The Value of IT Services

You may recall from basic ITIL training that the definition of a service is a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks.

Everyone understands what we mean by value, or do we?

This week I attended a Vistage presentation given by Mike Wilkinson of Axiavalue, an organisation dedicated to helping sales professionals, in particular, add value to their propositions. Mike says “We help businesses defend and grow their revenues and margins by understanding the things their customers truly value”.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s a key objective of Service Strategy.

Whether we are providing services internally or externally, we IT service providers must never lose sight of the fact that our customers always have a choice. We can only be sure of their continuing commitment to us by demonstrating the value of the services we deliver. So what do we mean by value?

The first thing we need to take on board is that our definition of value is irrelevant. It’s our customer’s definition that matters. They probably won’t be able to articulate it as a simple definition – and that’s why we need to bring our professional skills to bear, to identify and understand those things that our customers really value and then shaping our service offerings to offer those things. It’s called differentiation.

Value is all about the customer’s perception – which is why it’s important to communicate the value of our services to our customers. We need to continually remind our customers that our services are worth the money they pay for them.

We need to be aware that value, and the perception of value, changes over time.

IT services in the eighties and nineties tended to focus on delivering business functionality more efficiently. There was a fairly simple equation: does the business save more from these services than it has to pay for them (return on investment)? Nowadays, it’s more about competitive advantage. Can the business deliver value to its customers that its competitors can’t? It’s the job of IT services to support the business in achieving this objective. That’s value!

All we have to do now is deliver it!

Stuart Sawle   http://www.sysop.co.uk

Continually Improving Performance – Just like Olympic Athletes

I guess, like me, you’ve been watching the TV coverage of the Olympics. I managed to attend just one live event – the football semi-final at Old Trafford. I’d hoped for a Team GB appearance but, alas, they were knocked out one round earlier.

Football aside, I’m sure you were struck, as was I, by the total dedication, commitment and perseverance of the athletes. They have clearly worked relentlessly at improving their performance – day in, day out striving to be better, faster, or stronger than they were the week before or the month before. And yet, on the day, many of them found even greater reserves to deliver personal best and record-breaking performances.

In the IT service management world we rarely gain plaudits or gold medals for outstanding performance. In our world, outstanding performance simply means that the service we deliver has been delivered reliably; consistently; without drama; without fuss; day in day out. Boring is good!

That doesn’t mean that we haven’t needed to put effort in to deliver first-class services. Like these wonderful athletes, we will have worked hard at continually striving to improve what we do and how we do it.

Lasting improvements come from small, incremental steps – taking care to consolidate the progress made before moving on to the next activity. That way we can be more certain that we won’t slip back into old ways.

However, even greater gains can be achieved if we set about CSI with a purpose. We need to think about transforming what we do, rather than continuing to do the same things just more efficiently.

We should consider the outcomes that are valuable to our customers, and consider how these may have changed over time. We need to look at what markets and customers our organisation is serving, and whether these will continue to be right in the future. This will help us move from the ordinary “doing things right” to the exceptional “doing the right things” – an essential element of a successful Service Strategy.

Many ITIL professionals, I talk to, find it difficult to have a conversation with representatives from the business about ‘what they need’ or ‘how best services should be adapted” to deliver the value and outcomes they need to achieve together.

If we can persuade our customers that we’re working on “doing things right”, and demonstrate a track-record of consistent high-performance, we can use that credibility to open up the conversation and ask the challenging question “are we doing the right things?”

Ask the question. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fruitful and purposeful the responses are.

Stuart Sawle http://www.sysop.co.uk

Making the Service Desk Count

Here at Sysop, we have spent a great deal of time in and around Service Desks of many shapes, sizes, skills and geographic dispersions. Distilling all of the feedback, It seems to me that creating a good Service Desk is all about understanding what the business needs from the desk and creating a function to support that need.

A Service Desk can be shaped to provide any type of service the business wants,  but it’s this very level of detail we need to be clear about and there are some vital steps that will help us to create the type of service our users expect.

We know that front line support is largely a thankless task. It takes a special kind of person to really do it justice. Resilience is certainly a vital quality, and something that most support people internalise and continue to develop of as a consequence of the day to day experiences of being in the front line. Resilience though is but one vital quality.

There are a number of very important factors that will help us in our pursuit of great staff and ultimately an acclaimed Service Desk. When we recruit and select Service Desk staff we must surely choose them because they demonstrated an appropriate level of skill, common sense and probably because we quite liked them. Yes, Likeability is an essential quality! So what else is needed?

Commitment—the Key

As either a stakeholder or user of Service Desk, we tend to expect a lot and give very little. I know the old adage “it’s better to give than to receive”, but the poor old Service Desk would have to be superhuman to have any sort of chance of be getting it right in many organisations.

The key is commitment – commitment from senior management, and commitment and passion from the line managers most closely involved

Heard it all before? Probably, but, let’s face it: if you don’t choose the right people; pay them the right salary; give them appropriate training; provide them with the correct tools for the job; and, most importantly, give them the autonomy they need; how can they ever provide the kind of service our users expect?

Walk the Walk

By management commitment I mean more than funding the desk. After the initial investment, it is imperative that senior managers continue to ‘walk the walk not just talk the talk’ on behalf of the Service Desk function. They need to: support the Service Desk; understand and respect their remit; back their decisions; extol their achievements; and conform to due process like all other users.

The Service Desk will fail to be successful if senior managers (and their PA’s!) don’t respect its position. The Service Desk should have: a defined remit and agreements to conform to; priorities to commit to; and a host of activities to complete to keep the wheels in motion. Senior managers must not be allowed to ‘jump the queue’ for non-critical requests.

It is essential in developing and maintaining a good desk that they too commit to and support the agreements that govern the Service Desk. If the Service Desk is delivering service in accordance with well thought-out SLA’s then they should be meeting the needs of all parties, even the senior management team.

Gaining the buy-in and commitment is probably the most exacting challenge facing IT service managers. It’s certainly the most common weakness we come across when helping customers improve their services. It helps when a third-party advocate makes the case to senior management. It’s easier for a Sysop consultant to challenge senior management attitudes and behaviours than it is for an in-house manager. Give us a call, we can almost certainly help.

Stuart Sawle

Thanks to Michelle Major Goldsmith for her contribution to this blog

The UK Energy Crisis

I’ve been banging on quite a bit lately about the looming energy crisis and why IT professionals need to act to reduce their energy use. I thought it would be useful to set out the background to the challenges we face.

Government Policy

In its annual energy statement (Nov 2011), the Department of Energy and Climate Change said government policies would increase the cost of electricity by 27% by 2020.

 Data Centre Growth

Data Centres continue to grow exponentially and even though the latest servers are more energy efficient, the number deployed is ever-rising. These large-scale data centres already exceed the capacity of some urban electricity sub-stations and organisations who have or had data centres in central London and Canary Wharf are already moving to the country.

Government Forecasts

In the supporting documentation for the UK Climate Change Bill, the government forecasts a 20% shortfall in electricity forecast for the years 2015-2017. This is due to a number of factors that create “a perfect storm”.

  • Dirty, coal powered power stations that fail to meet agreed emission targets must close by 2015.
  • Existing Magnox nuclear power stations are reaching the end of their life.
  • Wind, renewables and AGR nuclear plants will not cover the shortfall.
  • Reduced demand due to the recession has delayed the build of new capacity. Even if the building programme is restarted, it is unlikely that any new plants will be online before 2017.

This is why Sysop is working very closely with Lord Redesdale (Chairman of the Carbon Management Association) to develop a package of training courses to further spread the awareness and take-up of best practice energy management in ICT. Focusing on Financial Directors, we plan to educate and help transform energy management within UK organisations.

I am presenting at the itSMF conference in November – “Keeping the Lights On”, Tuesday morning, after coffee; and will set out some good practice techniques that can reduce IT energy demand by 40% or more.

Without a doubt, we need to get really serious about exploring the Green dimension to managing our IT. The ISEB Foundation Certificate in Green IT is a really good starting point. This link to the BCS website contains more information as does the Sysop website.

Stuart Sawle     www.sysop.co.uk