What Top Athletes and IT Managers Have in Common


For centuries, athletes have shared one common goal: to win. No matter the sport, the best athletes face strict regimens, long hours, setbacks and victories, remaining agile through it all, in order to achieve their goals. Today’s top-performing, globally competitive and increasingly technology driven businesses are no different.

Nowhere is this athletic nature more apparent than in a business’ IT organization. With IT spending expected to reach $3.5 trillion by year’s end, an IT organization carries with it a big prize – one that, based on tools and technologies purchased and deployed, can either support or hinder the business’ overall ability to compete. As such, today’s most strategic IT organizations are adopting new protocols and performance measurements, such as IT service management, to drive efficiency and maximize their value-add to the business. It’s the IT manager’s job to ensure the IT organization has the right people, processes and technology in place so that the organization can meet its business goals.

Similar to how elite athletes approach their strict regimens – with a focus on mindset, health and wellness, training, and performance measurement – these rigorous disciplines can also be applied to how some of the most competitive businesses are getting ahead with seamlessly delivered IT services.

Having the Right Mindset, With the Help of Analytics

For starters, athletes and IT managers alike must encompass discipline and drive to be recognized for their performance. Similar to a top athlete looking to shave off even a tenth of their record time, IT managers must employ the same rigor to drive improvements in their service delivery. But how can the right mindset make IT more effective?

One of the biggest examples of an IT leadership’s mindset shift has been around the adoption of business analytics. While IT has often been the source of intelligence and inspiration for other departments, IT organizations have paradoxically lagged in terms of deploying their own analytics to support service improvement. In this instance, the change came after IT teams watched as other departments deployed analytics solutions and became more effective – much like watching another athlete win, while you’re sitting on the sideline.

Where IT managers traditionally used Excel spreadsheets to track and present their data on project management and operational and financial performance, the new shift in mindset and deployment of analytics has allowed for less time and money to be spent on IT operations and more on innovation that enhances customer experiences and outshines the competition.

Healthy & Wellness: The Drivers of Productivity

The world’s best athletes assess health and wellness by tracking everything from diet, exercise and oxygen levels, using that data to set goals for remaining in their best condition. In an IT organization, it’s the operational dollars that often keep it in top shape. However, it’s also about having access to data that provides a better view of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses to maintain the utmost productivity and justify continued investment.

For example, as part of IT wellness, many IT managers aim to make their service desk more productive by minimizing reassignments, tiering escalations and reducing backlog.

Using data analytics to tackle this effort, IT managers can capture a visual analysis of the data, including outliers to reveal which service desk tickets are going unaddressed and which types of service tickets are creating the highest costs to manage.

Analytics are also increasing productivity by making managers more aware of strong and weak performers within the IT organization, providing detailed insights on who’s cherry-picking easy tickets and who’s slow at resolving business-critical tickets. This enables managers to more effectively guide their staff to proactively route incidents and requests to the right engineers from the beginning – remaining healthy from the start of any IT initiative.

The Benefits of High-Impact Training

Similar to the way athletes follow a regimented training schedule, IT departments must also develop a routine for implementing best practices and procedures. Just as with athletes, when there’s a new procedure or challenge at hand, training typically supports the behavioral change needed for realizing success.

In tracking training programs and success factors, many IT managers have deployed analytics with capabilities to provide regular progress reports on team members and their ability to adapt to the change. In the spirit of competitive nature, some managers even have a visible leader board showing which IT team members have learned the most or developed the furthest on what they’re being trained on, such as a new database technology.

Performance Measurement for Future Success

While IT managers and top-performing athletes share many similarities, it’s the goal of winning that is perhaps the biggest common denominator. For both, measuring performance is critical to future success.

Specifically within IT organizations, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is one of the main ways IT managers’ standardize their organization’s success to overall business goals. The ITIL framework encompasses processes, procedures, tasks and checklists, allowing the IT organization to establish a baseline from which it can plan, implement and measure against overall goals. It is also used to demonstrate compliance and measure service improvement.

Additionally, the implementation of problem management with IT organizations has helped to identify issues like recurring tickets, supporting IT managers in prioritizing changes and making recommendations that eliminate structural flaws. The result is defined metrics that reflect both successes and areas of improvement – the equivalent to a post-game talk from an athlete’s coach applauding a win but not losing sight of the next big match.

Winning With IT Analytics

For businesses to succeed in increasingly global markets, it’s important that they adopt an almost-athletic posture. Just like athletes, an IT manager’s job is never complete. Managers and athletes alike are competing for limited resources and need metrics to improve performance on an ongoing basis. Particularly within a business’ IT organization, a focus on the right mindset, health and wellness, training, and performance measurement, in addition to the integration of technologies like an analytics platform, will enable any company to remain competitive, with a more clearly defined path for their success.

This article was contributed by Simon King, Sr. Director – Solution Marketing, Numerify.

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Balance your productivity books

What did you achieve in 2013?
What did you achieve in 2013?

The end of the year is coming and if you are anything like me you find time to reflect and ponder over the year that has passed. This year I had a chance to show myself that I have actually made a difference to my organization and that my work has been valuable.

I recently had the good fortune to speak at the itSMF Sweden Expo 2013 in Gothenburg. It was actually the first presentation I have given in this line of business so I didn’t already have a presentation to just whip out and deliver. I had to create one.

Someone presumably knew that I had been working as a Configuration Manager for the same company for almost three years and they probably assumed that I would have some valuable insights to share with my peers by now.

So when I was asked to present what I and my colleagues had accomplished over the last three years my first reaction was:

“What a great honour, I’d be delighted! But… I haven’t anything to tell, we haven’t accomplished anything yet…”

Having said that to myself I quite rapidly asked myself:

Really? Not a single accomplishment during three years worth sharing? I must really suck at my job!”

I don’t believe that I suck at my job so I set out to balance my productivity books to get an idea of what we had accomplished and what results we had achieved.

Finding the records

Looking into the past can be both dreadful and uplifting. It’s so easy to judge choices and decisions in retrospect when you have all the answers at hand. But you can also find forgotten gems of good stuff that will remind you of things that mattered but had lost its place in yours and others minds.

At the same time you might find that you don’t keep your records in good enough order to know whether or not you’ve been valuable by the end of the year. I had to wade through a lot of documents, blogs, posts and tweets, and talk to quite a few people to find the good bits and pieces that I had left behind as imprints of accomplishments over the years. Many things were still in my head of course but when it came to details and hard facts, I had to dig deep and look far to find them.

To my surprise there was quite a lot of things to be found that showed my accomplishments. Not only in form of project reports and management presentations but also in actual effects in my organization. Effects that weren’t directly connected to what I had done but at least started with my doings.

One of the lessons learned here is to keep a better record of my own accomplishments. Starting 2014, I’ll track things I do in some kind of ledger so that I can find records of my activities more easily.

Doing the math

It’s a good thing to measure. I think most people in the ITSM industry can agree to that. And we have all heard, read and talked about the necessity of measuring in the smartest possible ways to gain results.

When it came to measurable results in my records, there was close to none, and the few metrics I had were not really comparable. And all that aside, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to show or to whom.

It’s tricky measuring ones value or the value of ones accomplishments. I was pondering over one aspect of this in another article some time ago and I did come up with some interesting findings.

The value of metrics and what they tell you is probably not the most important aspect to consider if you want to balance your productivity books (a completely different story if you are balancing the financial records of your company, I’d presume). But if you are interested in numbers, do the math and see what you get. The result may surprise you.

Presenting the report

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to tell your peers in the community the results of your work with a presentation at a conference, you would gain from summarizing it in some way. This will force you to select what was important and what was not.

Use the result as a compilation of the work-year to keep in your personal archive. Use it to tell your boss what a great asset you are to the company. Use it to share your success with your peers, your spouse or even to explain to your mother what it is that you actually do at work.

But most importantly, use it to empower yourself with the knowledge that you have accomplished many important things this year and that you are your own fortune.

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Race against the machine

I listened to a fascinating podcast today on the role of technology in the US economy.

This will be of particular interest to younger readers of the ITSM Review who might be thinking about what career path to plot or those with a general interest in the exponential growth of IT.

“Peter Day talks with the authors of the book Race Against the Machine and finds out what the rise of the robots is going to mean to all of our lives.”

The podcast features Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee from the MIT Center for Digital Business

If you place one grain of rice on the first square of a chess board, two on the second square, four on the third space and keep doubling the amount of rice each time - how much rice will be on the 64th square?

In a nutshell:

Productivity increases whilst job growth is stagnant

The MIT professors claim that job creation, which used to peg equally with productivity, has ‘decoupled’. New job creation grew on a par with productivity since the second world war until around the year 2000.

Since then productivity has grown whilst new job creation and income growth has stalled. The professors argue one of the main drivers of this ‘decoupling’ is technology.

Moore’s Law – The best is yet to come

Moore’s law states that computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months. Computing power doubling over a couple of years is quite easy to grasp, but that computing power doubling every couple of years for several generations is a different kettle of fish…

The MIT professors used a good parable to describe the magnitude of this exponential growth in technology performance

“So the story goes that the king asks what a wise man wants in reward for his services. The wise man asks the king to look at his chessboard. On the first space, he wants 1 grain of rice. On the second space, he wants 2 grains of rice, double that of the previous space. He then wants 4, 8, 16, 32, and so on, doubling the previous space for the 64 spaces of the chessboard” ^Source

i.e. It’s a heck of a lot of rice on the last square of the chess board and most of the gains are made in the second half of the board.

“In technology strategy, the second half of the chessboard is a phrase, coined by Ray Kurzweil, in reference to the point where an exponentially growing factor begins to have a significant economic impact on an organization’s overall business strategy.”

The MIT professors suggest that Moore’s law is entering the ‘second half of the board’ and we should expect unparalleled increases in productivity and capabilities from computing.

I also found this TED talk which explains things further:

TED TALK: Andrew McAfee: Are droids taking our jobs?

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The BYOD battle… and the ITSM war

The BYOD battle.... and the ITSM war
38% of respondents think the IT department should be supporting any personal device, regardless of how much it is used for work purposes.

Pat Bolger is chief evangelist at Hornbill Service Management.

Bolger writes in this guest post for the ITSM Review to underline the big picture that exists across the BYOD landscape and how this use case model has affected and continues to impact the IT service manager’s current set of challenges.

BYOD is an increasingly inevitable feature of the business landscape and its reach is only set to grow. In this current scenario IT departments are under growing pressure to support devices which fall outside of their traditional remit; whilst this presents a challenge, the alternative is a serious impact on the productivity and bottom line of an organisation.

Better the BYOD you know

It shouldn’t be a shock that people prefer using the smartphones, tablets and mobile devices that they know and are familiar with at work. What is surprising is the number of businesses that are failing to deal with BYOD.

Corporate IT departments that do not support the movement risk becoming divorced from both the needs of the business and the expectations of users.

An unwillingness to get to grips with BYOD not only reduces the effectiveness of the IT department; it is also costing UK enterprise (as a whole) dearly. Hornbill recently sponsored an independent study of 1500 UK office workers.

Those surveyed estimated that being able to use their personal device in the workplace would save them two hours a month. When this figure is applied nationally it shows a staggering total of £2 billion in lost productivity across the UK; a stark example for those businesses who are not embracing BYOD.

Taking the Law Into Their Own Hands

“The consensus among the corporate workforce itself summarises the situation best:  53% of office workers said IT departments are failing to keep pace with business needs. Because of this failure, some 40% of employees are taking matters into their own hands and using their personal devices without the permission of the IT department, an issue that will only worsen without intervention.”

The results were even more pronounced amongst workers in the 16-34 years old category; with 49% of 16-24 year olds and 48% of 25-34 year olds saying they would use their devices regardless of IT’s knowledge. The longer businesses fight their employees by failing to offer support, the greater the likelihood they will lose out on potential productivity benefits and further expose themselves to other risks around data security and governance, especially as younger generations enter the workplace.

Who Runs What?

The research also had interesting implications for ITSM teams trying to decide when exactly a device becomes their responsibility. A total of 38% of respondents think the IT department should be supporting any personal device, regardless of how much it is used for work purposes. Whilst this is unfeasible for many ITSM teams, it emphasises that personal devices have become so intrinsically linked with both the work and personal lives of UK workers that many do not draw a line between work or pleasure use.

“Setting employees’ expectations by introducing concise and clear policies around the use of personal devices will help ensure the IT department is not over-stretching itself?”

Patrick Bolger, Hornbill Service Management
Patrick Bolger, Hornbill Service Management

Despite this apparent insistence from employees that IT departments should be on hand for any device, one of the most thought-provoking findings concerns who workers turn to with a problem. A whopping 82% said they would ask a colleague for help with simple IT questions or problems, rather than going directly to the IT department. This willingness to use peer-to-peer (P2P) or community knowledge can work in the favour of the IT department; fostering this kind of activity, offering self-service tools and hosting discussion forums, means IT departments can save a significant amount of time in dealing with ‘utility’ or ‘fire-fighting’ issues.

Ultimately, reticence in getting behind BYOD is damaging both the reputation and effectiveness of IT departments; businesses need to start looking at BYOD as something which can actually be of benefit, rather than just an operational and technical headache. In short, BYOD must be a movement which supports the ITSM team, rather than holding it back. The consumerisation of IT may not yet be complete, but IT departments can still reap the benefits of a much needed upgrade.

Pat Bolger is chief evangelist at Hornbill Service Management.