Fifty Years – A Major Milestone

I don’t normally like admitting to my age – but this week I am celebrating a pretty major milestone – 50 years in IT. I’ve always considered myself particularly lucky to have begun an IT career when the industry was in its infancy, when we were fresh-faced, young and pioneering.

I left grammar school at 16 with a handful of ‘O’ levels and had been intrigued by computers for some little while. Luckily, for me, a neighbour friend was an IT Operations Shift Leader at Dunlop and suggested that I apply as a trainee operator. I took to it like a duck to water. Operating large mainframes which were tape-based was demanding work physically. The tapes were 3.600 ft zinc spools and some 100 tapes per shift needed to be mounted / demounted on the eight tape decks on each of the huge LEO III mainframes. Understanding what was going on came much more easily. I had a natural aptitude for IT and in that respect it has never been hard work.

I was just 19, when my boss asked me to set-up and run an offline job-assembly function. The goal (successfully achieved) was to improve consistency and reduce job-assembly errors. This work caught the attention of a senior colleague who head-hunted me to join him as Chief Operator at Halfords in the centre of Birmingham. The small ICT 1901 mainframe here was a step down from the sophistication of the LEO and, at the tender age of twenty, I had the challenge of supervising the operation of three shifts, job and data control.

I began to take an interest in the George II operating system and pioneered its implementation to streamline operations and reduce mis-operation. This led to a change of career as I learnt how to program in PLAN – an assembler language proprietary to ICT 1900 mainframes. I loved it and determined a short while later that I could earn much more money as a freelance programmer.

Very soon I was assigned to a major development project for Woolworth – all in COBOL. I hadn’t written a COBOL program in my life but I had, at least, covered the basics in a college course. My PLAN and GEORGE II experience stood me in very good stead and I quickly earned a reputation as the technical guru. I could understand diagnostic dumps when many of my colleagues found them perplexing.

I was a freelance programmer at Woolworth for nearly three years when the new Data Centre Manager asked me to join the management team and establish a competent technical and operations support department – again with the principal objective of improving consistency of service and reducing error.

Now I was really in my stride. I had some very competent technical guys but the challenge was to develop the operations support group, exploit the operating system and bring real business benefit to the organisation. This opportunity was enhanced when I led the project to migrate the George II workload to the newly launched ICL 2900 range under VME.

This was exciting pioneering written large! Woolworth IT developed a reputation for leading-edge technology and practices and I was often invited to speak at User Group conferences and joined working parties to help steer ICL development plans – most of them focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – a bit of a recurring theme here.

My responsibilities at Woolworth increased and I was given responsibility for not only the Rochdale data centre but also the data centres in Swindon and London. Life was certainly getting exciting!

In 1985 everything changed. A new IT Director changed the technical direction from ICL to IBM. Senior IT professionals with extensive experience of IBM operations were parachuted in and I was offered a very attractive package to go do something else – and that something else was Sysop.

The early days of Sysop saw an increasing fruitful partnership with ICL. We pioneered the development of storage management systems to exploit the capabilities of automated tape libraries – always looking at ways to help clients reduce cost, improve reliability, and improve storage management.

Then along came ITIL®.

In 1990 Sysop was one of only three companies who offered training in IT Service Management. The other two no longer exist – which makes Sysop the world’s longest exponent of ITIL. Sysop consultants have travelled the world, working with clients in across Europe, Australia, South America, USA, the Middle East and South Africa.

We continue to innovate and see ourselves as a new breed of IT educator. My team champions the alignment of IT with business, promotes the pivotal role of the IT professional and believes that the primary purpose of training and education is to change behaviour in the workplace.

Our mission is to provide a more creative and stimulating, world class educational environment that addresses vital areas of IT service management. Our training and education is designed to make ITIL more accessible, digestible and relevant for its clients, while its practical workshops can be tailored to the specific needs of the client organisation.

Our goal is still to help our clients improve their IT services focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – Now that does sound familiar?

Am I going to retire? Not while I’m having so much fun!

Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk
ITIL® is a trademark of AXELOS Limited.

Achieving that Change in Culture

I was reminded this week of some of the barriers to the successful deployment of service management best practice. We tend to think, rather simplistically, that attending the training courses and gaining the qualifications will empower our teams to get on with the deployment of ITIL®.

If one were to attend a Microsoft Excel course, we could be confident that we would be able to carry those skills into the workplace. We would understand how to use the advanced functions and facilities of Excel and be able to explain and demonstrate them to our colleagues.

Service Management, however, cannot be deployed by one person in isolation. It’s something that has to be adopted right across the organisation. It requires the co-ordinated information and process flow from many roles and responsibilities. It also needs a deep understanding of why ITIL is so important. In fact it needs a culture change that places the emphasis on customer service and delivered value.

We were engaged in a project at major hospital where this realisation was brought home to us very forcibly. We had conducted some ITIL Overview training in preparation to a roll-out of what we thought would be a fairly straight-forward Incident & Problem Management process design.

What became clear, from blank expressions, was that although the team involved understood the words and diagrams of ITIL processes – they just couldn’t grasp how it would apply in their highly specialised functions within the hospital. There was an almost total culture gap. We weren’t on their wavelength and therefore our illustrations of how ITIL worked in practice were incorrectly aligned.

To overcome this, we engaged the team in an Apollo 13 simulation workshop. The difference was amazing. The team engaged almost immediately, motivation levels were clearly much, much, higher and the communication barriers eliminated.

The success was so striking that our client authorised the publication of the case study in IT Training magazine which is reproduced on our website. Here is the link: http://www.sysop.co.uk/your-account/downloads?c=8. You may need to register to access it and I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth the trouble. Some good lessons for us all in how to bring about the culture change needed to make a real go of ITIL.

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

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

Five Steps that can help you to achieve success with ITIL adoption

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the panel debate hosted by Michelle Major-Goldsmith at the Service Desk Show at Earls Court. The panel, made up of Paul Wilkinson (Gaming Works), Kevin Holland (UK Public Sector) and Stephen Mann (Forrester) debated the success (or otherwise) of ITIL adoption in IT organisations.

Stephen summarised his key messages as “Five Steps that can help you to achieve success with ITIL adoption”. They are very pertinent and worthy of being repeated here.

Step No. 1: Be clear on what ITIL is all about, especially the importance of people. Ensure that as well as thinking about process and tools you plan how you will manage the cultural and organisation change issues. Ignore these at your peril! Everybody needs to know about VOCR (Values, Outcomes, Costs & Risks).

Step No. 2: Be realistic about existing ITSM process maturity and improve them gradually. Establish a baseline and use the CSI model to help you keep your thinking on track.
o What do we want to achieve? (Our Vision)
o Where are we today? (Our Baseline)
o What does success look like? (CSFs and KPIs)
o How will we get there? (Our Project Plan)
o Did we get there? (Our measurements against the baseline)
Trying to implement too many processes at once is like doing two jobs badly rather than one well. Remember the quick wins and look at the user facing process too. If you can achieve success there it is very visible and it promotes a good vibe.

Step No. 3: Evaluate technology only after you’ve addressed goals, people, and processes. Remember ‘a fool with a tool is still a fool’. The fanciest looking service management tool in the world won’t help you if you don’t have people on side and process and roles and responsibilities mapped out. Ensure a holistic approach. Use the 5 P’s. People, Process, Product, and Partners aligned to achieving the 5th P ‘Performance’ (VOCR)

Step No. 4: Consider the overall vision including short, medium, and long term goals. You need to be in it for the long haul. Remember service improvement should never stop! Continual Service Improvement starts at the beginning of your endeavours and not at the end, despite what it might look like in the ITIL Lifecycle diagram.

Step No. 5: Regularly communicate the value of ITIL and involve the IT and non-IT stakeholders. Measure your success and compare with your baseline. Reward staff and keep on reminding your customer about how success in IT is translated to success in terms of business productivity. Keep talking to them and think about OUTCOMES!
Finally – Turn knowledge into results:
The panel concluded that the delegates at the session probably had the knowledge to make ITIL adoption work. But often said they were short of time.

This is an excuse every IT organization uses at some time or other. It isn’t a question of time it is a question of priority. Think about VOCR and set your priorities accordingly. If you don’t have time to do justice to an ITIL project ………….don’t start it.

If time, focus and priority are the issues for your organisation then of course help exists through the various service management consultancies, I shamelessly plug my own! http://www.sysop.co.uk/professional-services

Don’t rush into sheep dipping staff through ITIL certification. There are other ways. Better to plan what you want to achieve and the journey that will take you there. ITIL certification may well be part of this journey but it isn’t the entirety of it!

Plan, Do, Stop! Why ITSM Implementations Fail

You learn something every week. My big learning moment this week was when I sat in on a panel debate hosted by Michelle Major-Goldsmith at the Service Desk Show at Earls Court. The panel, made up of Paul Wilkinson (Gaming Works), Kevin Holland (UK Public Sector) and Stephen Mann (Forrester) debated the success (or otherwise) of ITIL adoption in IT organisations. It was alarming to say the least.

First the good news: in a recent survey of 491 members of the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), Forrester found that ITIL beneficially improved service productivity (85%), quality (83%), business reputation (65%), and cost savings (41%). However over 50% of service management implementations fail! I’ve captured some of the discussion and key points to share with you as well as our own experiences working as service management consultants out in the field.

One of the top reasons is that IT professionals often fail to understand that, pivotal to our success, is recognising the needs of our business and being able to articulate how the implementation of service management can improve service delivery – with direct and measurable benefit to the business. To bring this message home Paul Wilkinson challenged to twenty or thirty ITIL Experts in the audience to define “a service” – pretty basic stuff taught on the first day of an ITIL Foundation Course. None could!

A SERVICE is a means of delivering VALUE to customers by facilitating OUTCOMES customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific COSTS & RISKS. *

Around 85% of the people in the room claimed to hold a Foundation certificate in ITIL Service Management. About 20% of the group offered that they held advanced qualifications. Yet many of them indicated that they were not seeing value from their training investment.

I’ve written before about training and education being different facets of learning. It’s the difference between know how and know why. Education is giving out information and communicating to your students. Training is about putting the knowledge into practice and building skills. Sadly this confirmed our fears – very few organisations engage suitably qualified organisations to help show them how it’s done.

Paul provided an interesting anecdote about the CIO who wanted to recruit service management people but (sensibly) refused to do so based on a CV of ITIL qualifications; instead he directed the recruitment consultants to, ‘Send me a CV that describes how the candidate delivered valuable outcomes to his/her customer’. Rather than the usual piles of CV’s, he had just a few to select from.
So who is to blame for this appalling mismatch of aspiration and achievement? In, short – all of us!

  • IT staff – just wanting the certificate without thinking about how to use the knowledge gained to deliver value back at the workplace.
  • The line manager – failing to support the after training experience by providing opportunities to test and develop the knowledge gained in the classroom.
  • The CIO – who didn’t explain how the training would support the organisation’s vision and strategy. ITIL certification becomes a tick box exercise and frankly a waste of the organisation’s s money!
  • The Training Providers – who teach by rote, focusing on the exam and not able to offer real-world experience.
  • The official ITIL Accreditor and the Examination Institutes – for the format of the syllabi and examinations.

ITIL processes alone will not deliver success. It’s all about recognising value. Be clear of the benefit you will gain versus the cost of implementation. Test the value of what you do and how you do it!

Most IT organisations succeed with the most commonly adopted processes (Incident, Problem and Change Management but then it gets much more difficult when they need to talk to their customer. Engaging in Business Relationship or Service Level Management is beyond their skill levels. All too often we are afraid of asking the customer their view on what we do for fear we will hear things we’d rather not know. This is risky! Organisations that do this end up making ‘improvement’s that were neither warranted nor required.

Paul concluded paraphrasing W. Edwards Deming, all too often we: Plan, Do, Stop!

 

* Quote from ITIL Core Guidance Service Lifecycle books, copyright Cabinet Office 2011