Cloud & Service Management blog
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Well, we are well into 2012 now and we have just about got though the ‘my predictions for 2012’ phase and in to ordinary routines again. Whatever the predictions, like with most years I predict that 2012 will look a lot like an older version of 2011.
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Today we trust computers – literally and unconsciously with our very lives. I was reflecting on this level of trust when I got £50 of cash out from my local ATM and declined the offer of a receipt. Seems I now have total faith the computer systems will ‘get it right’. I’ve come a long way from keeping all my own cheque books to cross check against later bank statements.
Now, combining that faith with a little healthy British cynicism, and triggered by watching the Olympics tennis finals on TV, a mischievous but irresistible thought came to my mind.
It used to be that when a ball hit the ground near the line we relied on the human eye to say whether it was ‘in’ or ‘out’. That caused disagreements and discussion – and - in tennis often - sulking, swearing and the full range of petulant behaviour.
Nowadays that is all replaced by referencing the technology. When there is doubt – or one of the players questions a call - then we simply ask the computers. What we get then is a neat little picture representing the appropriate lines on the court and a blob showing where the ball had hit. So, problem solved: disappointment still for one player but, so it seems, total acceptance that the computer is right. After all it is an expensive system working away inside a very expensive box – must be right, mustn’t it. Or to put it another way ‘computer says in’, who would argue?
But what occurred to me is this. All we can actually see is some boxes around the court, and a stylised display with a blob on it. That could be delivered by one person with a tablet showing the court lines and them touching the screen where they think it landed. Very cheap and still solves all the arguments because – naturally – everyone trusts technology don’t they!
Now – of course, and before anyone calls their lawyers – I am not suggesting for the merest moment that there is the slightest possibility of such a thing happening. But it’s fun to think it might be possible. There is little public awareness of what accuracy the system – and here I presume it does really exist – works to. If you dig around on the web you can find out (the answer by the way for tennis is 3.6mm). You also find out there is some very minor grumbling and questioning going on. But that seem at geek level – in everyday use the audience stands instantly convinced.
So, thinking it through there are a couple of interesting consequences to real IT life:
I guess my big issue is to wonder how comfortable we are – as the deliverers of the technological solutions for our customers – and especially our users - to have such blind faith. Of course, people being the irrational things they undoubtedly are, that blind faith in the detail is often accompanied by a cynical disregard for overall competence – think faith in ATMs and on-line bank account figures with the apparent level of trust in the banking industry as a whole.
As a little codicil to the story, I registered with anew doctor yesterday – the nurse asked me questions, took blood pressure etc and loaded all the data she collected into a computer. The system was clearly ancient, with a display synthesising what you typically got on a DOS3.0 system. First thought: ‘OMG why are they using such old software, that can’t be good? Second thought: ‘They’ve obviously been using it for years, so they really understand it, have ironed out all the bugs and it does what they need. It ain’t broke so they aren’t fixing it’. But my instinctive reaction of suspicion of it for not being pretty was there and I had to consciously correct myself.
Would you as a service provider prefer more questioning of what you package up and present to your customers and users, or are you happy to have that faith? My own view is that the more blind faith they have in you, the more the retribution will hurt if things do go wrong. Or perhaps that’s just me being cynical again?
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Just about my very first experience in IT – brought onto a project as a customer ‘expert’ – was listening to the IT guys debating how to make use of the data we already had on the old system. In my naivety at the time I had thought computers used ‘computer language’. Quickly I realised they were more like people than I had suspected – that there were lots of computer languages, and each computer spoke only one of them, and could make no sense of the others.
Now, in the interceding years (some 27 of them L) great progress has been made – we expect computers to talk to each other. This almost universal technological communication ability sometimes blinds IT people to the fact that human communication has not evolved similarly.
Until we perfect direct thought transference, all the communication we do, whether written or spoken, texted, tweeted or painted on the walls, relies on a two stage process. First you put your ideas into words (usually words and sometimes also gestures or pictures – or a combination of all three). Then someone else has to take those words etc and turn them into thoughts inside their head. There is always an ‘encrypt/decrypt’ section to human communication.
Now that can get messy, confusing and create all sorts of mistakes in delivering the message. You probably wouldn’t design it that way. In fact in a pure IT context we would be looking at ways to deliver direct communication in a standard format from one system to the other. But people don’t work that way; it is what we have and we need to work with it.
Communication isn’t just about being accurate; I think it is better measured by whether it is useful. In IT, people still manage to get the communication spectacularly wrong by not thinking about the whether the customer (or client or user) is equipped to decrypt the message. As one example, here is an error message I got on my screen the other day, apparently intended to inform me why the software couldn’t do what I had asked it to do: “Unable to contact the target back-end forwarding host (proxy target)”. I presume that made perfect sense to the person who set the software up to deliver that. They were maybe a great programmer, but evidently not a human communications specialist.
It’s easy enough just to dismiss this as one more version of ‘Computer says no’, but why is it no surprise? Maybe it’s because we still seem to think it OK to throw our jargon at others who don’t share it. Or maybe we forget they don't know what we do. Actually, to be fair this is not only an IT thing – ask anyone who has been caught on a French train having failed to quite understand the printed message exhorting them “composter votre billet”. (And if you don't already know but intend to travel on a French train, trust me, you need to find out what it means, but it isn’t a French word that they usually teach you in basic language classes. A classic case of encrypt/decrypt failure in a service management situation that has nothing to do with IT.)
The technologists amongst us love the challenge of integration, communication across platforms etc. but there is recognition that this is expensive and should be unnecessary – an area where standards and commonality help everyone. Why do we forget our most common encrypt/decrypt situation – getting a message from one mind to another.
I hope that the irresistible tide of universal cloud adoption and pervasive social media communication will solve all these troubles – and allow us to concentrate on the people issues more. But so far the social media snowball doesn’t seemed to have reduced jargon – quite the opposite. Those of at a certain age are now totally incapable of understanding what are children are saying, even when they give us access to their on-line worlds.
Actually, this is fresh in my mind now because it forms a little game we will play during my talk at Monday 5th March at Pulse – our big SM event in Vegas next month. I plan to have people encrypting and decrypting during that session. I am interested to see how they get on, and hopefully to make them realise there are some simple tools we can use to make things better. Nothing magic, and the same techniques we demonstrate in the simulator. Mostly they rely on establishing common ground – establishing communication channels and learning what will work, by finding shared understandings, and by relying on more than words alone when it makes a difference.
The best part about all that is that from the outside it might look like gossip and drinking at the bar – but we realise it is building business critical communicating platforms and channels. The message that things can be both fun and relevant at the same time is also part of the session.
So, if you are at Pulse maybe you will be able to come along at 6pm on Monday. If not I hope to get the chance to encrypt/decrypt with you at another event this year. And thank you for your efforts in decrypting this message, I hope it wasn’t too difficult – and I hope it has some resemblance inside your head to the one that was in mine.
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Over the recent Christmas break, I found myself at lunch with an Enterprise Architect and the conversation turned – as it does - to the future of the IT industry. we agreed on the topic of what IT jobs and attitudes should be over the next 10 years – others at the table disagreed with us – but that’s a topic for another blog another day.
Now I live in a Service Management space, and so clearly I know that everything – at least everything about creating and delivering IT services – is wholly contained within a complete picture of service management: because everything flows from the need for the service – in terms of value conceived, engineered and then delivered to the customer.
So, imagine my surprise when the enterprise architect (let’s call him Kevin J) came out with the phrase – introduced as though it were universally accepted knowledge – that everything is contained within the concept of enterprise architecture and all other things fit inside that. Well, you would think that one of us has to be wrong – but maybe not?
Seriously though, I do realise that each of us has a coloured view of the world. But even when you know you might be, if not actually biased, at least running along familiar tracks rather than striving for objectivity, it can still be a surprise when you run into what seems a different perspective.
Of course – in this instance it isn’t really a different perspective at all. Human Beings to tend to fit external matters into handy pigeon holes – and those pigeon holes are inside our own pigeon house – service for me, EA for Kevin.
Maybe we just need to get all these different perspectives in one room and get them to agree on which view is right? I suspect, however, that this has been tried – and failed. Because it isn’t conflicting theories we are dealing with here. Instead it is that familiar old chaos machine – people and perceptions. They are all right (and all wrong too of course, but this early in a new year let’s try and be optimistic).
Trying to look at the situation simplistically, it seems to me that we have had lots of good idea over the last 20 years or so that have been helpful – but we live in a complex interrelated world and each successful approach brings you to an edge or interface where you are dependent for further success on the neighbours. Human nature makes us jump to the conclusion that if the neighbours used my approach then they would do better. Maybe it’s true but maybe it’s not – maybe we have as much to learn from the neighbours as they have from us?
Let’s analogise that to real neighbourhoods. Is there anyone who doesn’t think things would be better if their neighbours behaved more like them and adopted their processes,and practices – especially things like where it is OK to park and when it is OK to be loud? But actually they have slightly different needs (maybe because of things we don’t have like kids and dogs or a job that requires shift working) and so they do need to do things differently. But still there is much to learn from each other; simple stuff like where did you get your fence fixed etc and more strategic stuff like comparing mortgage plans or discussing the best school options.
Within our IT/services/architecture kind of world we have the same chance to benefit from discussions with our neighbours. And just like with our domestic neighbours, the best way to get along and help each other is by accepting others’ perspectives as equally valid. It is good to see initiatives like devops starting to encourage this. My major familiarity over the past 20 years has been service management but I can see both lots to learn from our neighbours like EA and development and also lots we can help with too.
Have you spoke to your neighbours recently? And if so was it with a predisposition to teach or to learn?
 OK, I am joking a tiny bit here.
 That is a deliberate singular, not a typo!
 If you don’t know about devops – I mentioned it months back in this blog https://www-304.ibm.com/connections/blogs/59c1123b-0353-458e-a719-b002d84108d5/entry/devops_should_i_have_known_what_that_is1?lang=en_us
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There have been a lot of good discussions on Back2ITSM recently. I find the site a wonderful reminder of the two universal constant truths: ‘everything changes’ and ‘there is noting new under the sun’. They might seem contradictions at first, yet the older I get the more both seem true.
Firstly, if you aren’t looking at the Back2ITSM group on facebook then you are missing out - go sign up, now! Let me explain what it is and how it is brand new and full of ITSM tradition at the same time.
Secondly, it is about people talking with each other. That’s the bit that is the same as it’s always been. The willingness to share ideas, help others – even those in competing organisations – is just exactly like many itSMF regional meetings I have been to, in UK, Canada and New Zealand; except that now we are all in three at the same time.
Of course, social media isn’t new, and facebook is not the newest kid in town. But what is 21st century about this kind of group are the immediacy of comment and dialogue and the wide spectrum of simultaneous participants it allows. Since it has active members from all across the world, there is constant input and comment.
OK, so we have all know that the technology for this has been around a while. After all it is ‘just’ about real time input to a forum – and we now have about 20 or 30 people across the world presenting their opinions to an audience of 500+ (lurking is positively encouraged). For me what is important is precisely that I am not aware of the clever technology or feel all the time that I am using a novel means of communicating or even just how damned clever the whole thing is. With this group I have reached stage three in my own ‘using technology’ scale: comfort and taking for granted.
Stage 1 is when you are using some new way of doing things just because you can. This isn’t just about IT of course, many of us may recall how such things have affected our choice of travel (my
example is choosing an airline because they had A380s on the route, and even if a bit dearer I had never been on one of them before …).
Stage 2 is when the mean is no longer overwhelming the ends – you’re using it now because it is logical to do so, and it is delivering value. But, you are still very aware of how cool it is. And you probably keep telling other people how cool it is too.
Stage 3 is when your focus is totally on what you are doing. I can now just read what is written, comment if I have something to say. You know it’s a normal conversation because it goes off at tangents, people get flippant, say daft things, agree, argue, make subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) digs at each and launch jokes that no-one else notices. In short, it’s normal human conversation, without thinking about how you are achieving it nor where all the people are, or what time it is there.
And to me this is a good motif for successful technology. It isn’t when it is there and running that the implementation part is properly over. Real success is when people don’t notice it any more, but just get on with using it, unconsciously – as part of their everyday lives.
It’s one more example of how success is about being invisible. First time I flew in an A380 I was excited about it – last time I was watching a movie before we reached the runway. That’s success. (Ok, so there was a little re-attention on the technology after the Qantas 380 had an engine explode but I am back to ignoring it again now.)
So the important lesson and message that I see is how we need a customer perspective on the introduction of new technology. And maybe what you actually want is people to stop telling you how impressed they are, because then they are getting on with using it, which was, after all, the real point of the exercise, wasn’t it?
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A while back I wrote a blog just mentioning devops, and what a sensible idea it seemed – certainly the word ‘devops’ hit some bells and I got 3 times my normal hits in the first day. At the beginning of this year (2012 in case you got here late) I wrote a blog inspired by a discussion with a TOGAF fan; I felt we in parts of the IT world need to talk to our neighbours a lot more.
I was reminded of these by seeing several devops write-ups recently (separate articles in itSMF UK and US magazines in the same month). Both are encouraging and make the unavoidable point: what devops suggests as a matter of principle is clearly something to be supported like the proverbial apple pie. It is just so obvious, it has to be right - why would you not use the people who built and know a new piece of software (or anything else for that matter) to get it in place and working, and as first point of call should anything not work as expected?
Both articles argue that ITSM people should embrace the ideas rather than rush to defend their empires. Devops is not the only example, but it seems to me that what we might be faced with is set of approaches all driven from disparate firm foundations in our vast ocean of IT and services.
In fact the commonality between the approaches is massive, especially once you get past a temptation to overly rigorous application. It amazes me that the same IT people who would never dream of reading the instructions before using their new technology toys insist on applying every word of best practice.
If you want an example of how ITIL® overlaps the base devops concept look at section 6.7, page 236 of Stuart Rance’s Service Transition book in ITIL 2011.
The point I really wanted to make is that we need to get above the point of origin and see identification, creation delivery and operation of service as the real goal and the subject of some integrated guidance. Everything we have so far shows its origins.
I started my career helping organisations establish and improve services, I got sidetracked into IT and oft-times I miss that bigger image. I still find it hard to think only of IT aspects and solutions, but I find I am often talking with people – suppliers and customers – who are content to be restricted to IT aspects.
In the short term I think what we need is more selling of the neighbour’s ideas. I want to see devops being evangelised by someone from the ITSM community, and we need the converse too. Otherwise it can feel like the recommendations for apple pie are coming exclusively from the apple marketing board; doesn’t mean they are wrong but they can less than convincing, especially to a cynical audience or to one that has something they feel they must defend. Maybe I have stumbled onto my subject for next year’s conferences – anyone interested in inviting me?
 You call them methodologies, frameworks, revelations, best practices or whatever – I was searching for a generic term, if you have a better one let me know.
 In case you don't like what is there, I should point out the content of that section comes from the 2007 version, which was not written by Stuart. There is simple diagram here that makes the point, but it is Crown Copyright so I dare not use it here, so please o look if you are interested.
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I went to an itSMF
Now that kind of thing, apart from making me feel old (which is, admittedly, a fair enough feeling at my age) also made me look back and think on where we (the ITIL community) have come from and where we are now.
The first thing that occurs to me in thinking back to the early days of ITIL is that we now find ourselves in a place that none of us imagined we would. Don’t get me wrong, the original inventors and drivers of the ITIL idea were not short on confidence or vision, nor in seeing the benefits that documenting this aspect of best practice would bring. But I suspect that world domination of this industry sector by the word ‘ITIL’ was beyond even their best possible visions.
The key to the expansion of ITIL was that it quickly became about more than just the books. The ITIL advertising leaflets produced in the mid 90s coined the term ‘ITIL philosophy’ to represent this expanded
scope of ITIL. I suppose I should confess that I invented that phrase and also the diagram that went with it – a version from about 1997 is shown here. The accompanying words suggested that, even back then, less than 1% of ‘ITIL-related sales’ were about the actual ITIL books, and the rest were evolved services.
The fact that I couldn’t even hazard a guess at what that percentage might be today indicates a few, pretty self-evident truths:
Some other things have changed too.
Nowadays the maturity of the ITIL ideas means most players are focused on market share rather than growing the sector itself. That means more competition than there used to be. Nonetheless there are still lots of examples of that collaboration still easily found. Probably the best example is the ‘Back2ITSM’ facebook group – a place where free advice, constructive debate and openly shared thoughts are still the norm.
The itSMF was born in 1991, and played – probably – the major coordinating role is promoting the idea, importance and approaches of service management. Like ITIL, itSMF predates the term ‘service management’, having started as the ITIMF. Even here we have seen a lot more competition during the last third of its lifetime: both competition from other community organisations and also considerable internal competition. I hope itSMF will evolve form this to carry on delivering benefit to its members. I am a bit too frightened to work out what percentage of my time has been given to itSMF over the last 17 years – or at least frightened what my employers over that period might think. But that commitment does make me wish hard for its future health.
So, looking back should makes us appreciate where we are now – nostalgia can be deceptive for usually the past wasn’t better; because progress is exactly that – going forward and getting more. And wherever ITIL is now, IT Service management has come a wondrous way in the last 20 years. Global technology changes have made a difference to that journey; we’ve seen personal computing and the internet make all but unbelievable levels of change. We may well see Cloud do the same; personally I think cloud might do that by freeing us from some of the technical baggage and letting us see and address real service management issues, without the obfuscation of technology issues or the opportunity to hide behind them any more.
We’ve seen a move from books being the go-to source of wisdom when ITIL started to an amazing range of information sources. Nowadays your typical service management will expect their influences to come via social media, electronically delivered white papers and the like. Interestingly, in many cases, they would also expect them to come for free, and that throws a real challenge on the thought leadership business. If ITIL 4 ever happens I think it will be a radically different entity from versions1-3.
Where I want to see ITSM going is towards SM. IT is now so pervasive that it is everywhere, which to me means that ITSM cannot be a subsection of overall SM anymore because it logically applies to everything, since all services now depend on IT. Nevertheless, IT has treated SM well, and – after some effort –has taken it seriously. I hope those lessons will work their way into broader adoption and we will see an improved – and critically an integrated – approach to service management across enterprises because of that. I am driven to optimism in this (not my natural state you understand so it is noteworthy) by the fact that, alongside this blog, I am involved just in this same month in a webinar and an article for IBM’s SMIA series on the idea that IT is now spreading its ideas – and delivering its technology and specifically its evolved software solutions – to the broader enterprise needs.
I wonder what we will be saying in another 20 years looking back – maybe ITIL will survive another 20 years, maybe not, but I am certain service management will progress and improve.
 And the top two names I would put here are Pete Skinner and John Stewart – perhaps our least sung heroes, especially the late Mr Skinner – but pivotal all the same.
 I don’t plan to, and hope no-one else is tempted – there are far more constructive things for intelligent service management practitioners to progress knowledge about.
 And if you are interested (sad?) enough to be reading this then you should be part of that group if you aren’t already.
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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.