The Future of IT Service Delivery

Don’t worry, it’s not another predictions post. The Innovating IT Service conference will be held in Melbourne on the 11-12 March. Gene Kim is keynoting, so of course, I’m going to be there. I was at the hotel bar, suffering oversupply-of-quality-sessions burnout at Knowledge12, at exactly the same time as the only other opportunity I’ve had to see Gene present. I will forever berate myself.

With Gene Kim presenting, there is a cohort of DevOps-oriented presentations on the bill, including an opening keynote by Nigel Dalton of REA Group, who wants to warn us that DevOps may break the business. We’ll also hear from Ed Cortis of BankWest discussing IT agility and resiliency; and there’ll be lots of talk around lean, continuous delivery and the transformation of legacy services.

What I like most about this upcoming conference are the built-in knowledge sharing and round table sessions driven by conversations delegates want to have with the attending industry leaders. It may well be a live-on-stage example of market research, but who cares? It’s not often that an IT conference allows delegates to participate in topic selection.

Early bird prices are in effect until this Friday, 23 January.


Introducing, new online training

New online training

 

Just in time for your new year training budgets, Knowledge Bird has partnered with Klever to bring you a fast and affordable course covering the fundamentals of knowledge sharing.

Share more—achieve a lot more

Become more effective with the people and technology you already have by using effective knowledge-sharing practices.

This is a self-paced, ~30-minute course, where you’ll learn fundamental skills on how to make searching, rating, updating, creating, and improving knowledge part of your everyday work habits.

Increase productivity and enable new team members to get up to speed more quickly.

But that’s not all. You’ll also find a selection of requirements-writing courses, because we all know how hard that can be. Click here for more details and contact me if you’d like to arrange some bulk pricing.

Happy holidays!

 


LEADit 14: Quicker, simpler, seamless

I’ve tried to capture the most distinct themes that emerged at this year’s Australian national conference for the itSMF in the title. As I predicted last year, our local industry did contract, but not in the way I expected. This year, we had one of our respected consulting firms go into liquidation, and another one acquire a ServiceNow partner. Best practices, frameworks, methodologies and vendors serving the IT service management industry continue to proliferate despite the bad juju of a quiet couple of years on the consulting front.

Just in case you haven’t noticed already, Agile is still at the top of the hype curve. We had more sessions devoted to the popular methodology than we’ve ever had. People want to move on from ITIL’s perceived bureaucracy and move more quickly. Axelos are doing their best to improve the reputation of best practice, but I think ITIL is sorely needing rebranding—Service Management Guidance, anyone? It might make consultants and managers apply more critical thought and discretion to process changes, then, which is exactly why ITIL has a bad rep. (You can pay me later, Axelos.)

Simplicity is an emerging theme this year, with a number of tool vendors jostling for the claim. The only counter to that is Cherwell who say that oversimplification of the interface makes it harder to track and push knowledge through the support workflow.

Something that was emerging last year, but is now squarely on the minds of many practitioners and boffins, alike, is service integration. The larger organisations are wondering how to go about keeping the lines of communication and expectation clear among multiple suppliers; the smaller organisations are wondering how to integrate multiple cloud and legacy systems efficiently, and leverage the data most effectively.

One other theme I haven’t yet brought up, because I wonder if I’m biased, is customer satisfaction over SLAs. The argument is that you could still have all your service levels met and still attract the ire of your customers. Conversely, you might have outages, but if you communicate well, your customers might still love you anyway. So, where does that leave SLAs when greater meaning can be found in customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores? What do you think?

In terms of the LEADit event itself, this year, there were more tweeters, new vendors, and a good number of international visitors. I look forward to seeing what comes from the itSMF over coming months as they look for new ways to reach a greater audience.

 

 


User-Centric IT: What it means to me and why I give a crap

User-centric IT

Let me level with you—great customer service doesn’t motivate me. Yes, I am a customer from time to time, but I really just want to transact and get the hell on with my day. Recently, a group of enterprise software providers formed a coalition with the goal of shifting the design of enterprise IT services to the user, rather than forcing the user (or the customer, or the employee, or whichever moniker you prefer) to adapt to the constraints thrust upon them.

I’ve worked in enterprise IT for 13 years and I’ve used lots of systems. Working in technical support and in network operations, I had 99 problems and the software I was trying to use every day to do my job shouldn’t have been one of them. Why shouldn’t I have nice looking software when I’m in the office? Why can’t I be offered the kind of user-experience of design-focused apps like this, this, or this? If you think looks and usability don’t matter, then I ask you, how many clicks does it take for your colleagues to be able to submit a request or incident? Do you have covert changes going on because your form is long and confusing?

I’m not motivated by customer happiness. Everything I do professionally is motivated by a desire to improve agent happiness. (Or advocate, or analyst, or whichever moniker you prefer.) Whether it’s through better knowledge management, simpler processes, or better software. I like to think I support the support. The people who DO the support are the people I think of when I talk about user-centric IT. Give them a better experience and the people turning to them for help will have a better experience, too.

I’m hanging out in the LinkedIn group. Find me there.

*Disclaimer: Zendesk are a coalition member and a client of mine.


The Continual Service of Knowledge

ITIL and KCS white paperIt’s not often that anyone would bother to review a white paper. After all, a white paper is usually free (perhaps in exchange for your email address) and not that much of an investment in time to read. A white paper has come along that I really must point out to you, though. If you’re interested in improving your IT services, this particular one is valuable, and you don’t even have to pay with your contact info.

I’ve long believed that the parents of ITIL® and Knowledge Centred Support (KCS), (AXELOS and the Consortium for Service Innovation, respectively), should join forces in some meaningful way. This white paper looks like being a kind of first step. Though, I don’t know what might come after. AXELOS and HDI have come together to release Synergies between ITIL® and Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS℠). Written by Roy Atkinson, John Custy, and Rick Joslin, the paper explains that “together, ITIL and KCS can improve service management”.

ITIL® refers to the benefits of knowledge management (KM) at each stage of the service lifecycle and describes KM at length in the Service Transition phase. I’ve never understood why the authors of ITIL® placed the most emphasis on KM in Service Transition and not in Continual Service Improvement. This white paper goes through the history of both best practices and their shared challenges, but the meat of it is in the explanation of how KCS complements ITIL® throughout many of its processes, uncovering many opportunities for your own organisation to tap into the value of adopting the behaviours and processes.

Download from the ThinkHDI website.


Dear ITIL, it doesn’t have to be complicated

ZDguideDisclaimer: Most of my readers will know that I’m affiliated with Zendesk. Zendesk do pay me for content and consulting on ITSM and knowledge management stuff. This book review I’m about to do, which covers mapping Zendesk functionality to ITIL processes, has not been commissioned by Zendesk, nor endorsed by them. It is my objective opinion as an independent consultant.

A couple of weeks ago Crystal Taggart released a short guidebook to the Amazon Kindle store. This isn’t the first guidebook she’s released; there’s also a Quick Start Guide to using Axure 7 for rapid prototyping and 10 Secrets for Launching a Software Startup. Crystal describes herself as a technologist and entrepreneur who specialises in creating and implementing solutions that solve business problems. Her most recent book, a Zendesk Quickstart Guide is a step-by-step guide to mapping ITIL processes quickly and easily.

It’s no secret I’ve always liked Zendesk for how it looks, but I’m also a strong believer in their philosophy of “beautifully simple”. We have a tendency in IT operations to over-think things and sign off on expensive lifecycle solutions with All The Things where we’re likely to end up using only a fraction of the available capabilities. Crystal’s book describes an implementation of Zendesk that covers Incident, Problem, Change and Release to the requirements of her client. “The goal was to write a book that would take the reader 1 hour what took me 3 days (and 17 years of experience!) to do.” That’s a bit different from the months it can take to rollout a more complex solution.

She starts out by defining each of those processes and acknowledges that the set up she recommends made sense for this case, and that your mileage may vary depending on your own needs and circumstances.

Crystal maps ITIL terminology to the Zendesk ticket type terminology in the following way:

  • Incident = incident
  • Request for service = task
  • Request for information = question
  • Request for change (or enhancement request) = task
  • Change control = task
  • Problem (or defect) = problem

Tasks are used in place of incident tickets to allow for SLAs to be set up for different categories—a known issue vs an enhancement request, for example.

The book then goes through the step-by-step details on setting up groups that take ticket assignments and custom fields on tickets that feed macros, triggers, automations, and reporting for problem management. Crystal offers definitions for the different priorities of urgent, high, normal and low and designs automations accordingly.

After a brief explanation of how the Zendesk Help Centre can be used as an IT knowledge base, you can learn how to integrate Zapier to have change control notifications created to automatically populate a knowledge base article. This is a really clever, but kind of painful and complicated way of achieving something that should be able to happen natively. It’s the one significant bugbear I have with Zendesk—that knowledge creation is not a part of the native agent workflow, beyond searching for existing articles. The classic Zendesk forums, pre the launch of New Zendesk and the Help Centre, did have the functionality where you could create an article from a ticket with a single click, so I am confident that ability will return some day soon.

The book also provides a plan comparison, but do your own analysis there, because I’m not sure the details are completely accurate.

For not much more than $9, this is a great guidebook for any Zendesk administrator aspiring to meet some level of ITIL adherence in their organisation, or for any ITIL-aware organisation that is considering Zendesk. It’s a beautifully simple explanation (I only wish I’d written it), but it’s not the only way to approach it, so keep in mind that your workflows may change as your processes and organisation matures.

 


Pink14: was it worth it?

Pink14

I’ve heard more than once that the Pink Elephant conference was something to behold. And if I was only to go once in my lifetime, I wanted it to be this year with Canadian astronaut, Commander Hadfield, as the keynote. So, I ponied up with the outrageous fees that IT conferences can command and I’ve been asked, “was it worth it?”

As a fee-paying delegate, (rather than being there on a speaker ticket), my plan of attack was much different. With so many tracks and no lunch breaks, one really does need to have a plan of attack. I couldn’t just stroll around and visit what took my fancy at the time. I had my book and my highlighter and I had the four days mapped out. It came a little unstuck on day 3, but let’s not talk about that.

I can’t rattle off a few gems without first giving a nod to the Pinkers—the Pink Elephant consultants and staff. The annual conference at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino is just a feat of organisation. And it’s not just about the event. Each of those Pink consultants that I saw deliver presentations are outstanding speakers; Jack Probst, George Spalding, Troy du Moulin, to name just a few. They know their stuff and are true professionals.

Given my personal requirement to maximise ROI for a Pink ticket, I kicked off with a conference optimiser— Sunday afternoon tracks of pre-conference breakout sessions–to see the perennial Pink motivator Kirk Weisler. Everyone can use a good kick in the morale and Kirk’s message was a good reminder for me, as a self-employed consultant, to check in with my goals. Do the activities I do at work connect me to those goals? What about you?

A bit of fizzy rah-rah is a good way to start, but the meat is in the eleventy-billion sessions that Pink makes you choose from. (At least you can download all the session presentations for later consumption.) The Best Practices for Implementing an ITSM Tool was a lively panel discussion with speakers from Citrix GoToAssist, EasyVista, and Navvia. I was interested to hear the recommended practice with tool migration is to leave everything archived in a data warehouse and only bring across open tickets and other live data. But, as my good friend, Craig Wilkey from Attivio, pointed out—what about all that organisational learning now holed up in a bunker? Good point, sir! Perhaps the most interesting thing was the wave of discussion over social media that was provoked by David Mainville’s comment, “there IS no out of the box”. The old configuration vs customisation question.

There were industry activities involving think tanks and Axelos announcements—here’s a good rundown from Macanta—and and some well-deserving winners of awards. Oh, Attivio? Yeah, they won innovation of the year for their unified information access platform—that’s heartening for anyone who cares about knowledge management.

And what about the guy I’d come all this way to see? He did not disappoint. Talk about inspiring. Commander Chris Hadfield has been booked for the keynote well in advance, while he was still on the International Space Station. He shared his photography and experiences of living in space and learning from failure. The most significant message for us as IT people is, plan to fail. Because if you plan to fail, you’ll know exactly how to respond if it does. The whole room was mesmerised and when he finished singing Space Oddity at the conclusion of his talk, we all erupted with applause.

IMG_2424

So, was it worth it? Yes. Especially for the in-person connections that were made after having interacted with so many of these smart people online for a year or two.

Will you go next year?

Similar bat time, same bat channel, superheroes.

 

 

Other Pink14 blog posts here:

Rebecca Beach writing for the ITSM Review

Jon Reynolds (Cloud Sherpas)

Ian Aitchison (LANDESK)

Earl Begley from the University of Kentucky, writing for the ITSM Review

Chuck Darst for HP

James Finister (Tata Consultancy Services)

 


Document management that doesn’t suck

document-management

Props to @MylesCarrick for the title. He sparked a conversation on twitter this week with that sentiment. So, I’m wondering what you look for in a document management system.

Here’s a few things I can think of:

1. Some sort of built-in, configurable governance for file naming convention—A lot of the problem I have with document management systems is that people still name things randomly and folders are often filled with unrelated, random contents. Some guidance for naming convention that didn’t rely on verbal reinforcement would be ideal.

2. Files and folders default to public. Explicit exclusion for folders/files that must be private—One of the challenges of knowledge management is that, as an organisation, we don’t know what we know. Transparent file storage allows for discoverability when we’re searching for something. The current sharing models require us to explicitly ALLOW access, rather than explicitly DENY.

3. Semantic clustering and recommendation engines—Related to my last post about miscellany, I’d like to see a DMS that can offer us suggestions of similar documents based on keywords and phrases. Of course, this would be dependent on point 2, above.

Are you happy with your document management solution? What are the things you look for?


The book that changed my mind

everythingismisc

I’ve talked about my preference for ordered taxonomies before. In another article, I even claimed that folksonomies weren’t scalable. Everything is Miscellaneous: The power of the new digital disorder, by David Weinberger may have just changed my mind. Published in 2007, the book isn’t new, but I came across it on a list of recommended reads for knowledge management.

Weinberger, co-author of the international bestseller The Cluetrain Manifesto,  has an easy-to-read conversational style. In Everything is Miscellaneous, he lays out humankind’s fixation for heirarchy across history. “[O]ur knowledge of the world has assumed the shape of a tree because that knowledge has been shackled to the physical.”

From Aristotle to Apple and Amazon, the way we work with information and knowledge has changed. Apple freed our music libraries so we could order our music how we wanted. Amazon clusters books in as many ways as we can so that we may discover what we want as well as find what we know we want. In Amazon’s world we can make our own top 10 lists—tagging and categorising books in the multiple ways that make sense to us as individuals. Collaborative filtering then displays other books that Amazon thinks we might like.

That’s when I opened my eyes.

I’ve espoused careful categorisation because I believed it meant for easier browsing. But with a digital knowledge base, who browses in order anymore? Not me. I have a carefully ordered list of bookmarks in my web browser, but I don’t look down that list, I rely on auto-completion and Google, and that is no-doubt common and quicker. I took a long, hard look at my own behaviour and realised I’ve been holding onto a hard-copy way of looking at the world.

Weinberger argues that it’s the metadata that holds the value in the way we can make new connections, new knowledge. In the miscellaneous world, everything is metadata. So, in our knowledge bases, how do we decide what metadata to collect; how do we decide the ways in which the user can create their own information display based on that metadata. Many of our knowledge base tools constrain us to categories, forcing us to decide how the reader should experience what we want them to know. But what if our knowledge bases were more like Amazon? “People that read this article also read this one”, or “this article is in the top 10 list for others in the marketing team”, etc.

This book seems to be about offering new ways of working with digital information, but it’s so much more than that. It highlights our reflexive grasp on hierarchy in the real world, too. Just as Apple democratised music playlists, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh is taking structure out of the organisation. Is that just the beginning of what could become miscellany in the corporate world? It makes sense that cross-functional roles could get more done in an organisation, because they don’t have to present their ideas up through the hierarchy of one silo and then have it be passed down the next. We reflexively grasp order though, because we don’t want to think too hard and come up with new ways. Hierarchy, steps, pre-defined order—it’s all automatic pilot—but it’s also conforming to someone else’s idea of how things should go.

A miscellaneous world may seem chaotic but it’s filled with boundless opportunities.


Jelly, a new visual Q&A app for mobile

FastCompany reported this week that Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has launched a new visual Q&A app, called Jelly.

They describe it as a visual search for answers to a question you might have, but you can’t actually search. You have to take a photo (or choose one from Google images) and ask your question. And wait. You have to wait for someone in your network to respond to your question. You cannot search existing questions or answers for something close to what you need to know, at all. And that’s what I was expecting after watching the product video.

So let’s drop the word “search” from this conversation and look at social Q&A. Social Q&A isn’t a new idea. It’s what Quora does, but Quora is text-heavy and unfriendly to use. We already use Facebook and Instagram for asking our friends and networks questions, often providing an accompanying contextual image, so what does Jelly offer that’s different? It sure is pretty.

I downloaded the app for you, so I could try it out. But not without scrolling through dozens of jelly related games to find it.

Jelly shows us a card with a question obscuring the top half of the image. You tap the image for the question to disappear and see the whole image. The overlay also displays the social connections that exist between the question and people in your own Facebook or Twitter networks, along with an option to answer the question or forward it to someone you know who will be able to provide an answer. That person doesn’t have to have the app, by the way, they can respond via the web.

Jelly screenshot 2

 

At the bottom of the screen you can see how many answers are there and tap them to scroll through each reply.

Naturally, there are some game mechanics included to encourage your ongoing participation—your answers can be nominated as “good” by anyone who reads them, and you can accrue thank you cards from the person whose question you’ve answered.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much IT Skeptic, but I’m…well, skeptical. I don’t think it’s providing a whole lot of value that you can’t already get from Facebook or Instagram. I like the design though, and I love the ease of adding contextual images to questions, so I can only hope Jelly shakes things up enough for enterprise social apps to take those values on board for their own tools.


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