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?
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.
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.
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!
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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! ;-)
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 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
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.
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.
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.