ITIL as Dr Seuss: A challenge

ITIL as Dr Seuss

One of our biggest challenges in service management is explaining what it is and why it’s useful. The ITIL definition is dry and completely unsellable.

A set of specialised organisational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services.

It’s a problem ITIL has more broadly—it’s dry and bureaucratic in its worst form. It’s the nature of most best practice guidance, though, so don’t blame ITIL.

A recent thread on my Facebook wall prompted James Finister to challenge us to Seussify ITIL. Perhaps he thought it couldn’t be done, but Phil Green stepped up and posted a response. Following on nicely from my Return of Service post, here’s Phil’s representation of the definition of service, Dr Seuss style.

An outcome to achieve is what I desire,
Today, tomorrow, is what I require,
Will you help me achieve the outcome I require?
Can you, could you, should you be my provider?

I’ll help you achieve the
outcomes you require
I can, I will, exceed your desires,
I’ll facilitate the outcomes you wish to require,
I’ll be your Type III service provider.

But what about specific costs and risks?
I don’t understand, my thoughts they whisk,
I don’t want to manage those costs and risks,
My service needs provided in a way that’s brisk.

Specific costs and risks, I’ll own them all,
I’ll own them all whether large or small,
I’ll own them today, I’ll own them tomorrow,
Providing service so great you’ll get no sorrow.

You’ll facilitate the outcomes I wish to achieve?
With service so consistent in you I’ll believe,
And you’ll own the specific costs and risks?
Let us draft up the contract and save it to disk.

And so, I challenge you: can you Seussify an ITIL concept?

The Return of Service

The return of serviceYou know, it’s funny. In this app economy we’re working in, you can buy just about anything as-a-service. And yet we—the makers, the designers, the writers, the product marketers, etc—are trying out all kinds of different marketing and pricing recipes to build a package people want to click the buy button for. Freelancers, consultants, and software developers have productised their offerings. We’ve abstracted the value of the person out of the sale, even though it’s our particular expertise and contexts that is the basis of what we’re selling. We’ve distilled what we DO down to things people can put in a shopping cart—a transaction.

You need a product

I know how this happened. It’s the revolution of the Four Hour Work Week, and the desire to make passive income; to make more money from less time/effort.


But, even if you’re an affiliate marketer making coin from selling the work of others, (not that there’s anything wrong with that; I do it from time to time, too), you’re kidding yourself if you think you can do it without building your reputation and influence.


And, you can’t do that without serving others—through sharing your expertise, your content, and your thought leadership.

It’s not about the product

So why do we still talk about product design, product management, product marketing…? Facebook declared they’d stop using the word “user”, as this article from 2014 states. I don’t know how that’s going, but the author raised this issue about that thing we do where we strip the people out of the problems these things we DO are trying to solve. Is it because we’ve got a maligned idea of what service means? Is it because the word service connotes work that’s less desirable, and the word product is somehow cooler? Is it simply because service is hard to define?


In the IT service management circles where I hang out, we (and ITIL®) define service as:


A means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks.


Isn’t this exactly what we’re all doing?


To serve is noble; and we can see that in the resurgence of the phrase “servant leadership” in the modern management lexicon. It’s a term coined in the 1970s by Robert K Greenleaf,, so it’s been around a while. But, like everything old, it’s cool again. As our very own catchphrase of the century, as-a-service, says; it’s not a product you’re designing/marketing/selling, it’s a service.


Put the people back in focus, and design your services to provide the best possible experiences for the people that want them.

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.

Pink14: was it worth it?


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.


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)


Service integration and knowledge management


It became pretty clear in 2013 that the service integration wave was building up. It was discussed at the conferences and it’s been covered in blogs. As more IT managers fold the point-solutions of today in with traditional vendors and legacy systems, it’s more balls in the air while you maintain happy user and customer relationships, design cohesive SLAs, and ensure you don’t underestimate your total cost of ownership, amongst a myriad of other things.

And what of the contribution of knowledge management? Your records of the who and how of escalation become more important when there’s more than one place to go—and that might be dependent on the system or the time of day or any other factor. Your goal with your users, of course, is to hide the stitches, and they don’t care who the various service providers are. They only care that the services are working as they should and that you’re in their corner when something breaks. So, keep that in mind when you’re building your service catalogue and writing your self-service articles.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat and work with multiple vendors. 3Gamma’s CEO, Peter Wahlgren, and I cover what those approaches are in this white paper: Are you stuck in the blame game? Service integration in a multi-sourcing environment.

Read it today.

Redressing the balance: women in IT(Service Management)

If there was ever a time when gender bias should be on the table for discussion, it’s 2013. I recently answered a question on the Back2ITSM Facebook group about diversity in IT. This post includes much of what I said there, with a few extra bits.

I agree with the questioner that the appearance of quotas and affirmative action can create a sense of exclusion But, the inequality exists and without efforts in a number of areas, the tech industry at large will miss out on access to a pool of amazing talent. It won’t be solved with one single action. This goes right back to the beginnings of education and STEM classes. And human nature means we find comfort in being with like-minded folks. It’s not that surprising that guys dominate IT. The majority of school teachers and nurses are females, just to throw in a comparison.

Let’s fast forward to the workplace. Because of our childhoods and societal norms to date, it’s just a fact there aren’t many women in IT. I can remember after a group interview for my first tech support role being told, “you were hired because you’re a woman”. The manager was a woman, and she did also mention I was capable, thankfully. That was informal affirmative action, right there.

We know we like to be with like-minded folks, but men and women are also wired differently and it’s added to by society’s version of how different we are. Generally speaking, women’s self-esteem and self-confidence grows when their value to others is obvious. For men, apparently, they’re able to draw on inner confidence much more successfully. Put that together with seeking like-minded folks and the lack of women in IT, and it’s not hard to see why men dominate IT. They have their networks (of male friends and colleagues) and self-confidence propelling them forward throughout their career.

When women speak out in the IT communities about inequality, it’s not unheard of for them to end up under attack from groups of men who are defending themselves. Does anyone remember when the internet blew up after PyCon in March this year? There have been some sickening displays in the infosec and developer communities—Titstare being another example. But it’s not across the board. There are some great guys out there. But according to the buffoons, women are too emotional to cope with the logic that tech requires, I guess. Or something. But in ITSM, it’s less about the logic of systems and more about people, which is why (I think) our ITSM community has a greater representation of women than the broader tech industry. In the Australian chapter of the itSMF, we have a female National Chair and four of our seven State Chairs are women.

When I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In earlier this year, I resented her views. The message seemed to be, be careful who you marry or be prepared to train him. “Why can’t we all just get on with our lives irrespective of gender?”, I thought. There I was at the question I’m now addressing. My annoyance with Sandberg’s book continues, because in one single chapter she dismisses mentor relationships, but then goes on to describe in great detail how successful they’ve been for her.

I believe women need champions to help them reach their goals. Because men are the dominant majority, those champions need to be men. There is no way I would be where I am now, if it hadn’t been for a well-known and respected male industry leader clearing a path for me. There are certainly women who have encouraged me and helped me, absolutely, and I may have made my way here, but I wouldn’t have gone overseas with my work.


At school, boys should be encouraged to nurture and girls should be encouraged in STEM activities. But each are often ridiculed by their peers (and even adults) when they go outside their “normal gendered domain”.

In professional life, let’s formalise and normalise mentoring programs that aim to propel young people and women who are interested in leadership and progression. Once we’ve normalised this sort of professional relationship between men and women, we might see an increase in respect between the groups and something closer to balance.

And, though I don’t feel the gender imbalance quite so much in the itSMF community, I’m proud to see Ruby Australia’s Code of Conduct, and can’t help but see this as a springboard to improve things across the technology sector as a whole.

LeadIT13 conference wrap

My annual working-holiday is over for another year, with the conclusion of the itSMF’s LeadIT conference, held in Canberra. With the Under New Management sign still hanging above the Australian chapter, the event went off without a hitch and there’s a renewed sense of interest in what the itSMF can do to reach more members. New business manager, Bruce Harvey, is intending to get out and about to speak to all committee members, so I look forward to giving my two cents whenever that comes around.

Canberra were wonderful hosts for the conference and all the volunteers worked tirelessly over the three or four days to ensure all our sessions ran smoothly.

One can’t help but notice the common themes that tend to crop up through the content of any conference. LeadIT13’s overarching theme was service management in a connected world, but there was an undercurrent of disruption. While the services we support become more and more complex—with multi-vendor management and multiple user-devices, just for starters—there’s a growing sense of contraction within our industry. Yes, more with less, but even our frameworks and methodologies are beginning to shift with the rumbles. Rob England’s keynote discussed a need to find common ground between DevOps and ITSM. Dave O’Reardon brings Kanban to continual service improvement. Aale Roos provokes us to ditch ITIL processes left, right and centre. I want community management and knowledge management to come together in our business-as-usual to take advantage of the valuable knowledge of our user community. Where the agile movement is concerned, it’s not just an undercurrent, but a very strong rip. And those IT managers on the ground, who are constantly learning and iterating their checks and balances in their agile environments and sharing their stories (pardon the pun) with us, will be next year’s luminaries.

I saw a couple of great product demos in the exhibit hall this year and wanted to give a shout-out to one in particular. Early last year, I moaned all over social media that vendors with social activity feeds hadn’t built in any functionality to easily capture comments and turn them into structured knowledge for easy reuse. Frontrange’s Heat has a social service management component that does exactly that. So, thumbs up from me.

If you missed my session on community support in the enterprise, you can catch the TFT13 recording, which is only slightly different.

See you in Melbourne for LeadIT14!

Why You Should Crowdsource Your Help Desk Response

Today’s post is a guest post from Ashley VerrillAshley Verrill has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM,, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.


Recently, I wrote an article for GigaOM about customer service software that doesn’t exist, but that I think someone should make. I argued basically that companies need technology for crowdsourcing their response to customer service questions on social media in order to scale, reasoning that in some cases it can be more efficient and cost-effective than paying for additional social media manpower.

After chatting with Aprill (the Knowledge Bird herself), I realized that business-to-customer support on social media isn’t the only context where this community problem solving concept can be applied. In this article, I will describe why I think companies should use this model to solve internal corporate issues – essentially, enabling employees to help each other.

The Customer Community Concept

In my GigaOM article, I suggested that this hypothetical software crowdsources social customer service responses to customer community users. The term ‘community’ refers to brand advocates (mostly customers) who answer other customer’s questions in discussion forums. In these communities, customers can post a question publicly, where other customers who had the same issue can chime in with how they solved it. It’s been used successfully by many B2C companies. Take this HP community member, for example. He spends upwards of 30 unpaid hours a week responding to queries in their discussion forums.

The reason why I thought this would be a valuable model for solving internal employee issues is because it can effectively deflect tickets from the help desk. As we all know, each new trouble ticket costs the company money. I’ve reviewed a handful of help desk services that can reduce these costs through automation, but the company still has to pay for both the agent and employee’s time while the issue is resolved. With the community, problems can be solved faster in some cases than with one-on-one communication.

Let’s say, for example, you have a company-wide server issue. Every employee needs to follow the same step-by-step process to resolve it, so you blast out a mass email to the team. But any agent will tell you, there’s always going to be questions and user errors. This creates the potential for a flood of tickets to the help desk at the same time. This could be more than your help desk is regularly allotted to handle, so a lot of people are waiting.

If your company had a community, the help desk could simply post the step-by-step instructions in a discussion thread. As there are follow-up questions and answers, other employees with the same issue can just read the thread, rather than calling or emailing the help desk.

How You Get Them to Use It

I know what you’re thinking. That sounds great, but employees have a job to do. Why would they take time out of their day to solve a coworker’s problem?

The answer is gamification. I want to point out a couple things on that customer community user’s profile I mentioned earlier. At the top of the page, “wb2001” has a badge that says “HP Expert:”

This is an indicator of how many questions this person has responded to, as well as how many of his answers received “kudos.” It shows other users that he is a leader in the community. This fosters competition and achievement among users. This is also monitored in real-time in the margin with “Recent kudos.”


These are the same kind of tools many help desk products use to increase agent productivity. They are just used to inspire employees to respond instead of agents.

Create a Sense of Unity Among Employees

My final argument for replicating the customer community concept for employees is the potential to foster team ideation.

If you spend time in any customer community, not all of the threads are about solving a specific problem. Many times, people use them as a soundboard for their ideas. The company can then use this for product development or marketing, based on which ideas receive the most comments and kudos.

In the corporate context, employees might start submitting their ideas for process development or inter-departmental alignment. Especially in very large companies, it’s difficult for marketing-sales-customer service and other departments to work collaboratively. The community gives them the venue for having these conversations.

The Technology Already Exists

Unlike the software I suggested in GigaOM, this kind of inter-office community platform already exists. Sometimes called “Social Enterprise Applications,” this includes products like Yammer, Chatter and Jive. Beyond potentially deflecting tickets from the help desk and solving problems faster, these systems have other benefits.

What do you think? Has your company effectively used community software to solve employee issues that normally would have ended up in the help desk? Join the conversation with a comment here.


The SKMS: elusive or unattainable?

The service knowledge management system (SKMS) is how ITIL describes all the knowledge and information that relates to IT’s provision of services. In this webinar, recorded last week, Rob England, Attivio CTO Sid Probstein, and I talk about knowledge management with Matt Hooper, and we explore some of the barriers we’ve come across in IT.

Despite a feeling that we might be all doomed to repeat ourselves, on several levels, I remain hopeful. Knowledge management sessions at the conferences and seminars that I’ve attended in the past 18 months have all attracted large numbers. The interest is clearly there, but so is the cultural chasm.

And what of ITIL’s SKMS? When it calls for a configuration management database to be a part of that ecosystem, is it destined for the bottom of an ever-growing to-do list? Listen to our conversation, have one with your colleagues, and then come back and tell me what you think.

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