Keeping Up in an On-Demand World

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Fostering good relations with business counterparts is a good place to start

It’s a fact that business user expectations of IT continue to grow in today’s tech-heavy consumer culture. In a world where we can get access to new capabilities and services quickly in our personal lives, it’s no wonder that business leaders are seeking the same continuous delivery of new capabilities in their work lives.

Here are five tips that will help you adjust your culture and tooling for this era of on-demand IT.

 

Tip 1: Take notice of the level of collaboration between your company’s business unit managers and the IT department

Ask yourself, is either side pleased with the situation at present? I’ve seen companies invest in roles within IT to foster improved collaboration with the business (e.g. what ITIL calls Service Managers or what Gartner and others call Business Relationship Managers). This is a useful investment for IT organizations to make because it gives a focal point to work with the business, someone who can sit in executive meetings to understand what needs they have and problems they are trying to solve. In a lot of companies the CIO still tries to act as the “relationship manager” for every business unit and sometimes also the head of development tries to do so – these approaches just don’t scale effectively.

 

Tip 2: Do something every quarter to improve communication and collaboration between non-IT managers and the IT department

Standing still in this area means that communication and collaboration is likely eroding. Both the business and IT sides of the house are moving so fast that it requires a proactive communication and collaboration to maintain alignment. I hear a lot of CIOs talk about the need for an “open line of communication” with other departments and that’s a good mindset, but it’s not enough. We have to move beyond appealing to better communications and the need to align with the business. The question you should be asking is “what are some concrete actions I can take now to improve communication and collaboration between non-IT managers and IT?” One idea is the creation of relationship manager roles as mentioned above. Investing in good quality IT relationship managers and aligning up front on project scope is critical.

But even with that in place, challenges for communication and collaboration will persist. For example, if you’re relying on the relationship manager to translate and explain the business needs to those in IT who need to know about what the business is trying to achieve, the priorities, etc. there can be some big communication gaps because not everyone who needs to know gets the information, or, the business needs are changing so rapidly and people in IT are working with outdated information about business requirements. What’s needed is an ongoing dialog between not just the business and IT relationship managers, but also with project managers, developers, and even those in operations that need to deploy and run the applications.

There’s a lot IT can learn here from enterprise collaboration projects in the business (with products like Jive) and apply that to how IT works with the business. Imagine if the people working on the project in IT could “follow” and collaborate on business requirements with the business like you follow someone on Twitter or have a friend on Facebook. Followers could get updated as things change and engage with the business if there are questions or concerns. Maybe the development manager draws a cut line for the release and the business knows about that in advance and can give feedback on features that need to be added or confirm which others can wait. Perhaps there’s a policy that governs an app but operations isn’t aware of it and is going to deploy it in such a way that they would violate the policy – instead the enterprise governance team can know about it and weigh in before the deployment happens.

 

Tip 3: Revisit the tools and approaches you use for IT collaboration work today. Be intentional about your go-forward tools strategy

The challenge I see here (a lot) is that IT is still using the same techniques they’ve always been using for collaboration – meetings, emails, conference calls, sharepoint sites, spreadsheets. There is no substitute for meetings and face-to-face interactions and even conference calls are important, however, the challenge is how do we capture and disseminate that information so those in the meeting can refer back to it but ensure others that weren’t in the meeting can still have access to it? What about someone new joining the organization, how can they get up to speed faster without having to go to lots and lots of meetings?

IT needs a new way to think about how we capture knowledge and make it available to people in the context of the work they’re doing so they don’t have to go hunting for it on sharepoint sites, send out lots of emails, search knowledge bases etc. In effect looking for the needle in the proverbial haystack.

What we need in IT, and which we have been lacking, are cross-team workspaces. An area you could bring together the right people with the right tools and information in a workspace that was defined around the context of the activity that needs to get done – whether that’s a development project, an infrastructure upgrade, an incident that needs to be resolved, etc. And then help facilitate the team making the necessary decisions and documenting the actions that will be taken – while also notifying everyone who needs to know.

 

Tip 4: Accept that complexity is increasing and that your people are key to managing it not just automations

IT environment complexity is a major issue for many companies because their systems have now been linked together so that the user community can move from one system to the next easily and so that data is quickly passed between systems. So now when change comes in it can affect how multiple systems work together. As IT practitioners, we’ve been working so hard to support the business all these years and we now have a collection of lots of legacy stuff and new technologies and it’s all been woven together in a way to help the business as fast as possible.

There’s a lot we’d change if we could go back and do things over, but that’s just not practical, and so for the most part we need to work with the environments we have. The challenge is how do you understand all these integrations, relationships and dependencies, all the tribal knowledge that’s been built up in the IT organization over the years?

There have been several approaches to address this like Configuration Management Databases (CMDBs) and discovery tools, and they help, but they raise their own issues. First, there’s only so much that discovery tools can discover off the wire. They do a decent job of telling you how things are configured and relationships between them but they still miss a lot because they have to be programmed to find “patterns” and there’s no way they can discover things like policies and how those govern your assets.

The other big challenge for discovery tools is that they don’t capture intent – i.e. why things are the way they are. That’s tribal knowledge that’s in your people’s heads. Someone at sometime knew why SAP was configured that way or why a certain port was opened on that server or switch. The problem is that tribal knowledge isn’t well documented, it gets lost as people forget it or leave.

The complexity problem is really a tribal knowledge problem. What we need is a living, breathing CMDB, think of it like a “social CMDB” that leverages discovery tools but then uses crowd-sourcing and peer review, like Wikipedia, to validate what’s been discovered and fill in gaps on an ongoing continuous basis. Until we have this, IT is going to be very resistant to the pace of change the business wants, because we’ll be concerned something might break that we weren’t expecting.

This is another area where you can apply the cross-team workspace concept. The idea of not only capturing the tribal knowledge and continually validating the CMDB but then pushing that information forward in the context of planning a change or resolving an incident. So if people are following the things in the IT environment that they care about, when it comes time to work on a change, the right people can be brought together in a shared workspace (instead of guessing who to involve like in traditional change process management) and arm them with the right information and tools to provide their risk assessment. That way, when the change board goes to review the planned change, they know who’s been involved and what information they had access to and can feel a lot more confident about their decision and approve the change a lot faster to keep the business moving forward.

 

In summary

The fundamental business-IT challenge in a lot of companies is that the business is simply frustrated with the pace at which IT moves. Fostering good relations with business counterparts and investing in relationship managers as mentioned above is a good start. But having the business engaged in a shared workspace for projects they care about, giving them more transparency into the project and decisions being made about cut lines for releases or the like, will give them a greater sense of ownership and appreciation for the work we do in IT and how it’s not just ‘there’s an app for that’ in an on-demand world.

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The ITSM Review are holding a series of seminars this year headed by ITSM superstar Barclay Rae. We will be starting in March with Transforming User Experience – Enterprise Service Management & Self Service. For more information click here

The secret to change success – understanding multiple perspectives

People
People are both the problem and the answer

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

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

Why Otherwise Capable IT Leaders Struggle with Change

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

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

Problem One

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

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

Problem Two

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

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

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

People Are Both The Problem And The Answer

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

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

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

Engaging Relevant Experts to Collaborate Is The Key

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

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

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

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

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

Products reviewed:

Change, Configuration and Release 2014 Best in Class

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

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

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

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

Best for On-Premise

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market Positioning (Target Market Size)

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

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

Approach

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

Competitive Overview

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

Customers

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Analysis

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

Deep Dive

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

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

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

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

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

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

Review: TOPdesk for Change, Configuration and Release

Logo TOPdesk Service Management Simplified CMYKTOPdesk

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

Executive Summary

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

Commercial Summary

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

Independent Review

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

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

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

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

General

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

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

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

Change

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

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

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

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

Configuration

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

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

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

Calendar    

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

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

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

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

Approvals

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

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

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

In Summary

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

In Their Own Words:

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

Screenshots

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

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

logoITinvolve

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

Executive Summary

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

Commercial Summary

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

Independent Review

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

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

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

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

General

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

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

Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Configuration

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

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

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

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

Calendar    

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

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

Approvals

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

In Their Own Words:

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

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

ITinvolve challenges this status quo.

Product Highlights:

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

Screenshots

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

Review: Cherwell for Change, Configuration and Release

logo_cherwell-softwareCherwell Service Management

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

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

Commercial Summary

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

Independent Review

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

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

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

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

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

General

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

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

Change

Changes are broken down into three types;

  • Emergency
  • Standard (repeatable)
  • Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Configuration

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

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

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

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

Calendar    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approvals

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

In Their Own Words:

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

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

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

Screenshots

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

Review: Axios for Change, Configuration and Release

PrintAxios

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

Executive Summary

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

Commercial Summary

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

Independent Review

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

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

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

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

General

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

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

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

Change

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

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

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

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

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

Configuration

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

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

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

Calendar    

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

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

Approvals

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

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

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

In Summary

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

In Their Own Words:

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

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

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

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

Screenshots

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

Coming Soon: The Battle of Change, Configuration and Release

wrestling
Let the battle begin!

We’re excited to be kicking off our research briefings next week for our competitive analysis on Change, Configuration and Release. Scheduled for publication in May, vendors confirmed to participate so far include:

The research will highlight competitive differentiators; feature key strengths (and weaknesses too of course); and showcase innovation within each product. Once reviewed, we will crown one Vendor “Best in Class” and the “leader” in Change, Configuration and Release.

Our research is based solely on responses to an in-depth questionnaire as well as a series of briefings, but we are always interested in hearing the end-user perspective.

Do you have experience with any of the participating Vendors? Do you have any views on their capabilities when it comes to Change, Configuration and Release? Are there any Vendors that you think are successful in this area who are not currently scheduled to participate in this review?

The review will be conducted by Rebecca Beach. For more information on the assessment view the Group Test criteria here. Vendors can still sign up to be involved up until Friday 31st January.

Subscribe to the ITSM Review newsletter or follow us on Twitter to receive a notification when the research is published.

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Knowledge Management 2013 Group Test – The Results

This is a competitive comparison of Knowledge Management technology.

Products reviewed:

  • Cherwell
  • EasyVista
  • ITinvolve [BEST IN CLASS]

Download Review

(Free PDF, No Registration Required – 343kb, 4 Pages)


Knowledge Management 2013 Best in Class

Knowledge Management 2013 Best in Class: ITinvolve
Knowledge Management 2013 Best in Class: ITinvolve
  • ITinvolve – all 3 products are a good option as they meet the basic requirements requested, however this product looks to be an excellent (if brave) choice that works towards an intuitive KM solution. EasyVista and Cherwell have similar in built functionality and are established ITSM players, whilst ITinvolve is a more innovative product, with good customer results and stories so far. Whilst this is the best product option, ITinvolve are still a new and small vendor and will need to develop their client-base to consolidate this result.

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

Good for practical simple and effective use (with existing platforms)

  • EasyVista and Cherwell – both provide excellent standard integrated Knowledge functionality with the existing toolsets. Either product is an excellent option for Knowledge Management, integrated with the other ITSM toolset areas – both are recognized and established ITSM vendors.

Good for an innovative approach using new/social tools

  • ITinvolve – Nice approach and social integration means the barriers to usage can be radically broken down. There may be challenges for organisations taking this approach on, but it looks to be excellent option (and is also integrated with some other ITSM tools).

Knowledge Management Market Observations

KM

  • ‘Knowledge Management’ (in the ITSM context) doesn’t really have a specific product sector. This tends to be an application of one or more product areas to support the process of knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. E.g. a useful ‘Knowledge Management’ solution could easily be SharePoint, or an intranet portal.
  • ITSM value in this area comes from integration with regular ITIL processes like Incident, Problem, Change, SLM and Configuration, plus automation and self-help delivered via customer-friendly portals.
  • Of the 3 products reviewed, EasyVista and Cherwell were seen to be good example of knowledge functionality applied to an existing ITSM toolset – both showed good integration and provide good standard functionality. ITinvolve was clearly built more as a knowledge and social platform and is seen as an innovative product with some new concepts.
  • All 3 products displayed capabilities well in keeping with the stated requirements and would offer good opportunities for development of Knowledge Management (with the caveats as described above).
  • Differentiators were therefore relatively minor in terms of functionality (particularly between EasyVista and Cherwell). The main difference was in the overall (and quite radical) approach from ITinvolve – this was seen as positive and interesting, although involving a more challenging procurement and implementation approach.
  • As with many tools in this area, much of the success is down to the interface and usability, plus how this can remove resistance to use. Tools that are seamless and integrated, plus those which can leverage slick and familiar ways of working and user interface will help to build loyalty and effective usage.
  •  Knowledge Centred Support (KCS) was not seen as a differentiator for any of the vendors reviewed – none saw value in investing in accreditation and this had not been an issue in procurement to date.

Market Positioning and Approach

Vendor Mid-Market Enterprise   Approach
Cherwell

Standard ITSM
EasyVista

Standard ITSM
ITinvolve

Innovative Social

        – Definitely

       – Possibly

 

Comparative Overview

Vendor Overview Strengths Weaknesses
Cherwell
  • Vendor emerging across ITSM market space
  • Knowledge approach seamless with other ITSM areas in product
  • Provides all functionality required for review
  • Good vendor approach
  • knowledge article key element of system
  • Overall looks a good option
  • Meets all functionality required for review
  • ‘Knowledge shipped OOTB and is key element
  • Configuration can be done by non-tech users
  • User portal simple and user-friendly
  • Access to KAs can specified to (field) level security
  • KAs can be associated to services
  • Approval process sets % approvers
  • Approval steps can be defined at multiple levels
  • ‘One Step’ feature to simplify approval process
  • Nice ‘Community Discussion’ board
  • KAs can be raised and applied to any (process) area of the tool

  • Can look overly complex in places
  • IT User interface could be clearer and less complex
  • Can’t map approval workflow process

EasyVista
  • Good functionality meets all stated requirements
  • Seamless integration across the ITSM product set
  • Vendor established global position in mid-market –limited presence in some markets – e.g. UK
  • User Interface user-friendly
  • Some good features around discussion boards, crowdsourcing options and multi-level KAs
  • Overall looks a good option
  • Meets all functionality required for review
  • Pink Verified for Knowledge Management
  • Multi- level deployment in different languages
  • Able to control who uses ‘user rating’ – for KA relevance
  • Can reference 3rd party search engines and rate solution
  • Search engine automatically searches
  • Can create technical and simplified version of same KA, then apply to relevant profile
  • Nice statistics Dashboard
  • Discussion groups within product – nice like Facebook wall
  • Vendor geared to mid-market implementation
  • Limited positioning or presence in some key markets – e.g. UK
  • Could provide more focussed, results-based information on customer success stories using KM

 

ITinvolve
  • New vendor with innovative product and approach
  • Viral/organic knowledge approach
  • Lots of good features  well thought-out functionality
  • Product requires a big shift in approach from client
  • Vendor still developing pitch and positioning
  • Good option for some organisations

  • Meets all functionality required for review
  • Uses ‘Social’ crowdsourcing
  • Users ‘follow’ objects, creating knowledge and understanding of real experts and stakeholders facilitates ‘crowdsourcing’
  • Can be used in conjunction with other ITSM products –
  • Approach based on actual usage and practice rather than theoretical processes
  • Support staff see all followers and knowledge for an object.
  • Graphical representation of relationships – showing users + stakeholders.
  • Stakeholders crowdsource knowledge  and change – based on ‘objects’ they are following
  • Can also use more ‘traditional’ approach of approval and review as needed
  • Vendor offers Proof of Concept and trial. Implementation approach aims to support client self-sufficiency where possible
  • Good customer success examples given
  • Implementation approach based around successful client adoption of KM processes
  • Requires a major client shift in approach
  • Requires use of new terminology
  • Looks complex in places and requires clients with open or new approach to implementation
  • Sales pitch needs to be developed to grab attention more quickly
  • New and small vendor with limited market track record

Deep Dive

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

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: ITinvolve for Knowledge Management [BEST IN CLASS]

This independent review is part of our 2013 Knowledge Management Group Test.

Executive Summary – ITinvolve

Overview
  • New vendor with innovative product and approach
  • Viral/organic knowledge approach
  • Lots of good features  well thought-out functionality
  • Product requires a big shift in approach from client
  • Vendor still developing pitch and positioning
  • Good option for some organisations
Primary Market Focus Base on the information supplied ITinvolve typically target customers in the upper end of the Medium segment and higher (500+ employees). They have customers in the medium, large, and very large segment.

Commercial Summary

Vendor ITinvolve
Product ITinvolve Knowledge Collaborator
Version reviewed Summer ’13
Date of version release June 2013
Year founded May 2011
Customers 13
Pricing Structure SaaS-Based – Includes annual Platform cost of $50K, then licensed per user with annual list price of $1,600 per full user with lower price points for business/casual users. Typical net sales price is $65,000 per one year term with some deals exceeding $500,000 over multi-year term.
Competitive Differentiators
  1. “Architected from ground up to facilitate knowledge capture, sharing, and collaboration between IT professionals as well as business constituents. (ITinvolve leverages all relevant systems-based IT data and information sources and uses familiar social media techniques – e.g. crowd sourcing, peer review, following – to provide an always current and trusted source of an IT organization’s collective knowledge. All knowledge is represented through visually insightful objects and relationships. Objects may be technology elements – e.g. servers, databases, applications, policies, knowledge – e.g. articles, best practice documents, FAQs, automations, process activities – e.g. incidents, changes, requests, problems, as well as custom defined objects – e.g. manufacturing shop floor equipment, medical devices, even HR, Legal, Finance knowledge)
  2. Active Knowledge Delivery provides the right knowledge at the right time to the right people.  (Our solution proactively identifies and presents only the relevant knowledge in the context of the objects the user is viewing. Our product is designed to visually represent knowledge and relationships for quick analysis, and provides the ability to create personalized Perspectives on objects and their knowledge. Further, we use advanced techniques, such as tagging and relationship-based search, to provide quick easy and fast access to knowledge overcoming the limitations of traditional indexing and Google-like search approaches that generate dozens or more results that must be individually reviewed)
  3. ITinvolve provides the only solution that enables a user to create a decision scenario and evaluate the potential upstream and downstream impacts of the decision being considered, involving all relevant stakeholders in the process”

Independent Review

logoThis product is an innovative and interesting option for those wanting to really develop their Service Management using knowledge in an intuitive and new way, based on ‘social’ interaction.

There are lots of good functions and capabilities, plus the product has/can be used with other ITSM tools. The concepts are good and well thought through, and this is an excellent use of innovation, albeit that the system may look initially complex, without some explanation of the approach.

The vendor has a tough sales pitch to make to win new enterprise clients given the need for fairly radical cultural change, although the tool should appeal in particular to organisations aiming to achieve more value and results from knowledge-sharing.

The vendor is new and the product and positioning are developing. This looks to be a very good option for those looking to exploit ‘social’ and organic ways of working – also with an open and innovative approach to making processes work effectively.

Overview

  • New vendor with innovative product and approach
  • Not traditional knowledge management approach – overcoming traditional indexing and keyword searching problems.
  • Associating knowledge objects with users ‘following’ objects – creates viral/organic knowledge approach
  • Lots of good features and well thought-out functionality
  • A lot of new terminology
  • Product requires a big shift in approach from client
  • Vendor still developing pitch and positioning

Strengths

  • Architected based on knowledge-sharing approach, with ‘social’ approach
  • Uses ‘Social’ crowdsourcing as an intuitive and familiar approach, rather than traditional authoring and review
  • Users ‘follow’ objects, creating knowledge and understanding of who are real experts and stakeholders. This creates wider net of interested parties, and therefore facilitates a ‘crowdsourcing’ approach.
  • Can be used in conjunction with other ITSM products – using social and knowledge areas
  • Positive approach to using social and knowledge, based on actual usage and practice rather than theoretical processes. Uses Social-Media type ‘following’ of objects, services etc, as opposed to CMDB based assignment, to establish relationships and shared accountability.
  • Service desk or other support staff would see all the followers of an ‘object’ (application, server, database, incident, etc.). Then assign and track as appropriate
  • Nice status bar on each knowledge page – number of views, metrics etc.
  • Good visual representations of relationships – showing how many users involved in incidents and knowledge stakeholders, relationships between objects  etc.
  • Stakeholders crowdsource knowledge  and change – based on ‘objects’ they are following
  • Good overall approach to try and manage ‘real life’ way of working – ie involving relevant stakeholders in CAB type decisions.
  • Can also use more traditional approach of approval and review as needed
  • Some interesting new and ‘social’ terminology and verbs/actions – more intuitive and user-friendly version of RACI concepts
  • Vendor offers Proof of Concept and trial – (based on requirements – usually 30 – 60 days). Implementation approach aims to support client self-sufficiency with product where possible
  • Some good examples of focussed customer successes using KM – 70% reduction in change failures, 50% reduction in new start productivity, 50% reduction in mean time to restore services
  • Good understanding of varying SME/Enterprise implementation issues
  • Implementation based around successful customer adoption of KM processes

Weaknesses

  • Requires a major client shift in approach, with new terminology (verbs, actions) used – could be off-putting for some
  • Looks complex in places and requires clients with open or new approach to implementation
  • Sales pitch is good (based on solution selling and use cases) although needs to be developed and simplified to grab attention and quickly show route to value
  • New and small vendor with limited market track record as company

ITinvolve’s Knowledge Management Customers

In Their Own Words:

“ITinvolve Knowledge Collaborator provides a federated, comprehensive, and peer reviewed source of all your IT knowledge, and combines this with personalized visualization, in-context collaboration, and proactive delivery of relevant information to those who need it when they need it.

Easily capture and share your collective knowledge – configuration data, policies, best practices, tribal knowledge, lessons learned, and more – in one easy to use place. Gain unprecedented visibility into your complex IT environment configurations, dependencies, and relationships.

Leveraging modern social collaboration techniques, ITinvolve is always up-to-date and accurate so you can make operational decisions with confidence and without the fear of unintended consequences.”

Screenshots

Further Information:

Knowledge Management Review Index

This independent review is part of our 2013 Knowledge Management Group Test.