Any general news which does not fit in the other categories

Do LESS

In the last few months I’ve been trying to think positively about how to change some things for good (benefit), and for good (forever), post-covid. How do I make changes and make them stick… 

I’ve never been good at New Year resolutions, or particularly good at sticking to new regimes like diets or using new productivity tools etc. But I have been able to achieve some new success in 2020 (e.g. with fitness and weight loss) in areas that I have for some time been pretty negative about doing. 

So I wondered what it was that had helped to make this work once and for all, and it was not difficult to see the simple conclusion – I was less busy and not able to go anywhere. I had more time. With more time and less to do I was able to focus more clearly on what I really needed to do, plus I was not able to distract myself by being ‘busy’ or having a deadline or needing to travel etc… I had run out of excuses. 

Thankfully I’m getting a bit busier work-wise now, but what is important is that I’ve been able to keep going with running, eating and drinking less etc, as part of my normal routine. I had made the change and it’s sticking. None of this is new in terms of how we should focus and improve – there are container-shiploads of motivational books out there that will give you similar messages, but which very often fall on deaf ears or gather dust on shelves. 

From a Service Management perspective, this has also made me think about what sort of advice to be giving out to clients and the wider industry, particularly at this time – I’ve boiled it down to this – DO LESS… 

Listen to your customers – take time to actually go and listen to what they have to say, their issues and ideas, not just talking to them but letting them speak and listen. Ask them about their work and their frustrations, as well as what is great about the service that you provide. You will learn a lot about them and how to make the service work better, and you can use this knowledge to improve what you and your team are doing.

Embrace automation – relax, automation is there to free your time up, not to replace you. Time spent on getting rid of some of the least attractive and also most time consuming tasks is well spent.  Automation is also not just about removing or automating work, there are more opportunities to expand and offer new services.

Support your people – now is the time when people need people, even if its at the end of a phone or TEAMs call. As leaders and managers we must step up to serve and support the people who work for us, work with us, and rely on us for their mortgages and sense of worth. We need to invest as much as we can in our people right now to build their long term future as well as our own – its all joined up. 

Everything is actually joined up – that’s another observation from this last year – the inter-connectivity of things is there for all to see, from jobs and culture to finance, business, health, social harmony and our personal lives. We need to contribute positively to the well-being of all those around us – socially distanced of course – in order to maintain the fabric of our society as well as our work.

Show leadership and good governance – as mentioned, now is the time for leadership and initiative – not just ‘management’. We need good examples set and displayed in work and beyond, focused on facts and data, logic and learning, as a means to make good decisions, to be inspired and generally to survive, thrive and prosper.  We also need to build more sustainability into what we do – from sustainable, resilient services, to sustainable businesses that can withstand ever changing conditions and challenges. Ultimately this comes back to how resilient we are in our own way of doing things – can we adapt and change, look at new ways of living and working, or are we just stuck in an old groove..?

Time has been our scarcest resource over recent years and we can all be busy and active running around not achieving anything – hopefully we can learn to change and move on.

DO LESS –  ACHIEVE MORE

Mapping Customer Experience and Value Streams

On a ‘journey’… 

O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!  (Robert Burns, ‘To a louse’)

Don’t worry about trying to understand the Scots language, this famous quote from Burns is often used to remind us of the value of ‘feedback’ (in modern terms…). In other words it’s vital to understand how we appear to others, in terms of our presence, behaviour, words and actions, interactions with others. If we had that power – to be able to realistically see how we engage and are perceived by friends, colleagues and others in life and work, that truly would be a super power. Imagine if you could clone yourself and secretly watch your colleagues talk about you when you go for lunch, or what people are actually saying when you leave a room…?!  

Businesses also need to get unfiltered feedback on what they do and how this affects their customers – they can’t just assume that they are succeeding without some external and independent view of the quality and impact of their services. We know that there is a need to capture ‘customer feedback’, ‘employee feedback’ etc as part of service performance reporting, but there’s more than that. 

Organisations, service teams, companies and departments are all great at defining what they do, turning these into processes and ways of working and then assuming that success means just delivering against these processes. The reality of course is that the services created and delivered through these processes are then consumed and experienced by people – who may then have a completely different experience to that which is intended. So whilst it’s important to measure the delivery of these processes, this will never be sufficient to fully appraise the quality of delivery and also the emotional reaction of those receiving the service. Feedback surveys are useful and can pick up some aspects of this, however a more personal and specific approach is needed to really understand what it’s like to be a customer – to ‘take a walk in the customers shoes’ and ‘see ourselves as others see us’.

‘Taking a walk’ is a good reference here as, in many cases and particularly with service management, this is not simply a single event or binary transaction. Often the users or consumers of IT Services have multiple ’touchpoints’ with the teams and individuals who are delivering products and services to them. Touchpoints are the points of interaction when a consumer comes in to direct contact with people, or systems or other artefacts that are part of the ‘delivery’ of a service – these are often fluid and difficult to create consistently, and are therefore often where a service and company can win lifetime loyalty or lose credibility and future business. 

Retail and hospitality businesses in particular have understood this for years and spend a lot of time working on the customer journey – how you enter a store or hotel lobby, what your eyeline sees, what you hear or smell, how you are greeted, what questions you are asked and how you are served or communicated with from there on etc. You may enter a beautiful hotel building and be greeted by a disinterested receptionist who gets your name wrong and doesn’t communicate your preferences with others in the hotel, the room may be perfect but your experience has already been tarnished – you take your future business elsewhere. 

Service organisations need to experience this for real from the outside, in order to reduce the risk of this happening again. How did this happen? What sort of people need to be in reception, what training, tools and awareness do they need? How do we communicate across teams and maintain a great experience for our customers? 

This is the ‘customer journey’ and journey mapping is a technique used across industries – and more regularly in service management and IT. 

Front of house and backstage… 

Going to the theatre involves interactions with ‘front of house’ people – buying tickets, selling drinks and ice cream, showing you to your seats, managing security and safety  as well of course as enjoying the show delivered by actors, musicians, singers and dancers.  Theatre goers don’t see (and also don’t need to see or understand) what’s going on behind the scenes backstage. This of course involves a whole number of people, technology and ‘processes’ to make the whole experience work – from accountants to dance coaches, composers to stage hands, lighting operators, sound engineers, set designers, stage managers, costume-makers and others. 

In order to ensure that the theatre operation and the experience of going there are all working successfully, the organisation needs a front stage/backstage view of both the audience experience (warts and all) and also the effectiveness and seamless integration of the backstage operation. 

In a similar way, if we are running and IT Service operation, we need to map and review the end-to-end delivery form our own (backstage) perspective – this is value-stream mapping, looking at all the elements that go to delivering a service. 

In addition we need a customer journey perspective to understand in practical terms what the user experience is of engaging with us – using a portal or call a service desk, getting a reference, discussing our issue or requirement, and getting this delivered. Recent developments and approaches such as ITIL4, DevOps and others have identified mapping (value streams and customer journeys) as key to really being able to define and continually improve the quality of services.

Value streams and customer journeys

Mapping of these involves both internal and external activity – i.e. working with your own team and partners to build up a view of the collective ‘value stream’ for a service – ie not just a single process like incident management. In addition it is necessary to engage with some users or your service to ‘walk through’ their experience of engaging with it, how it made them feel and their reaction, as well as their levels of satisfaction.

Customer experience (CX) has been a major force of discussion and interest in the ITSM industry over the last 4/5 years – how to identify and map out the customer journey and capture their direct emotional responses to the service experience. This is now a specific capability that is needed to manage and improve the customer experience. 

Value streams are also a focus for discussion as central components of ITIL4, DevOps and other approaches. This is an internal holistic view of how services are delivered across teams, processes, people and tools. The goal is to identify areas of blockage that can be improved and removed to improve efficiency.   

Together these two techniques are essential tools in the ITSM practitioner’s practical portfolio.

Here are some tips for how to approach mapping:

Customer Journey mapping

  • Use friendly customer groups initially to develop the technique of good mapping 
  • Leave your knowledge of how IT works behind…
  • Use role-play initially if it is difficult to get customer/user time
  • Use simple wall boards to map out the experience of using your service – from the user/customer’s perspective
  • Don’t go into solution mode when customers are expressing themselves – show empathy and that you are listening
  • Use real historical incidents/requests/changes/problems
  • Work through a few standard interactions, e.g.
    • A single-user access incident – that requires escalation
    • A standard request – to e.g. order a PC or access
    • An emergency request – a late request for access and kit
    • A problem or change – a recurring issue and how IT handles it
    • A complaint – about speed of service and/or quality of response
    • A major incident – everything that is important is down…

Value Stream Mapping

  • Use small local value streams if possible initially to develop the experience of mapping
  • Map the value streams for the interactions as above 
  • Use role-play if necessary – or use real historical incidents/requests/changes/problems
    • Rotate the roles of user, IT listener, observer
    • Role-play is great – avoid it getting personal
  • No blame culture – we all are here to learn and improve

Here more on this topic on my next Brightalk webinar on Thursday 19 November,  16:00.

This session explains the functions, benefits and challenges of mapping – internal work (value streams) and external experience (customer journeys). This is for those who are attempting to move to this way of working and quantifying their work inputs, outputs and outcomes. Join me to hear about how to do this using some existing and new techniques, plus also how to combine and analyse the output.   

I will be at the itSF Uk virtual conference on 16 and 17th November – if you are attending I look forward to seeing you there and discussing service management topics and issues.

Kind Regards

Barclay Rae

People satisfaction and social continuity

For some time now there has been a ‘human’ movement in the technology world and beyond, towards humanising work and recognising the value of our people. This has included the need to provide them with a work environment where they can flourish, develop skills and achieve good levels of satisfaction and engagement in their work life – in other words be ‘happy’. 

The Covid19 pandemic has pushed this discussion forward significantly and in doing so has challenged our definition of workplace norms, ways of working and how we might adjust these in future.

It has been very uplifting to see that the focus on people / rise of the humans / humanising of tech has not just been an isolated idea – this has become prevalent across a number of models, frameworks and ways of thinking. There is definitely a convergence and it’s not before time..!

Service Management gives us challenges in this as we still need to engage with a wide (and wider) cross-section of people, plus we have had to change our working methods very quickly. It’s been clear that we have some great skills here that are of value in other areas. 

‘Social Continuity’ has emerged as an idea from the lockdown and from the impact on knowledge working in particular. 

So, as a consequence of the Covid lockdown we have collectively realised that we don’t need to go to an office via an unpleasant commute every day. We can be just if not more effective in our output by working from home.  This has also now kicked off multiple chain reactions in terms of the value of commercial property, the need for city centre real estate, the impact on transport and roads, the decimation of city-based food businesses etc – and many more unforeseen but serious implications. 

However, a major challenge for us as individuals has definitely been on how we want and need to work with people…

Daily we hear of the growth in loneliness, isolation, alienation experienced by many who are not meeting with people directly. Research has started to look at the value of human touch and how that lack of this diminishes our life experience and mental health.  

On a simple and purely practical working level, no one wants to stare at Zoom or TEAMs all day every day. There is a huge amount of rich communications missing from our interactions and collaboration by only working remotely. We need social continuity. 

WFH…my story

I have worked mostly or partially from home since 1994 and overall, about 70% of my working life.  This always included a large amount of time travelling and working directly with clients, attending events etc. Well before 2020 I knew that during periods of home-only working I would need to ensure that I still engaged with people electronically, or used the opportunity to meet directly with colleagues and partners socially. I miss the opportunity to meet and work with different people and in multi-various environments and locations. 

Like everyone, I’ve had to adapt and make some changes to what I do and my expectations of the value and experience of that. However, I still yearn for the days when the process of work will hopefully include a return again to some fundamental aspects of social interaction, travel and new working environments. So there have been challenges, but also opportunities and benefits – for me less travel and more family time, less overhead in planning and recovering from trips – and the backlog of work. Overall, my work levels have reduced significantly, which is a challenge financially, plus the type of work I am asked to do has been impacted and in some cases is not always my first preference, but I’m grateful for what I can do to stay working. I have also used the time positively to improve my fitness and general health, although many other aspirations (more active sport and reading) have fallen by the wayside. 

Global challenges

I know however that many people will be less lucky than me in their domestic situations, as well as how they are coping with this situation. It is fortunate that we have seen Mental Health take a positive, accepted and transparent place in our consciousness in recent times – this is really needed to support people who are struggling.

Whatever that reality will look like – and whenever that happens – we are faced with some challenges and opportunities around how we re-shape our life and work and the interaction between them. 

For organisations and their leaders this is also a key challenge – balancing the needs of staying afloat and in business, staying relevant and competitive, whilst also working to ensure the quality of life – safety, engagement and satisfaction – of its employees. It is a massive challenge and there are no easy solutions. 

Here are some considerations relating to our current turbulent times…

  • Right now, being kind and doing acts of kindness is not just a nicety, it’s a necessity. We all need to play our part to spread positive and supportive words and actions. Many are suffering in many ways and this is not often obvious – it could be you and we all must help each other, not the opposite. Be kind.
  • Cometh the hour… As managers and leaders, this is when we earn our money and show our value. Its OK to keep a ship running in a calm sea but the real skill comes in sailing safely and effectively through a storm. For many that can be challenging as it includes some difficult and unpleasant activities like making people redundant or furloughed, stopping valuable projects, and also doing work that maybe wasn’t part of the expectation of the role. However, the way that you as a manager cope with this and also then help and support remaining staff is vitally important. Fairness, humanity, decision-making, transparency and servant leadership are what is required – now is the time to deliver.
  • Stay focussed on facts and logic. We live also in times of insane polarisation of ideas and opinions, many of them derived more from dogma than data, driven by agenda rather than fact. For business decisions we must focus on data and facts as much as possible, in tandem with clear adherence to priority and principle. Good governance is essential – what is our mission? How can we achieve it – or not? What can we do to mitigate current issues, what is beyond our control? How do we stay in business or is it not viable? So much of the current challenge is to do this with very little real clarity on what will happen in the next 3 months never mind beyond, which of course is hugely challenging for many organisations. Find and use facts to make better decisions.   
  • Everyone will say that people are our most important asset – and most will say it genuinely. However, in the current times most organisations will be doing well just to survive – financially and existentially. For some this may mean the unfortunate reality of going bust and or having to make people redundant to survive. Decisions must be made that protect businesses overall and that’s a horrid fact of life. Managers are people too and we all need to understand that and that this is new and challenging for everyone. 

So, what does your service management experience bring to this discussion?

I think we understand the human side of work and tech better than most – we have had to find ways to get things done, deal with difficult situations, deal with difficult people, resolve disagreements, think about how to present and deliver positive experiences, measure and manage at micro and macro levels, keep multiple plates spinning, cope with constant change and uncertainty….just to state a few examples. 

Service Management has never been about a mechanistic approach – even although we have done our best to create predictable and consistent ways of working. The ‘buzz’ from service management for me and I think most of us who work in this area comes from how we deal with challenging and regularly changing situations – we are good at crisis management, managing communications, sorting out people and problems, far more than just creating and running dull processes.

We really can help and add value – beyond simply our own areas of work and life. At the same time we are tasked with maintaining continuity of services to workforces and people plunged into new and often difficult situations and ways of working.

I’m pleased to say that most of the organisations that I have dealt with this year have seen their service management teams grow and shine to new levels of excellence and quality, reflected in glowing public praise:

 ‘How did they manage to move us all from desktops to laptops at home in a few days?’ I never realised how much we depend on these guys – they have been brilliant’. I can’t just ask my colleague how to do this now – the support has been fantastic’ – all of these are comments I have heard many times and we should celebrate and be proud of our achievements. 

There’s a long way to go however and our resilience will depend on how much we can work together, be kind, stay focussed and hold on to our humanity whilst doing so…

I will be discussing this and more in my next Brighttalk webinar on Thursday 22 October at 16:00 please join me and lets have a discussion – send me your thoughts and questions.

Outcome and Experience Metrics (OXMs) – beyond the Watermelon

My recent blog on Watertight, not watermelon SLAs had a fantastic response, with nearly 5,000 reads via LinkedIn. It also drove a number of discussions and I established  some new contacts as a result. This subject clearly ‘hit a nerve’ so this is the follow up to that with more detail around what this means and what service experience management and metrics is all about. 

As a recap

There’s a real need to move away from IT focussed SLAs and associated reporting, as this often does not represent customer / user experience, or show how services meet business demands. Its not accurate or healthy to have too much focus on individual IT components and an IT-departmental view of what’s important. All stakeholders need to be involved in defining targets and metrics that help to identify if value is being delivered, or if not, where this is failing. 

Traditional SLAs don’t go far enough and often miss the mark on how or where to improve. Customer feedback on its own can also fail to show business value being achieved or understood. Whilst traditional IT metrics show performance in specific technical areas, the concept of ‘value metrics’ should reflect a number of results and outcomes as a wider set of business results and areas of customer experience. 

In the absence of real intelligence around how these ‘SLA’ metrics are compiled and presented, service providers often fall back on producing volume rather than quality – listings and reports and details that no one wants to see. They can also fail by producing ‘industry’ metrics when specific business related outputs are required. This all adds to the confusion and lack of trust between providers and their customers.  

Metrics must reflect the increasing complexity of interconnected systems and services. But they must also do so in a way that shows the ‘wood from the trees’ – i.e. a rounded view of ‘value’ and not just a vast forest of unintelligible data.

Mythbusters…

Before we go further, we should just also be clear on the following;

·       Operational metrics are useful – for internal quality monitoring and as building blocks for integrated reporting and OXMs.

·       SLA metrics can be useful – as long as these are seen to be related to specific requirements and agreements with customers.

·       Customer satisfaction feedback data is highly useful but should be seen in context – event based surveys reflect a moment in time, often, periodic surveys are also needed for context and perspective.

·       Internal employee satisfaction data is useful if seen in relation to other indicators and feedback – some surveys on their own can either show data that the organisation wants to hear, or only negative data. A lot here depends on how the data is captured – i.e. if this is genuinely confidential etc. Organisational trust and culture is important here.

 So how do we do this…? How do we measure ‘value’?

In simple terms, by using a number of different types, sources and formats of metrics and combining these together. This is done with weighting that reflects relative importance and therefore value. When discussing agreements and targets for these composite metrics, stakeholders can focus mostly on the outputs and relative value of different metrics, without needing to know each individual component in detail. The resultant combined and weighted metrics represent a broad spectrum of measurements of experiences, outcomes and results. 

Metrics should also be considered as fluid and in relation to changing contexts, so different metrics may measure the same things, in different situations, like e.g. service availability (of the same service) across different business periods. So, service availability at 9am may not require much priority, whereas at 3pm it may be business critical, if that is when a key business transaction take place.  

These ‘compound’ metrics then can be considered watertight and robust views of the value delivered through services.   

Analogy – aircraft biometrics

As a quick analogy, consider the number of measurements (biometrics) that are taken of an aircraft – these may involve the same measure at different parts of a flight, on the ground in the air etc. Tyre pressure is of little actual value during a flight, but really important on landing. When we measure we need to ensure that we are considering the context at any given time. The flight would also include a number of other metrics around customer service (cabin crew), employee job satisfaction, on-time arrival, cost efficiency etc – all of these are relevant and need to be considered and viewed in context. All of these then contribute to the overall value and quality delivered during the flight.

Building OXMs – Outcome and Experience based metrics

To build up a useful set of compound metrics, my suggestion is to use 4 key areas of measurement:

For experience data:

  • Customer feedback  
  • Employee feedback 

 For business outcome data:

  • Process and performance metrics 
  • Key business metrics 
  • Customer feedback  – these would involve various sources of customer feedback, from surveys, meetings, NPS, complaints etc.
  • Employee feedback – these would include employee feedback from internal surveys, regular meetings and updates, sense checks on morale etc.
  • Process and performance metrics – these would include a number of traditional metrics produced for SLAs, operational performance, incident response and turnaround times, MTTR, service availability etc 
  • Key business metrics – these would include the business outcomes derived from use of the services. This will vary across different organisations, sectors and levels of maturity although in all cases they require input from users and customers to identify their nature and importance. (This consultation process is described here)     

 All of these areas contain an number of individual metrics that can be weighted and measured against target thresholds. The overall outcomes can also then be prioritised and weighted in accordance with user/customer preference – so e.g. business outcome may have a higher weightings over individual processes or user satisfaction. These preferences and relative weightings could also change in different situations, e.g. Where user satisfaction may be more important than business outcome in some situations.

The overall dashboard view can then reflect user preference on relative weighting and thresholds, showing RAG (Red/Amber/green traffic lights) status as required.

In the above case the business and performance metrics have been met, not the customer satisfaction targets. 

In this example the experience and performance metrics have been met, but not the key business outcome. 

In both of the above cases the overall result may or not be acceptable to the customer – the discussions with customer will determine this. From experience, building up the bundles of metrics in each areas is a useful task which also requires some customer input – this also helps both parties to fully understand and work through needs and expectation of service delivery and reporting. In turn this also helps to build a rich and trusting relationship across teams. 

In all of the examples above, metrics, thresholds and weightings are examples – these will be different in each organisation. There is no ‘standard’ for this – understanding the requirement is part of the relationship building and stakeholder value building process.

OXMs not SLAs?

The approach suggested here refers in particular to metrics – Outcome and experienced based ‘metrics’ – not SLAs or XLAs. ‘Agreements’ can be difficult to achieve without first developing this type of approach. My experience has been that it is helpful to develop these metrics as a means to building agreements in future. In many cases ‘formal’ agreements may not be needed, if there is a good working relationship built on the metrics and what they can deliver. It’s vital to understand that the process of building these metrics (i.e. through collaboration) is equally if not more valuable than the outcomes of the work. Formal agreements may not be needed – however it is always sensible to use Goodharts law – i.e. to always measure, sometimes formalize, avoiding SLAs and targets on their own becoming de facto goals. 

A further stage of maturity that can also be developed is to use this type of model to drive forecasting and demand management – i.e. where changes to performance or capability are also modelled in relation to the impact on Customer or employee experience, and vice versa. I am currently looking at developing models and possibly tools in this area – If you are interested in this please contact me to discuss.

Moving forward

All of this can be achieved without the need necessity to train and certify your entire department in one methodology or framework or another, although that is of course useful and I would recommend building awareness and briefing sessions in ITIL and other approaches as part of transformations. 

However, why not try it out..? I’ve used this technique in various forms for some time – it works and delivers some great results.  

I’ll also be discussing and presenting more on this topic in my forthcoming Brighttalk Webinar – Thursday 24 September, 16:00 (UK).

I will explore further aspects of this subject in subsequent blog and webinars, in particular the approach to napping and building views of services, internal value-streams and also customer ‘journeys’.

I also offer direct services – workshops and consultancy support – for organisations who wish to move towards achieving value through good service management and service experience metrics – SLAs, XLAs and OXM. Contact me at [email protected].

itSMF UK and me… 5 years on

This week I will attend my final board meeting as a director of itSMF UK. I’ve been a board member for exactly 5 years, with just under 3 of these as (operational) CEO. I am proud of my time with the organisation – it’s been a ‘roller coaster’ with many ups and downs, but it’s been overwhelmingly a very positive experience and one which I will reflect on with great memories.

When I took on the CEO role in 2015, there was a great groundswell of positive and energising feedback from people globally across the industry – most people want itSMF to succeed. The reality of building a new value proposition and modernising the organisation was of course a big challenge – one which is by no means finished. I felt it was important to try out some new options – some of which worked and others which didn’t. In the process we learned a lot and moved forward. We’ve built some great new models such as PSMF, as well as working hard to get itSMF back on the PR agenda for many organisations and the wider industry in general.  

At the turn of 2019/20 we had our annual strategy board meeting, where it really felt like we’d turned the corner in a number of ways – financially, product-wise and in terms of our position in the industry. 2020 has of course been a great challenge to all that, however I am confident that the organisation will prevail, due to both the operational team and the management board in place. 

The office team have been challenged over the years with many changes and threats to the business – they have risen to all of these with great resilience and commitment, and despite regular belt-tightening and re-focus. 

The management board has really grown in stature, with a number of new people with great business and industry experience – the strategy and direction is in great hands. 

I’ll miss working with all of the staff and board members, although I will of course continue to engage with many of these people now and in future. I’ll be delighted to continue delivering some itSMF services like workshops, training and events when required. I’m also really looking forward to the virtual conference this year – where I’ll be hosting an ITIL4 lead author’s session.     

The itSMF movement world-wide has many current challenges, not least of which is how this can be more integrated and speaking with one voice – the inability to really make this happen has been a disappointment to me. However I am confident that the UK business (it is a business) is in good shape and I wish everyone associated with itSMF UK, as well of course as the global community, good luck and best wishes for the future – albeit a future we are all still quite uncertain about. 

I would like to pass on my thanks to everyone who I’ve worked with who has been involved in the last few years and who has participated in making itSMF UK work and succeed. Thanks in particular to Rosemary Gurney and Martin Neville, who have believed in me, Richard Horton and all the other established directors who have supported me, and to the more recent directors that I’ve seen grow into their board roles. 

Of course I also want to thank the office team for their support – Mark Lillycrop, Sarah Nieto, Graham MacDonald, Rebecca Andrews, plus Colin Dudley, Teresa Corre, Claire Hartnett and many others who worked with us. This also includes John Sowerby, Ken Wilson, John Windebank, Sophie Danby, Rebecca Beach and John Noctor – and of course Laura Goss, our conference manager… 

We need independent industry organisations to provide the community with commercially free space and time to think and reflect on what we do, how we do it and how we can improve. Without these institutions we descend into a chaos of marketing hype and twitter. 

itSMF Uk is a great institution with a great history and also a great future – please support it. I look forward to seeing you at future events..!

Barclay Rae.

September 2020

AI and ITSM – it’s a matter of confidence

We are constantly being bombarded with content and hype around the ‘post-covid’ world. Some of this of course is valuable and essential – discussing and planning around how people and organisations should think about the world after lockdown. 

In IT this has been particularly life-changing, as we have seen a large amount of change, ‘digital transformation’ and modernisation happen as a necessity rather than a chosen strategy. We have argued about the opportunities and options around ‘digital’ automation, mobile/remote working, culture change, agile ways of working etc for the last few years, whereas now change has been thrust upon us. In the past the pros and cons of change have not always been presented, understood and assimilated as they should. When there is uncertainty, managers will tend to go safe and avoid change. Selling change requires information, clarity and understanding. People need to feel confident about what they are taking on, before investing and committing to major changes. Much of the mood music and marketing hype around ‘new ways of working’ has confused rather than clarified.

The Covid crisis has moved everything forward quickly and helped to show some of the value of change – moving forward we need to make sure that we still build confidence around new opportunities and not simply drive panic and knee-jerk reactions.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been an area where there is now a far greater level of demand and interest – and of course there are huge potential opportunities and benefits that can be achieved from using this. I have found in recent months that there is increased demand for good quality information around implementation, issues, costs and benefits – often from those that need to either sell the concept internally, or effectively ‘buy’ it – i.e. from change drivers and decision makers who decide on investment and organisational change. The messages need to be simple and clear, not mired in technical detail or supercharged with marketing wow-factor features. 

I recently delivered a workshop on *AI for Leaders, with Dan Turchin, on this topic and we realised from that and subsequent contacts that the thirst for information at present has now filtered up to leadership and executive levels, who want simple cost/risk/benefit information to support their decisions.  So let’s look at some key issues as a starting point to knowledge and greater confidence around this issue.

AI concerns

There are a number of misconceptions and vagaries that need to be cleared up.

  • AI will mean robots taking my job / all of our jobs
  • We risk losing human contact by handing this over to machines
  • This is expensive 
  • AI is not proven and can be disastrous

AI clarifications

AI will mean robots taking my job / all of our jobs

AI will be able to replicate work currently done by people, and, in many cases, do it better, more, faster and cheaper. We shouldn’t stick our heads in the sand about this – there will be challenges to current definitions or jobs and roles. However the opportunity is that AI will replace a lot of error prone and repetitive work and thereby provide people with more time and capability to do more difficult and challenging work, also to think, be creative and innovative.  New technology is always challenging to existing work structures – this has been the case in industrial history for the last 200/300 years. In most cases jobs may disappear but new work opportunities arise. 

IT is also worth bearing in mind, that, in most cases, the uses of AI within an ITSM environment is limited to some very specific functions – e.g. using some RPA (Robotic Process Automation) to ‘unblock’ queues of work or to distribute work quickly. In most cases this represents a small part of the whole end-to-end delivery of a value stream. We are not talking about Ai taking over roles so much as delivering some specific pieces of work that make it work better, faster more consistent etc.

We risk losing human contact by handing this over to machines

Again there is a grain of truth behind this as we will effectively reduce the potential number of human interactions when processes and functions are done via systems. The implications are (1) that we must there ensure that all direct human interactions are of the highest quality, as they will be rare and may have a disproportionate impact on perception, plus (2) we need to manage the transition to automation and review all potential human ‘touchpoints’. A touch point is a direct interaction where value and quality can be improved or reduced, so we nee to ensure that these are appropriate to the situation – i.e. it may be that automation is not suitable for some transactions, so these need to be delivered by people. 

This is expensive 

Ai used to be expensive – not any longer. What can take up time and money however is the time and effort required to plan, test and implement the technology and also manage the transition to it. This is easy to underestimate and many organisations have seen their AI projects drag on in prolonged testing. Any project requires goo scoping and business case analysis, so it should be clear what the technology will deliver and what is involved to achieve that.

AI is not proven and can be disastrous

As with any technology, particularly in the hype stage, there are many failures. The technology is constantly evolving of course but the key areas used in e.g. ITSM are established and stable. There is a need to be clear on business case as mentioned, but also organisational readiness, data readiness (is your CMDB and KB up to date?), process and procedure maturity(can your processes be easily automated? Are they defined and understood? 

AI opportunities

So what can we achieve with AI? – here are some basic benefits:

  • Optimize the use of available resources – do more with less, get your people to do what you are actually paying them for and not just fixing basic stuff every day
  • Improvements in practices and productivity – speed up the flow of standards processes – avoid process jams where work piles up waiting for approval or available resources. Make better use of people’s time
  • Reductions in operational costs – less time and resource spent on each task, reduced downtime and cost of failure – speed up delivery with the same resources. 
  • Improved service levels – offer 24 x 7 availability and the capability to improve turnaround and fulfilment times
  • Improvements in customer experience – fast turnarounds and accurate routing of work – avoid errors and offer new options and innovations for service delivery
  • Higher availability of business services – automation of monitoring and self-healing sytems can reduce downtime – intelligent systems can also predict and avoid unnecessary failures and associated downtime
  • Scalability – less time spent on support and maintenance provides more capability to build new services. Automation can also be built on to develop scale with little impact.

ITSM opportunities

There are many AI options and applications that can deliver value to ITSM practices, such as skills based routing, machine learning, natural Language processing, automated testing, monitoring and deployment, interactive bots and RPA (robotic process automation) – some simple examples:

  • Service desk / incident management / request fulfilment – speed up and automate rerouting and escalation of tickets, use RPA to speed up triage and avoid queue jams, automate request approval and fulfilment, automate software deployment 
  • Knowledge management / problem management – search on unstructured data to provide intuitive knowledge creation, identify trends and patterns not previously seen for problem identification, build on learning and develop new understating of issues
  • Info Security / event management / monitoring – predict and avoid failures, take evasive and fast action to resolve issues
  • Measurement / reporting / analytics – build and push out real time information on business impact and performance, provide cumulative analysis of data and identify business, process, resource and financial trends.

AI represent a number of areas of technology. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ overarching approach and shouldn’t be regarded as such. It is possible to test the water on this with some small restricted trials and application of AI technology – to show benefits and also to identify what is involved with implementation. Whilst the world screams that we should all be using it, it’s important to look at the options and opportunities with clarity and objectivity – to identify the detailed benefits and outcomes that it can be used to deliver for your organisation. 

There will doubtless be a number of these that fit your organisation, it’s important to be clear on which of these you choose to aim for. There’s a lot to do but nothing to fear…   

You can hear my Brighttalk webinar on this topic – in more detail – on demand here:

* If you are interested in a rerun of this course please contact me at [email protected].

Watertight not watermelon ‘SLAs’.

The ‘Watermelon SLA’ concept is a simple a graphical way of showing that many SLAs are not fit for purpose. This has been successful in getting some clear and honest messages across to the industry about expectation management, performance measurement, metrics and relationship management. 

The basic idea of this is that, as a watermelon looks green from the outside, but is in fact a red fruit inside, IT metrics and contracted agreements can be met and look ‘green’ on a RAG report, when the reality for the business user is of a failed ‘red’ experience and outcome. The reasons behind this are mostly around a lack of agreement on the actual business outcomes required from the service, or how it feels when the service is consumed by its users. SLAs are often driven and defined entirely by IT people without collaboration or agreement, and as such they are only concerned with measuring individual IT components, rather than the cumulative sum effect of these as they are used.  

I’ve written on this on a number of occasions. It’s one of these ideas that is so simple to show and communicate via a picture, rather than an explanation. I have used this for over 10 years and initially thought that I’d created the idea myself, although I know a few others came up with the same concept around the same time. It doesn’t matter who came up with this of course – what is important is the recognition that the image and concept can create. This has been quite successful in communicating an idea although many organisations still have been working to outdated old watermelon SLAs… 

The Covid pandemic has of course changed a lot of expectations and actual delivery levels for much of the standard IT services package. Traditional models have been septs aside in the rush to established new ways of working. Service desks and support teams have new demands and customer expectations. My hope and belief is that all of this will finally help us to move away from the watermelons, to a much more ‘watertight’ approach that is inclusive, integrated and honest – i.e. it reflects busines reality, not IT focus. Covid has been the catalyst to sweep away the IT-led watermelon SLA – at last.

As we move into the new worlds of digital and agile and post-covid IT, there are now a variety of new ways of thinking about the ‘SLA’ concept. These must reflect the need for more than just individual metrics relating to individual service components. We now understand the end-to-end requirements of value streams and how services include a number of components, resources, skills and practices. Agreements and associated metrics must relate to the intended business outcomes required – and whether these have been met or not, regardless of the individual components.

OXMs – Outcome- and eXperience-based Metrics

XLAs – Experience level agreements – have grown in popularity in recent times and in ITIl4 and other frameworks and models. The idea here is a good one in that the measurement of success is based on customer and user experience measurement overall, regardless of individual IT performance. There is a need to also include business outcomes, employee experience and also performance measurement in this as part of a metrics ‘bundle’ – so this could include individual service metrics, business key metrics and feedback as well as customer data. These can then be weighted to provide single overall metrics that reflect both experience and outcomes.

Discussions around ‘agreements’ can then simply focus on the relative importance of the individual metrics – so the OXM is a hybrid of customer/user, business and IT performance and value. This can be developed as an extension of what we have previously referred to as services and service catalogue – with added outcomes and definitions of overall value and success.

The Watermelon meme should therefore be replaced with the idea of a watertight and well managed ship – containing a number of different elements, people, skills and resources – that is headed in a single direction. Our metrics and measure should then reflect progress on the journey, safety, fuel efficiency etc. 

The OXM will therefore show progress on reaching the destination safely, on time and profitably, not simply that the food was good but we sank…

So, how is your organisation doing with Outcome and Experience based measurement? Are you enjoying the food and entertainment, but sinking?

If you need help in defining OXMs, service catalogues, customer journey maps, value streams, or even ‘good’ SLAs, please contact me or see my virtual services pages on my website…  

Keep calm and co-create (end-to-end) value!

I am regenerating my blog (its been a while) and am delighted to do this just as we are about launch the new ITIL4 Managing Professional Publication – Create, Deliver and Support.

I have been privileged and honoured to be the Lead Editor on this book, working with some brilliant people – John Custy, Jon Hall, Aprill Allen, Rosemary Gurney, Mauricio Corona, Claire Drake and Peter Bodman, as well as the team at Axelos, Margot Leach, Roman Jouralev and Akshay Anand. My thanks are due to all of them for their input and for creating a great product.

The book provides a portfolio of ways of working – some that that we have known and used in service management for some time, but not ‘called out’, plus some that are new and exciting. These cover people, culture, teams, organisation structure, employee satisfaction, customer mindset, tools and techniques for teambuilding and collaboration. In addition there is a specific guidance about how to build and use value streams for various scenarios. The concept of end-to-end is becoming more pervasive – using value streams, journey mapping and ‘joined up’ working. I am delighted by this movement, particularly since my original consulting company (E2E) was based around this.

It was great to visit the US for the Service Management World conference this week and to meet up with many old and new friends – also to discuss much of the current development in the industry – around ITSM, Agile, Devops and ITIl4. I participated in a great panel discussion which basically was great questions from the audience and open and transparent feedback from the panel.

 

I’m looking forward to continuing that experience at the itSMF conference in London next week – presenting on Monday at 4 pm on ‘Where to start with ITIL4’. On my stand I’ll also be giving away ‘Journey mapping; templates and other useful tools for those that are interested…

I’m also pleased to say that itSMF Uk are launching their ‘little ITIL’ book at the conference next week too – see you there!!

 

Happy New Year for 2016  !! I wish you success and happiness

Its been a busy year in 2015 ITSMG Logo low res

The ITSM world continues to rock daily between inspiration and opportunity, to introspection and despair – at least in terms of visible hype. The reality for most organisations that actually deliver IT services is often simply confusion.

For me the key is in ensuring that we are constantly working to deliver value, based on our customers’ and supported businesses’ needs. The concept of ‘customer experience’ (CX) isn’t new, but is at long last taking hold and precedence over blind adherence to ‘best practice’ and death-by-process.

DevOps continues to hold sway as the big idea that won’t go away – again there’s nothing particularly new here except the context, as it talks to a younger workforce than those who might still see ITIL as their mantra. Of course there is no real clash between those two worlds and both can learn from and live with each other. In 2016 I’ll be pushing out more practical ideas about how to achieve success using both (and together) – particuarly in relation to Service Design and Service Catalogue – so look out for that.

What is interesting is the actual level of interest in DevOps and other new and formative ‘-oligies’, inclduing SIAM and IT4IT – this will continue to grow and we shoudl see more variety and creativity being exercised in delivering new approaches to IT services…

If you want to catch up on more detailed throuights, please see my recent webinar (reviewing 2015 and looking forward to 2016, sponsord by BMC).

From a personal work perspective this has been a busy year, being involved with a number of complex procurement and ITSM implementation projects, as well as my ususal regular dose of workshops, operational reviews and audits. I have worked with some great people and organisations and am pleased to say that the interest and take-up level around short practical consulting work has been good.

I’ve also been involved as an architect of the new ITIL Practitioner scheme, with Axelos. I’m really pleased and proud of what we achieved as a team on this, whch has brought finally a new set of ideas and practices to the forefront of Service Management training and best practice. These include communications and organisational change management, as well as CSI and metrics.

As ever I continue to work with my long term partners, SDI – as a consultant and auditor, as also recently to review and update the SDI Standards and Service Desk Certification scheme. To me this is still one of the best and most practical tools to use for assessment, benchmarking and to drive service improvement.

In the last few months I’ve taken on the challenge of interim-CEO for the ITSMF UK – this is a great honour, which I’m relishing. There’s plenty to do to develop the service offerings and value proposition for this organisation, as well as freshening the brand image and re-asserting its position as a key independent voice at the centre of our industry. We had a great annual conference and my and the team’s taskBRITSM15 is now to move on with this positive momentum to transform and re-invigorate the organisation. We have some xciting plans for new services and industry content, so watch this space…

Of course my own independent business still continues and I’m delighted to have worked with some very supportive partners over the last year to write and present ITSM content, including, Sunrise, Cherwell, BMC and Sysaid.

 

2016 is looking like a fascinating year already, particuarly with plans for ITSMF – so I’m looking forward to that. I hope that its a really great year for you too..!

Please contact me directly if you’d like to discuss any aspect of the world of ITSM

 

SITS MF MH

Fav pic from this years SITS show with Matt Hooper and Malcolm Fry.

ITSM Implementation – Vendors, Be Brave!

Group of Business People Meeting About TeamworkA few years ago a colleague of mine took a job heading up the professional services team of an ITSM vendor. During the recruitment process, he was quizzed on his ability to develop a consulting practice around the toolset and to achieve quality implementations of the solution. The goal was service improvement for clients.

On the morning of his first day in the job he received a shock. The CEO told him that the company were not interested in process implementation or organisational change. ‘We are a software company’ he said, and went on to define professional services as an interference, a nuisance.

My colleague was gob smacked and angry. How could anyone be so short sighted? So blind to the opportunities and responsibilities given to vendors around implementing ITSM solutions? He wanted to bring a consulting approach to product implementation. To improve the success and sustainability of clients. This, it seemed, was not the function of a software company…

Process Implementation – Whose Job is it Anyway?

I can relate closely to this experience. I don’t want to single out individual vendors. The point of this blog is to highlight that unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience. I interact with numerous ITSM vendors on a regular basis and many still exhibit a version of this approach to a greater or lesser extent. There are exceptions of course, but they are still the minority.

It’s true of course that process and organisational change is not the responsibility of every software company. Certainly in the case of standard applications such as Microsoft.

It is however, in niche operational and functional areas (like ITSM). This is a huge opportunity for vendors to develop their client relationships. To pass on their skills and knowledge and translate this into successful product implementation. As well as creating a useful and sustainable revenue stream.

I also believe that vendors have a responsibility to help their clients to get the best out of their tools. That’s got to be a win/win.

Underselling on ITSM Implementation Support?

The reality is that the competitive nature of the market has left many vendors fearful of losing sales on cost by proposing too much ITSM implementation support.

Many successful tenders are undersold on implementation support. This results in focus on the utilisation of consultancy/training days way too early. Often before anyone has had a chance to think about approach and strategy. Once the buyer starts to think of intelligent questions on how to achieve value from the product, it’s too late. The vendor has left.

Here’s what I believe.

  • Buyers should consider bids that include realistic (and higher) capital costs for ITSM implementation.
  • Vendors should be braver. They should include larger bids that include sufficient levels of consultancy.
  • Or be truly courageous. One or two innovative companies forgo the ‘time and materials’ approach in favour of a fixed fee. The aim to get the job done regardless (within some boundaries of course).

It might seem easy to take the moral high ground here. I have not forgotten that vendors are businesses employing people. We are talking about people’s jobs and mortgages after all. Still, why are there so many failed ITSM implementations and under-utilised tools? Worse still why do many organisations ‘rip and replace’ their toolset many times? – it’s not unusual for some organisations to be on their 4th or 5th ITSM product – I know plenty with many more.

To me it seems that there is a chronic degree of short-term gain/long term pain in the market. Oddly it seems to suit everyone and never gets challenged. Many sales pitches and procurement exercises focus on the negative elements of the market. How refreshing would it be if the focused on how to achieve customer value?

Isn’t it obvious that vendors should take more interest? More care and active involvement in ensuring that their products are implemented properly? Not only is this for the clients benefit but it’s also in their interest too.

So what challenges and issues could surface if projects don’t have appropriate levels of vendor support? What would be a positive and more productive approach?

How Can Vendors Help Customers Deliver Successful Projects?

ITSM vendors need to use some basic consultancy approaches for customer engagement and stakeholder management. To a large extent this would help improve the chances of delivering successful projects.

I often find projects where vendors have dived in too quickly. Often with technical people and a technical approach to implementation. Business objectives are rarely considered.

Above all the approach to engagement and stakeholder management can be very limited. It’s not uncommon for vendors to send out data workbooks and technical spec documents for completion and approval, without actually engaging with the customer who is paying the bill.

Technical implementation consultants can also be too keen to please. They are onsite with clients, building scripts and configurations of their product, often without the clarity and ‘bigger picture’ objectives of the customer and business goals.

I am not suggesting vendors set up separate consultancy practices to deliver ‘process’ consulting. The key point is that there are tried and tested consultancy and engagement approaches. These will far improve quality and also reduce the risk for both parties.

ITSM Implementation Needs to be Risk-Assessed and Project Managed

This might sound obvious but the level of risk assessment delivered by many vendors is poor if done at all. If they are going to be able to deliver a great project and meet their clients’ expectations, they need to have a clear view of the following in relation to their clients:

  • The size, nature and culture of the organisation. From large process driven to entrepreneurial,  personality-led
  • ITSM maturity – level or experience and awareness of ITSM methods and implementation
  • Skilled (business and technical) resources available. Will the client be able to meet their expected commitments?
  • Level of executive support. Who are the key players and sponsors, how will they be involved?
  • Potential issues and blockers for the project – politics, challenging personalities
  • Organisational and operational constraints – other projects, business priorities

Without some early view of these issues, the expectation of success can be pot luck or unlikely to be achieved. If these issues are understood by the vendor, then they can take appropriate action to mitigate them, e.g. by assigning more experienced consultants, more resources or engaging more at a C-Level. Just by watching the project if it is deemed to be high risk you can be ready to react if there are issues.

Similarly, project management generally means ‘project accounting’. There is little attention paid to governance and issue/risk management, proactive people management and practical logistics. There can be too much focus on the commercial delivery of consultancy days, compared to actually dealing with issues and business needs.

Of course buying organisations need to prepare and give time and thought to their own project management and data preparation. There is a responsibility for these organisations to manage their projects and vendors accordingly.

Vendors, Be Brave!

Overall there is still a need for vendors to do more. Offer more, analyse more, collaborate more and project-manage more. To really take responsibility and provide more value to their clients.

This might involve taking some risks from their perspective – although the results and benefits for those that really take the initiative here will be potentially considerable and lucrative.

So, be brave! Offer more, propose more, win more and deliver more successful long term projects…!

If you would like to know more about how Barclay Rae Consulting can help you to make the most of your ITSM implementation or if you need help redefining your existing solution then get in touch!