Are your IT Services becoming stale?

I am sure that your organisation strives to offer your customers (internal and external) a consistently reliable standard of IT service – and why not?

The accepted usage of the word (Wikipedia) is as follows:

Consistent behaviour or treatment.

“the consistency of measurement techniques”

Synonyms: evenness, steadiness, stability, constancy, regularity, uniformity, equilibrium, unity, orderliness, dependability, reliability, lack of change, lack of deviation.

We certainly want to give our customers the feeling that they are dealing with a business that is dependable, orderly, reliable but not to the extent of being boring and perhaps too predictable.

But let’s look at that Wikipedia definition again – it includes the phrases “lack of change, lack of deviation”. Is that what we really intend? Static, not improving, not moving with the times?

The emerging methodologies of DevOps and Agile demonstrate an increasing requirement for us to deliver business benefit quickly. However, we do want to be consistent in the way that we deal with our customers.  They need to feel that there will be no negative surprises in the product, quality of service that we offer so that they will have above all that very desirable outcome for any customer or client – peace of mind.

This means that all those great qualities of which we are justly proud like service, product and above all quality should be taken as givens. This is why the well-established disciplines of ITIL® service management are so valuable. But we need to ensure that these disciplines are not set in concrete. The dynamics of today’s business drivers require swift, responsive adjustments to the way we work.

Modern, effective IT organisations do need to invest in the DevOps & Agile way of working. In doing so they will quickly appreciate that neither replaces the ITIL® disciplines – more they depend on them for underlying quality and direction.

The guidance given in the recent AXELOS practitioner publication goes a long way to squaring this particular circle. For our part, at Sysop, we have taken care to make sure that our Practitioner training course helps our students to better understand the need for a flexible approach whilst maintaining, indeed improving, service quality.

Positive change is a necessity of the modern IT organisation. Make sure your consistent approach encompasses a consistent desire to improve, change and innovate.

stuart.sawle@sysop.co.uk

http://www.sysop.co.uk

I am indebted, once more, to my good friend Ivan Goldberg for the inspiration for this blog (www.ivanjgoldberg.com).

ITIL Practitioner – The Lessons for Business Relationship Management

I’ve been really busy these past several months: first of all developing Sysop course material for the new ITIL® Practitioner course, getting it accredited, getting qualified myself and finally delivering the initial outings of, what is becoming, a really useful and very practical course.

It has also set me thinking about our Business Relationship Management Workshop. The Practitioner syllabus and material has made me reconsider many of the practical areas of IT service management and how organisations can make sense of the documented best-practice and successfully adopt and adapt it to the benefit of their the employer organisation.

I have absolutely no doubts about the importance of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role to the successful provision of IT services but I do wonder if the artificial segregation of the business and IT into customer and service provider is the most effective way of handling this critical relationship.

The Practitioner material does at least recognise two models of service provision – covering outsourced as well as insourced IT. In all it stresses the importance of stakeholder management and communication – vital activities regardless of which model is most appropriate for you as a service provider.

A key objective of the IT Service Management training that we offer is to foster an increased awareness of business priorities within the IT service provider organisation. Taking account of the key messages from the Practitioner material will add considerable value to our current BRM workshop and help bring ever close our ultimate goal of everyone taking ownership of the business, its mission and its goals?

This will certainly keep me busy over the summer months!

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

Managing Major Incidents

The ITIL® core volume Service Operation is not particularly helpful with regard to Major Incidents. It basically says: “A separate procedure, with shorter timescales must be used for ‘major’ incidents. A definition of what constitutes a major incident must be agreed and ideally mapped onto the overall incident prioritization scheme – such that they will be dealt with through this separate procedure.”

In our recent “Managing Major Incidents” workshops we have had an opportunity to discuss the topic with a good cross-section of IT professionals; to present our thoughts and; perhaps more importantly, gain valuable feedback as to what represents best practice in the field. What follows is our distillation of that best practice and a corresponding process flow to help support it.

Key Recommendations

1. Be clear what your organisation means by “Major Incident”
2. Appoint one person (preferably the Service Delivery Manager) to determine the severity of the MI and to invoke the MI process if appropriate.
3. Gather together a “war cabinet” of key people to help ensure that adequate, appropriate resources are made available to speedily resolve the MI.
4. Make certain that any escalation to the business can happen speedily and effectively.
5. Place the Disaster Recovery team on stand-by.
6. Be prepared to de-escalate as a solution emerges.

More Information

More information, including a practical process flow and narrative that we believe represents industry best practice in this particular area, is available from the Sysop Resource Centre http://www.sysop.co.uk/your-account/downloads.

You will need to log-in, and possibly register, on the website to access the downloadable resources area. Once there, you will see the categories of downloadable resources, the first of which is “Articles”. Click VIEW RESOURCES and you will see that the first two articles are the Major Incident Process Flow and Managing Major Incidents narrative.

Stuart Sawle August 2014
http://www.sysop.co.uk

ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limmited.

Green IT – Not just “nice to do”.

News this week from the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) – “the impacts of global warming are likely to be “severe, pervasive and irreversible”. After a winter in the UK that has seen major storms and rainfall we can expect more incidents of severe weather as we go forward.

Worldwide, the carbon footprint of IT is actually larger than that of the airline industry – and it’s growing. As more and more of the developing world adopt information technology, the carbon emissions generated will increase with it.

There was political news too. Centrica warned that government policy would likely lead to energy shortages in the UK and electrical black-outs. Strangely, this isn’t new. In 2012 the government forecasted a 20% shortfall in electricity forecast for the years 2015-2017. This, they said, was due to a number of factors that would 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.

Whatever way you look at it, we must all do whatever we can to reduce our energy usage.

Data Centres continue to grow exponentially and even though the latest servers are more energy efficient, the number deployed is ever-rising as too is the number of desk-top and mobile devices.

In these circumstances is it not incredible that few IT Managers are held accountable for the energy cost of the IT deployed to support the business. Sure, they have initiated hardware rationalisation projects but the outcomes of these projects are measured in cost savings not energy savings.

We must push ‘Green IT’ higher up the strategic agenda. The government has done much to “Green” governmental ICT. The Greening Government ICT strategy is intended to minimise the impact of the UK Government on the environment and reduce both green-house gas emissions and waste in support of the Government’s commitment to achieve a 25% reduction in green-house emissions by 2015.

It’s time IT Manager’s followed this lead and set their own targets for energy reduction and carbon emissions. Highly principled, reputable companies like Unilever do this. Let us all follow suit.

Stuart Sawle

Sysop

http://www.sysop.co.uk/green-it

Serving the Customer

I live in the foothills of the Pennines. Just a short walk from my house, up t’hill, is a pub/restaurant that has superb views of the Roche Valley and further beyond to Merseyside and East Lancashire. Not for nothing is it called the Fair View.

One summer evening, I decided to take some friends there for an early dinner. We walked in to an almost empty restaurant and asked if the upstairs facility (with better views) was open. “Not on Tuesdays” was the response. “OK”, I said, “we’ll eat downstairs”.

“Have you reserved a table?” I was asked only to be turned away from the almost empty restaurant when I said I had not. This was no up-market gourmet establishment. It was a cheap and (not so) cheerful family joint. Needless to say I’ve never been back. To this day, I cannot fathom what possessed them to turn away six hungry customers.

Sometimes I’m asked to summarise just what IT Service Management is all about. It’s a very difficult question to answer in just a sentence or two and the answer is likely to vary depending on the background of the person who is asking.

ITIL® provides a framework for the best-practice management of IT services. Its starting point is the shared understanding of what the business’s goals and objectives are and how IT can help in their achievement. It emphasises that IT exists to support the achievement of business objectives and that well designed and delivered IT services are a vital element of this.

When I’m speaking to service management students, I emphasise how crucial “good IT” is to the well-being of the business – how important are the skills and capabilities of the IT team.

At the same time, I emphasise that the IT team rarely generates direct revenue for the business. They don’t manufacture the products the business sells. They don’t achieve sales to the business’s customers. They aren’t in the supply chain for the business’s goods and services.

Their role is to support their colleagues that do!

For the most part, the colleagues at “the sharp end” cannot do their jobs of manufacturing, selling or delivering the products of the business without IT. It is up to IT therefore to ensure that the IT services are there, fit for use and fit for purpose whenever the business needs them.

And that’s where somewhere we go wrong, failing to see our colleagues as customers. We obstruct rather than facilitate. We cite the change process as the reason we can’t help expedite a change. We quote the SLA’s “agreed service hours” as to why we can extend them today.

Our processes need to be enablers of service to our customers not barriers. Successful IT service management is more about a customer centric service culture than it is about processes and targets. Let’s not let down those revenue earners that depend on us. They bring the pennies in – not us!

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

Demonstrating Service Desk Value

My good friend Michelle Major-Goldsmith and I have had many discussions about how to make IT service management more relevant to the business. We know there are many IT professionals out there that are working their cotton socks off delivering real value to their organisations and yet they are only too aware that their efforts and the value delivered are not fully appreciated.

This was brought home to me at the recent Service Desk Show in London. As you might expect there was a particular emphasis on the Service Desk and this was highlighted by discussions initiated by the Service Desk Institute (SDI) around demonstrating Service Desk value and the meaningful metrics that have to be gathered to achieve this.

So what aspects of Service Desk performance matter to the business?

Well, as you might guess, the business isn’t particularly concerned about how many functional or hierarchical escalation rates or call abandonment rates. They are concerned about the percentage of incidents resolved within agreed service levels and the level of overall customer satisfaction with the service.

They are concerned too with one element that we’re not that good at measuring: Cost!

How much does it cost to provide support services? How much does it cost, on average, to resolve a call? How can the costs be reduced whilst maintaining (or even improving) the levels of service offered?

Daniel Wood, Head of Research at SDI, has produced a really valuable paper “Demonstrating Service Desk Value Through More Meaningful Metrics” that is essential reading for anyone engaged in the management of IT services.

Daniel’s paper re-affirms the conclusions that Michelle and I came to. If you want to engage with the business you have to talk to senior management in the language that they understand. Tell them how they can reduce cost and increase revenue. How much user/customer time is lost waiting for calls to be resolved? That is a key measurement that directly impacts the productivity of the business. What is the cost of down-time in business critical applications – particularly those that are customer facing?

It’s time to grow-up and ask the questions that will lead us to a more mature dialogue.

Stuart Sawle

www.sysop.co.uk

What’s Next?

So, you’ve been on an ITIL® course. You returned to work bustling with enthusiasm. It was all very interesting and thought provoking but now there’s a reality check. How do you actually start putting what you’ve learnt into practice?

Well the first thing you should remember (as emphasised by your Sysop Trainer) is that you don’t ‘implement ITIL®’ – – whatever your boss says! Your task is actually to think about implementing best practice Service Management.

So, where do you start?

We will have talked you through over 20 processes and a variety of functions. How are you supposed to implement all that?

Well again, remember what you were taught. Implementing the processes is about adopting the ideas and adapting them to fit the needs, culture and requirements of your organisation. It’s not about applying the guidelines in the books word for word!

Most people take time to apply new knowledge. And often work priorities mean that trying to make improvements takes second place. If we are fortunate enough to have the time to implement new ideas, things seem not as clear as they did when we attended the training. Also, the situation in our own organisation is different from that illustrated during the training.

If you also attended our free short day Overview, you’ll know we talk all about focusing on those quick wins and maintaining momentum for the initiatives. The first to remember here is that you need to demonstrate success and gain stakeholder buy in. Think of how this can be achieved in your organisation. It’s usually by going for the easy things first.

Look at the areas that you already do pretty well but could do better. This will afford you a good starting point. Sysop offer a base-lining and benchmarking service that thoroughly examines how closely an IT organisation aligns itself with ITIL® best practice. Not just a point-in-time snapshot of the state-of-play but also an identification of where the quick-wins are to focus the initial effort.

Regardless of whether this service is used or not, a starting point does have to be identified and a baseline established – whether this be of ITIL® overall or just one specific area. This ensures that evidence is available to demonstrate service improvements at a later date.

Typically we find our customers will get those ‘quick wins’ and from the areas where they have already been successful in reaching a certain level of maturity. These tend to be; although not exclusively, things like improving the Service Desk; establishing formalised Incident Management; handling Change more effectively and adopting Service Level Management to define customer requirements; set agreements; manage expectations and measure performance.

Here are six simple steps that can kick-start your review.

Step 1 – Look at your Service Desk – Are abandoned calls an issue, do people tell you they can’t get through as promptly as they feel they should?

Step 2 – Do you just keep putting out the fire without finding out why it occurred and preventing further outbreaks?

Step 3 – Is Change being appropriately authorised?

Step 4 – Compare your customer’s values with your SLA targets and measurements.

Step 5 – Evaluate your Change Management process – does it enable or hinder?

I wish you well. If you need any help, remember Sysop offer much more than training courses. Thanks also to my good friend Michele Major-Goldsmith who’s article on the Sysop website was the inspiration for this blog. 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

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

Getting to Grips with Problems

First of all, thanks to my colleague John Allder for prompting me on the topic of root-cause analysis or more simply put: getting to grips with problems.

The phrase ‘root cause analysis’ is often used in a general sense to describe the activity of identifying the underlying cause of an incident.  However, the phrase Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is also given to a specific technique that is intended for use in investigating a series of actions or occurrences that lead to an undesired outcome.

Every major problem should be reviewed to learn lessons for the future.
• What was done correctly
• What was done wrong
• What could be done better in future
• How to prevent recurrence
• Whether there has been any third-party responsibility and whether follow-up actions are required

RCA helps to identify not only what happened and how it happened but also why. Only by understanding why will we be able to devise workable corrective measures. For instance, suppose a network technician disconnects a working router rather than a broken one. A typical investigation might conclude that human error was the cause and recommend better training or that technicians should take more care but neither of these is likely to prevent future occurrences. RCA assumes that mistakes do not just happen but that they have specific causes, and would ask ‘why?’ In the case of the poor network technician the RCA analyst might ask ‘was the router properly labelled?’, ‘was the technician told which router was faulty?’, ‘is there a recognised procedure for deciding whether a router is working or not?’, ‘did the technician know what it was?’

Root causes have four characteristics:
1. They are specific causes: ‘human error’, for example, is too general.
2. They are causes that can reasonably be identified: RCA must be cost beneficial so the analyst must know when to stop the investigation.
3. They are within the control of the management of the organisation. The analyst is looking for causes that can be addressed by the organisation. Although adverse weather conditions might very well have triggered the incident, we cannot do anything to affect the weather and so that is not an appropriate root cause. We can of course do something about how we are impacted by adverse weather and perhaps our root cause / resolution might lie there.
4. They can be addressed by specific solutions. A vague recommendation such as ‘ensure that technicians follow defined procedures’ is wholly inadequate and probably means that more thought needs to be given to identifying the specific cause.

RCA is a specific discipline. It follows four distinct phases:

• Data Collection
• Charting
• Root Cause Identification
• The Development of Recommendations

Carried out properly, Root Cause Analysis will ensure that an organisation learns all of the lessons from a major disruption to service and reduce the risk of future failures. It will help staff to identify ways not only of reducing the likelihood future disruption, but also of limiting the impact of any disruption that does occur.

http://www.sysop.co.uk