Archive for the ‘IT service management’ Category

Increasing First Time Fix – A Service Improvement Priority

October 15, 2012

First Time Fix (FTF) is a great service management metric, as it’s the one that indicates the most gain in customer satisfaction if improved upon by a Service Desk.

First it’s worth defining and also worth pointing out how it differs from its close cousins, First Line Fix (FLF) and Service Desk Resolution (SDR):

All 3 metrics require each support ticket to be logged and resolved by the 1st Line Service Desk.  But, as indicated in the table:

  • SDR doesn’t require the ticket to have been handled only by 1st Line – indeed, the ticket may have done the rounds through multiple resolver groups before finally being resolved by 1st Line.  It also doesn’t require any prompt resolution of the ticket;
  • FLF is a measure of tickets which have only been handled by 1st Line, but, like SDR, not necessarily with any prompt resolution;
  • FTF does require the ticket handling to be self-contained within 1st Line and needs to have been resolved in one single motion without break or delay.

It’s easy to understand why FTF, if improved upon by a 1st Line Service Desk function, is the metric which relates most to customer satisfaction – It’s the one that measures when end-users get what they need at the time of asking for it.

To be clear, a ticket that is resolved in ‘one single motion without break or delay’ will typically have to adhere to all of the following criteria:

  • Be logged and resolved without the need to save, close and later re-open the ticket
  • Be resolved by the analyst from his/her desk position
  • Be resolved without seeking assistance from another colleague
  • Be resolved quickly

Although this sounds like a lot to adhere to, most good service management tools can mark a resolved ticket at ‘FTF’ if logged and resolved without first being saved.  This will provide a reasonable basis upon which to report FTF, if coupled with team processes which are geared to support FTF resolution.

In simple terms, in order to improve the FTF rate of a 1st Line Service Desk function, the team needs to do as much as it can, on its own, and promptly.

Improving your FTF rate, and thereby improving the service to your customers, can usually be achieved to 2 phases:

  • Tool Up and Up Skill – A Service Desk will need a number of tools in order to able to resolve the maximum number of tickets from their desk position.  Naturally, this will include the Service Management tool, used from handling all incidents and requests, but will also include a means of remotely controlling a user’s workstation, and the administrative tools (and related permissions) to perform all appropriate administrative duties. To ‘up skill’ means to furnish support analysts with what they need to know to work more efficiently.  This could include formal training but is more likely accomplished by the provision of internal technical workshops and the creation of knowledge base articles which are quickly available to an analyst when needed.
  • Continual Drive – Once the Service Desk is working in a manner that supports the concept of FTF, then a plan may be developed to continually increase the volume of tickets resolved in this way.  Through measurement and analysis, a pecking order of ticket types can be developed which, if addressed one by one and geared up to be resolved under FTF conditions, will bring the resolution of more support activities right to the front of the service.

As already stated, FTF is an indicator of customer satisfaction and so to increase your FTF rate will benefit the organisation in a very noticeable way.  But FTF could also work for you in 2 additional ways:

  • If more is being completed by 1st Line support analysts, then it’s likely that the volume of 2nd Line Desk-side support visits will reduce.  As the volume of tickets that can be resolved by a 1st Line will be higher than those of 2nd Line, then you may well be able to cut 2nd Line head count whilst delivering a better service.
  • In some environments, usually at bigger firms, there may be support activities performed by 3rd Line resolver groups, which with the right training, tools and permissions, may be activities that can be brought forward in the support process to 1st Line.  These might include administrative tasks for line-of-business applications which are only completed by the 3rd Line team because no one has ever questioned if it can be done by someone else.  The possible cost saving comes by moving support activities like this from 3rd Line system specialists to less expensive 1st Line analysts.

An objection to providing higher FTF might be that the culture of the firm is such that it likes to receive its support via desk-side visits.  In truth, no user actually cares how they receive their support, as long as they get what they need, when they need it.  The call for desk-side support, I think, is a natural response made by people if they think their level of support will wane if a greater emphasis is placed on 1st Line Support.  The answer to this objection is to ensure that your 1st Line service is delivered well and which provides better response times than if sending an analyst to the user.

The plan to improve your FTF rate is best managed as part of a broader Continual Service Improvement Plan as it will take some time and will need to be factored alongside your other service management developments, but is certainly a high-gain activity worth pursuing.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

This column appeared on ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/increasing-first-time-fix-%E2%80%93-service-improvement-priority

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Resolution Method – A Missing Metric

September 11, 2012

Plan-Net, as a provider of managed IT services and as an IT consultancy, has performed numerous scopings for its customers over recent years – a scoping being the process of assessing, distilling, analysing and reporting on a customer’s IT support service with aim of identifying opportunities to improve service, to reduce cost and to maximise value.

Through the course of running IT service scopings, Plan-Net has compiled the standard findings into a benchmarking matrix.  Such a benchmark is a useful tool as it allows the comparison of one service with many others and it allows us to know how an individual aspect of a service fairs against the average or within a minimum to maximum range.  It can help sense check a current service and potentially contributes to the setting of targets for service improvement.

However, it’s not the process of maintaining and using a benchmark that I would like to discuss. Instead, it’s the common absence of a support metric that most Service Desks fail to record.

Ticket Resolution Method is a metric that tells us the conditions under which a Service Desk analyst managed to resolve a ticket, i.e. did the analyst resolve the ticket by: guiding the user over the phone or via email dialogue, leaving his/her desk to perform a deskside visit, using remote control tools, or referring the user to suitable self-help material?

In our 15 most recent scoping exercises (including firms across multiple sectors with staff numbers from 300 to 6500), only one Service Desk recorded the resolution method used for each ticket.

The reason the resolution method is so useful is that it provides Service Desk management with an indicator of efficiency, which on its own is useful, but which also helps to make sense of other support metrics.

Even if just two options are available to an analyst when selecting a ticket’s method of resolution, the information it ultimately provides a Service Desk Manager is extremely useful:

  • Phone/Email – Indicating the analyst resolved the ticket only by entering into dialogue on the phone or via email
  • Deskside Visit – Indicates that the analyst left their desk to visit the end user in person

There are two main distinctions between a ticket resolved by Phone/Email, and those resolved with a Deskside Visit.  If resolved by Phone/Email, then the analyst remained at his/her desk, thereby avoiding travel time around the building and gaps in time from resolving the preceding ticket and taking the next.  Additionally, a ticket resolved by Phone/Email doesn’t require the analyst to be off-service, i.e. unable to answer in-bound phone calls to the Service Desk.

If the ratio of tickets resolved by each of the two methods can later be reported on, then immediately the Service Desk Manager will have a metric which can be used to help improve their service.  Unless an organisation specifically wants to provide its users with deskside support (and some do despite the cost), then the Service Desk manager can begin to take steps to increase the volume of tickets resolved by Phone/Email, thereby reducing the number requiring more time consuming deskside visits, and so making the Service Desk more efficient.  Such efficiencies may then be noticeable in other areas: call abandonment rates (the frequency that users attempt and fail to phone the Service Desk) may reduce as a result of having analysts on service for more of the time, and Service Level Target performance may improve as less time is lost to Deskside visits.

Reporting on resolution method can also be useful when looking at individual analyst performance.  An analyst with relatively low tickets resolved per day, with a higher ratio of Deskside Visits versus Phone/Email resolutions, might be able to improve their overall performance by being less keen to attend to desk and to do more from their own workstation.

Further efficiency gains may also be made if additional methods of resolution are available, for instance if a Service Desk maximises the use of remote support tools.  Remote tools can be a good alternative to deskside visits as they can accomplish the same outcome but in less time.  If available to an analyst as a resolution method option, tickets resolved in this way should further support the Service Desk Manager in improving his/her service as the reliance on Deskside visits could fall further.

The merits of recording resolution method, using it as a KPI (key performance indicator) of a service, linking it to other support metrics, and ultimately achieving performance and financial gains could be discussed and debated until the cows come home.  But a call to action might simply be the recommendation of recording this useful metric as part of your ticket resolution process.  The overhead of recording it will be negligible on your analyst’s time but will provide valuable information on what might be considered the most important part of your incident management process – the resolution.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

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

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/

There are still opportunities to do more for less

February 3, 2012

A lot of talk right now revolves around IT projects in 2012 – which mainly means, deciding which projects to scrap due to lack of funds and how to invest the small budget available wisely, as well as use existing resources more efficiently. The problem is that with a restricted budget, it is difficult to truly understand what is essential and what is not and therefore where to invest the limited resources. But there are still many opportunities to achieve IT efficiencies at a small or no cost.

First of all, an effective way to improve productivity would be to follow the classic suggestion of making the best of what you have, but with particular focus on the human side, the people who run your IT. Invest time and effort in your staff to make them feel appreciated, motivate them to work better with incentives and listen to their issues as well as their suggestions on how to improve the IT department. People are a fundamental part of your business and investing in them will definitely have a tangible return on investment. It is easy for staff to get discouraged in tough times, and that is why improving morale and making people feel appreciated is so vital to improve business – a no-cost investment for a great ROI.

Likewise, there is still space to find other no or low-cost efficiencies by applying simple Service Management best practice principles. From processes to help speed up operations and software to deal with large amount of data effectively, to changing IT staff’s working patterns and hours, small changes can bring great results, all to the business’ advantage. Adopting metrics can also be a great way to improve the service and monitor efficiency. A small budget may be invested in consultancy – an experienced consultant can help by assessing the state of the Service Desk and suggesting ways to improve processes and put to better use the current resources that you have.

Another good move for a small budget can be gaining certifications. With limited resources and the inability to spend on large projects, it might be a good time to obtain an ITIL or ISO 27001 certification: the immediate investment is small but the results can become of great importance in the next few years. In fact, when the market will be strong and growing again, the company will already have that crucial certification that allows them to take part in bids and tenders, for instance, and therefore grow their business; these certifications are in fact becoming more and more crucial for companies issuing a bid or tender, and greatly influence the decision-making process. At the same time, they can guarantee more efficiency and security, which means that even in tough times, resources are exploited and managed in the best way possible, operations are carried out effectively and security incidents – with all their costly consequences – are reduced to the minimum.

The most important thing to keep in mind, in any case, is that any move has to focus on supporting the revenue-generating areas and functions. Money spent supporting non-essential parts of the organisation’s productivity might not have be a wise investment in the current financial situation. Any efforts must be directed at helping the business and its core functions, while the other aspects of the organisation will have to put on hold until the market is strong again.

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

Find this piece on ITSM Portal:

http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/there-are-still-opportunities-do-more-less

Are managed IT services set to grow this year?

January 25, 2012

Business of all sizes and sectors across the country are still worried about the poor conditions of the current economic environment, which is not set to improve this year, as analysts and experts have already announced. With no way of avoiding this situation, organisations can only try to make the best of it, and perhaps use it as an occasion to really assess what expenses are essential to their business and how they can take advantage of the weakened financial setting. It is important to try to make the best of what one has and what is available in order for an organisation to survive or even grow during hard times.

Of course when money is tight the Service Desk is one of the departments more likely to suffer, with all the possible consequences on the rest of the business. With most IT projects scrapped from the beginning, it takes a good justification to invest in anything more expensive than a screen wipe. Yet correct management of the Service Desk, including continuous training of IT staff, an inexpensive absence cover system, continuous service improvement ethos, updating service management processes to the latest and most relevant best practices and meeting the appropriate targets can still be possible without incurring in eye-watering bills. This is the principle behind a Managed IT Service – a Service Desk can work to a good standard at all times, because someone else is taking care of it and all variable costs become fixed.

Various types of IT outsourcing have become popular in the last few year – from offshoring to cheaper countries to having only some Support staff managed by a provider. Different options work for different organisations, but generally speaking the popularity of one over another during a recession or uncertain economic environment depends on a series of factors and in particular: low risk; ROI; ease of adoption/set-up; as well as a financial factor.  In times like these, where one doesn’t want to be involved in large projects or revolutionise their whole IT department and have to re-think the way they deliver and use IT Support, a radical option such as offshoring or full outsourcing might not be ideal. With a Managed IT Service Desk, the ‘status quo’ of the IT department should not be affected as the expectation is the supplier will implement a robust framework which ensures that existing Service Levels are at least maintained, whilst transitioning the Service Desk to a ‘future state’ model over an agreed period of time.

This meets the requirements of ease of adoption and risk, as it is easier to set up, reverse, retake charge of or switch provider, when compared with a fully outsourced or offshore solution. This option can also assure a certain level of information security compared to a fully outsourced service, as the Service Desk will be based at close sight within the organisation’s premises (unless otherwise requested) and the system, and therefore the data stored and processed within it, is owned by the company. The minimised risk makes this a good choice when one cannot afford to take risks.

As for the financial factor, most outsourcing models will eliminate the cost of certain projects such as staff training or service management implementations, and make variable costs become fixed: the provider will agree to meet certain SLAs for a set price, and it is up to them to provide the appropriate staff upskilling, best practice processes and so on within their budget, in order to meet targets. But a managed IT service will not require the extra cost of moving the service desk elsewhere, hiring or buying new equipment, sending managers over to another place, city or country to check on how the service desk is doing and, also, the costs involved in switching back to in-house or to another provider if the initial project failed.

Finally, the return on investment is clear and demonstrable. Having an expert provider taking control of your existing IT Service Desk will increase productivity and efficiency, reduce the volume of incidents and Service failures and ensure a significant part of your IT spend is fixed and controlled, giving the company peace of mind (IT becomes someone else’s problem) and allowing business to function at its best.

With these premises, it is likely that managed IT services will be chosen over and over again as an option to meet the demanding IT standards of a modern-day organisation in a time when any investment must be carefully thought and justified, and the return on investment clearly proven. This much needed headache relief can allow companies to carry out their business without having to worry about the quality and sudden expenses related to their IT, and therefore get a better chance to survive or even increase their work in these hard times.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article is on Sourcing Focus: http://www.sourcingfocus.com/site/opinionsitem/4807/

Focus on 2012: 5 key areas in Enterprise IT

December 19, 2011

According to the industry analysts, experts and professionals, some of the changes and novelties introduced in the last few years are set to become actual trends in 2012. Influenced by the ever-challenging economic climate, disillusioned yet careful outlook on industry best practices and need to obtain measurable efficiency from any IT project, these are the five key areas that will acquire growing importance next year:

1)      Larger use of non-desktop-based applications

This is due to of a growing need for mobility and flexibility. Users need to be able to work while travelling, from any desk or office (for instance, in the case of large/international companies) and from home, as home-working is growing due to the financial benefits involved. It is also a good choice to guarantee business continuity in the case of unforeseen circumstances such as natural disaster or strikes which leave the workers stranded or unable to reach the office. As well as cloud applications, virtualised desktops are becoming a must-have for many organisations. Companies with older desktops which need updating anyway will find this switch more financially convenient, as well as those which have a large number of mobile users which need to access applications from their smartphone or laptop while out of their main office. It can also give those organisations considering or embracing home-working more control over the desktops, as they will be centralised and managed by the company and not at user level.

2)      Larger use of outsourced management services

The ‘doing more with less’ concept that started to take grip at the beginning of the past recession has translated into practical measures. These include handing part or the whole of the Service Desk to an external service provider which, for a fixed cost, will know how to make the best of what the company has, and provide skilled personnel, up-to-date technology and performance metrics. Managed services, IT outsourcing and cloud services will become even more prominent in 2012 and the following years due to their convenience from a practical and financial point of view. With the right service provider, the outcome is improved efficiency, less losses deriving from IT-related incidents and more manageable IT expenditure.

3)      Management plans for ‘big data’

There is much talk around the current topic of ‘big data’, which describes the concept of the large amount of varied data organisations have to deal with nowadays. There are some practical issues that arise from this – mainly how to store it, share it and use it, all without breaching the Data Protection Act. However, at the moment it is still very difficult to understand how to take the next step: using this data strategically and to create business advantage. This is something companies will have to look at in the years to come; as for the next year, they might just concentrate on dealing with data safely and efficiently, possibly storing it on a private virtual server or using public cloud services.

4)      A more balanced approach to security

This new approach sees the over-adoption of security measures dropped after the realisation that it might affect productivity as it may cause delay in carrying out business operations; it could also diminish opportunities that are found in sharing data within the sector to allow organisations to improve and grow; lastly, it can be counter-productive, with employees bypassing the measures in place in order to make operations quicker. Although being compliant with on-going regulations is becoming vital, there will be more scoping and tailoring than large technology adoption. Organisations will be analysed to understand which areas are in need of security measures and to what extent. This way, heavy security measures will be applied only to high risk areas rather than throughout the whole organisations, with less critical areas able to work more freely. In this approach, risks are balanced against efficiency and opportunity and the end result is a tailored solution rather than a collection of off-the-shelf products.

5)      Less budget control

Due to the challenging economic climate, other departments, in particular the financial department and therefore the DOF, will have more control over IT investments. CIOs and IT Managers will have to be able to evaluate if their IT project is necessary or just a nice-to-have, and how it can bring business advantage.  All proposed IT investment will have to be justified financially; therefore, it is important to analyse each project and find a reasonable ROI before presenting it to the finance decision-makers. This implies that IT professionals have to learn ‘business talk’ and manage to translate difficult technical descriptions in business terms.

All in all, developments within IT will not come to a halt next year – investment and changes will continue but with a more careful outlook and a stronger focus on efficiency, safety and Return on Investment rather than on following trends or adopting the latest technology for the sake of it. Because of this, the difficult economic climate could also be seen as a good thing: organisations make wiser and far-sighted choices that will create a solid base for any future decision that will be made when times are less tough and spending capacity rises, increasing the efficiency potential of IT for business purposes.

Tony Rice, Service Delivery Manager

From in-house to consultancy: moving to the ‘dark side’

November 23, 2011

There are many exciting directions a career path can take when one works in the IT field. This is not exclusive to skill development or career advancements within the same company or field. Many IT people with in-house experience at some point choose to ‘move to the dark side’ and embrace the world of consulting. It can be a positive change for a Service Desk-bound professional to finally be able to get to the clients directly without all the layers of sales people, and be able to make good use of the inside knowledge they acquired by advising companies in different fields and with different environments on what is best for them.

Moving to consultancy is a choice that more and more IT professionals are making, while other professions are slowly becoming less popular. According to the research paper ‘Technology Insights 2011’ published by e-skills UK, there were as many as 149,000 ‘IT Strategy and Planning’ professionals in the UK in 2010. This category consists of professionals who provide advice on the effective utilisation of information technology in order to solve business problems or to enhance the effectiveness of business functions, and in particular computer and software consultants. This sector has an average growth of 2.22% per annum and is expected to grow by another 29,800 people by 2019, with 178,900 professionals working as IT consultants in the UK. Whereas the IT Strategy and Planning field has enjoyed a growth of 15% since 2001, jobs like computer engineers and database assistants on the other hand have decreased, the latter category by a striking -34%. It is evident that the more technical roles are suffering from the increased use of automation software, remote support and best practice processes that allow less skilled and therefore cheaper staff to take the place of qualified engineers without losing efficiency. So it is no surprise that more strategic roles are winning ground and many techies are making the choice to use their skills in the role of advisers.

While moving to a consultancy role can be a very positive choice for an IT professional from a career point of view, it might however also face the person with new challenges – in particular, the negative prejudice they could encounter when approaching clients. Consultants are often seen as salespeople who want to trick companies into buying their services, perhaps long projects that they don’t really need, and overcharge them when they could do the same work themselves, for less. This gives way to many issues. It is difficult for consultants to get hold of business heads or get them to listen to their proposals, and when they do manage to have a meeting, they need to be very well-prepared and find the right balance between cost and quality, where they do not undersell or oversell their services. Finally, they have greater responsibility with regards to the outcome than they had in their in-house role, so it is important that their plan is feasible and effective and that they check and monitor constantly to be sure that everything is going as expected, making any necessary correction along the way.

It is not all bad, of course. At the top of the ‘positives’ list, there is the fact that consultants get to see many different environments, rather than just a few in their career lifespan. This allows them to build a greater, wider knowledge and experience base and improve their professional skills. But it also helps to avoid the feeling of stagnancy, keeping their level of enthusiasm high as they can enjoy working on a variety of projects.

A former in-house professional may also have some advantages over consultants who do not have that kind of background: having experienced ‘the other side’ helps them understand what clients want and, especially, don’t want from a consultancy, so that they can deliver a better service and even identify new work opportunities. They know and understand how things work inside organisations – the communication issues between business and IT, the difficulty in justifying IT projects to the CFO or the blaming game when a project doesn’t go as predicted.

Balancing all the positive and negative sides of this move, one thing is certain: these kinds of professionals have an edge over those without an in-house background, and can therefore be a valued acquisition for a consultancy firm as well as a resourceful advisor for any company in need of IT improvements. And if taken advantage of appropriately, work success and personal satisfaction are natural consequences.

 

 

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

Brace for the feared double dip: IT planning can maximise mergers and acquisitions

October 28, 2011

As the business world lies in fear of a double-dip recession, companies are advised to ‘think smart’ and try to find a way to profit from further economic downturn and not to simply aim to survive it. Or, if they are struggling, to have a ‘rescue plan’ in place that will spare them from drowning in debt or sinking altogether. As a consequence, mergers and acquisitions flourish remarkably in times of financial difficulties, and can be a way to gain during a tough spell – either by buying or joining with another business and expanding or by selling up before collapsing completely.

Mergers and acquisitions, however, are not just the ‘combining of commercial companies into one’ (to quote the mini Oxford dictionary). Business leaders are missing a significant trick if the joining of two businesses is not maximised, i.e. that the market share of the new entity is greater than the sum of the two companies when operating on their own.

It is, however, an ever repeating trend that mergers and acquisitions do not address operational, cultural and technology considerations as part of the consolidation. These often remain ‘off the radar’ long after the legal part of the merger or acquisition is complete.

So, rather than just ‘think smart’, a better message is perhaps for companies to ‘think smarter during tight times and to make the most of these mergers and acquisitions right from the start, by ensuring that the fabric of the new bigger company is appropriately adapted so that it functions in a manner that maximises the now greater trading capabilities.

Those within the IT services industry will have experienced customer organisations that bear the signs of a merger or acquisition and, worst still, continue to tolerate them. The tell-tale signs are classic and include: performance issues; geographically separate and siloed support teams; a large list of supported applications; technical complexities; a high support staff headcount; a disproportionate number of managers; and complex organisational structures. None of these ‘features’ of an organisation can positively contribute to its on-going ability to compete and win in its market place. And if the cost of these inefficiencies could be demonstrated, senior management might just fall off their chairs.

The good news is that mergers and acquisitions can be conducted with a better overall outcome at low cost – through the use of some external aid. These are the kind of projects where the use of a consultancy can really make a difference. Employed during and soon after the merger to improve what is at heart of an improved approach to mergers and acquisitions, ‘people, process and technology’, the cost of a consultant will be a drop in the ocean compared with the overall cost of trying to fix all the possible IT-related faults and issues in the years following the merger or acquisition. The value of the work is likely to be recovered quickly by enabling the business to operate better and by making people’s working practices more efficient. Efficiencies will emerge during the analysis stage of consultancy by identifying opportunities for synergy which will have a positive impact on the on-going investment made by the business in people and systems. The outcome: doing more and doing it better, with less.

So far, all this sounds obvious and nothing more than common sense – so why is it that the ‘people, process and technology’ side of mergers and acquisitions isn’t dealt with early on? Speed, assumption and procrastination are usually the causes.

‘Speed’, because a merger or acquisition deal is usually time sensitive, and focus must be on closing the deal by a given date. ‘Assumption’ because aspects like company culture, people, processes and technology are assumed to be similar and therefore likely to gel. ‘Procrastination’ because activities required to streamline the new business are often planned post-deal, but with human nature being what it is, the plans take an age to implement or never happen at all.

So, if like the United States Army you want to ‘be all you can be’, it is important that people, processes and technology are properly considered and addressed as part of a possible merger or acquisition. You should ensure the IT planning and transformation work starts during the merger/acquisition process so that its importance is clear and understood, then follow it through post-deal before your people return to their normal mode of operation and their old working ways. And, if you are using a service provider for any or all of these steps, be sure to choose one that has a record for properly identifying synergies and efficiencies and who have successfully implemented these. As the recession will not be worsened by losses caused by a faulty or inefficient IT service, the outcome of a well-planned IT merge will surely make the difference.

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant