Cloud & Service Management blog
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itsmf tivoli service-management innovate-2011 ivor itil ibm itsm 1 Comment 5,242 Visits
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ivor itsmf devops service-management itsm itil ibm 3,970 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.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itil complaints tivoli itsm ibm service-management ivor 3,325 Visits
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itsm ibm itil customer-survey ivor 3,451 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.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ibm itsm measurement ivor itil itsmf tivoli 2,534 Visits
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.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ivor itsm ibm best-practice tivoli itsmf service-management 2,735 Visits
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.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  service-management itil abc itsm pulse ivor 1 Comment 4,026 Visits
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.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  pulse itil service-management ivor itsm 4,833 Visits
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.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  itil ibm ivor pulse service-management itsm 2,424 Visits
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  service ivor empowerment ibm service-management itsm tivoli itil 2,346 Visits
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?
Rebecca Swindell 270003U1MK REBECCA.SWINDELL@UK.IBM.COM Tags:  itsm service-management ivor swindell 2,351 Visits
Last week the IBM attended the UKI itSM Forum and what a great event it was! Some really thought provoking and motivating sessions, as well as some truly interesting conversations with our clients and prospects.
Below are a few of the highlights from the sessions attended - would be great to hear anyone else’s thoughts on what their key take-home messages were from the event.
Session 1 – Introduction by Barry Coreless – Chairman of the itSMF
Barry talked about how he sees the future of ITSM – the growing automated and ever more complex tool sets, and an ever increasing bewildering array of devices. The main take home message for me was that he believed that organisations that linked best practices and industry disciplines are the ones that will truly succeed.
Session 2 – Keynote from Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson DBE
A fantastic motivational speech from Tanni – including memorial statements like “if you are going to spend time thinking... then think BIG!” She spoke about why it is important to think about how you can be the best you can be and how individual success if not always about the individuals themselves, but about the team they have around them. Tough times call for tough choices, she continued, and it is how you deal with these, improve and move on that is what will make you successful.
Session 3 – our own Ivor Macfarlane – Can IT people be Service Managers?
Ivor was introduced as a man whose middle name was “ITIL” and clearly his reputation preceded him, as we had a full house with over 60 of the 300 delegates in the room. Ivor spoke about how Service Managers generally have a low profile, and are orientated to achieving another person’s hopes and desires. He carried on the debate by saying that the best attribute a Service Manager can have is to be invisible! Continuing that if management don’t empower you as a Service Manager then your stuffed! A final take key message was then given, “Go to the board – change the change process!”
Session 4 – An interactive panel session hosted by Don Page
Some really interesting stats came up in this session to the questions asked to the delegate audience my favourite 3 below:
1. 1. Cloud Computing is here to stay – what effect will it have on ITSM?
Major – 43%, A bit – 36%, A little – 17%, No Opinion – 4%
2. 2. Your business now understands and is taking seriously the importance of ITSM as an essential business enabler?
Very Seriously – 12%, Lip Service – 42%, We don’t talk to them and they don’t take us seriously -20%, Don’t Know– 9%, Don’t Care – 17%
3. 3. Should organisations encourage Social Media to facilitate communication between IT and end users?
Actively encourage and support – 45%, Natural Course – 37%, No -13%, Don’t Know – 2%, No Opinion – 4%
Session 5 – Stephan Mann – Forrester Research - “Anyone questioning your value?”
One of my favourite sessions from the event, very interesting to hear an analysts point of view. He started by stating that Service Managers can’t deal with the value because we don’t understand the cost, there is little transparency IT costs and the value it brings. He continued saying that costs are continually being cut, whilst the demand for IT continues to grow. He told delegates to take an honest look at their ITSM capabilities and short comings, in context of what business needs, then link IT services to business outcomes. Final message for me was “Cost is important but value is more important... if we could demonstrate the value they would be encouraging us to spend more”.
Session 6 – Martin Neville – Flattening the Curve
In the last session of the day, Martin discussed what companies should be looking for from their tool providers, and that the best tool providers are proactive not reactive. He set out ground rules for both sides – be honest from the start, early efforts pay interest in the long term, perception is reality – stats do not lie, the time to innovate is at the start – not when things are looking desperate, short term contractual wrangling will damage the relationship long term and most importantly KEEP talking!
Nigel spoke about how vision is our most valuable asset and leadership is an act, rather than a position. We need to show up and engage! It needs to be a progressive improvement, baby steps are ok, and it needs to be realistic, achievable and practical – don’t aim for perfection, do something practical. His take home message for me really was for success, we have to acknowledge the reality of uncertainty.
Session 2 – Christian F Nissen – CRN People, Denmark – Acquisition and Implementation of ITSM Tools
Another really interesting session, starting with the question should organisations use a SM suite of tools from one vendor, or best of breed tools from various vendors and attempt to integrate them. The answer is not as simple as it seems! He emphasised the importance of running a Proof of Concept before ever fully implementing a new tool. Organisations need to ask themselves, is this vendor that is sleeping or evolving and improving?
Session 3 – Dennis Shields - The 2010 Machine
My final session of the day, Dennis opened the session by explaining people like direction, but believe their managers are out of touch. Bad management however means the unit will not function properly. People need to be given clear and fair directives, otherwise efficiency plummets and costs escalates, we need to take a long term perspective if the company and its infrastructure is going to be successful.
In summary, fantastic event, and can’t wait till next year!
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ivor ibm service_management data itsm overload 2,374 Visits
Just a few kilometres from where I live there is a great spot for walking – with or without a dog. It is quiet and traffic free, with spectacular view across the countryside. The grand perspective across surrounding countryside was likely more appreciated in earlier days; it is the site of a 2500 year old hill fort with the earthworks still very obvious and impressive despite being worn down by the centuries.
One of the things I love most about the site is how very little we really know for sure about it, the people who built it and how people actually lived there. There is a goodly amount that can be inferred from what is left, but when walking around it you do feel that we can only know a little, presume a bit more, guess a good chunk and – importantly – accept that there is much we do not know and will never know.
It seems to me that this acceptance of what we do not know, and more importantly what we cannot know, is a hard thing to do, and one we as a society are getting rapidly worse and worse at. Maybe we expect too much? Certainly if we were to take too seriously some of the criminal investigation TV programmes we see we would believe we can know everything – where a small nick in a 10 year old bone can lead to complete diagnosis, arrest and conviction in a single 45 minute episode.
Of course, real life is rarely like TV, but there does seem an increasing belief that we can know everything, which I doubt is justified by any kind of objective assessment of our own lives. It is almost as if we believe that we can find out anything we want – or that we can ask an expert who will simply tell us what we need to know. In fact there are – even now –many things we do not know, and will never know. That is true in most aspects of life – from what our children get up to through to configuration management – the trick perhaps is to accept that and make the best use of what we can know. That includes realising that what we do think we know may not be 100% accurate – but that is it still useful all the same.
Way back last century, I studied Physics at University. Well, I was supposed to be studying Physics, I certainly recall making TV programmes and being in the bar – somehow my memory can’t have stored all the time I spent studying.
But one thing I do recall was that in the lab work the answer ALWAYS had to be expressed in terms of the uncertainly – the temperature of the liquid under examination was not 23 degrees – it was something like 23 º ± 2º. Being realistic about your accuracy was seen as a critical aspect of any data.
And rightly so. It is of critical importance, because if we just think that everything we know is an absolute black and white fact – then we will make bad choices. Being aware of the accuracy does – or certainly should – affect our decisions. If you want a common example of where we get it wrong then think about some of the customer satisfaction surveys you may have seen in your time. Even a good customer survey will show only a good indication of opinion, attitude and desires. It will never be totally accurate but it can be useful – especially in terms of trending.
And availability is about averages, happenstance and luck – so a 99% availability does not necessarily mean 99% customer service delivery – because you don't know when that bad 1% will happen – and so don’t know what affect it might have. Is it going to be peak period or quiet time? But it can help us decide how to build and manage systems – and lead us into sensible risk/benefit decisions. In fact getting on and using the data you do have might be a good mantra? All too often we seem to seek data for its own sake rather than because we see a need for it.
Those people who built that hill fort 2500 years ago certainly knew a lot less facts and data than we do. But they knew what they needed to know to do a good job and made great use of what they did know. Hopefully we can use the knowledge and data that we have without being distracted by trying to get even more? And then maybe our constructions will also still look good in 2500 years.
Maybe you can spot some places where you are spending time, money and worry tying to get ever more precise data that you don’t really expect to use. Or more likely you can see where – or your management – take as absolute data that you know is actually just an estimate within a significant range of values?
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ibm ivor itsm devops itil tivoli service-management 2,465 Visits
After my last blog – asking what devops was – the idea of collaboration across the whole life of service has been in the forefront of my mind. From that wider perspective I was musing around one of my frequent topics – how we fail to get the service right because we don't understand how it is being used, or what the customer really cares about.
Actually the simple picture of supplier and customer doesn’t really describe the world most of us have to live in. If we go with the ITIL concept of a customer (someone who has financial influence or authority) then we also need to worry about what our users think. In other frameworks you might hear a more general concern about taking the whole range of stakeholders into consideration. Doesn’t matter which recipe you follow – does matter that you see the complexity.
Some of the problems come from being so close to how things are done (rather than why they are being done), and by being so close to what you think matters that you don't spot what matters to those receiving the service. Sometime it is the silliest things that make the customers and users unhappy and reject a service. Maybe that is an example of the ‘One Bad Apple’ syndrome – something firmly embedded in the human condition seems to be our ability to allow one bad aspect to overbalance a dozen good things.
I had my own version this week, when I found myself refusing to continue with an online application for a new bank account because the software insisted on spelling my name incorrectly. (For reasons I cannot fathom, it seems to have decided that any name starting with ‘Mac’ must have a capital afterwards – so it turns ‘Macfarlane’ to ‘MacFarlane’ without giving me the chance to turn it back.) I didn’t stay around to see what else the service offered, I just closed the web page and got my new account somewhere else that will let me spell my name properly.
But there is also the positive face of the same coin – the power of ‘cool’. Imagine you have found the perfect shoes for your child – scientifically designed to protect their feet while supporting their bones and they are even waterproof. As a caring parent these are the only pair of shoes you want your child to be running about in (see IKB later in this blog). As it happens your dreams have come true because your child loves them. Is it because they are good for them, and will help their feet develop properly – no, they agree to wear them because the heels light up with each step. They will wear them – and save their feet – but only because they are ‘cool’ – according to rules you will never understand. By the way, don’t think the illogical ‘cool’ factor only applies to children, it is there in just about every service you deliver or use – at work or at home. If you look for it then you will see it. I don’t want to make this posting too long or I could list dozens – but just imagine trying to sell powerful and effective software products against others with less relevant features at higher cost – but with a fancy graphical interface – sound familiar to anyone?
If you think about these two situations – where apparently less important elements disproportionately affect decisions - I am sure you will find many examples of the two extremes; like the fast-food restaurant that you still avoid because of one bad burger or one element of bad service, hundreds of miles away and several years back.
Those issues tend to come from how the service is delivered, yet the same problem can easily come from how it is built (like my name issue). But one of the differences is getting the message back to where it might make a difference, because at best the complaints go to the operations side of the house, and this does not get fed back, maybe because it is dismissed as trivial – because it doesn’t seem important to whoever received the message.
It isn’t just about hiding complaints though, we also have the ability not to pass the cool factors back. Do we always find out why people really like something? It seems to me that we don’t often ask the right people the right questions. And it also seems there are simple reasons why we do that:
Both of these situations are understandable – after all, we are human so of course we see things first and best from our own perspective, and without being forced out into another’s environment then why should we have the ability to understand people we have never met? The second is also inevitable in the complicated amalgams of customers, users, services and suppliers we exist within. Never mind the neat little service chain pictures you get in the books – it doesn’t really look that simple, it looks complicated, and mostly because it is complicated.
We can do something about these difficulties – but they require addressing the way we – and our colleagues – think, and that takes time and effort.
There are other causes and factors – and maybe there is one we could do something about, and it is something that would magnify the beneficial effects when you finally get around to addressing the two points I listed above: when we do find things out we don’t tell the people who could do something about it. And the very best way to get that wrong is to build silos within your supplier organisation and stop people sharing ideas and information.
After that last blog on devops, I was thinking about that particular kind of communication issue. There is something deep rooted in the human psyche that needs to dismantle their immediate environment into teams (or groups, or departments or silos or tribes – call them what you will). IT organisations are perfect examples – with high level internal teams always emerging once they gets past a certain size. And if you separate into teams that feel the need to compete, then helpful messages will not be fed across between them. So what was built wrong and delivers the wrong thing stays there and will be wrong in the next version too. That is the inertial element of behaviour that initiatives like devops and whole service lifecycle approaches have to contend with. We shouldn’t think it can be as easy as just telling people to collaborate and communicate. Like all challenges we need to recognise what we are fighting – and to fight back.
So – what are good ways to start? Perhaps as simply as recognising that while we might bond comfortably into (say) a ‘development’ team or an ‘operations’ team (or any one of a dozen more) – that doesn’t make the other team the opposition – I think that would be a good first step, if we can finally realise that – by and large – what benefits one team also benefits the other.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  ivor service-management itil itsmf ibm itsm service 2,034 Visits
As may have been noticed from recent blogs I spent most of the last month travelling. Actually thinking about it, most of my last 33 years has been travelling for work. So while I might spend much of my time talking about service with IT professionals; the services that most impact my life tend to be related to the travel industry. Seems to me that service is service, and many of the lessons learned in travelling – and watching people while travelling – are very relevant in all aspects of service delivery, IT related or not.
What has really impressed itself upon my mind recently is how receiving services – of whatever kind – can so often make you feel offended, insulted, slighted or just plain angry. Objective thought makes it pretty obvious that the intention was actually to deliver good service, but somehow it can be hard to believe that when you see some of the symptoms of not thinking things through.
Let’s start with a fairly innocuous and
almost silly example from the
What I couldn’t help but notice, and that stuck in my mind more than anything else, were the local information maps displayed – a good and helpful feature that shows important buildings near enough to walk to from each station. They show where places are using colour-coded dots, for example pink dots show hotels. At my local station there were three hotel dots – so I which hotels were served by that metro stop. But it didn’t tell me which hotels they were – just that they are hotels – how much more effort would it have taken to write the names on? And how much would that final piece of data been worth? I think that’s what bothers me – when suppliers seem to do 90% of the work right but that missing 10% destroys 90% of the value.
But OK, I am sure that will be remedied - eventually. There is, however, a characteristic of physically delivered services that I see so often – and bothers people so much – that I have tried to give it a name. Best I have so far is VNS, Visible Non-Service. I am sure you have seen it – travellers will see it at airline travel desks and immigration counters, but all of us see it almost daily at banks, post offices and shops. Let me set out a typical scenario - one I saw last week (and most times I travel). There are 5 or 6 customer service desks; two of them have staff serving the waiting line of customers, one by one. At another desk are two of the airline or airport staff – every now and then a customer in a hurry goes up to them, only to be turned away. These people are not attending to customers. No, it might be that they are doing some critically important task, vital filing, discussing long term business strategy etc. But why do they do it in font of the customers? We can see only paid supplier staff NOT helping us, and apparently not caring. Actually, I think banks are amongst the worse offenders, frequently seating staff at customer facing positions to do non-customer facing work.
It seems to me that this is a failure to think through how customers perceive things. Of course it might make perfect sense to the planners and HR people – making best use of physical space, having managers where they can see staff working etc. But – if you feel tempted to do this, or anything else that customers will see - please think through how it will look and feel to someone who was NOT there when you planned it.
In fact VNS and other ways to disregard customer perception – once you think it through – have significant implication and consequences: whether that is IT applications that decide to archive your records when at times apparently selected to annoy you the most, scheduled maintenance that seems to target your busy periods or supervisory staff walking around apparently doing nothing helpful while customers wait in long lines. The more complex our world gets, the easier it is to get things wrong. Like the maintenance slot that is obviously good to the planner in New York but which hits the obvious usage slot in Dubai (where Sunday is the first working day of the week, and you want your administration services – like expense reporting – up and running at the start of the week – which is when business travellers typically do their expenses.
So if you are planning services that a customer will see, please do me a favour: try and think how it will be seen and perceived, putting aside how logical YOU already know it is. As the man said – perception is reality, try to make your customers’ perception into your reality.
Final story, about how it is possible to get it right. Many years back, when I worked for the UK Forestry Commission, I recall talking with our Recreation Planning Officer. He had just designed and constructed some way-marked walks through a forest he personally knew very well. Before he allowed them to be opened to the public, he brought his children in, and walked behind them on the route – noting down everywhere they had trouble seeing the right way – and then he corrected those faults. I believe that nowadays this might be called ‘User Acceptance Testing’ – and what it needs is users, not suppliers pretending they can see it from a user perspective.
ivor macfarlane 2700022KPS IVORMACF@uk.ibm.com Tags:  simulation ibm ivor itsm tivoli itil itsmf 2,054 Visits
I delivered an SM simulation for a client in the middle of a tropical paradise in
Well, like Frank, I was there to work, and work I did –another successful and fun game – I always enjoy how much the delegates enjoy the experience; we should all have more work that actually makes people happy.
We had a mix of
nationalities and cultures on the game – a real challenge but one that brings
its own extra flavours. I was thinking about those cultural variations on the drive
My driver was a very nice man – a pleasure to share a space with, just enough English to converse, comfortable with silence and caring enough to return from a rest stop with an unsolicited bottle of water for me; plus a cheerful insistence that I try local specialties that I might not have seen before So, all-in-all, clearly he is a man who wants me to be comfortable and survive the journey.
So, why did he frighten the living daylights out of me at irregular intervals on the way? Simply by behaving normally for his culture: using road verges to pass trucks at high speed on the wrong side, overtaking in the middle of road works, driving at high speed within inches of other vehicles. While this seemed reckless to my culture, it is everyday for Brasil. It made me realise that as well as the social variations, culture extends to acceptable risk – what would just result in a late arrival in western Europe is met with a calculated risk to get past the slow moving obstacles, a culture that values speed over safety perhaps? Or more likely just the inevitable reaction to the extreme traffic volumes and conditions there. I didn’t see it as a better nor a worse attitude, just a different one – and there being differences left in the world is something I, for one, feel is an unmitigatedly good thing.
many Brasilian taxi drivers before, so I was not surprised, but what did amaze
me was how quickly and unnoticed that culture got into my thinking and
unconscious actions. Back in the
So if we copy cultural elements so quickly after so short a visit – and that copying spills over into our next situation, do we do that with our customers too? Do we bring the needs of the previous customer we worked with to our next, even if it isn’t the right culture for them? Maybe this is just one more thing for us to watch out for in our business relationships?