down to the sport of fencing in acquiring good hand to eye co-ordination.

Considering what Jo had done for a living she came across as being well grounded. When she was growing up she wanted to be a hairdresser, then an accountant and when the government decided women could fly jet fighters she took the opportunity to do just that. Along the way she faced much adversity – from old school boy scepticism to working out the easiest way to “pee” whilst flying.

Jo told several inspiring stories, each with a hint of tongue and cheek and doses of “eeek factor” and determination to succeed.

We’re only human and we all make mistakes. Jo was once preparing for take-off, something she had done countless times before.  The engineers were running final checks on the underside of her fighter. Due to miss-communication between them she accidently uncoupled a missile from the plane. It fell to the ground with a thud. Luckily nobody was hurt. Jo’s message was a simple one “be honest and open” It’s all about experiences -learning and moving on.

The sessions

Over the two days six topical presentation streams were provided. I mainly focused on two. Real World Learning – this stream covered the main reason I wanted to be there – learning from others and their journey – adversities they encountered and what approaches they took to achieve their end goal. The second stream, IT(SM) into the future – what disciplines and innovations are emerging.

Monday’s presentations came from a good mixture of companies such as Dyson, Accenture, Jaguar and Land Rover and Tata Consultancy Services. Between them they covered subjects such as Supplier Relationship, Business Relationship Management, Service Integration and End User Support.

Ingredients for Great Supplier Relationships

Cath Bartlett from Dyson gave practical advice gained from her experiences dealing with suppliers. My takeaways from her session were:

  • Ask the question – who are we? And who does our supplier think we are?
  • If you feel it’s not working request an account manager change – it can be a positive thing and bring value to the relationship
  • As the customer, define what matters to you, after all you’re the expert on what you want…but remember that the supplier is the expert on how you achieve it
  • From a customer perspective ask the supplier what you can do better, this will only encourage collaboration
  • Make sure your KPI’s are a true reflection on what the business wants from IT

Business Relationship Management

Andrea Kis was next on my list. She outlined “the Beauty and Simplicity of Common Sense for Business Relationship Management”. Takeaways from her session were:

  • BRM is a skill, an ability not just a job title – they’re enablers that can connect the business and IT
  • Make the business understand the value you bring, business perception is key
  • Common goals are the foundations to building a relationship – it’s not an enslaved deal, it’s a partnership
  • Have a positive effect and take responsibility
  • My favourite of six competencies that Andrea listed was  “established teams don’t work in silos” – have collaboration at all levels

Project of the Year

Midway through Monday’s presentations The Project of the Year award 2013 finalists from EE, Land and Property Services and QBE were showcasing how service management techniques over the past 12 months helped them reach their companies goals.

EE’s objectives were to maximise their stability, and recognise and mitigate the risks during the London Olympics with the influx of foreigners to the capital. I liked their use of capacity management whereby they measured against forecasts to ensure services met demands and how this was used to good effect to drive through changes quickly.

Land and Property Services was a great example of minimal budget in times of austerity. Using an Agile approach enabled them to improve their IT systems freeing up man hours and leading to better services.

QBE – who later went on to win the award with its zero to hero Service Desk implementation.  This was a classic case of turning around the business perception of IT. QBE’s IT asked the business (their customers) what they thought of the service given to them from IT. The response was shocking – their stats showed that IT wasn’t fit for service and the business didn’t have confidence in its IT department. Their customers felt that they’d lost that personalisation and that their incident tickets were falling into a black hole. Being customer centric they took the feedback seriously and set out to bring back their in house Service Desk. Jacqueline Brunett and Amanda Rutlege spearheaded the initiative and employed 10 new service desk agents. Training for the new staff included learning the nature of the business (which I feel all organisations should provide for their service desk).

Three months on from the rebirth of the Service Desk the stats improved and both agreed that being customer centric was key to this success.

Optimising the End User Support Model

The afternoon presentations started with Mel Tuke Griffin from Accenture. They have a huge user base of 275K that mainly work out of the office and generate on average 1 million incidents a year. Their drive was to help prevent users having to come into the office for repairs. This was achieved by incorporating an effective one-stop shop self-service experience along with improved IT remote tools.

Accenture have used self-service since 2001 and 61% of their incidents come from the self-service portal and it is treated as the front door to IT. Once logged in they can search a database for known issues, for example outage information on key services and general issues such as what to do when your mail box exceeds its size limit.

The Future of Supplier Management

Mark Hipwell of Jaguar and Landrover and Martin Goble of Tata Consultancy Services co-hosted a session on service integration.  With TCS’s help, JLR’s objective was to improve the IT supplier management process. These were my takeaways:

  • JLR outsourced the responsibility to TCS, but kept the accountability in house. This allowed for JLR to step in from time to time and allow the processes and procedures to be tweaked
  • A benefit of using the ITIL framework allowed everyone to talk the same language
  • An example of JLR working collaboratively with its suppliers was arranging with them to inform JLR of their own planned outages. JLR then analyse the risk and put mitigation and communication plans in place to take that risk away

AXELOS road mapClosing Keynote

Then onto the closing keynote from AXELOS the new owners of ITIL and PPM. “Think AXELOS think best practice” was Peter Hepworth’s message. Takeaways from this update:

  • Those going through qualifications, keep doing that
  • Quality, relevance, growth, innovation and collaboration through crowd source is key

Evening Entertainment

After an action packed day attention turned to the evening for the glamorous itSMF UK Service Management Awards Dinner – hosted by Edwina Currie. A special mention must go to the guru Stuart Rance who deservedly won the Paul Rappaport award for outstanding contribution to IT service management. When collecting the award Stuart was kind enough to let Edwina hold Pengi to have their photo taken, which was especially cheered and clapped from a certain couple of tables near the back of the awards hall.

After the awards, the dance floor was rocking, surrounded by casino tables, bars and hilarious photo booths – fun was had by all deep into the early hours of the next day.

Service Integration and Management

In a blur I arrived back at the ICC for the last day of the conference. My Tuesday agenda focused mostly on CSI, SIAM and Problem Management.

Presenter Kevin Holland asked the question…what is SIAM?…For starters it most definitely is not a breed of cat and … it’s a lot more than a new fancy acronym (Service Integration and Management) for ITSM. The fact is it’s not even new – but is something that we’re all going to be hearing much more about in the near future and this is why:

  • SIAM is a service integrator, it governs and links everything together consistently, ITIL doesn’t do this
  • SIAM takes problem, incident and change management and integrates them
  • It’s not the technology, it’s using soft skills such as relationship and conflict management – it’s people that make SIAM work
  • You need to build trust at every level, focus on customer outcomes and what value you provide

Interestingly Kevin asked a full room of attendees “Who has a service catalogue?” Only two put their hands up. In an ideal world you need a service catalogue to work out what you do. Without this you’re wondering what does what and how the information flows.

SIAM is coming but if the majority of companies don’t use Service Catalogues it will be interesting to see how SIAM gains momentum.

Implementing Problem Management

From one lively presentation to another – Amanda Kirby from Virgin Media gave a 10 step guide to successfully implementing problem management. Amanda’s enthusiasm shone through as well as the attitude of “screw it … do it”. During the session and with the help of other attendees (and myself) she used a fun game consisting of different coloured balls to demonstrate the conflict that can result from using the same resources for both problem and incident management.

These were my takeaways from her session:

  • Dedicate a team to underling root cause, separate incidents from problems
  • Record known errors and link everything, incidents, change and outputs
  • Elevate the profile of the problem team – Amanda insisted that problem management must challenge the status quo
  • Change the culture and embed the process

Continual Service Improvement

The next session that I attended was by Adam Poppleton, from BrightOak Consultancy Ltd exploring the requirements of a good CSI implementation.

Adam’s thought provoking presentation started with discussing someone he knows who embeds CSI in their personal life – this person would sit down and ask himself what is it he wanted and how is it he was going to get there. An interesting approach when you consider that as an industry we tend to be bad at taking our own medicine.  Adams view is that CSI should be the first process people consider.

These were my takeaways from his presentation:

  • Before you start, baseline otherwise how do you know how well you’re doing?
  • CSI shouldn’t be retro fitted, it’s applicable to everything and everyone is involved
  • If you have a CSI register communicate it out – if nobody knows of it nobody will use it, think crossover risks and opportunities
  • Where do you start? – where it’s hurting most … be brave
  • Keep CSI simple, what does the business need how can you help enable it to get there

Next up, Laura Jay and Steve Bowler gave advice on the journey so far into their service improvement programme at 3M Cognet. Laura and Steve’s story was similar to others, they needed to keep the service fresh, their challenge – lack of resources. Thinking adapt adopt – they didn’t use the full 7 step CSI process and instead they used the parts of CSI that works for them.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Include stakeholder engagement
  • Define corporate strategy and link to service strategy
  • Small improvements can have big results
  • ITIL un-alignment isn’t a bad thing
  • Use a CSI register for managing expectations after all it’s an evolving document

In Summary

Socialising with Stephen Mann from ServiceNow
Socialising with Stephen Mann from ServiceNow

Over the course of the two days I attended many presentations, that represented hours of insightful learning; but it didn’t stop there. Bubbling away under the roof of the ICC was an ITSM eco-system, which meant in-between all these sessions you could network and exchange “war stories” and using social media I was able to keep updated and find out what else was going on.

Over the course of the two days I attended many presentations, that represented hours of insightful learning; but it didn’t stop there. Bubbling away under the roof of the ICC was an ITSM eco-system, which meant in-between all these sessions you could network and exchange “war stories” and using social media I was able to keep updated and find out what else was going on.

My only criticisms of the event would be the woeful Wi-Fi – there would have been more twitter activity if it wasn’t for all the signal problems.

After speaking to several of the vendors they felt visiting numbers could have been higher. I would consider a venue that allowed for the vendors to be central and whereby traffic can flow through the vendor area to get to their sessions.

The delivery of training in my opinion leads the way for innovation. Whether it is board games, computer games or education via your smartphone it gives a student more options to learning service management. Otherwise I felt innovation was lacking.

When all said and done the question is would I come back again? Most definitely. There is real substance to coming to an event like this and learning in one place from some of the industry’s best.

Common threads that I picked up on were:

  • Engage with your business focus on their outcomes and what value you provide
  • Work collaboratively, create and build relationships
  • Be open and honest, learn from your mistakes
  • Change the culture and embed the process
  • Have a positive effect and take responsibility
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel, if you’re interested in asset management find out if it’s being done somewhere in the business already under a different name
  • Small changes accumulate – don’t boil the ocean
  • If appropriate use ITIL

There is a core in the ITSM community that I tap into from time to time so I can hear and read about their thoughts and opinions on what’s happening out there in the world of ITSM. Going forward I will be doing so more often. Winning the ITSM Review competition enabled me to have the pleasure in meeting those acquaintances who I’m happy to say have now become friends.

See you at ITSM14.

 

Kepner Tregoe: Working together on Problem Management

Steve White, Senior Consultant at Kepner Tregoe discusses his interactive session at the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition entitled “Igniting Problem Management with Pre-emptive Successes”.

In this video Steve invites people to come along to his session to share both their Problem Management successes and current issues. With powerpoint banned, Steve’s session aims to facilitate conversations on the topic of Problem Management and help practioners do Problem Management more effectively.

He also discusses his role in the itSMF UK Problem Management Special Interest Group, explaining how his role is to actively drive discussion and engagement, ensuring that people get the most they possibly can out of the group.

Catch Steve at the itSMF conference in November:

A vision for ITIL

examSince the UK Government transferred ITIL (and the rest of their best management practice portfolio) to AXELOS there have been lots of suggestions about what they should change. I’ve been involved in discussions about the future of ITIL with many people, face-to-face and in social media, and there is clearly a lot of passion as well as many creative ideas. This article is my contribution to the ongoing debate.

Three is the magic number

When I think about ITIL, I think of three distinct things, and it is really important to distinguish these, and to make sure we plan what is needed for each of them.

  1. A body of knowledge that can be used by IT organizations to help them create value for their customers. This body of knowledge is available in the form of five core publications, plus a number of complementary publications, but I think of knowledge as something that lives in people, that they can use to do something useful. In this sense, ITIL really is owned by the huge community of service management practitioners who use it to inform decisions about how they will plan, build and run IT services.
  2. A collection of training courses that people attend to develop their knowledge, understanding and competence. These courses are based on the ITIL publications, and often lead to certification, but they are distinct from both of those. The purpose of the training should be to help people develop knowledge, understanding and competence that they can use to help them improve how they manage IT services to create value for their organizations or customers.
  3. A set of exams that are used to certify that people satisfy the requirements of specific syllabuses. These exams are used to demonstrate that people have knowledge of ITIL when applying for jobs or tendering for contracting opportunities.

One mistake I have seen in many discussions is to confuse two of these things. If we don’t look at the requirements for each of them separately then we will never plan well, but if we plan them each independently that won’t work either!

Here is what I would like to see in each area.

Body of Knowledge

The body of knowledge has a number of problems which should be addressed in a future release.

  • It needs to adapt to a rapidly changing world. It doesn’t offer sufficient guidance in areas such as Supplier Integration and Management (SIAM), integration across the service lifecycle (ITIL service design has virtually nothing about application development for example), management of complex virtual and cloud environments, and many other areas. It would be great if ITIL could adopt ideas such as Rob England’s Standard+Case for example.
  • Even though the 2011 edition fixed many inconsistencies, there are still some contradictions between how terms are used in the different publications and how inputs, outputs and interfaces are defined.
  • The books are very long, and somewhat repetitive. It is a huge challenge for most people to actually read them!

The ITIL body of knowledge also has a number of great features which I would hate to lose. Probably the best feature of ITIL is that it is NOT a standard, it is a narrative. It tells stories and provides examples of how other organizations have done things that can be copied. Any future development of ITIL must retain this narrative approach.

I think we could resolve the issues with the ITIL body of knowledge by defining a service management architecture. This could be done at a fairly high level and would allow us to simultaneously define a lifecycle, and processes, and many other views and ways of thinking about service management.

The architecture could show how the bits fit together without providing excessive detail of how each part works. We could then charter authors to write narrative that fits within the architecture. This would retain the narrative approach that ITIL does so well but put it within a more formal structure which would improve consistency.

It would also allow for different narratives that could even contradict each other, that fit within the same architecture. For example there might be different descriptions of incident management for use in a complex multi-supplier environment and an in-house IT department.

I don’t think we should be in too much of a hurry to create a new version of ITIL, it’s more important to get this stuff right than to get it fast, but I would love to see AXELOS working towards this vision of a properly architected approach to IT service management, especially if they can adopt the ideas I have previously suggested in ITSM Knowledge Repository – proposal for ITIL owners to ensure that we get input from the widest possible community of ITSM practitioners.

Training Courses

I see many different problems with ITIL training courses:

  • In my opinion they are too focused on the exams rather than on helping people to develop knowledge, understanding and competence. There are some very good training providers, but price pressure in the market drives many of them towards lower cost, shorter, exam-focussed courses.
  • People often leave the courses with a complete misunderstanding of what ITIL is, and how it could be used to help create value for their customers.
  • Due to the above issues, many people think that ITIL is a rigid framework of bureaucratic processes, this leads to some very poor practices that don’t provide value to anyone.
  • Very large numbers of people attend ITIL Foundation, which is often simply an exercise in cramming facts. There is a lot of material to learn in a fairly short time, and only a very talented trainer can motivate people to really care about creating value for customers while communicating this amount of information in the time available.
  • Almost all of the courses focus on ITIL exam syllabuses. These may not be appropriate for everybody in the organization, and many people would be better off with more focused training that teaches them how the things they do contribute value and how they could improve their practices.

There are a number of things that could be done to improve ITIL training. I would like to see more training organizations provide courses that focus on how ITIL can be used to create value, rather than on fact-cramming. I love the ITSM simulations created by G2G3 (and other organizations), and I am very encouraged that Capita (the majority owner of AXELOS) now also own G2G3.

I think the main thing that is needed to improve ITIL training is to somehow separate it from the exam system. We could do with some really good marketing of non-examined training courses that help practitioners develop the knowledge, understanding and competence that they need to create value for their customers.

Exams

I don’t think the ITIL exams  should be changed in the short term. It will take a long time to create a new version of ITIL, especially if AXELOS follow the suggestions I have made above, and I think that making significant changes to the exam system before there is a new version of ITIL would create significant problems for the market. It would take more than a year to create a new exam system, and training organizations would then have to create new courses.

There would be confusion over the value of the retired exams; training organizations would incur a huge expense to create new courses for the same expected revenue; and if there is an expectation of a new version of ITIL in 3 to 5 years then the ITIL exam market may stall completely. These issues are amplified by the need to release exams and training courses in many languages to support the worldwide community.

In parallel with work to create a new version of ITIL, I think that AXELOS should work with all the stakeholders in the exam system to understand what is working well and what could be improved. The first step of this should be to identify the correct stakeholders. We talk to exam institutes and training organizations, but spend far too little time trying to understand the needs of the organizations that use ITIL. AXELOS should talk to a wide range of IT organizations, IT recruiters, outsourcers and other users of IT service management about what they want from an exam system.

In summary

I think we should be working towards releasing a new version of ITIL, based on a formal architecture, in 3 to 4 years, and I think we should create a new exam system at the same time. Meanwhile we should help create more value in the short term by creating more innovative training courses that are not solely focused on the exams.

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The ITSM Diet

krispyI am undergoing a very personal transformational change right now. I am trying to learn how to eat in the real world and maintain a healthy weight. I had really let myself go.

No exercise, eating too much, eating the wrong things and not caring. The results: 360 lbs.; the inability to walk at least 50 feet without wheezing; acid reflux; and an impressive expanding waistline. I felt horrible. My body simply hurt all the time.

After much self-loathing, I made the decision to change. Now, I control my calories, carbs, fat and protein levels and I get 60 to 90 minutes of exercise in a minimum of 5 days per week. I made my health issues a “big rock” in my life (see Stephen Covey’s “Put your big rocks in first”).

The results: I currently weigh 320 lbs., I’ve lost 4 inches on my waist, and I feel a heck of a lot better.

The funny thing in all of this, people keep asking me what “diet” I’m using. Okay, here it is –  I eat less, make better food choices, and exercise as much as I can. Disappointed with my answer? I find that many folks are looking for me to give them some “magical” advice like “oh, I lost the weight by following the Krispy Kreme diet”. There are no silver bullets. You have to eat right and exercise.

So, what’s the point in relation to ITSM?

The point is this; you must build and follow a plan for an ITSM initiative to work. There are no simple solutions or silver bullets to make adoption easy. Be prepared to work hard, suffer some failures, learn from those failures and iterate, just like you do with a diet.

In order to be successful in ITSM adoption (or in your diet) I recommend following the key “exercise and eating” tips and advice listed below.

Don’t fall for hype

“Just follow our simple x step plan every day, and we’ll guarantee you will lose weight”

I’ve seen ITSM blog posts and consulting statements that indicate the same thing “…just follow our advice and you’ll be doing x process in no time” or “buy our product and we guarantee you will be ITIL compliant”. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Any offering of a “quick fix” probably will not work. Think about the long term and what you want the program to achieve. Learn good habits.

Always evaluate

I don’t do “diets” but there are items within the multitude of diet plans out there that do make sense for for certain individuals. ITSM is no different.

If something works, adopt it. If it doesn’t, forget it. For example, Problem management as detailed in ITIL® doesn’t fit well with how my organization works. We therefore adopted LEAN 8-step method as the primary way to execute our problem management but use the information in ITIL® to ensure our process is as robust as needed.

Build a plan that works for you and helps you achieve your goals

There are many ITSM frameworks out there and no rules that say you have to use a specific one. My advice is that you read, learn, and research.

You may need to use ITIL®, LEAN, COBIT®, USMBOK®, and/or combinations of the aforementioned to build your plan. Don’t do something just because someone else says you should do it. Know what you are trying to achieve and select the appropriate framework to work toward it.

For example, my company uses many different frameworks along with ISO/IEC 20000, with ISO/IEC 20000 as an indicator of “world class” IT operations. Despite this, we have attempted on four different occasions to start the adoption process for Configuration Management. What we found is teams did not understand what to do with CIs or how to move them through a change process. We therefore took a step back and spent more time looking at our Change process, and are now starting to have tabletop discussions on moving a CI through a change.

In doing this exercise, we found our teams had different execution of change, different ideas on what a CI is, and different ideas on how to move a CI through a change cycle. These discussions gave us the opportunity to drop back and review all the frameworks for a “good fit” to help accelerate what we do.

If the plan is not working, change it

When exercising, eventually your body can become use to a specific exercise and become efficient in the activity. At that point, you can continue doing the same thing, but the results will not improve. An ITSM plan is the same. If your plan is not getting the results you desire, mix it up and try a different approach. Focus on a specific aspect and find the change that helps you get the results you need.

During the adoption of incident management at my company, we had team members onboard who had been doing incident work for many years and yet our design process kept missing key steps we needed to fulfill ISO/IEC 20000 requirements. Clearly we needed a different approach and so we went back to the beginning and built a checklist of items that the design team needed to complete prior to submitting deliverables. This helped us to identify the missing steps and fix the design process.

Measure

When it comes to exercising and being healthy, my FitBit gives me all types of data to help me determine if my behaviors match my plan. Data helps us measure where we are against our goals, which is important in any ITSM initiative.

What you measure is up to you, you cannot allow others to dictate what data you need to collect. Identify your goals, and collect and analyze data that helps you reach those goals.

At my company, we ask our service owners to identify “pain points”, the place where their team or their customers indicate something in the process doesn’t deliver the promised goods and/or causes them problems. We have found that focusing on a few key measures and “pain points” leads the service owner and their teams to think more holistically about the service and why they are doing what they do. This organically leads to continuous improvement, brainstorming and discussion about user experience.

Keep the goal in mind

It is easy to get discouraged when you go a couple of weeks without losing any weight, and the same is true in ITSM. Don’t lose sight of what you have done and where you are now.

Sometimes it may seem easier to follow the same path as you always have and get the same (bad) results to achieve quick “outcomes”, but how does this help overall? Remember, incremental improvements over time lead to reaching goals.

Relax

One of the toughest issues I have with weight loss is overthinking the situation – I can become my own worst enemy. The same is true with your ITSM plan. Work the plan you built, and if something doesn’t work so what? Try something new! Be mindful of your situation and don’t be afraid to change. It will all work out in the end so just remember to breath and relax.

And a bonus tip!

Be as transparent as possible in any ITSM initiative or project, routinely discussing your success, failure, trails, and tribulations. This will help you to stay grounded and on top of where you really are in your process/project. Use your measurements to remind yourself and others of the progress you have made and make sure you understand the deliverables and timeframes.

Final Though

ITSM adoption, just like maintaining a healthy lifestyle, can be tough. It takes planning and execution, measurement and analyzing data, and it also takes support. Remember, don’t fall for the hype; always evaluate; build a plan that works for your situation and change it as required; measure your progress; relax; and always keep your end goal in mind.

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IT Knowledge Management – Spreading the Word!

Anyone with experience in IT support knows the importance of knowledge in reducing resolution time. Anyone with math skills can extrapolate business value from rapid resolution. Despite its obvious benefits, Knowledge Management (KM) remains a frustration for a vast majority of enterprises. Why?

Because organizations continue to approach KM as a monolithic publication effort with ancillary inputs from Incident and Problem Management.

By combining principles from Knowledge Centered Support (KCS) with the ITIL framework and a few basic workflows, an enterprise with the right cultural mindset can make KM work with far less effort.

The Objective of IT Knowledge Management

IT’s need for Knowledge Management is not complex. Although ITIL lists five objectives to KM and KCS and boils it down to the “creation, use and evolution of knowledge”, this article, because of its focus on IT support, is more specific:

The objective of IT Knowledge Management is to create, maintain and make available concise and actionable information to users and IT support groups in order to resolve service disruptions quickly and respond to customer queries satisfactorily. 

The challenge is to collect, maintain, and make that knowledge accessible.

Flailing and Failing

How well are IT organizations managing their knowledge? Do support agents have rapid access to current knowledge for a vast majority of customer contacts?

Does the enterprise require waves of knowledge initiatives to address a stagnant knowledge lifecycle? Is there a group of knowledge authors scrambling to review and update solutions?  Are stale solutions common?

Gone are the days of separate knowledge applications run by a core team of authors. The monolithic approach to KM works no better today than it did 10 years ago but many organizations continue to flail about in an attempt to write the definitive support encyclopedia.

For organizations to achieve the objectives of KM, they must move toward distributed, open-source authorship.

If solution content originates at the point of problem support, where should authorship take place? This past weekend, I spent hours on the phone with a satellite TV provider trying to fix a problem on a secondary satellite receiver. After two hours, I noticed that the coax cable had a little red device on it and mentioned it to the support agent. “Oh my Gosh!”, she cried. “That device blocks the receiver from communicating with the parent receiver.  The instructions should have had me check that right away”. When I asked how hard it was to update the solution, she replied that she was already doing it. This is how to make KM effective.

One must drive content to the lowest possible level and implement a flexible, role-based approval mechanism that deploys the updated solution with minimal fuss.

Knowledge Management is Integral, Not Additional

Most organizations have implemented one or more repositories of “solutions” and most of those organizations struggle to encourage adoption by users and authors. The ineffectiveness of Knowledge Management derives from just a few basic misunderstandings:

  1. Centralized authorship simply does not work.
  2. If we look at Incident and Problem Management as recipes, Knowledge Management must be a primary ingredient rather than a garnish.
  3. Because the Service Desk is the face of IT and depends so heavily on an effective Knowledge Base, agent input must be dynamic and empowered.
  4. The Knowledge Management workflow must be flexible to support distributed authorship and review.
  5. Authorship and article utilization deserve meaningful rewards as an incentive for adoption.

To address these issues, one needs to employ a mixture of wisdom from several sources.  There are a number of standards for Knowledge Management.

So Many Knowledge Management Standards

Knowledge Management does not make standardization easy.  While this article discusses IT Knowledge Management, a standard cannot ignore the management of content and documents across the enterprise.  In general, the standards with broader scope will offer less prescriptive guidance for IT managers.

(ITIL) – ISO/IEC 20000 – ITIL’s approach to Knowledge Management is academic.  Though the inputs from Problem Management and Incident Management are clearly defined, ITIL is tentative in demanding the required participation and ITIL provides scant guidance in establishing a workflow.

Knowledge Centered Support – though not an official standard, KCS is comprehensive and its approach maps best to the real world.  KCS emphasizes that KM must be incorporated into the process flows of both Incident and Problem Management.  This paper draws heavily on KCS.

Other Standards

Though this article focuses on ITIL and KCS, there are other standards worthy of mention:

Standards Australia International is Australia’s non-government standards body and is a member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The SAI publishes “AS 5037-2005 Knowledge Management – A Guide”.

European Committee for Standardization has published standard “CWA-14924″ in five parts.  Part 1 lays out a framework and basic KM steps (Identify, Create, Store, Share, Use) but is weak on workflow guidance. There is considerable guidance on project management.

British Standards Institute publishes “PAS2001:2001 Knowledge Management”, a high-level document with limited value for process design and implementation.

KCS Plus ITIL

Though ITIL is weak in Knowledge Management guidance, the overall framework encourages integration. As the document “KCS Overview” states, “KCS is not something a support organization does in addition to solving problems, KCS becomes the process for solving problems.”  While ITIL talks about inputs and outputs, KCS incorporates Knowledge Management into the processes used for solving problems. When organizations “implement” ITIL, Knowledge Management is often a separate implementation driven by the Service Desk.  As for Incident and Problem Management, the processes and tools may allow integration but typically act as feeds to the monolithic Knowledge Management team.

Because the typical implementation of Knowledge Management relies heavily on one or a few core teams of authors to generate content, the process flow includes numerous points of review and approval. Each point represents a bottleneck.

When Knowledge Management drives rather than follows the problem resolution process, it transforms itself and its dependent processes into an elegantly simple and self-sustaining engine for efficiency.

Below is the simplified workflow for solution creation (with KCS states noted):

graph1
Figure 1: Knowledge Article Creation

This simplified flow relies heavily on issue responders (i.e. Service Desk, technical support) to initiate and update the “solution”.  For this to succeed, the tools and processes of the responders must efficiently enable contribution. Furthermore, the organization must meaningfully reward such contribution.

This approach is in stark contrast to the monolithic Knowledge Management group where a small number of “authors” provide solutions to issue responders. One need only tour the Service Desk of such an organization to gauge the success of such an effort. Support personnel maintain their own notes with yellow stickies, notebooks, and heterogeneous repositories. Hop rates (call transfers) are high. FCR (first contact resolution) is low. Customer satisfaction suffers.

Knowledge Creation Baked into Incident and Problem Management

In the “Knowledge Article Creation” diagram, steps 4 and 5 are pivotal.  Within these steps, the agent must have a quick way to create or update solutions. A single tool should allow the agent to respond to calls, create incident records, search knowledge solutions and update those knowledge solutions. The approval process should be simple while allowing for variation of depth.

graph2
Figure 2: Service Desk Role in KM

In figure 2, many organizations are concerned that step 8 (Document Solution) will encumber the responder, thereby increasing service costs. In the absence of prudent guidelines, such concern is well founded. One can address this concern by limiting input in step 8 to simple solutions and updates. Anything more should be deferred to a sub-process for Solution Review (step 10). Step 10 can be distributed across numerous organizational units, allowing the responder’s department to update the solutions upon which they depend. Basically, step 8 only works if the workflow and toolset enable the responder to complete the task very quickly.

Solution Creation Reward System

Rewards, an important contributor to Knowledge Management success, are based on Key Performance Indicators such as those listed below:

  • Most articles created/updated in past 30 days.
  • Highest average user rating in past 30 days.
  • Total articles deemed “useful” by at least 90% of users in past year.
  • Most articles used to solve a problem in past 30 days.

For a reward to have meaning, it must be deemed of high value. This does not mean that it must be expensive. Although, recognition is a major component of any reward, the organization can budget for gifts such as gift certificates, parking space, cash, merchandise, CIO lunch, group outing, etc. Be creative and make it desirable for employees.

Solution Creation and the Challenge of Outsourcing

By asking support personnel to create and update solutions, some organizations introduce a conflict. When an enterprise measures the value of an agent by call volume, what incentive does the agent have to take the time to produce solutions?

There are three parts to this answer:

  • First, it may be necessary, especially for service desk agents, to limit the time spent on each solution.
  • Second, the organization can use both call volume and solution updates as measures.
  • Third, keep the solutions simple.  The “KCS Practices Guide” provides excellent guidelines on article composition. More importantly, the KCS approach relies on both “Solve” and “Evolve” to maintain article health. Thus, an agent can start the article lifecycle with a quick but readable note and later, others can enhance the article with updates.
graph3
Figure 3: Consortium for Service Innovation

Let’s look at two examples:

  1. Quick Solution Update – an agent deals with an incident where the solution is correct but the steps are slightly out of order. Without delaying the resolution for the customer, the agent has already begun the update. The call ends and the agent spends less than five minutes to complete the update. Next call.
  2. New Solution – an agent cannot find a knowledge solution for the incident but is able to resolve the incident with quick input from another source. Recognizing that the issue is likely to recur, the agent take five additional minutes (after the call) to document the steps taken during the call and submit the solution for review. If the solution is incomplete, the reviewer can prevail upon the agent or another SME to enhance it. For the agent, such work would have no impact on call volume measurement.

Solution creation becomes more complex when suppliers are involved. Although the execution remains under supplier control, the client company should provide contractual incentives (and penalties) for knowledge participation based on KPIs. From past experience, it would be prudent to measure both knowledge contribution and knowledge quality while also reviewing the supplier’s workflow to ensure capability. This arrangement often requires an additional approval mechanism at the supplier level.

Key Takeaways

This is very broad guidance.  For more detailed instructions on KM project management, I have found CWA-14924 (mentioned above) to be comprehensive.

    1. Find the Right Partner – clearly, an organization needs more than a librarian and a tool. Consider partnering with an experienced service company. Your partner should have wisdom in the areas of ITSM strategy, solution taxonomy, Service Catalog, workflow design, Knowledge Centered Support, and ITIL Service Transition. Ideally, the partner can also provide deep technical expertise for implementation.
    2. Establish a Value Proposition – yes, this should probably be number one but, frankly, the right partner makes this much simpler and will often include such assistance as part of pre-sales. The point is to build an Initial Business Case. This is not terribly complex as it is often based on call center efficiency – an area where organizations typically maintain lots of measurement data. Again, the partner should assist with supportable expectations for improvement.
    3. Build a Coalition – combined with Knowledge Management thought leadership, present the Business Case to key decision makers and stakeholders in order to build a coalition for the initiative. Although the audience will participate in further planning, the overall initiative depends heavily on the enthusiasm generated here.
    4. Design a Knowledge Management Strategy – this is an opportunity to strengthen the coalition and spread the good news. If there is consensus that Knowledge Management is crucial to effective IT support, then any strategy will address the inclusion of Incident Management, Problem Management, and Service Desk in the Knowledge Management strategy. The strategy will address taxonomy (Service Catalog, Request Fulfillment and CMDB involvement), integration and task prioritization (roadmap).
    5. Toolset Review (optional) – the KM strategy may have identified issues around the current toolset(s). Which tools support the integration with (or perhaps subordination of) Incident and Problem Management? Which tools provide a flexible workflow? Does the business case support the replacement of current tools? How will tool replacement impact outsourcing arrangements? If called for, evaluate and select replacement software.
    6. KM Implementation– This step deserves its own separate article. Aside from the usual and extensive project management advice, the following points are worth noting:
  • Develop a comprehensive Communication Plan to market KM.The KCS requires a cultural shift to a distributed and empowered communication model.
  • Provide meaningful rewards for solution creation, update, and utilization.
  • The key to success may well be the changes in Incident/Problem Management.
  • Be wary of timelines greater than 4-6 months. If that seems incredibly short, either the scope or the supplier is off track.
  • This project is well suited to an “agile” approach (iterations rather than a big push).

Conclusion

Niels Bohr, Nobel physicist, philosopher and unheralded hero, wrote:

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”

As I never seem to exhaust my capacity for error, I doubt that I am an expert in much of anything. Still, this article is an attempt to share a response to a series of missteps in Knowledge Management. If you have not already done so, I advise that you at least read the “KCS Overview”. If, as I maintain, we have been wrong-headed in our KM struggles, this may help set you on a more reasoned path. We should, in light of today’s emphasis on social media, understand that knowledge increases in value as the number of synapses (contributors) increase. In essence, I entreat you to spread the word!

 

Service Catalogue 2013 Group Test – The Results

This is a review of software products and vendors in the ‘Service Catalogue’ market area.

This is a complex and varied market place and consideration should be given to the Market Overview section.


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Service Catalogue 2013 Best in Class: Axios Systems
Service Catalogue 2013 Best in Class: Axios Systems

Service Catalogue 2013 Best in Class

  • Axios – scalable to big customized projects as well as nice UI for OOTB implementations. Strategic ITSM focus.

Of the other products reviewed, these areas were of particular note:

Best for MSPs and Small/Medium Organizations: 

Best for Enterprise Organizations:

  • ServiceNow – particularly for large implementations where customization is expected. Good product and corporate fit

Service Catalogue Market Overview

By Barclay Rae

Service Catalogue Approach

large ‘Service Catalogue’ market is a niche sub-set of the IT Service Management (ITSM) Software market, which has seen considerable interest and growth in recent years.

Whilst ‘Service Catalogue” can be given a clear definition, the term can be and often is used to cover a number of functional and strategic approaches that stretch from fairly low-level request fulfilment to strategic Service Design and Strategy.

This approach varies because there are several different components that can be described as ‘Service Catalogue” – from ‘front-end’ portal to ‘back-end’ workflow and high-level business views of services. There are also potentially a number of different inputs and outputs – and types of document – that can be described as part of the ‘Service Catalogue’.

This reflects the developing nature of how the industry has defined and understood what a ‘Service Catalogue’ is, which has led to some fundamental differences and interpretations of how to make this work and what the expectations are from implementation.

In a nutshell the 2 main different approaches are:

Strategic/Top Down

This is where the organisation takes a strategic view of all IT services – including the business services (applications/departmental services, external customer services). Usually this will lead to a definition of an overall service structure of Core IT Services (PCs, Phones, email etc.) and Business Services (departments, business processes, applications).

This can then drive service reporting and service differentiation and is a long-term strategic approach to ‘service’ management and value demonstration. Request fulfilment follows out of this process, once the overall structure has been defined.

Technical/Bottom Up

This tends to be started by technical teams to ‘discover’ services, solve specific configuration management and integration problems and provide a practical user interface for consumption of core services and request fulfilment.

Both approaches are viable and necessary at some point to lead to a successful implementation:

Top Down is useful to ensure that the whole IT organisation is on board and that the wider goals and expectations are defined as part of a customer engagement process. Visualisation is useful for all parties to have a tangible view of the overall goals for IT.

Bottom Up can be a good tactical approach to get moving quickly. Request Management automation usually provides efficiency benefits and can significantly improve service quality to customers. The strategic view will need to be defined at some point so should be considered whenever (and as soon as) possible.

For the purposes of this review both of the above approaches have been considered and the overall key elements for tools defined as follows:

  • General – user friendly and with proven integrations to other tools
  • Service Design – the ability to create a database of service records, containing a number of business and technical attributes, processes and workflows
  • Service Structure – the ability to organise and structure these services into a hierarchy of services and service offerings – ideally in a graphical format
  • User Request Portal – a user friendly portal with an intuitive interface to request and track services
  • Request Fulfilment – request management workflow and functionality that can be easily used and configured by system users
  • SLA and Event Management – the ability to define SLAs that can be linked via Event Management to other ITSM processes
  • Demand Management – the ability to provide real-time allocation and monitoring of service consumption, with e.g. financial calculations
  • Dashboard – real-time user-friendly graphical monitoring and analysis of usage, trends and metrics across services and to various stakeholders
  • Service Reporting – the ability to present output that summarises individual and ‘bundled’ service performance, consumption, SLA and event performance – in user-friendly, portable and graphical format

See the full list of criteria here

Approach to Implementation

Organisations and their practitioners who are considering buying and implementing Service Catalogue technology should consider the following:

  • As there are a number of potential applications and objectives for Service Catalogue, these must be clearly defined and agreed in advance. This shouldn’t be embarked upon because it is the ‘flavour of the month’ or it ‘looks like a good thing to do’.

Key benefits that can be derived:

    • Improved professionalism and quality of service experience to customers
    • Value demonstration of IT through business and service based reporting
    • Clarity around service differentiation and value – e.g. commodity versus quality, value-add, time to market
    • Improved cost efficiency of request management and administration
    • Improved quality and speed of service for request management and administration
    • Greater visibility of IT costs and service level performance
    • Improvement in Service Desk performance via better central access to information
  • It is vital that all participants not only understand the expected benefits and objectives, but are also clear on the taxonomy of Service Level Management. This saves considerable time during projects, due to the fact that there are often many misconceptions and variances in understanding around basic concepts like SLAs, Service Catalogue etc. Time spent on some explanations and clarification of definitions is time well spent.
  • The big mistake that orgnaisations still make is to try to do Service Level Management (Portfolio Management, Request Management, SLAs and Service Catalogue…) all without engaging with their customers and supported businesses. The process requires engagement (service definition, performance discussion, objective setting, feedback on the customer experience etc.) as a major input to this process. This provides business validation as well as improving the relationship and demonstration of understanding between parties. It also vitally provides clear goals in terms of service provision and performance reporting. Without this the process can completely miss out on customer requirements and expectation, and so is wasteful, arrogant and bad PR.
  • Organisations should define their services in a simple structure – ideally that can be visualised and shown on 1 page or 1 slide for clarity. This can be done in a workshop, where key people are brought together to work through the concepts and definitions (this can begin with some education) and then use this to define the service structure for that organisation. There are always ‘learning curves’ to be overcome (e.g. the distinction between ‘systems’ and ’services’) – however if this is done in a workshop then this build momentum and consensus.
  • The Service Structure is a vital element as it provides the visual key to this process and also then the framework for a repository of information on each service. From this the project can start to create other outputs, documentation and service views as required from the project goals.
  •  Getting started and moving is a vital element to avoid long term prevarication and too much theorising. A lot can be achieved relatively quickly with some workshops and brief customer meetings. It’s essential to produce a simple representation of the service structure that helps to visualise the process for all involved and give them a consistent view of what is being delivered and defined. All this can be done within a few days and weeks based around workshops and a clear set of objectives.
  • Ultimately this is a business-focussed process so it’s important to have people with business and communications skills to work on the project. Technical details and understanding will be needed but should not be the starting point, which tends to be what happens if this is given to technically-focussed people.

Market Products

Products in this area fall into 2 main categories:

  • Existing ITSM Toolsets with Service Catalogue functionality
  • Specific Tools with Service Catalogue and Request Management functionality

Existing ITSM Toolsets

These often will have either modular or intrinsic functionality based around the ‘ITIL’ framework – Incident, Request, Problem and Change Management, plus Asset and Configuration Management and Service Level Management.

The Service Catalogue should be a valuable addition to this with a ‘service layer’ that can be added to the existing task and event management functions, as well as providing customer/user-friendly portals and ‘front-ends’ for requesting and tracking services.

Generally these products will be used by organisations to develop and to implement a ‘service strategy’ – as well as implementing request management – so these will generally follow a more ‘top down’ approach.

Ideally these will be able to leverage work already down defining existing ITSM processes and the Service Catalogue can then easily integrate with these. This is not always the case, as previous configuration structures may need to be revised to meet new Service Structure requirements.

Specific Service Catalogue Tools

These are newer, standalone systems that have come into the market in the last few years – initially as there was little functionality in this area in the existing ITSM tool market.

They will generally follow a more technical ‘bottom up’ approach that provides faster and more agile implementations. So they can deliver high quality user interfaces, discovery and request management workflow in short timeframes and deliver fast Return on Investment (ROI)/Time to Value (TTV) around the automation of a number of manual processes that speed up the customer experience.

Challenges can include how to reverse-engineer these systems for a strategic service structure once in operation, plus the need to integrate with a variety of other tools, including the existing ITSM solution.

These tools all have some level of basic Help-desk/Incident Management and support processes – the level to which these can either be used or integrated depends on the requirements and maturity of the existing systems (and organisations)

Market Observations

  • ‘Service Catalogue’ is a term that can encompass a number of areas – request management, user portal, service strategy and design, SLAs, portfolio management, service reporting, customer, business and technical views. There is no single product or view that is definitive and products that focus on one area only will require some technical and process integration.
  • In key areas of request management, portals and workflow, reporting and SLAs, most products offer very similar functionality. Variations exist in the development of Demand Management, strategic Service Design and Service Visualisation.
  • In particular vendors can be differentiated by their approach – strategic and technical, but also the level to which they can offer support and value added services to help with implementation. This is still a relatively new area and few practitioners and/or organisations have broad experience or even clear requirements for how to make this work – vendor support and guidance is a key asset and differentiator.
  • Implementation support should also be in the form of template and standard configurable data – i.e. to provide sample service ‘bundles’, workflows, reports, dashboards and in general as much practical guidance as possible.
  • Whilst implementation approach and product focus are the key differentiators – i.e. strategic vs technical Bottom Up / Top Down – a key strength is also the ability to show a clear path that encompasses both approaches.
  • Integration experience and proven capability is a key capability (more than just a differentiator) – this will always be required to some extent:
  • For ‘Service Catalogue Specific’ vendors this is essential to get their product working with a variety of monitoring, asset and event management tools, as well as interfacing with other ITSM systems. Usually they will offer a number of existing APIs and proven links as part of their approach. These tools are useful for standalone Service Catalogue implementation at mid-market level and can also be found sold into enterprise organisations at the technical and integration level.
  • For ‘Existing ITSM Vendors’ they will lead on the seamless integration with their own tools. This is a good pitch for their existing customers but a dilemma for the wider market, i.e. whether to buy a standalone Service Catalogue product (from one ITSM Vendor) separately from a new or existing ITSM product from another ITSM vendor. Many of these vendors will have already created links to other systems via their multi-source and managed services clients.
  • In all aspects of this area, consideration should be given to the customer experience in using these systems and the interaction with IT organisations, particularly in terms of how SLAs and service delivery expectations are set.
  • These toolsets can help to improve service quality and experience, as well as improving the value demonstration of IT. However this will not simply be delivered by tool implementation alone and care is required where systems and vendors promise this without some significant process and organisational change.
  • Overall the market has developed significantly in the last 2/3 years although most vendors are still developing their approach to financial and demand management. Some of this functionality is available across the market but generally only as reports and with some development rather than as an integral feature for dynamic business use.  

Market Positioning and Approach

Vendor

Mid-Market

Enterprise

 

Top Down

 

Bottom Up

Axios

question

Matrix42

question

Biomni

question

ServiceNow

question

    – Definitely

question    – Possibly

Top Down / Bottom up?

Vendor

 

Top Down

 

Bottom Up

Axios

  • Approach geared to Business and Tech services
  • Good UI with visualisation of services and structure

question

  • Vendor and product can start from discovery approach
  • Unlikely to be sold as SC only bottom up product

Matrix42

  • Little product or vendor focus Business or Top Down approach
  • May not be relevant for some clients – e.g. MSPs

  • Product and vendor geared to discovery approach
  • Excellent tool for fast implementation of Request and self service for IT products

Biomni

  • Little product or vendor focus on Business or Top Down approach
  • Commercial approach helps for quick start and visualisation

  • Product and vendor geared to discovery approach
  • Excellent tool for fast implementation of Request and self service for IT products

ServiceNow

  • Approach geared to Business and Tech services
  • Good strategic focus in dashboards and Demand Management functions

  • Can start from discovery approach
  • Sales focus on enterprise with Business and Tech capability

    – Definitely

question   – Possibly

Competitive Overview

Vendor

Overview

Strengths

Weaknesses

Axios

  • High-end option for Medium – Enterprise
  • Simple intuitive UI/OOTB
  • Seamless integration with assyst ITSM processes
  • UI
  • Strategic approach
  • Vendor capability
  • Not geared up for standalone SC implementation
  • May be overkill for technical or small implementations

Matrix42

  • Strong request and Catalogue functionality – technical focus
  • Good option for Tech-only implementations (e.g. MSPs)
  • Good Request and Catalogue functionality
  • Speed of implementation – doesn’t need other ITSM processes
  • Service Now integration
  • Lack of US/UK coverage
  • Approach – little strategic implementation focus
  • Functionality gaps

Biomni

  • Good functionality
  • Nice commercial approach
  • Good option for Tech-only implementations (e.g. MSPs)
  • Good intuitive functionality, commercial approach
  • Speed of implementation – doesn’t need other ITSM processes
  • Little Strategic implementation focus
  • Functionality gaps

Service Now

  • High end functionality, enterprise focus
  • Strong corporate backing and growth
  • Extensive functionality
  • Best Demand dashboard functions
  • Flexibility of product
  • UI busy and complicated
  • Flexibility of product
  • Organisation geared towards enterprise clients
  • Needs usability configuration/customisation

Product Deep Dive

Follow the links for a deep dive review of Service Catalogue features:

Further Reading


DISCLAIMER, SCOPE & 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: Axios assyst

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch A tidy interface, driven by product hierarchies, and backed up with a potentially powerful CMDB.Work put in to configure the Info Zone, Guidance and FAQs can make the job of the Service Desk, Analysts, and even the end user interaction easier.
Strengths
  • Crisp and clean interface with not much clutter
  • From a self-service point of view, a nice touch in walking end users through investigation before logging a ticket
  • For those logging directly with the service desk pulls in pre-populated forms and guidance to make that role easier/more efficient.
Weaknesses
  • Very much rooted in the technical – with the product hierarchy very comprehensive.  Would be nice to see perhaps an incorporation of more business language – which can be achieved with further configuration.
  • The ability to record an analysts time against a charge code also seems to drive a specific cost as well – whilst this could just be a notional cost, some form of correlation between the two, removing the need for the analysts to know financials as well as resolving an incident, might be more beneficial – this can be achieved with further configuration,
  • There are some elements of earlier ITIL iterations in the tool, as nothing is taken out which could be cumbersome to customise out. – This can be achieved with further configuration.
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, Axios typically market to large/very large customers with a minimum of 1000 business users.They are classified for this review as:Specialised Service Management Suite – Offering ITIL processes and proprietary discovery tooling.They provide Event and Monitoring bridges as integration points.

Commercial Summary

Vendor Axios Systems
Product Axios assyst
Version reviewed V10.2
Date of version release December 2012
Year founded 1998
Customers 1000+
Pricing Structure The assyst solution supports both dedicated (named) and concurrent models to allow flexibility with all core functions covered under a single licence.
Competitive Differentiators
  • Our market leading Service catalogue – ranked number one in ITSM by Gartner in their recent Service catalogue Critical Capabilities report – ensures business deliver an outstanding customer experience
  • We focus on the business user with service catalogue, self-service, web and mobile
  • Highly Configurable Solution – flexible interfacing with third party tools, fully supported integrations
Additional Features assyst represents a functionally complete, fully integrated solution, that offers considerably lower lifetime TCO and therefore considerably faster ROI than the complex, technically challenging and costly solutions offered by other vendors.assyst comes truly out-of-the-box, with all service support processes delivered pre-integrated. This includes its own CMDB (also pre-integrated), which can federate from multiple external systems (Discovery tools, ADM tools, Asset and Inventory systems, Directory Systems, etc.)The assyst CMDB comes pre-integrated and sits at the heart of assyst, providing a single-source-of-truth for all configuration, relationship and asset management data required to support the Service Desk and ITIL processes.

As data is captured and shared between all the ITIL processes this allows assyst to streamline IT Service Management without the efforts usually associated with the integration of disparate modules for Incident Management, Problem, Change, etc.assyst offers powerful data and Process interaction, supported by a fully  integrated CMDB. All of the ITIL processes are fully Integrated within assyst.

Independent Review

This tool comes with everything you would expect from a well-established player in the ITSM industry, and has moved on a lot from its earlier versions to bring it bang up to date.

The interface is not cluttered, and focuses very much on driving efficiencies through the lifecycle of Incidents and Problems by providing mechanisms to automate as much as possible.

Pre-populating forms, scripted guidance for the service desk, and as much automation around the assignment to support groups for both incidents and problems is driven by a CMDB with is at the core of the product.

At a time, when customer experience is fast becoming the trend-de-jour, assyst can at least offer nice touches, for example FAQs that walk an end user through investigating their own issue before resorting to raising a ticket.

Interestingly, though, assyst’s foray into more social interaction with a Chat feature seems to be more popular among support staff, but not as attractive a feature for end users, based on their customer feedback.

It is not surprising why they market primarily to large/very large customer bases, but they might want to keep an eye out on the need to talk the business language too, as its next stage of evolution.

Logging & Categorisation

As well as the ability to directly log calls via a service desk and the end user self-service portal, assyst can offer automated logging from event management integration.

Because their CMDB is at the heart of the product, it can auto-populate many user information fields to speed up the process, of course dependent on the depth of information collated.

Also, as an up-front feature assyst provides the service desk with Model Incident templates to use for repetitive incidents (for example Password Resets).

The record displays a number of actions for the service desk to just log, or to log and assign the ticket, depending on the level of first-time-fix information that can be made available to them as part of an InfoZone and Guidance section on their home page.

Out of the box, the categorisation is firmly rooted in product and infrastructure related types and values.

Tracking and Escalations

assyst’s Event Monitor function, and an “InfoZone” area of the home page can dynamically display a number of on-going records related to the data being entered.

The Event Monitor can display time values relating to the record through its lifecycle, and can also relate that information to any SLAs associated with it, so that there is an on-going view of potential breach conditions.

As well as maintaining a complete audit trail of any updates carried out on the record, the number of assignments (or hops) can also be recorded.  Usefully, a value can be set after which point a senior person can be alerted to give the record more focussed attention.

Prioritisation

Tied in to the categorisation hierarchy, records are driven by business rules set up using their Event Builder capability, building the rules into their CMDB.

This can reduce logging times, whereby rules can link a configuration item to an SLA, the impact and urgency, its class, specific products, sites, buildings, business units or even a specific user.

Actions can then be displayed to the service desk by means of scripted procedures – all in the aim of making their job easier and more efficient.

Tying these down closely to the product hierarchy and the CMDB means that more can be automated up front.

Closure

When an incident or a problem has been resolved, it can be set to closed or pending concurrence (based on the permissions).

If set to pending, then typically the ownership transfers back to the service desk to gain that concurrence and close or, if required, re-open the record and continue with the assignment process as before.

Major Incident/Problems

All incoming incidents relating to the major incident can then be linked and (once resolved) closed in one action.

A problem record, and automated notifications to the relevant support groups can also be kicked off through the appropriate workflow, to ensure the right teams are working on identifying the root cause.

With respect to major problem records, assyst use updates to these more time-crucial events to help drive continual improvement, updating the quality of information they can provide the front line when logging similar events in the future.

As part of the record, there is a capability to record time and cost incurred in its resolution.

This is useful for charge back, but if an organisation chooses to use it, the specialist will need to know what the related cost is (although this could just be a notional value).

Conclusion

As you would expect from an established vendor, the capability of moving through Incident and Problem management has everything it needs to tick the process boxes.

But there are some interesting things around the periphery:

The use of the InfoZone with links to any knowledge base articles or even external links, or Guidance scripts to help drive first-time-fixes all look to improve efficiency.

The real potential lies behind the incorporation of their CMDB, and it is flexible enough to start slowly and build more and more, to be able to pull in the most pertinent information into a record.

assyst is very firmly rooted in driving the records through the technical route, with the hierarchical product structure at its heart.

Perhaps to get the best out of the product, a lot of strategic thought has to go around harnessing the power of that CMDB to help drive the other functions.

AssystService Management Customers

Screenshots

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.

From the Axios Brochure

  • 12 PinkVERIFY™ ITIl V3 processes
  • Robust enterprise-class ITSM technology with the simplicity of SaaS to deliver rapid business value
  • Designed for easy deployment and flexibility to support changing business needs
  • Helps customers manage services, assets and customer support in a fast-paced business environment.

Further Information

In Their Own Words:

Axios’s enterprise ITSM software, assyst, is purpose-built, designed to transform IT departments from technology-focused cost centres into profitable business-focused customer service teams

assyst enables better, faster, less costly delivery and support of IT services, and was developed to support current ITIL® best practices.

assyst is one of the most functionally mature ITSM software solutions on the market, with a proven track record spanning over 25 years for delivering measurable results in large organizations across the globe.

Available for SaaS and on-premise, assyst brings to market the latest in real-time dashboard technology, social IT management, mobility, reporting, resourcing and forecasting – offering a series of solutions and templates that enable an immediate return in the form of customer satisfaction and cost reduction.

assyst also provides integrated functionality to support IT Asset Management (ITAM), governance and standardisation within a single, rapidly deployable, application.

As an out-of-the-box solution, assyst delivers value faster than any other enterprise-class ITSM software available today.

In addition to recognition from leading organizations, including Gartner, Ovum and Forrester Research, who noted Axios has “robust, scalable offerings that could meet the majority of service management needs for the largest and most complex organizations,”[1] we have, likewise, been honored by the Service Desk Institute, PINK and HDI.

Group Test Index

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.

Review: BMC Footprints

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch An improved interface and comprehensive coverage of Incident and Problem Management, with some added innovation to make scheduling work a little easier for Service Desks and support staff alike.
Strengths
  • Logging by Type, Category and Symptom adds a meaningful level of granularity.
  • Incorporates an availability of resources view by integrating to Outlook Exchange
  • Subscription function for end users for major incidents, as well as pop ups for potential SLA breaches.
Weaknesses
  • Design elements behind the scenes are still largely text based.
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, BMC FootPrints typically market to customers with between 500 to 10,000 users (Medium to Large)They are classified for this review as:Specialised Service Management Suite – Offering ITIL processes and proprietary discovery tooling.They provide IT Operations Management integration with their own tooling.

Commercial Summary

Vendor BMC
Product BMC FootPrints ServiceCore
Version reviewed V11.5
Date of version release Autumn 2012 was the release date for this version of FootPrints. The previous version had been certified under the PinkVerify scheme to 10 ITIL 3.1 processes. This version has been re-verified to the same level.
Year founded BMC Software was founded in 1980 and today has revenues of $2.2bn
Customers BMC FootPrints has approximately 1000 customers across Europe and 5000 worldwide.
Pricing Structure BMC FootPrints can be provided as a Starter Pack and this includes 5 named or 1 named + 2 concurrent user licenses, LDAP, unlimited Self-service and unlimited project workspaces. All additional ServiceCore modules are licensed in the same way. AssetCore modules such inventory management, patch are licensed in blocks of 100 nodes. For SaaS and Managed Services subscription licensing is also available.
Competitive Differentiators
  • BMC FootPrints is widely regarded as an affordable and flexible solution which can address both IT service management and IT Operations Management from a single pane of glass. One view, one console, one solution.
  • BMC FootPrints is optimised for ITIL but provides a highly adaptive workflow environment (Workspaces) which quickly allows organisation to replicate own best practice support processes or design and launch other non-IT service desks. One view, one console, multiple service desks.
  • In its converged state BMC FootPrints provides seamless integration to ITOM capabilities with open process transparency and data integration. BMC FootPrints supports physical, virtual and mobile devices
Additional Features Additional integration is available with other BMC products such as End-User Experience Management and Network Automation.

Independent Review

BMC Footprints provide a comprehensive end-to-end flow for Incident and Problem Management, and is beginning to benefit from being part of a larger group of products, as functionality from products like RemedyForce add the ability to view process flows (Alignability Process Model)

The tidy-up of the workspace architecture makes the overall interface a cleaner and less confused dashboard view.

They have also incorporated a view of support staff resources by integrating directly with Outlook Exchange to show support staff availability.

Logging & Categorisation

Stand out features for FootPrints when logging a call is the Incident Type, Category and Symptom, which can bring up key problem determination questions.

Their consultancy approach to get that level of granularity focuses on working through what organisations look for in their reports, and working backwards from there.

Tracking and Escalations

As the record progresses through its lifecycle, there is an option to just provide Quick Edits (for example for the Service Desk) as opposed to pulling up the entire record.

FootPrints allows for skill-based routing of the record.

There was no means to look at incidents that seem to bounce around groups, but the audit logs are very comprehensive, and everything is contained within the record.

Any SLAs likely to breach will send a pop up to the agent’s screen and could be configurable in a variety of ways (pop-up, colour change etc.)

Prioritisation

The impact and urgency definitions can be defined in more business-focussed language, and the priority can be solely linked to those values.

Closure

On resolution, FootPrints triggers an email with two links to signify if the end user is happy or not that the issue has been resolved.

Records can be auto-closed.

FootPrints offers the option of re-opening previously resolved records or, if organisations prefer, to link a new incident to the previously closed one.

Major Incident/Problems

Major Incidents (and indeed Problems) can be logged from scratch or flagged from a number of incoming records.

As with a lot of US based vendors, the terminology can veer towards the reference “Global” but this is easily customisable.

The record is easily identifiable in a list with either a globe for the master ticket, or a globe with a chain link to show it is one of a series of records as part of the major incident.

A broadcast message goes out to everyone using FootPrints to notify them of a major incident.

But on the self-service side, an end user can see and subscribe to a major incident.

Incident and Problem Templates

Although none are provided out of the box, FootPrints comes with a Quick Template feature for both incidents and problems, where the record can be pre-populated.

Conclusion

The features to help speed up the process of logging records, and providing initial questions around investigation continue to be an attractive feature in FootPrints.

Adding the integrated Outlook resource view adds to their philosophy of making the Service Desk’s life a little easier.

With each successive release, FootPrints is becoming a crisper, more comprehensive tool, supplementing its functionality with additional elements such as Remote Control, Discovery and Software Deployment modules.

BMC FootPrints Service Management Customers

Screenshots

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From the BMC FootPrints Brochure

  • Increase first-call resolutions by quickly associating the incident to a known problem and the appropriate resolution
  • Improve organisational knowledge by providing the status of known issues and knowledge base solutions to ease troubleshooting
  • Track performance against service level agreements with configurable dashboards

In Their Own Words:

BMC FootPrints follows ITIL best practices and supports key processes like incident and problem, change, and configuration management. So what sets it apart? BMC FootPrints is designed for the evolving business with a just-right balance of usability, security and functionality. It’s flexible enough to configure, affordable enough to invest in, and powerful enough to grow with you. The BMC FootPrints family of IT Management products and solutions streamline, automate and improve IT operations. They have been designed to leverage your legacy IT management solutions and enable IT to optimize the management of PC’s, mobile devices, software and IT infrastructure by simplifying and automating the entire ownership experience. Our solutions uniquely integrate the processes that manage IT, not just the data generated by those processes. BMC FootPrints has been optimized for use over the web but equally satisfies organizations looking for a solid and secure on-premise solution. Certified to ITIL 3.1 it can be deployed quickly ‘out-of-the-box’ with minimal configuration and for those organizations seeking to facilitate non-IT service desks (such as Facilities Management or HR/Payroll), the easy-to-design workflow environment makes one-to-many service desks a reality from a single instance of BMC FootPrints. BMC FootPrints is one solution in the ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’ ITSM portfolio and has been specifically designed for mid-sized organizations seeking to deliver excellent services internally and externally.

Further Information

Group Test Index

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.

Review: TOPdesk

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch TOPdesk adds Kanban-type resource scheduling to add a new dimension onto Incident and Problem Management.
Strengths
  • The Plan Board incorporates a Kanban style approach to scheduling tasks to help drive efficient resourcing
  • Keywords trigger standard solutions, linking into a two-tier Knowledge base (for Analysts and End Users)
  • Task Board for individual support staff can be sliced and diced by most time critical events
Weaknesses
  • Sometimes “over-customisability” can rear its head in reviews – just because it is possible to have 7 different priorities does not mean it is a good practice to do so.
  • Some terminology (which can be changed with a little more detailed knowledge) can be a little cumbersome – for example Objects for Assets.
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, TOPdesk’s typical market is to customers of between 500-2000 employees (Small – Medium/Large)They are classified for this review as:Specialised Service Management Suite – Offering ITIL v3 processes and proprietary discovery tooling.The offer integration to Monitoring tools.

Commercial Summary

Vendor TOPdesk
Product TOPdesk Enterprise
Version reviewed V5.1
Date of version release December 2012
Year founded Founded in 1993.£22,000,000.00 Turnover in 2012
Customers 3150 approximate TOPdesk Enterprise customers, > 5,000+ unique customers in total.
Pricing Structure TOPdesk offer a SaaS and an on-premise solution.The license bracket is based on the number of end users supported and an unlimited amount of users of the system.With regards to on-premise pricing, annual maintenance is 15% of the one-off value per annum.Within the SaaS subscription all fees for support, technical maintenance and hosting are included.
Competitive Differentiators
  • Truly flexible commercial model with an end user license bracket that allows for an unlimited amount of operators to be registered for free.
  • Genuine ability to deliver a Shared Service Centre where multiple departments may combine budgets and expertise to support end users at no additional cost.
  • Human Resource Plan Board functionality.
Additional Features TOPdesk strongly believes in Shared Services in which multiple teams work together to deliver services to end users.

For this reason TOPdesk offers out-of-the-box solutions to support processes like, but not limited to, Building Management, Visitor Registration, Planned Preventative maintenance, HR services or Room booking management.

TOPdesk’s framework is delivered with full advanced reporting wizard, dash board, task board and plan board which will provide our customers with the tools they need to manage their processes.

topdesklogoIndependent Review

The jewel in the crown of the TOPdesk solution is the incorporation of Kanban style resourcing, and some intelligent linkage of solutions and workarounds to categories and key word matching.

A while back, I wrote an article reviewing Kanban capability, but concluded that if it was standalone, it would be a level of additional work that was not practical.

To bring that functionality into the tool makes it a very powerful addition to a suite.

The basics of Incident and Problem Management are all there, and they use Wizards to try and speed up the process for the service desk.

Their deployment model is very much set-up and train-the-trainer rather than on-going consultancy, and as such the product is highly configurable.

As a result initial best practice-based implementation lies with the consultants – and unlike other vendors, it was not immediately clear the level of their experience and knowledge – so it could be easy to make the tool quite unwieldy, quite quickly.

Other little niggles lie around some of the terminology – referring to assets as Objects, and requiring a back-end change to alter that.

But all-in-all the tool was an appealing offering, with a unique selling point in the Plan Board.

Logging & Categorisation

There are some nice features here for calls being logged – where a service desk analyst can take a number of details and pull up any information on the caller, including any assets associated with them, and all calls logged by them.

It is also possible to create a custom field indicating the level of IT Competency (for example) helping the service desk to build a profile of the person they are dealing with.

Once the analyst identifies the call as an incident to be logged, all the initial notes are pulled into the new record.

From a self-service point of view, TOPdesk try and limit the amount of information initially asked for, and on an initial save more fields are activated – showing target date for resolution, priority (linked back to categorisation) and displaying any actions that have been taken to resolve the issue.

Tracking and Escalations

TOPdesk provide a capability to link key words (for example specific error codes) to categories and based on the category, can have the records automatically assigned to a specialist.

Records can be sent to a general queue to await assignment.

TOPdesk have incorporated a Kanban style scheduling structure within the tool – the Plan Board.

Using this board, all support analysts can be listed, and tasks assigned to them displayed.

In a single view, it is easy to see who is currently over-loaded with work, and who has capacity to take on more work.

It accommodates office absences, and shift availability.

In addition, Task Boards exist for the individual analysts, and can be listed in terms of SLAs and target resolution times.

As SLAs are being breached, TOPdesk use Elapsed Time Triggers to send automated emails.

Prioritisation

The Impact and Urgency matrices shown used business language to help drive the priority for an incident but in the demo, there was an abundance of potential priorities.

There are none provided out of the box, and consultants who assist with the deployment come with standard practices to help customers in their implementations.

Closure

The terminology works on an incident being completed, and can be closed once concurrence has been given.

Major Incident/Problems

Within any incident record, TOPdesk offer a Major Incident tab where the incident can either be marked as the first incident in the chain or other incidents can be linked to a master.

Once multiple incidents are linked, there is a Closure Wizard which will close multiple records on resolution of the major incident.

In terms of Problem Management, in a similar way, multiple records can be linked to a new or major problem in a cart-based selection process.

It should be noted that here, the Impact and Urgency reflects more IT terminology (although this can be configured).

TOPdesk use a concept of Partial Problems where different groups can play a part in substantiating a problem, as part of determining the root cause.

This concept also exists for Incidents.

Known errors can be created after that point, and links back to their Standard Solutions to show that there is a workaround, which can be triggered by keywords during the logging phase.

Conclusion

TOPdesk offers some innovative ways to manage Incidents and Problems, namely using the Plan Board, but also go some way to make the service desk role a little easier with the linkage of the standard solutions to key word matching and tying those to the categories.

The product is extensively customisable, but perhaps some care should be taken to maybe show that off in combination with simpler best practices.

TOPdesk Customers

Screenshots

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.

From the TOPdesk Brochure

  • Wide  range of ITIL®-based modules for all your business processes
  • TOPdesk’s Plan Board gives you all the information you need. Stay on top of your employees’ availability and workload, and assign tasks with ease.
  • The Task Board displays all your tasks in one overview, enabling you to see your calls, change activities, operational activities and services at a glance.

In Their Own Words:

TOPdesk makes ITIL aligned service management software for IT, Facilities Management, and eHRM help desks. Our award-winning solution helps you process questions, complaints and malfunctions. Optimize your services with a user-friendly application, experienced consultants and expert support. Raising your service levels and reducing your workload has never been easier. TOPdesk is an international leader in cutting-edge Service Management solutions and standardized ITIL software.

Our unrivalled integration, implementations and support is tried and trusted across the Service Management industry.

  • 5,000+ organizations use TOPdesk
  • We are located in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Brazil and Hungary
  • We are one of the top 5 Service Management software providers worldwide
  • We employ over 450+ FTE professionals worldwide

Further Information

Group Test Index

This independent review is part of our 2013 Incident and Problem Review. See all participants and terms of the review here.