The End (to-End) is Nigh!

14186949118_252cc35022_zThe way we consider, design and operate ‘End-to-End’ IT is about to end, or at least going to go through a fundamental change. There are plenty of evidence points; Shadow IT. Analyst organisational restructures. M&A transactions. Converging technologies. Current cost of I&O. The P&L’s of many organisations. New roles emerging in the enterprise such as the CDO – Chief Data Officer…The list goes on. We are all about to witness considerable convergence, or ‘Digitisation’ of our respective worlds.

There is a realisation that the world we operate in has radically changed. Our ultimate end customers and our own staff are now significantly more ‘savvy and demanding’ and the landscape we all operate in is significantly more competitive and ‘real-time’…. But we know this. However, have IT (or more importantly the business supporting and funding IT) reacted accordingly?

Welcome to the digital economy. An economy where cross-silo agility, integration, automation, data, mobility and compliance are key watchwords. An economy where we should revisit core questions like; ‘How are we doing the things we do?’ and perhaps more fundamentally, ‘Why are we doing the things we do?’

In fact one of the big questions IT should be asking is, ‘Does the organisation want IT to build and operate a basic IT platform where its users define competitive advantage from the data / services IT provides, or does the organisation want IT to build and operate a digital IT platform where competitive advantage comes from digital trends, analysis, automation and are real-time. For example, an advanced platform may empower and extend the ability for business units to build workflows and applications to remove tedious and costly manual processes without the involvement of IT, or perhaps IT themselves to ‘see’ trends and plan for eventualities across multiple silo’s of technology or process. Furthermore wouldn’t it be great if IT could effect change in one area and the implications in other areas are all taken care of. Not only joining up the data (which we typically do well), but also the processes, the management and admin.

We are entering a world where we have to dramatically improve 3 areas:

  • Core Service / function of IT – What we do and the way we do it
  • Discovery / Detection and analytics – The ability to process business value data
  • Reaction & Change – The ability to respond in an agile way

So let’s consider how we achieve these goals. First we need to define who we are serving and what or perhaps why we are doing this. Then we should consider where does the raw compute, storage and application stack come from to serve our audience. Finally, we can consider what happens ‘in-between’ the supply and the demand.

 

PART 1. Who, Why & What are we serving?

Let’s start with the ‘What’ – What we ultimately deliver is a trading platform that optimises communication, competitive intelligence and competitive service. Regularly, it is not seen that way, more often than not, IT is seen as the providers of defined or ‘canned’ business services (i.e. mail, ERP, SFA, storage, kit, etc) and the managers of I&O (Infrastructure & Operations). i.e. we are told what the business needs, in short:

  1. Provide XYZ business applications to the BU’s and staff
  2. Provide information/data/reports (not intelligence)
  3. Manage, support and secure all of the above

Change is going to have a massive part to play in ‘What’ we do going forward. In the past, business change was positively ‘glacial’… we lived in an analog world. It took time for information to flow and be processed. Executive leadership, BU’s or staff took time to draw the conclusion that ‘change’ or a response was required… The majority of commercial Change requests come from outside of IT as the ‘intelligence’ was ultimately analogue, or a human connecting the dots between one set of data and another…. Or perhaps worse still, emotional.

This leads nicely onto the ‘Who and Why’. Who we serve can ultimately be divided into 5 categories:

  1. The ultimate end customer
  2. IT itself
  3. Staff
  4. Business Units
  5. Executive

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Each requires different services, information and tools. All need our security & compliance skills. All could benefit from our domain expertise in process and integrations and ultimately, all could do with ‘real-time’ cross data analysis to make informed ‘digital’ recommendations rather than decisions being made very slowly in the analog modus operandi.

 

  • The ultimate end user wants relevancy and respect
  • IT wants to know if some element of their ‘trading platform’ may be going AMBER and why…
  • Staff want intuitive tools, services and intelligence
  • Business Units want to remove the burdens, costs and improve agility
  • Executive want to see and measure and need value (ratio of investment to return)

The ‘why’ we do / or should do the things required in the new digital economy are fundamentally economic, whether your organization is commercial, government, charity, public or private, we all have bosses. We all have customers. Our role is to provide better services, products and financial performance that are secure and compliant.

 

PART 2. Where is IT coming from?

This has to be broken into three parts. The first is, where do the core applications, compute, storage, etc services come from, the second is where does the end user support for the disparate services come from for the ultimate end user, and third, where does the intelligence and ‘Change / React’ thinking come from.

The first area of ‘where core applications and services’ come from is quite straight forward, as they regularly come from a mix of on premise (physical or virtual), cloud (public and private), outsourced and of course the inevitable shadow IT conundrum.

The Second area of ‘Where does the end user service & support come from’ for the 5 types of customer is regularly a mess, primarily as the systems, processes and data is not joined up. In fact some of the applications and therefore its data do not even reside within IT’s domain.

And therefore, it’s a very similar story is the third area of ‘Where does the Intelligence and ability to Change / React’ reside…Its key to note that we are not talking about where the data or information resides, this is known, but where are the applications that use the data in order to make informed real-time decisions? They do exist in many organizations, but they are sporadic and isolated. Perhaps APM (Application Performance Management) technology is used for one customer type, and a marketing tool used for another customer type. This is an area where the ‘End-To –End’ thinking delivers optimum service, competitive advantage has its greatest effect.

 

PART 3. Joining the end to end dots.

In reality there are three roles for IT.

  1. Providing the core services
  2. Providing a service on those services
  3. Providing real-time and cross platform intelligence

And making all of these intuitive, agile, secure and efficient

Simple….no, but IT is in the most powerful and influential position to design, build and conduct the ‘New IT’ DNA. IT will place an increasingly pivotal role in the organisation, its strategy, its people, its technology platform. New ITOM platforms are going to revolutionise how we architect IT. Its no longer about whether its cloud / Saas or on premise… it’s about End-To-End IT. We will see significant convergence, from APM, PPM, Web CMS through to ITSM / ITAM and Analytics, CRM and AI…

IT is the business. We are now in the business transformation game. Embrace it.

 

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How to use rapid communications to meet customer service goals using SLAs

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Teon Rosandic

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

IT leaders and engineers certainly have their hands full with ever more sophisticated internal customers who are more empowered and easily disappointed than ever.  They are placing greater demands to “get it right” and deliver immediate access to information, products and services.

End users want to know not just that a service or product will meet their expectations, but that IT will deliver first-class, instant customer service.

At the enterprise level, Service License Agreements (SLAs) have long acted as these guarantees of service among businesses – between IT departments and their internal customers or between IT departments and the technology service providers with whom they contract.  Conceptually, SLAs focus on accountability and liability, and over time communication about issues and outages has become the norm.  As issues in IT or service providers become more immediate and directly impact end users, timely communication and transparency is as critical as the service license itself.

It’s a different environment out there now, one where always-on and always-connected businesses depend on cloud-based services. This environment also translates to internal customers in the IT organisation, where such expectations are at an all time high. Imagine your corporate Internet connection went down. Employees would be without email, the web and all the services they rely on, including CRM, marketing automation, financial tracking and much more.

One-third of Service Provider Customers report that just a five-minute outage would cause a large percentage of employees to be unproductive, according to a Cloud VPS  Hosting report.

The scramble to remain productive during an outage would certainly lead to an avalanche of questions, notifications and complaints from employees – exactly the sort of activity that prevents IT from taking action more than helps it.  A more proactive approach that sent notifications from IT to employees would both give IT more time to devote to resolving issues and create better relations between IT and the company at large.

You can’t send after-the-fact communications about down or unavailable services anymore because employees experience these outages immediately and in every area of their work.  They want immediate answers; and if you don’t send them, you’ll get the avalanche.

Upping the Communications Ante

If your employees are hyper-connected now, just wait for the future. Virtually everyone has a smart phone and most have tablets, but by 2020, networks will host more than 30 billion wirelessly connected devices, according to ABI Research.  But a smart phone is one person’s lifeline and another person’s albatross.  It’s not enough to just communicate.  You have to communicate to the devices your audience checks.

With more devices linked to the cloud, employee expectations for superior customer service and SLA-level speed of issue resolution will sky rocket.  IT will have to answer to this demand. It is telling that 82%of consumers count rapid response as the number one attribute of great customer service, according to a study by LivePerson. For clients of the IT organization, time to resolution is even more important because that’s when they can be productive again.

Rapid Communication to the Rescue

Immediate, targeted notification and communication is the key to speedy resolution of IT service issues. The first step is to establish the infrastructure for automated interactions. If companies put this approach in place before any problems occur, then they can activate them instantaneously and communicate in real time during crucial moments.

The real trick to effective communication, even in a crisis, however, is to tailor the messages to specific audiences. It’s important to send the right information to the right people via the right channels. Businesses can and should follow suit, taking the initiative to target customers in the ways that suit them best and then keep them regularly informed throughout the resolution process, even if only to say the solution is a work in progress.

The targeting should be much more specific than just preferred devices. Depending on the situation, maybe not everyone needs to be notified.  So it is a good practice to targeted recipients as well. Targeting recipients will also reduce the number of responses IT is likely to receive. According to the 2014 Zendesk Global Benchmark, IT departments receive an average of 33 alerts per day – on top of routine notifications. Sending too many irrelevant alerts can make people inside and outside IT stop paying attention, a phenomenon called alert fatigue.

So if IT gets notified to fix an issue at one employee’s workstation, it makes more sense to alert the affected employee than it does to notify the entire company. As IT adopts a more strategic role in helping companies achieve strategic goals and meeting financial targets, they need to be cognizant of being more than just a fix-it shop or just keeping the lights on.

To make such SLA-type communications possible, businesses can employ communication platforms to help automate messages and distribute them thoughtfully, through multiple channels, all while monitoring continuously for network and equipment malfunctions. Having all of these functions in one place ensures companies can resolve issues quickly and uphold their promises to keep customers informed.

Executives should be asking themselves – how are my customers’ service expectations evolving in today’s uber-connected world? Is my company prepared to deliver “SLA-quality” service? How can rapid communication help me meet their productivity goals? If one or all of these answers involves the adoption of a rapid communication platform, then they are one step closer to ultimate end user satisfaction.

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

Availability, Incident and Problem Management – The New Holy Trinity? (part 2)

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Following on from part one, here are my next seven tips on on how to use availability, incident and problem management to maximise service effectiveness.

Tip 4: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it

Ensure that your metrics map all the way back to your process goals via KPIs and CSFs so that when you measure service performance you get clear tangible results rather than a confused set of metrics that no one ever reads let alone takes into account when reviewing operational performance. In simple terms, your service measurements should have a defined flow like the following:

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Start with a mission statement so that you have a very clearly defined goal. An example could be something like “to monitor, manage and restore our production environment effectively, efficiently & safely”.

Next come your critical success factors or CSFs. CSFs are the next level down in your reporting hierarchy. They take the information held in the goal statement and break them down into manageable chunks. Example CSFs could be:

  • “To monitor our production environment effectively, efficiently & safely”
  • “To manage our production environment effectively, efficiently & safely”
  • “To restore our production environment effectively, efficiently & safely”

KPIs or key performance indicators are the next step. KPIs provide the level of granularity needed so that you know you are hitting your CSFs. Some example KPIs could be:

  • Over 97% of our production environment is monitored
  • 98% of all alerts are responded to within 5 minutes
  • Over 95% of Calls to the Service Desk are answered within 10 seconds
  • Service A achieves an availability of 99.5% during 9 – 5, Monday – Friday

Ensure that your metrics, KPIs & CSFs map all the way back to your mission statement & process goals so that when you measure service performance you get clear tangible results. If your metrics are linked in a logical fashion, if your performance goes to amber during the month (eg threat of service level breach) you can look at your KPIs and come up with an improvement plan. This will also help you move towards a balanced scorecard model as your process matures.

Tip 5: Attend CAB!

Availability, incident and problem managers should be key and vocal members of the CAB. 70%-80% of incidents can be traced to poorly implemented changes.

Problem management should have a regular agenda item to report on problems encountered and especially where these are caused by changes. Incident management should also attend so that if a plan change does go wrong, they are aware and can respond quickly & effectively. In a very real sense being forewarned is forearmed so if a high risk change has been authorised, having that information can help the service desk manager to forward plan for example having extra analysts on shift the morning of a major release.

Start to show the effects of poorly planned and designed change with downtime information to alter mind-sets of implementation teams. If people see the consequences of poor planning or not following the agreed plan, there is a greater incentive to learn from them and by prompting teams to think about quality, change execution will improve, there will be a reduction in related incidents and problems and availability will improve.

Tip 6: Link your information

You must be able to link your information. Working in your own little bubble no longer works, you need to engage with other teams to add value. The best example of this is linking Incidents to problem records to identify trends but it doesn’t stop there. The next step is to look at the trends and look at how they can be fixed. This could be reactive e.g raising a change record to replace a piece of server hardware which has resulted in down time. It could also be proactive for example “ we launched service A and experienced X, Y and Z faults which caused a hit to our availability, we’re now launching service B, what can we do to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes? Different hardware? More resilience? Using the cloud?”

You need to have control over the quality of the information that can be entered. Out of date information is harmful so make sure that validation checks are built in to your process. One way to do this is to do a “deep dive” into your Incident information. Look at the details to ensure a common theme exists and that it is linked to the correct Problem record.

Your information needs to be accessible and easy to read. Your audience sees Google and their expectation is that all search engines work in the same way.

Talk to people! Ask relationship and service delivery managers what keeps them awake at night and if there is know problem record or SIP then raise one.  Ask technical teams what are their top ten tech concerns. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Forewarned it forearmed. If you know there’s an issue or potential for risk you can do something about it, or escalate to the manager or team that can. Ask the customer if there is anything they are worried about. Is there a critical product launch due? Are the auditors coming? This is where you can be proactive and limit risk for example working with change management to implement a change freeze.

Tip 7: Getting the right balance of proactive and reactive activities

It’s important to look at both the proactive and reactive sides of the coin and get a balance between the two. If you focus on reactive activities only, you never fix the root cause or make it better; you’ll just keep putting out the same fires. If you focus on proactive activities only, you will lose focus on the BAU and your service quality could spiral out of control.

Proactive actions could include building new services with availability in mind, working with problem management to identify trends and ensuring that high availability systems have the appropriate maintenance (e.g regular patches, reboots, agreed release schedules) Other activities could include identifying VBFs (more on that later) and SPOFs (single points of failure).

Reactive activities could include working with incident management to analyse service uptime / downtime in more granularity with the expanded incident cycle and acting on lessons learned from previous failures.

Tip 8: Know your VBFs

No, not your very best friends, your vital business functions! Talk to your customers and ask them what they consider to be critical. Don’t assume. That sparkling new CRM system may be sat in the corner gathering dust. That spreadsheet on the other hand, built on an ancient version of excel with tens of nested tables and lots of macros could be a critical business tool for capturing customer information. Go out and talk to people. Use your service catalogue. Once you have a list of things you must protect at all costs you can work through the list and mitigate risk.

Tip 9: Know how to handle downtime

No more hiding under your desk or running screaming from the building! With the best will in the world, things will go wrong so plan accordingly. The ITIL service design book states that “recognising that when services fail, it is still possible to achieve business, customer & user satisfaction and recognition: the way a service provider acts in failure situation has a major influence on customer & user perception & expectation.”

Have a plan for when downtime strikes. Page 1 should have “Don’t Panic” written in bright, bold text – sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many people panic and freeze in the event of a crisis. Work with incident and problem management to come up with the criteria for a major incident that works for your organisation. Build the process and document everything even the blindingly obvious (because you can’t teach common sense). Agree in advance who will coordinate the fix effort (probably Incident management) and who will investigate the root cause (problem management). Link in to your IT service continuity management process. When does an incident become so bad that we need to invoke DR? Have we got the criteria documented? Who makes the call? Who is their back up in case they’re on holiday or off sick? Speak to capacity management – they look at performance – at what point could a performance issue become so bad that the system becomes unusable. Does that count as down time? Who investigates further?

Tip 10: Keep calms and carry on

Your availability, incident and problem management processes will improve and mature over time.  Use any initial “quick wins” to demonstrate the value add and get more buy in. As service levels improve, your processes will gather momentum as its human nature to want to jump on the bandwagon if something is a storming success.

As your process matures, you can look to other standards and framework. Agile and lean can be used to make efficiency savings. COBIT can be used to help you gauge process maturity as well as practical guidance on getting to the next level. PRINCE2 can help with project planning and timescales. You can also review your metrics to reflect greater process maturity for example you could add critical to quality (CTQ) and operational performance indicators (OPIs) to your existing deck of goals, CSFs and KPIs.

Keep talking to others in the service management industry. The itSMF, ISACA and Back2ITSM groups all have some fantastic ideas for implementing and improving ITIL processes so have a look!

Final thoughts

I’d like to conclude by saying that availability, incident and problem management processes are critical to service quality. They add value on their own, but aligning them and running them together will not only drive improvement but will also reduce repeat (boring) incidents, move knowledge closer to the front line and increases service uptime.

In conclusion, having availability, incident and problem management working together as a trio is one of the most important steps in moving an IT department from system management to service management as mind-sets start to change, quality improves and customer satisfaction increases.

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Rapportive – Adding Social Context to Email

The Rapportive Panel within Gmail

Strictly speaking, this technology is probably best described as ‘Social CRM’ rather than ‘ITSM’ but it’s a great example of pulling social feeds into a web service.

In a nutshell – you get a social summary of the person you are emailing.

The more information and context I have about my customer, user, reader, business partner – the better service I can provide.

If you are thinking about adding social data into your ITSM environment, or even questioning the value – then perhaps the items below will provide some food for thought.

I’m a big fan of Rapportive; the list below provides a quick summary of the strengths:

Blindingly Easy

First of all, the technical stuff. It’s a Gmail add-on delivered via a Chrome plugin. It’s very easy to install and use, these things needn’t be difficult. The Rapportive panel replaces what were previously adverts within Gmail. In the interests of privacy I’ve used my own details (right).

Within My Workflow

You don’t need to leave your workspace to lookup anything. Everything you need is presented within the workspace you are working in without any hassle or additional windows or clicks. Just like pulling the pertinent details from an asset register into an incident record – I get to see the headlines and dig out into further detail if I need it.

Automatic

I’ve worked with tools in the past that require you to link every single person to their social details manually. Rapportive just does it automatically, if I get an email out of the blue from someone new it automatically just grabs everything I need right within the email window. It’s awesome.

Social Context

This is the most important bit – my email conversation is enhanced by social context and relevance. For the person I am corresponding with I can see their photo, job title, last few tweets, Facebook updates and other social accounts. It’s great information to have at hand when responding to someone new and saves time hunting around LinkedIn. This gives a much richer experience than just seeing some boring corporate auto-signature.

Social Analytics

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This is where things get really smart. I can also connect Rapportive to other web services accounts and it will cross-reference email addresses with those services.

For example I use MailChimp for my email newsletter so when I receive an email support request, query or business enquiry from someone via email Rapportive will tell me:

  • Whether that person is already on my newsletter list and
  • Which articles they clicked on within the newsletter

This is a huge advantage when responding.  For example I will respond differently to someone that has subscribed to my newsletter for a year and read last month’s update compared to someone new.

Zero Lag Time

Finally, somebody else can worry about the computing power. Between them Gmail and Rapportive can worry about that. When I’ve used social CRM plug-ins locally (such as Xobni or Plaxo for Outlook) they tend to be compute hungry and slow down the email experience. Rapportive has its moments when it temporarily goes offline but it does not stop me from processing email.

The Right Price

It’s free.

Further info at www.rapportive.com