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).

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.

Service Management more than an Operational Discipline.

Once every quarter the ITIL® examination bodies release the statistics for examinations taken by geographic territory.

It’s good to see that the world-wide numbers of IT professionals taking service management exams is still increasing but I find it disturbing that so many do not extend their professional development beyond Foundation level. The total number of IT professional sitting the ITIL Foundation exam is ten times more that the total number of students taking Intermediate exams. This means that only about one in a hundred goes on to qualify as an ITIL expert.

I know, from contact with clients, that service management is far from a mature discipline. The operational processes (Incident, Problem etc.) are generally well established. But clients are still struggling to gain control over key processes like Change and Asset Management.

It’s very obvious from looking at the job titles of course attendees that the desire for ITIL competence is still very much skewed towards the operations support and technical areas. It is still pretty rare to see IT professionals who work in the design or transition lifecycle stages – let alone strategic management.

I am absolutely convinced of the value of sound service management processes. I know that client organisations can benefit enormously from the ITIL service management framework. We have to persuade designers and developers to take a greater interest in developing their service management skills?

BCS, itSMF and AXELOS have a key part to play here.

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

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

Selling Change to the Team

Isn’t it amazing how we can use a simple phrase that would actually lead to our undoing – making it difficult, if not impossible, to actually achieve what we intend.

If your approach is to “sell” the idea of change to the team they will see right through you. The change becomes more about what you want; change is being imposed; those whose co-operation you seek will react with the smile that says “yes boss, no chance”. And that’s the best you can hope for – the more recalcitrant ones will actively work against you.
Change needs to be managed, people need to be understood and involved.

I well remember a reorganisation at Woolworth’s when a manager, I regarded as a fool, was appointed as my boss. He took the trouble to have a face to face chat with me. He allowed me to express my fears and concerns. He listened to me and sought to find ways in which we could work together. It worked. Not only did we develop a fruitful, purposeful relationship – we became firm friends and still are – some 30 years later. He even acted on some of my advice to downplay some of his traits that led people like me to dismiss him as fool!

If you think a change is needed quickly, take time out to assess whether the drivers are really that urgent. We can be so go-minded that we can overlook this simple check. Consider would a more relaxed time-frame still achieve your objectives? Would taking a little more time to consult and truly involve those affected make your decision more acceptable? Would the ideas and discussions allow you to improve the quality of the change?

As a senior manager you probably relish change and thrive on it. Be aware that the chief insecurity of most staff is change itself. Their first reaction will be to feel threatened.

Remember, like grief, there is a series of stages that people go through before they become accepting of change. From suspicion, through curiosity, to visualisation, acceptance and finally commitment, your team members need to be allowed the time, and your time, to explore, understand and respond.

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