Major Survival Incident Kit – What’s In Yours?

Following a sparkly pressie from the guys at TOPdesk, we got to thinking here at Enterprise Opinions towers about what should go in our emergency kit for dealing with Major Incidents.

Coffee!

To be fair, my Starbucks habit is slightly worrying but staying caffeinated helps me stay on the ball. When dealing with a crisis, sometimes you just need a second to figure out the next step. Taking a sip of your drink, be it coffee, green tea or water, takes you out of the situation momentarily and gives you a chance to clear your head and come up with a plan. That said, this is effectively me on a bad day:

Key Phone Numbers

Picture the scene, my second day at a Problem Management gig and a contracter accidentally hits the EPO button in the data centre. For the uninitiated, an EPO or Emergency Power Off button is something that instantly takes out the power to a room and is there as a safety measure in the event of a fire or someone suffering an electrical shock. They’re usually bright red and labeled EPO. Unfortunately in this case, it’s proximity to the door meant the chap in question mistook it for the door release button and pressed it taking out all services to the building and 8 major customers. As this wasn’t a DR test, there was no way to fail over cue an epic Major Incident and the Service Desk sat in shock because they had no working phones and no corporate address book to look up phone numbers. Not our finest hour. No one was saying anything so I did the only thing I could think of at the time; told everyone to use their mobiles to call everyone they had numbers for, starting from the top down until we were able to restore power, promising that I would personally pay their mobile bills if the finance department rejected the resulting phone bill. It was the only option we had at the time and luckily we were back up with the basics in about 30 minutes but my overriding memory of that day was feeling really out of control. Let’s face it, that level of faffery in a Major Incident is never good.

Phone Charger

I love my iPhone. It’s pink (obvs) has every app I can think of and goes everywhere with me. It has unfortunately naff all battery life so I carry a charger with me at all times.

Inner Calm

Feedback that I’ve had time and time again when I’ve done Incident Management type roles is how calm I seem when things are kicking off. I have no idea why people think I’m calm, I can promise you that it’s all a huge act. Inside my head, I’m having kittens or reciting every swear word I can think of or wishing I could hide under my desk but when I have a Service Desk full of analysts relying on me, I’m not going to let everyone down by panicking and then making mistakes. I guess you could say it’s a bit like parenting, as a mum of three I can tell you that kids can sense uncertainty, fear and in the case of my little darlings, chocolate buttons at twenty paces so the trick is to have a total air of “I’ve got this”. Fake it til you make it; act as though everything’s grand, you’ll calm down which will in turn calm down everyone around you and you can focus on getting everything fixed.

What would you have in your “break glass in case of emergency kit”? Let us know in the comments!

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Guest Post from TOPdesk; SHIFT LEFT (LEFT) AND KCS: WORKING TOWARDS BETTER SERVICES

Joost Wapenaar is a Technical Product Consultant at TOPdesk, as well as the Project Manager for the implementation of KCS within the Support department. This is his take on using the shift left principle to empower others.

JoostW

Background

Our Support department receives around 5,000 calls every month. Our 40-strong group, who catch and resolve these calls as efficiently as they can, were given a rating of 8 out of 10 by our customers. That’s not too bad – still, we’re always looking into how we can make our services smarter, quicker and more scalable. And we think we found an answer.

Providing answers

We asked ourselves how we could improve the availability of existing information to our customers. Every day we find that we’re discussing a solution with a customer that was discussed with a different customer just the day before. Or we’ve spent time researching a problem that a colleague’s already figured out. There had to be a better way. In the search for a smarter way to share our knowledge, we discovered the principles of ‘Shift Left’ and ‘Shift Left Left’. Behind these two principles is the idea that you can give customers answers to their questions more actively. ‘Shift Left’ means that skilled technicians make their answers more available to less experienced colleagues, so they in turn can help customers using already posted solutions. ‘Shift Left Left’ is the next logical step: provide your customers with access to these solutions, and they’re able to find the answer to their question themselves.

Shift Left at TOPdesk Support

We didn’t have to change our methods much in order to start exchanging information between colleagues: being helpful to others is integral to our ideology. And the more knowledge you have, the better you can help someone; for example, we hold knowledge days to facilitate knowledge sharing from the second line to the first line. These days include sessions organised by specialists in which they might share knowledge about authentication, performance or a specific module.

With Shift Left getting under control, we wanted to take a step towards Shift Left Left: making our knowledge available to our customers.

Shift Left Left at TOPdesk Support

We answer many of our requests over the phone or by email. Customer satisfaction reports show that this method works well, but it’s not going to be scalable when we’re only sharing knowledge one-on- one. We also have a website with manuals: help.topdesk.com. Although this platform can be used to enable service for many customers at the same time, it mostly contains generic information about TOPdesk and less about customer-specific situations such as error messages, workarounds, etc. In order to start implementing Shift Left Left, we had to figure out a way to share this type of knowledge with our customers as well.

Knowledge Centred Support

We soon encountered the concept of Knowledge Centred Support (KCS)*. This is a best practice for publishing and managing knowledge – a sort of ITIL for knowledge management – and assumes that the support department fills and manages a knowledge base with items that can be shared with end users. This changes knowledge management from a task done by specific people to a task for every person in the Support department – as a part of solving calls.

Getting started with KCS at TOPdesk

We first created a project plan for the implementation of the KCS method at TOPdesk. We set up a pilot in which we examined whether the KCS method would help the Support department work more efficiently. Ten of our forty support employees took part in this pilot. The introduction of the KCS method changed the way the pilot group worked. We had weekly evaluations to make sure the change was successful, discussing the challenges of KCS and how we could overcome them. The method was continuously adjusted and optimised. By working as a group and taking on individual challenges together, we successfully managed to go through this change. We also discussed the successes during our evaluations: what is the added value for us as the Support department? What gives us satisfaction and makes us happy? Because we were experiencing the challenges and successes as a team, the pilot was a success not only in numbers but also in process change. We were also giving weekly updates to our department about the changes within the pilot group and the effect on our work. Sharing the success of KCS with the entire department was essential to give KCS a positive image – and for it to remain so. These weekly updates made the people who were not taking part in the pilot very enthusiastic, and many wanted to join in with the implementation.

How does TOPdesk work with KCS?

When applying the KCS method, we used TOPdesk’s Knowledge Base module. We made a separate branch in the knowledge base to save items that were created for KCS in a fixed and recognisable place. The knowledge base at TOPdesk Extranet features hundreds of KCS items. The moment a customer asks our Support department a question, a call is logged. Based on this call a Support employee can search for relevant items in the knowledge base. When we find an item that answers the question, we add this to the call. When the item from the knowledge base is added, TOPdesk creates a link between the call and the knowledge item. This makes it possible to create selections and reports that provide insight into the way the item are used. Which items are used to resolve calls and which ones are used more frequently? If the item describes the answer for the most part, but perhaps is still missing some essential information, we can add this before we share it with the customer; thus the items are continuously updated. Are there not any items in the knowledge base that can answer the question? Then a new item can be created immediately when processing the customer’s question.

The results

Since the introduction of the KCS method at TOPdesk Support, we’ve written thousands of items with answers to customer questions. A large number of these items have been re-used many times to answer the same question. Using KCS has also shown us that we are getting more to grips with the Shift Left principle. Knowledge is now centrally stored in our knowledge base, making it available to both first and second line operators. Operators with less experience are now able to find answers to the more difficult questions in no time, helping them develop their knowledge more quickly. We have also seen that the average lead time of a calls has reduced and fewer calls are escalated to the second line. What’s more, the operators working with the method – in our case support staff – enjoy higher job satisfaction. When they answer a question, they’re not only helping the customer in one go, but they’re also sharing their knowledge with colleagues.

The future

Writing a large number of items shouldn’t be a goal in itself. The final goal is being able to process calls more quickly and give end users the opportunity to find their own answers. During this pilot we saw that the number of new items decreased and the number of calls with links to current items increased. The availability of our department’s knowledge is now better than ever before. The pilot results were very positive. Using existing items helped operators process calls more easily and quickly. At the start of the pilot we were resolving 10-15% of the calls with information from an existing knowledge source; at the end of the pilot this came closer to 40-50%. Because of the success of the KCS method during the pilot, we decided to get the entire Support department to start working with it. But if you then want to start working according to Shift Left Left, you need to give your end users access to your knowledge. You want to give them the ability to search the knowledge base. In this way, customers will increasingly be able to find answers to their questions, and will no longer always have to contact the Support department.

 

* Knowledge Centred Support is a methodology developed by the Consortium for Service Innovation. Everything in this article is an interpretation of this methodology and in no way suggests the correct one. All rights and interpretations belong to the Consortium for Service Innovation and can be found on www.serviceinnovation.org.

 

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Review: TOPdesk for Outside IT 2014

Logo-TOPdesk-Service-Management-Simplified-CMYK-300x105

TOPdesk

This independent review is part of our Outside IT Review.

To download the full report as a PDF please visit : http://download.itassetmanagement.net/outside-it/

 

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch TOPdesk offers ‘out-of-the-box’ service management solutions, with standard configurations and integrations for ease of use
Strengths
  • Product is already been used by existing customer base for shared services
  • Product appears to be very user-friendly and simple to build upon and develop for varied use
  • Contains many out-of-the-box templates for internal/organisational functions, e.g. ordering company car, request cleaning etc.
Weaknesses
  • Sales approach based around assumption of shared services rather than supporting IT to grow collaborative approach
  • Limited marketing and sales focus on ‘enabling IT’ – demo based on standard IT service management (ITSM) application which can then be modified
  • Tailoring/configuration looks relatively complicated and limited for end users
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, TOPdesk markets to organisations ranging from small (-100 users) to very large, multi-national customers (10,000+ users)

Commercial Summary

Vendor TOPdesk
Product TOPdesk
Version reviewed 5
Date of version Release 2012
Year Founded 1993
Customers 4000+
Pricing Structure The licensing structure is based on the number of end users that the customer wishes to support with the software. This structure allows customers to have an unlimited number of agents, operators and technicians working on the tickets themselves. Both on-premise and SaaS options, hosted by TOPdesk, are available.
Competitive Differentiators
  • Native web-based tool and vendor with broad experience of service implementation across different business areas
  • Licensing structure based on the number of end users rather than system users
  • Product has an excellent ‘multi-tenancy’ approach – a multiple process view to manage shared services across departments and processes – good for field service management and Managed Services Providers

Independent Review

TOPdesk is an established vendor with good global coverage. The solution is primarily used for standard ITSM, but many customers also use the tool for Field Service and Shared Service management.

In The ITSM Review’s opinion, the product looks user-friendly and straightforward to build and develop for varied use. Furthermore, the ‘Forms Design Module’ looks easy to use to build applications with intuitive non-technical skills, which can then be taken forward by people outside traditional IT operational areas.

Marketing

Marketing is primarily focused on ‘Shared Services’, as well as ITSM/service desk, with limited marketing focus around enabling IT, although strong positioning on ease of use and bespoke Outside IT experience.

Sales Strategy

In our view, TOPdesk could do more to promote the success and evolution of its IT/ITSM customers via collaboration – this would be especially useful as more market players focus on enabling IT. From what we experienced, its sales and demo approach seems to take shared services for granted, rather than exploring current and future needs.

Current Use

According to TOPdesk, 63% of customers are currently using the solution for shared services or Outside IT functionality, with good experience and examples provided of product being used for HR, Finance, Sales and Marketing. Customers currently using the solution outside of IT include KLM, University of Edinburgh, and Calor Gas.

In Summary

We feel that TOPdesk is a good offering for mid-sized organisations for both Service Desk and ITSM requirements. Furthermore, we believe that those organisations who already know what they want to achieve with their Outside IT plans would benefit from this solution. The solution is also an excellent offering for Field Service Management, Manager Services and shared services providers.

A key opportunity for TOPdesk, in our opinion, is to develop and promote more standard non-IT functionality and experience around their offerings, in order to compete with the expanding Service Management market.

In their own words

“TOPdesk develops ITIL-aligned Service Management Software for IT, Facilities Management, and eHRM helpdesks and is among the top five service management tools offered worldwide. Our award-winning solution, along with our ITIL verified consultants and outstanding customer support has helped over 4,000 unique customers to process questions, complaints and malfunctions. With over 20 years of service management experience, we have assisted businesses, to optimize their services with our 100% web-based and user-friendly application. TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different sized organisations. TOPdesk can be hosted as a Service or can be installed on-site. All products include: extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning your resources. Every day, millions of users across 47 countries trust in TOPdesk as their service management solution. Raising your service levels and reducing your workload and costs have never been easier.

TOPdesk offers out-of-the-box service management solutions, therefore standard integrations, configuration and other imports are all covered by the implementation process. Our customers are able to customise their TOPdesk system, by choosing the modules, processes and functionalities they actually require. We aim to reduce service desk agents’ stress and reduce their workload by applying a well-defined, standardised, yet configurable and flexible service management tool. This is why TOPdesk is modular in structure, allowing customers to add new processes as they grow.

TOPdesk offers Enterprise and Professional products meeting requirements of every type of organisation from small businesses to large, multinational companies. The framework for both products includes our revolutionary resource management planner, the Plan Board and the Task Board that displays daily workflow and the intuitive Dash Board for reports and KPIs.”

To download the full report as a PDF please visit :http://download.itassetmanagement.net/outside-it/

Review: Outside IT 2014

OutsideITTo download the full report as a PDF please visit : Outside IT 5th August 2014

This is a competitive review of software vendors who offer Outside IT capabilities as part of their IT service management (ITSM) solution.
Products reviewed:

 

Outside IT 2014 – Best in Class

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In The ITSM Review’s opinion, ServiceNow is an excellent option for large-and-very large sized businesses looking to achieve synergy and efficiency of cross-departmental operations, as well as flexibility in their IT and wider non-IT shared service operations. Furthermore, we believe it is an excellent option for large and very large organisations implementing service management and work automation across and beyond IT.

We feel that ESM is a strong and forward-thinking message and an excellent opportunity for real success through ITSM and wider service management and automation. In our opinion, this is a stronger and more sustainable message than ServiceNow’s earlier focus on Cloud/commercial models, community and flexibility (although useful and helpful) as the ESM message transcends IT and straddles business areas and can finally take ITSM to a C-Level audience for sales and delivered value.

In our view, continued expansion via the ESM message and product capability for Global Enterprises should be the ServiceNow goal, possibly with some options on how to take this message to the mid-market market in future.

Overview

This report has been unusual in terms of a normal industry product/vendor review – for two reasons:

  1. The initial review criteria were quite generic (by necessity) and to some extent vague (i.e. “what have you done with your product outside of IT?”) and
  2. The results and outcomes are not particularly (or only) related to functionality or product capability – and this relates strongly to marketing, positioning and implementation approach.

As a review of what vendors can or are doing with their (ITSM) products outside of the IT and ITSM operational area, this review had to be somewhat open-ended, giving the participating vendors specific requirements to follow, but also opening up the options for them to show us what else they can do and are doing outside of IT. This includes not just options on software functionality but also how the vendors are positioning themselves in the market.

Each vendor in this report provides ITSM tools that can be used to build forms and workflow based automation for administration of ‘back-office’ work, this includes: managing workloads; requests; automating approvals and escalations; automating spreadsheets and other databases centrally to remove risk; provide customer service and call centre tools; manage work schedules; provide knowledge repositories, calendars, reports dashboards and customer portals etc. In addition, they each provide this functionality in a modern, social, mobile and intuitive ‘connected’ environment that can be quickly implemented and maintained with minimum technical resources.

So what are the differences between the vendors in this report? How can we distinguish and identify differentiators, pros and cons between them? If all products can be used to develop work automation, logging and escalation/ownership and tracking of tasks etc., does this mean that the differences between vendors go beyond simple software functionality? This review looks at how to differentiate the vendors’ approach for beyond IT across the ITSM market.

Industry Context

There has been a move in recent times to develop more applications and tools that can cross the boundaries of internal service departments. The ITSM toolsets available have helped to drive practice in this area, in particular service catalogues, service portals, automated fulfilment processing, approvals etc. and for many organisations this is a huge opportunity for IT to be the department of solutions and success rather than simply the folks who say ‘no’ all the time.

Most manufacturers of ITSM tools report that their sales engagement process usually now involve the inclusion of non-IT people as the norm which has happened historically although not consistently with many vendors also reporting the fact that, once their ITSM tool has been successfully implemented, their clients in IT then help to ‘sell on’ the wider use of the toolsets within and across their own organisations.

Much of this has been driven by the opportunities offered via Cloud solutions and also via assorted sourcing options. However, the barriers between IT and its internal customers/departments are now also breaking down such that, finally, there is the appreciation that the overall needs of the organisation they support can be met via a ‘supply chain’ approach rather than a siloed one. Commoditisation of IT has led to greater awareness of, and demand for, proper end-to-end solutions and collaborative working. Toolsets are the final piece in this jigsaw, as they offer simple and effective solutions for this.

Opportunities for IT organisations

This is therefore a time of huge opportunity for IT organisations to re-invent themselves and to show their true value to the organisations that they serve. This moves away from just being inward-looking and self preserving around their own (IT) processes but to also being the facilitator, catalyst and ‘solution superheroes’ for the whole organisation. This can help to develop efficiency and remove risk by automating manual and single point of failure processes and systems, e.g. spreadsheets that still provide key business functions.

IT can show leadership in their own businesses if they grasp the nettle and use the skills they have developed via ITSM and the associated toolsets, relationship management, value-demonstration, service monitoring, and cost management. It’s the time and opportunity to take ITSM to the next level and IT organisations and their people are best placed to deliver this.

Client maturity

Whilst this sounds exciting, there is also the question of maturity and awareness, and this brave new world cannot apply across all organisations evenly. There are those IT organisations that have the maturity and drive to take their knowledge and skills forward to capitalise on these opportunities. These organisations will respond well to vendor positioning and messaging around business-led IT and the value of service management beyond IT.

However, there are also many (probably most) IT organisations that don’t yet have the vision, awareness, bandwidth and ITSM maturity to do this.

This is where intelligent use of new sourcing models can help to ensure that IT is moving with the times and delivering in response to needs and not just “treading water” and “sweating assets”.

These organisations will also be at risk of being by-passed in the sales process of forward thinking vendors who can then sell direct to other service areas (not IT) with their products and solutions. Vendors with mature implementations and good client relationships can also develop these accounts to “sell inwardly” as mentioned, and get the message across about collaborative working – with variable success depending on their ability to reach and get the right messages to the C-Levels working in their clients.

The new world of corporate collaboration

The message here for the vendor market – and in the context of this review – is therefore that ITSM vendors wishing to retain and increase their market share into new areas need to consider the positioning of their products in a wider context than just IT.

Products and vendors that only focus on internal IT – sold to internally focussed IT departments who don’t see the opportunities for collaboration – will be at risk, or at least will risk falling behind in the long run. There may be continuing opportunities for relatively straightforward ITSM-only sales in the short-term, but ultimately this will not be a sustainable strategy.

Vendors also need to be clear on how to reach non-IT people where necessary, as well as having clear strategies for up-selling their products beyond IT in existing and new accounts. Overall they will need to be clear as to the extent to which they take and promote these messages – from presenting either a business-focussed/business-enabled solution, to an IT-internally-focused only approach.

So whilst there is still a lively traditional ITSM ‘core market’ that vendors can focus on – where the prospects may not be interested in Outside IT (i.e. applications and their focus is solely on ITSM) – there is also a longer-term and potentially larger opportunity around selling to the wider organisation.

Clearly for vendors this requires some strategic decision making around positioning and marketing, with some implications around sales approach and targeting. This in turn may have significant cost and structural implications for vendors, and some may not have the resources to meet these requirements.

So the traditional sale to mid-management IT Operations may be simpler and easier in the short-term, but longer-term vendors may need to rethink their sales and marketing approach, collateral, and even the language used in the sales process.

So how do we evaluate the current Market?

The four vendors who participated in this review all have the capabilities to provide additional functionality outside of the ITSM/IT area and they also all have varying levels of customer adoption of this. These vendors cover a broad spectrum in terms of size, capability, and corporate coverage and their focus reflects this. All vendors also have different sales and marketing approaches to the concept of Outside IT. Details and examples of their individual offerings are shown below.

All four vendors can deliver non-IT applications with varying levels of toolkits, engagement approaches, and turnkey offerings.

 

To download the full report as a PDF please visit : http://download.itassetmanagement.net/outside-it/

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

The information contained in this review is based on sources and information believed to be accurate as of the time it was created.  Therefore, the completeness and current accuracy of the information provided cannot be guaranteed.  Readers should therefore use the contents of this review as a general guideline, and not as the ultimate source of truth.

Similarly, this review is not based on rigorous and exhaustive technical study.  The ITSM Review recommends that readers complete a thorough live evaluation before investing in technology.

This is a paid review, that is, the vendors included in this review paid to participate in exchange for all results and analysis being published free of charge, without registration.

For further information, please read the ‘Group Tests’ section, on our Disclosure page.


The ITSM Review are holding a series of seminars this year headed by ITSM superstar Barclay Rae. We will be starting in March with Transforming User Experience – Enterprise Service Management & Self Service. For more information click here

Outside IT Group Test – The Results

Cherwell, Samanage, ServiceNow and TOPdesk reviewed for their capabilities and approach to delivering services outside the IT department
Cherwell, Samanage, ServiceNow and TOPdesk reviewed for their capabilities and approach to delivering services outside the IT department

I am pleased to share my latest analysis for The ITSM Review: Outside IT.

This is a review of how IT service management (ITSM) tools might be used beyond the IT department.

It explores how traditional ITSM tools, typically used for IT service and support, can be used for broader operation throughout the business such as underpinning internal business processes and handling non-IT business requests.

Technology vendors participating in this analysis include:

  • Cherwell
  • Samanage
  • ServiceNow
  • TOPdesk

There has been a move in recent times to develop more applications and tools that can cross the boundaries of internal service departments. The ITSM toolsets available have helped to drive practice in this area, in particular service catalogues, service portals, automated fulfilment processing, approvals etc. and for many organisations this is a huge opportunity for IT to be the department of solutions and success rather than simply the folks who say ‘no’ all the time.

Which vendor is ‘Best in Class’?

What are the differences between the vendors in this report? How can we distinguish and identify differentiators, pros and cons between them? If all products can be used to develop work automation, logging and escalation/ownership and tracking of tasks etc., does this mean that the differences between vendors go beyond simple software functionality? This review looks at how to differentiate the vendors’ approach for beyond IT across the ITSM market.

Download a copy of my report here (registration required):

http://download.itassetmanagement.net/outside-it/

Change, Configuration and Release Review – The results (2014)

CCRThis is a competitive review of software vendors who offer Change, Configuration and Release capabilities as part of their IT service management (ITSM) solution.

Products reviewed:

Change, Configuration and Release 2014 Best in Class

ITinvolve has taken huge strides in the ITSM arena with Service Manager by embracing the adage “knowledge is power”.  We feel that the developments that ITinvolve Service Manager has made with the fundamentals of knowledge and collaboration, ensuring that all relevant information is available to the right people at the right time (and in a straightforward way), enables risk assessment capabilities that far outweigh those of other ITSM solutions. This provides increased value to its Change, Configuration and Release capabilities.

Change, Configuration and Release Review Best in Class: ITinvolve
Change, Configuration and Release Review Best in Class: ITinvolve

The way that these capabilities support and mold Change, Configuration and Release creates a product that gives control, intelligence and awareness back to the IT organisation.

Offered as a SaaS-only solution, ITinvolve states that Service Manager integrates with discovery products, and we feel proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.

Best for On-Premise

For those organisations looking for Change, Configuration and Release capabilities in an on-premise solution then Cherwell Service Management® would be our recommendation (please note that Cherwell Service Management® is also available as a SaaS solution).

We believe that Cherwell Service Management® has the functionality the vast majority of organisations require to operate an efficient and successful management of Change, Configuration and Release processes.

Introduction

The only thing constant in life is change, and this is never truer than in an IT organisation.

In order to get a handle on the myriad of modifications and developments occurring within IT many organisations turn to frameworks, such as ITIL, for guidance on best practice.  Change, Configuration and Release Management are three processes that group together favourably and are a valuable continuance for businesses unsure where to progress following successful adoption of Incident, and in some cases Problem Management.

  • Configuration Management is the process used to track individual Configuration Items (CIs) and the way in which they interact with one another
  • Change Management is the process used to track and communicate any changes in service that may impact the customer, such as when systems are taken offline for updates
  • Release Management is the process of managing software releases from development right through to release

Each process can be used individually, but more often than not you will find these processes intertwined.  For example, when considering either a Change or Release you will need to know the CI’s that will be affected before you begin.

As listed above it is ITSM Review’s opinion that Configuration should come first.  We believe that if you can get Configuration right then Change and Release will be infinitely more straightforward.  Establishing that any prospective ITSM tool can record all information for a CI in an easy-to-document-and-locate approach will minimise risk both to individuals and the organisation as a whole.

Too often we see cases where needless mistakes occur during the management of Change and Release due to critical information not being easily accessible.  Upon investigation the result is usually that the documentation was circulated and then filed away with the expectation that it would be read in infinite detail and re-read upon any future modifications of said item.  There are several issues with this:

  • There is a finite amount of time in a day to read the multitude of documents one comes across
  • There is a finite amount of storage within a brain to remember which items have related documents squirreled away
  • People only know what they know

You can blame individuals after mistakes occur by stating that documentation should have been sought out, or you can employ processes that take the guess work (and leg work) out of the equation in conjunction with using an ITSM tool that offers up the information to the right people at the right time.

In this review we have looked at a range of ITSM products covering Change, Configuration and Release Management, targeting all market sizes.

Market Positioning (Target Market Size)

For the purposes of this review, vendors were classified based on their primary market focus, and product capabilities.

Vendor Small Medium Large Very Large
Axios 0% 0% 75% 25%
Cherwell 1% 14% 65% 20%
ITinvolve 0% 75% 12.5% 12.5%
TOPdesk 35.32% 53.63% 10.47% 0.54%

Approach

Vendor On Premise/Saas Separate Release Module Discovery Tool own/Third Party
Axios Both No Both (version dependent)
Cherwell Both No Both
ITinvolve Saas No Third Party
TOPdesk Both No Both (version dependent)

Competitive Overview

Vendor Elevator Pitch Strengths Weaknesses
Axios Axios assyst is a solid, mature and well-rounded tool marketed towards organisation with 1,000+ end users.The functionality and design of assyst provides the ability to manage both simple and complex workflow processes to support the management of change and request.Available both as a SaaS solution and on premise – with concurrent and named licenses – assyst provides a flexible model to fit around your business.
  • Relationships between configuration items, services and users are clearly displayed via a visual impact explorer
  • Drag and drop calendar functionality
  • Easy to collaborate on changes etc., reducing the need for the use of external software
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
Cherwell Cherwell Service Management is a functionality-rich and user-friendly tool.The flexibility of Cherwell Service Management allows customers to automate existing change and configuration processes without the need to compromise the status quo to fit around the tool.With Cherwell Choice concurrent licensing and flexible hosting model, you can choose what works best for your business — Pay-as-you-go or perpetual license,.  Hosted on-premise, by Cherwell or by a third party.
  • Offers multiple ways to achieve the same outcome (e.g. creating a change request) meaning that users can work whichever way best suits them and their requirements
  • Mature change calendar with drag and drop functionality and ability to create changes direct from the calendar view
  • Robust collision detection
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
ITinvolve ITinvolve Service Manager is a progressive and ambitious product.Uniquely combining knowledge capture, analysis, and social collaboration, Service Manager proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.Saas based, Service Manager is licenced per user with an additional annual cost for the platform.
  • Advanced and proactive delivery of knowledge
  • Dynamic identification, analysis and engagement of changes
  • Key settings can be recorded against individual items/objects and are immediately obvious from all areas of the application
  • No drag and drop or create functionality from within the calendar
TOPdesk TOPdesk 5 is a visually pleasing and easy to navigate tool.TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different sized organisations. All products include extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning resources.Web-based hosted as a service or on-site Service Management software, TOPdesk has made the transition from IT into Facilities Management and HR.
  • Tabbed working (ability to have more than one active record open at a time)
  • Attractive GUI which will be appealing to the wider business
  • Form Designer is not available to customers of the Professional version
  • No drag and drop capability on change/release calendar
  • Blackout and maintenance windows not created against Configuration Item (CI) or Service but instead in the Event and Actions module

Customers

customers-graph

Analysis

Vendor Functionality Competitive Differentiators Analysis
Axios Mature, well-rounded tool covering the larger end of the ITSM market with solid change, configuration and release functionality with strong risk assessment capabilities.
  • All ITSM process integrated into one app – non-modular
  • Visual Impact Explorer provides clear graphical views of infrastructure and relevant relationships
  • Drag and drop change/release process design
Assyst offers solid change, configuration and release functionality with strong risk assessment capabilities. I therefore believe that it is a good offering for both large and enterprise organisations with moderate to mature change processes in place.
Cherwell Functionality rich and user friendly tool ensures that no matter how you want to do something you’re likely to be able to do it.
  • Fully integrated management processes that are 100% configurable against an organisation’s current and future service request models, without the need to write a single line of code via programming or scripting services
  • Integrated Platform as a Service (PaaS) technology to empower users to easily develop and deliver integrated business services offerings
  • Quick, easy, and seamless system upgrades, as well as low cost of ownership for on-going system management overheads
Unless you are an organisation with advanced or complex release management requirements, I highly recommend that you consider Cherwell Service Management as your tool of choice.
ITinvolve Progressive, ambitious and agile product with exceptional use of knowledge and collaboration to underpin Change, Configuration and Release as well as all other processes.
  • Comprehensive understanding of not only configuration dependencies but also compliance and key settings
  • Dynamic identification and engagement of all relevant change stakeholders with facilitated collaboration and risk assessment prior to formal change approval workflows
  • Knowledge is proactively delivered to IT staff in the context of the change/release being created/worked on
Despite the lack of drag and drop and create option functionality from within the calendar, regardless of the size of your organisation I strongly believe that you can’t go wrong with considering ITinvolve Service Manager as your ITSM solution for Change, Configuration and Release.
TOPdesk Modern, attractive and easy to navigate tool which is likely to appeal to the wider business as well as IT.
  • Integrates multiple support processes into a unified system, which can be used by the wider business
  • Licensing structure is based on the number of end users rather than operators
  • Comprehensive and modular solution that allows customers to add new processes as they grow
If you are a purely reactive IT organisation, of basic to moderate maturity, with a low to medium number of change requests, then the Enterprise or Ultimate offering of TOPdesk 5 would be a suitable candidate for your organisation.

Deep Dive

Further details for each vendor can be found by using the links below:

Disclaimer, Scope and Limitations

The information contained in this review is based on sources and information believed to be accurate as of the time it was created.  Therefore, the completeness and current accuracy of the information provided cannot be guaranteed.  Readers should therefore use the contents of this review as a general guideline, and not as the ultimate source of truth.

Similarly, this review is not based on rigorous and exhaustive technical study.  The ITSM Review recommends that readers complete a thorough live evaluation before investing in technology.

This is a paid review, that is, the vendors included in this review paid to participate in exchange for all results and analysis being published free of charge, without registration.

For further information, please read the ‘Group Tests’ section, on our Disclosure page.

Review: TOPdesk for Change, Configuration and Release

Logo TOPdesk Service Management Simplified CMYKTOPdesk

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch TOPdesk 5 is a visually pleasing and easy to navigate tool.TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different-sized organisations. All products include extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning resources.Web-based hosted as a service, or on-site Service Management software, TOPdesk has made the transition from IT into Facilities Management and HR.
Strengths
  • Tabbed working (ability to have more than one active record open at a time)
  • Attractive GUI which helps make the product simple to use and requires no coding experience
Weaknesses
  • Form Designer is only available to customers in the Enterprise version
  • No drag and drop capability on change/release calendar
  • Blackout and maintenance windows not created against Configuration Item (CI) or Service but instead in the Event and Actions module
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, TOPdesk markets to organisations ranging from small (-100 users) to very large, multi-national companies (10,000+ users)

Commercial Summary

Vendor TOPdesk
Product TOPdesk
Version reviewed 5
Date of version release 2012
Year founded 1993
Customers 4,000+
Pricing structure The licensing structure is based on the number of end users that the customer wishes to support with the software. This structure allows customers to have an unlimited number of agents, operators and technicians working on the tickets themselves.Both on-premise installations and SaaS options, hosted by TOPdesk, are available.
Competitive differentiators
  • Shared Service Management and One-Stop-Shop application integrates multiple support processes into a unified system, which can be used by multiple departments either coupled with IT or independently within the business
  • Licensing structure is based on the number of end users rather than operators
  • Comprehensive and modular solution that allows customers to add new processes as they grow

Independent Review

With a modern and attractive interface TOPdesk 5 will likely appeal to the wider business, as well as IT, due to its differing from the usual use of the Windows Explorer-style in favour of a more intuitive GUI.  Whilst most ITSM tool vendors are now looking at ways to enable the integration of their tools outside of IT, in my opinion TOPdesk has been involved in leading the way in a shift towards Enterprise Service Management (ESM).

Our impression of the tool is that the Enterprise edition would be suitable for organisations with a basic to moderate maturity of change/release process with low to medium volume.  The choice to create actions in the Event and Alert module to notify of blackout and maintenance windows after the change has been requested, seems like an afterthought, and is the primary reason why we would not recommend the tool to organisations with a high maturity of change/release.

Without Form Designer, which lets you design your own forms ensuring you gather the correct information, the Professional edition lacks, what we believe, should be basic functionality. However, the processes link well together and the GUI is intuitive, with the ability to create new changes etc. from most areas without the need to navigate away from the current page.

In ITSM Review’s opinion, TOPdesk 5 is a solid ITSM tool, but unfortunately change and release is not its strongest area.  Our recommendation to TOPdesk would be to add Form Designer to its basic offering and to make a few changes to the change calendar (such as: creation of changes from calendar view and drag and drop of change requests) as well as to revise how maintenance and blackout windows function in all editions. This would then ensure that the tool is better suited to organisations with more complex change/release requirements.

General

As with a number of other tools included in this review, TOPdesk 5 combines release with change and the Project Management module (available to Enterprise customers) can also be used to plan releases.

TOPdesk has two offerings: Professional (basic) and Enterprise (standard). The Professional package allows customers to choose the modules, functions and processes that they require, paying only for what they need but with the flexibility to add new processes as they grow. However, as not all modules are available in Professional, should you wish to implement telephony integration, log or update calls on the go, or run surveys for continuous improvement then you will need to upgrade to the Enterprise offering.

TOPdesk states that Change, Configuration and Release are offered as part its Enterprise package. However for potential customers investigating capabilities, we feel that the website lacks clarity as to the inclusion of Configuration and Release as part of its offering. Furthermore, in our opinion little information is provided as to what functionalities can be included as part of the Professional package. It is therefore our recommendation that potential customers contact TOPdesk directly to discussion their Change, Configuration and Release requirements.

Change

As with the other processes in TOPdesk 5, change is easy to access from every screen.  The change record can be linked from incidents, problems, known errors etc. and provides a very good overview of the history of the issue. Change workflow can be configured to create a variety of change types dependent upon the processes an individual organisation has set up.

Configurable dashboards make change management easy to monitor with various widgets available to show you the relevant information you need, such as all current changes awaiting approval etc.  Dashboards can be set on a role-by-role basis giving an “at a glance” view to workload.

Although there are no change templates available out-of-the-box, TOPdesk states that these can be easily created by the customer and copied.

If your role requires you to wear more than one hat i.e. not just Change Manager, then TOPdesk 5 could be useful to you.  TOPdesk 5 has tabbed working that means that you can work on other areas (such as raising an incident) even if you are in the middle of creating a long and complicated change.  This is something that we personally feel is missing from a lot of tools in the market offering Change, Configuration and Release, and is an extremely useful component not just in change but all aspects of working in a busy IT department.

Configuration

For discovery and inventory within TOPdesk you can either use the additional network scanning tool “TOPsis” or integrate with a third party application.  There is also a Barcode scanner module available to Enterprise customers, which enables you to scan a room and attach labels to an item or object, with all relevant data being sent to directly to TOPdesk.

CI forms are fully configurable within Form Designer . The Form Designer allows customers to design forms for calls and requests for change, enabling them to determine which information must be filled in. Whilst Form Designer is part of the Enterprise package, we were surprised to find that this basic functionality is not included as part of the Professional edition. With many other tools containing similar functionality to Form Designer as part of their basic offerings we believe that TOPdesk needs to revisit its decision to not include Form Designer as part of its basic package.

The links wizard allows CI’s to be linked to changes, incidents etc. and each CI has a tab showing a trail of all operation changes.  It is possible within this tab to access all linked records by double clicking or single clicking for a quick overview.

Calendar    

Although TOPdesk 5 does not have the most basic of change calendars it’s not the most advanced either.

Creating blackout and maintenance windows is not as straightforward as it could be.  Rather than creating a window against a CI or a Service that would show on the calendar, these need to be created within the Events and Actions module (available in all versions), which triggers an email after submission dependant upon the parameters set.  We don’t think that it would be an inconvenience if you could go straight to the calendar, check the dates and then create the change from there, but unfortunately this is also not possible.

We feel that were we customers of TOPdesk, we would be frustrated by the toing and froing required to check dates and create requests.

There is also no drag & drop capability for changes on the calendar.  This is certainly by no means a deal breaker, but in the interest of making life as easy as possible for the user this is a possible enhancement TOPdesk could make in the future.

Approvals

Multiple activities can be created within a change, with different tasks involved that have specific time constraints.

Approvers and evaluators of changes can be person or role based.  There are fully customisable drag and drop workflow approval paths, which can be as simple or as complex as your organisation requires with the option for single and CAB approval.

Notifications or emails are automatically sent to approvers with details of the change request and these can be responded to via email or within the tool itself.

In Summary

If you are a purely reactive IT organisation, of basic to moderate maturity, with a low to medium number of change requests, then the Enterprise offering of TOPdesk 5 would be a suitable candidate for your organisation.

In Their Own Words:

TOPdesk develops ITIL-aligned Service Management Software for IT, Facilities Management, and eHRM helpdesks and is among the top five service management tools offered worldwide. Our award-winning solution, along with our ITIL verified consultants and outstanding customer support has helped over 4,000 unique customers to process questions, complaints and malfunctions. With over 20 years of service management experience, we have assisted businesses, to optimize their services with our 100% web-based and user-friendly application. TOPdesk’s modular structure accommodates a wide range of requirements from different sized organisations. TOPdesk can be hosted as a Service or can be installed on-site. All products include: extensive reporting options, clear overviews and a handy Plan Board for planning your resources. Every day, millions of users across 47 countries trust in TOPdesk as their service management solution. Raising your service levels and reducing your workload and costs have never been easier.

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Review: ITinvolve for Change, Configuration and Release [BEST IN CLASS]

logoITinvolve

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch ITinvolve Service Manager is a progressive and ambitious product.Uniquely combining knowledge capture, analysis, and social collaboration, Service Manager proactively delivers timely and relevant information whenever needed.  The solution greatly reduces the burden on staff and ensures risk can be quickly and accurately assessed.Saas based, Service Manager is licenced per user with an additional annual cost for the platform.
Strengths
  • Advanced and proactive delivery of knowledge
  • Dynamic identification, analysis and engagement of changes
  • Key settings can be recorded against individual items/objects and are immediately obvious from all areas of the application
Weaknesses
  • No drag and drop or create functionality from within the calendar
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, ITinvolve primarily targets the medium to enterprise market

Commercial Summary

Vendor ITinvolve
Product ITinvolve Service Manager
Version reviewed Winter ‘14
Date of version Release December 2013
Year Founded 2011
Customers 8 current customers using ITinvolve Service Manager
Pricing Structure The licencing structure is based on IT users, Business users, i.e. approvers, and Portal users with pricing set accordingly. Service Manager is SaaS-based.
Competitive Differentiators
  • Comprehensive understanding of not only configuration dependencies but also compliance and key settings
  • Dynamic identification and engagement of all relevant change stakeholders with facilitated collaboration and risk assessment prior to formal change approval workflows
  • Knowledge is proactively delivered to IT staff in the context of the change/release being created/worked on

Independent Review

ITinvolve seem to be heading in a slightly different direction to the other vendors in this Change, Configuration and Release review, which is refreshing to see. With emphasis for the other vendors being on broadening the scope into the wider business (outside IT), ITinvolve’s “Agility Application” is focusing on its use within IT and concentrating on helping to take the hard work out of capturing undocumented information, the “collective wisdom” – known by some but not easily accessible by all.

This product is far more dynamic than any of the others in this review and hits the knowledge management angle far harder than anyone else.  If our experience within IT has taught us anything it’s that you can have the best quality knowledge documented but if it’s not immediately available to you it’s not very useful. Ensuring that intelligence is not just recorded, but is immediately accessible to those that need it, as and when they need it, without the need to search through hordes of documentation is key to mature and successful ITSM.  With knowledge management nailed everything else seems infinitely easier and more straightforward.

Change, Configuration and Release work smoothly and effectively in this product.  The collaboration component and Key Settings establish a clear understanding of the needs of the IT department. In my view, doing both these two things exceptionally well, as ITinvolve Service Manager does, supports and benefits all other processes within the product.

In ITSM Review’s opinion ITinvolve Service Manager (hereafter referred to as “Service Manager”) would be suitable for organisation of all sizes, especially the more “forward-thinking market” looking to bring a more proactive way of distributing knowledge to the right audience in order to reduce risk and speed time to execution for change, configuration and release activities.

General

As with other tools in this review, release and changes are both created from within the change area of the tool, but with the difference here being that ITinvolve also handles releases as individual change items within a change record rather than just as a change.

Service Manager is built on the Salesforce1 platform and leverages the APIs, data integration facilities, and connectors available to integrate with third party systems such as discovery tools, CMDBs, systems management tools, etc.

Change

Service Manager supports pre-approved, normal and emergency change with the facility to configure these to your organisational needs.

The interesting thing about the way Service Manager works compared to other tools is that it gives interested parties a chance to weigh in on change requests before they go to the approval stage.  Proactive identification, analysis and engagement of changes ensures that everyone that needs consulting is consulted – avoiding the all to common “loop” where changes are brought forward to the CAB only to be pushed back for further analysis.

Service Manager is built with collaboration capabilities throughout, including the ability to follow particular items (which ITinvolve calls objects) such as applications, policies, and infrastructure components if you have a vested interest in them. Users can build a perspective (think of a “hot” Visio diagram) that includes all the objects valuable to their role rather than having to filter through information. This, in turn, enables the ITinvolve application to recommend the relevant experts to change planners for change, configuration and release activities.

These stakeholders are then able to collaborate virtually with one another on the change, adding or removing associations with other objects and engaging other stakeholders as necessary. The visual impact analysis is continuously updated during this activity, helping collaborators to easily see potential upstream and downstream impacts.

Additionally, any key setting information, policy information, or relevant knowledge objects/articles are inherited to the change for the objects associated, ensuring that all stakeholders have advanced access to the information they need to assess the change accurately and quickly without having to hunt for information.

Key settings for an object are able to be recorded and shown in the Activity Stream, as an icon within the Impact Analysis and within the Impact Factors tab, ensuring that important intelligence does not have to be hunted for and should never be missed.

This is by far the most agile and proactive change and release (as this is bundled also) product that we have reviewed so far.

Configuration

Service Manager supports a variety of integrations to leverage existing discovery and asset management data, but does not directly provide auto-discovery itself.  Objects in Service Manager support common attributes found in inventory control, asset management tools and barcode scanners making synchronization frictionless and consistent.

All automated updates to objects are written into the Activity Stream and followers of the object are updated immediately and are able to review, validate and correct revised information.  This creates a continuous mechanism for verification between expected and actual configuration avoiding the configuration inaccuracy challenges so common in CMDB implementations.

Service Manager supports a visual model of relationship mapping between objects including business services, applications, servers, databases, networking devices, policies, knowledge, etc., and also support custom objects.  Service Manager’s Impact Analysis not only shows which objects, services etc. are relative to one another, but utilizes badges to also show where changes and issues may be in effect for specific objects, as well as any key settings or information that you may need to be aware of.

What ITSM Review likes most about Service Manager is that you don’t have to go searching for relevant information.  Although there are times when you will want to manually attach information to an object, Service Manager does so intelligently without the need to perform extra steps or leave the screen you are on and go to a different area of the product.

Calendar    

The ability to set change/release blackouts/maintenance periods against individual objects as well as records that contain multiple objects, provides the opportunity to manage changes from a macro-level to a meticulous calendar ensuring that a change/release is only able to be requested for time periods that have been pre-approved.

One thing that we were surprised to find is that there is no drag and drop or create-from calendar ability within Service Manager.  Although this is not vital, it’s absence seemed a bit surprising given the other functionality contained. However this is functionality that ITinvolve states is on its roadmap for a future release.

Approvals

Once the change requester has performed an initial association of objects, including the business impact for the associated objects, relevant stakeholders are automatically identified based on those individuals, or groups that have included one or more of those objects in their perspectives (mentioned earlier within Change section).

Potential upstream and downstream impacts are visually represented ensuring that those stakeholders can easily spot any potential areas of concern.  Stakeholders are able to collaborate virtually with one another on the change, adding and removing associations with other objects and engaging other potentially interested parties, including business stakeholders as necessary. This “extra step” actually streamlines change approvals enabling greater change velocity.

Change and release approvals can be set to individuals or teams on a one/majority/percentage etc. must approve basis, e.g. a high risk change/release requires 100% agreement from all stakeholders before approval is granted. Escalations are also automated based on lack of stakeholder response within define timeframes.

Approvals, the same as all activities within the product, are documented and in effect creates a public audit that can be questioned, crowd sourced and peer reviewed.

In Summary

Despite the one noted absence of drag and drop and create option functionality from within the calendar, regardless of the size of your organisation, we strongly believe that you can’t go wrong with considering ITinvolve Service Manager as your ITSM tool for Change, Configuration and Release.

In Their Own Words:

ITinvolve Service Manager transforms IT Service Management (ITSM) with a unique, breakthrough approach.

Cloud computing, virtualization, and BYOD are making greater demands on traditional service management tools and processes. Unfortunately, commoditized service desk tools offer little more than ticketing and more “enterprise class” products are process-heavy and difficult to configure. What’s more, the collaboration capabilities they contain are afterthoughts at best and lack the context required for effective engagement.

ITinvolve challenges this status quo.

Product Highlights:

  • Provides a unified self-service portal for incidents, requests, and help information
  • Supports ITIL processes for incident, problem, change, and request management
  • Brings valuable, but scattered, IT knowledge and data together in one place – displaying it visually
  • Captures undocumented, expert tribal knowledge through easy-to-use social collaboration
  • Ensures teams have a trusted, complete, and accurate foundation for rapid decision making and risk analysis

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Review: Cherwell for Change, Configuration and Release

logo_cherwell-softwareCherwell Service Management

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch Cherwell Service Management® is a functionality-rich and user friendly tool.

The flexibility of Cherwell Service Management allows customers to automate existing change and configuration processes without the need to compromise the status quo to fit around the tool.

With Cherwell Choice™ concurrent licensing and flexible hosting model, you can choose what works best for your business — Pay-as-you-go or perpetual license, Hosted on-premise, by Cherwell or by a third party.

Strengths
  • Offers multiple ways to achieve the same outcome (e.g. creating a change request) meaning that users can work whichever way best suits them and their requirements
  • Mature change calendar with drag and drop functionality and ability to create changes direct from the calendar view
  • Robust collision detection
Weaknesses
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided, Cherwell Service Management is primarily a mid-market solution with the ability to be scaled-up to enterprise class organisations

Commercial Summary

Vendor Cherwell Software
Product Cherwell Service Management
Version reviewed 4.6
Date of version Release November 2013
Year Founded 2004
Customers 600+ ITSM customers worldwide
Pricing Structure Fully inclusive concurrent user usage for both perpetual and SaaS licensing models
Competitive Differentiators
  • Fully integrated management processes that are 100% configurable against an organisation’s current and future service request models, without the need to write a single line of code via programming or scripting services
  • Integrated Platform as a Service (PaaS) technology to empower users to easily develop and deliver integrated business services offerings
  • Quick, easy, and seamless system upgrades, as well as low cost of ownership for on-going system management overheads

Independent Review

Cherwell Service Management® (hereafter referred to as “CSM”) is a tool that is a relatively straightforward to use. This is not because there is only one way to achieve a particular outcome but rather that there are many ways to achieve the same goal – with the ability to choose the one that better suits your style of working, rather than having to tailor around the tool.

Cherwell admits that previously it has tried to be “everything to everyone” but that it is now working to better provide for its target audience.  With Change, Configuration and Release Management generally being somewhat “hit and miss” amongst vendors, CSM is a well-rounded tool that manages to be both straightforward and robust enough for all but the most complicated of change and release processes.

In ITSM Review’s opinion, CSM would be suitable for all types and sizes of organisations, except for those that already have a heavy and complex release management process in place.  Whilst we believe that it is possible to successfully configure CSM to meet more complex release needs (such as these), given the time, energy and expertise required to do so, it is likely that that an alternative tool would be a better fit for your organization.

For the vast majority of organisations, we believe that CSM has all the functionality required to compliment your change, release and configuration processes to operate an efficient and successful management service.

In our opinion, CSM looks marginally older fashioned than its rivals in this group test, but what it lacks in style, it makes up for in operation.  Easy to navigate, with all the functionality that anyone other than the most demanding release connoisseur could ever need, we see this tool as being a welcome addition to many IT organisations.

General

Release and changes are both created from within the change area of the tool.  Although CSM change management has solid out-of-the box functionality, which is easy to implement and is suitable for any organisation, release management almost always needs configuration by the customer.

This having been said, CSM states that it prides itself on being highly configurable without requiring scripting know-how, and we can see how with a little time and perseverance even someone brand new to the tool, like ITSM Review for example, could create a perfectly adequate, although basic, release management process with CSM.  However, if your existing release management mechanism is complex and entrenched then implementation will require a little more time and experience to ensure success.

Change

Changes are broken down into three types;

  • Emergency
  • Standard (repeatable)
  • Normal

Each change type has it’s own thread to follow and contains templates that can be configured and set for pre-approval.

Normal changes follow a step-by-step form designed to ensure that no area is missed with the added bonus of an expanded view that shows all steps in one go.  This feature would be especially useful to newcomers or occasional change coordinators who are unsure of all the information required for a change to be submitted.  The expanded feature is only available in Read Only to ensure that all steps are completed.

When creating a change, the Risk Impact is dynamically updated by the ticking and un-ticking of certain pre-defined (and customisable) check boxes.  The priority is then easy to identify from a table that shows the impact vs. urgency.

Where more than one undertaking is required during a change, tasks can be created to divide work and responsibility.  Tasks can be set to run concurrently or once the previous task is completed depending upon configuration, which is again customisable. For more complex changes, the ITPT (IT Project Tracking) can be used.  Resources for Tasks (as with Approvers) can either be individuals, teams or expression-based. Expression-based refers to individuals who, for example, are responsible for a specific Configuration Item (CI) (this would change based on which CI was being changed).

Time limits can be set on tasks with the ability for notifications to be sent via e-mail, Dashboards, RSS Feeds or mobile devices.

Changes can be bundled into a release for deployment together.  Although these bundled changes may not aggregate a release in the strictest sense, this option is a good one as for the vast majority of organisations, there is no real need for a separate area for this functionality.

Configuration

For discovery and inventory within CSM, you can either use the internal tool or integrate with a third-party application such as SCCM, Altiris, Express Metrics etc. Via OLEDB/ODBC drivers, SQL views, web services or the API.

Whenever a CI is introduced into the CMDB, a snapshot is taken of the CI, and from that point, any changes made to it are noted in the Baseline Changes Tab.

CI forms, like the rest of the tool, are highly configurable with the ability to set fields as mandatory, read-only etc., as you would expect.  CIs are easily filterable and easy to locate from within other areas of the system.

CSM has a mature impact analysis tool, which shows a graphical representation of CIs, Services AND Users with the ability to click-through on each type to see historical changes, problems and incidents. Many IT organisations only have a vague idea of what could adversely be affected by changes – if you are one of these organisations we feel that a demonstration of CSM will likely give you hope that it is possible to create a change in complete confidence that everything will not fall down around your ears!

Calendar    

In our opinion, the change calendar is one of the most advanced calendars within this Change, Configuration and Release Management review.

There are unlimited maintenance and blackout windows that can be set, and the Collision Detection tool is able to intelligently suggest adjustments to proposed changes, such as escalation to Emergency change if it detects that the date is not within the maintenance window, or date change if the change falls during a blackout window.

The change calendar view is customisable by person, group or role (by admin) and contains a number of filters and sorting capabilities for even the most saturated of change environments.  If however you decide to use a calendar function external to Cherwell Service Management, (although we have no idea why you would want to) items in the calendar can be exported in iCal or vCal format and can be automated using one-step automation actions.

Functionality that ITSM Review especially likes is the ability to create a change from within the calendar and also “drag and drop” changes to another date.

What never ceases to amaze us is the amount of change processes that make life so complicated for change manager’s/coordinator’s etc., which means that they spend more time requesting changes than actually doing them.  Although Cherwell can do nothing about your specific process implemented within your organization, it has at least made it such that CSM is no longer a further hindrance.

One size does not fit all with ITSM tools, and being able to do the same things several ways suggests to me that Cherwell is more about fitting the tool around the people and process than vice versa.

Approvals

As mentioned with Tasks, Approvers can either be individuals, teams or expression-based, and time limits can be set with approvals being able to be sent via e-mail or by logging into the tool (including on mobile devices).

The approval matrix can be set to a straight Yes/No response or a percentage response option giving approvers the ability to accept, decline or abstain the request.

Depending on your personal set up, approvals can go to backup approvers or auto decline etc. In the event that there is no response by the end of the time specified.  Using workflow in CSM approvals provides infinite possibilities with even the most complicated approval process feasible.

All requested approvals are stored in the database and can be viewed via a report on the dashboard.

In Summary

Unless you are an organisation with advanced or complex release management requirements, we highly recommend that you consider Cherwell Service Management as your tool of choice.

In Their Own Words:

Cherwell Software is one of the fastest growing IT service management software providers. It began with simple goals: to make service desk software it would want to use and to do business honestly, putting customers first. Cherwell Software is passionate about customer care and is dedicated to creating “innovative technology built upon yesterday values.”

The company has  corporate headquarters in Colorado Springs, CO, U.S.A. and EMEA headquarters in Swindon,  U.K. A global team of dedicated employees and expert partners who appreciate the technology – but love customers – serve in North America, South America, Asia and Australia. Cherwell Software  received the 2013 SDI Best Vendor for Customer Service  award.

Cherwell’s flagship product, Cherwell Service Management®, delivers an innovative, award-winning and holistic approach to service management, allowing IT and support departments to align with organisation strategy and to deliver maximum IT business value.  Cherwell Service Management is the affordable, easy-to-use, ITSM suite with maximum portability. With Cherwell ChoiceTM concurrent licensing and flexible hosting model, you can choose what works best for your business — SaaS or purchase, and hosted on-premises, hosted by Cherwell or hosted by a third party.

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Review: Axios for Change, Configuration and Release

PrintAxios

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.

Executive Summary

Elevator Pitch Axios assyst is a solid, mature and well-rounded tool marketed towards organisation with 1,000+ end users.The functionality and design of assyst provides the ability to manage both simple and complex workflow processes to support the management of change and request.Available both as a SaaS solution and on premise – with concurrent and named licenses – assyst provides a flexible model to fit around your business.
Strengths
  • Relationships between configuration items, services and users are clearly displayed via a visual impact explorer
  • Drag and drop calendar functionality
  • Easy to collaborate on changes etc., reducing the need for the use of external software
Weaknesses
  • Requires experience and an increased investment in time to implement release management if your existing process is complex
Primary Market Focus Based on the information provided Axios assyst is exclusively used by large to very large organisations (circa 1000+ users)

Commercial Summary

Vendor Axios
Product assyst
Version reviewed V10.4
Date of version Release January 2014
Year Founded 1998
Customers 1,000+
Pricing Structure Available both as a SaaS solution and on premise, with concurrent and named licenses
Competitive Differentiators
  • All ITSM process integrated into one app – non-modular
  • Visual Impact Explorer provides clear graphical views of infrastructure and relevant relationships
  • Drag and drop change/release process design

Independent Review

Axios assyst (hereafter referred to as “assyst”) is an extremely mature and well-rounded tool, which covers the larger end of the ITSM market, i.e. 1,000+ users.  Requiring no development or programming know-how, users of assyst are able to use the templates and workflows to tailor the system to their organisational needs with minimal training.

Axios boasts that it has 18+ years experience of service management experience in the wider business, not just in IT, and as a result is in a better position to cater to the expanding market of Enterprise Service Management.  However, although I would agree that assyst is capable of catering to this market, I feel that the look and feel would be less conducive to the wider business than in some of the other tools featured in this Change, Configuration and Release Review. It is my opinion that assyst currently looks like an IT tool trying to expand into other areas, rather than a tool that can already sufficiently work outside of IT and would benefit from some superficial user experience enhancements to make it less IT department centric

My overall impression of the tool is that assyst would be suitable for large (1,000 – 9,999 users) to very large organisations (10,000+ users) with moderate to mature change processes in place.  Release will take these organisations additional time and manpower to configure due to the need to modify change to resemble your release process, however, provided that this is not too complex, this should be fairly painless and relatively straight forward to implement.

If you are looking for a solid tool that interacts well with other processes (such as Incident and Problem Management), and gives a clear graphical view of your infrastructure for risk assessment, then provided that you are part of an organisation with 1,000+ users, I believe that assyst would be a strong candidate for your consideration.  Whilst assyst could certainly be considered by smaller organisations, I feel that cost may be prohibitive.

General

assyst performs release via the change area of the tool.  A change form can be used to record the release details and is categorised as a ‘Major Release’ or ‘Minor Release’, with these categories being fully customisable.

assyst contains a number of standard release processes that can be easily modified, together with a set of common stages, such as approval escalation based on monetary thresholds, which can be used to rapidly build custom release processes (Stage Library).  If your release process is uncomplicated then implementation of this mechanism should be fairly straightforward.

Forms within assyst are dynamic, which means that dependent upon which fields are selected, other areas will appear or disappear, thus tailoring the experience and making it easier to gain exactly the information you require.  I believe this advancement will make for a more positive interaction for the self-service customer.

Change

assyst comes with a number of standard release processes that can be easily modified to suit an organisation’s individual needs.  These can be configured to provide analysts with the ability to select Change/Release templates, including pre-approved, from a pre-defined list.

assyst features a “visual impact explorer”, which provides clear graphical views (i.e., service-oriented, hierarchic, impacted users and peer-to-peer) of the infrastructure.  Clicking on an item, i.e. a server, will change the view to show all the relationships that will be affected by a change.  This is one particular feature that I can see being especially useful for organisations with complicated infrastructure, and use of it should greatly reduce the time spent on risk assessment.

As you would expect all Changes logged require a Category, an Impact / Urgency and a Service Department to be assigned to it for resolution.  Dependent upon the configuration of the change template and fields completed, the risk is calculated and set as either minor, major, or significant, and the proper Workflow is then initiated to match the risk level calculated.

The link types are fully configurable enabling customers to rename with terminology appropriate to their organisation and is particularly useful for widening the use of the tool into Enterprise Service Management and shows that the expanded use of the tool has been taken into consideration by Axios.

Pre-approved Change/Release templates are available for selection from a pre-defined list.  The template and workflow associated can be fully customized using the visual Process Manager.  Dependent upon set up, the Workflow Processor will automatically route the request to the appropriate staff for the relevant authorization, decision and fulfillment tasks to be completed.

Configuration

assyst provides functionality to design and manage both simple and complex workflow processes to support the management of change and request. A workflow process is constructed from a series of stages, which are in turn constructed from a series of Tasks that can comprise of actions to be taken, authorizations and decisions.

Tasks are assigned dynamically based on information held within the CMDB by setting “Task Expressions”, and as a result authorisation can be advanced to a more senior employee if the cost of the change is above a certain threshold value.  The workflow engine manages the control of this process and is capable of handling multiple threads simultaneously.  This means that for standard requests, such as new starters, where several change requests could require processing, they can be run concurrently saving valuable time.

assyst allows each user to customise their view of the system which means that Dashboards and Reports can be tailored individually, permission allowing.

Calendar    

The change calendar is able to detect conflicts on a number of levels including blackout periods, maintenance windows or instances where more than one change is planned against the same item or system/service at the same time.

Changes can be dragged/right clicked to move to a more appropriate time, such as within a maintenance window.  Drag and drop functionality within the change calendar is extremely useful and something that I hope more vendors incorporate within their change management tool.

Approvals

As with the rest of the tool, change management security is based on group and role permissions, access to which is dynamically allocated based on operation process roles set by the customer. assyst allows for the creation of multiple groups, for example CAB’s, and users can be associated to any number of these groups.

Individuals and groups can be assigned tasks within a change, due to assyst’s workflow capabilities, and the workflow process can be configured by the customer to include multiple stages and tasks. These can include any number of authorisations, approvals and decision stages, which can dynamically alter the flow of the process.

assyst is another tool that is applying collaboration within the solution, and change is certainly an area that can benefit from keeping communication in one place. Groups of users can create an online CAB meeting from the Change and invite other members to review changes, post comments and approvals without requiring tasks to be assigned to individuals.  I can see this being a well-used area especially with dispersed teams and CAB’s.

In Summary

assyst offers solid change, configuration and release functionality with strong risk assessment capabilities. I therefore believe that it is a good offering for both large and enterprise organisations with moderate to mature change processes in place.

In Their Own Words:

Axios was formed in 1988 with one single objective in mind – to deliver software that better enables Strategic IT Service Management (ITSM) initiatives for the professionals that deliver world-class IT services within their organizations daily.

With over 2 decades immersed in ITSM routed in ITIL and R&D investment in our software, we believe that we offer customers an unrivaled combination of product functionality, depth of understanding of ITSM and the ability to execute delivery of ITSM initiatives with customers with a world class Global Services organization. Our long-standing involvement also means that as ITIL has evolved, our solution has evolved and matured, allowing us to better support and enable organizations navigate the complexities of practical implementation of best practice to strategic, value driven ITSM.

The assyst product has been developed from inception as an ‘out of the box’ IT Service Management (ITSM) solution, fully compliant with the recognised PinkVERIFY / ITIL and BS15000 (now ISO 20000) philosophies for Service Management Best Practice.

assyst fully supports both ITIL V2 and ITIL V3. assyst is currently used by a number of customers to support IT governance initiatives (such as Sarbanes Oxley).

Screenshots

This independent review is part of our Change, Configuration and Release Review.