Archive for the ‘Best Practice’ Category

Top 5 must-have processes for IT service management

May 29, 2012

In these times of uncertainty we are all now familiar with a single word: “austerity”. In the boom times before the global economies went into meltdown I suspect many people had never even heard the word, let alone had to live that Imageway, but now we are all being asked to tighten our belts – and this applies to companies as well. Now more than ever, investing in IT Service Management makes sense, but not in the same way as a  few years ago, when the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) became a real trend. Many companies’ objectives were to adopt all processes, regardless of whether they were appropriate or useful for them.  Now the focus has changed. Organisations are now less interested in “badges” and more in how some aspects of the ITIL framework and other best practice methodologies can help them become more efficient and introduce their own austerity measures.

There is currently a strong need for practical examples and demonstrable results rather than mere theory. Processes are now being hand-picked and tailored to each individual organisation, which can bring fast results – this can really allow businesses to work more efficiently, reduce losses and downtime and, possibly, leverage more from the tools and resources they already have.

But although each individual organisation needs a different set of best practice processes, tailored to their environment, there some essential must-haves that no company should do without:

1 – Change Management

This is the ‘number one’ essential process to improve your IT service availability. It means changes have to be planned, thought through and the consequence understood before any change, large or small, to the IT Service can take place. This does not mean it has to slow changes down as the process can be tailored to each company’s needs, but it does mean that, in some form, each change is considered before it takes place. This alone means that less mistakes are made, which improves your service availability.

2 – Incident Management

Things break and IT services are no different. What is important is how quickly you can get things back working again when this happens. Incident management allows you to create a process that everyone understands to handle these eventualities and restore your services as quickly as possible. Having people unable to work or access the services they require costs an organisation money, so this is more important than ever now. Having a robust incident management process means that the right resources can quickly be assigned to sort out the issue and make sure that your staff can get back to what you employ them for.

3 – Request Fulfilment

In this world of “just in time” ordering where everyone expects to receive everything they want faster and more cheaply than before, for IT this can present a challenge.  Software licenses and hardware components need to be delivered quickly to enable a customer to do their role or become productive quickly after joining an organisation, but conversely, companies need to control costs and make sure they only order what is required and that they do not have licenses or hardware sitting on the shelf depreciating. Having a good request fulfilment process can ensure this does not happen and also ensures the effective tracking of assets. In combination with a “catalogue” of approved components the user is able to select what they require for their job in the knowledge that IT have already confirmed that it will work with everything else. IT  are happy as they know that new device you just connected to the network is not going to slow everyone down or worse!

4 – Supplier Management

It is important for organisations to keep track of their suppliers: are they doing well? Will they still be around next year ? Are they delivering the service and value my organisation requires? Are we paying for services we no longer need?  A  good Supplier Management process means that you can answer these questions and more. It also allows you to provide your supplier with a roadmap of what your business is doing and so allows them to better support your needs going forward. Managing the relationship proactively means that you should rarely have to resort to any SLA penalties – it’s much better to make sure the situation that could cause the penalty is avoided rather than having to experience the impact that caused it in the first place.

5 – Service Level Management

It is important to know what the business requires from its IT services. Not knowing can either mean that the service delivered is not correctly supporting the business or that the IT service being delivered is actually exceeding what the business requires; both of these can cost an organisation money.

Service level management means that the correct Service Level agreements can be put in place to ensure the IT service meets the business need, but also to ensure that the IT service is not “over engineered” and effectively costing more than required. If you’re paying for a Mini but only receiving a push bike then you will be unhappy, equally why pay for a Ferrari when the Mini is all you need.

In these austere times it might just be the right moment to trade in that Ferrari for a Mini!

David Tuck, Principal Consultant

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Need or want? A simple metric for your IT projects in tough times

April 13, 2012

Recently, news and government statements on the state of the economy just confirm what all businesses already know: growth is slow; economic recovery will take a few years; all excess must be cut for survival. Although organisations nowadays recognise the importance of IT for the day-to-day business processes, they are struggling to secure investment in IT as is often not considered a priority. Often, as a result the IT Service Desk is the first destined to suffer, and with it, potentially, operational and business efficiency.

Any investment in IT, however small, can still create efficiencies if any project is carefully assessed against a very simple metric: is this a ‘need’ or a ‘want’?

A clear example of this would be a desktop refresh. Even if mainstream support for  Windows XP operating system is ending, they might find it more convenient or cheaper to pay for the extended support and postpone purchasing the latest version for another couple of years, when the company might be in a better position to deal with the disruption and changes to applications. In this scenario, Windows 7 becomes a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’; by delaying the move, the organisation can get some much needed breathing space, or is able to invest their reduced budget in something more critical.

To evaluate a ‘need’ an organisation must focus on their core processes, main business-generating areas and IT-related risks. Do you need a certain application or technology for any user or a team in particular, say the sales team or customer relations? Is encryption vital across the whole organisation, or just the finance department? Do you need to enlarge your IT service desk team now or can you use home-working contractors to help at peak times until the market has settled?

Another smart approach to create cost-efficiencies is to invest in better management of the resources that are already present, which could involve some consultancy advice. Reducing head-count and cutting down on all IT expenses creates a false economy – yet companies still expect to have the same efficiency and quality of service. Reviewing the use of resources can allow better utilisation of existing staff, e.g. identified recurring issues can be resolved by 1st line support instead of it continuing to devolve to 3rd line, getting the business back on their feet faster and allowing for a more efficient use of existing resources. Other possibilities may be: cutting down on 3rd line analysts and using a cloud service provider to manage their servers; using automation software to deal with repeat incidents can allow the organisation to use less 1st line analysts; managed resources can also improve efficiency and save money, with a service provider in charge of staff management, training and best practices for a fixed monthly fee.

Smaller spending capacity can prove a great opportunity to look seriously at what is essential and what is not, with wiser short-term or far-seeing choices and clear objectives. This period of uncertainty is a challenge that successful organisations will take with a specific goal in mind: to remain successful and retain efficiency despite any difficulties this economic climate might present, and prepare their business to grow and flourish as soon as the economy is on the rise again.

Jennifer Grant, Service Deliver Manager

Bring IT support back to the 1st line

March 27, 2012

In a time where cuts to organisations’ IT budget are often becoming a necessity, taking a good hard look at role redistribution and service desk management could definitely help organisations diminish support expenditure, and perhaps divert the IT budget towards new projects. Organisations can even potentially achieve more benefits by better managing incidents, gaining increased speed of resolution and improved service levels while they save money, creating even more cost-efficiencies. A way to achieve this is by bringing more support work back to the 1st line.

It is common knowledge that analysts working at 1st line level have a lower cost due to their lower skills, while 2nd and 3rd line resolvers – desk-side, network and server support staff – are more expensive, as their skills are higher and more specific. Incident resolution rates also vary: it is faster to resolve an incident at 1st line due to the simple nature of incidents that are taken care of at that level, while 2nd line analysts take longer to resolve issues as these tend to be more complex, or require physically moving to reach the user’s device.

Over time, 2nd and 3rd line resolver teams have been including support activities in their daily routines which, when analysed, often include frequently occurring and process driven tasks. These tasks probably sit where they do because at system or product implementation, all related support activities were adopted by the deploying team without any later thought as to whether some of the tasks can be moved elsewhere.

At the same time, 1st line teams have become more technical and able, with greater access to system tools and the permissions to use them. This has had a positive impact on first time resolution and we have seen the log-and-flog approach begin to decline.

Considering both of these evolutions, opportunities exist to release system specialist time, reduce the cost of service provision and increase first time fix at the Service Desk. By effectively using ticket closure category information from the service management tool, analysis can be undertaken of what 2nd and 3rd line resolver teams are actually resolving.  A likely outcome is that tasks will be identified which are process driven, and therefore can actually be performed by a more junior (or low cost) resource. As long as the process can be documented and the permissions to do it are provided, it’s more than likely that the 1st line Service Desk team can pick up the work.

As an output from some analysis, this may look like – x% of 2nd line resolutions are procedural and can move to 1st line, as a result, 1st line can increase their first line fix from y% to z%, and thereby improving the service to the user-base.

The cost savings of such an exercise could be considerable.  By moving tasks into the first line, the tasks are being moved into lower cost people. This may mean that the 1st line team grows and the other resolver groups reduce, the outcome of which will lead to a demonstrable cost saving.  Furthermore, with tasks having been removed away from the 2nd and 3rd line teams, opportunities will present themselves as a result of the increase in available time within these groups, e.g. resolver teams can improve their performance as they will have more time to work on the more complex problems, and team resource can be released more readily into project work and thereby decreasing the need for expensive contractors.

Such change, however, can’t quite happen overnight.  The analysis needs to be good, and the recommendations of tasks to be moved to 1st line need to be realistic.  Then, through the controls of a well-run project, tasks are tested as being viable duties that the 1st line team can assume, and when signed off, can permanently remain at first line.

The measures of a successful exercise will be ultimately visible in the reporting. The first line fix percentage will increase, the ticket resolution volumes at the resolver groups should reduce, and costs should reduce – perhaps by reducing staffing, project or contractor costs.

The perception of the overall quality of the IT service should also improve: frequent support activities will be completed faster, which improves customer satisfaction; and core systems will receive greater attention from their specialist support staff, leading to improved availability and functionality.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

This article has been published on Director of Finance Online:

http://www.dofonline.co.uk/content/view/6131/118/

Can I have the Check, please?

November 15, 2011

The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is loved by all because it makes complete sense and couldn’t be simpler. Yet, through no fault of its own, it has two failings.

  1. Each of the 4 stages are likely to be well executed at the launch of a project or when executing significant change. Though, after successfully completing its first rotation of the cycle, the focus placed upon the process stages immediately wanes and soon after, PDCA becomes BAU. The reason for this can be understood though not condoned. Attention and effort, and therefore cost, will be centred on business priorities, whereas with completed projects there is an expectation that no further attention is needed for some time. Not so. Business changes and new developments are often introduced into fluid or dynamic business environments, and so by their nature, a cyclic approach to their maintenance is necessary, both for the sakes of business advantage and for the return on investment made in implementing the change.
  2. It is the Check stage of the process which lacks attention. The Plan stage is never a problem because it’s an obviously interesting stage for which there will be no shortage of strategist and project manager to pick up the baton. Do and Act are both production stages to which clear activities can be assigned. The Check stage, however, is often the most subjective of the stages and will typically receive the least focus, usually because it adopts a standard reporting model for which the audience is small. If it’s true that information is king, then it follows that the Check stage of the PDCA process is the most important as it fuels the other stages by introducing recommendations which will keep the cycle alive. If nothing of interest arises from the Check stage then the PDCA cycle will stop. If the goals are to maintain business advantage and to maximise investments made in implementing change, then the solution is to maintain the Plan, Do, Check, Act cycle as a valuable business tool, the success of which hinges on the quality of the Check stage.

A maximised Check stage should be considered in three parts:

  • Standard reporting – Whilst mentioned above as a poor contributor to the overall PDCA process, standard and periodic reporting of service levels and key performance indicators is an important first step in ensuring a fit for purpose service or system. It enables those working at the sharp end to make continual tweaks to ensure the work they do stays on the tracks.
  • Customer satisfaction – A periodic snap shot of what the users think, provides a relevant point of reference for the system or service. It provides management and those involved in delivery with an assurance that their efforts are working towards a common goal, and protect against the risk of the system or service simply working to its own ends. Any deviation from where the system or service is, to where it needs to be, can then be acted upon.
  • Assessment – A comprehensive analysis of the system or service, the business it operates in, the value it provides, the weaknesses it presents and the opportunities that may exist within it, should then be commissioned, with sufficient access to the business, and reported upon. Such an exercise needs to ‘look under the bonnet’ and provide an objective output with recommendations which are the consequence of balanced data analysis and inquisitive investigation.

Clearly, the three types of checking will be performed at varying and increasing frequencies. The correct combination of the three, however, will ensure that the cycle is maintained and will prevent systems or services from slipping into self-serving modes of operation, which really is what the Plan, Do, Check, Act process is all about.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

Originally a column for ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/can-i-have-check-please

IT consultants should drop the ITIL clichés to win clients over

October 14, 2011

Good sense and demonstrable results make a winning proposal

Things have significantly changed since the recession affected companies’ budgets and made them re-think their needs and priorities – something IT consultancies have to take into consideration when proposing their services.  ITIL, once a priority within many corporate IT strategies and individual’s personal development plans, is no longer regarded in quite the same way.

‘ITIL is dead’ and other similar statements have been circulated in past months within the IT press. But this is not exactly the case: it’s not that ITIL is dead – there’s plenty left in it yet; it’s simply that ITIL is now ubiquitous within IT and everyone’s had as much as they can take of ‘ITIL this’ and ‘ITIL that’.  IT Managers now want sensible solutions to their IT problems, where value can be demonstrated and which are based on sound thinking and good old common sense.

ITIL is therefore still important; it’s simply not the whole of the answer anymore.

When contributing to customer proposals, I’m finding it difficult to write lines such as ‘support the needs of your business’ or ‘align with best-practice’.  These rather out-of-date terms no longer need to be said. After all, who would buy IT services that weren’t these things?

With a growth in global IT spending this year predicted by analysts such as Gartner and Forrester, IT consultancies have to really think about what to offer clients.  The rest of this year and the next will see an increase in companies buying IT consulting services, which together with software and system integration services are expected to account for 44% of the global IT market.

But if we’re not paying homage to ITIL anymore, what is it that needs to be said when pitching for IT services work?  The answer is quite simple, though it does require credible and demonstrable qualities from those submitting their proposals.  The problem or requirement needs to be fully understood, preferably backed with supporting data that is undisputed.  The solution proposed has to make good sense and be achievable, and the cost of the exercise must clearly demonstrate value to the customer.

As a result, it is likely that IT services companies will need to invest more time in the requirement, supported with sound data analysis, ahead of writing the proposal.  This does mean a greater willingness to invest time before formally engaging with the customer, but, following this, they will have written a proposal which is specifically focused on what will be done (without all the gushing marketing speak).  If compared with proposals from a few years ago, it will lack the blurb and clichés that we’ve all endured for so long and will be clear, detailed and relevant.

Of course, this does mean that businesses needing help need to be a little more forthcoming with providing data, and even access to the business, ahead of receiving any proposal.  They will also need to avoid unnecessarily ‘playing the field’ with IT consultancies, because, by investing a greater amount of unpaid work ahead of submitting a proposal, consultancies will be less inclined to continue in their efforts for no return.  But the outcome of this fresher approach will be far more useful than has been experienced previously.

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

 

This column originally appeared on ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/it-consultants-should-drop-itil-clich%C3%A9s-win-clients-over

 

Steps to a successful Service Transition – new white paper by Plan-Net

September 27, 2011

Plan-Net has issued a new white paper that guides IT professionals through the essential steps needed to perform a Service Transition with successful results.

Whether the IT Support model is to be transitioned from in-house to Co-Sourced, Co-Sourced to fully Outsourced or in-house to Outsourced, this white paper outlines each important stage of the process, whilst also providing the reader with some tips and further insights into the matter.

This white paper, written by Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services, was conceived to help with the growing need for organisations to change the way they manage their IT department in order to achieve greater cost-efficiency. The IT Service Desk is nowadays the backbone of most organisations; for it to not only support the business, but create value and actually improve the way work is carried out, the service needs to be efficient, well-managed and up-to-date with the latest innovations.

This is why sometimes it may be more convenient for an organisation to seek external help. It is common practice for many organisations to have some Co-Sourced staff to cover for absences or sudden increases in workload. Moreover, an increasing number of companies even decide to leave the Service Desk completely in the hands of the experts and have it managed by a service provider.

The white paper contains details of five key Service Transition phases:

  • Scope definition
  • Future state model identification
  • Roadmap and Service Design
  • Service Transition phase
  • Live service and Continual Service Improvement

It also contains highlights on:

  • Communication
  • Knowledge management
  • Soft skills
  • Dos and Don’ts

“Steps to a successful Service Transition” can be found and downloaded here: http://www.datafilehost.com/download-718177f6.html

Alternatively, it can also be found here: http://www.wiziq.com/tutorial/168103-Steps-to-a-successful-Service-Transition

For more information contact:

Samantha Selvini
Press Officer
Tel: 020 7632 7990
Email: samantha.selvini@plan-net.co.uk

ITIL 2011: Continual Service Improvement or just the result of V3 being rushed?

August 2, 2011

The more pessimistic of us would say that the development of ITIL V3 must have been rushed to have missed some of its more beneficial “Best Practice” rules in the transition. After 4 years the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) are updating it to ‘resolve errors and inconsistencies in the text and diagrams and review processes to make training and understanding easier’. It is not out of order to ask ourselves a few questions such as: did they not peer review or audit the publications before going to print, then? Has it really taken them that long to read it all?

In any case, since the 29th July 2011 new ITIL 2011 edition books have been available to purchase. They will:

  • Resolve any errors or inconsistencies in the text and diagrams, both in content and presentation.
  • Improve the publications by addressing issues raised in the Change Control Log, as analysed and recommended by the change advisory board (CAB) and approved by the Cabinet Office, part of HM Government. These are largely to do with clarity, consistency, correctness and completeness.
  • Address suggestions for change made by the training community to make ITIL easier to teach.

Ok, so maybe they are genuinely following the Continual Service Improvement model and feedback from training, peers and business leaders has been managed through a formal Change Advisory Board (CAB) to improve content, make ITIL easier to understand and stay tuned to the market – it has been 4 years after all! But we still can’t help but ask if ITIL has lost its original meaning and aim or has it just turned into a mere money machine, cashing in on every update which may not have been necessary if the previous version had not been flawed.

The good news on the back of all of this is that we are assured by the OGC that a free downloadable “Summary of Updates” will be made available and, although new examinations and a training syllabus will be available from 8th August 2011, we will not need to re-qualify as ITIL 2011 is not a new version, just a new edition. ITIL V3 as we know and love it will simply become the ITIL 2007 edition!

Helen Steggall, Senior Service Management Consultant

Where is that ‘cultural change’ which makes ITSM Best Practice effective?

April 20, 2011

Most organisations nowadays have heard about the benefits of implementing an IT Service Management Best Practice framework, such as Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology (CobiT) or the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). More than half have implemented some of the core processes, mainly Incident, Service Desk and Change Management. A good number of them believe the discipline has brought them some benefits, but many are also disappointed that they haven’t achieved the results they were aiming for.

There are two main reasons for this. First of all, as any Service Management professional knows, having all the processes, policies and tools in place is not enough if people fail to adopt them. Achieving cultural change across the organisation, so that staff at all levels understand the need to change, how the processes work and what type of benefits each process can bring to their own individual work and to the business as a whole is the most difficult task in a Service Management Best Practice implementation.

Second, even if an organisation invests in training and awareness sessions, the improvements still need to be assessed over time. The effects of the processes and cultural change cannot be seen immediately or after a few months. Real results may come after 2 or 3 years. However, investing in another traditional maturity assessment is an investment many financially-challenged organisations wouldn’t want to make.

The criteria of maturity assessments carried out by SOCITM or with the ITIL toolkit is limited and not all-encompassing – they focus more on processes adopted ‘on paper’ rather than on the actual efficiency reached. But a number (2/5, 4/5) does not tell them whether they are actually working efficiently or not. And that is what organisations want to know: how efficient are we and what can we do to improve?

To evaluate the results of an IT Service Management Best Practice implementation and its alignment with the organisation’s goals and needs, it is more helpful to carry out a Service Efficiency Review, and to adopt monitoring aids such as Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Customer Satisfaction Surveys in order to keep a clear view of the situation. But many organisations seem to see Best Practice as a one-off, without truly understanding that its value only exists if the efforts are consistent and if the processes are continuously adapted to the changing times and needs. They take it as if it was self-serving – once implemented it should do all the work by itself, without the need of any human effort.

Cultural change should strongly address these misconceptions, and not just convince people to adopt the processes. But it is not an easy task. Many organisations are reluctant to spend money on what they believe are unnecessary expenses, and it is not simple for Service Management professionals to justify a second efficiency review. Perhaps if consultants offered a follow-up review which provided ‘real-world recommendations’ and which was not just a standard tick-the-boxes assessment of out-of-the-box processes, public sector organisations would be keener to consider doing it. And if the second review was offered at a special price so that it is less of a commitment, more results may be achieved: more organisations would want to do it, and the consultants could benefit from the case studies. But they, too, don’t seem to want to bother – most consultants would rather make the same effort for a new client and get much more money and follow-up work.

From the lack of data on IT Service Management implementations which have remained successful in time, of case studies which can show that a form of cultural change has really taken place and lasted, and from the small number of organisations who have an efficiency review at the end of an implementation or more than once, it is evident that there is little interest on both sides in changing this scenario.

But if efforts are needed on both sides, it is Service Management professionals who should make the first move in order to change things. It is important that consultants manage to reach the higher management, and not only involve those who work within IT, and change first of all their attitude towards Service Management Best Practice. It is ultimately up the C-executives and senior managers to encourage cultural change across the organisation, acting from the top with policies and agreed ethos to make change possible. That is why awareness sessions, training and software-lead experiential learning should be extended to higher management as well. Through these tools it is possible to deliver a true understanding of Best Practice and its benefits to the organisation, and hence justify all the efforts needed to reach the final aims of the discipline.

A lot of work needs to be done in order to allow for IT Service Management Best Practice effectiveness to be measured and demonstrated. Fortunately, more and more organisations understand the potential benefits of Best Practice to their business – their concern is the realistic delivery of its promise and how to maintain the results over time. To change the way both organisations and consultants think, both sides need to modify their attitude. Only this way, it may be possible for Best Practice to really deliver and, ultimately, for cultural change to take place.

 

 

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

Executive exceptions: Best Practice killers or just business as usual?

April 11, 2011

The principles behind ITSM Best Practice have a very clear purpose: they allow organisations to follow the most efficient route to effectively solve an IT-related incident, without wasting unnecessary time, effort and financial resources. Incidents are normally prioritised based on specific criteria, and clear processes are set out and must be followed both by end users who experience an incident and Service Desk analysts who deal with it.

If this is the theory of Best Practice, in reality things are a bit different. Prioritisation based on incident features, in fact, often struggles to overcome the one based on user ‘rank’. In many organisations some processes are put aside when it comes to the CEO needing help, even if they are just having issues opening an email attachment sent by a friend on their iPhone, or are circumvented and speeded up by users who escalate the incident to their boss in order to have higher priority.

Implementing ITSM Best Practice ‘on paper’ might not be enough to reach efficiency, then, if the culture of ‘executive exception’ kills off all Service Management efforts. But is it acceptable to have some sort of two-tiered system for IT Support where priority is often given to senior or key people, and to what extent?

First of all, it is important to note that it is not down to the Service Desk analyst to decide whether or not to give priority to a senior manager. Unless there is a known rule – e.g. ‘the CEO always comes first no matter what’ – they should always refer to the Service Desk or Service Delivery manager on a case-by-case basis. It is they who ultimately decide if the IT Director’s faulty keyboard is to be dealt with before the glitch in Joe Bloggs’ email or not.

But when this system gets out of hand and flexibility is the rule rather than the exception, perhaps it is time to reflect upon the issue and its consequences – like inefficiencies, delays in incident resolution and even financial loss. To analyse the situation, one must first identify where the problem originates and who is to blame: the indulgent IT staff who allow it to happen or senior management who take advantage of their position and expect to have a special service because of who they are?

In any case, it is more a cultural issue than a technical one, but whose culture needs to be changed and how the organisation should go about changing the system is something that needs to be given a lot of thought. Perhaps some ITSM Best Practice awareness should be delivered throughout the company, including all Service Desk staff and all end users regardless of position. Also, some strict policies should be put into place stating that only a small percentage of ‘executive exception’ can be allowed based on specific criteria – for instance, the importance of that operation to the business. If the CEO’s faulty keyboard happens during an important presentation aimed at winning new business, then it can be put before an email system glitch, if the latter does not have major negative consequences for the business.

A balance is definitely required when dealing with this problem which is so common in IT departments of companies of all sizes and across all sectors. It is down to each organisation, though, to decide whether this sort of flexibility is acceptable, to what extent it should be allowed and what to do to avoid it causing inefficiencies. Best Practice is a framework, not a step-to-step guide and should be adopted and adapted to each specific environment; an appropriate amount of tailoring is always necessary for it to produce cost-efficiency, and ultimately contribute to business success.

Sam Evanson, Operations Delivery Manager

Surviving IT spending cuts in the public sector

February 15, 2011

How to create cost-efficiencies in the post-Spending Review scenario

After the announcement of 25%-40% budget cuts last year, it is reasonable to expect IT to be one of the departments to suffer the most in public sector organisations. However, cuts in IT support and projects may bring inefficiencies and disruptions, which can then lead to real losses and increasing costs.  More than ever, CIOs and IT Directors at public sector organisations are taking various options into consideration, from quick-fixes to farther-sighted ideas, trying to find a solution that will produce savings without compromising on service quality and data security, and perhaps even increasing efficiency. Here are some common ideas analysed:

Solution 1: Reducing headcount

Firing half of your IT team will produce immediate savings since you will not have to pay them a salary the following months, but when Support staff is insufficient or not skilled enough to meet the organisation’s needs it can lead to excessive downtime, data loss, security breaches or the inability to access applications or the database. A ‘quick-fix’ such as this represents a false economy. Reviewing resource allocation and improving skill distribution at Service Desk level, on the other hand, can be a valid solution. Indeed many IT departments can find themselves top heavy with expert long serving team members where the knowledge supply out-weighs the demand. A larger proportion of lower-cost 1st line engineers with improved and broader skills and a fair reduction of the more deeply skilled and costly 2nd and 3rd line technicians can not only reduce staff spend, but also create efficiencies with more calls being solved with first-time fix.

Solution 2: Offshoring

Although the thought of employing staff who only ask for a small percentage of a normal UK salary may sound appealing, offshoring is not as simple as ABC. It requires a large upfront investment to set up the office abroad, with costs including hardware, software, office supplies and travel and accommodation of any personnel that manages the relationship with the supplier. Organisations are not able to afford that kind of investment, especially since this solution only creates cost-savings in the long term – but the public sector needs cost savings now. Furthermore, the different culture and law can represent a risk to information security: data could be easily accessed by staff in a country thousands of miles away and sold for a couple of dollars, as various newspapers and TV channels have found out. With the extreme sensitivity of data processed by Councils, charities and the NHS, no matter how hard foreign suppliers try to convince the public sector to offshore their IT, it is unlikely this will happen – it is simply too risky.

Solution 3: IT Cost Transparency

Understanding the cost of IT and its value to the organisation, being able to prioritise and manage people and assets accordingly and knowing what can be sacrificed, can help identify where money is being wasted, which priorities need to be altered and what can be improved. For instance, do all employees need that piece of software if only three people actually use it more than twice a year, and do you need to upgrade it every year? Do all incidents need to be resolved now, or can some wait until the more urgent ones are dealt with? Do you need a printer in each room, and when it breaks do you need to buy a new one or could you make do with sharing one machine with another room? These and many other questions will lead to more efficient choices, but only after having identified and assessed the cost and value of each aspect of IT, including people and assets.

Solution 4: Cloud computing

There are contrasting opinions on this matter. The Government CIO, John Suffolk encourages the use of this service, and reckons that the public sector would be able to save £1.2bn by 2014 thanks to this solution. However, many believe that placing data in the hands of a service provider can be risky due to the highly sensitive nature of the data involved, so traditional Cloud computing may not be an ideal solution.

A shared environment such as the G-cloud, where various public sector organisation share private data centres or servers, may be a safer option that allows the public sector to achieve major efficiencies and cost savings, while minimising issues related to data security.

Solution 5: Shared Services

A shared service desk is not for everyone – it can only work if the organisations sharing have similar needs, culture and characteristics, and as IT can be a strategic advantage for competitive businesses, sharing the quality may mean losing this advantage. But for the public sector, this solution may be ideal. Local councils with the same functions, services and needs will be able to afford a higher level of service for a reasonable price, sharing the cost and the quality.

Solution 6: Service Management Good Practice

‘Doing more with less’ is one of the most used quotes since the recession started. And it is exactly what the public sector is looking for. Public organisations don’t want to be ITIL-aligned, obtain certifications, and tick the boxes. All they want is efficiency and cost savings – and through the right Service Management moves, after an Efficiency Review to find out what needs improvement and how, this can be obtained through the right choices regarding people, processes and technology.

Solution 7: Managed Services

A solution where the IT Service Desk is kept internal with its assets owned by the company, but managed by a service provider is becoming more and more popular among organisations from all sectors. When the sensitivity of data and a desire for a certain level of control over IT rules out full outsourcing, but in-house management does not allow to reach potential cost savings and efficiencies, a managed service may represent the ideal ‘in-between’ choice. The post-Spending Review public sector, then, may benefit from a flexible solution that is safer than outsourcing, but more cost-effective than an in-house solution.

Every challenge can be a new opportunity

Although budget reduction may affect investment in large IT projects and shiny new technology, it also represents the ideal opportunity to analyse what is essential and what is not, and to prioritise projects based on this. The public sector, then, find itself prioritising for effectiveness over compliance, cost-efficiency over cheapness and experience over offers, when choosing providers and tools for their IT. This will lead to the choice of solutions that will help organisations run more smoothly and safely, invest their resources better and, ultimately, deliver a service that will bring maximum customer and user satisfaction.

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

(also on Business Computing World: http://www.businesscomputingworld.co.uk/how-to-create-cost-efficiencies-in-the-post-spending-review-scenario/)