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?
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?
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.
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.
For most of last week I was attending and –
I hope – contributing to itSMF’s international publishing meeting. This was
held in Warsaw
in beautiful spring weather, while
was being blasted by wind and rain. That was nice but nowhere the most
important or most pleasurable thing that the week had to offer.
Now, first a little background, just in case
there is anyone who does not know what the itSMF is. The letters stand for IT
Service Management Forum – and that sums it up quite well: a place for those
interested in ITSM to talk, learn, teach, compare and discuss. Part of that communication
naturally involves publication – and our group focuses on that – from reviewing
others’ books through translation and dissemination to encouraging authoring
and publishing books. Crucial to its attitudes and success, itSMF is a
non-profit organisation, owned by its members.
OK, as you may imagine it is – as well as serious
working meeting – a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues of the ITSM
global village. And the active ITSM community really is like a village, except
that it spread across some 50 countries – we have all the relationships that
you would expect: friends, enemies and lots in between.
All of us have our day jobs, many of us
working for cut-throat competitors but that all gets set aside and we settle
back into our ‘all in this together’ mode. One of things that I came back from Warsaw thinking about was
that different set of attitudes we have while focused on itSMF business. Some
of that rests upon the different nature of not for profit organisations – at least
compared to the more usual owned by shareholder companies. It is hard sometimes
to make the switch, but a good lesson for anyone in the service management business
to realise the differences that do exist. Probably the best description I know
is this one: ‘Commercial companies need to do things to in order to make money;
not-for-profit organisations need to make money in order to do things’.
That makes the non-profit member owned
organisations a lot like government – and like governments today we are strapped
for cash. These are hard times and no-one has much in the way of spare money.
But we still strive to fight against what would be a sensible approach for an
organisation focused on shareholder value. We still need to deliver what the ‘right
things’. From our publishing perspective it would be tempting to look only at
safe books – rearranging established best practice into easier, shorter or
simpler reads. Instead though, everyone at our meeting sees that we need a
focus on innovation and stretching our industry.
Of course we need to be financially successful
with enough of our projects, and we have work to do on building a firm base to
take ourselves – and our industry – forwards. But I am proud that the books we
have already managed to publish contain real industry innovations and new
perspectives – both on service management as you would expect but also into wider
topics such as organisational change.
So, I came back feeling the need to write
down how much work people put in – for nothing – last week. I’m not claiming I did
that much, but lots of work was put in, and even more commitments made to keep
the momentum going and I felt that it was a few day’s work I was proud to have
been a part of and an effort worth recording
here. In some later blogs I might relate more about other aspects of the trip - like using budget airlines and the change in perspective of value that goes with that.
So – please go read about what we have
already managed (6 books published, quarterly magazine, whitepaper competition
etc.). You can find out about the books are – and read the magazines for free
by going to http://www.itsmfi.org/content/publications.
If that gets you interested in how you can get your ideas written up and out
there then get in touch. My portfolio responsibility is ‘Authoring’, so I would
love to hear from you. We are keen to find new authors, for whitepapers, books
or articles – and happy to offer any level of support you might need – from
final review through mentoring and even to co-authoring or ghost writing.
By my next blog, I will be back in successful
company mode, but it is good to remember that the commercial companies also
live in and benefit from the wider community. It is good to see that being
recognised through sponsorship and support. IBM sponsored the meeting last year - this time we had support from TSO and BTC. massive thanks to those companies. With more support next year we should have more people and achieve even more.
No trouble spotting the biggest news in
service management this week – with COBIT 5 available. I guess with both ITIL
and COBIT having released new versions over the last 12 months, that should
tell us something about the SM industry. Mostly, I think it tells us that as a
concept and topic to take seriously, service management is not going away any
But I suspect we might reading more in the
next few weeks of the ‘should I do ITIL or COBIT’ type of question. That’s a
shame, because it is still not a sensible question. Both ITIL and COBIT are
expanding their scope of course and that means more and more overlap, but I
can’t – admittedly after quick glance through only –see where any real
Of course COBIT is still a product of ISACA
and it builds upon a philosophy of control and governance. ITIL initially came from
a team set up to advise on approach rather than massive detail and that still
shows even in the 2011 version I think. And I do still believe any serious SM
profession would have both on their (electronic) bookshelf, the way a good cook
will have books by more than one cookery author on their kitchen bookshelf.
Analysing the content, requirements and
fine print can come later – and will open us up to all sorts of interpretation
and contextual adjustment. But some things hit you straight away. The core
COBIT product is available for free and takes up 685k of pdf file. The core
ITIL books cost around £300, weigh five kilos and/or take up 77.4MB of my hard
drive inside a fancy secure Adobe reader to make sure I don't pass them on to anyone
who hasn’t paid their £300. Now I know that there are lots more books around
the COBIT 5 core than give you more detail – and ISACA charges for those - but
still I must confess to liking the idea of free entry to the gig even if it
doesn’t get you that near the stage.
Putting a positive spin on the size
differential and the lack of real conflict, you can see that it shows how the
two products can be seen as complementary: COBIT’s distillation of what should
be done and structure with ITIL’s more wordy guidance.
And COBIT’s heritage shows through with several
pages on maturity assessment – great stuff for the ‘give me a number’ crew.
But maybe the most encouraging thing is the
differences that exist – the pretty clear realisation that frameworks aren’t competition
but different perspectives. Everyone in this business is really concentrating
on helping each other get better at delivering value to the customer. COBIT 5
will help so this is a good week.
Now all I need is a long flight somewhere to
give me peace and quiet to read it carefully.
I was driving back from Heathrow on a recent Saturday – having gone there to collect a visitor. On the overhead information signs on the motorway was an illuminated warning sign. I had never seen this sign before, but immediately clear that this was warning me that there was an accident ahead. This exploration of graphics rather than words seems a very sensible step for a country that welcomes foreign visitors – and more so in the run up to the impending Olympics.
I have been (thanks to my work) to many countries. Some (like Brasil and Egypt) I would not dare to drive in, some (like China) I am not even allowed to drive in – but in many
I have rented cars and driven without significant mishap. But always when driving I am grateful for intuitive signage – and also very appreciative of the standard road signs across Europe. In fact it wasn’t till I got to Quebec and saw my first ‘Arête’ sign that I fully realised how much I had taken for granted the standardisation in road signs across the language range of Europe. (For those not familiar with European road signs – they say ‘Stop’ in all the EU countries, even France.)
The places I find it hardest to drive around are the ones that rely on long wordy description to convey messages to drivers. Now when this happens somewhere like Poland, I have no chance and just have to guess – or more often follow they guy in front and hope that they know what they are doing. But even in the US, where they seem committed to this kind of thing, where the language is similar to English, I find it very difficult to get the message quickly without being distracted. By the time I have read all the words I have often missed the chance to do what it was telling me.
The need for intuitive communication has been around for a long while – a great example of somewhere that has seen the need and met it well for many years is Amsterdam airport, as a transfer hub, it is specifically targeted at delivering services to the widest range of languages. Their use of intuitive graphics has been impressive for over 20 years. And of course it has to be because people transferring planes at Schipol do not have the opportunity to attend a training course on how to navigate the airport.
Nowadays that luxury of training people in how to use things is getting rarer and rarer – we have to be able to use things we have never seen before, most notably things appearing on our PCs when we use services over the internet. But also those PCs themselves and the services we use at work – I don't know the figure but it sure feels like there is much less user training than there used to be.
So – great to see the UK government getting on board with intuitive communication; surely as service managers we all need to think of how to get messages across to our customers and our users quickly and reliably. Oh, and cheaply too, your CFO will love the reduced need for training – and pretty soon are likely to be questioning the need for expensive training for something that doesn’t deliver immediate intuition.
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.
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.
We live – more and more – in a world where everything that matters can be done on line, where we see and hear better on screen than for real.
You can now take an active part in the world – and potentially run a successful business - without ever leaving your home, possibly without getting out of bed.
And even when we do turn up for real we spend a lot of our time watching things on a screen – be that the presenter or performer in a large hall or the action reply on the giant screens at a football match
You will have seen in the promotions and advertising, that the key presentations from IBM’s show-piece service management event – Pulse – running on 4-7 March in Las Vegas will be streamed live on the web to the warm and cosy comfort of your home.
Despite how easy and good the virtual feed of sessions, chat and information were, 7000 people did get out of their beds in 2011 to travel to Las Vegas and actually be at Pulse, just as thousands turn out weekly to watch football at the stadium when they might have had a better view of the action by staying at home. And even formula one motor racing gets sold out attendance when you can never hope to see much of the race in person compared to what the TV coverage offers.
It seems that there are still good reasons to actually be there – not to put down the value of connecting to the live web streams, but even in the 21st century, people learn from people. Pulse is a big and excellent example, but throughout our community we see conferences still being successful and drawing people together to share experiences in surroundings that the virtual world can’t quite match yet. As well as the formal sessions at conferences and events, the networking opportunities of being with others in similar circumstances delivers real benefits – comparing notes with our peers from across the world.
Technology is good – and joining conferences on line is way better than missing it altogether, but people-to-people still has a lot going for it. I’m looking forward to the combination – the atmosphere of really being there and mixing with everyone in the exhibition areas – and over a sociable beer or two at dinner. And of course the added value that streamed interviews and 'watch again on demand' that is available over the web.
This amalgam of real and virtual seems set to be the conference norm for a good few years still – 7000 people at pulse thought so last year, and thousands went to itSMF conferences around the world in 2011 too.
And Pulse is in Las Vegas of course – where could be more appropriate for the combination of real physical existence with technologically driven enhancement - a bit like Red Dwarf's famous 'better than life' game. J
Do you think virtuality will one day totally replace human gatherings? I guess eventually it might, but for now I intend to enjoy both at once and count myself lucky to be alive at the right time to do that.
You can find out all about Pulse – physical and virtual offerings at www.ibm.com/pulse.
See you there – for real, on line, facebook, twitter and more!
As I wrote last week, I am looking forward to delivering more simulations over the next weeks and months, I always enjoy the buzz of working with people rather than sitting in a lonely room hitting keys and listening to the dog snore.
I went through my technologically savvy period some years ago (back in the horse-drawn computer age). For years now I’ve felt that the biggest scope for improvement in service management is through the people part of the famous trilogy of people, process and technology.
It’s important though to be sure that we don't forget it is a trilogy – in a recent presentation I used a picture of a milking stool to make the point: three legs, if you have problems in any one of them you will fall on the floor, spill the milk and fail to do your job.
So the emphasis on people is not because we don't need the technology – it’s because there have always been plenty of people selling the technology hard in our business. And it sometimes seems to me that there are people even keener and more excited to buy it – each one as much a fashion victim as the lady horrified she’ll be spotted in last year’s shoes. But – for sure – we do need good technology. Of course, I work for a software and technology company so I would say that, but that doesn’t make it wrong.
And process is still vital – that is the first level of learning that comes from our simulation games – not knowing what needs to be done usually means you don’t do what needs doing. I remember getting excited by process when I first understood how to see and then improve them. I remember also how much better ITIL V2 was than V1 when we went ‘process focused’ – and how modern and nifty we thought we were.
But again – there is no shortage of process champions, so forgive me if I keep harping on about the people. There are more of us than there used to be pushing the importance of people. Paul Wilksinson, of course, has been – and still is – a trailblazer, although he is still obliged to play the prophet because the vast majority of our industry still needs to be converted to the simple reality; that no matter how cool your IT gadgets and software and no matter how carefully researched your process, if you don't keep the third leg – people – strong and secure then things simply won’t work.
Successful politics is called ‘The art of the possible” and I am aware we – those who believe that people factors are the biggest stumbling block to successful service management – need to play that game too. No point (yet) trying to make everyone totally people focused – our efforts through the simulators and suchlike are to at least get IT managers to realise that the quality of the services they deliver does depend on people aspects. It’s simple stuff really, like people talking to each other, finding out what things matter to them.
Strangely enough, this is the kind of thing we do well and automatically outside work, but somehow it becomes so much harder when it gets all business related – maybe we like to take sides at work, or think the office is too important a place to act human in. What is about being in the office (or Datacentre or shop floor or whatever your work looks like) that strips us of some basic level of humanity? We seem able to talk to our colleagues at work about non-work things – last nights TV or football, fashions, music etc – but not about their work wants and needs.
Of course there are exceptions – we need to capture and promote these to help us get the message across. My favourite is a reversal of the norm I just described. It is from a UKgovernment department where a cricket match between IT and Finance was being played out one evening. Due to Finance’s excellent bowling there was a hiatus since the batsmen were being dismissed faster than the next one could get the equipment on. During this pause the non-striking batsmen (from IT) was chatting about work and they solved a issue that had turned into a long running fight between managers. The managers had stood on principles and formality instead of talking about what was actually wanted. The issue was solved by these real workers getting a mutual understanding through the revolutionary approach of talking and listening to each other.
That’s what we shall be trying to do with the delegates to our simulation sessions – and in other ‘take the people seriously’ initiatives. Do you have some good stories about how much difference it makes when your people are able to understand each other’s perspectives? Be great to hear them. Be even better to catch up at one of the forthcoming simulations, or to see you at Pulse in March and we can talk – and listen - over a beer. J
Well, we are well into 2012 now and we have just about got though the ‘my predictions for 2012’ phase and in to ordinary routines again. Whatever the predictions, like with most years I predict that 2012 will look a lot like an older version of 2011.
There is still talk of recession, companies that struggled for funding in 2011 are no richer, Cloud is still talked about by a lot more people than understand it.
On a personal level 2012 has already delivered some of the improvements planned in 2011 – and I hope the same will happen workwise. Next major thing on my work horizon is IBM’s big service management show – Pulse. Back again at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas we are promised it will be bigger and better than ever. I understand that bigger is important in as Vegas but I am usually even keener on better. Actually though, to be fair I am delighted that ‘my bit’ at Pulse looks like being bigger this year – with not one but two chances to deliver the cloud-readiness simulator on the weekend before the show itself starts. In fact there will be a strong focus on simulator this year with our team being on the exhibition floor to explain what, why and how they can help you.
Of course – like I implied above – this isn’t exactly new, but it is proven. Of course there will be lots of new stuff available – geeks welcomed and catered for. The technologists will – of course – be well catered for with lots of ‘future possibles’ and indeed a vision of some possible futures too. But service management’s primary focus is not on what might happen next year; it has always been about delivering value this year. In fact one of my favourite aspects of service management is how it rests on widely applicable principles, even though how they are applied might alter. For example, while change management processes in a cloud environment might need different considerations to make them most effective –the basics remain. I was working in service management long before I ever touched a computer. I remain constantly delighted to discover that lessons learned 30 years ago in supply and transport are still relevant to the 21stcentury IT based services we manage today.
So, if you are going to be at Pulse come along and tell me whether you agree that old-fashioned service concepts are still valuable – or come and explain why dinosaurs like me should be swept away by the meteor strike that is cloud. Either way – at Pulse or elsewhere – I look forward to good, informed and enjoyable debates. Good to think of the new year building on the successes of the old – at home and at work.
Over the recent Christmas break, I found
myself at lunch with an Enterprise Architect and the
conversation turned – as it does - to the future of the IT industry.
we agreed on the
topic of what IT jobs and attitudes should be over the next 10 years – others at the table disagreed with us – but that’s a topic for another blog
Now I live in a Service Management space, and so clearly I
know that everything – at least everything about creating and delivering IT
services – is wholly contained within a complete picture of service management: because
everything flows from the need for the service – in terms of value conceived,
engineered and then delivered to the customer.
So, imagine my surprise when the enterprise
architect (let’s call him Kevin J) came out
with the phrase – introduced as though it were universally accepted knowledge –
that everything is contained within the concept of enterprise architecture and all other things fit inside that. Well, you would think that one of us has
to be wrong – but maybe not?
Seriously though, I do realise that each
of us has a coloured view of the world. But even when you know you might be, if not actually biased, at least running along familiar tracks rather than striving for
objectivity, it can still be a surprise when you run into what seems a different
Of course – in this instance it isn’t
really a different perspective at all. Human Beings to tend to fit external
matters into handy pigeon holes – and those pigeon holes are inside our own
pigeon house – service for me, EA for Kevin.
Maybe we just need to get all these
different perspectives in one room and get them to agree on which view is
right? I suspect, however, that this has been tried – and failed. Because it
isn’t conflicting theories we are dealing with here. Instead it is that
familiar old chaos machine – people and perceptions. They are all right (and
all wrong too of course, but this early in a new year let’s try and be
Trying to look at the situation
simplistically, it seems to me that we have had lots of good idea over the last
20 years or so that have been helpful – but we live in a complex interrelated world and each
successful approach brings you to an edge or interface where you are dependent
for further success on the neighbours. Human nature makes us jump to the
conclusion that if the neighbours used my approach then they would do better.
Maybe it’s true but maybe it’s not – maybe we have as much to learn from the
neighbours as they have from us?
Let’s analogise that to real neighbourhoods. Is there anyone who doesn’t think things would be better if their neighbours
behaved more like them and adopted their processes,and practices – especially
things like where it is OK to park and when it is OK to be loud? But actually
they have slightly different needs (maybe because of things we don’t have like kids and dogs or a job that requires shift working)
and so they do need to do things differently. But still there is much to learn from
each other; simple stuff like where did you get your fence fixed etc and more
strategic stuff like comparing mortgage plans or discussing the best school
Within our IT/services/architecture kind of
world we have
the same chance to benefit from discussions with our neighbours. And just like
with our domestic neighbours, the best way to get along and help each other is
by accepting others’ perspectives as equally valid. It is good to see
initiatives like devops starting
to encourage this. My major familiarity over the past 20 years has been service
management but I can see both lots to learn from our neighbours like EA and
development and also lots we can help with too.
Have you spoke to your neighbours recently?
And if so was it with a predisposition to teach or to learn?
I recently had some first hand experience –
from the receiving end – how much of an effect genuinely good customer service
can have. The experience started in dismay but was recovered well beyond
Anyway, to start at the beginning ….
I had to go and ‘swear an affidavit’ –
which for those of you not into the jargon of jurisprudence means to formally
promise what you are saying on a form is true. In England you can either pay a
solicitor for this service, or you can get it for free at the county court. So,
of course, I went off to the County Court.
Now, it started, I admit, with me failing in my responsibility to be a proactive customer. I did not think
through what I knew. County Courts in England are where the most
serious crimes are tried, so it is where the most dangerous criminals would be.
A moment’s thought, therefore, would make it obvious that there will be fairly
impressive security. But of course I was just thinking about delivering a form
so the metal scanner and request to empty my pockets took me by surprise. And
my producing my Swiss Army penknife from my pocket sent the security man into
action. The knife was confiscated – suggestions that I wasn’t even in the
building yet and could just go back, leave offending items in the car and start
again, were not allowed to be considered. I was told that I could not get my
knife back when I left but instead I needed to write in to the court manager
asking for it to be returned by post.
So, I had a perfect example of a ‘Moment of
Truth’; putting me instantly, and very extremely, ‘anti’ the staff and the
processes. It seemed obviously the staff are required to leave common-sense at
home and not bring it to work with them.
And thus, in a bad mood I reached the court
officer with whom I was to sign and swear that my forms told the truth. She
spots my mood, finds out why and explains that the rules are for protection and
cannot be altered – causing no improvement in my mood. She then looks at my
forms and points out that I have not brought all the right documents – and then
throws in for good measure that my solicitor has supplied my with the wrong set
So … it is now clear to me that I have
driven into town, paid for my car parking, lost my knife for the duration and
all for nothing because my paperwork is wrong. But fear not – after this it
gets better. I had been expecting a businesslike word or two of sympathy and if
I allowed myself a glimmer of optimism then maybe even an explanation of what I
needed to go back and fetch, so that it would work when I came back.
Instead the lady reacted very differently.
She pointed out that the forms I have forgotten are copies of documents they
already have lodged with them, and that they have blank forms of the right
kind. She fetches the missing forms, lends me a pen and helps me understand
what is needed on the right form, checks it through, makes corrections and then
duly witnesses it and formally logs it in the system as sworn and correct. As she
put it “Well the purpose is to get your stuff recorded, if I can make that
happen then why wouldn’t I help?”
Of course she was perfectly right, her job
is to help get these things done, and so thinking for herself and helping
people get there is an obviously correct attitude. Isn’t that exactly how
everyone in service delivery sees it?
Well, of course we all know that it isn’t –
not yet! The sad aspect of this kind of story
is how surprised we all are by them – that they are worthy or repeating
because this quality of service is still unusual.’
The key aspect of this story – with its two
different approaches to dealing with the customers - is how much good service
experience depends on customer facing staff that are knowledgeable of the
customer’s context and goals. But more than that even, the management trusted
and empowered (at least some of) their staff to use common sense and do what
was right – maybe even if it didn’t follow exact procedures.
Are the customer-facing staff in your
organisation trusted and empowered? If not, is it because they can’t be
trusted, or because they have been given the knowledge? Or is it just that
no-one has ever thought it would be a good idea to trust and empower them? What
happens in your organisation – do you get good service or do you a strict
process delivered, whether or not it is appropriate?
Last week the IBM attended the UKI itSM Forum and what a
great event it was! Some really thought provoking and motivating sessions, as
well as some truly interesting conversations with our clients and
Below are a few of the highlights from the sessions attended
- would be great to hear anyone else’s thoughts on what their key take-home
messages were from the event.
Session 1 – Introduction by Barry Coreless – Chairman of the
Barry talked about how he sees the future of ITSM – the
growing automated and ever more complex tool sets, and an ever increasing
bewildering array of devices. The main
take home message for me was that he believed that organisations that linked
best practices and industry disciplines are the ones that will truly succeed.
Session 2 – Keynote from Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson DBE
A fantastic motivational speech from Tanni – including memorial
statements like “if you are going to spend time thinking... then think BIG!” She spoke about why it is important to think
about how you can be the best you can be and how individual success if not
always about the individuals themselves, but about the team they have around
them. Tough times call for tough
choices, she continued, and it is how you deal with these, improve and move on
that is what will make you successful.
Session 3 – our own Ivor Macfarlane – Can IT people be
Ivor was introduced as a man whose middle name was “ITIL”
and clearly his reputation preceded him, as we had a full house with over 60 of
the 300 delegates in the room. Ivor spoke
about how Service Managers generally have a low profile, and are orientated to
achieving another person’s hopes and desires.
He carried on the debate by saying that the best attribute a Service
Manager can have is to be invisible! Continuing
that if management don’t empower you as a Service Manager then your stuffed! A final take key message was then given, “Go
to the board – change the change process!”
Session 4 – An interactive panel session hosted by Don Page
Some really interesting stats came up in this session to the
questions asked to the delegate audience my favourite 3 below:
1. 1. Cloud Computing is here to stay – what effect
will it have on ITSM?
Major – 43%, A
bit – 36%, A little – 17%, No Opinion – 4%
2. 2. Your business now understands and is taking
seriously the importance of ITSM as an essential business enabler?
Very Seriously – 12%, Lip Service
– 42%, We don’t talk to them and they don’t take us seriously -20%, Don’t Know–
9%, Don’t Care – 17%
3. 3. Should organisations encourage Social Media to
facilitate communication between IT and end users?
Actively encourage and support –
45%, Natural Course – 37%, No -13%, Don’t Know – 2%, No Opinion – 4%
Session 5 – Stephan Mann – Forrester Research - “Anyone
questioning your value?”
One of my favourite sessions from the event, very
interesting to hear an analysts point of view. He started by stating that
Service Managers can’t deal with the value because we don’t understand the
cost, there is little transparency IT costs and the value it brings. He continued saying that costs are
continually being cut, whilst the demand for IT continues to grow. He told
delegates to take an honest look at their ITSM capabilities and short comings,
in context of what business needs, then link IT services to business
outcomes. Final message for me was “Cost
is important but value is more important... if we could demonstrate the value
they would be encouraging us to spend more”.
Session 6 – Martin Neville – Flattening the Curve
In the last session of the day, Martin discussed what companies
should be looking for from their tool providers, and that the best tool providers
are proactive not reactive. He set out ground rules for both sides – be honest
from the start, early efforts pay interest in the long term, perception is reality – stats do not lie, the
time to innovate is at the start – not when things are looking desperate, short term contractual wrangling will damage
the relationship long term and most importantly KEEP talking!
Session 1- Nigel Mear –Solid Air Consulting - Answers on a postcode
Nigel spoke about how vision is our most valuable asset and leadership
is an act, rather than a position. We
need to show up and engage! It needs to be a progressive improvement, baby
steps are ok, and it needs to be realistic, achievable and practical – don’t
aim for perfection, do something practical.
His take home message for me really was for success, we have to
acknowledge the reality of uncertainty.
Session 2 – Christian F Nissen – CRN People, Denmark –
Acquisition and Implementation of ITSM Tools
Another really interesting session, starting with the
question should organisations use a SM suite of tools from one vendor, or best
of breed tools from various vendors and attempt to integrate them. The answer is not as simple as it seems! He
emphasised the importance of running a Proof of Concept before ever fully
implementing a new tool. Organisations
need to ask themselves, is this vendor that is sleeping or evolving and
Session 3 – Dennis Shields - The 2010 Machine
My final session of the day, Dennis opened the session by
explaining people like direction, but believe their managers are out of touch. Bad
management however means the unit will not function properly. People need to be
given clear and fair directives, otherwise efficiency plummets and costs
escalates, we need to take a long term perspective if the company and its
infrastructure is going to be successful.
In summary, fantastic event, and can’t wait till next year!
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.
Just a few kilometres from where I live
there is a great spot for walking – with or without a dog. It is quiet and
traffic free, with spectacular view across the countryside. The grand
perspective across surrounding countryside was likely more appreciated in
earlier days; it is the site of a 2500 year old hill fort with the
earthworks still very obvious and impressive despite being worn down by the
One of the things I love most about the
site is how very little we really know for sure about it, the people who built
it and how people actually lived there. There is a goodly amount that can be
inferred from what is left, but when walking around it you do feel that we can
only know a little, presume a bit more, guess a good chunk and – importantly –
accept that there is much we do not know and will never know.
It seems to me that this acceptance of what
we do not know, and more importantly what we cannot know, is a hard thing to do,
and one we as a society are getting rapidly worse and worse at. Maybe we expect
too much? Certainly if we were to take too seriously some of the criminal
investigation TV programmes we see we would believe we can know everything –
where a small nick in a 10 year old bone can lead to complete diagnosis, arrest
and conviction in a single 45 minute episode.
Of course, real life is rarely like TV, but
there does seem an increasing belief that we can know everything, which I
doubt is justified by any kind of objective assessment of our own lives. It is
almost as if we believe that we can find out anything we want – or that we can
ask an expert who will simply tell us what we need to know. In fact there are –
even now –many things we do not know, and will never know. That is true in most
aspects of life – from what our children get up to through to configuration
management – the trick perhaps is to accept that and make the best use of what
we can know. That includes realising that what we do think we know may not be
100% accurate – but that is it still useful all the same.
Way back last century, I studied Physics at
University. Well, I was supposed to
be studying Physics, I certainly recall making TV programmes and being in the
bar – somehow my memory can’t have stored all the time I spent studying.
But one thing I do recall was that in the
lab work the answer ALWAYS had to be expressed in terms of the uncertainly –
the temperature of the liquid under examination was not 23 degrees – it was
something like 23 º
± 2º. Being realistic about your accuracy was seen as a critical aspect of
And rightly so. It
is of critical importance, because if we just think that everything we know is an
absolute black and white fact – then we will make bad choices. Being aware of
the accuracy does – or certainly should – affect our decisions. If you want a
common example of where we get it wrong then think about some of the customer
satisfaction surveys you may have seen in your time. Even a good customer
survey will show only a good indication of opinion, attitude and desires. It
will never be totally accurate but it can be useful – especially in terms of
availability is about averages, happenstance and luck – so a 99% availability
does not necessarily mean 99% customer service delivery – because you don't
know when that bad 1% will happen – and so don’t know what affect it might
have. Is it going to be peak period or quiet time? But it can help us decide how
to build and manage systems – and lead us into sensible risk/benefit decisions.
In fact getting on and using the data you do have might be a good mantra? All
too often we seem to seek data for its own sake rather than because we see a
need for it.
Those people who built that hill fort 2500
years ago certainly knew a lot less facts and data than we do. But they knew
what they needed to know to do a good job and made great use of what they did
know. Hopefully we can use the knowledge and data that we have without being
distracted by trying to get even more? And then maybe our constructions will
also still look good in 2500 years.
Maybe you can spot some places where you
are spending time, money and worry tying to get ever more precise data that you
don’t really expect to use. Or more likely you can see where – or your
management – take as absolute data that you know is actually just an estimate
within a significant range of values?
I am just back from a week working in Tokyo
. For someone who
writes as much as I do about the need to understand customer culture and how
that affects expectations, it is always a good lesson to visit Japan, where the
culture is about as different (from where I normally work) as you get within
the service management world. (Of course culture does get even more different in,
say, certain Amazonian tribes or a primary school playground, but with little
formal ITIL adoption there as yet, Tokyo
is my extreme of difference.)
Although the shadow of the tsunami and very
real loss to the community endures, the human spirit carries on and people
still laugh and enjoy life. One of the pleasant surprises is how universal
humour can be. It is also easy to forget how quickly people’s behaviour adapts
and copies from those around them. You really only notice the extent to which
you adapt when you get back home. For example it took me a while to stop bowing
to people and also to stop smiling at people in the street, restaurants etc –
or certainly to stop expecting them to smile back.
I also got used to things that I would
expect not to cope with easily. Specifically after the first day or so I was no
longer bothered by how much my room on the 16th floor shook when one
of the steady stream of aftershocks wobbled Tokyo. That reminded me of how worryingly
quickly I had got used to seeing young men with machine gums patrolling the
streets while working in Belfast
in 1992. Seems we absorb new technology just as quickly, and it takes very
little time for what seemed new and so different to become everyday life.
People as old as me can remember life without a mobile phone, but already I
find it hard to recall how it felt to be out of contact whenever out of the house or office, let alone that it didn’t bother me to be unreachable.
But coping without things you have got used
to does happen – and it is clear there are some very direct lessons for service
management in Tokyo
today. Obviously in the light of their unfortunate experience and need for disaster
recovery and business continuity they are well placed to be the source of most
of the case studies for the next few years. It may well be a long time before
even the immediate effects stop being so visible – there is an obligation for a
15% reduction in electricity consumption that looks set to last a long while.
That kind of thing has so many knock-on effects you quickly realise how
dependent we are on technology. Not only because it is a shock to go back to
old ways – and waving a fan may be an ancient Japanese tradition but it much less
effective than air conditioning; but because we depend on so much that cannot
function without the technological infrastructure. The power reduction of 15%
has to applied carefully, because so many things – like data centre power –
must be maintained. So the power for things that drive mere comfort is hit very
hard – very little cooling in offices and, for example, my hotel had turned off
That made me think of just how complex our
everyday infrastructures have become, with so much more than electricity on our
critical list. It perhaps should be a compulsory occasional exercise to think through just how many things we
presume will be available – not just the obvious (utilities, access, people etc).
I am sure we would all be surprised at some of the things we tacitly depend on –
and equally sure there are good stories to be told about some of them – any offers?.
After my last blog – asking what devops was
– the idea of collaboration across the whole life of service has been in the
forefront of my mind. From that wider perspective I was musing around one of my
frequent topics – how we fail to get the service right because we don't
understand how it is being used, or what the customer really cares about.
Actually the simple picture of supplier and
customer doesn’t really describe the world most of us have to live in. If we go
with the ITIL concept of a customer (someone who has financial influence or
authority) then we also need to worry about what our users think. In other
frameworks you might hear a more general concern about taking the whole range
of stakeholders into consideration. Doesn’t matter which recipe you follow –
does matter that you see the complexity.
Some of the problems come from being so
close to how things are done (rather than why they are being done), and by
being so close to what you think matters that you don't spot what matters to
those receiving the service. Sometime it is the silliest things that make the
customers and users unhappy and reject a service. Maybe that is an example of the
‘One Bad Apple’ syndrome – something firmly embedded in the human condition
seems to be our ability to allow one bad aspect to overbalance a dozen good
I had my own version this week, when I
found myself refusing to continue with an online application for a new bank
account because the software insisted on spelling my name incorrectly. (For
reasons I cannot fathom, it seems to have decided that any name starting with
‘Mac’ must have a capital afterwards – so it turns ‘Macfarlane’ to ‘MacFarlane’
without giving me the chance to turn it back.) I didn’t stay around to see what
else the service offered, I just closed the web page and got my new account
somewhere else that will let me spell my name properly.
But there is also the positive face of the
same coin – the power of ‘cool’. Imagine you have found the perfect shoes for
your child – scientifically designed to protect their feet while supporting
their bones and they are even waterproof. As a caring parent these are the only
pair of shoes you want your child to be running about in (see IKB later in this
blog). As it happens your dreams have come true because your child loves them.
Is it because they are good for them, and will help their feet develop properly
– no, they agree to wear them because the heels light up with each step. They
will wear them – and save their feet – but only because they are ‘cool’ –
according to rules you will never understand. By the way, don’t think the
illogical ‘cool’ factor only applies to children, it is there in just about
every service you deliver or use – at work or at home. If you look for it then
you will see it. I don’t want to make this posting too long or I could list
dozens – but just imagine trying to sell powerful and effective software
products against others with less relevant features at higher cost – but with a
fancy graphical interface – sound familiar to anyone?
If you think about these two situations –
where apparently less important elements disproportionately affect decisions -
I am sure you will find many examples of the two extremes; like the fast-food restaurant
that you still avoid because of one bad burger or one element of bad service,
hundreds of miles away and several years back.
Those issues tend to come from how the
service is delivered, yet the same problem can easily come from how it is built
(like my name issue). But one of the differences is getting the message back to where it might make a difference,
because at best the complaints go to the operations side of the house, and this
does not get fed back, maybe because it is dismissed as trivial – because it
doesn’t seem important to whoever received the message.
It isn’t just about hiding complaints
though, we also have the ability not to pass the cool factors back. Do we
always find out why people really like something? It seems to me that we don’t often
ask the right people the right questions. And it also seems there are simple
reasons why we do that:
- We presume that what is important to us is what is important to
our customers, users or others that matter. Is this a common manifestation
of IKB (the ‘I know better’ syndrome)? Most of suffer this from our parents,
then grow up and do it other people.
- We don’t know who to ask – and we don't know what to ask them.
Both of these situations are understandable
– after all, we are human so of course we see things first and best from our own perspective, and without being forced out into another’s environment then why
should we have the ability to understand people we have never met? The second
is also inevitable in the complicated amalgams of customers, users, services
and suppliers we exist within. Never mind the neat little service chain
pictures you get in the books – it doesn’t really look that simple, it looks
complicated, and mostly because it is complicated.
We can do something about these
difficulties – but they require addressing the way we – and our colleagues –
think, and that takes time and effort.
There are other causes and factors – and
maybe there is one we could do something about, and it is something that would
magnify the beneficial effects when you finally get around to addressing the two points I
listed above: when we do find things out we don’t tell the people who could do
something about it. And the very best way to get that wrong is to build silos
within your supplier organisation and stop people sharing ideas and
After that last blog on devops, I was
thinking about that particular kind of communication issue. There is something deep
rooted in the human psyche that needs to dismantle their immediate environment
into teams (or
groups, or departments or silos or tribes – call them what you will). IT
organisations are perfect examples – with high level internal teams always
emerging once they gets past a certain size. And if you separate into teams that feel the need to compete, then helpful messages will not be fed across between them. So what was built wrong and delivers the wrong thing stays there and will be wrong in the next version too. That is
the inertial element of behaviour that initiatives like devops and whole
service lifecycle approaches have to contend with. We shouldn’t think it can be
as easy as just telling people to collaborate and communicate. Like all
challenges we need to recognise what we are fighting – and to fight back.
So – what are good ways to start? Perhaps
as simply as recognising that while we might bond comfortably into (say) a
‘development’ team or an ‘operations’ team (or any one of a dozen more) – that
doesn’t make the other team the opposition – I think that would be a good first
step, if we can finally realise that – by and large – what benefits one team
also benefits the other.
This week (for any latecomers, I’m writing this on June 8th) is our Innovation event in Orlando. I’m not there but with modern social media it is nonetheless possible to hear much of what is going on. And quite a bit of what is being said there is about “devops”.
So, suitably intrigued, I consulted the modern version of the Delphic oracle (Wikipedia) says about it. And there I found this line “Devops is frequently described as a more collaborative and productive relationship between development teams and operations teams”.
One statement: simultaneously reassuring and terrifying.
Firstly it’s reassuring because anything that works towards the realisation that development and operation are not really separated by any kind of wall has to be a good thing. Of course there are different areas of focus at different times in the life of a service but they all should have the same aim – delivering what is needed in best possible way. We already all knew that, it is so obviously sensible that who would vote against it? The equally obvious fact that we then don’t do it is one for the psychologists and later blogs, but does lead me into my other reaction:-
The horror that we should be 50+ years into IT services before this seems important to enough for people to give a trendy name. How on earth have we survived this long without a “collaborative and productive relationship” between the people who build something and the people who operate it? And bear in mind both those groups are doing it for the same customer (in theory anyway).
To be fair to IT people though, perhaps this is an obligatory engineering practice we have picked up. Who remembers the days when getting your car repaired was unrelated to buying it? You bought it in the clean and shiny showroom at the front of the dealer, took it to the oily shed around the back if it broke. One of the things that has seen a step-change in the car industry – and is also changing ours and most others – is the realisation that we are now all delivering services and not products. So we are finally realising that long term usability and value is what defines success, not a shiny new – but fragile – toy. In fact, thinking of toys we all recall the gap between expectation and delivery of our childhood toys – the fancy and expensively engineered product that broke by Christmas evening compared to the cheap and solid – be it doll or push along car – that lasted until we outgrew it.
The car industry saw that happen – and we now have companies leading their adverts with a promise of lifetime car driving with their latest vehicles – with the mould really having been broken by Asian manufacturers offering 5 year unlimited mileage warranties. That was about selling a self-controlled transport service instead of a car – and really that is what most of us want. Amazing strides taking place on that front, of course, being taken by companies like Zipcar who have thought simply enough to see there is no absolute link between that service (self controlled transport) and car ownership. (Some of us want other things from a car of course – but that just leads us into the key first step of any successful service, know what your customer(s) want.)
Why I get so interested in all this is its basically what I’ve been saying for the last 20 years – my big advantage is that I came into IT from a services environment (I worked in a part of our organisation called ‘services group’) – and I never really understood why IT needed such a large and artificial wall between build and do. ITIL was (in large part) set up to try and break down the walls – initially an attempt to set up serious best practices and methodologies within operations to match what was already alive and well in development (hence the original name of the project – GITIMM, to mirror SSADM).
So … what am I saying? Please take devops seriously if that is what is needed to get better services. The complexity we need to address now means we have to stop maintaining any practices that prevent good ongoing service design and delivery. If giving it a name and a structure helps then let’s go there.
One of the things I am most proud about in the books I have contributed to is that we made up a fancy name for something good people already did (in our case early Life Support) – the intention was to give it profile and then people would add it to job roles and actually start to plan for it and then, finally, do it better.
Of course that brings with it the chance of looking like the emperor in his new clothes once you examine the detail and originality too carefully. But that’s good too – clever and original usually = doesn’t work too well at first. Solid old common sense (eventually) seems to me to offer a much firmer foundation to build on.
We need good foundations because the situation is actually a lot more complicated than we pretend – multiple customers, other stakeholders, users, operations as users – enough for a dozen more blogs, a handful of articles and a book. So … I’d better get on writing – and maybe so should you?
I was teaching an ITIL course last week –
with the managers’ bridge route to the ITIL expert about to close, there was a
sudden need for a trainer and I got the
chance to pick up a training gig in Dublin
. Well, on the edge
actually – in Blanchardstown. Turns out that is place to make you question your
presumptions about a country – the view from the hotel window (as you can see)
could at first glance have been most any mall in any US
town. And after being used to
seeing an Irish Bar in every town I go, this time I spent 4 days without even
seeing a pub! So, not your typical Irish trip, but both pleasant and useful
For all its economic challenges it is good
to see Ireland
still as friendly as ever – a modern multi-cultural EU country now, certainly
more expensive than ever before, but still they understand the craic. It is nice
to be in one of those towns where you are expected to sit in the front seat of
the taxi and talk about life and its meaning and pleasures – and even though my
drivers were from Hong Kong, Africa and Ulster
rather than Dublin,
still it all felt very Irish and human sized.
But I had a great time work wise too, a
rare opportunity to focus again on the ITIL material, a reminder of some parts
I had all but forgotten – including some it seems I wrote myself. Most
important though was the chance to talk with the others on the course, getting
an insight again into how this stuff works in the real world – the delegates
all being part of our managed service accounts and delivering real service
management to real customers on a day-to-day basis.
I guess I need that reminder now and again:
writing, talking – even thinking – about things is good and important stuff,
but if we lose sight and touch with actually doing the things we talk about
then inevitably we will get that writing and thinking and planning wrong. I was
lucky enough to visit some real service management workers the week before
also. That was in Abu Dhabi – a different
culture from Ireland
for sure but mostly the same issues that people in our industry face like
resistance to change and even more resistance to change management; where to
start, how to measure, the need to derive pragmatism and realism from the
theory in the best practice books.
So - a couple of weeks of good lessons for
me, and I hope for my students also. I had a good reminder of the need to keep
real, to encourage reality above ideals. I learned not to presume how a place
will be, nor to be too concerned if it looks a little different to begin with. Despite
appearances, service management issues have more in common than you might think
– across counties, cultures and industries – which gives us all a large
community of colleagues to discuss matters with and to exchange ideas and
conversation. I guess that is what we look to organisations like itSMF to
facilitate in the widest sense: service management craic.
Anyway – I am looking forward to keeping in
touch with service management reality – through talking to and working with
people in real service management jobs, be that through training, conference
discussion or more directly. We all need that good mix of ideas and
As may have been noticed from recent blogs I
spent most of the last month travelling. Actually thinking about it, most of my
last 33 years has been travelling for work. So while I might spend much of my
time talking about service with IT professionals; the services that most impact
my life tend to be related to the travel industry. Seems to me that service is
service, and many of the lessons learned in travelling – and watching people
while travelling – are very relevant in all aspects of service delivery, IT
related or not.
What has really impressed itself upon my
mind recently is how receiving services – of whatever kind – can so often make
you feel offended, insulted, slighted or just plain angry. Objective thought
makes it pretty obvious that the intention was actually to deliver good
service, but somehow it can be hard to believe that when you see some of the
symptoms of not thinking things through.
Let’s start with a fairly innocuous and
almost silly example from the Dubai
metro system. This metro is brand new, really impressive, fast, clean
comfortable – and cheap. I can forgive its rather early closing time (11pm) and
late start on the weekend as a necessary acknowledgement of how many taxis and
especially taxi drivers need to continue to make a living – and how much they
may have felt threatened by the new metro.
What I couldn’t help but notice, and that
stuck in my mind more than anything else, were the local information maps displayed
– a good and helpful feature that shows important buildings near enough to walk
to from each station. They show where places are using colour-coded dots, for
example pink dots show hotels. At my local station there were three hotel dots
– so I which hotels were served by that metro stop. But it didn’t tell me which
hotels they were – just that they are
hotels – how much more effort would it have taken to write the names on? And
how much would that final piece of data been worth? I think that’s what bothers
me – when suppliers seem to do 90% of the work right but that missing 10%
destroys 90% of the value.
But OK, I am sure that will be remedied -
eventually. There is, however, a characteristic of physically delivered
services that I see so often – and bothers people so much – that I have tried
to give it a name. Best I have so far is VNS,
Non-Service. I am sure you have
seen it – travellers will see it at airline travel desks and immigration
counters, but all of us see it almost daily at banks, post offices and shops.
Let me set out a typical scenario - one I saw last week (and most times I
travel). There are 5 or 6 customer service desks; two of them have staff
serving the waiting line of customers, one by one. At another desk are two of
the airline or airport staff – every now and then a customer in a hurry goes up
to them, only to be turned away. These people are not attending to customers.
No, it might be that they are doing some critically important task, vital
filing, discussing long term business strategy etc. But why do they do it in
font of the customers? We can see only paid supplier staff NOT helping us, and
apparently not caring. Actually, I think banks are amongst the worse offenders,
frequently seating staff at customer facing positions to do non-customer facing
It seems to me that this is a failure to
think through how customers perceive things. Of course it might make perfect
sense to the planners and HR people – making best use of physical space, having
managers where they can see staff working etc. But – if you feel tempted to do
this, or anything else that customers will see - please think through how it
will look and feel to someone who was NOT there when you planned it.
In fact VNS and other ways to disregard customer
perception – once you think it through – have significant implication and
consequences: whether that is IT applications that decide to archive your
records when at times apparently selected to annoy you the most, scheduled
maintenance that seems to target your busy periods or supervisory staff walking
around apparently doing nothing helpful while customers wait in long lines. The
more complex our world gets, the easier it is to get things wrong. Like the maintenance
slot that is obviously good to the planner in New York but which hits the
obvious usage slot in Dubai (where Sunday is the first working day of the week,
and you want your administration services – like expense reporting – up and
running at the start of the week – which is when business travellers typically
do their expenses.
So if you are planning services that a
customer will see, please do me a favour: try and think how it will be seen and
perceived, putting aside how logical YOU already know it is. As the man said –
perception is reality, try to make your customers’ perception into your
Final story, about how it is possible to
get it right. Many years back, when I worked for the UK Forestry Commission, I
recall talking with our Recreation Planning Officer. He had just designed and
constructed some way-marked walks through a forest he personally knew very well.
Before he allowed them to be opened to the public, he brought his children in,
and walked behind them on the route – noting down everywhere they had trouble
seeing the right way – and then he corrected those faults. I believe that
nowadays this might be called ‘User Acceptance Testing’ – and what it needs is
users, not suppliers pretending they can see it from a user perspective.
I set out do this blog as a pretty
shameless advert for my article in the latest issue of the itSMF International
magazine. So let’s get that bit out of the way first – it is here
– read it soon!
But actually thinking about the itSMF magazine leads naturally
on to talk about the itSMF International publishing and the recent success
stories – and success stories should be talked about, so I’ll do that now. It has been a while since the international
publishing committee of itSMF (IPESC) faded out – but while IPESC may be
dead, I felt its spirit, innovation and enthusiasm resurrected at our recent
chapter publishing meeting. IPESC was always full of good intentions, but the
difference now is the ability to take ideas forward to our itSMF’s own
publications – and to produce good things.
The magazine is one of those things. It may
not be exactly War and Peace – but it is the kind of things that professional
service managers might read, enjoy and then look for the next issue coming out
– exactly the positive reinforcement cycle we need to create a tipping point. Actually,
the meeting itself was another great thing. So far as we can tell this was the most
chapters ever represented at any kind of itSMF meeting – including all previous
IBM – along with TSO – sponsored the
meeting, and we also hosted it at the IBM Amsterdam office. That sponsorship
gave me the right (and from my management’s perspective, the obligation) to a
10 minute agenda item to address the meeting. Now, those of you who know me
will realise I don’t usually need the justification of an agenda item to talk.
But, given the nature of my audience, I wondered what to talk about in that
formal situation. The obligatory ‘IBM has something you might be interested in
seeing’ bit was easy – a quick demo of our new G2G3 developed virtual
simulators – plenty about those in other blogs on this site so go read them I won’t
repeat it here.
My main message – and one I feel strong
enough about that I want to repeat it here – was how important sponsorship like
itSMF is (also rightly) proud of its ‘owned
by the members’ and ‘not for profit’ nature – and so it shapes the community more
than any other organisation – or more accurately it helps its members shape and
develop that community. But being not for profit doesn’t stop there being bills.
We all share in this service management
community, and it seems to me both right and necessary that the key players in the
industry take seriously the need to also be key supporters of that community.
For many sponsorship is seen as a way to
keep conference prices low, or just about advertising leverage. The sponsorship
of meetings like the publications gathering in Amsterdam makes a real difference to itSMF
being able to work on initiatives (in this case publications initiatives) that
push the boundaries and develop our community – things that can take us all
forwards. That kind of innovation – like ITIL itself 22 years ago – cannot be proprietary.
Like ITIL though the proprietary players stand to benefit from the evolution
and development of the non-proprietary guidance.
So what I spoke about in Amsterdam, and what seems important enough
for me to say again, is that the community needs its big players to put enough
back in. IBM sponsored that event, I hope IBM will sponsor again – but I would
like it even more if we have serious competition from some other big names to
get the good sponsorship.
itSMFI is producing important parts of our professional future, and
there is the chance for all players in this community to support - big companies with big sponsorship through
to individuals getting involved and active. So get on board - please.
I delivered an
SM simulation for a client in the middle of a tropical paradise in Brazil
last week. It is a hard life but I guess someone has to do it. The countryside
around was stunningly beautiful, and the views driving there even more so. I
was reminded of the great Frank Keating’s reporting from an English cricket
tour of the West Indies
for readers in a cold
and wet British winter; his opening line to his readers: “Another day
Frank, I was there to work, and work I did –another successful and fun game – I
always enjoy how much the delegates enjoy the experience; we should all have more
work that actually makes people happy.
We had a mix of
nationalities and cultures on the game – a real challenge but one that brings
its own extra flavours. I was thinking about those cultural variations on the drive
back to São Paulo
airport – and I realised there is much more to culture than the obvious things
My driver was a
very nice man – a pleasure to share a space with, just enough English to
converse, comfortable with silence and caring enough to return from a rest stop
with an unsolicited bottle of water for me; plus a cheerful insistence that I
try local specialties that I might not have seen before So, all-in-all, clearly
he is a man who wants me to be comfortable and survive the journey.
So, why did he
frighten the living daylights out of me at irregular intervals on the way?
Simply by behaving normally for his culture: using road verges to pass trucks
at high speed on the wrong side, overtaking in the middle of road works, driving
at high speed within inches of other vehicles. While this seemed reckless to my
culture, it is everyday for Brasil. It made me realise that as well as the
social variations, culture extends to acceptable risk – what would just result
in a late arrival in western Europe is met with a calculated risk to get past the slow moving
obstacles, a culture that values speed over safety perhaps? Or more likely just
the inevitable reaction to the extreme traffic volumes and conditions there. I
didn’t see it as a better nor a worse attitude, just a different one – and
there being differences left in the world is something I, for one, feel is an
unmitigatedly good thing.
many Brasilian taxi drivers before, so I was not surprised, but what did amaze
me was how quickly and unnoticed that culture got into my thinking and
unconscious actions. Back in the UK, driving home from the airport I
found myself changing lanes MUCH more than I usually would. Not too recklessly
I hope, but it took a while before I was back to my normal UK driving
So if we copy
cultural elements so quickly after so short a visit – and that copying spills
over into our next situation, do we do that with our customers too? Do we bring
the needs of the previous customer we worked with to our next, even if it isn’t
the right culture for them? Maybe this is just one more thing for us to watch
out for in our business relationships?
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.
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
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.
In every walk of life we see the components in things:
- In football it is - Strikers, defenders, midfield (some of you may need to translate from the English: ‘football’ to ‘soccer’ to understand that one)
- With vehicles it might be - Engine, transmission, chassis
- Service management is held to be - People, process, technology
Wherever we are we, we break thing up into components.
Take the first two and it’s clear – however good the parts are – if they aren’t integrated then it isn’t going to deliver what you need and excellence in just one area is all but useless as far as the required end product is concerned
In real life the secret is delivering value because value is what makes it a service – without value it is just a way to pass the time, not a service.
In soccer the benefits of interaction of the parts is important and very visible – and many years ago the Dutch showed the world it could go to a higher level with what they called ‘total Football’. I think a better name – for the generic concept at least – is ‘Integration’. Seeing the parts and getting each as good as possible is important – seeing the synergies between the parts and making them all fit is the differentiator.
In service management terms, it seems to me, the differentiating piece of integration is the one that marries a customer need (some kind of value that is wanted) with the ability to deliver it. Now writing that down, it seems trivial, obvious and simple. As is often the case it seems to be harder in practice – perhaps because the customer need is something that has to exist when the delivery is possible – and indeed one may create the other. By that I mean that many of the most impressive pieces of service delivery we see in this rapidly changing 21st century are about seeing what value new technological possibilities could deliver. You might even call it creating a requirement that the customers hadn’t dreamed they needed until it became available.
One of the advantages of working for a big company – like IBM – is that you get to find out about some of the really smart stuff our customers are doing – and so it was exciting to read an inside view on GM’s new Volt electric car. You can read elsewhere about the car itself and of course from an IBM perspective the favourite focus is on how they have used IBM products to help it all happen. Now I am sure similar things are happening throughout many industries but this one was in front of me and it illustrates nicely something I have been talking about for so long. Although IT underpins this innovation – the integration is everything.
Of course there is GM’s clever recognition of the ever increasing green agenda and spotting – in time to actually create it – the demand for a kind of car that would have been unwanted in earlier times.
But there is another integration going on too – apparently the Volt carries with it some 10 million lines of code that are all invisible to the driver – it might have more IT than most IT projects but – apparently – it feels like a car. So it is a great example of integration all round. It relies on software – its own software, the software it was developed on (Rational of course J) and because it is also an engineering programme the reality of delivery rests upon asset management and coordination. So – a wonderful instance of what I keep saying – integration is everything – getting the components working together to deliver the whole. That is true within service management – where things like people, process and technology ALL have to work and work with each other.
It is also true about integrated service management as one part of a bigger whole – with integration layer upon integration layer – and all integrated together. Manage it and you get services delivering real value – often a value that the customers didn’t even imagine they would need before it became possible – that they consider worth paying for. Get the integration wrong and you have impressive parts - of interest only to a very few.
By the way – this particular stream of ideas is also the subject of a webcast I have just recorded – anyone masochistic enough to want more can find it at http://event.on24.com/eventRegistration/EventLobbyServlet?target=previewLobby.jsp&eventid=266980&sessionid=1&key=29C93F8FD093E54988959855346B29A6
I am writing this on a plane back to England from Madrid, at the end of a pretty hectic few weeks that involved speaking at five itSMF events in five different countries – from Finland to Spain. There has to be a good joke somewhere in a run of 5 events that started with the Finnish – but I’ll let you work that that one out for yourselves.
Anyway, I already wrote about how good the Finnish conference had been, and the Spanish one matched it with all the simple things done really well: good venue, lots of people (all friendly). As well as getting the basics dead right there were one or two minor excursions into the unusual, with a plate spinning performer on the opening morning, (who was upstaged as a professional juggler by the itSMF chair) and a conference dinner in a restaurant with opera singing waiters (all of which somehow felt quite normal).
Attending a range of events in a row like this really brings to mind how there is a common thread throughout them all – clearly the main one is our common focus on service management. Also, many of the same people are at each event including several representatives of our little mutual admiration society of regular speakers at such things Perhaps because of that common theme though, there is an appreciation of the differences – still quite noticeable across so small a place as Western Europe.
That hits you immediately on arrival at a new conference when you run until a long term acquaintance of the opposite sex and prepare yourself for the welcoming hug and kiss on the cheek. As the travelers among you likely already know, you have to perform a quick mental calculation based on where your fellow hugger and kisser is from, and then make an assumption as to whether they will follow their national rules or be adapting to the local ones. It can be an embarrassing moment when your Dutch friend goes to offer that third kiss to the cheek of a man who is in Spanish greetings mode and has turned away after two. Many of the experienced Southern Europeans seem to have little concern over simply asking the lady beforehand how many are expected. But the more staid British and American folks can find themselves out of synchrony and not sure why - helping them find out that European Union, Schengen open borders and pervasive English notwithstanding, there are still many cultures packed into a small space and the variation between (and even within) countries is so much more than between US or Australian states.
None of this is serious stuff of course – all part of life’s rich pattern and a source of fun and laughter when accompanied by a glass of wine. But the conversation it generated turned quickly into broader cultural differences – a subject I was interested in since it formed an element of my talk at most of these events. How many times do we say the wrong thing to our customers or fail to understand what they really mean because we fail to establish common understanding and expectations? Some cultures are reluctant to complain about bad service – be that in a restaurant or in the work environment, while others believe they should always comment with an aspect that could be improved, even when the service is very good. Fail to understand what kind of customer you are dealing with and you can be unnecessarily worried or totally surprised when a contract is not renewed.
For many multinational companies this is everyday business and they put significant effort into understanding and training their people to see through cultural variations. But as mobility and the intermingling of cultures accelerates so rapidly, with even small companies using offshored supply and almost everyone receiving service from other cultures it is something perhaps we all need to focus more effort on.
The consequences of not doing might well be more serious than a failed kiss on an unexpectedly absent cheek.
I have been in Helsinki all this week, combining something rare for me - real work at a customer – with the itSMF Finland annual conference.
It’s always nice to be in Helsinki; maybe I’ve just been lucky – and maybe this is the best time of year – but it seems that every time I come here the weather is wonderful with clear skies, crisp clean air that you can feel making you healthier.
And in a world of ever increasing homogeneity, Finland has managed to retain enough of itself to still feel interestingly different – just foreign enough to feel like a little adventure.
Amongst the ongoing doom and gloom of slow and painful recovery from recession around the world, I hadn’t really noticed how much I missed success and optimism within an itSMF conference. itSMF Finland is doing very well – with a healthy bank account and a large and enthusiastic membership. Attendance at the conference is over 300 – and if that doesn’t sound too impressive straight off, let me put it in a little perspective. Finland has a population of around 5 million people; if the UK matched that (0.006% of population by the way) at their itSMF conference they would be hosting around 5000, and the US would need to find a venue that could accommodate nearly 19000. And pretty much all those delegates were domestic Finnish customers – no point in them targeting itSMF members in other countries since they the neighbours are also very successful. (itSMF Norway got similar attendance figures from a slightly smaller population at their conference in March). Plus of course when most of your programme is presented in Finnish you aren’t going to appeal too much to other nationalities.
As I said, Finland is very much its own place – the people are very friendly, and - both at conference and customer – they obviously care about being good hosts and delivering services that meet customer wants. As a nation they are usually very quiet and reserved but they open up considerably with the application of wine or beer – so while the conference sessions do not generate many questions the evening discussion is much more lively.
One of the fun things about most itSMF events is that the exhibition usually generates only limited direct sales opportunities – instead it is more a case of just being there is important because it keeps you in the customers’ minds. So that means you get the chance on the stand to talk to people around service management in general and exchange ideas. That – in turn – gives a good idea of the approach to service management in the country and we had lots of articulate and clearly customer motivated people stopping by and talking with us on the IBM stand – plus one or two competitors wanting to play golf on our Wii.
Actually, talking of our competitors, it was surprising that in such an enthusiastic marketplace – where service management has such a wide take up and is followed with such enthusiasm – so many of our usual co-exhibitors were not represented. Many of the industry big names seem to be less than interested in the Finnish market. I’m glad because it means there is even more chance I will get back to Helsinki soon – and that is always a treat.
Overall, I think the best lesson from Finland is that there is so much to learn locally – and I suspect that applies all over the world. Go get active in your local itSMF event – whether that is a Local Interest Group or regional meeting in a larger country or – like the Finns – the national event in a smaller (but perfectly formed) country