I am just back from a week working in Tokyo
. For someone who
writes as much as I do about the need to understand customer culture and how
that affects expectations, it is always a good lesson to visit Japan, where the
culture is about as different (from where I normally work) as you get within
the service management world. (Of course culture does get even more different in,
say, certain Amazonian tribes or a primary school playground, but with little
formal ITIL adoption there as yet, Tokyo
is my extreme of difference.)
Although the shadow of the tsunami and very
real loss to the community endures, the human spirit carries on and people
still laugh and enjoy life. One of the pleasant surprises is how universal
humour can be. It is also easy to forget how quickly people’s behaviour adapts
and copies from those around them. You really only notice the extent to which
you adapt when you get back home. For example it took me a while to stop bowing
to people and also to stop smiling at people in the street, restaurants etc –
or certainly to stop expecting them to smile back.
I also got used to things that I would
expect not to cope with easily. Specifically after the first day or so I was no
longer bothered by how much my room on the 16th floor shook when one
of the steady stream of aftershocks wobbled Tokyo. That reminded me of how worryingly
quickly I had got used to seeing young men with machine gums patrolling the
streets while working in Belfast
in 1992. Seems we absorb new technology just as quickly, and it takes very
little time for what seemed new and so different to become everyday life.
People as old as me can remember life without a mobile phone, but already I
find it hard to recall how it felt to be out of contact whenever out of the house or office, let alone that it didn’t bother me to be unreachable.
But coping without things you have got used
to does happen – and it is clear there are some very direct lessons for service
management in Tokyo
today. Obviously in the light of their unfortunate experience and need for disaster
recovery and business continuity they are well placed to be the source of most
of the case studies for the next few years. It may well be a long time before
even the immediate effects stop being so visible – there is an obligation for a
15% reduction in electricity consumption that looks set to last a long while.
That kind of thing has so many knock-on effects you quickly realise how
dependent we are on technology. Not only because it is a shock to go back to
old ways – and waving a fan may be an ancient Japanese tradition but it much less
effective than air conditioning; but because we depend on so much that cannot
function without the technological infrastructure. The power reduction of 15%
has to applied carefully, because so many things – like data centre power –
must be maintained. So the power for things that drive mere comfort is hit very
hard – very little cooling in offices and, for example, my hotel had turned off
That made me think of just how complex our
everyday infrastructures have become, with so much more than electricity on our
critical list. It perhaps should be a compulsory occasional exercise to think through just how many things we
presume will be available – not just the obvious (utilities, access, people etc).
I am sure we would all be surprised at some of the things we tacitly depend on –
and equally sure there are good stories to be told about some of them – any offers?.
This week (for any latecomers, I’m writing this on June 8th) is our Innovation event in Orlando. I’m not there but with modern social media it is nonetheless possible to hear much of what is going on. And quite a bit of what is being said there is about “devops”.
So, suitably intrigued, I consulted the modern version of the Delphic oracle (Wikipedia) says about it. And there I found this line “Devops is frequently described as a more collaborative and productive relationship between development teams and operations teams”.
One statement: simultaneously reassuring and terrifying.
Firstly it’s reassuring because anything that works towards the realisation that development and operation are not really separated by any kind of wall has to be a good thing. Of course there are different areas of focus at different times in the life of a service but they all should have the same aim – delivering what is needed in best possible way. We already all knew that, it is so obviously sensible that who would vote against it? The equally obvious fact that we then don’t do it is one for the psychologists and later blogs, but does lead me into my other reaction:-
The horror that we should be 50+ years into IT services before this seems important to enough for people to give a trendy name. How on earth have we survived this long without a “collaborative and productive relationship” between the people who build something and the people who operate it? And bear in mind both those groups are doing it for the same customer (in theory anyway).
To be fair to IT people though, perhaps this is an obligatory engineering practice we have picked up. Who remembers the days when getting your car repaired was unrelated to buying it? You bought it in the clean and shiny showroom at the front of the dealer, took it to the oily shed around the back if it broke. One of the things that has seen a step-change in the car industry – and is also changing ours and most others – is the realisation that we are now all delivering services and not products. So we are finally realising that long term usability and value is what defines success, not a shiny new – but fragile – toy. In fact, thinking of toys we all recall the gap between expectation and delivery of our childhood toys – the fancy and expensively engineered product that broke by Christmas evening compared to the cheap and solid – be it doll or push along car – that lasted until we outgrew it.
The car industry saw that happen – and we now have companies leading their adverts with a promise of lifetime car driving with their latest vehicles – with the mould really having been broken by Asian manufacturers offering 5 year unlimited mileage warranties. That was about selling a self-controlled transport service instead of a car – and really that is what most of us want. Amazing strides taking place on that front, of course, being taken by companies like Zipcar who have thought simply enough to see there is no absolute link between that service (self controlled transport) and car ownership. (Some of us want other things from a car of course – but that just leads us into the key first step of any successful service, know what your customer(s) want.)
Why I get so interested in all this is its basically what I’ve been saying for the last 20 years – my big advantage is that I came into IT from a services environment (I worked in a part of our organisation called ‘services group’) – and I never really understood why IT needed such a large and artificial wall between build and do. ITIL was (in large part) set up to try and break down the walls – initially an attempt to set up serious best practices and methodologies within operations to match what was already alive and well in development (hence the original name of the project – GITIMM, to mirror SSADM).
So … what am I saying? Please take devops seriously if that is what is needed to get better services. The complexity we need to address now means we have to stop maintaining any practices that prevent good ongoing service design and delivery. If giving it a name and a structure helps then let’s go there.
One of the things I am most proud about in the books I have contributed to is that we made up a fancy name for something good people already did (in our case early Life Support) – the intention was to give it profile and then people would add it to job roles and actually start to plan for it and then, finally, do it better.
Of course that brings with it the chance of looking like the emperor in his new clothes once you examine the detail and originality too carefully. But that’s good too – clever and original usually = doesn’t work too well at first. Solid old common sense (eventually) seems to me to offer a much firmer foundation to build on.
We need good foundations because the situation is actually a lot more complicated than we pretend – multiple customers, other stakeholders, users, operations as users – enough for a dozen more blogs, a handful of articles and a book. So … I’d better get on writing – and maybe so should you?
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 Dublin
. Well, on the edge
actually – in Blanchardstown. Turns out that is place to make you question your
presumptions about a country – the view from the hotel window (as you can see)
could at first glance have been most any mall in any US
town. And after being used to
seeing an Irish Bar in every town I go, this time I spent 4 days without even
seeing a pub! So, not your typical Irish trip, but both pleasant and useful
For all its economic challenges it is good
to see Ireland
still as friendly as ever – a modern multi-cultural EU country now, certainly
more expensive than ever before, but still they understand the craic. It is nice
to be in one of those towns where you are expected to sit in the front seat of
the taxi and talk about life and its meaning and pleasures – and even though my
drivers were from Hong Kong, Africa and Ulster
rather than Dublin,
still it all felt very Irish and human sized.
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 Abu Dhabi – a different
culture from Ireland
for sure but mostly the same issues that people in our industry face like
resistance to change and even more resistance to change management; where to
start, how to measure, the need to derive pragmatism and realism from the
theory in the best practice books.
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
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 Dubai
metro system. This metro is brand new, really impressive, fast, clean
comfortable – and cheap. I can forgive its rather early closing time (11pm) and
late start on the weekend as a necessary acknowledgement of how many taxis and
especially taxi drivers need to continue to make a living – and how much they
may have felt threatened by the new metro.
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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 Amsterdam makes a real difference to itSMF
being able to work on initiatives (in this case publications initiatives) that
push the boundaries and develop our community – things that can take us all
forwards. That kind of innovation – like ITIL itself 22 years ago – cannot be proprietary.
Like ITIL though the proprietary players stand to benefit from the evolution
and development of the non-proprietary guidance.
So what I spoke about in Amsterdam, and what seems important enough
for me to say again, is that the community needs its big players to put enough
back in. IBM sponsored that event, I hope IBM will sponsor again – but I would
like it even more if we have serious competition from some other big names to
get the good sponsorship.
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.
I delivered an
SM simulation for a client in the middle of a tropical paradise in Brazil
last week. It is a hard life but I guess someone has to do it. The countryside
around was stunningly beautiful, and the views driving there even more so. I
was reminded of the great Frank Keating’s reporting from an English cricket
tour of the West Indies
for readers in a cold
and wet British winter; his opening line to his readers: “Another day
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
back to São Paulo
airport – and I realised there is much more to culture than the obvious things
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 UK, driving home from the airport I
found myself changing lanes MUCH more than I usually would. Not too recklessly
I hope, but it took a while before I was back to my normal UK driving
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?
I recently booked
my travel for a business trip to the US
at the end of February. I will
be talking at several itSMF USA Local Interest Groups and – of course
– be attending IBM’s big
service management spectacular – Pulse in Las
February. I’m looking
forward to the trip, and not just to escape the British winter weather. I am
delivering our simulation ‘game’ on the Sunday at Pulse and Atlanta
in March - they are always fun, especially
our new one with added cloud features. But the best part is getting to meet
people, customers and suppliers, both at Pulse and in the itSMF meetings. There
really is no substitute for meetings with grassroots practitioners to keep up
to date. And always fun too, you do still meet such nice people in this
If there is
anyone out there actually reading this stuff, and is in Vegas for Pulse, or at
the LIG is San Francisco, Fort
Lauderdale or Atlanta
– do come and say hello. And if you would like to be part of our
cloud-flavoured SM simulation at Pulse please visit our landing page, and
then RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
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 London
to Las Vegas and back to Europe from Atlanta about two weeks
later. As we all know, we live in the information age so immediately I started
to receive information. And I do admit it was information –I had booked a
flight to the US
and I got information about the situation in the country I was going to.
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 Nevada desert; what I received
by email was warning me about traffic disruption in downtown Washington DC
in late January. I have subsequently been advised of snow problems in New York. Now this has good conversational value,
allowing me to sound knowledgeable and sympathetic on calls with New Yorkers,
but I suspect that was not the intention.
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
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 Sweden
in Malmo, getting to Malmo is really easy – you fly to the nearest
airport and take the train direct from airport to town centre. But two factors
combined to deliver me information even less useful then usual. One, the system
thinks only in terms of flights and rental cars – I think it rather looks down
on train travel as a bit common. Those of us who use trains mostly have to buy
the ticket when we get to the station. Second factor is that the nearest
airport to Malmo is Copenhagen
– a lovely and convenient airport with great direct train services – but it
just happens to be in Denmark.
So, yes you guessed it, I got lots of travel advice about visiting Denmark, there could have been civil
insurrection and rioting in the streets in Malmo and they wouldn’t have told me – why
that’s a whole different country!
Now of course Sweden doesn’t
do insurrection, I travelled easily and had a good time at an excellent event
without any issues. But all this useless information I get seems symptomatic to
me of measuring the wrong things – probably something we are all guilty of,
because – as I have said before in these blogs – measuring the right things is
harder, but if we can manage it then it drives us into doing the right things.
Maybe at the real heart of this though is the simple statement, if you don’t
know what you are aiming at, you are unlikely to hit it.
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
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
OK – I’m off to
find the ‘help us improve our service’ button on the web site. See you at Pulse?
a final reminder – For simulation information go to our landing page- for info
on LIG presentations go to http://www.itsmfusa.org/local-interest-groups
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.
In every walk of life we see the components in things:
- In football it is - Strikers, defenders, midfield (some of you may need to translate from the English: ‘football’ to ‘soccer’ to understand that one)
- With vehicles it might be - Engine, transmission, chassis
- Service management is held to be - People, process, technology
Wherever we are we, we break thing up into components.
Take the first two and it’s clear – however good the parts are – if they aren’t integrated then it isn’t going to deliver what you need and excellence in just one area is all but useless as far as the required end product is concerned
In real life the secret is delivering value because value is what makes it a service – without value it is just a way to pass the time, not a service.
In soccer the benefits of interaction of the parts is important and very visible – and many years ago the Dutch showed the world it could go to a higher level with what they called ‘total Football’. I think a better name – for the generic concept at least – is ‘Integration’. Seeing the parts and getting each as good as possible is important – seeing the synergies between the parts and making them all fit is the differentiator.
In service management terms, it seems to me, the differentiating piece of integration is the one that marries a customer need (some kind of value that is wanted) with the ability to deliver it. Now writing that down, it seems trivial, obvious and simple. As is often the case it seems to be harder in practice – perhaps because the customer need is something that has to exist when the delivery is possible – and indeed one may create the other. By that I mean that many of the most impressive pieces of service delivery we see in this rapidly changing 21st century are about seeing what value new technological possibilities could deliver. You might even call it creating a requirement that the customers hadn’t dreamed they needed until it became available.
One of the advantages of working for a big company – like IBM – is that you get to find out about some of the really smart stuff our customers are doing – and so it was exciting to read an inside view on GM’s new Volt electric car. You can read elsewhere about the car itself and of course from an IBM perspective the favourite focus is on how they have used IBM products to help it all happen. Now I am sure similar things are happening throughout many industries but this one was in front of me and it illustrates nicely something I have been talking about for so long. Although IT underpins this innovation – the integration is everything.
Of course there is GM’s clever recognition of the ever increasing green agenda and spotting – in time to actually create it – the demand for a kind of car that would have been unwanted in earlier times.
But there is another integration going on too – apparently the Volt carries with it some 10 million lines of code that are all invisible to the driver – it might have more IT than most IT projects but – apparently – it feels like a car. So it is a great example of integration all round. It relies on software – its own software, the software it was developed on (Rational of course J) and because it is also an engineering programme the reality of delivery rests upon asset management and coordination. So – a wonderful instance of what I keep saying – integration is everything – getting the components working together to deliver the whole. That is true within service management – where things like people, process and technology ALL have to work and work with each other.
It is also true about integrated service management as one part of a bigger whole – with integration layer upon integration layer – and all integrated together. Manage it and you get services delivering real value – often a value that the customers didn’t even imagine they would need before it became possible – that they consider worth paying for. Get the integration wrong and you have impressive parts - of interest only to a very few.
By the way – this particular stream of ideas is also the subject of a webcast I have just recorded – anyone masochistic enough to want more can find it at http://event.on24.com/eventRegistration/EventLobbyServlet?target=previewLobby.jsp&eventid=266980&sessionid=1&key=29C93F8FD093E54988959855346B29A6
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.
Anyway, I already wrote about how good the Finnish conference had been, and the Spanish one matched it with all the simple things done really well: good venue, lots of people (all friendly). As well as getting the basics dead right there were one or two minor excursions into the unusual, with a plate spinning performer on the opening morning, (who was upstaged as a professional juggler by the itSMF chair) and a conference dinner in a restaurant with opera singing waiters (all of which somehow felt quite normal).
Attending a range of events in a row like this really brings to mind how there is a common thread throughout them all – clearly the main one is our common focus on service management. Also, many of the same people are at each event including several representatives of our little mutual admiration society of regular speakers at such things Perhaps because of that common theme though, there is an appreciation of the differences – still quite noticeable across so small a place as Western Europe.
That hits you immediately on arrival at a new conference when you run until a long term acquaintance of the opposite sex and prepare yourself for the welcoming hug and kiss on the cheek. As the travelers among you likely already know, you have to perform a quick mental calculation based on where your fellow hugger and kisser is from, and then make an assumption as to whether they will follow their national rules or be adapting to the local ones. It can be an embarrassing moment when your Dutch friend goes to offer that third kiss to the cheek of a man who is in Spanish greetings mode and has turned away after two. Many of the experienced Southern Europeans seem to have little concern over simply asking the lady beforehand how many are expected. But the more staid British and American folks can find themselves out of synchrony and not sure why - helping them find out that European Union, Schengen open borders and pervasive English notwithstanding, there are still many cultures packed into a small space and the variation between (and even within) countries is so much more than between US or Australian states.
None of this is serious stuff of course – all part of life’s rich pattern and a source of fun and laughter when accompanied by a glass of wine. But the conversation it generated turned quickly into broader cultural differences – a subject I was interested in since it formed an element of my talk at most of these events. How many times do we say the wrong thing to our customers or fail to understand what they really mean because we fail to establish common understanding and expectations? Some cultures are reluctant to complain about bad service – be that in a restaurant or in the work environment, while others believe they should always comment with an aspect that could be improved, even when the service is very good. Fail to understand what kind of customer you are dealing with and you can be unnecessarily worried or totally surprised when a contract is not renewed.
For many multinational companies this is everyday business and they put significant effort into understanding and training their people to see through cultural variations. But as mobility and the intermingling of cultures accelerates so rapidly, with even small companies using offshored supply and almost everyone receiving service from other cultures it is something perhaps we all need to focus more effort on.
The consequences of not doing might well be more serious than a failed kiss on an unexpectedly absent cheek.