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 email@example.com
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
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
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 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.
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.
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?
Next week, I'll be attending my first Pulse conference, and I have a full slate of activities planned:
- On Sunday afternoon, I will be participating in our ISM Simulator Workshop session. The workshop facilitator will be our own ITIL 'rock star', Ivor MacFarlane, and the audience will be made up of IBM customers and business partners. The workshop participants are in for a terrific one-of-a-kind interactive learning session that will confuse, frustrate and challenge them. Ultimately, they will come away with a better understanding of how to significantly bring IT services into better alignment with their business goals and strategies. And they'll also come to realize that those goals can be much more easily pursued via enhanced visibility, control, and automation—the overarching themes of the modular approach IBM takes with service management.
- On Monday and Tuesday from 11am to noon, I will be attending the Integrated Service Management Simulator Overview breakout session. In this session, you can get a preview of how the simulator highlights the challenges and business value of implementing Service Management best practices, and learn how your organization might benefit from your own team-building and thought-provoking simulator session.
- Finally, I will be working at the ISM Virtual Simulator ped in the Best Practices Zone. In this cutting edge video game, you can experience issues affecting service management and corporate profitability in a simulated organization. You will be given the opportunity to run your own business, and will gain a better understanding of challenges facing different people in a company, the value of processes and tools, and how various parts of the company positively and negatively affect the hypothetical company’s performance.
We look forward to seeing you at our breakout session!...and be sure to stop by our ped and get your game on! And if you are not one of the lucky ones attending the workshop, fear not - - we can also conduct a private Simulator Workshop session for your employees, at your site. If you are interested in your own session, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ok, so I'm not really a Luddite in the original sense of the word...but I fully admit that I prefer handwritten notes to emails and texts, hardcover books to paperback or eBooks, buying the full CD (AKA the album to us old-timers) rather than downloading a single tune...and just don't get me started on the term "my bad..."
Being a Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech, a Computer Science major and working for a technology company, I can assure you that I appreciate innovation and the value that technology brings to the the world as much as anyone, perhaps even more. I had one of the first Sony Discman CD players, my husband and I were very early adopters of satellite TV, I use an insulin pump to manage my diabetes and, of course, I have an iPhone. But sometimes I need to sit back and think about what all this really means...and thinking about it NOT in terms of the technology itself, but in terms of everyday life makes me appreciate it even more.
Which is why I am truly excited about - and looking forward to future installations - of the Service Management in Action feature articles by Ivor Macfarlane, our resident Service Management expert/evangelist/all around good guy. Check out his first article...Real-World Service Management: Ivor Macfarlane on Service Management Dynamics
and see what I mean. In this article, Ivor uses a food court in Hong Kong to show how service management is everywhere, not just in the IT department, and it isn't something you do and forget about. It requires ongoing optimization over time—a continuous re-evaluation and improvement of the customer experience.
Hmmm...makes perfect sense to me. I think we all know this instinctively, but hearing it explained in this context, the light bulbs start going off. (Not to mention that I've had a wild craving for curry lately)!
Ivor will be contributing his perspective, insights and experiences from the real world to Service Management in Action on a regular basis...to help you understand what service management truly means and how it can ultimately help you get a better business outcome—and a better experience for your customers. Stay tuned for more!
Signing off for now,
Your friendly roving Integrated Service Management Reporter
P.S. I learned what the word "Luddite" meant only this year, after hearing my favorite British singer refer to himself as such during an interview. And when my favorite British IT Service Management expert used the word in conversation recently, I figured I must use it, too! ;-)
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
People seem to like a thing to be right or
wrong. Yet the older I get the more it seems to me that very few things are
totally right, and that there is rarely only one right answer to real
I was driven to these thoughts by a really good
posting on Back2ITSM from Stephen Mann about Spiderman and the Avengers. He was
concerned with things that change over time and the danger of being out of date
and therefore no longer correct. You
should read that posting – in fact if you are interested in service management
you should get already be looking at this facebook group – very much the place
Anyway, I am not going to repeat Stephen’s
words here – rather I want to follow a tangential aspect of right and wrong
that his posting triggered in my mind.
It’s just that I don’t think that right is
always an appropriate idea, and I think too many people in service management
think there is a right answer to every question. Actually, truth be told, if I
risk making it way too clear that I am a grumpy old man, then I think there is
far too much expectation of there being a right answer in most aspects of
I don’t know if commitment to that concept of
‘one right way’ is something that we are born with or something we teach our
children. I suspect the latter; certainly it is there at an early age. I recall discussions with my girls about
nursery rhymes. Several versions are around – different recordings,
publications etc inevitably with slightly different words in them. All of my
girls wanted to know which one was the ‘right’ version – certain in their own
minds that one of them must be right, and the others therefore wrong.
The more data and information we ‘enjoy access
to’, then the less chance there is of any one set being ‘right’. I have even heard as an explanation that we
now live in a scientific age – that older attitudes to life were less precise.
And yet I was taught – as a science student – that a solution is right for its
context not necessarily in an absolute sense. I recall one electronics lesson
that has always stuck in my mind and served my in very good stead in my working
life, across a whole range of service management – especially in measurement.
It hinged on the lecturer going through the
week’s assignment which involved working out the effective resistance of several
configurations of components. We had all
(and I mean all, from the clever geeks, to the lazy ones like me) worked it out
using the given resistances of each element in a frighteningly complicated
configuration, and come up with a precise effective value for the combination.
The lecturer drew it on the board, then proceeded to wipe out most elements as ‘not significant’
– left about three components and did the calculation in seconds. We all screamed ‘cheat’! He laughed, reminded
us that the stated resistance of the components is given as ±10%, so there was no point in taking
seriously anything that wouldn’t affect the answer by more than a few percent.
I spoke with the lecturer afterwards and he
admitted they did the same exercise every year to get that very point across.
The right answer is one that fits the circumstances, be that imprecise measures,
limited time, lack of profile with management or whatever situation you
establish you are in.
That lesson about being right enough for the
job is one we are losing with modern technology giving us an answer to
ridiculous precision from input that is
often little more than a guess.
That principle of knowing what is needed before
you deliver is – of course – far more universally true than just being about
measurement. But it is easily forgotten in an age that often delivers more
answers than questions.