Cloud & Service Management blog
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I am writing this on a plane back to England from Madrid, at the end of a pretty hectic few weeks that involved speaking at five itSMF events in five different countries – from Finland to Spain. There has to be a good joke somewhere in a run of 5 events that started with the Finnish – but I’ll let you work that that one out for yourselves.
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In every walk of life we see the components in things:
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I’ve done a few talks to camera recently – interviews at the itSMF Spain conference and a mock programme at the UK. The UK thought I was perfect for ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and I have to admit I fit the title’s parameters. I watched the people using modern video equipment and it did make me feel old. Nearly 40 years ago I was editor of the student TV society at University and I was recalling how many of us it took to deliver 30 minutes worth of black & white programme onto 2 inch wide reel-to-reel video tape. It seems all but unbelievable watching the kids now (the age I was then) record it in perfectly balanced colour on something the size of a small book – when our kit weighed more than the library. But the whole situation is another example of getting focused on the changes and missing what stays the same.
While the television technology has changed beyond recognition, the basics of interviewing haven’t. So hopefully I helped by trying to follow those basic rules for an interviewee – ignore the camera, keep talking, try to say something interesting. You can judge for yourself at http://www.best-management-practice.tv/best-management-practice-at-the-itsmf-uk-conference-2010. (Actually if you are sad enough to be interested in the earlier ITIL days, I shall be writing an article on that next year.)
So, this TV stuff is like most services these days – the technology bit keeps changing, using new ideas – basically becoming far more complex to understand whilst at the same time becoming ever easier to use. That means customer expectations keep increasing (you don’t find many people content with black & white TV any more) but at the real core, the prime deliverables remain the same. We might talk more and more about plasma vs LCD, 3D, surround sound, HD and all the rest; but the real satisfaction comes from watching people be clever, funny, informative etc in a way that holds our attention and entertains us.
And there is the heart of most of what I have been talking about at conferences for the past few years. It is easy to measure things like pixels and screen size and the number of channels and hours of programming available, but so much harder to measure what we actually want from a TV service.
Keeping that old television link, last week was the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder: a sad time for anyone of my age and background. So I found myself watching old clips of Lennon on a programme recalling his life. Now the man was clearly an extremist with impossible dreams – and I may well return to my belief that we need some extremists to make the majority move at all, but that’s another blog. One of his lines, though, did trigger the realisation that this need for real measurement isn’t a new idea. He was ranting about governments (as usual) and said “If anybody can put on paper what our government, and the American government etc., and the Russian, Chinese, what they are actually trying to do, you know, and what they think they're doing, I'd be very pleased to know what they think they're doing”. Now he followed that with “I think they're all insane!” which perhaps is more about presumed results than objective measurement, but nonetheless the basic concept is interesting.
We want to know what is at the heart of our and others’ behaviour but it is very difficult to express that. It is hard even to ask sometimes in a way that doesn’t sound as if you have failed to pick up the social or business norms; because often we just presume there is a reason and take the usual comfort in things ‘that have always been done like that’. Maybe it is just easier to hide behind the numbers and the detail of how you are doing things rather than making it all that clear what it is you are trying to do, why you are doing it or even who you think you are doing it for.
One last seasonal example maybe, since it is mid-December as I write this. Many of us will get back to work in January to be greeted by the question ‘Did you have a good Christmas?’ For those who did, you will know without recourse to precise measurements – it isn’t based on the number of presents you received, how many carols you sang or how much turkey you ate. Unless the biggest fun you have is skiing, it probably won’t have mattered that much if it snowed. But if you had a good Christmas then you will know – but my, isn’t it hard to set genuinely accurate measures beforehand?
And what can we learn from that, or at least set out to do better? Maybe if we are buying or delivering any kind of service we should at least try to be aware of – if not the ultimate – then at least a higher level goal. And don’t be surprised or disappointed if your expensive new TV might not affect the entertainment value, although it will help you see the ball better in the cricket, and that might be an important factor. And at work, a new finance package won’t make your profit margins higher – but it might tell you faster what they are, and perhaps that makes an important difference. Just be sure that’s important enough for what it is costing you, and that you know the knock-on effect onto the higher level measure.
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I recently booked my travel for a business trip to the
If there is
anyone out there actually reading this stuff, and is in Vegas for Pulse, or at
the LIG is
But – not
unusually – I have distracted myself a little from where I thought I was going
when I started writing this. So … I booked some flights: from
Let me divert again a little bit and remind you – because you are all experts and know this stuff – about a basic knowledge management concept; the spectrum that runs data->information->knowledge->wisdom. At the beginning data is extensive but not too helpful. If it ever reaches wisdom it actually helps you survive and thrive.
But back to that
travel information I was getting. Remember I had booked a flight in late
February to the
I interpret it –this may be grossly unfair of me, but I am the customer and customer perception is what matters – like this: travel advice is being planned and delivered by someone who goes to the same desk in the same office everyday, and rarely puts foot on an airplane. Of course the real culprit behind this is ease of programming – data is cheap and plentiful, applying some basic ideas to turn that into information is quite fun, sounds good and means you can despatch all sorts of travel notice updates to people who will be travelling sometime in the future. But it is – sorry but it really is – just using data because you have it. Maybe they bill on the number of messages? Maybe they really think I want to know? The real consequence is that I delete these emails unread now – so if they were by some miracle to send me something useful, I would miss it altogether.
last year this system showed the kind of silo thinking that comes from not
knowing the customer’s environment – the kind you often see in service
management reporting. I spoke for itSMF
Now of course
I suppose if somebody were to ask me what I want notifications about, I would be happy to work with them, and set up delivering something that goes beyond information, starts delivering knowledge and gets me the wisdom I need to make the right decisions.
But if that is actually ever to happen then those of us receiving all this useless information need to realise it is – mostly – our fault. I could have responded offering to help them improve, I could proactively tell them what I need – I could offer some of my time as an investment in my own future knowledge and wisdom deliverables. But It is easier (and more fun?) to carp and whinge – so maybe my New Year’s resolution should have been around practising what I preach – doing what I talked about in my itSMF conference presentations last year – and to start being a good, committed constructive customer because it won’t get better otherwise.
OK – I’m off to find the ‘help us improve our service’ button on the web site. See you at Pulse?
 Best explanation of the step from knowledge to wisdom is one I stole from my daughter, Rosie and it goes ‘Knowledge tells you a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable; wisdom is knowing that but also knowing not to put it in a fruit salad’.
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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?
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I set out do this blog as a pretty shameless advert for my article in the latest issue of the itSMF International magazine. So let’s get that bit out of the way first – it is here – read it soon!
But actually thinking about the itSMF magazine leads naturally on to talk about the itSMF International publishing and the recent success stories – and success stories should be talked about, so I’ll do that now. It has been a while since the international publishing committee of itSMF (IPESC) faded out – but while IPESC may be dead, I felt its spirit, innovation and enthusiasm resurrected at our recent chapter publishing meeting. IPESC was always full of good intentions, but the difference now is the ability to take ideas forward to our itSMF’s own publications – and to produce good things.
The magazine is one of those things. It may not be exactly War and Peace – but it is the kind of things that professional service managers might read, enjoy and then look for the next issue coming out – exactly the positive reinforcement cycle we need to create a tipping point. Actually, the meeting itself was another great thing. So far as we can tell this was the most chapters ever represented at any kind of itSMF meeting – including all previous AGMs.
IBM – along with TSO – sponsored the meeting, and we also hosted it at the IBM Amsterdam office. That sponsorship gave me the right (and from my management’s perspective, the obligation) to a 10 minute agenda item to address the meeting. Now, those of you who know me will realise I don’t usually need the justification of an agenda item to talk. But, given the nature of my audience, I wondered what to talk about in that formal situation. The obligatory ‘IBM has something you might be interested in seeing’ bit was easy – a quick demo of our new G2G3 developed virtual simulators – plenty about those in other blogs on this site so go read them I won’t repeat it here.
My main message – and one I feel strong enough about that I want to repeat it here – was how important sponsorship like this is.
itSMF is (also rightly) proud of its ‘owned by the members’ and ‘not for profit’ nature – and so it shapes the community more than any other organisation – or more accurately it helps its members shape and develop that community. But being not for profit doesn’t stop there being bills. We all share in this service management community, and it seems to me both right and necessary that the key players in the industry take seriously the need to also be key supporters of that community.
For many sponsorship is seen as a way to
keep conference prices low, or just about advertising leverage. The sponsorship
of meetings like the publications gathering in
So what I spoke about in
itSMFI is producing important parts of our professional future, and there is the chance for all players in this community to support - big companies with big sponsorship through to individuals getting involved and active. So get on board - please.
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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.
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I was teaching an ITIL course last week – with the managers’ bridge route to the ITIL expert about to close, there was a sudden need for a trainer and I got the chance to pick up a training gig in
For all its economic challenges it is good
But I had a great time work wise too, a rare opportunity to focus again on the ITIL material, a reminder of some parts I had all but forgotten – including some it seems I wrote myself. Most important though was the chance to talk with the others on the course, getting an insight again into how this stuff works in the real world – the delegates all being part of our managed service accounts and delivering real service management to real customers on a day-to-day basis.
I guess I need that reminder now and again:
writing, talking – even thinking – about things is good and important stuff,
but if we lose sight and touch with actually doing the things we talk about
then inevitably we will get that writing and thinking and planning wrong. I was
lucky enough to visit some real service management workers the week before
also. That was in
So - a couple of weeks of good lessons for me, and I hope for my students also. I had a good reminder of the need to keep real, to encourage reality above ideals. I learned not to presume how a place will be, nor to be too concerned if it looks a little different to begin with. Despite appearances, service management issues have more in common than you might think – across counties, cultures and industries – which gives us all a large community of colleagues to discuss matters with and to exchange ideas and conversation. I guess that is what we look to organisations like itSMF to facilitate in the widest sense: service management craic.
Anyway – I am looking forward to keeping in touch with service management reality – through talking to and working with people in real service management jobs, be that through training, conference discussion or more directly. We all need that good mix of ideas and practicality.
 Go ask an Irish friend if you don’t know the word: you will know the concept because good conversation and pleasure in good company is not an Irish preserve, although they are especially good at it – and one of the few to have coined a word for it.
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