What’s Old Is What’s New

Real-World Service Management by Ivor Macfarlane

The insights of a frequent Pulse attendee

Service Management in Action

So, here I am, back from an enjoyable few days at IBM’s Pulse event. It was held at the MGM in Las Vegas, where it has been for each of the last five years, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to all of them. Each time, it is bigger and better, with a large core of regular attendees returning for more of the same.

One of the simplest ways to spot Pulse regulars is that they know where the lunch is served, and when the free beer appears.

You can also estimate the percentage of regulars fairly easily. Just pay attention to how much work the excellent help staff need to do in rescuing lost delegates (something that typically happens to first-timers, given how easy it can be to get lost in those vast Vegas casinos).

At first thought, it might seem strange that in a conference about new developments, new ideas, and innovative approaches, there should be patterns of this sort. Doesn’t that mean Pulse is predictable? And isn’t being predictable a bad thing?

Actually, thinking that would be to miss some key points:

Pulse regularity and consistency helps us track such ideas.

“Service management blended with technical knowledge”—where have I heard that before?

The skills, processes and even the technology required for delivering good service management apply much the same, whether that service is an IT one or not. So combining IT and non-IT service management will deliver benefits to a business through economies of scale – and in other ways too.

One of those ideas bubbling under, bubbled back up to impress me at Pulse 2013, and I would like to focus on it in this article.

This idea, in a nutshell, is a simple one. The skills, processes and even the technology required for delivering good service management apply much the same, whether that service is an IT one or not. So combining IT and non-IT service management will deliver benefits to a business through economies of scale – and in other ways too.

This is a view that I have been preaching for over 20 years, which is perhaps why I so clearly remember Al Zoller, then head of Tivoli, at Pulse 2008, explaining how acquiring Maximo offered great potential for delivering asset and service management across a broader base than just IT or industry specific assets.

This made perfect sense then... and it does today as well. Services are always a mix of IT and non-IT components, so a genuinely effective support service should offer several benefits:

  1. An easy, centralized way for users to report problems and get support for those problems
    Users shouldn’t be required to understand which part of their service’s delivery mechanism is broken to know that they cannot use the service and be able to report that.
    If you don’t think that is significant, imagine standing by the roadside in a snowstorm and calling the dealership for help. Imagine being told that the reason your car won’t go is that one of its many onboard computers has failed... and therefore, you must call IT support somewhere else.
    Any support system based on multiple contact points creates exactly that sort of situation.
  2. Service level agreements that are actually about the service, not the components
    One of the nightmares in getting service measurement is what I call the buck-passing, “yes it’s broken but not in our bit” heard from some IT providers (actually from way too many).
    The bottom line is that if it works, it works; if it’s broken, it’s broken. The less you have to complicate the SLA with pragmatic caveats designed to reduce potential responsibility, the more useful the SLA will be from the customer’s perspective.
  3. Economies of scale
    Surely it’s cheaper to build, maintain, and improve one system, supported by one set of software, than to have multiple—probably inconsistent and incompatible—systems.

Furthermore, a unified system helps support staff remember that they are working in service management, not just in IT. They need IT knowledge, but they also need service management attitudes.

Now, in recent years, that basic premise of combining IT and enterprise support has been edged off the headlines by cloud, mobile, and other technical innovations.

But one of the joys of regularly attending events like Pulse is seeing how such earlier premises can subside temporarily... only to return later and develop (or not). Some are transformed from abstract ideas into up-and-running realities; some become discredited; some just disappear.

It can be a fun bar game: “Whatever happened to that crazy idea from the year before last? Not a word about it since!” or “Who’d have thought there’d be this much takeup from that one suggestion three years ago?”

The new implementation of a classic idea stole the show

So let me discuss what triggered all this in my mind: a presentation on Sunday afternoon. This presentation was a double act between Melbourne Airport (you can pretty easily work out what they do) and Kalibrate (a major IBM Business Partner in Australia that helps customers implement Tivoli software and optimize associated processes).

While the early hype of IT/service management integration has to a degree subsided, I found it reborn and revitalized in this presentation. It seems that Melbourne Airport and Kalibrate have taken the shared support idea we heard about at early Pulse events, then quietly got busy and got it done... and they came back to Pulse to tell us all about it.

The whole presentation was delivered with traditional Aussie understatement and self-deprecation, but you could still tell they were proud of what had been achieved. They’d come a long way to tell the story.

In particular, I’d like to focus on a couple of aspects that especially appealed to me—saving the better one for last:

Please note I didn’t just say “copy”—projects like this involve a custom fit, and hence can’t simply be replicated from one organisation to the next. Still, applying the ideas in a given situation is much easier when you can track how such a project really helped someone else.

The second is the credibility it must yield to the service delivery team at the Airport when it comes to the next improvement idea.

If you can achieve success with a project like this one—demonstrable success—you’ll find it’s much easier to get approval for the second. Perhaps you can even aim higher next time, obtaining more investment for even more significant improvement initiatives.

Pulse offers a chance to revisit, polish, and benefit from old ideas—not just new ones

So that’s my takeaway from Pulse this year. It isn’t just about today’s conference and what it might predict about the future—it’s also about the older ideas that have been shown to be correct and beneficial.

Remember, whether we talk about new ideas, innovations, or even software, today’s business benefits always come from yesterday’s development and implementation work and run on yesterday’s technology. No value is delivered until they have been adopted, developed, implemented, operated, etc.

Conferences like Pulse, that enable and encourage the revisiting and updating of ideas year-over-year, have a value that one-off events can’t really match. They not only introduce, but reintroduce, ideas—as well as explore how they’re being pursued in the real world, and quantify the value those ideas are really creating.

So, see you in Vegas next year?

About Ivor

After 23 years working for the UK government, moving from forestry to IT Service Management via prisons, stores and training, Ivor now works for IBM’s Tivoli organization helping customers understand and improve their Service Management. Ivor was an ITIL author (versions 1, 2 and 3), part of the panel that wrote BS15000 (fast-tracked to ISO/IEC 20000), an ITIL trainer and examiner since 1991 and active in itSMF since 1995, having spoken for them in 34 countries.

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