Posts Tagged ‘plan-net plc’

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  These rather out-of-date terms no longer need to be said.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

 

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‘Cloud Consultancy’ – Experience On Demand

September 27, 2011

The value of consultancy in Service Management projects

For many organisations, expenditure towards IT is often a sticky subject – there never seems to be a big enough budget for IT related projects. This is especially true when these concern Service Management. Whereas it is easier to justify spend for hardware or software that needs to be updated or refreshed, Best Practice has always been more difficult to sell to the CFO.

This hasn’t always been the case. A few years ago, before the credit crunch, many organisations invested in ITIL training and qualifications for their own internal personnel. It was ‘the thing to have’ – but things have radically changed now. With tighter IT budgets and an increasing need for improved efficiency in this unstable economic climate, a great number of organisations are nowadays less interested in buying Service Management training for their in-house staff.

Putting staff through Service Management training is not only expensive and time consuming, but also not particularly effective on its own: even with the best qualifications, they would still lack that real-world experience that is so important for a successful outcome. In the same way, ITIL is being seen as  self-obsessed and often being thought as a mere money machine. There is an increasing awareness that Best Practice frameworks need not to be taken as a step-by-step guide – there is a growing necessity for the common-sense principles to be tailored and adapted to a specific IT environment.

What organisations are looking for is not to have the whole ‘knowledge pack’ but rather direct access to relevant knowledge and experience – an expert that can analyse their environment and tell them what aspects of ‘Best Practice’ would benefit their company. They don’t want to buy books, they want to buy expertise – and this is where Service Management consultancy comes into the picture.

An external Service Management professional will have both the knowledge and the experience, often more extensive than any in-house staff could have. This is because they will have worked with different clients, and therefore seen various environments and shared several experiences. They can compare an organisation with others with a similar or completely different system and give them advice on what would work for them, what kind of improvements they should make and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

In a world where everything within IT is becoming ‘on demand’ – software, platforms, databases – it seems Service Management couldn’t avoid following the trend, which has become a necessity for organisations living in constant fear of a double dip recession. Consultants can help by offering direct access to their knowledge base and the appropriate guidance for specific projects. This way, organisations will only ‘buy’ the knowledge and experience that is relevant to them and only for the necessary length of time to complete their project.

In particular, organisations now want a collaborative approach. They want an expert that can help them understand if their ideas are feasible, convenient and efficient and how best to achieve the results they aim at. They can show them what to do, train their staff and support them every time there is an issue, but without the financial burden of being there all the time.

Although very current, this ‘Cloud Consultancy’ is not anyone’s cutting-edge invention. It can instead be seen as the result of the current economic climate: organisations need on-demand resource, knowledge and experience with built in flexibility. It is a natural development to suit these times of economic uncertainties, and provide organisations with the necessary tools to grow and pursue success.

Sharron Deakin, Principal Consultant

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

The GLOCAL IT Service Desk

June 27, 2011

‘Stay local, act global’ is the new mantra for IT departments

With companies becoming increasingly international and IT support more and more remote, the IT Service Desk finds itself dealing with a user base that often extends to an EMEA or global level. The idea of outsourcing to a service provider seems now more than ever a convenient and cost-efficient solution to many organisations – in fact, the IT outsourcing industry in the UK is now generating over £40 billion a year, accounting for 8 per cent of the country’s total economic output, an Oxford economics research recently revealed. Delegating management of the IT Service Desk allows companies to focus on their business whilst leaving IT-related matters such as Incident, Problem and Request management with their associated headaches – to the experts.

It is, however, wrong to think that a ‘global’ desk has to be based in India, China or Poland. Such an off-shore or near-shore solution might not be safe enough for those companies which need to keep a high level of control over the data and IP processed by their IT system, such as those in the financial, legal and public sector. But an outsourced Global Support team does not actually have to be physically located abroad – the service just needs to be able to reach offices and branches across the world, which surprisingly can be done even from Sevenoaks, London or from your very own headquarters.

In addition to this, choosing a managed service rather than a fully outsourced solution can prove an even better arrangement. In fact, whereas with full outsourcing and offshoring the level of control over the IT department can never be full because the whole infrastructure usually belongs to the provider, a managed service can provide a safer solution for those organisations which are very careful about security, such as those whose very sensitive or precious data cannot risk being stolen, leaked or lost. Many companies simply see value in knowing the people responsible for assisting their business.

Although a solution which is 100% safe does not exist, retaining ownership of the infrastructure and keeping the Service Desk in the office or near the premises means that there is a lesser risk of data security issues getting out of hand, being reported too late or being hidden. By using a trusted provider and retaining a certain level of control over the department, the chances of a security breach are therefore minimised.

A Gartner research published last month revealed that IT outsourcing is increasing all over the world: global IT spend by businesses increased 3.1% in 2010 amounting to $793bn, a slight rise from the $769bn that was spent in 2009. This shows that the market is slowly going back to pre-crisis levels of 2008, after which it fell by 5.1%. Companies are spending more even if the economic climate continues to remain uncertain and the fear of a double-dip recession is still in the air – clearly they believe IT outsourcing is worth the risk, and this could be because of the flexibility it allows them to have.

Some Support solutions, in fact, enable organisations to increase and decrease the size of their IT Service Desk according to need. This could not be so easily done within an in-house service: engineers would have to be kept even when not fully utilised, meaning inefficiency occurs, made redundant during low service needs or made to work harder and longer at peak times. If we apply this to a global scale and the implication of different employment law for each country, it gets unnecessarily complicated.

A Support services provider should be able to add and take out engineers and move them around flexibly, and some even have a multisite team hired expressly to go where needed at short notice within the provider’s clients. With this level of flexibility, the ties that bind organisations to providers can be more an advantage than a disadvantage during global expansion or difficult and rocky economic times.

Martin Hill, Head of Support Operations

Oh no… Not another Service Management initiative!

June 21, 2011

Thanks to Best Practice frameworks, technological progress and improved knowledge of the potentials of IT, a lot can be done nowadays at Service Desk level to reduce cost, speed up operations and improve service quality – all things that can contribute to achieving business success. However, Service Management initiatives such as role changes and redistribution, adoption of new tools and technologies and the implementation of new processes to follow may not always be welcome by who in the end has to accept and embrace all these changes – Service Desk staff. Do you take into consideration what they think about Cloud Computing, Best Practice and self-service software before you sign off your projects?

Although it may seem unnecessary to seek IT staff involvement, this is actually very important, as the new tools and techniques adopted may not work at all without staff collaboration. Analysts working at your Service Desk might refuse to endorse the project as they may see it as impractical or unfit for your specific environment or just a needless complication when things are fine the way they are. It is essential, then, to think about how the organisation can get IT staff to collaborate and, perhaps, if it should listen to what they have to say before embarking on any projects and taking decisions they might later regret.

‘Change’ seen as a threat

A move from Lotus Notes to the fully ITIL-aligned Remedy or embracing the new technology potential of server virtualisation could seem sensible from a business and Service Desk manager’s point of view. However, any change can be seen as a potential threat by analysts – not only to their day-to-day work routine which they are more than happy with as it is, but often to their position. They fear they might not have the skills to use new technology or that this may easily do their job at no hourly cost (i.e. self-service software) therefore making their position redundant.

And virtualisation is perceived as the biggest threat: as it enables remote support, potentially centralised in a Service Desk located in another city or country, many in-house positions may be in danger. Although not unfounded, this fear shouldn’t become pure terror: it is still early days for complete virtualisation, so there is still place for an IT department within the office, plus some companies will want to keep their ‘virtual team’ internal anyway for extra security and control. This can also been seen as an opportunity. A need for analysts specialised in VMware, Hyper-V, Citrix and the like will arise, giving engineers a chance to acquire and practice new skills and the exciting possibility of working at a centralised, often global Service Desk.

Furthermore, as can be found in many other departments and roles, seniority has an impact on analysts’ willingness to accept change, creating a harder challenge for management. Engineers that have been working there for a long time and have gotten used to their old methods normally find it more difficult to accept innovation, especially when this is proposed by a new manager or an external consultant. More junior professionals or those who have only recently joined the company, instead, tend to be more willing to collaborate and curious to see new technologies and innovative processes in action. In fact, they might think working with new tools is a great chance to expand and update their skills, which is hopefully what the Service Desk manager will try to communicate even to the more institutionalised analysts.

This could also be a cultural issue: junior members will have grown up with a larger use of complex technology from an early age – the so-called ‘digital natives’ – whereas older personnel will have seen the origin of computing, and might find it more comforting to stick to the old ways of working.

Don’t impose – involve

If change is difficult to accept for many people, it can be even more unwelcome when it is forced into the system without previous communication, a good amount of explanation regarding its reasons, benefits and consequences on people’s roles, and perhaps a chance to express your own views and raise questions. In order to reduce resistance to change, the first step is to discuss the possible modifications with technical staff and people that will ultimately be involved in its use before taking a decision, giving engineers a chance to think it over and raise any concerns or doubts.

This can work to the business’ advantage as well. Current Service Desk employees can actually be a good source of information that you can learn from, as they might have suggestions and thoughts based on their practical experience at your company and in your specific environment. What works for one company, in fact, might not work for another, but it may be difficult to see some practicalities from a non-executive position. Instead engineers, being in direct contact with the IT system, might have reasons to believe the project you wish to carry out may be impractical or impossible to implement in your specific environment.

Listening to their doubts and fears, as well, is an important part of the process. Moreover, just by asking their opinion and interacting with them, you will make them feel that you value their opinion, that they are being considered and are therefore important.

Getting the best out of analysts

Even if you manage to convince IT analysts that the new changes are sensible and advantageous or have come to an agreement on what to implement and what not, adopting the new tools and following new procedures in a robotic manner is not enough to deliver a good service. Motivation is key to make any part of the business, the IT Service Desk included, work at their best and without it not much can be achieved. Invest in your employees and they’ll invest in you.

Reward schemes where hitting targets can lead to some type of benefit, for instance vouchers or prizes, are a good idea to keep the atmosphere competitive. However, if you do not have a budget that justifies this sort of expenditure, a monthly recognition for the best performing engineer can be sufficient. An ‘engineer of the month’ competition can increase staff’s motivation to try and reach the targets set not just for the prize, but also for fun.

You must be careful, however, when deciding which metrics to use to evaluate a good worker: number of calls may not coincide with incident resolution and call length might not be a symbol of quality, so you would have to make a balanced assessment taking various criteria into consideration before you award an engineer over another.

Adopting a holistic view

It is important to stop seeing IT as a service to the business, and adopt a more modern view where it is part of the business. If managed correctly, in fact, the IT Service Desk can be a great ally that will create strategic advantage and help companies improve their business and reach further success. This is why organisations should invest in IT staff and try to create a positive can-do attitude among them.

Managers can encourage skills improvement through workshops, training or further qualifications (for instance, ITIL V3) and turn challenges brought on by new technologies into opportunities. The introduction of new devices – iPad, iPhone etc – within the system, which might seem like an annoyance to some, should be taken as a great chance to be exposed to the latest technology and although managers shouldn’t expect all analysts to be able to support all types of devices, they may chose some engineers to specialise in supporting the latest ones in the market.

There is no need to train everyone- a good Service Desk or Delivery manager should be able to identify those engineers that are best suited for specialising in these technologies or teaching others, and have them trained accordingly.

It is not always IT’s fault

Often it is not analysts, but non-IT managers and C-executives that may be opposed to change – for instance, when the implementation of new Best Practice processes could eliminate prioritisation of calls based on ‘rank’ rather than the incident’s characteristics. Although it might be ok to adopt some level of flexibility, it is also important to ensure the possible ‘executive exceptions’ don’t have a negative effect on the Service Desk’s efficiency targets, and to do this the whole organisation, and not just IT, needs some sort of education to Best Practice.

Another difficult change could be the introduction of new software. Moving from Windows XP to Windows 7 or introducing a self-service tool to deal with simple and repetitive incidents such as password reset could throw non-technical personnel into a crisis. Again, preparation and education are essential for them to accept change. They need to understand why the change is being made, what are the benefits and how it will affect – possibly improve – their work. Guiding them in the discovery of the new tools, as well, will increase their acceptance as not being able to use the new application properly will not make the company achieve the benefits they were aiming at with its introduction.

With some good Change Management processes in place and the right communications means, it should be made clear across the whole organisation what changes will be made at Service Desk and user level and how they will affect them, what exceptions to the standard processes can and cannot be accepted and the consequences of not using a tool, not doing it correctly or making too many exceptions, not just on the Service Desk, but on the rest of the business as well. Only by communicating changes, explaining results and benefits and setting rules and exceptions it is possible for a IT Service Desk to function properly and meet efficiency targets while still keeping senior management happy, allowing the business to work fluently.

Sam Evanson, Operations Delivery Manager

This article was written for the June edition of At Your Service

5 reasons to employ an IT consultant

May 23, 2011

Have you ever found yourself in that situation where you look all over the place for your glasses, until someone tells you they are on your head? When it comes to IT, it can be difficult to see what is wrong with the system you are using and how it can be improved when you are directly involved in it. In these cases, an external view would be helpful – and it is also beneficial when you don’t have the time or resources to maintain up to date knowledge of your sector’s latest developments or have little experience of alternative environments and IT systems and the benefits they may bring. There are many reasons why the use of an external consultant for IT projects covering infrastructure, service management and even security will bring advantages. Here are five reasons why it is beneficial to use an IT consultant for making improvements to your IT Service Desk:

1 – Unbiased view

An external view can be more objective than an internal one. People directly involved with the IT Service Desk may not want to admit that the Desk is not delivering well, fearing it might be seen as being their fault; that their latest project wasn’t managed or delivered correctly or was a waste of money; or even that some roles, perhaps theirs, might be unnecessary. Some Service Desk managers are protective about how well their department is doing to avoid losing their job or reputation, and prefer to be creative with figures to give the rest of the business the impression their Service Desk is generally doing better than it actually is. As for consultants, it is in their own interest to be completely transparent in the results of their assessment and to make the appropriate recommendations in order to improve service levels and overcome existing issues, demonstrating evidence of the results to the organisation who hired them.

2 – Diverse experience

Normally, an experienced consultant will have worked with many other organisations from different industry sectors and with different solutions for their IT, and they can compare your solution with others, noticing differences and similarities. They might also have experience of new technologies and processes that you are thinking of implementing. Having seen what worked and what didn’t in other contexts, they will be able to suggest the adoption of processes, tools or management systems already in use in other environments that may be suitable for yours. Thanks to this experience, the risk of implementing the wrong solution is minimised and so are the chances of losing money, time and efficiency.

3 – Similar experiences

Consultants may also have experience of environments that are similar to yours, either because they are the same type of company, from the same sector or are using the same IT system. This can obviously bring some advantages – consultants can compare your system to others in use in similar environments and recognise where improvements can be made and pitfalls avoided quickly. Based on this analysis, they can easily make recommendations relating to changes that are quick and easy to implement as they already have proven results. Consultants’ experience is a precious instrument to add value to your IT projects.

4 – Professional skills

With certifications on top of their experience, consultants are usually more prepared than in-house staff. Since their work involves helping people make the right decisions, it is part of their job to keep up to date with the latest technologies, processes and case studies and be able to suggest the right choices, tailored to each individual environment. Obviously, certification alone does not mean a person is able to put theory into practice, therefore it is very important that you choose your consultant carefully, checking if they have already worked with organisations that are similar to yours or have experience of similar environments to be more certain they will be able to meet your particular needs.

5 – Cost savings

Hiring a consultant for your IT projects is less expensive than training your Service Desk manager for every new tool, technology or process, not to mention perhaps taking them out of their day job and having to back fill. For instance, you may want to implement a new tool set and align that to a couple of ITIL processes, those that are relevant to your organisation, without putting your managers through the whole training. An external consultant can perform a short assessment of your environment and from this will make specific recommendations for service improvement, process design and Implementation as well as clarifying requirements for toolset evaluation and selection. This is an advantage of having previous experience: this way, it is easier to understand if it fits the company’s structure and aims – and avoid wasting financial resources on dead-end projects.

External help for your internal needs

Investing in your in-house IT staff, keeping them up to date with the latest innovations within IT and educating them to Best Practice and the culture of constantly changing and adapting will surely have a positive outcome, but the skills your organisation has internally might not be enough if you want to reach maximum efficiency, cost savings and keep innovation risks down to a minimum. For every improvement needed, the use of a consultant trained and experienced in that field can be a less expensive and more effective choice that can ultimately improve the success of your IT projects and add value to your bottom line.

Sharron Deakin, Principal Consultant

IT Support: grow-your-own or buy organic?

May 12, 2011

IT support staff are for many companies what vegetables are to your body – essential elements for efficient functioning and critical to avoid major failures. Exactly like cultivating your own greens, having an in-house IT team may give you a sense of trust and control unlike other solutions. However, it is also expensive and time-consuming, therefore not always convenient.

A ‘home-grown’ solution may suit larger organisations that either have the need to train analysts to use their self-developed software, have security or strategic reasons to have total control over the IT department or have the resources (financial, human and time-related) to train and manage a large IT personnel base – although this is quickly moving away from the norm for even these sizes of business.

Other organisations, smaller and more prone to seeking cost-efficiencies even outside of the office, might find an outsourcing or managed service solution more suitable. Of course, getting engineers from a service provider is like getting veggies from a market stall or through online shopping – it is generally easier and cheaper, but the risk is that they are not trustworthy. The engineers provided by a third party are completely out of your control: you don’t know where they come from, if they were trained correctly or if they will harm your company by stealing data.

But this might not be a huge problem for small companies for which IT is not strategic. A full outsourcing or offshoring solution could suit organisations which do not need engineers with very specific knowledge or strict SLAs and for which data security is not a major issue. However, companies which do need security and efficiency, but also to cut down cost and access expertise they lack internally, would need a solution that merges control with delegation.

Going back to the vegetables metaphor, to balance the need for quality and reliability with the desire to delegate cultivation and management, you would probably go to a trusted organic greengrocer’s, where products feature quality labels, PDO and organic certificates, and a reliable, experienced source.

It is in fact important to carefully choose a support provider that can meet your specific needs, with certified, trained and up-to-date engineers able to meet targets measured through KPIs. Managed services, moreover, will allow the organisation to keep some kind of control over the IT department while leaving its management to the experts.

All in all, there isn’t one best choice: an organisation might find advantage in keeping the department in-house, having a co-sourced solution or outsourcing management or the whole department to a third party. The important decision is to choose carefully based on the organisation’s features, needs and goals so that IT can be used as part of their overall strategy for business success.

Pete Canavan, Head of Support Services

This article has appeared on Computing magazine and Computing.co.uk: http://www.computing.co.uk/ctg/opinion/2069345/support-grow-organic


Financial firms’ IP is safe with VDI

May 10, 2011

As with many other new technologies, financial organisations have been among the most keen to embrace desktop virtualisation. The main reason this particular technology is being largely adopted by the sector is because it suits the need for easier mobility: thanks to VDI, users can access their desktop from any PC with an internet connection, making it easy to access large amounts of data and heavy applications from a light mini netbook while travelling and even making it unnecessary to carry a laptop around when visiting another office.

But although for many this is a good enough reason alone to adopt this technology, there is another advantage that makes desktop virtualisation even more attractive for the financial sector: it allows centralisation of all Intellectual Property, which is not owned and managed at end user level but centrally by the IT department. It is extremely important for this particular sector to have control over data and IP, as these are vital to a firm creating competitive advantage in the market – to financial firms, IP is an important asset and therefore needs to be protected. With this solution, all data will be processed and saved in a central hub rather than at user level, so that it is less difficult for users to take information to competitors or to copy it on an external device and lose it, therefore protecting the company from breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Centralisation also means that individuals will not be able to freely download random software onto their desktop that may contain viruses or create a window for hacking, with all the extra security benefits that this entails. Due to the sensitivity and importance of the information a financial firm deals with, being able to minimise the occurrence of these kinds of data security breaches is a great advantage – it increases public and regulatory confidence and credibility, which can add value to the company. Data leakage, loss or theft may in fact lead not only to costly fines, but there is also a likelihood, due to the obligation to inform clients and make an incident public, that  this would create a loss of reputation and, therefore, business – both with current and potential customers who might choose to opt for the competition. A safe environment is more attractive, hence a correctly managed VDI solution can help retain clients and perhaps also win new business.

Sure, desktop virtualisation has a cost and is not particularly convenient financially for companies that have just upgraded their hardware. It is instead a wise investment when PCs are in need of a refresh, as an alternative choice. The ROI in this case is immediate, but in any case the short and medium-term benefits are not confined to reduced hardware costs. It also enables the IT department to reach some important cost-efficiencies. Benefits include: enabling IT support personnel to carry out maintenance more easily and quickly; speeding up simple operations such as patching and applying new application upgrades; a smaller number of technicians needed to deal with support to remote users, especially the more expensive desk-side engineers.

Desktop virtualisation also allows for cost savings in the long run by extending the PC lifecycle and applying a concurrent-usage software licensing model. The pooling of flexible server hardware will extend its lifecycle and the simplified infrastructure will enable zero downtime.

The advantages of VDI are evidently numerous, but being in control of data, IP and the way each individual desktop is managed by end users represents a major benefit for financial organisations in particular. If implemented and managed correctly, in fact, this technology can allow them to gain competitive advantage, minimise losses, increase their security and return on investment, ultimately improving business success.

Sharron Deakin, Principal Consultant

This article was written for Director of Finance Online: http://www.dofonline.co.uk/content/view/5270/118/

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