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It’s all about the numbers.

Last week I was asked to gather some metrics about the development process – some numbers around timings, effort assessments, time to deploy, how many code review failures, how many test failures  and so on. Ok says I and start extracting data from Team Foundation Server. The problem is, well, which numbers? So this is the challenge is determining (a) what are the numbers that tell us the about the development process and (b) are we able to extract this data from what we have?

The key point is being sure to generate metrics and KPIs on what is relevant to the critical success factors (CSFs) and not just pull out numbers based on what you can see on the spreadsheet of extracted data.

Data -> Information -> knowledge -> wisdom

So now I’m going through the books to get some guidance (Metrics for Service Management published by Van Haren is very good for this) and will make the questions first and then look for the answers.

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Business Analysis – the next road on the journey

Since entering IT nearly 8 years ago (as a developer) my role has changed ever further from coding more towards requirements gathering, account management, support, ITSM, comms and more. Along the way I’ve picked up certificates in project management (PRINCE2) and IT service management (ITIL and ISO20000). As time passed it became increasingly difficult to state what my job actually was. Whenever a new person joined the team we would go round the room to each introduce ourselves and state our job (“I’m and I’m a developer”) but when it got to me I’d find myself waffling about “…this and that…”

I knew I was doing something every day, quite a lot actually, but it was hard to state in a single job title what this was. I’d tried technical consultant analyst was sort of it but not exactly.

Then I came across the notion of the Business Analyst. This is a job title that appears to cover a good proportion of what I actually do for much of the day. To that end I’ve now bought the book (Business Analysis 2nd Edition, Paul, Yeates and Cadle [Editors], BCS), joined the LinkedIn group, and will ultimately attempt to persuade my employer to at least pay for the exam (if not a full taught course).

BA appears to be what I’ve been looking for, so let’s see where this takes me….

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Social services

An interesting webinar today – the service desk and social IT:

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The Zendesk cometh

Getting a bit (even just a little bit) excited about help desk software doesn’t seem very healthy, but there you go: it’s looking very likely that we’re going to go with Zendesk as our service desk solution. T0 begin with we’re going to keep going with the existing Axosoft OnTime2010 (locally hosted) but start using Zendesk (a SaaS solution) to handle customer support and controlling change management (i.e. a place to deal with in coming change requests and Rf items).

I don’t think it’ll be very long before we switch over all user support to the new system. The driver for change as been a supportive Development manager who has quickly seen the need to get a more rounded set of processes that effectively deal with the most important relevant processes of our business, i.e. Incident mgmt, Problem mgmt, Change mgmt, and Knowledge mgmt. Another major driver has been the organisation’s interest in achieving ISO 20000 and 27001 certification that resurfaced at the end of last year. In March we’ll most likely see an internal audit (I’ll probably be doing one myself, though on a different department) so we need to get particularly the support processes under control by then.

The third need for more modern service software is the need to be able to efficiently handle social IT – or more specifically, be able to capture tweets and blog comments and convert to support tickets. Zendesk seems to be able to handle all these things very well without having to be explicitly ITIL about it all. My dalliance with OTRS with very much powered by its very ITIL-specific terminology and functionality, but on reflection, excellent though OTRS is,  Zendesk can cover all the necessary processes and procedures we’ll ever likely to need, and more importantly, interconnects with a myriad of related products and services such as GetSatisfaction, Salesforce, Solve360, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and many more.

We’ve not got it fully plumbed in yet, but we will, we will, and soon.

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At the Service Desk and IT Support Show 2012

At the Service Desk and IT Support Show at Earl’s Court, London last week (24th/25th April 2012) seeing what’s on offer on from the various software vendors, and to see what the hot topics in ITSM are. Here’s an edited version of my notes:

Summary

This event was a trade show for suppliers of IT service management software mainly geared towards the service (help) desk and customer relationship management (CRM). Additionally there were a number of sponsored seminars and “hot topic” discussion tables.

Purpose of attendance

  1. To ascertain the nature and costs of commercially available service desk software packages and compare against OnTime2010 (currently in use) and OTRS (candidate open source alternative)
  2. To gain further knowledge and understanding of ITSM as practised in other environments, and learn of future developments in ITSM.

 

Service desk software

A number of trade stands were visited. The variation of costs of software was very much reflected in the scope and sophistication of the product that for available. For example, Serena and Hornbill offered highly configurable packages that integrated help desk and CRM packages, could interop with external packages (such as event management), ultimate offering a high level of coverage for various IT functions and activities. This of course was reflected in their cost. These products were clearer very good but they are largely intended for medium to large enterprises, would likely involve consultants to set up correctly.

 

At the budget end of the which would cost about £1000 – £2000 (and used by a number of public sector organisations and looked little better than OnTime. You get what you pay for so for a small organisation these may well be more than adequate (or even affordable) unless you want to take the open source route.

 

ITSM Trends and Issues

 

Bring your own device (BYOD)

A significant area of many organisations’ activities involved management of configuration items (ITIL for hardware and software and how they are related to each other and to people using them). While we require a small degree of configuration management it is not as significant an issue as faces most IT departments. Nonetheless, the issue of BYOD is high on the agenda of many IT departments that would impact most of our users with respect to browser and device choice. The consensus was very much that BYOD is an unavoidable reality in the modern work place and that IT departments need to accept this and generate realistic governance policies and look for ways of securing data irrespective of device (something it was felt were not many solutions to as yet).

 

Social media

The role of social media as part of the help desk and FAQ (and general knowledge management) is a growing trend, even if not directly stated. While software is available that can capture Facebook feeds into helpdesk software (normally in the high-end products) there was no specific social products yet available – one company is developing this (ITsmartDesk.com) but seemingly they are not ready to go to market as yet. It was discussed how the user-base has a significant knowledge of the use of system, particularly within the context of their work place which is an untapped resource. How to meaningfully capture this knowledge and distribute it effectively is a challenge. Given the growing importance of social networks this is a significant opportunity that should be explored. An interesting model for how such a system might work is stackoverflow.com – the trick would be to be able to manage activity on such a system and glean (or link to) FAQ content.

 

Self-service

The ability for users to be able to resolve their problems without the assistance or intervention of support staff is known to save significant time and money on the service desk. Again, this has particular relevance to more traditional IT departments who are dealing with password resets and other types of request fulfilment (as opposed to problems and incidents). However, if a user is able to explore a more extensive and searchable FAQ or gain access to appropriate local admin staff the service desk would be able to devote more time to more complex issues and not have to triage simple responses. “First time ticket closures” has been questioned as whether this is necessarily a reflection of an effective service desk – how many users could have dealt with the problem without having to be told by a “human” response?

 

Self-service is normally achieved by the use of a “customer portal” whereby the user generates an account for them self in the support system that gives them access to create new tickets, track ticket process activity, and gain access to a searchable FAQ. This is a fairly common feature of help desk software that is worth exploring.

 

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And then there’s everything else to do

The inevitable delays start arriving in the form of too many other things to do and risk losing momentum on this project. Two issues are in my mind that need to be made aware of in order to avoid the risk of a significant loss of time due to inertia and “oh yeah, I didn’t really get back to that”. Firstly, the project end point doesn’t have a critical “it must be completed by xyz date or dire consequences will ensue” so slippage is not perceived as a problem (or at least not until very late in the day). The second problem is (and this is just a hunch) that while management at a corporate level are keen to see ISO 20000 accreditation (through implementation of ITIL) my managers don’t share the same level of ITSM evangelism as I do. It’s not that they don’t support what’s being done but the pressing issues on their radar have priorities that sit above me generating lots of nice documents with pretty flow charts in them. Last week I was told my job now included being Product Manager for a couple of our clients following a reshuffle of staff and roles. This is fine other than it gives me less time to devote to ITIL work.

It’s a chicken/egg problem to my mind in that getting effective and controlled ITSM processes in place would go some way to reducing some of the headaches currently being experienced with the workload, service delivery, SLAs and so on. All in all it needs to be about being able to continue to maintain the business case for implementing ITIL – demonstrating that to management and colleagues (and myself) and ensuring the balance of time set aside for ITIL work is correct should see that while it might take a little longer that expected the end point will still be reached. The take-home message being, accept that changes have occurred that mean the project will take longer but don’t allow the impetus to keep things moving from being lost. Less time needn’t mean no time.

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