Cloud & Service Management blog
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  tivoli itsmf service-management innovate-2011 ivor itil ibm itsm 1 Comment 2,560 Visits
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ivor itsmf devops service-management itsm itil ibm 1,931 Visits
A while back I wrote a blog just mentioning devops, and what a sensible idea it seemed – certainly the word ‘devops’ hit some bells and I got 3 times my normal hits in the first day. At the beginning of this year (2012 in case you got here late) I wrote a blog inspired by a discussion with a TOGAF fan; I felt we in parts of the IT world need to talk to our neighbours a lot more.
I was reminded of these by seeing several devops write-ups recently (separate articles in itSMF UK and US magazines in the same month). Both are encouraging and make the unavoidable point: what devops suggests as a matter of principle is clearly something to be supported like the proverbial apple pie. It is just so obvious, it has to be right - why would you not use the people who built and know a new piece of software (or anything else for that matter) to get it in place and working, and as first point of call should anything not work as expected?
Both articles argue that ITSM people should embrace the ideas rather than rush to defend their empires. Devops is not the only example, but it seems to me that what we might be faced with is set of approaches all driven from disparate firm foundations in our vast ocean of IT and services.
In fact the commonality between the approaches is massive, especially once you get past a temptation to overly rigorous application. It amazes me that the same IT people who would never dream of reading the instructions before using their new technology toys insist on applying every word of best practice.
If you want an example of how ITIL® overlaps the base devops concept look at section 6.7, page 236 of Stuart Rance’s Service Transition book in ITIL 2011.
The point I really wanted to make is that we need to get above the point of origin and see identification, creation delivery and operation of service as the real goal and the subject of some integrated guidance. Everything we have so far shows its origins.
I started my career helping organisations establish and improve services, I got sidetracked into IT and oft-times I miss that bigger image. I still find it hard to think only of IT aspects and solutions, but I find I am often talking with people – suppliers and customers – who are content to be restricted to IT aspects.
In the short term I think what we need is more selling of the neighbour’s ideas. I want to see devops being evangelised by someone from the ITSM community, and we need the converse too. Otherwise it can feel like the recommendations for apple pie are coming exclusively from the apple marketing board; doesn’t mean they are wrong but they can less than convincing, especially to a cynical audience or to one that has something they feel they must defend. Maybe I have stumbled onto my subject for next year’s conferences – anyone interested in inviting me?
 You call them methodologies, frameworks, revelations, best practices or whatever – I was searching for a generic term, if you have a better one let me know.
 In case you don't like what is there, I should point out the content of that section comes from the 2007 version, which was not written by Stuart. There is simple diagram here that makes the point, but it is Crown Copyright so I dare not use it here, so please o look if you are interested.
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ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itsm ibm itil customer-survey ivor 1,881 Visits
How would you feel, as manager in your company’s IT department, when the marketing people specified, commissioned and developed an IT application for their needs?
I was driven to ask this question by several ‘customer surveys’ that I have seen come out of the IT departments. An extract from my very favourite is shown here, which while it demonstrates admirable self-confidence it is perhaps not the perfect basis for objective assessment.
It just seems strange to me that an industry built entirely upon providing specialist expertise to allow others to deliver their jobs doesn't always feel the need to get specialist advice itself.
Now, personally, I do believe I know at least as much about building, delivering and analysing surveys as I do about technology application. But that is mostly because I know so little about technology. In both situations I would always welcome expert advice if I need to get something right.
Even IT listens to the CFO’s people when it comes to costs and accounting, yet many have potential access to significant expertise in their marketing people that goes untapped.
This feels important to me simply because of the all the bad surveying we still see. I suspect that availability of free services like Survey Monkey leads us to build and do surveys without any real planning, and without thinking through how we might analyse and use the results when we have them. Basically a good example of reducing the ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’ cycle down to ‘Do’ - speedy and economic but not usually very effective.
As for the confusion and the wrong results taken from unrepresentative samples …
For simple, but telling, examples think about how many ‘customer survey’ results you have seen where in fact it is only users who have been addressed. It is an important thing, user satisfaction, but it isn’t customer satisfaction and we need to find out both and act accordingly on what we find. For example if you have 100% perfect user satisfaction, then the odds are your customers will think they are spending too much. And you will frequently see a mix of customers and users asked questions that are not really targeted at all, just asked because they can. This is often based on the – misplaced – belief that the more people you ask, then the more accurate the answer, ignoring the whole ‘sample selection process’.
Take a classic ITSM example, where a support unit routinely sends questionnaires to those who have made use of the service desk. This, of course, gives you a satisfaction result amongst those who have had sufficient problems to make them phone for help. Might you expect a rather lower score from these people than the ones who have been working quite happily without the need for support.
We know we need to care more and more about understanding what our customers – and users and other stakeholders – want and need. We also need to understand it is not always an easy task to find that out. There is a whole professional specialism out there that delivers this service – as service providers ourselves, proud of our professional expertise, should we recognise that more – and take some better advice before we ‘knock something up to measure satisfaction?
Maybe you do consult with your internal experts if you have them, or maybe you buy in expertise. It would be good to hear if you do.
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People seem to like a thing to be right or wrong. Yet the older I get the more it seems to me that very few things are totally right, and that there is rarely only one right answer to real situations.
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For most of last week I was attending and – I hope – contributing to itSMF’s international publishing meeting. This was held in
Now, first a little background, just in case there is anyone who does not know what the itSMF is. The letters stand for IT Service Management Forum – and that sums it up quite well: a place for those interested in ITSM to talk, learn, teach, compare and discuss. Part of that communication naturally involves publication – and our group focuses on that – from reviewing others’ books through translation and dissemination to encouraging authoring and publishing books. Crucial to its attitudes and success, itSMF is a non-profit organisation, owned by its members.
OK, as you may imagine it is – as well as serious working meeting – a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues of the ITSM global village. And the active ITSM community really is like a village, except that it spread across some 50 countries – we have all the relationships that you would expect: friends, enemies and lots in between.
All of us have our day jobs, many of us
working for cut-throat competitors but that all gets set aside and we settle
back into our ‘all in this together’ mode. One of things that I came back from
That makes the non-profit member owned organisations a lot like government – and like governments today we are strapped for cash. These are hard times and no-one has much in the way of spare money. But we still strive to fight against what would be a sensible approach for an organisation focused on shareholder value. We still need to deliver what the ‘right things’. From our publishing perspective it would be tempting to look only at safe books – rearranging established best practice into easier, shorter or simpler reads. Instead though, everyone at our meeting sees that we need a focus on innovation and stretching our industry.
Of course we need to be financially successful with enough of our projects, and we have work to do on building a firm base to take ourselves – and our industry – forwards. But I am proud that the books we have already managed to publish contain real industry innovations and new perspectives – both on service management as you would expect but also into wider topics such as organisational change.
So, I came back feeling the need to write down how much work people put in – for nothing – last week. I’m not claiming I did that much, but lots of work was put in, and even more commitments made to keep the momentum going and I felt that it was a few day’s work I was proud to have been a part of and an effort worth recording here. In some later blogs I might relate more about other aspects of the trip - like using budget airlines and the change in perspective of value that goes with that.
So – please go read about what we have already managed (6 books published, quarterly magazine, whitepaper competition etc.). You can find out about the books are – and read the magazines for free by going to http://www.itsmfi.org/content/publications. If that gets you interested in how you can get your ideas written up and out there then get in touch. My portfolio responsibility is ‘Authoring’, so I would love to hear from you. We are keen to find new authors, for whitepapers, books or articles – and happy to offer any level of support you might need – from final review through mentoring and even to co-authoring or ghost writing.
By my next blog, I will be back in successful company mode, but it is good to remember that the commercial companies also live in and benefit from the wider community. It is good to see that being recognised through sponsorship and support. IBM sponsored the meeting last year - this time we had support from TSO and BTC. massive thanks to those companies. With more support next year we should have more people and achieve even more.
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Just about my very first experience in IT – brought onto a project as a customer ‘expert’ – was listening to the IT guys debating how to make use of the data we already had on the old system. In my naivety at the time I had thought computers used ‘computer language’. Quickly I realised they were more like people than I had suspected – that there were lots of computer languages, and each computer spoke only one of them, and could make no sense of the others.
Now, in the interceding years (some 27 of them L) great progress has been made – we expect computers to talk to each other. This almost universal technological communication ability sometimes blinds IT people to the fact that human communication has not evolved similarly.
Until we perfect direct thought transference, all the communication we do, whether written or spoken, texted, tweeted or painted on the walls, relies on a two stage process. First you put your ideas into words (usually words and sometimes also gestures or pictures – or a combination of all three). Then someone else has to take those words etc and turn them into thoughts inside their head. There is always an ‘encrypt/decrypt’ section to human communication.
Now that can get messy, confusing and create all sorts of mistakes in delivering the message. You probably wouldn’t design it that way. In fact in a pure IT context we would be looking at ways to deliver direct communication in a standard format from one system to the other. But people don’t work that way; it is what we have and we need to work with it.
Communication isn’t just about being accurate; I think it is better measured by whether it is useful. In IT, people still manage to get the communication spectacularly wrong by not thinking about the whether the customer (or client or user) is equipped to decrypt the message. As one example, here is an error message I got on my screen the other day, apparently intended to inform me why the software couldn’t do what I had asked it to do: “Unable to contact the target back-end forwarding host (proxy target)”. I presume that made perfect sense to the person who set the software up to deliver that. They were maybe a great programmer, but evidently not a human communications specialist.
It’s easy enough just to dismiss this as one more version of ‘Computer says no’, but why is it no surprise? Maybe it’s because we still seem to think it OK to throw our jargon at others who don’t share it. Or maybe we forget they don't know what we do. Actually, to be fair this is not only an IT thing – ask anyone who has been caught on a French train having failed to quite understand the printed message exhorting them “composter votre billet”. (And if you don't already know but intend to travel on a French train, trust me, you need to find out what it means, but it isn’t a French word that they usually teach you in basic language classes. A classic case of encrypt/decrypt failure in a service management situation that has nothing to do with IT.)
The technologists amongst us love the challenge of integration, communication across platforms etc. but there is recognition that this is expensive and should be unnecessary – an area where standards and commonality help everyone. Why do we forget our most common encrypt/decrypt situation – getting a message from one mind to another.
I hope that the irresistible tide of universal cloud adoption and pervasive social media communication will solve all these troubles – and allow us to concentrate on the people issues more. But so far the social media snowball doesn’t seemed to have reduced jargon – quite the opposite. Those of at a certain age are now totally incapable of understanding what are children are saying, even when they give us access to their on-line worlds.
Actually, this is fresh in my mind now because it forms a little game we will play during my talk at Monday 5th March at Pulse – our big SM event in Vegas next month. I plan to have people encrypting and decrypting during that session. I am interested to see how they get on, and hopefully to make them realise there are some simple tools we can use to make things better. Nothing magic, and the same techniques we demonstrate in the simulator. Mostly they rely on establishing common ground – establishing communication channels and learning what will work, by finding shared understandings, and by relying on more than words alone when it makes a difference.
The best part about all that is that from the outside it might look like gossip and drinking at the bar – but we realise it is building business critical communicating platforms and channels. The message that things can be both fun and relevant at the same time is also part of the session.
So, if you are at Pulse maybe you will be able to come along at 6pm on Monday. If not I hope to get the chance to encrypt/decrypt with you at another event this year. And thank you for your efforts in decrypting this message, I hope it wasn’t too difficult – and I hope it has some resemblance inside your head to the one that was in mine.
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Perception is the only truth you believe
That’s a paraphrase of many quotes – but whichever famous quote peddler you choose, it is surely a mantra of sorts for successful service management. To me it neatly addresses two key points:
I had some first-hand instruction on this recently that helped my understanding. Both were a little funny at the time but maybe with some serious messages.
Firstly two different perceptions of what must have looked very similar situations to a detached observer – driving last year down a fast dual-carriageway road. Both times I was on my way to my father.
So – good guy or bad guy? Depends on what you know, and that depends on what you are and what has happened somewhere else.
The other one, I feel the need to share all hinges around those daily gifts we get form our dogs. Each day I take our dog for a walk in the field behind the house. The field is just the other side of the fence and hedge around the back garden, but to get there you have to go out the front, down the road through the alley and back – about 300 metres or so. Now dogs, being dogs, use the daily walk for relieving themselves and people, being only people, are left to pick it up in plastic bags and carry it. But since our walk takes us back down the other side of that garden fence, rather than carry the little bags round the field, I toss them over the fence and into our garden, to pick up and dispose of when I get back. So, I am doing this when I realise I am being watched, by another man out walking his dog. Thinking about it afterwards he just sees someone flinging doggy doo over a fence into someone’s garden. He did not speak, but did manage a look that clearly had me well below pond-scum in any kind of social acceptability league table.
OK, so some examples of skewed judgement based on incomplete knowledge, we all have lots of them – and please feel free to send in any good ones that have happened to you.
Very few of these matter in everyday life – we shrug and move on and usually never see the misunderstanding or misunderstood person again. But when it matters we need to establish communication to get some idea of the events that drive perceptions of those who we will interact with long term. This is why we know things about those we live with and care about – their favourite colours, the foods they like and dislike, which football teams they support and lots more. That is worth doing because these people matter to us, and because this makes both their life and ours more pleasant.
So apply this to work, how much more
pleasant – and easier – will your life be if your customers are happy with you,
if they understand what you are doing and you understand what they care about.
That simple idea is at the core of a lot of my work these days – in the
simulation games and the presentation at events. It certainly underpins the
talks I am slated to do at IBM’s Pulse and itSMF
If I go back to the first set of two bullets I wrote at the start of this piece, they are trying to say that you need to know how your customers – and maybe other stakeholders – are feeling today. This will drive how you address things. So customer perceptions influence prioritisation – standard best practice stuff. What I was trying to point out in my driving example was that those perceptions and attitudes are anything but fixed. Just because you know what mattered yesterday, doesn’t mean you know what will matter today or tomorrow. There are clues and signs you can look for – find out what things affect your customers attitude and monitor those yourself. Again that is something we can do fine at home – we are aware of some of the influences that change attitudes and perceptions on our loved ones – be that exams the next day, football on the TV tonight, or a fight with a friend.
Maybe what we need is more formalised gossip at work – because it is often the conversations that don't seem to be about work that tell us most about how our customers will react – and more importantly how they want us to react. One thing the 21st century has brought us – big time – is new ways to gossip, or should that be freely and rapidly exchange more information than we ever dreamed was possible. So, maybe this is just one more business benefit of social media, one that delivers its success by not being so obvious?
Actually, I don't care how you gather more understanding of your customers concerns and perception influencers use every means you can. You could do worse than simply going to visit them, talking and listening. Set yourself a target perhaps – name one thing that would change your customer’s priorities, and then ask them if you are right.
 = ‘divided highway’ in American.
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I recently had some first hand experience – from the receiving end – how much of an effect genuinely good customer service can have. The experience started in dismay but was recovered well beyond expectation.
Anyway, to start at the beginning ….
I had to go and ‘swear an affidavit’ –
which for those of you not into the jargon of jurisprudence means to formally
promise what you are saying on a form is true. In
Now, it started, I admit, with me failing in my responsibility to be a proactive customer. I did not think
through what I knew. County Courts in
So, I had a perfect example of a ‘Moment of Truth’; putting me instantly, and very extremely, ‘anti’ the staff and the processes. It seemed obviously the staff are required to leave common-sense at home and not bring it to work with them.
And thus, in a bad mood I reached the court officer with whom I was to sign and swear that my forms told the truth. She spots my mood, finds out why and explains that the rules are for protection and cannot be altered – causing no improvement in my mood. She then looks at my forms and points out that I have not brought all the right documents – and then throws in for good measure that my solicitor has supplied my with the wrong set of forms.
So … it is now clear to me that I have driven into town, paid for my car parking, lost my knife for the duration and all for nothing because my paperwork is wrong. But fear not – after this it gets better. I had been expecting a businesslike word or two of sympathy and if I allowed myself a glimmer of optimism then maybe even an explanation of what I needed to go back and fetch, so that it would work when I came back.
Instead the lady reacted very differently. She pointed out that the forms I have forgotten are copies of documents they already have lodged with them, and that they have blank forms of the right kind. She fetches the missing forms, lends me a pen and helps me understand what is needed on the right form, checks it through, makes corrections and then duly witnesses it and formally logs it in the system as sworn and correct. As she put it “Well the purpose is to get your stuff recorded, if I can make that happen then why wouldn’t I help?”
Of course she was perfectly right, her job is to help get these things done, and so thinking for herself and helping people get there is an obviously correct attitude. Isn’t that exactly how everyone in service delivery sees it?
Well, of course we all know that it isn’t – not yet! The sad aspect of this kind of story is how surprised we all are by them – that they are worthy or repeating because this quality of service is still unusual.’
The key aspect of this story – with its two different approaches to dealing with the customers - is how much good service experience depends on customer facing staff that are knowledgeable of the customer’s context and goals. But more than that even, the management trusted and empowered (at least some of) their staff to use common sense and do what was right – maybe even if it didn’t follow exact procedures.
Are the customer-facing staff in your organisation trusted and empowered? If not, is it because they can’t be trusted, or because they have been given the knowledge? Or is it just that no-one has ever thought it would be a good idea to trust and empower them? What happens in your organisation – do you get good service or do you a strict process delivered, whether or not it is appropriate?