Service Catalogue 2013 Group Test – The Results

This is a review of software products and vendors in the ‘Service Catalogue’ market area.

This is a complex and varied market place and consideration should be given to the Market Overview section.


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Service Catalogue 2013 Best in Class: Axios Systems
Service Catalogue 2013 Best in Class: Axios Systems

Service Catalogue 2013 Best in Class

  • Axios – scalable to big customized projects as well as nice UI for OOTB implementations. Strategic ITSM focus.

Of the other products reviewed, these areas were of particular note:

Best for MSPs and Small/Medium Organizations: 

Best for Enterprise Organizations:

  • ServiceNow – particularly for large implementations where customization is expected. Good product and corporate fit

Service Catalogue Market Overview

By Barclay Rae

Service Catalogue Approach

large ‘Service Catalogue’ market is a niche sub-set of the IT Service Management (ITSM) Software market, which has seen considerable interest and growth in recent years.

Whilst ‘Service Catalogue” can be given a clear definition, the term can be and often is used to cover a number of functional and strategic approaches that stretch from fairly low-level request fulfilment to strategic Service Design and Strategy.

This approach varies because there are several different components that can be described as ‘Service Catalogue” – from ‘front-end’ portal to ‘back-end’ workflow and high-level business views of services. There are also potentially a number of different inputs and outputs – and types of document – that can be described as part of the ‘Service Catalogue’.

This reflects the developing nature of how the industry has defined and understood what a ‘Service Catalogue’ is, which has led to some fundamental differences and interpretations of how to make this work and what the expectations are from implementation.

In a nutshell the 2 main different approaches are:

Strategic/Top Down

This is where the organisation takes a strategic view of all IT services – including the business services (applications/departmental services, external customer services). Usually this will lead to a definition of an overall service structure of Core IT Services (PCs, Phones, email etc.) and Business Services (departments, business processes, applications).

This can then drive service reporting and service differentiation and is a long-term strategic approach to ‘service’ management and value demonstration. Request fulfilment follows out of this process, once the overall structure has been defined.

Technical/Bottom Up

This tends to be started by technical teams to ‘discover’ services, solve specific configuration management and integration problems and provide a practical user interface for consumption of core services and request fulfilment.

Both approaches are viable and necessary at some point to lead to a successful implementation:

Top Down is useful to ensure that the whole IT organisation is on board and that the wider goals and expectations are defined as part of a customer engagement process. Visualisation is useful for all parties to have a tangible view of the overall goals for IT.

Bottom Up can be a good tactical approach to get moving quickly. Request Management automation usually provides efficiency benefits and can significantly improve service quality to customers. The strategic view will need to be defined at some point so should be considered whenever (and as soon as) possible.

For the purposes of this review both of the above approaches have been considered and the overall key elements for tools defined as follows:

  • General – user friendly and with proven integrations to other tools
  • Service Design – the ability to create a database of service records, containing a number of business and technical attributes, processes and workflows
  • Service Structure – the ability to organise and structure these services into a hierarchy of services and service offerings – ideally in a graphical format
  • User Request Portal – a user friendly portal with an intuitive interface to request and track services
  • Request Fulfilment – request management workflow and functionality that can be easily used and configured by system users
  • SLA and Event Management – the ability to define SLAs that can be linked via Event Management to other ITSM processes
  • Demand Management – the ability to provide real-time allocation and monitoring of service consumption, with e.g. financial calculations
  • Dashboard – real-time user-friendly graphical monitoring and analysis of usage, trends and metrics across services and to various stakeholders
  • Service Reporting – the ability to present output that summarises individual and ‘bundled’ service performance, consumption, SLA and event performance – in user-friendly, portable and graphical format

See the full list of criteria here

Approach to Implementation

Organisations and their practitioners who are considering buying and implementing Service Catalogue technology should consider the following:

  • As there are a number of potential applications and objectives for Service Catalogue, these must be clearly defined and agreed in advance. This shouldn’t be embarked upon because it is the ‘flavour of the month’ or it ‘looks like a good thing to do’.

Key benefits that can be derived:

    • Improved professionalism and quality of service experience to customers
    • Value demonstration of IT through business and service based reporting
    • Clarity around service differentiation and value – e.g. commodity versus quality, value-add, time to market
    • Improved cost efficiency of request management and administration
    • Improved quality and speed of service for request management and administration
    • Greater visibility of IT costs and service level performance
    • Improvement in Service Desk performance via better central access to information
  • It is vital that all participants not only understand the expected benefits and objectives, but are also clear on the taxonomy of Service Level Management. This saves considerable time during projects, due to the fact that there are often many misconceptions and variances in understanding around basic concepts like SLAs, Service Catalogue etc. Time spent on some explanations and clarification of definitions is time well spent.
  • The big mistake that orgnaisations still make is to try to do Service Level Management (Portfolio Management, Request Management, SLAs and Service Catalogue…) all without engaging with their customers and supported businesses. The process requires engagement (service definition, performance discussion, objective setting, feedback on the customer experience etc.) as a major input to this process. This provides business validation as well as improving the relationship and demonstration of understanding between parties. It also vitally provides clear goals in terms of service provision and performance reporting. Without this the process can completely miss out on customer requirements and expectation, and so is wasteful, arrogant and bad PR.
  • Organisations should define their services in a simple structure – ideally that can be visualised and shown on 1 page or 1 slide for clarity. This can be done in a workshop, where key people are brought together to work through the concepts and definitions (this can begin with some education) and then use this to define the service structure for that organisation. There are always ‘learning curves’ to be overcome (e.g. the distinction between ‘systems’ and ’services’) – however if this is done in a workshop then this build momentum and consensus.
  • The Service Structure is a vital element as it provides the visual key to this process and also then the framework for a repository of information on each service. From this the project can start to create other outputs, documentation and service views as required from the project goals.
  •  Getting started and moving is a vital element to avoid long term prevarication and too much theorising. A lot can be achieved relatively quickly with some workshops and brief customer meetings. It’s essential to produce a simple representation of the service structure that helps to visualise the process for all involved and give them a consistent view of what is being delivered and defined. All this can be done within a few days and weeks based around workshops and a clear set of objectives.
  • Ultimately this is a business-focussed process so it’s important to have people with business and communications skills to work on the project. Technical details and understanding will be needed but should not be the starting point, which tends to be what happens if this is given to technically-focussed people.

Market Products

Products in this area fall into 2 main categories:

  • Existing ITSM Toolsets with Service Catalogue functionality
  • Specific Tools with Service Catalogue and Request Management functionality

Existing ITSM Toolsets

These often will have either modular or intrinsic functionality based around the ‘ITIL’ framework – Incident, Request, Problem and Change Management, plus Asset and Configuration Management and Service Level Management.

The Service Catalogue should be a valuable addition to this with a ‘service layer’ that can be added to the existing task and event management functions, as well as providing customer/user-friendly portals and ‘front-ends’ for requesting and tracking services.

Generally these products will be used by organisations to develop and to implement a ‘service strategy’ – as well as implementing request management – so these will generally follow a more ‘top down’ approach.

Ideally these will be able to leverage work already down defining existing ITSM processes and the Service Catalogue can then easily integrate with these. This is not always the case, as previous configuration structures may need to be revised to meet new Service Structure requirements.

Specific Service Catalogue Tools

These are newer, standalone systems that have come into the market in the last few years – initially as there was little functionality in this area in the existing ITSM tool market.

They will generally follow a more technical ‘bottom up’ approach that provides faster and more agile implementations. So they can deliver high quality user interfaces, discovery and request management workflow in short timeframes and deliver fast Return on Investment (ROI)/Time to Value (TTV) around the automation of a number of manual processes that speed up the customer experience.

Challenges can include how to reverse-engineer these systems for a strategic service structure once in operation, plus the need to integrate with a variety of other tools, including the existing ITSM solution.

These tools all have some level of basic Help-desk/Incident Management and support processes – the level to which these can either be used or integrated depends on the requirements and maturity of the existing systems (and organisations)

Market Observations

  • ‘Service Catalogue’ is a term that can encompass a number of areas – request management, user portal, service strategy and design, SLAs, portfolio management, service reporting, customer, business and technical views. There is no single product or view that is definitive and products that focus on one area only will require some technical and process integration.
  • In key areas of request management, portals and workflow, reporting and SLAs, most products offer very similar functionality. Variations exist in the development of Demand Management, strategic Service Design and Service Visualisation.
  • In particular vendors can be differentiated by their approach – strategic and technical, but also the level to which they can offer support and value added services to help with implementation. This is still a relatively new area and few practitioners and/or organisations have broad experience or even clear requirements for how to make this work – vendor support and guidance is a key asset and differentiator.
  • Implementation support should also be in the form of template and standard configurable data – i.e. to provide sample service ‘bundles’, workflows, reports, dashboards and in general as much practical guidance as possible.
  • Whilst implementation approach and product focus are the key differentiators – i.e. strategic vs technical Bottom Up / Top Down – a key strength is also the ability to show a clear path that encompasses both approaches.
  • Integration experience and proven capability is a key capability (more than just a differentiator) – this will always be required to some extent:
  • For ‘Service Catalogue Specific’ vendors this is essential to get their product working with a variety of monitoring, asset and event management tools, as well as interfacing with other ITSM systems. Usually they will offer a number of existing APIs and proven links as part of their approach. These tools are useful for standalone Service Catalogue implementation at mid-market level and can also be found sold into enterprise organisations at the technical and integration level.
  • For ‘Existing ITSM Vendors’ they will lead on the seamless integration with their own tools. This is a good pitch for their existing customers but a dilemma for the wider market, i.e. whether to buy a standalone Service Catalogue product (from one ITSM Vendor) separately from a new or existing ITSM product from another ITSM vendor. Many of these vendors will have already created links to other systems via their multi-source and managed services clients.
  • In all aspects of this area, consideration should be given to the customer experience in using these systems and the interaction with IT organisations, particularly in terms of how SLAs and service delivery expectations are set.
  • These toolsets can help to improve service quality and experience, as well as improving the value demonstration of IT. However this will not simply be delivered by tool implementation alone and care is required where systems and vendors promise this without some significant process and organisational change.
  • Overall the market has developed significantly in the last 2/3 years although most vendors are still developing their approach to financial and demand management. Some of this functionality is available across the market but generally only as reports and with some development rather than as an integral feature for dynamic business use.  

Market Positioning and Approach

Vendor

Mid-Market

Enterprise

 

Top Down

 

Bottom Up

Axios

question

Matrix42

question

Biomni

question

ServiceNow

question

    – Definitely

question    – Possibly

Top Down / Bottom up?

Vendor

 

Top Down

 

Bottom Up

Axios

  • Approach geared to Business and Tech services
  • Good UI with visualisation of services and structure

question

  • Vendor and product can start from discovery approach
  • Unlikely to be sold as SC only bottom up product

Matrix42

  • Little product or vendor focus Business or Top Down approach
  • May not be relevant for some clients – e.g. MSPs

  • Product and vendor geared to discovery approach
  • Excellent tool for fast implementation of Request and self service for IT products

Biomni

  • Little product or vendor focus on Business or Top Down approach
  • Commercial approach helps for quick start and visualisation

  • Product and vendor geared to discovery approach
  • Excellent tool for fast implementation of Request and self service for IT products

ServiceNow

  • Approach geared to Business and Tech services
  • Good strategic focus in dashboards and Demand Management functions

  • Can start from discovery approach
  • Sales focus on enterprise with Business and Tech capability

    – Definitely

question   – Possibly

Competitive Overview

Vendor

Overview

Strengths

Weaknesses

Axios

  • High-end option for Medium – Enterprise
  • Simple intuitive UI/OOTB
  • Seamless integration with assyst ITSM processes
  • UI
  • Strategic approach
  • Vendor capability
  • Not geared up for standalone SC implementation
  • May be overkill for technical or small implementations

Matrix42

  • Strong request and Catalogue functionality – technical focus
  • Good option for Tech-only implementations (e.g. MSPs)
  • Good Request and Catalogue functionality
  • Speed of implementation – doesn’t need other ITSM processes
  • Service Now integration
  • Lack of US/UK coverage
  • Approach – little strategic implementation focus
  • Functionality gaps

Biomni

  • Good functionality
  • Nice commercial approach
  • Good option for Tech-only implementations (e.g. MSPs)
  • Good intuitive functionality, commercial approach
  • Speed of implementation – doesn’t need other ITSM processes
  • Little Strategic implementation focus
  • Functionality gaps

Service Now

  • High end functionality, enterprise focus
  • Strong corporate backing and growth
  • Extensive functionality
  • Best Demand dashboard functions
  • Flexibility of product
  • UI busy and complicated
  • Flexibility of product
  • Organisation geared towards enterprise clients
  • Needs usability configuration/customisation

Product Deep Dive

Follow the links for a deep dive review of Service Catalogue features:

Further Reading


DISCLAIMER, SCOPE & 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.

Integrating IT management data to support ITSM

Integrating IT management plumbing to support ITSM processes
Integrating IT management plumbing to support ITSM processes

With my Incident and Problem Management focussed review completed, I am now turning my attention to my next review project: Integration tools that compliment ITSM.

Integration Tools complementing ITSM

One of the key elements of delivering quality service to an organisation is to ensure that teams have relevant information to hand, to assist in having a clear understanding of the situation.

But even the most inclusive IT Service Management Tools offer integration to complementary tools to make end-to-end management achievable.

Whether it be speeding up implementations by cleaning up the original data needed to set up the system in the first place, to incorporporating Systems Management data, we want to take a look at the supporting products that help us manage IT and business services end to end.

What are we looking for?

  • Pre-Deployment Set-up – User data, location data, HR information (managers, budget centres)
  • Integrations to Asset and Configuration information – A lot of the main ITSM vendors offer integration connectors to pull in the “meat” of the ITSM sandwich
  • Event Management – Alerts are generated for anything and everything in a managed estate, but how is the wheat sorted from the chaff so that only the vital, service-affecting information gets through?
  • Support Services – Remote Control, Communications Platforms during Major Incidents and Support Chats etc.
  • Resource Management – Integration with Email/Schedules of support staff workload scheduling and management of projects within the ITSM tool
  • Any other useful data that supports ITSM

Why do we care?

Whilst it would be lovely to think that there could be “one ring to rule them all”, the reality is that as comprehensive as ITSM suites are becoming, they are likely to be deployed into environments that will require an element however small of integration.

This may be something as simple as connecting to Active Directory to pull user data and related location and organisational information in, to taking an asset baseline, to start the journey into Change and Configuration Management.

All of these require some form of data integration – the easier the better.

But companies on the periphery of the suites are recognising that there is an area for innovation and providing enhancement to that service, for example reducing time to initially deploy, or being able to take over a machine as part of the problem determination actions in an incident record, and logging all that information in the record.

Think of it as the backing singers to the main act, or the instrumental solo – the supporting tools that help drive the overall efficiency of an IT Service Management solution for a business.

If you offer technology in this area and would like to participate in our next review please contact us.

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The Curious Technologist & The Case of the Analogies

Sometimes technicians, to paraphrase the character of Ian Malcolm, are: “… so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

As the new analyst for The ITSM Review, I was presented with the objectives and characteristics of the role – namely that of The Curious Technologist.

As I embark on this odyssey, I want these articles in particular to be a little more anecdotal in nature, as this subject can be as dry as toast (see what I did there?)

Incoming…

I landed in the world of ITIL back in 2005, when bids were looking for my organisation to demonstrate ITIL alignment and revolved around seemingly holy grail of Configuration Management

A simple gallop around potential contacts in the geographic regions, and within the various departments showed that everyone had their own ideas of what Configuration Management.

There was actual configuration setups of machines, to the rigidly adhered to ITIL descriptions in the book.

Welcome… to Jurassic Park!

Perhaps my favourite, certainly for Configuration Management was the ‘Jurassic Park’ principle.

Ask any technical group what their discovery tool does, and you will receive the most complex, macro-ridden spread-sheets with all manner of data widgets that can be scanned.

Trying to change the mind-set of technical folk to focus on configuration item data that is relevant is a challenge.

In the film, as the main protagonist, John Hammond, is smugly announcing his plans to literally unleash recreated dinosaurs on the unsuspecting tourist public, a mathematician specialising in chaos theory sets him straight.

Sparring from the start, the character of Ian Malcolm chides him for taking work that others have done, and just taking that extra (terrifying) step.

Sometimes technicians, to paraphrase the character of Ian Malcolm, are: “… so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Whilst maybe not as (fictionally) fatalistic, this is true when we looked at the depth of scan-able data versus what is actually required to make Configuration Management achievable.

The next logical step was to analyse the list of discovered widgets but to ask two key questions:

  1. How frequently is the data element scanned?
  2. How current is it kept and used as part of another process?

Not surprisingly, a lot of things are scanned once, and never once referred to again, or even updated again.

The linkage with Change Management in particular proved to give us the grounds to define the “highest” common denominator, which is the most typical configuration item to be affected in a change.

And therein lay the basis for our definitions (in this case) on standards.

 “Here in my car, I feel safest of all…”

Perhaps my most constant analogy of all was one that was taught to me as I was preparing for my first billable project.

In moving to a new role recently I was fortunate enough to be working on a different service desk tool, and indeed my late career was often spent moving clients from one tool to another.

There is no real difference in the raison d’être of a tool – it exists to take a ticket from the start of its life-cycle journey to another.

Processes are the fuel that will drive that engine – but essentially a ticket is opened, it is assigned, it is resolved or closed.

Not unlike a car.

I could give anyone of you the keys to my car and with a few moments of familiarisation someone could drive it away.

Simplistic analogy?  Yes.

But it is often a necessary first step in detaching recipients from their emotional attachment to whatever tool is being replaced.

Welcome to… The Curious Technologist…

A lot of these articles may well be anecdotal, but in my years of watching some of the best consultants at practice, the ability to boil down a complex requirement or approach sometimes requires a more simplistic touch.

After all, if the prospect of moving to a new set of tooling meets with barriers straight away, then how will the deployment ever move forward?

Sure, the use of film lines or pop culture may cause me more amusement than my audience, it does bring a mechanism to channel people’s thoughts along a different line, which is vital in the complex environment we often work in.

Image Credit

Introducing Ros Satar

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Ros Satar to The ITSM Review.

Ros is joining as a regular blogger and ITSM technology Analyst.

ROS SATAR


“An IT Architect, with close to 20 years experience, working both in direct commercial engagements, and more recently within the outsourcing services.  Worked most recently in the Retail, Finance & Insurance, and Government/Transport Sectors.

Strong technical, business and project skills around Business Analysis and IT Architecture/Solution Design, and Deployment in Transition/Transformation projects, specializing most recently in ITIL ® Service Management Engagements.

Responsibilities include Stakeholder Management, Project Management, User Acceptance Testing and Service Commencement.”


Ros Satar, Analyst and Writer for The ITSM Review

Gadget Girl!

Ros is an ITSM Solution Architect and Process Consultant.

Her journey in ITIL/ITSM began in 2005 when she jumped into the deep end of Configuration Management, and then swam out to the wider ITSM Ocean.

She quite likes it there… technical enough to remind her of her roots, but diverse enough to have opinions on lots of things, based on large customer projects throughout her career.

As well as writing for The ITSM Review, Ros is also following her passion for sports writing and is currently studying for her NCTJ Diploma in Multi-media Journalism.

She says…

“When I am not knee deep in paper and having a love/hate relationship with my many gadgets, I can be found putting in time at various sporting publications writing about people who are way fitter than me.”

They say…

“I have worked with Ros for many years through many technologies, as Architects we are often expected to look at a product and immediately articulate the benefits / return on investment and potential pitfalls in implementation. Ros has the ability to go “Wide” and go “Deep” into the technology and exercise it within an inch of its operational life.”

Welcome Ros!

University of Exeter Students Choose Twitter for IT Support

Given the choice, University of Exeter Students Opted to Receive IT Support Updates via Twitter

The itSMF held their UK South West & South Wales Regional meeting at the University of Exeter this week.

The theme of the day was processes and toolsets with a big emphasis on member interaction and discussion.

In a nutshell: A good day. Recommended.

Two presentations really stood out for me during the day. Firstly Deborah Pitt, Configuration Manager at Land Registry Information Systems in Plymouth, gave a compelling talk on how she managed to convince various IT teams within Land Registry to buy-in to their CMDB. In short, Deborah recalled her strategy of badgering, evangelising and more badgering.

Winning Friends and Implementing CMDBs

Deborah shared with us that she increased engagement and adoption with the CMDB by farming out responsibility for configuration items to various IT teams. For example, the team responsible for management of blackberry devices were assigned ownership of Blackberry data within the CMDB, a great strategy for building confidence in the system and getting users to let go of their precious excel sheets.

“Although process and tools have both been important in getting buy in from consumers and owners of the data that goes into the CMDB, another, often overlooked factor has been a major plank of getting the message across.   This is building successful, communicative relationships with both consumers and owners.  Through selectively targeting the audience and tailoring the message, Land Registry have been able to build enthusiasm for CMDB, such that there is now a widespread take up of CI use and ownership.” Deborah Pitt, Land Registry.

Bring Your Own Pot Noodle?

However, for me the most interesting talk of the day came from the hosts: Zach Nashed who runs the IT Helpdesk at the University of Exeter.

Zach shared how the IT support team at the University were coping with the changing demands of students. It was interesting to hear of the changing attitudes towards IT support since tuition fees were abolished. Since students will be paying £9K per annum out of their own pocket from 2012, this was beginning to translate into higher expectations and demands of IT support (e.g. If I’m paying £9K a year to study here I’m not paying extra for printing).

The IT team are also under increasing pressure to provide 24/7/365 IT services for multiple devices per student. For example students are arriving on campus with a laptop, tablet and phone with all flavours of platforms and expecting instant compatibility and high-speed ubiquitous WIFI access.

Fish Where The Fish Are

To provide higher levels of support at the University and align closely with current requirements Zach and his team hold focus groups with students. As a result the University has begun to explore Twitter as an IT support communication channel. When given the option, students at the University chose Twitter as their preferred update mechanism.

I think this is an important point for anyone considering implementing social channels into their support infrastructure. When considering implementation with a particular channel we need to consider:

  1. Do our customers actually use this social media channel?
  2. And do they want to hear from us when they are using it? (Zach noted that although students spent a great deal of time on Facebook their preferred update mechanism was Twitter)

If students of today are recruits of tomorrow then this initiative paints a picture of IT Support in 2015.

The University of Exeter are a long term Hornbill customer and are exploring a module from Hornbill specifically for twitter integration. Want to know how they get on? Follow them here.

A Great Free ITSM & ITAM Process Tool (via #Back2ITSM)

Cognizant Process Model
Cognizant Process Model

This is a very cool online tool for anyone in ITAM or ITSM.

COGNIZANT PROCESS MODEL

This great resource was kindly shared by Shane Carlson of Cognizant.

Shane is a founding member of the #Back2ITSM community, whereby ITSM professionals are encouraged to share their expertise for the benefit of others (and therefore develop the industry).

The process model includes the following models:

  • Request Management
  • Incident Management
  • Event Management
  • Problem Management
  • Change Management
  • Configuration Management
  • Release Management
  • Service Level Management
  • Availability Management
  • Capacity Management
  • IT Service Continuity Management
  • Continuity Operations
  • Financial Management for IT Services
  • Asset Management
  • Service Catalog
  • Knowledge Management
  • Information Security Management
  • Security Operations
  • Access Management
  • Portfolio Management
  • Program and Project Management

Each module includes guidance on the following areas:

  • Process Diagram
  • Benefits
  • Controls
  • Goal
  • Metrics
  • Policies
  • Process Team
  • Resources
  • Roles
  • Scope
  • Specification

According to the blurb….

“PathFinder is specifically designed to those:

  • Tasked with designing an IT Process.
  • Seeking validation that a process has been validated in the industry.
  • Looking to increase effectiveness of their current process design.
  • Seeking assistance with the cultural adoption of their IT process.
  • Faced with meeting compliance regulations.”

VIEW THE COGNIZANT PROCESS MODEL

Thanks to Shane for sharing this great free resource.

Yes, free. No registration, no 30 day trial, no salesman will call. Enjoy! If you find it useful please share the link and don’t forget to mention #Back2ITSM.

Interview: Simon Morris, 'Sneaking ITIL into the Business'

Ignoring the obvious may lead to a nasty mess

I found Simon Morris via his remarkably useful ITIL in 140 app. Simon recently joined ServiceNow from a FTSE100 Advertising, Marketing and Communications group. He was Head of Operations and Engineering and part of a team that lead the Shared Services IT organisation through its transition to IT Service Management process implementation. Here, Simon kindly shares his experiences of ITSM at the rock face.

ITSM Review: You state that prior to your ITSM transformation project you were ‘spending the entire time doing break-fix work and working yourselves into the ground with an ever-increasing cycle of work’. Looking back, can you remember any specific examples of what you were doing, that ITSM resolved?

Simon Morris:

Thinking back I can now see that implementing ITSM gave us the outcomes that we expected from the investment we made in time and money, as well as outcomes that we had no idea would be achieved. Because ITIL is such a wide-ranging framework I think it’s very difficult for organisations to truly appreciate how much is involved at the outset of the project.

We certainly had no idea how much effort would be spent overall on IT Service Management, but we able to identify results early on which encouraged us to keep going. By the time I left the organisation we had multiple people dedicated to the practice, and of course ITSM processes affect all engineering staff on a day-to-day basis.

As soon we finished our ITILv3 training we took the approach of selecting processes that we were already following, and adding layers of maturity to bring them into line with best practice.

I guess at the time we didn’t know it, but we started with Continual Service Improvement – looking at existing processes and identifying improvements. One example that I can recall is Configuration Management – with a very complex Infrastructure we previously had issues in identifying the impact of maintenance work or unplanned outages. The Infrastructure had a high rate of change and it felt impossible to keep a grip on how systems interacted, and depended on each other.

Using Change Management we were able to regulate the rate of change, and keep on top of our Configuration data. Identifying the potential impact of an outage on a system was a process that went from hours down to minutes.

Q. What was the tipping point? How did the ITSM movement gather momentum from something far down the to do list to a strategic initiative? 

If I’m completely honest we had to “sneak it in”! We were under huge pressure to improve the level of professionalism, and to increase the credibility of IT, but constructing the business case for a full ITSM transition was very hard. Especially when you factor in the cost of training, certification, toolsets and the amount of time spent on process improvement. As I said, at the point I left the company we had full time headcount dedicated to ITSM, and getting approval for those additional people at the outset would have been impossible.

We were lucky to have some autonomy over the training budget and found a good partner to get a dozen or so engineers qualified to ITILv3 Foundation level. At that point we had enough momentum, and our influence at departmental head level to make the changes we needed to.

One of the outcomes of our “skunkworks” ITIL transition that we didn’t anticipate at the time was a much better financial appreciation of our IT Services. Before the project we were charging our internal business units on a bespoke rate card that didn’t accurately reflect the costs involved in providing the service. Within a year of the training we had built rate cards that both reflected the true cost of the IT Service, but also included long term planning for capacity.

This really commoditised IT Services such as Storage and Backup and we were able to apportion costs accurately to the business units that consumed the services.

Measuring the cost benefit of ITSM is something that I think the industry needs to do better in order to convince leaders that it’s a sensible business decision – I’m absolutely convinced that the improvements we made to our IT recharge model offset a sizeable portion of our initial costs. Plus we introduced benefits that were much harder to measure in a financial sense such as service uptime, reduced incident resolution times and increased credibility.

Q. How did you measure you were on the right track? What specifically were you measuring? How did you quantify success to the boss? 

Referring back to my point that we started by reviewing existing processes that were immature, and then adding layers to them. We didn’t start out with process metrics, but we added that quite early on.

If I had the opportunity to start this process again I’d definitely start with the question of measurements and metrics. Before we introduced ITSM I don’t think we definitively knew where our problems were, although of course we had a good idea about Incident resolution times and customer satisfaction.

Although it’s tempting to jump straight into process improvement I’d encourage organisations at the start of their ITSM journey to spend time building a baseline of where they are today.

Surveys from your customers and users help to gauge the level of satisfaction before you start to make improvements (Of course, this is a hard measurement to take especially if you’ve never asked your users for honest feedback before, I’ve seen some pretty brutal survey responses in my time J)

Some processes are easier to monitor than others – Incident Management comes to mind, as one that is fairly easy to gather metrics on, Event Management is another.

I would also say that having survived the ITIL Foundation course it’s important to go back into the ITIL literature to research how to measure your processes – it’s a subject that ITIL has some good guidance on with Critical Success Factors (CSFs) and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Q. What would you advise to other companies that are currently stuck in the wrong place, ignoring the dog? (See Simon’s analogy here). Is there anything that you learnt on your journey that you would do differently next time? 

Wow, this is a big question.

Business outcomes

My first thought is that IT organisations should remember that our purpose is to deliver an outcome to the business, and your ITSM deployment should reflect this. In the same way that running IT projects with no clear business benefit, or alignment to an overall strategy is a bad idea – we shouldn’t be implementing ITIL just for the sake of doing it.

For every process that you design or improve, the first question should be “What is the business outcome”, closely followed by “How am I going to prove that I delivered this outcome”. An example for Incident Management would be an outcome of “restoring access to IT services within an agreed timeframe”, so the obvious answer to the second question is “to measure the time to resolution.”

By analysing each process in this way you can get a clearer idea of what types of measurement you should take to:

  • Ensure that the process delivers value and
  • Demonstrate that value.

I actually think that you should start designing the process back-to-front. Identify the outcome, then the method of measurement and then work out what the process should be.

Every time I see an Incident Management form with hundreds of different choices for the category (Hardware, Software, Keyboard, Server etc.) I always wonder if the reporting requirements were ever considered. Or did we just add fields for the sake of it.

Tool maturity

Next I would encourage organisations to consider their process maturity and ITSM toolset maturity as 2 different factors. There is a huge amount of choice in the ITSM suite market at the moment (of course I work for a vendor now, so I’m entitled to have a bias!), but organisations should remember that all of vendors offer a toolset and nothing more.

The tool has to support the process that you design, and it’s far too easy to take a great toolset and implement a lousy process. A year into your transition to ITSM you won’t be able to prove the worth of the time and money spent, and you have the risk of the process being devalued or abandoned.

Having a good process will drive the choice of tool, and design decisions on how that tool is configured. Having the right toolset is huge factor in the chances of a successful transition to ITSM. I’ve lived through experiences with legacy, unwieldy ITSM vendors and it makes the task so much harder.

Participation at every level

One of the best choices we made when we transitioned to ITSM was that we trained a cross-section of engineers across the company. Of the initial group of people to go through ITILv3 Foundation training we had engineers from the Service desk, PC and Mac support, Infrastructure, Service Delivery Managers, Asset management staff and departmental heads.

The result was that we had a core of people who were motivated enough to promote the changes we were making all across the IT department at different levels of seniority. Introducing change, and especially changes that measure the performance of teams and individuals will always induce fear and doubt in some people.

Had we limited the ITIL training to just the management team I don’t think we would have had the same successes. My only regret is that our highest level of IT management managed to swerve the training – I’ll send my old boss the link to this interview to remind him of this!

Find the right pace

A transition to ITSM processes is a marathon, not a sprint so it’s important to find the right tempo for your organisation. Rather than throwing an unsustainable amount of resource at process improvement for a short amount of time I’d advise organisations to recognise that they’ll need to reserve effort on a permanent basis to monitor, measure and improve their services.

ITIL burnout is a very real risk.

 

Simon Morris

My last piece of advice is not to feel that you should implement every process on day one. I can’t think of one approach that would be more prone to failure. I’ve read criticism from ITSM pundits that it’s very rare to find a full ITILv3 implementation in the field. I think that says more about the breadth and depth of the ITIL framework than the failings of companies that implement it.

There’s an adage from the Free Software community – “release early, release often” that is great for ITSM process improvements.

By the time that I left my previous organisation we had iterated through 3 versions of Change Management, each time adding more maturity to the process and making incremental improvements.

I’d recommend reading “ITIL Lite, A road map to full or partial ITIL implementation” by Malcolm Fry. He outlines why ITILv3 might not be fully implemented and the reasons make absolute sense:

  • Cost
  • No customer support
  • Time constraints
  • Ownership
  • Running out of steam

IT Service Management is a cultural change, and it’s worth taking the time to alter peoples working habits gradually over time, rather than exposing them to a huge amount of process change quickly.

Q. Lastly, what do you do at ServiceNow?

I work as a developer in the Application Development Team in Richmond, London. We’re responsible for the ITSM and Business process applications that run on our Cloud platform. On a day-to-day basis this means reviewing our core applications (Incident, Problem, Change, CMDB) and looking for improvements based on customer requirements and best practice.

Obviously the recent ITIL 2011 release is interesting as we work our way through the literature and compare it against our toolset. Recently I’ve also been involved in researching how best to integrate Defect Management into our SCRUM product.

The sign that ServiceNow is growing at an amazing rate (we’re currently the second fastest growing tech company in the US) shows that ITSM is being taken seriously by organisations, and they are investing money to get the returns that a successful transition can offer. These should be encouraging signs to organisations that are starting their journey with ITIL.

@simo_morris
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