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

Towards a Better Service Desk

As a member of an IT service desk team you have a responsibility to your customers. You’re there to help your customers find solutions to their IT issues. Your over-riding concern is to help resolve their issues quickly and effectively so that they can fulfill the vital business function that you are there to support.

Sadly, so many IT service desks make common mistakes that detract from the service offered but, happily, they are easy to address.

In this blog I’m going to look at 5 tips to ensure that your customer is happy with the service that you’re providing. It isn’t rocket science; it isn’t something that you’ll have to practice for months to master. It’s something that you can implement today.

Let’s get started shall we…?

Listen

First and foremost let’s get one of the biggest responsibilities of the service desk out of the way – to listen.

To resolve your customer’s issue you first have to understand what they’re telling you. Don’t prick up your ears at certain points, don’t jump to conclusions, and don’t let your mind wander – as they say “be in the room”.

Listen carefully to their issue and resolve it. That’s the job.

Treat them with respect

Just because a customer is asking a question that you think has a very simple answer doesn’t make him or her stupid. Not everyone is well versed in IT and so, at times, they may need a little help. When you pick up the phone, reply to an e-mail or head out to conduct repairs – play nice, be professional, don’t patronise.

React and respond

When a customer turns to the IT Service Desk for assistance, they expect assistance. Once you have listened to their query you should strive to find a resolution. Even if you aren’t able to provide a direct resolution straight-away you should look to offer a way of working around their issue. Remember that customers need your assistance to run the business that returns the profits that justify your salary.

Keep them informed

If you’re conducting work for a customer that requires taking something ‘offline’; or you anticipate some length of time to elapse before the work will be completed; then let them know. Remember, they have to make decisions about how best to run the business despite their issue, give them time estimates as best you can.

Get feedback

Nothing helps you develop a service desk like feedback. Ask your customers what’s working and what isn’t. Ask what you could do better. The customer isn’t always right as they say, but the customer is always the customer. They are running the business, not you, so never ignore them. Get them on-side and you’ll find their criticisms helpful and constructive.

An IT service desk thrives on communication, efficiency and the ability to heed and act upon criticism. If you apply all of the above to your IT service desk then I guarantee that you’ll see a marked improvement in customer satisfaction.

The Challenges of Managing Change Effectively

One of the significant improvements with ITIL v3, way back in 2007, was recognition of the need to move the change authorisation window further up the lifecycle. No longer, we thought, would change authorisation be sought when the development work had been completed and operational running was imminent. No longer would changes be “thrown over the wall” giving service operation scant notice – virtually blackmailing them into accepting the change.

Some progress has undoubtedly been made. Most customers tell me that operational acceptance is a key part of their change management process. But it still appears that change management is not considered until major investment of resources to design, build and test the change have already been committed.

Consider, if you would, what the core volumes say about the change proposal. It describes it as: “A document that includes a high-level description of a potential service introduction or significant change, along with a corresponding business case and an expected implementation schedule. Change proposals are normally created by the service portfolio management process and are passed to change management (i.e. the CAB) for authorisation. Change management will review the potential impact on other services, on shared resources, and on the overall change schedule. Once the change has been authorised, service portfolio management will charter the service.

Wouldn’t our services be managed more effectively if all major changes were reviewed and authorised at this stage. Consider the impact on the authority and reach of the change advisory board.

The reasons cited above all others for the failure of changes is lack of planning; lack of appreciation of the complexity; inadequate timescales; and inadequate budget for the change. How much better would we handle these matters if due consideration to change was given early enough?

Our purpose in service management is to facilitate change; to allow our organisations to adapt to changing business drivers speedily and effectively. We also have a duty to ensure that changes are implemented smoothly; without any detrimental impact on the business – i.e. get them right first time. Proper and timely scrutiny of change proposals will go a long way to achieving our objectives.

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

The CMDB – a Green Dimension

Whenever I speak about Green IT, I assert that most IT Managers don’t know how much electricity their IT infrastructure consumes. Some challenge my statement and state categorically that they know exactly how much electricity they use because it is separately metered. Usually, however, this turns out to be the Data Centre alone. It does not include the vast amount of infrastructure out there on the network: user desktops; switches; routers; departmental printers; etc.

It’s an almost impossible task to keep track of the power consumption of everything out there – or is it?

We have a powerful tool at our disposal in the CMDB. We only need to ascertain the power usage of a device once and can record that in the CMDB and very quickly total the power usage of all of those devices across the network. Sure, we need to factor in service hours (likely switch-on time) and our model will never be as accurate as direct measurement. However it will give us a pretty good estimate and, more importantly, it will help us determine trends – are we getting better or worse – and will help us model the effect of changes to the standard roll-out.

I fully appreciate that not all service management tool-providers will include this level of detail at the moment; but with the rapidly rising cost of electricity and the increasing importance of a green agenda; it won’t be long before they do.

Stuart Sawle

http://www.sysop.co.uk

Green Festive Cheer from Doha

Last week, I lead a Green IT course. It’s always an inspiring event and the contribution from the attendees was high. There was considerable experience in the room and we all took something away from the course.

Day one of the course, as usual, looked at the reasons why an IT department needs to be more environmentally friendly; the dangers we face and the damage we’re doing to our planet. We also look at the progress world leaders have made from the Rio summit twenty years ago (1992) and “Rio+20” earlier this year. I mentioned that representatives from 195 countries were similarly engaged in Doha, Qatar. COP18 (Conference of the Parties) was actually taking place while the course was running.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been meeting annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change. The COP is the ‘supreme body’ of the Convention, its highest decision-making authority – so its deliberations and outcomes are important to us all.

One of the key learning points, on day one, is that climate change disproportionately affects poorer nations. Whilst we, in the UK, have suffered both drought and floods this year it has been nothing compared to the ravages of extreme weather elsewhere in the world.

“Rio+20” was considered, by many, to be a damp squib. So it was with some satisfaction that I read the Observer front page headline “Doha climate change deal clears way for “damage aid” to poor nations.

Poor countries have won recognition of their plight; richer countries have promised to fund aid to repair the loss and damage that those countries have suffered as a consequence of activities in the developed world. Even the US (which has not ratified the Kyoto protocol) accepted, albeit grudgingly, that the fund was a vital tool to help vulnerable countries.

The EU, Norway, Australia and others have agreed to new carbon-cutting targets beyond the Kyoto targets which expire at the end of this year. Unified discussions (i.e. that include the US) will now take place on a truly global climate treaty which, hopefully, will be signed in Paris in 2015.

It looks like, I’m going to be updating the course material while it’s quiet over Christmas and New Year. Please accept my very best wishes for peace and prosperity to you and yours for 2013.

To help Sysop in its support of the Rotary water projects in Kenya, please visit the My Donate website: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/kenyawaterprojects. With Gift Aid you can make a real difference.

Merry Christmas!

Stuart Sawle

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