ITSM Industry News Roundup – incl The CEO Who's Never Fired Anyone

749288301_45b0d7a34f_qNo time to read all the interesting info and news floating around social media and appearing in your inbox? Read our round up of what we’ve found interesting this week.

  1. Karen’s Conversations #4 – Karen Ferris talks to Paul Wallis and Fergus Cloughley the creators of OBASHI and Claire Agutter from IT Training Zone Ltd about the difference between CMDB and OBASHI, training and data flows. Watch here
  2. How to Navigate Office Politics and Avoid Needless Drama – Who doesn’t need to know how to do this?!? Read more here
  3. The First Big SDN Data Breach is Just a Matter of Time says Alex Scroxton of Computer Weekly. Read more here
  4. The IT Skeptic’s RealIT Radio Episode 5: Governance of IT – Dysfunctional families and IT organisations have a lot in common says Rob England. Listen here
  5. Meet the CEO Who’s Never Fired Anyone – Jennifer Liberto talks to Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire, about performance reviews, career tests and career progression. Read more here
  6. Put Yourself in Your Colleagues Shoes – Jorden Cohen wonders what else he would do differently if he looked at things from a different perspective. Read more here (via @GoNavvia)
  7. Big Data on the Service Desk – Does Size Matter? – Of course not, it’s what you do with it that counts. Read more from MaryR at HP here

Got some interesting news to share – say hello via @gobbymidget 

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itSMF Australia Annual Conference (LEADit)

This year's conference will be hosted in Melbourne
This year’s conference will be hosted in Melbourne

It is with incredible excitement that we are able to announce that we will be the Media Partner for the itSMF Australia Annual Conference (LEADit), 13-15 August 2014, at The Pullman Melbourne Albert Park Hotel in Australia.

This ITSM event, which is the largest in the southern hempishere, brings together more than 500 IT professionals, with over 50 keynotes and breakout sessions  – covering a wide range of subjects that are at the heart of our industry.

What you can expect

Generally regarded as one of the best itSMF-hosted conferences in the world, you’re in for a treat with this year’s agenda which includes (but is not limited to):

  • A fantastic series of keynotes featuring ITSM greats such as Rob England and James Finister, as well as motivational speakers such as Jason McCartney
  • A broad selection of breakout sessions featuring an array of speakers including the likes of Robert Stroud, Harold Petersen, Paul Wilkinson, Mark Smalley, Karen Ferris, Rachel Pennings, Stuart Rance and plenty more. Covering topics such as: cloud, continual service improvement, IT governance, ITSM process best practices, mobility, service lifecycle, IT asset management, agile, BYOD, customer experience etc.
  • A choice of 7 pre-conference workshops including “building agile virtual teams” and “real techniques to achiever a successful ITSM implementation”
  • A jammed pack social programme providing an array of opportunities to connect with your peers and the service management community, from the standard welcome drinks and networking evening to gala dinners, a social dinner and games night and a post conference winery tour through the Yarra Valley.
  • Ceremony for the 2014 itSMF Industry Awards

Join in the fun

Considering attending but not quite sure yet? Or crying that you can’t go and are going to miss out on all the fun? Why not get involved with one of the Twitter chats that will be hosted by itSMF Australia in the run up to the event?

Date Name Twitter handle Topic
Wed 02-Jul-14 Rob England @theitskeptic Big Uncle: Benevolent Security and The End of Privacy
Wed 09-Jul-14 Stuart Rance @StuartRance Getting Started with Continual Service Improvement
Wed 16-Jul-14 Ian Jones @Jonesyianau Leading ITSM from Scrum to Kanban
Wed 23-Jul-14 James Finister @jimbofin Service Integration and Management: SIAM 
Wed 30-Jul-14 Peter Doherty @ITILNinja Working Smarter at the Service Desk to Engage the Business
Wed 06-Aug-14 Sophie Danby @SophieDanby Get the most out of #Leadit

ITSM Review is flying longhaul!

Two of our team will be in attendance (we haven’t yet finished arguing about who gets to go on such an amazing trip), and if you’d like to schedule a meeting with us whilst we’re out in Australia please email me.

We also intend to make the most of our trip across to the other side of the world and in conjunction with the wonderful James Finister and Stuart Rance we are hoping to be able to run a series of ITSM community initiatives whilst we’re out there (let me hear you cry “the Brits are coming”). Not just in Melbourne, but potentially anywhere in Australia (within reason – it’s a big country) and even potentially en route as well. We’ll provide more information on this as/when things get confirmed, but in the mean time please let us know if you have any ideas related to this or would like to see us whilst we’re visiting.

The ITSM Review team will also be making a trip to India in conjunction with our visit to itSMF Australia, so we urge our readers in that part of the world to also get in touch.


Event Summary

WHAT

itSMF Australia Annual Conference (LEADit)

WHERE

The Pullman Melbourne Albert Park Hotel, Australia

WHEN

The conference runs from Wednesday 13th August to Friday 15th August, with a range of pre-conference workshops taking place on Tuesday 12th August.

BOOKING

Booking rates are available online

Please note that all social activities are included in the 3 / 4 day conference pass, except for the post conference tour, which will need to be purchased separately.

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Agile CSI: continual service improvement done right

10034579444_60a0fdc982_zDon’t worry. I am not going to rant on about hypothetical methods or visionary statements. I will not explain why agile is important for the ITSM industry, nor will I explain why agility is crucial for business survival. After all, these are no-brainers, right? I will only use your valuable time to illustrate a practical experience on implementing continual service improvement (CSI), the agile way.

In the past few years I have been privileged to apply lean and agile principles, methods and instruments to many different (IT) service environments. Most of the assignments were focused on delivering more value to stakeholders, improving collaboration between functions and domains, and reducing change lead times. However, one of the most intriguing assignments revolved around creating a culture of continuous improvement for a professional services company.

The problem

First, here’s some context. The customer I am referring to, is in the business of providing professional infrastructure and telecom services to its customers. The IT director realized they had a huge problem, when their largest customer repeatedly complained about their supplier’s reactive behavior. Surely, the customer got what they asked for, but there was no such thing as proactive service management, let alone continuous improvement of processes and services. My customer thought that they had this covered by having an extensive description of a CSI process, according to ITILv3. Yet somehow, no real improvements were initiated, let alone carried out. I profoundly assume this does not surprise you.

ITIL

Looking at the core objective of CSI, I have always applauded this addition to the ITIL set. After all, it recognized the essence of having a flying wheel for improvements throughout the IT service organization and lifecycle. However, allocating a separate process and rather waterfall and administrative approach to achieving this objective, is why ITIL’s CSI falls short in so many implementation attempts. Similar to Imai’s Gemba Kaizen, successful continuous improvement in IT services involves small, bottom-up, incremental improvements, integrated in business as usual. In addition, ITIL fails to address the most important element of achieving continuous improvement: culture. For instance, as long as the culture of the organization does not reward improvements or even does not allow mistakes to be made, those mistakes/errors will be covered up, instead of being visualized, improved and learned from.

Agile

This is where the Agile way of thinking comes in. At this organization, we introduced agile principles (eg. multidisciplinary, self-organized teams), methods (scrum) and instruments (kanban) to address their improvement issues, and to grow towards a proactive service organization. We started off with scrum. First by ensuring all stakeholders had a shared understanding of agile principles, the scrum process and its relevance to support and operational environments. After that, we allocated the roles. The complaining customer picked up the product owner role, whereas the service manager became the scrum master. The primary people involved in the service chain (service desk, design, develop, test, operations, main supplier) were involved as team members.

Then, as a joint effort, the entire team investigated the current opportunities for improvements, both on processes and delivered services. All improvements were collected on a product backlog (i.e. an improvement backlog). We used a uniform format to write them down: user stories. The good thing about user stories, is that they are short and simple, yet always address the “why” question. This resulted in user stories such as below:

agile

In parallel, we used planning poker as an instrument to estimate the improvements. I find this a particularly useful way of estimating both changes and improvements. The relative measure (story points) appeals to the unpredictive and indeterministic nature of so many changes and improvements.

In two weeks time, we had the product backlog filled (i.e. “ready” for 3 sprints), and prioritized by the product owner. So yes, this means that the customer decided where improvements were to be made first. After that, we narrowed down the product backlog into a sprint backlog for the first sprint and started off with a planning session for that sprint. Here, we created tasks for the allocated user stories, which were added to the physical scrum board we had set up. Together with the other, obvious ceremonies (stand up, demo, retrospective), the scrum process was in place and led by the service manager (scrum master). Every day, the team members pulled their actions through the process, picked up and realized the improvements during the 3 sprints.

Results

After three sprints of each one month, 80% of all identified improvements had been realized. And implemented. Result: an engaged customer, visibly happy with the improvements made thus far and confident regarding the proactive capabilities of the service organization. But it didn’t stop there. Yes, we stopped using scrum. After three sprints the backlog almost evaporated. But at that time, it was still positioned as a separate instrument. That is why we incorporated all future improvements on the regular kanban board, which was already used for incidents, problems and changes. Improvements became business as usual. All team members, including the customer, were actively involved throughout the delivery chain, all aimed at continuously improving the service delivery chain. The people involved were all aware of the priorities of their work in progress, and the value of their daily improvements.

I hear you say: this sounds too good to be true. Of course, we encountered several problems along the way. Quite a few team members were skeptical with regard to using agile principles and instruments. Showing them the value of visualization, sharing tasks across the multidisciplinary team and providing insight into the entire delivery chain, really catalyzed their changing attitudes. In addition, it was certainly not easy keeping everyone on track and on focus for the improvements during the sprints, next to their daily incidents, project work and other engagements. Daily stand-ups, management attention and visualizing results have surely contributed here.

The future

Creating a continuous improvement mindset is all about stimulating a learning culture. You are never ready. The same goes here. Having a CSI mindset is not enough to keep learning effectively. Further improvements for this organization include the optimization of measurements, and a further integration of Lean and Agile elements, or from Rob England’s TIPU framework.

Agile CSI is only one example of how agile and lean principles and instruments can help the IT function deliver great services. ITSM has a key role in achieving this, by sharing practical experiences, good practices, but most of all creating the conditions for all stakeholders to improve their work, processes and services.

Want to hear more from me on this topic? Join my BrightTalk webinar on 10th September 2014.

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Orange, green, blue, purple – what colour is ITSM?

photo (2)PINK. The answer is still PINK.

PINK14 seem a long time ago now, and I have to confess that I am already secretly (although I guess it’s not a secret when I publish it in an article right?) planning my trip for PINK15.

There has already been a stream of blogs from people providing their thoughts on the conference:

So I guess I’m a little late to the ‘event review party’ (sheesh my legs are still tired from the theme park that was Vegas) but better late than never. So here goes my review.

My favourite sessions

The calibre of the sessions varied depending on the topic and the speaker, but two sessions in particular stood out for me:

  • Slow IT: Meet in the Middle (MITM) – Rob England
  • How to Create & Manage a Successful Service Catalog – Jack Probst

What I loved most about these two sessions was the audience. No offence to either presenter but there were times when I wasn’t giving them 100% of my attention, because I was too busy watching and listening to the delegates in the room.

Rob England

Rob discussed the need to slow down the pace of business demands on IT to focus better on what matters, and to reduce the risk to what already exists (you can view Rob’s presentation as part of TFT here). His session was laden with common sense, and his message clearly resonated with the audience.

There were lots of nodding heads and signs of agreements. There were ‘oohs and ahh’s’ every 5 minutes (to the point that if any one entered the session late they probably wondered what the heck was going on). There were cries from the audience of ‘how?’ and ‘yes!’ It was very entertaining and enlightening to watch, and I think it’s fair to say that Rob had a few new groupies by the time his presentation was over.

Jack Probst

Then there was Jack’s session on service catalog (let’s not have the argument about the spelling). And before I attended the conference a few people had recommended to me “if you only see one session make sure it’s one of Jack’s”, and I’m pleased to say that this will probably be the same advice I give to any new timers next year.

Jack is a very enthusiastic and passionate presenter. I confess that when I entered the room I thought I understood service catalog and when I left I wasn’t so convinced (it was a tad high level for little ol’ me), but nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was question after question literally every five minutes from the audience (ok so maybe it wasn’t just me who found it high level) and once again the audience was very engaged. By the way if anyone saw my tweet about ITSM Review and service catalog, it was from this session.

What I loved most about this particular presentation though was not the actual session or topic, it was what happened after. I wanted to introduce myself to Jack given that the previous week he had written an article for us, and I had to wait a considerable amount of time to be able to do so. There was a very long line of people with questions.  All too often I see similar scenarios at events, and all too often I see very short responses given as answers, or occasionally no answers at all, but not with Jack. He gave clear answers and took contact details to provide even further information after the conference.

It’s interesting because many people raised the question of whether the PINK conference provided enough value to warrant the hefty conference price tag. My thoughts? If all the delegates did was attend these two sessions, then I would say they certainly got their money’s worth.

All the other sessions

A lot of people raised the suggestion that next year there should be less tracks and that presentations should be shorter, which I think is a fair comment.  There were many occasions when it felt a bit like Sophie’s Choice deciding which presentation to go to, not least when I had to make a decision between James Finister and Karen Ferris. James won solely on the fact that it was less distance for me to walk (the Bellagio is HUGE and I only have little legs … although not as little as Gobby Midget).

The keynotes on day one were incredible, and I think that PINK has quite a challenge on its hands finding anyone to match them next year. The keynotes on day two were sadly not as impressive, and along with many women I found the session by Josh Klein particularly poor. It was stereotypical and offensive. I appreciate that all of said stereotypical/offensive comments that he made were meant in good humour, but this is 2014 and jokes about women knowing nothing about tech and only being interested in shoes are not acceptable. There again I’d question whether there was ever actually a time when they were acceptable (although I wasn’t alive in the 1970s).

Anyway, enough of my thoughts for a second, let’s hear from a practitioner:

Currently our main aim at South African Reserve Bank is to be more service focused as well as looking at managing change and so my aim coming to PINK14 was to go to these types of sessions.

I was especially looking forward to Expanding ITSM Beyond IT: Providing Real Value to the Business by Joshua Smith – IT Service Management Team Lead at Mohawk Industries and I think I have taken away some useful points from the session.

We are currently moving to a new Service Desk tool provider and so I am looking forward to visiting the stand and getting to know the people there.

My favourite keynote has definitely been Caroline Casey, she was fantastic and very inspirational [unlike the keynote of Joshua Klein which I walked out of].

On the whole I would say that I have not had the “WOW that’s amazing I will definitely take this back with me” moment I was hoping for but I still think that the conference has been worthwhile.

– Siphiwe Mkwanazi – Head: Service Management Centre, South African Reserve Bank

Final thoughts

The theme was superheroes and I was suitably impressed with how PINK managed to ensure that the theme was present throughout the conference. The dressing up as superheroes and dancing through the ballroom wasn’t really my cup of tea, but that was simply a mismatch between American and British humour. It certainly drew plenty of laughs from the audience.

I won’t mention too much about the awards as you’ll be able to read articles from the winners here at ITSM Review over the coming weeks. However, what I will say is that at itSMF UK many of us complained that the award ceremony was too long and ‘went on a bit’, and yet at PINK we were complaining that the awards were a bit of a letdown (in terms of presentation not the actual winners) and too short. Safe to say that we (the ITSM critics) always have something to moan about and we’ll probably never be happy.

Finally, before I leave you with some photos of the exhibitors along with their views on the conference, there is one piece of feedback that I personally want to give to PINK for the 2015 conference. What I have to say is this:

 

“MORE GEORGE!!!!”

 

Seriously, the man is an absolute breath of fresh air and there was a never a dull moment when he was on stage. Pretty please work even more George Spalding into the agenda for 2015.

The exhibitors

I really shouldn’t miss out the vendors, given that without them PINK wouldn’t be able to run their conference. I personally felt that there was a nice atmosphere in the exhibition hall at this particular event. I’m not sure whether it was layout, the attendees or the fact that the vendors just generally seemed to be a lot more laid back and friendlier than I’ve seen them at other events – whatever the reason it was nice.

I particularly enjoyed assessing each vendors marketing efforts. From “spot me in a t-shirt” competitions to barbeque giveaways (yes you did read that correctly) there was certainly something for everyone. Anyone who knows me will know I get annoyed by vendors on booths very easily, but bar one minor incident that involved a finger (don’t ask) I never had a reason to complain!

Although talking of annoying, seriously, it’s time to stop tweeting about your PINK booth now people!

Before I finish up, here are some photos of a few* exhibitors looking all ‘dapper’ on their booths:

BMC Software
BMC Software
CA Technologies
CA Technologies
Cherwell
Cherwell Software
EasyVista
EasyVista
LANDESK
LANDESK
ManageEngine
ManageEngine
Navvia
Navvia
ServiceNow
ServiceNow
SysAid
SysAid
TeamQuest
TeamQuest

*Please note that no favouritism was involved in selecting which exhibitors to display here. I simply used all of the the professionals photographs provided to us by PINK.

The final finally

I just want to take this opportunity to thank Pink Elephant on behalf of everyone at ITSM Review for having us involved as media partner this year. We thoroughly enjoyed the conference and all of the amazing networking opportunities that the event presented us with.

So who else is going to PINK15?

Live from PINK14 – Day 1 in review

mediaAs day one of PINK14 comes to a close I am feeling somewhat frazzled. In Vegas nothing is modest and reserved and PINK14 is no different.

Held in the beautiful and ostentatious Bellagio hotel the sheer number of sessions is frankly mind boggling and trying to decide which to attend leaves you wishing cloning yourself were an option. Luckily the majority are repeated to make missing anything you really want to see unlikely.

Keynote presentations

Opened with a far too energetic lycra clad Wonder Woman dancing her way to the stage the Super Hero theme has continued throughout the day with the message that we can all be IT Super Heroes.

Both keynote speakers, retired Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield and social entrepreneur Caroline Casey gave rousing and emotional talks with audiences reaching for the Kleenex on several occasions.

 

Both told truly inspirational stories on what can be done when you dare to dream and follow those dreams through. Both presentations were also laced with great advice applicable to any IT service management organization.

Pink Think Tank

One of the many selling points for attendees of the annual Pink Elephant conferences (so I am told) is the quality of after-hours conversations. Often taking place over a meal or a beer, but often limited in their exposure outside of those party to them (and potentially the inability to remember what was said the following day).

So this year an attempt was made to formalise and capture the essence of such conversations – the Pink Think Tank. Where a pre-selected group of the ITSM industry’s deep thinkers spent a day discussing the main issues faced by corporate IT organisations before focusing on just one – from problem definition through to potential solutions. This was then fed back to the conference via a panel session today, with a Q&A session to follow on Wednesday.

The issue the think tank chose was: the complexity of multi-supplier value streams. Where the traditional IT function is faced with two discrete pressures:

  • A need to change to accommodate the needs of more agile businesses; and
  • Supplier-driven commoditisation.
The group’s solution statement pointed to a number of discrete areas/activities that need to be addressed (see the link below), headlined by the statement that IT really needs to start understanding the business. And the concept of IT needing to deal with commoditisation, innovation, and complexity simultaneously.

There was also a practical set of activities for attendees to address on their return to the workplace. Hopefully making the efforts of the Think Tank more relevant and accessible to attendees. With a commitment to create supporting documents to supplement the initial outputs.

If you are at Pink14, then look out for the Q&A session on Wednesday. If not, Rob England has shared the group’s first outputs on Slideshare. It also details those involved. In addition Rob himself will be providing a written article for us post-PINK detailing the entire Pink Think Tank process. In the meantime let us know what you think.

Everything else

There was also the announcement today that Attivio who won the PINK 2013 IT Excellence Award for Innovation Of The Year. So huge congratulations to those guys!

And we can’t forget all the numerous AXELOS announcements that took place today.

I can’t finish without mentioning the networking opportunities that been fantastic so far with a special pink cocktail created specially for the occasion, and in the exhibition hall there was a great mix of old hands and first time vendors and a certain penguin that seems to be everywhere these days.

It’s hard to really go into detail about the specific presentations live from the floor, but stay tuned for more in depth reviews of the sessions and Barclay Rae’s podcast.

 

Pink14 Preview: What’s the big idea?

"Sometimes you're so busy putting out fires that you don't have time to improve fire-fighting or fire-safety"
“Sometimes you’re so busy putting out fires that you don’t have time to improve fire-fighting or fire-safety”

Do you ever get a Big Idea?  You’ll be talking or reading about ITSM and the proverbial light bulb comes on.  You see a connection or an underpinning concept that you hadn’t seen before.  Sometimes it appears to be an original insight, one you haven’t heard expressed exactly that way before.  And very occasionally it really is novel and it really is right: you subject it to the scrutiny of others and it stands up.

It happens to me.  Because I’m privileged to spend so much time interacting with some of the best minds in ITSM worldwide – and thinking and writing about what I learned in those discussions, and applying that knowledge as a consultant – it happens to me quite often, about once a year. In fact I will be presenting on some of these big ideas at the upcoming Pink Elephant IT Service Management Conference and Exhibition (PINK14).

Standard+Case

A couple of years ago my Big idea was Standard+Case, a topic which I will be running a half-day workshop on at PINK14.

Standard+Case is a synthesis of our conventional “Standard” process-centric approach to responding, with Case management, a discipline well-known in industry sectors such as health, social work, law and policing.

The combination of Standard and Case concepts gives a complete description of ticket handling, for any sort of activity from Incidents to Changes.

  • Standard tickets are predefined because they deal with a known situation. They use a standard process to deal with that situation. They can be modelled by BPM, controlled by workflow, and improved by the likes of Lean IT and ITIL.

  • Case tickets present an unknown or unfamiliar situation. They rely on the knowledge, skills and professionalism of the person dealing with them. They are best dealt with by experts, being knowledge-driven and empowering the operator to decide on suitable approaches, tools, procedures and process fragments.

ITIL and Lean do fit this S+C paradigm, if you use them in the right situation: Standard responses. S+C extends them with better tools for non-Standard cases: Adaptive Case Management, Kanban, Knowledge Centered Support(KCS)… Better still, this S+C approach might let the ITIL and anti-ITIL camps live in peace and harmony at last.

Slow IT

Last year it was Slow IT.  Slow IT is a provocative name.  It doesn’t mean IT on a go-slow.    It means slowing down the pace of business demands on IT so as to focus better on what matters, and to reduce the risk to what already exists.  Think Slow Food, and more recently Slow Business and mindfulness etc.

The intent of Slow IT is to allow IT to deliver important results more quickly.  It does this by concentrating on the interfaces between business executives and CIOs.  Slow IT highlights the importance of Governance of IT and of Service Portfolio in order to make the right decisions to do the right things in the right way at the right time, to maximise benefit and minimise risk.

Right now the pace of change in IT is approaching human limits.  Many IT shops are overwhelmed by change, drowning in projects.  More are overheating: working at lunatic pace because the IT community convinces us we have to.  Slow IT challenges the hysterias and fads of IT to ensure that these results are really needed as quickly as we think they are.  Slow IT is about trying to introduce more measured responses, to bring some sanity to the current dangerous madness that is organisational IT (you can read more on this here).

I’ll be presenting on Slow IT at PINK14.  In addition we’ll talk about my Meet-In-The-Middle strategy to address the Slow IT issues by offering a quid pro quo: Fast IT.   If the organisation will slow down the demands on IT, IT will have the breathing space to implement approaches to respond faster, such as Lean, Agile, DevOps, and good old CSI.  Right now too many IT teams are so flat out serving the business they don’t have the bandwidth to introduce better methods properly.  It’s the old catch-22 of being so busy putting out fires that you can’t improve fire-fighting or fire-safety.  Slow IT takes off a bit of pressure, giving the team some headroom, to make improvements.

I hope to see you at the Pink Elephant ITSM conference.  I’m honoured to be assembling some of those great ITSM minds at the Pink Think Tank, to address one of the biggest issues facing IT today: how to manage a multi-sourced IT value chain.  We’ll be looking to produce tangible actionable advice, so look out for the results.  I have a feeling it may be the catalyst for my next Big Idea.

What do YOU think the next “big idea” will be?


Find me at PINK14:

You don't need to be a Genius or a Guru to offer a Personal Service Desk

genius
A Genius Bar for the Service Desk, could it work?

You’ll surely be familiar with the ancient Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”. Well, those working in IT these days are so beset with “interesting” challenges that they might be justified in feeling that they accidentally offended some Chinese ancestors in a previous life.

One thing about working in IT – it’s not boring and it keeps changing. Unfortunately it’s easy to develop a defensive mentality when faced with some of the challenges I describe below.

In this article I will describe one way that you could possibly rise to the challenge and innovate in a simple way to overcoming many of these interesting challenges – and hopefully have some fun too.

You may well be familiar with the Genius Bar in Apple Stores, and you may even have heard talk recently of IT Departments that are implementing the same concept. I’d like to describe some steps that you could take to offer your own version – a Personal Service Desk

First, let’s look at some of the more interesting challenges in corporate IT these days:

What Makes a Career in IT so Interesting Right Now?

  1. Windows XP goes end of life in April 2014. Many companies out there are still running XP for business usage and are trapped through legacy applications and beaurocracy, in a position where they cannot change to Windows 7 for the foreseeable future, certainly beyond 2014.
  2. Yet the employees, some still using XP, come to work carrying their shiny mobile devices, with their own-purchased cloud services, and an expectation of a level of service learned from the ‘consumer experience’. And many IT organisations struggle to match that expectation with technology, or service.
  3. And technology is driving forward at a startling rate. It may be becoming simpler, but there is so much more of it, everywhere, pervasive and dramatically changing.
  4. Oh, and most organisations see IT as a cost centre, constantly driving to reduce headcount, to do ‘more with less’.

I think a quote from a panel debate at the SDI conference earlier this year sums it up, Rob England summarised the situation that most IT departments are in when faced with demands from an employee/customer base for a consumer experience, yet are tied and hindered by a massive volume of IT project and firefighting work with tight resources and limited staff.

To quote Rob: “No you can’t have a bloody genius bar!”. Basically IT is too busy to rise to the challenge. Or is it?

it crowd
Don’t be the faceless IT Crowd

Yet there’s something there isn’t there?

The ‘genius bar’, or the ‘guru bar’. I’d like to suggest – with respect to Rob’s experience – that it might not be that hard, and actually a closer look at this concept could help IT cope a little better in these “interesting times”.

 First, I think I’ll call it the “Personal Service Desk”. It’s a physical location, with IT support staff visible and  available, so employees / users / customers (use your terminology of choice) can walk in and bring their IT  issues with them. Anyone that’s been in an Apple Store will be familiar with that concept.

 It allows you to break down the barrier between the faceless IT “techies” – anyone seen the IT Crowd? – and move  to a customer-facing model where you actually see the faces and actually speak directly to your end users . Scary?  It shouldn’t be. Why should it be? Providing productivity through IT service is what an IT department exists for.

 Benefits of Face to Face, Personalised Service

In theory, providing a service such as this should have a few clear and immediate benefits.

  1. Reduced number of incidents received at the Service Desk, or, to be accurate, reduced number of incidents that  require traditional Service Desk attention.
  2. Increased employee/user/customer satisfaction.
  3. Increased perception of the value of IT by the business.

But it sounds hard. It sounds like a massive restructure and surely your IT technology cannot currently support this? It sounds like something fanciful that the clever industry analyst people talk about as happening in the future.

Lets scrutinise that criticism. Is it hard and heavy and complicated? I’m not so sure it is. Lets take a look at what you need to build and operate a “Personal Service Desk”?

The Personal Service Desk

  1. Location – OK, this is probably the hardest. You need space somewhere close to IT that can be opened up to allow end users to walk in. Tables, chairs, a ‘bar’, although not literally stocked with alcoholic drinks unless you really want to raise the IT experience to a new level. Tea and coffee is probably fine – well why not? Make it free. A few PC’s running common operating systems and standard desktops in the corner will be very helpful.
  1. Staff – Do you have people who are sometimes not covering incoming phones in your Service Desk? Working on resolving incidents or fulfilling requests. Great. Put a simple rota in place that allocates one or two people into the new space instead of at their desk. The important point here to remember is that a good Personal Service Desk has SCHEDULED APPOINTMENTS. There will be quiet times when there are no appointments, or times when the user is a ‘no show’. So your allocated IT staff can still do their work – at a slower rate – between appointments.
  1. Brand ­– Get a logo for IT. You’ve probably got one. Print some T-shirts and posters. Done. (OK, yes that’s a bit flippant, but it’s as hard a task as you choose to make it). Anyone scheduled to cover the Personal Service Desk must wear the t-shirt.
  1. Online Self Service – This is critical. You must have an online presence for your Service Desk. Just like every store has a web site, your Personal Service Desk should be tightly aligned with your self-service and even help you with the uptake of Self-service. Your Self-service should:
    1. Advertise the existence of the Personal Service Desk
    2. Provide appointment booking
    3. Provide satisfaction surveys from each visit
  1. Appointment Booking – Yes it’s presented in Self-service, but it goes beyond that. It needs to provide:
    1. Presentation to the end user of available time-slots for appointments.
    2. Ability for the end user to request an appointment time slot and to fill in details of the reason for the visit.
    3. Bookings into Calendars (Outlook or whichever is used in your business) for an appointment, so that the end user see’s the appointment time in their schedule of bookings for that day, with email reminders and the ability to cancel an appointment.

Obviously an appointment needs to generate or link to, or ‘be’ the start of a support process, which may require an incident to be logged, a request, or multiple. I’d recommend that an appointment is a process in itself, so it can conclude with a survey to the end user as a part of the same process.

  1. Mobile Support – Buy a couple of iPads. Staff in the Personal Service Desk can then view and update the appointments on their iPads. Why? So that they can move to sit at a table, or walk around and get away from the barrier of the ‘bar’. They must be social and visible and mobile in that space.
  1. Easy creation of tickets – During an appointment with a customer you are likely to need to create – and hopefully resolve – one or many incidents or requests. No one wants to be sitting around waiting while you fill in categories and priorities and impact and urgency. Template your most common incidents and requests and configure them to be created from a URL and then convert that URL into a QR Code (I use goo.gl). Then print out a sheet of the different QR codes so that your IT support technician in the Personal Service Desk need only scan the required code with his mobile device/iPad to create the required ticket. They’ll still need to put the user name in there but it’s a lot quicker. Push button ticketing. But make sure they have the option to go straight to resolved so that you can easily capture each thing done, and keep open those items that cannot be done.
  1. Reports – Not many. Just enough to show number of appointments, number of incidents, and number of requests all processed through the new Personal Service Desk. And don’t forget surveys. Basically enough to demonstrate the activity and value of the new function.

All of the above can be achieved with good ITSM tools, and the exact way you implement the above is up to you.

Is That It?

You could consider going further – one idea is the use of basic loan equipment immediately to hand so that you can just swap out a bad machine to keep the user productive. That’s harder to implement but the benefits there are clear. Laptop broken? Swap it out.

Then you’re ready to go. Advertise, drop flyers on every desk, put posters in the canteen, include an email footer on every support email, place an announcement on your Self-service site etc. Maybe even have a fun countdown every day to the launch. No one will discover this service by wandering around – they need to be told that it is there, and how to get there.

Above all… DO

But remember, all of this will fail unless you have the most essential piece of all – the willingness to act.

Get a team together in IT, brainstorm the above points, and work out your own version. Have fun with it, get IT people involved in the definition, creation and operation. Make it a team initiative. Enjoy doing it, and care about it! And don’t forget to let us know how you get on!

What have been your experiences in this area? Have you implemented a Personal Service Desk, a Guru Bar, an IT Genius Bar? What did you learn? Be brave and tell us all about it in the comments.

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And the winner is…

kindleWe recently gave all you lovely people the opportunity to win a Kindle Fire in return for writing a review on

Rob England’s (a.k.a ‘The IT Skeptic’) latest book “Plus! The Standard+Case Approach: See service response in a new light”, and today is the exciting day when we announce the winner!

With all of the reviews in, Martin Thompson took his place at the judging table and began reading through the submissions. I had to tell him twice to remove his grey wig and remind him he was judging book reviews not auditioning to replace Judge Judy, but we got there eventually…

A massive congratulations to…

The winner of our competition and proud new owner of a Kindle Fire – Karen Ferris!

Karen’s review was chosen because it gave the most succinct description of the Standard+Case concept, a summary of the book and a reason for reading it.

The Review

I must admit to being sceptical (no pun intended @theITSkeptic) when Rob started to talk about the Standard + Case approach, and the use of ‘Case’ when faced with incidents, requests, changes etc. that we do not have a ‘standard’ model for dealing with.

I couldn’t see that handling these situations, as a ’case’ was different to how most of us manage this today. However, having read Rob’s book, the penny certainly dropped! This book is an eye-opener and a must-read.

Rob is not proposing that Standard + Case (or S+C) is a new practice but is an approach for formalizing what happens today when there is no formalized approach available.

This book describes the rigour required when dealing with response situations so that all instances of service response are managed, reported and improved – not just the standard ones. We often have models or procedures to deal with the things we have seen before and know how to deal with. We have categories, workflows, checklists and templates etc. We have the guidance provided by ITIL. But what happens when we are faced with a situation that is unfamiliar? As Rob says, what happens when we fall into that fuzzy cloud that says ‘resolve it’? ITIL gives some guidance for these situations within Problem Management but goes little past root-cause analysis. This book fills the gap.

What is also exciting about this concept is the use of gamification to offer challenges to service desk personnel and the ability of S+C to provide a career path for service desk personnel within the service desk. This has been a challenge for most, if not all, service desk managers who see staff come and go as the service desk is just seen as the doorway into the rest of IT.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone involved in situation response. It is an easy read and Rob provides a step-by-step approach for adoption of S+C as well as a S+C Tale, which we can all relate to, and brings S+C to life.

As Rob states in his first chapter, “The Standard+Case approach will improve your service response without a great deal of impact or investment in your current ITSM practices and systems”. This is why everyone should consider S+C.

This is a game-changer and I think Rob’s best work yet.

Thank-you Karen for your review both from us at ITSM Review and from Rob, we hope that you are your new Kindle Fire will be very happy together.

And to all the others…

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone else who participated and got into the community spirit with this competition (ok so maybe you was all doing it for the Kindle Fire but we’ll pretend otherwise…).

A thank-you also from Rob, not just for writing the reviews, but but for taking the time out to read his book in the first place and for recommending it to colleagues and peers. By helping to share his ideas hopefully more will implement them within their businesses and ultimately improve their approach to IT Service Management.

And finally…

If you haven’t read Rob’s book yet then not only did you miss out on the opportunity to win a new, shiny technology gadget but you’re also missing out on some great insight and advice.

Don’t just take it from me either, I’ll leave you with some other quotes:

“If you are quite new to ITSM or have not yet been fully converted into an ITIL ideologue this book can be nice introduction to an alternative, the author may say complementary, method to ‘process’ management.” – Stephen Alexander

“While not specific to IT, if you are an IT manager, CIO, Service Desk manager etc. etc. read this book and look to embed a Standard + Case approach into your IT organization.” – Mark O’Loughlin

“After you have read this book you will have a good ground and recommendations for how to manage Standard+Case covering pointers for how to think considering tools, policies, classifications, strategies etc. it’s a must for anybody that wants to take the next step in support evolution.” – Mika Salo

Plus! The Standard + Case Approach: see service response in a new light is a fast, complete and clean read introducing Standard + Case approach by Rob England.” – Rui Soares

“The important thing that Rob teaches us in this book is not about the existence of Standard and Case… we knew this since a long time ago in ITSM. The important concept is that we need structure, policies and resources properly balanced to manage both kind of responses, instead of keep trying to use a single set of policies, procedures and tools for everything.” – Antonio Valle

“It’s a good read and recommended to anyone involved in IT support and perhaps those involved in non-IT support. Are you prepared to become more effective?” – Stephen Mann 

“I would encourage strongly giving Rob’s model a try if you are struggling to get organized in the service response area.” – David Lowe

“I will be using many of Rob’s ideas as I work with my customers, and I recommend that you do the same.” – Stuart Rance

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Customers are not your top priority

TrainsThere is this myth that IT (or any service provider) should be utterly focused on customers; that a customer obsession is the secret sauce to IT success; and that unhappy customers mean we in service have failed.

Railroads don’t bear this out.

Railroads in the USA have fought tooth and nail with their customer base for decades.  After the Second World War, freight customers decided the railroads were screwing them. Government legislation progressively regulated and price-controlled the railroads into the ground, until the whole system was on the verge of collapse.  Only de-regulation with the Staggers Act in 1980 freed the railroads to operate economically again and put them back on track (sorry) to their currently-thriving state.

And now the customers are complaining about freight rates again…

Meeting the needs of the business

If railroads were customer-obsessed – as the modern fad would have it – then they would provide all sorts of specialised rolling stock tailored to their customers needs / wants.

It certainly didn’t start out that way.

Originally a customer could hire a boxcar, reefer (refrigerated boxcar), flatcar, gondola, hopper, or tankcar.  That was pretty much the choice: not tailored to the customer, just a choice of a few basic shapes. Was a hopper car or boxcar shaped that way because the customers wanted it?  No, they were that way because they worked best internally for the functioning of the railroad. All sorts of loads fit uncomfortably in gondolas or boxcars, but that is what the customer got regardless of any complaints. Automobiles were chained on flatcars and car parts struggled in and out of boxcars for decades before the specialised rolling stock came along.

As the 20th Century progressed, railroads built special rolling stock to meet customer needs: automobile carriers, the aircraft body-parts carriers, trailer trains.  But you still couldn’t really say they were customer-focused.

The trailer train is a case in point: the Santa Fe railroad worked closely with the Hunt trucking empire to develop “intermodal” rolling stock to meet a customer need: to transport truck-trailers cross-country on special flatcars.  But the trailer train design was about moving truck-shaped loads on a railroad, not making trucking easy.  They still needed to drive the trailers carefully onto the flatcars and chain them down (and eventually they craned the whole thing on!).

When railroads introduced covers for coal hoppers, it wasn’t about looking after the customer’s coal – it was because coal dust was destroying the rail ballast.  Until then the railroads were perfectly happy to have a percentage of the load blow away and the rest get wet and icy.

In recent years, railroads have realised the best profits are in large volumes of single loads in dedicated unit trains, instead of mixed freight, and as our societies have become bigger and more industrialised warranting those unit trains, specialised rolling stock has become more common: for coal, ethanol, automobiles, logs, and of course containers.

But in general, railroads have always built general-purpose rolling stock that best suited their purposes not the customers.  Customers had to make do, with some highly profitable exceptions.

Finally, the container took the customers challenge away by introducing a standardised unit of shipping and now both parties are (generally) happy, but that didn’t stem from any railroad initiative to please the customer.

Customers are the source of revenue not the masters of the business

Railroads spend billions on infrastructure development every year (most of which is not driven by customer).  A railroad will occasionally run a rail line up to a big customer, but most of the time lines are laid for geography first and being close to economic density second.  Individual customers need to (re)locate close to the railroad or arrange local freight.  If a customer wants a branch built up to their coal mine, power plant, or factory, they usually have to build it at their own expense.

Railways are as quick to cut services as to provide them, depending on their own interests.  Governments have to legislate to force railways to run passenger services, and have done so for half a century in most countries.

The fact is, railroads are focused on moving stuff as efficiently, economically and reliably as they can, with enough surplus to keep up the massive infrastructure investments, for maximum profit.  The customer is only there to pay for it all.

Airlines are the same.  While a few airlines like Emirates differentiate themselves by chasing the customer who wants to be cared for, most airlines today clearly regard economy passengers as “self-loading freight”.  Emirates has long been accused of all sorts of unfair government support; they burn petro-dollars as a PR flagship for a “progressive” Dubai.  Most airlines (and their governments) can’t afford those levels of service anymore and instead simply stay competitive.

Telcos are a third example, with telco customer support being legendarily bad (although New Zealand Telecom have made leaps and bounds to improve).

Customer service level is a business decision

What do all these industries have in common?  They are commodities, in a race to zero on price.

You can rave all you want about Apple or Zappos.  These are companies who have chosen to differentiate themselves on service quality.  That is a conscious decision on their part, and certainly in Apple’s case they charge like a wounded bull to pay for it (and scam on paying taxes in your country too, unless you live in Luxembourg, but that is another article).  I don’t see Google, Amazon, Samsung, Microsoft, or HTC going broke, despite the fact their support sucks.

The level of love and attention you give your customers is a business decision.  It is a dial an organisation sets from “scum” to “master” depending on the strategy and current state of the business.

The governors of your organisation make the decision as to how important customers are, hopefully for good business reasons. The executive managers decide how that translates into levels of customer care, and that translates into service policy.  It is not for any of us to decide otherwise.  If you over-service the customer you are wasting money and putting the future viability of the organisation at risk.  This is true whether you work for a commercial business, a not-for-profit, or public service.

New Zealand Telecom lifted its game because its service had become so utterly awful as a monopoly that the government decided to deregulate and break Telecom up.  They had nowhere else to go: they were universally hated and they were too bloated to compete on price or agility.  Their competitors continue with the staggeringly bad support because they know it doesn’t cost them much business (see my case study about bad customer service).

Railroads are the same.  They know they need to deliver reliably and they know they need to listen to customer’s needs.  Some of the small railroads even specialise in customer service.  But in the main it is all about cutting a hard-nosed deal on price.

Don’t get confused…

Don’t confuse listening to needs with customer love. Any canny organisation follows its market: that is pure self-interest.  Railroads built specialised automotive rolling stock only after decades of complaints about dents and dust.

Don’t confuse good service availability with customer love. The only thing customers want from railroads, airlines, and telcos is that they work reliably.  We bitch about their rudeness and uncaring attitudes but we don’t switch because in the end it all comes down to price (or lack of options).

So don’t be led astray by vendors, analysts, pundits or consultants who tell you to spend more on customer care; and don’t let anyone tell you that you are failing in your job if your customers aren’t inviting you to barbeques at home.

Our job is to meet the goals of our organisation and to protect its ongoing viability.  We do as much for our customers as we need to, as we are instructed to, in order to achieve those goals.

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Competition: Review “Standard+Case” – Win a Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire
Write a review, chance to win a Kindle Fire

Regular ITSM Review columnist Rob England (a.k.a. ‘The IT Skeptic’) has just published his latest contribution to the ITSM industry:

“Plus! The Standard+Case Approach: See service response in a new light”

Book blurb:

“If your customers see your group as bureaucratic and inflexible…

If your staff feel process bound…

If your process doesn’t adapt to a changing world…

See service response in a new light.
Standard+Case is an exciting new approach to categorising and resolving any sort of response activity, such as service desk, tech support, public safety, social welfare, or health. If you have anything to do with responding to situations when providing a service, read this. It will change your view of how responses are handled.

Standard+Case applies to anything that requires a human response: there’s either a standard response or there isn’t.”

What they said…

“By tying together the mature practices of ITSM and Case Management Rob has strengthened and filled in gaps of both frameworks. A must read for ITSM professionals!” Troy DuMoulin, Pink Elephant.

“Great reading and concept. Now I want to build it.” Matt Beran, ITSM Consultant.

More info on the book:

Competition

To help Skep get the word out on his new book we’re running a competition!

In a nutshell: Write a review of Rob’s book, post it on this article, the best one wins a Kindle Fire.

Competition rules:

  1. Deadline to receive reviews: Sunday 28th July
  2. How to enter: Post your review as a comment on this blog entry or by email
  3. The ITSM Review will choose the winning review (i.e. Not Rob)
  4. Rob doesn’t mince his words on book reviews, neither should you. We welcome all reviews, good or bad. We aspire to useful and perceptive content on The ITSM Review – this should be no different.
  5. The ITSM Review’s decision is final, yada-yada
  6. We reserve the right to change the rules retrospectively to cover our backsides with the guiding principles that we are a) Good eggs and b) not evil 🙂

GOOD LUCK!

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