ITSM and multi-sourcing – taking a joined-up approach

"Multisourcing is the disciplined provisioning and blending of business and IT services from the optimal set of internal and external providers in the pursuit of business goals." ~ Wikipedia

Behind the intricacies of ITIL and the various strategies that can support ITSM, the overall aim is to improve service delivery and make the whole organisation more productive. By making sure that processes and teams are aware of what they have to deliver, ITSM can offer better service to end-users and greater efficiency overall.

Well, this is the theory. However, IT within organisations may not be organised in a way that makes this a simple proposition. The growth in outsourcing and cloud services has led to IT often becoming a fractured estate, with different areas of infrastructure, applications and support being handled by teams both inside and outside the organisation. While this doesn’t stop ITSM programmes from being successful, it does make them more challenging.

This trend – often referred to as multi-sourcing – occurs because CIOs are being asked to reduce costs within IT. Cutting out internal resources and using outside services can be an effective route to achieving this, but it can come at the expense of a joined-up IT approach. ITIL gives guidelines on how to manage this kind of environment, but reflecting theory in practice can be difficult to achieve.

Taking a Joined-Up Approach

To combat this, going back to first principles and establishing where services and responsibilities link together is essential. Knowing where suppliers are responsible for providing service, meeting Service Level Agreements and delivering what is asked of them should be at the bedrock of ITSM projects of this kind, but the reality is that many organisations are not as effective at tracking this as they should be.

This can be due to simple human error – from individual tickets being created in the wrong way and therefore not going to the right team in the first place – through to more systemic issues around holding suppliers accountable and making sure that they are delivering on their promises. Whatever problem is being faced, clearing the lines of communication and establishing that processes are being followed is the first step to take.

This is also critical to getting accurate numbers on support and service requests and how they are being handled. This may also require a back-to-basics approach, so that suppliers and internal teams can be compared properly in an “apples to apples” way. Getting this information from suppliers is essential, as otherwise there is no way to prove that the ITSM programme itself is successful.

Following on from this is looking at processes again – are there ways that these can be more automated from the start? This provides an opportunity to speed up service delivery and support requests, while also potentially reducing costs on both the customer and the supplier side. For the customer, greater productivity and lower bills should be the aim, while suppliers should see benefit from reduced cost to serve each transaction and less opportunity for tickets to be lost or mis-allocated.

In order to achieve this level of automation, there are two things to consider:

1. ACCURATE REQUEST ALLOCATION

The first is how users can log requests for support and these tickets are handled through to the right support team, whether this is internal or external to the organisation. This involves more diagnosis at the beginning so that the problem is tracked properly. Users don’t care if their problem is caused by the application itself, the infrastructure supporting that app or the new upgrade that was not released out to production properly; however, the responsibility for assessing the issue and routing it through to the right support team does have a big impact on service speed and quality.

Implementing self-service portals for requests can help here by removing some of the day-to-day issues and automating their fulfilment. For example, a request for a new app to be installed can be automated if the sign-off level of the manager at a certain budget is approved automatically. This does not make the job of diagnosing problems easier for cross-team issues, but it does free up time so that more resource can be dedicated to those more difficult issues in the first place.

2. HOW TO AUTOMATE?

The second challenge is how to automate: most organisations will have a mix of systems themselves, while their service providers may have their own service desks and support tools as well. Passing tickets between systems automatically as well as managing approvals is therefore a big potential hurdle. For companies that are yet to make their choice on suppliers, establishing which systems are in place to check compatibility and integration levels is an option. For those with existing relationships in place, this is not an option to consider, so a different approach will be necessary.

Orchestration

Instead of thinking about tools, the emphasis has to be on workflows instead. Orchestrating processes between different platforms so that information is handled in the right way is the ultimate aim here, so that customers and suppliers can carry on using their tools of choice rather than being restricted or having to rely on manual labour to achieve results.

In a multi-sourcing world where cloud services, infrastructure and support can be managed in so many different ways, there is no one strategy that will achieve success. Each company or public body will have its own situation to consider, as well as that of its external suppliers. However, this makes orchestration and analysis of workflows more important – without this, the job of managing and delivering services is more difficult to achieve.

As multi-sourcing gets taken up by more enterprises and public sector organisations in their efforts to reduce costs, so taking a more joined- up and orchestrated approach to managing workflows will be critical to meeting their user needs as well.

Asset Automation Brings Harmonious Orchestration

Bob Janssen, CTO, RES Software "IT must look at better ways of managing IT through innovative approaches to automation and orchestration"

RES Software chief technology offer Bob Janssen says that IT management is being pushed in different directions, so how can we steady stage and make sure we’re all singing from the same song-sheet?

The facts are simple, businesses want more information for decision-making and insight into customers, while individual users are accessing applications and working on more devices from smartphones and tablets to laptops and the traditional desktop. At the same time, IT has to provide better services to users across all these devices, which means new challenges and more platforms to support with the same level of resources.

It’s a cacophony of service management sound

To keep up with the demands of users and support business objectives, IT must look at better ways of managing IT through innovative approaches to automation and orchestration.

How do we speed up the IT production line?

For the IT team, there is the constant challenge of completing new projects, like migrating to Windows 7 or rolling out new applications to the business, all against the backdrop of tightening budgets and shrinking staffs. The natural response to this is to cut down on manual intervention wherever possible by automating IT management.

From an IT service management (ITSM) perspective, automation can deliver more benefits to the business. Responses to typical IT problems like application upgrades or operating system migrations can be automated, so users can get the best experience without demanding direct intervention from the IT team.

For companies looking at IT automation, the main benefit is that they can improve internal processes and reduce the manual effort required of common, recurring tasks. Their emphasis (in a perfect world) should be on making everything run properly the first time around and cutting the time spent on tasks in the future.

The end result should be:

  • less time spent delivering patches,
  • less time spent updating desktops,
  • less time spent migrating operating systems,
  • less time needed for other day-to-day tasks.

There are other benefits too: automated processes can be done uniformly across all machines, reducing potential for error and improving reliability. Plus, time saved through automation can help keep costs lower, while maintaining service quality.

After automation comes service orchestration

The next step after automation is to take a fresh look at service orchestration. At first glance, this may seem similar to IT automation: it is aimed at making the mechanics of a process run smoothly, with minimal human intervention. In fact, service orchestration is something bigger: it looks at how IT-related processes interact with the other business functions and assets engaged with the same processes. This means that a project undertaken by IT may actually enable IT to deliver value to the larger organization – not just to IT.

The aim of service orchestration is to apply the potential of IT automation to common business tasks. Again, the end result should be a smoother process for end-users, and more efficient results for the business. Plus it will involve interaction with those business units in order to be successful. Orchestration also goes further into aligning IT with business activities, ensuring that IT continues to deliver better service and support to the organisation as a whole.

Organising onboarding

A prime example of service orchestration is around onboarding: new users entering an organisation.

Certainly new employees must be provided with the right level of access to IT resources, applications and data; but how this is achieved can tell you a lot about how the organisation approaches IT management – and ITSM in particular.

Here’s a typical scenario:

The new employee is provided with a desktop or laptop to work on, and the necessary applications are either installed on that machine or delivered to that machine as a service. Finally, the user is set up in Active Directory and granted role-based access rights and permissions, as well as access to printers and shared drives.

In most environments, these interactions are manual: the IT staff adds the employee to the right domains, provides the appropriate permissions, installs applications, and sources the desktop or laptop. Documenting the employee’s resource requirements, securing the necessary approvals, and implementing those resources can take at least many hours – and quite often days. But service orchestration can drastically reduce this time by automating the process. Also, the new employee’s business unit – which is already specifying the employee’s unique resource and access requirements – can be given more control over delivering the employee’s new technology.

Instead of relying on the traditional “heavy lifting” approach of person-to-person interaction between IT staff and the rest of the business, an IT service can be set up to automate this interaction. For example, an HR application can be used to define each new employee’s application and data access privileges based on his or her job description and seniority level.

A task that can take hours and engage multiple staff resources is reduced to minutes, with little to no “hands on” interaction. Investing the time up-front to set up this capability can save enormous amounts of time longer term, as the new IT services can then be applied to every new employee at every level. It also reduces human interaction, and the possibility of time consuming error.

The service orchestration score

Service orchestration provides more opportunities for improving service delivery throughout an employee’s lifecycle within the business through service catalogues and self-service portals. Based on ITIL guidance, building up a service catalogue makes it easier for IT to provide a list of relevant IT services in one place for users to access.

But service orchestration can take this one stage further, by automating deployment of business processes. Approval processes and permissions can be built into the service orchestration process to ensure that managers within the organisation maintain proper levels of control.

A working example:

For example, password resets and printer access tasks – which often make up the bulk of service desk calls – can be automated. Doing so not only makes life easier for the IT team, it helps employees return to productivity more rapidly as well.

What does the future hold for IT?

At the heart of automation and service orchestration is the recognition that human time and effort is an expensive approach to managing IT. By automating IT management where possible, it frees up time that would otherwise be spent on low-value tasks that “keep the lights on”, and instead let IT concentrate on how those assets are used to create value for individuals and for the business as a whole.

For those in charge of IT, whether they are responsible for overall budget spend or for keeping desktops running day-to-day, this change represents a big shift. Instead of being solely a back-office function, IT has to step into the limelight and be part of wider business projects from the start.

It also links into changing how companies think about their IT assets from the start: rather than being static assets that remain the same for years, these applications and services can change rapidly depending on what endpoint a user is on, whether they are mobile or office-based, and how their job differs depending on circumstances. All of these criteria can be changing at once for each user, so the ITAM function has to respond to this. Doing it manually represents a huge potential time-sink, so automation is the only way that it can be achieved cost-effectively.

Automation and orchestration is therefore a necessary investment for the future of IT management. As internal IT professionals, this level of control provides greater opportunities to improve service delivery, while it also offers more time to concentrate on where value can be created and delivered.

Bob Janssen is CTO for RES Software. He has spent over ten years establishing and growing RES Software in its mission to help customers with their desktop and IT management requirements.