I went to an itSMF UK
meeting last week. I haven’t managed to get to our local meeting for a while
and I found I was being introduced to new members as someone who has been
around ‘since the beginning of ITL’.
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
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
The fact that I couldn’t even hazard a
guess at what that percentage might be today indicates a few, pretty
- When I was writing those things in 1996-1998, I felt I could
pretty much ‘take-in’ what was going on related to ITIL, and even know
most of the people developing and delivering new ideas. Nowadays no-one
can honestly claim to be able to do that.
- What is ‘ITIL-related’ has become a much more debatable
concept. Whatever its faults might have been (and there were many) ITIL
was just about alone in its market space. The initiatives kicked-off by
ITIL have spawned fellow travellers, such as COBIT, ISO20000 and others.
The fact that I could easily start a long running – and probably vitriolic
– debate on
the social media pages by asserting which are and which are not ITIL
derived, ITIL alternatives etc indicates that this is now a loosely
bounded region. That makes any assessment of its scale, scope and success
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
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.
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?
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
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
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:
- Once you realise that trust depends on quality of presentation
at least as much as on accuracy, should you focus more on that? Certainly
you have to take presentation seriously, because the corollary is that if you
deliver perfection but don’t make it look good, then no-one will believe
it even though you are right.
- Whose responsibility is it to check – and is it even possible? I
suspect this discussion will take us into the territory of ‘governance’. But
even before we get there it implies that User Acceptance Testing needs to
do more than look at things. Of course yours does, doesn’t it?
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?
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
driven from disparate firm foundations in our vast ocean of IT
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.
- ITIL comes from operations, for all its gallant attempts to
preach service strategy it is not really getting to the people who
should be doing so because they originate from other parts of IT/business
- Devops is coming from the development community and so
reflects their take on life. Things
like OSLC that will help smooth some of the boundaries are also being
pitched – so far – from the development side
- All of the stuff that I see is coming out of parts of IT, when
to me IT is only a part (albeit a big and important part most times).
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?
is the only truth you believe
That’s a paraphrase of many quotes – but
whichever famous quote peddler you choose, it is surely a mantra of sorts for
successful service management. To me it
neatly addresses two key points:
- It is no good meeting all the metrics that you set for yourself
if that only makes your performance look good to you – it’s the customers’
opinion that matters because they are the ones providing the money to make
it happen – and they may well stop doing that if they aren’t impressed
- What people perceive is based upon their situation and
knowledge as well as your facts.
I had some first-hand instruction on this
recently that helped my understanding. Both were a little funny at the time but
maybe with some serious messages.
Firstly two different perceptions of what
must have looked very similar situations to a detached observer – driving last
year down a fast dual-carriageway road.
Both times I was on my way to my father.
- First time an ordinary sunny day. I am driving at ‘about’ the
speed limit of 70 miles per hour – and a car comes hurtling up behind me
and sits a few metres behind me with the driver clearly impatient that I
am holding him up. I ventured an opinion as to his personality –
considering him less than sensible, some pushy-salesman type, and
certainly not deserving of my moving quickly out of his way
- Two months later I am driving down the same road – only this
time I have been summoned to my father’s hospital bedside by medical staff
with the line ‘I think you should get here as soon as you can’. Now I am
doing a lot more than 70mph, and find myself slowing down to 75 and
hanging on other cars’ back bumpers amazed at why people can’t simply get
out of the way – surely they can see I have to go quicker than that.
So – good guy or bad guy? Depends on what
you know, and that depends on what you are and what has happened somewhere
The other one, I feel the need to share all
hinges around those daily gifts we get form our dogs. Each day I take our dog
for a walk in the field behind the house. The field is just the other side of
the fence and hedge around the back garden, but to get there you have to go out
the front, down the road through the alley and back – about 300 metres or so.
Now dogs, being dogs, use the daily walk for relieving themselves and people,
being only people, are left to pick it up in plastic bags and carry it. But
since our walk takes us back down the other side of that garden fence, rather
than carry the little bags round the field, I toss them over the fence and into
our garden, to pick up and dispose of when I get back. So, I am doing this when
I realise I am being watched, by another man out walking his dog. Thinking
about it afterwards he just sees someone flinging doggy doo over a fence into someone’s
garden. He did not speak, but did manage a look that clearly had me well below
pond-scum in any kind of social acceptability league table.
OK, so some examples of skewed judgement
based on incomplete knowledge, we all have lots of them – and please feel free
to send in any good ones that have happened to you.
Very few of these matter in everyday life –
we shrug and move on and usually never see the misunderstanding or
misunderstood person again. But when it matters we need to establish
communication to get some idea of the events that drive perceptions of those
who we will interact with long term. This is why we know things about those we
live with and care about – their favourite colours, the foods they like and
dislike, which football teams they support and lots more. That is worth doing
because these people matter to us, and because this makes both their life and
ours more pleasant.
So apply this to work, how much more
pleasant – and easier – will your life be if your customers are happy with you,
if they understand what you are doing and you understand what they care about.
That simple idea is at the core of a lot of my work these days – in the
simulation games and the presentation at events. It certainly underpins the
talks I am slated to do at IBM’s Pulse and itSMF Norway in March.
If I go back to the first set of two
bullets I wrote at the start of this piece, they are trying to say that you
need to know how your customers – and maybe other stakeholders – are feeling today. This will drive how you address
things. So customer perceptions influence prioritisation – standard best
practice stuff. What I was trying to point out in my driving example was that
those perceptions and attitudes are anything but fixed. Just because you know
what mattered yesterday, doesn’t mean you know what will matter today or
tomorrow. There are clues and signs you can look for – find out what things
affect your customers attitude and monitor those yourself. Again that is
something we can do fine at home – we are aware of some of the influences that
change attitudes and perceptions on our loved ones – be that exams the next
day, football on the TV tonight, or a fight with a friend.
Maybe what we need is more formalised
gossip at work – because it is often the conversations that don't seem to be
about work that tell us most about how our customers will react – and more
importantly how they want us to react. One thing the 21st century
has brought us – big time – is new ways to gossip, or should that be freely and
rapidly exchange more information than we ever dreamed was possible. So, maybe
this is just one more business benefit of social media, one that delivers its
success by not being so obvious?
Actually, I don't care how you gather more
understanding of your customers concerns and perception influencers use every
means you can. You could do worse than simply going to visit them, talking and
listening. Set yourself a target perhaps – name one thing that would change
your customer’s priorities, and then ask them if you are right.
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
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.
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
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?
I’ve had a recent burst of situations where things just seem to be difficult for no obvious reason, and maybe that has made me even more cynical than usual - yes, it is, just about, possible. My first assumption – of course – is that these are yet more examples of bad service management. Each is one more case of services not being matched to customer requirements, but then maybe a sneaking suspicion creeps in: are they really deliberately designed to deliver what the real customer wants, rather than the apparent one (or user as ITIL might call them).
Of course we have all experienced this to some extent: the complaints department that is very hard to contact, with a premium rate phone number and an interminable set of IVR choices before you can get anywhere near a real person – all costing you £1.75 a minute to listen to. Typically we give up in disgust just after we have spent more on the phone call than we spent on the product we are trying to complain about. While the first thought is that the supplier hasn’t thought through how they need to be contactable, second thought makes you realise that they don't want people being able to complain easily. And if you have an angry customer who is unlikely to buy more from you, then you might as well make what money you can out of them calling you to complain and tell you they won’t buy any more. So maybe this is actually clever design – to meet the primary customer’s requirement?
Sometimes you just aren’t sure – I was also watching someone applying for a visa – for a well known country in North America. It reminded me very much of the classic customer complaints system I just outlined. Rather confusing instructions, no web-based option to book an appointment – only telephone at £1.23 per minute (plus ‘network extras’ whatever they might be), and then surprise, surprise a computerised voice – talking slowly - offers you some options. Appointments are issued, it seems ‘en block’ and you are warned you must queue outside, whatever the weather. Oh, and no mobile phones or any other electrical items can be taken into the building, and, no, there is no facility to leave them anywhere safe while you go in.
So, is this bad service build, or is it carefully designed to reduce the number of applicants? After all, the people who need visa are – by and large – from less affluent countries, and won’t spend that much when they get there. Could be the whole service was carefully designed to discourage.
Now I suspect the real truth is a perfectly justifiable need for security and a sensible imperative to reduce costs. But it does perhaps make you realise that it is oh so easy to get sidetracked and judge things only by what are actually the second level measures and deliverables, rather than being sure we tie everything back to our organisation’s overall visions and objectives.
It is not always as easy as it sounds – especially in large companies where day-to-day operations can be a long way from corporate targets. For example, focusing on selling widgets that work, continue to work and get fixed quickly should they fail means that you probably just focus on ensuring your direct customers are happy widgetters. Yet if the profit margin on widgets is low, the market difficult and competitive and your widgets do tend to break more often than other manufacturers’…well then the best contribution to your corporate objective of maximising shareholder return is, quite correctly, to get out of supplying widgets altogether. Even if that means abandoning your long time faithful widget customers, well, if you have got your overall prime objective right, then abandoning them is right for the company.
We see the same thing with internal services, is that travel booking service there to make it easier for you to spend the company money on travel, or is it there to make sure you only go through with it if you really need to go? If reducing costs is what the owners of that service want, then ease of use is a bad thing.
Secretly though, I suspect a lot of bad service really is just that. But – it can be a fun game to play next time you get bad service. Is it really bad, or is it targeted to drive you away because that’s what they want? Is it hard to buy something because of incompetence or because the profit margin is too low?
Next time you get awful service, maybe it is worth congratulating the service provider about their commitment to higher objectives, maybe even ask them if they would be so kind as to tell you the corporate objectives they are rigorously pursuing; so you can write to their CEO and congratulate them too on how well their staff strives to reduce unhelpful customer satisfaction. Or then again, they may not be so pleased to hear from you after all, and just leave you with an expensive IVR system to listen to.
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
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
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
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.
It is only a week until the 2011 itSMF UK event in London (http://conference.itsmf.co.uk/agenda.html?event=1) where we are hoping to see and speak to many of our well known contacts and to take the opportunity to meet those of you attending that we have not yet had the opportunity to, be it on the IBM stand (F5) or in our session at 10.45 on Monday delivered by Ivor Macfarlane on "Can IT People be Service Managers?".
The event is always a great networking opportunity for those wanting to share their views with their peers and engage in lively debate over the current industry pain points, as well as hear from the industry experts on how they see the market shaping up in 2012 during some of the 40 sessions that are held over the two days.
This year’s session speakers include (but not limited to) experts from Tesco Bank, Deutsche Bank, Heineken, the Met Office, Barclays Bank, BT Global Services and Pepsico, not to mention keynote from Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson (Paralympics athlete with eleven gold medals and six wheelchair marathons) and Mark Hall (Deputy CIO at HM Revenue & Customs).
We encourage you to visit us on the IBM on our stand – F5, where we will be running a series of live integrated product demos, sharing our newest whitepapers and thought leadership papers. All delegates will be welcome to come and discuss with our technical experts where they think Service Management is heading and perhaps learn about new product offerings and the tools IBM has that can help organisations address the challenges they are facing.
Some ideas that we think will be the "hot topics" on our stand:
How ITUP (a free download for you!) can underpin your efforts in building ITIL processes - and how we are already ensuring it stays in line with ITIL now that the 2011 is here
How we have adapted our key SM software to cloud/SaaS. Come and see Tivoli Live!!
People are your major asset - we can help with getting your staff to 'get it' – with tools like simulator – both classroom and on-line versions
And - of course - the Smarter Planet concept - you've seen the adverts on TV, in magazines and elsewhere – now come and talk about what it really means to real people!
Throughout the two days you will also be able to Play IBM’s Watson supercomputer at Jeopardy!... can you beat it?IBM’s Watson is a real time, natural language processing
We will also be attending the annual Awards Dinner on the Monday evening, so would be more than happy to discuss things over a much needed glass (or more) of wine while listening to Lenny Henry's jokes!
Of course we hope to see you as many of you as possible at Ivor’s session on Monday; in case you have not seen the summary on the itSMF UK website, here is what he will be addressing this year:
“The need for ‘people, process and technology’ working together for successful service management is well accepted. Technology is ever more sophisticated and ITIL and COBIT ensure process is taken seriously, but the people aspect of SM does not get the attention it deserves. Successful services rely on more than creating IT applications and installing technology. Bridging the gap needs more than just adding a little extra learning – it needs a genuine change in culture, attitude and understanding.
The changes required involve focusing on every aspect of the service, how it is to be used and why – and how – it is important to the organization. Effectively, this means seeing it from the customer’s perspective. This talk will approach these issues and aims to illustrate some of the key concepts – using analogy and hopefully a little humour to explore the human elements:
• what’s involved
• what prevents it happening
• the key aspects we should build the new culture around”
Of course will be tweeting throughout the day - @servicemgmt - so make sure you follow us and join in the debate there too!
We will continue blogging after the event, so come back and read our take on the highlights from these two fun-filled days.