An ITSM.tools survey, called “How Well Does IT Know the Business?”, posed ten questions to IT service management (ITSM) professionals related to their business knowledge and focus.

This article details the results of the survey, with the aggregation of the anonymous responses showing both positive and negative facts of modern-day IT service delivery and support.

Summary Findings

The level of business knowledge

  • The majority of ITSM professionals are happy that they know enough about their business’s operations – with only 29% stating that they need to know more.
  • The majority of ITSM professionals are happy that they know enough about their business’s goals and strategies – but a more significant 39% would like/need to know more.

Performance measurement

  • More than half of IT organizations need to do more to understand how their IT services support business operations and success.
  • Only 9% of IT organizations currently measure performance using business-success-related metrics in addition to traditional ITSM key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Worryingly, 36% of IT organizations have “some basic performance measures that they need to improve upon.”

What IT costs and value demonstration

  • Only 4% of ITSM professionals think that business colleagues view IT costs as optimized and offering great value for money. Another 24% think that the cost of IT is seen as acceptable.
  • Over two-thirds of ITSM professionals think that business colleagues perceive IT as costing too much.
  • Only 13% of ITSM professionals know exactly how their IT organization’s annual investment in IT positively impacts their business. A further 21% roughly know which IT services help to increase revenue and customer satisfaction.
  • Another one-third of IT organizations are starting to link IT expenditure to business value, but the final third has no insight in the business value of IT.

Customer-centricity

  • 95% of ITSM professionals view the people they serve, within their parent organization, as their customers.
  • Only 21% of ITSM professionals always ensure that their end users/customers know what can be done and by when.
  • 38% of respondents stated that expectation management is something that they need to get better at.

The business impact of IT issues

  • The majority of ITSM professionals understand the impact of IT issues on business operations.
  • Just 40% of survey respondents were very aware of the business costs of IT issues, with 50% only aware of the IT costs and not the business costs.

Please read on for greater insight into these, and other, survey findings.

The Level of Business Knowledge

Over the last decade, much has been done to better align IT organization strategies with the parent company’s business strategies, and the delivered IT services and support to business needs and expectations. And, while this can be considered better “business alignment,” this term shouldn’t be viewed as IT serving a separate entity – because the IT organization is part of the business.

So how well do ITSM professionals know their business and its needs and expectations?

In terms of overall business knowledge, the majority of ITSM professionals are happy that they know enough about their business’s products and services, markets, and customers – with only 29% stating that they need to know more (see Figure 1). This is of course a self-assessment, but the business viewpoint would require a separate survey of non-IT personnel.

Figure 1: How would you rate your knowledge of your company’s products and services, markets, and customers?

 

The surveyed ITSM professionals were similarly bullish about what they know about their business’ goals and objectives, plus the role that IT and ITSM play in helping to deliver against them (see Figure 2).

The distribution of this question’s responses is very similar to that of Figure 1 except for the “I have a thorough understanding of my company’s operations” response-choice which lost 9% and the “I’m unhappy with how little I know and would like to know more” response-choice which gained 9% (in terms of responses). With this likely indicative of industry-wide issues in cascading business goals and objectives to those in operational roles within the IT organization which, unlike more operational knowledge, can be intentionally, or unintentionally, shielded from staff.

Figure 2: How would you rate your knowledge of your company’s business goals and objectives, and how you contribute to them?

 

Performance Measurement

While the term “performance measurement” might, for many, conjure up thoughts of operational and output-based metrics, there’s also a need to understand how the activities IT undertakes, and the services it delivers, impact business operations and results. It’s an extension of the first two survey questions but from a more granular, outcomes-focused perspective.

So how well does the average IT organization understand its influence on business operations and success?

Figure 3 shows that half of survey respondents feel that their IT organization needs to do more in this area, with just 13% of organizations having mapped all their IT services to business outcomes and another 25% happy that they have mapped enough.

The survey also highlighted that only 5% of respondents don’t think in IT-service terms which has to be a success measure of ITIL and other ITSM best practice approaches.

Figure 3: Does your IT organization understand how its IT services support business operations and success?

 

However, some of the above mentioned 38% of survey respondents, that have mapped their IT services to business outcomes, still measure their success using traditional IT and ITSM metrics. With only 9% of all the survey respondents stating that their IT organization performance is measured using business-success-related metrics in addition to traditional ITSM KPIs. Another 13% are working on such metrics (see Figure 4).

Thus, unlike with the first two survey questions, where respondents stated that they understand about their business, the majority stated that their IT organization is still measuring its performance using traditional ITSM KPIs:

  • 38% measure traditional KPIs – volumes, process efficiency, costs, etc.
  • 36% have some basic performance measures that they need to improve upon
  • 3% don’t need to measure their performance

Figure 4: How do you measure the IT organization’s performance?

 

What IT Costs and Value Demonstration

Only 4% of survey respondents think that business colleagues view IT costs as optimized and offering great value for money (see Figure 5). Another 24% think that the cost of IT is acceptable to business colleagues. However, the majority, over two-thirds, of survey respondents think that business colleagues perceive IT as costing too much:

  • 37% of respondents think that their IT organization needs to do more to justify what it spends on IT
  • 20% think that their IT organization has worked to bring down its costs but still needs to do more
  • 14% think that IT costs way too much

Figure 5: How do you think business colleagues perceive the overall cost of IT?

 

While cost is an important yardstick for IT organizations, for many, questions and scrutiny around the business value that the money spent on IT services are increasing.

When asked about their understanding of how the money invested in IT services, each and every year, generates business value, only 13% of survey respondents stated that they know exactly how their IT organization’s annual investment in IT positively impacts their business. A further 21% stated that they roughly know which IT services help to increase revenue and customer satisfaction.

Nearly one third of respondents stated that they’re starting to link IT expenditure to business value, which is testament to the growing focus on business value over costs.

The final third stated that their IT organizations have no insight in the business value of IT. And, thankfully only 3% of respondents stated that their IT organizations are only interested in IT value for money.

While this might seem a relatively healthy position, the results shown in Figure 4 relative to performance measures still being solely “traditional” are an obvious disconnect between aspirational end states and the current status quo.

Figure 6: Do you know how IT spend helps to generate business value (revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction/retention)?

 

Customer-Centricity

The term “customer” has long been a point of contention for IT organizations. From the old-school obliviousness of the importance of “outside-in” thinking to the ongoing debates over whether end users are customers of the IT organization (because they don’t directly pay for the IT services they use/consume).

In many ways the term used is irrelevant – end user, customer, consumer, business colleague, business user, or something else – with the focus and level of service and support provided (by the IT organization) the really important thing. After all, one IT organization could call the people they “serve” end users and deliver a great service. While another might call them customers and deliver a poor service.

Interestingly, and pleasingly, 95% of survey respondents stated that they view the people they serve, within their parent organization, as their customers (see Figure 7).

Figure 7: Who do you consider, and therefore treat as, a customer?

 

So, end users are treated as customers but how well are they actually treated?

In particular in terms of setting, managing, and meeting their expectations. Figure 8 shows that the survey respondents offer a far-wider spectrum of expectation management levels than the previous statistic would suggest. With only 21% of survey respondents always ensuring that their end users/customers know what can be done and by when.

One third of respondents “sometimes try” to ensure that expectations are managed – which sounds somewhat “hit or miss.” With logic implying that “sometimes managing customer expectations” means that expectations are not effectively managed.

Whereas another 38% of respondents stated that expectation management is something that they need to get better at. Worryingly though, 8% of survey respondents stated that they don’t know their customers’ expectations so are unable to set and manage them.

Figure 8: How well do you set and manage your customers’ expectations of IT?

 

Business Impact of IT Issues

There’s an IT industry adage that “There’s no such thing as IT issues, only business issues” – reflecting the increasing dependency of business operations on IT services. After all, logic dictates that if an issue with an IT service – even if small – doesn’t somehow affect business operations (including employee personal productivity), then surely that IT service isn’t needed (with the obvious caveat that some issues only impact business operations at certain points in time).

The good news is that the majority of survey respondents understand the impact of IT issues on business operations. 52% stated that they understand that even small IT issues can affect personal/business productivity and another 36% are very aware of the business impact of major incidents.

Figure 9: How well do you understand the adverse impact of IT outages on business operations?

 

While this is a positive attribute for IT organizations, and their staff, knowing the impact of IT issues surely needs to involve some form of quantification. For instance, what IT issues cost the business in financial, customer retention, brand management, or other terms.

When the survey takers were asked about the business cost of incidents and IT outages, it brought back a considerably different viewpoint (see Figure 10). Only 40% of survey respondents were very aware of the business costs of IT issues, while 50% were only aware of the IT costs and not the business costs.

Figure 10: How well do you understand the cost of incidents and IT outages?

 

Conclusion

The ITSM.tools survey highlighted both good IT organization, and staff, attributes and areas for improvement. These can be split, in a rudimentary way, between “thinking, perhaps knowing, what’s right” and actually doing what they think is right.

For example, that:

  • The majority of ITSM professionals are happy that they know enough about their business’ operations, but half of them are unaware of the business costs of IT issues.
  • 39% of ITSM professionals would like to know more about business goals and strategies but don’t.
  • Despite the obvious focus on, and importance of, “knowing about the business,” IT success measures are generally still internally focused.
  • Less than one-third of ITSM professionals think that business colleagues view IT costs as acceptable but what’s being done to change this perception (or reality)?
  • 95% of ITSM professionals treat their business colleagues as customers but only 21% always ensure that their expectations are managed.

It’s yet another disconnect that the IT industry continues to live with. A disconnect that that will continue to act as a barrier to the internal IT organization being able to sufficiently demonstrate that it’s in tune with business want and needs, and able to consistently deliver against them in a value-adding way.

Not everyone makes the final cut of the increasingly popular IT service management (ITSM) “thought leaders” or “social influencer” lists. You’ve probably seen the lists that I’m talking about – a list of 20 or 25 people that are “worth a follow” on social media, created by people who may or may not actually pay any attention to the social exploits of the people they list (go figure!).

Thus, like anything in life, the lists, and their entries, span the spectrum of “great” to “meh.” In that they sometimes can get it right and sometimes you’re left wondering (it’s best that I leave it at that). Plus, there’s always people who miss the cut, even when it’s a longer list.

The Politics of ITSM People Lists

But sometimes it can be more complicated than just missing the cut – with other factors coming into play. For instance, being too anti-establishment, working for a competitor (to the list-creating company), not tweeting enough (but IMO there’s definitely a case for quality over quantity), not creating personal content to point people to, or simply being a puppet (you know who you are!).

So, this post is “doing the ITSM industry a solid” by highlighting some of the unsung ITSM social media heroes; who should be followed for their Twitter sharing, blogging, or both.

20 People Who Should Make ITSM “Top Social Influencer” Lists but Often Don’t

Before you ask, they’re listed in surname-based alphabetical order. Plus, of course, some of these people will have been listed in certain “Top X” industry lists but they’re still worth calling out here:

  1. Aprill Allen – Aprill is an independent knowledge management consultant who has probably forgotten more about knowledge management than most people know. She also blogs here.
  2. Scarlett Bayes – Scarlett is SDI’s resident industry analyst and has an ever-growing insight into the current state of IT service desks and where they’re heading. She also blogs on the SDI website as well as authoring SDI’s reports.
  3. Sally Bogg – Sally is an IT manager at Leeds Beckett University who seems to be presenting, and sharing what she knows, at nigh on every UK ITSM event these days (from where she will also tweet ITSM nuggets).
  4. Daniel Breston – Daniel is a consultant at Virtual Clarity and a prolific sharer of other people’s ITSM content on Twitter (and LinkedIn). He’s also a regular webinar-giver and blogger with the blog-love spread across various sites. Here’s an example.
  5. Matthew Burrows – Matthew is a well-respected advisor on SFIA, BSM, ITSM, SIAM, and transformation who shares content related to ITSM skills on Twitter. He also provides a monthly article to ITSM.tools – here’s an example. (You might see a trend here – I haven’t deliberately picked ITSM.tools article contributors, we’re just lucky to receive content from a lot of great people).
  6. Rob England – you might be surprised to see The IT Skeptic on this list. He’s a prolific tweeter (albeit not always on IT matters), book author, and blogger (and the owner of a very popular blog site). Maybe his conscious move to sharing opinions, ideas, and content on DevOps in particular has removed the ITSM-list focus?
  7. Ken Gonzalez – Ken, or Kengon to his friends, has been swallowed into the belly of Gartner but he still tweets a bit (and enough to earn an ITSM follow). If you want to read his stuff though, you’ll need a Gartner subscription.
  8. Joe the IT Guy – Joe is the resident blog writer and IT Guy at SysAid, plus one of the most prolific ITSM tweeters and bloggers out there. You can read Joe’s weekly ITSM blog here.
  9. Jon Hall – like Joe, Jon is vendor-employed tweeter and a blogger with his “day job” being a product manager at BMC. He has two main blogging outlets: Medium (personal, but still about IT) and BMC blogs (employer).
  10. Matt Laurenceau – Matt is a BMC colleague of Jon, in a community manager role, and can be found on Twitter and Medium, plus probably many other social networks that are too cool for me.
  11. Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord – Nancy is President, TOPdesk USA and regular tweeter and blogger – for the TOPdesk blog and other sites (including CIO.com and ITSM.tools).
  12. Ivor Macfarlane – Ivor is an ITSM industry legend but isn’t the most prolific of tweeters. He does, however, offer up his thoughts, knowledge, and opinions via various blog sites. Here’s an example (and hopefully his semi-retirement will bring with it many more ITSM blogs).
  13. Kirstie Magowan – Kirstie is a content developer at GoToMarketers. She tweets lots and blogs regularly too, including for IT Chronicles.
  14. Simon Morris – Simon is an enterprise architect at ServiceNow and all-round helper of others (in life and at work). While Simons tweets might be a little too political for some, although it makes a refreshing change for someone not to be constantly tweeting “Our ITSM tool is sooo great,” his blogs are brilliant. Here’s an example and expect more from Simon on ITSM.tools as he gets back into a regular blogging cadence. UPDATE: Simon now has an additional, technology-focused, Twitter account.
  15. Vawns Murphy – Vawns is a Problem and Change Manager at Micro Focus, i.e. a real ITSM “doer.” Vawns is social in bursts but still worth a Twitter follow and her blogs are good reads.
  16. Sanjeev NC – Sanjeev is solutions consultant/product evangelist at Freshworks and an increasingly-frequent presenter at global ITSM events. He loves to blog, with his helpful words posted on Medium, the Freshservice blog, and ITSM.tools.
  17. Greg Sanker – Greg is CIO at Oregon Department of Administrative Services and a book author. He tweets some absolute gems about change management and ITSM’s value, although Greg does need to up his blogging game 😊
  18. Kevin Smith – Kevin is an SVP at Ivanti and an ITSM book writer. Like Greg, Kevin tweets stuff that makes you stop to think about the ITSM status quo. Kevin’s content can be found on the Ivanti blog.
  19. Doug Tedder – Doug is an independent IT consultant who is a frequent Twitter sharer of content. He also regularly blogs on his own blog as well as other popular ITSM blog sites.
  20. Duncan Watkins – Duncan is an ITSM/IT-focused consultant at Forrester, a frequent presenter at ITSM events, and a BCS Service Management Specialist Group Committee Member. He can write too – if only Forrester allowed him time to blog!
  21. Paul Wilkinson – Paul is a founder and director of Gamingworks, a company that develops business simulations that support organizational change. Paul is great at sharing on Twitter as well as being a frequent blogger (on the people side of ITSM) and a regular presenter at global ITSM events.

So that’s my list of 20 (OK, it’s now 21) people who should make more ITSM “Top Social Influencer” lists. Who would you add (and they really do need to regularly tweet and/or blog)? Please let me know in the comments.

What the future of IT service management (ITSM) holds is one thing. But what your organization’s ITSM future will look like is another. This post captures some of the key points from a half-day event, hosted by Freshservice, that was entitled “Choosing Your ITSM Future.” This included two panels, as described below, plus presentations from Stuart Rance and myself:

  • “How the Changing Landscape Demands New Approaches,” with: Andrew Humphrey, Head of Service Management, Auto Trader UK; Stuart Rance, Consultant, Trainer, Author, Optimal Service Management; and Simon McKenzie, IT Service Delivery Manager, Premier Foods.
  • “Chatbots & AI/ML – a Consideration for Now or Later?” with: Steve Morgan, Director, Syniad IT; Venkat Balasubramanian, Senior Director, Product Management, Freshservice; and Duncan Watkins, Senior Consultant, Forrester

So please read on for 20 tips on creating your organization’s ITSM future (plus who provided them).

20 Tips for Creating Your ITSM Future

  1. “Knowing what the future might look like is one thing but getting there is another… There’s a need to focus on: what to change, what to change to, and how to make the change happen” ~ Stuart Rance
  2. “Successful modern companies might be reliant on technology, but their real differentiator is their laser-like focus on the customer” ~ Stuart Rance
  3. Think beyond ITIL processes. In fact, “The new version of ITIL will move away from a focus on processes to a focus on creating value for customers” ~ Stuart Rance
  4. “Understanding what matters to your customer and delivering on this is worth more than service level agreements (SLAs) alone” ~ Andrew Humphrey
  5. When looking to improve: “Don’t focus on the technology channel, focus on the customer experience” ~ Stuart Rance
  6. “Think about emerging technologies in terms of how they can contribute to what you’re doing, not just as technology” ~ Duncan Watkins
  7. “If a vendor talks to you about artificial intelligence (AI), ask them exactly what they mean” ~ Duncan Watkins
  8. People and process need to be in alignment with new technologies. For instance, if a live service desk agent asks the same questions that the customer has just answered for the chatbot, then it’s a big IT support fail” ~ Steve Morgan
  9. In terms of AI and chatbot success, get your knowledge management right: “Preparedness for AI and chatbots is currently stifled by the lack of knowledge management success in ITSM” and “Without the foundations of a good knowledge base it’s hard to take advantage of technologies like AI and machine learning” ~ Steve Morgan

  10. “Clever organizations are investing in knowledge management to improve chatbots” ~ Duncan Watkins
  11. “You should be experimenting and learning with AI and machine learning now if you don’t want your organization to be left behind” ~ Duncan Watkins

  12. “Machine learning can help incident routing if you have a good data set” ~ Venkat Balasubramanian
  13. But beware: “Bias in your data can cause huge problems for machine learning” ~ Duncan Watkins
  14. In terms of getting to your ITSM future, “Five things that will help to make change happen: Agile, Lean, DevOps, ITIL Practitioner, and the Theory of Constraints (ToC)” ~ Stuart Rance
  15. Importantly, organizations “…should be adopting agile service management, not just agile software development” ~ Stuart Rance. (Where Agile is a more flexible and rapid approach to work that can deliver improvements in ITSM quality, as well as offering the ability to respond quickly to changing business needs)
  16. In the context of ITSM, the most important aspects of Lean are: identifying the end-to-end value chain(s) that you are part of; ensuring that everything you do creates value for customers; and eliminating waste in every activity, reducing process steps to the bare minimum needed to create value ~ Stuart Rance
  17. The core DevOps principles can and should be applied to ITSM ~ Stuart Rance (find out more here)
  18. ITIL Practitioner’s nine guiding principles will help to bring about future-driving change: focus on value, design for experience, start where you are, work holistically, progress iteratively, observe directly, be transparent, collaborate, and keep it simple ~ Stuart Rance (find out more about the nine principles here)
  19. “Use the TOC steps to: 1. identify the constraint, 2. exploit the constraint, 3. subordinate everything else to the constraint, and 4. elevate the constraint before going back to step 1.” ~ Stuart Rance
  20. “Organizations need to have an ITSM tool that meets their most important needs, and how to get it right hasn’t changed much since I wrote this in 2012” ~ Me. So:
  • “Think about what you really need from an ITSM tool
  • Step back to think about what you need to accomplish with it from a business outcome, not an IT operations, perspective
  • Limit yourself to what you will realistically use, both now and in the future
  • Push the envelope in terms of what would really help deliver benefits to your business rather than trying to pander to the god of ITSM trends
  • Consider how the people actually using the tool will be helped or hindered by complexity as well as the UI.” ~ a quote from “50 Shards of ITIL – The Bane And Pain Of ITSM Tool Selection,” Forrester (2012).

So, that’s twenty tips for helping to create your organization’s ITSM future. It’s in no way exhaustive, just a list of wise things that were said by people on the day. What would you add? Please let me know in the comments.

In an earlier article, I wrote about the wealth of benefits available from knowledge management. It should be a win-win for everyone involved. However, for a variety of reasons (let’s call them barriers and mistakes), IT service management (ITSM) organizations and their IT service desks struggle to get knowledge management right.

The common barriers (to knowledge management success) can be split into different groupings. For instance:

  • Start-up barriers – the things that prevent knowledge-sharing initiatives from delivering a workable ecosystem and/or making an initial impact
  • Day-to-day operational barriers – the things that prevent people from actively using or sharing knowledge.

This article looks at both of these, offering help, plus the issues related to people, process, technology, and scale.

Start-up barriers

Good examples of start-up barriers include:

  • Not having a shared understanding what knowledge management is and entails – as with many IT and organizational “disciplines,” it’s all-too-easy for different people to have different views as to what needs to be involved with knowledge sharing.
  • Focusing on the ease of knowledge capture over the ease of knowledge use – but the bottom line is that an organization can have the best knowledge capture, organization, and management capabilities in the world, but it will amount to little if people can’t and/or don’t use (and reuse) the available knowledge.
  • Not appreciating how hard knowledge management can be – as with any other organizational change that involves people, organizational change management (OCM) tools and techniques are needed to help transform both cultural aspects and the ways of working. But the act of knowledge “extraction,” i.e. capturing what people know, is also complicated, as described in the next subsection.

These three barriers need addressing, with a good place to start being the following good practices.

5 must-dos for starting your organization’s knowledge journey right

So, what should your IT support organization do when starting out with, or trying to improve, its knowledge sharing capabilities?

It needs to address the three barriers outlined above as a minimum. This can be achieved through the following five knowledge management “must-dos”:

  1. Get people on the same page. As already mentioned, different people will have different views as to what knowledge management is (and isn’t). For instance, while ITIL v3 offers knowledge management as a discrete ITSM process, people need to appreciate that it’s really an organizational capability built from people, process, and technology.
  2. Focus on knowledge exploitation over management. While “knowledge management” is the accepted term for what’s needed (for successful knowledge sharing), there’s also the need to ensure that the real focus is on exploiting knowledge rather than simply on its collection, storage, and management.
  3. Make your knowledge management initiative about people change. Knowledge management requires a change in mindsets and behaviors. The introduction of new (knowledge management) technology alone won’t bring about the changes required for successful knowledge sharing. Sadly, this has been proven time and time again – so focus on the required people change first.
  4. Dont do half a job with OCM (or, even worse, neglect it). Your knowledge sharing initiative will most likely fail without a suitable investment in people/organizational change management. In particular, in the removal of the resistance that results from the common barriers to change – including the fear of the unknown. So, invest in “bringing people along” – selling the change (including the “What’s in it for me?”), communicating key activities and milestones, and the necessary levels of education and training.
  5. Understand the complexities of accurately capturing knowledge. So, taking the “tacit” knowledge that’s in our heads and “creating” explicit knowledge – the documented version of it. Research into real-world knowledge management achievements has concluded that this is complicated and, in particular, that:
      • People always know more than they can say, and they will always say more than they can write down
      • The way people know things is not the way they report they know things
      • People only know what they know when they need to know it, and
      • Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted.

Exploiting existing and potential knowledge

The insight and advice offered above will only get your organization so far in terms of creating the right environment for knowledge management and exploitation. It allows the foundations for successful knowledge sharing to be created but there’s much more that needs to be addressed to ensure that knowledge is successfully shared (and used) on an ongoing basis.

There are both day-to-day and “growth” barriers related to:

  • People and process, and
  • Technology and scale.

Dealing with People and Process Issues

So, your organization has done everything possible to ensure that people have so far bought in to a new, knowledge-sharing, way of working. But things can still go wrong from a people and process perspective. For example, that:

  • Knowledge management is treated as a separate process or activity (relative to day-to-day operations) – with it potentially seen as something that’s done in addition to the “real” This will inhibit both the capture of new knowledge and the automatic use of existing knowledge.
  • Traditional employee performance measures dont reflect the new way of working – and, as a result, knowledge sharing is held back by the organizational encouragement of “the wrong types of employee behavior.”
  • Knowledge articles are too much – with their authors providing everything they know (related to a subject) rather than just what the reader needs to quickly get to the required resolution. Ultimately, long – and potentially bloated – knowledge articles are just not helpful to knowledge-seekers and are a surefire way of preventing knowledge use and reuse.

Thankfully, each of these can be addressed through the application of knowledge-sharing good practices, including:

  1. Embedding knowledge sharing into business-as-usual activities. If this isn’t done, the required knowledge sharing activities will be delayed or dropped. Knowledge access (and use) will be something that’s done as a secondary or tertiary activity, rather than as a primary. And activities such as knowledge article creation will be “saved for later” in the day and potentially lost to “more important work.”
  2. Revising employee performance management frameworks to drive knowledge-sharing behaviors. Your organization’s people management frameworks need to reflect the importance of knowledge-sharing to each of individual, team, and business success. So, ensure that the revised set of metrics drive the right staff behaviors – and not the wrong ones.
  3. Focusing on brief articles, or answers, not overly-long knowledge dumps. Understanding that sometimes “less is more” – especially from the reader’s perspective. They just want a quick solution to their immediate need. Think of this more as “answer management” than knowledge management. And that the positive outcome of knowledge sharing is not the creation of “War and Peace”-length articles but the use and reuse of focused, and thus easy to consume, pieces of help.
  4. Appreciating that knowledge sharing might be people, rather than text, based. While it’s great to capture and share text-based knowledge articles, it’s not always the best way to help people with their needs. Sometimes people are best pointed to other people (who can quickly help). For example, highlighting an available subject matter expert (SME) rather than requiring the searcher to trawl through thousands of captured words (in a knowledge article). This is now something that’s aided by AI and the creation of people “knowledge profiles” based on the work they undertake. So, this is what people actually know rather than what they think they know (and people might be SMEs without even realizing). It also becomes more relevant as organizations grow and personal-relationship “spheres” become relatively smaller.

Dealing with technology and scale issues

There are also knowledge sharing issues and barriers related to the scope and suitability of knowledge-sharing technology. Plus, the added complexity of change over time – whether this is related to the continued relevance of existing knowledge articles, the changing habits of employees, or organizational growth. These include that:

  • ITSM tools offer knowledge bases rather than fit-for-purpose knowledge-sharing capabilities – and while the traditional ITSM-based technology definitely helps, a managed data repository (MDR)-approach will only deliver part of the required, and optimal, organizational knowledge-sharing capabilities.
  • Traditional knowledge management capabilities require end users to “do the leg work” – i.e. employees must seek out the help/knowledge they require, with it often only available in a single place (a self-service portal). Thus, accessing knowledge is a deliberate employee act that requires a focused effort.
  • ITSM tool knowledge-sharing capabilities aren’t evolving to match consumer-world innovations – employees now expect corporate IT and services to match their personal-life experiences and expectations. Consumer-world mobile apps, social networks, self-service/help, live chat, chatbots, and other consumer-world capabilities will all drive employee expectations of knowledge sharing.
  • Knowledge bases can become the place where corporate knowledge “goes to die” – and it’s something that’s compounded when organizations overly focus on knowledge capture, and neglect knowledge use (and thus its real value).
  • Organizations that continue to struggle with knowledge sharing will also struggle with AI exploitation – as the evolution of knowledge sharing enters its third phase. Progressing from the sharing of knowledge between IT support peers (Phase 1), through the availability of knowledge via self-service/help mechanisms (Phase 2), to the need for knowledge, information, and data to fuel AI capabilities (Phase 3).

Each of these can be addressed through the application of knowledge-sharing good practices and new approaches, including:

  1. Appreciating that there’s a need to supplement native ITSM tool capabilities. It’s not a decision that needs to be taken as a leap of faith. Instead, organizations that understand the value of knowledge – in particular how its use, and reuse, creates value (as well as saving costs) – can show the positive return on investment (ROI) of such an approach.
  2. Introducing additional ways to offer knowledge to employees as and when they need it. There has traditionally been two employee access points to (formally documented) knowledge. Firstly, MDRs – the knowledge base(s) – that were initially made available to IT staff and then extended, usually with different articles, to end users via self-service portals. Secondly, ITSM tools introduced in-ticket (and in-portal) knowledge features to automatically provide relevant knowledge as the employee types the need. From an end-user perspective, this still requires them to “go somewhere” to seek help (and knowledge) rather than having the knowledge come to them. With the latter mirroring what employees are now increasingly experiencing, and expecting, in their personal lives.
  3. Augmenting “basic” knowledge management technology with additional capabilities. Existing ITSM tools might already have some features that do this. For example, read-counters, end-user feedback mechanisms (such as “thumbs up/down” or “this is out of date,” and date-driven update flags. But technology can also do so much more to help – in particular using AI and machine learning. From identifying knowledge gaps to the automatic creation of new knowledge. And the technology not only increases the volume of knowledge articles, it will also help to ensure that knowledge stays relevant (and thus useful).
  4. Taking a consumer, rather than supplier, based approach. This is understanding that “size (or volume) isn’t everything.” Not just in providing easy-to-consume answers over potentially-bloated knowledge articles but also applying the “Pareto Principle.” This is that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes,” with 80% of end-user issues potentially covered by just 20% of knowledge of articles. This 20% should thus be the focus of early, and ongoing, knowledge efforts.
  5. Finally tackling organizational issues related to knowledge sharing. It’s something that will pays dividends now, but it’s also a must-do for the future. As already mentioned, AI technology will need knowledge, information, and data to work effectively.

So, all this hopefully gets you to where your It organization needs to be now. But what about the future and the growing importance of knowledge management? What do you need to do to prepare for this? If you’ve been following this series, then you’ll know what’s coming… you’ll need to wait for my next article or alternatively you can read a paper I wrote for Kaleo Software: “Prepare Your IT Service Desk for Its Knowledge-Powered Future Now.” This is available on the Kaleo website now.

There’s an old adage that: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s not something that’s totally applicable to knowledge management but, as the statistics I share in this article show, there can be a gap between the expected benefits (from knowledge management) and the ease of their real-world realization. With this, as with many other aspects of IT service management (ITSM), dependent on geography and the local focus on, and support for, various good practices. For instance, North America has been a leading adopter of the Knowledge-Centered Service (previously Knowledge-Centered Support, KCS) methodology and is thus a leader in knowledge exploitation in the context of ITSM and the IT service desk.

The statistics included below show the current state of knowledge management in North America (the HDI statistics), with UK statistics (from the Service Desk Institute (SDI)) providing a different view. The commentary is my own…

Organizations value the benefits of knowledge management

The HDI 2017 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report shows that knowledge management is the second-most adopted ITSM processes for IT support organizations (out of 22 possible process options):

The ITSM Processes Most Adopted by Support Centers


Source: HDI 2017 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report (2017)
Note – not all support centers use the term “incident management”

Organizations are investing in knowledge management technology

The HDI report also analyzes the technologies used to provide IT support. It shows that only 5% of support organization aren’t interested in knowledge management technology:

  • We use it and have no plans to replace or update it – 54%
  • We use it but are planning to replace/update it – 28%
  • We’re planning to add it – 13%
  • We don’t use it and we have no plans to add it – 5%

This is echoed in another of the report’s question which asks about the must-have technologies for providing successful IT support (out of 25 possible technology options). Here knowledge management technology is second, only behind incident management technology:

The Must-Have Technologies for Support Centers


Source: HDI 2017 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report (2017)

Reaping the benefits of knowledge management

The same HDI report states that 15% of support organizations saw a decrease in ticket volume over the previous year. Two of the top three drivers of this involved knowledge:

  1. Self-help – 42% (which is fueled by knowledge)
  2. Staff competency – 34%
  3. Knowledge base – 29%

Knowledge management was also cited as the third most important factor in increasing customer satisfaction (out of 26 options/factors):

  1. Staff competency/training – 58%
  2. Availability of support – 41%
  3. Knowledge management – 37%

While these are both great news for the benefits of knowledge management, the first statistic also begs the questions as to why only 15% of support organizations saw a decrease in ticket volumes – is this due to greater business/technology volumes and complexity or is there still a need for organizations to get better at knowledge management and exploitation?

To help consider this, HDI’s analysis of organizations’ knowledge use (and reuse) shows a spectrum of success in terms of the percentage of tickets resolved using a knowledge base article/document:

The Percentage of Tickets Resolved Using Knowledge Management

Percentage of Tickets
Percentage of Organizations
Cumulative Percentage
1-5%
11%
11%
6-10%
12%
23%
11-30%
19%
41%
31-50%
12%
53%
51-70%
17%
70%
71-90%
19%
89%
91-100%
11%
100%
Source: HDI 2017 Technical Support Practices & Salary Report (2017)

Based on the above table, 41% of respondents are using knowledge for less than a third of tickets, while 11% of respondents are using knowledge for more than 90% of tickets.

Please note that this doesn’t include the 18% of respondents who stated that their organization doesn’t currently use a knowledge management technology.

Highlighting geographical differences in knowledge management

The SDI Service Desk Benchmarking Report 2017 shows a lower level of knowledge management technology adoption in the UK (than in North America):

  • Knowledge bases – 69%
  • Online self-help – 55%

It also takes a different perspective to measuring knowledge management success – asking the question: “Are knowledge base systems too difficult to implement and maintain on your service desk?” With the following results which show that 37% of respondents are still struggling with just the technology – even before considering any people-related issues related to knowledge sharing, use, and reuse:

Are Knowledge Base Systems Too Difficult to Implement and Maintain?

 
2013
2015
2017
Strongly disagree
19%
14%
15%
Disagree
53%
53%
48%
Agree
19%
33%
35%
Strongly agree
8%
0%
2%
Source: SDI, Service Desk Benchmarking Report (2017)

What do these statistics mean?

There are both positive and negative conclusions to be taken from the above statistics. On the positive side:

  • Most service desks understand the value of knowledge and its exploitation
  • Most service desks appreciate that technology is needed to best exploit knowledge
  • Knowledge exploitation is demonstrably shown to reduce service desk workloads (ticket volumes) and improve customer satisfaction
  • Some organizations are reaping the benefits of knowledge.

However, there are many negatives too:

  • More organizations should be getting more from their investment in knowledge management (across people, process, and technology)
  • More Level 1 tickets should be resolved using knowledge, and this also extends to more end-user issues being addressed via self help
  • Traditional knowledge management technology – the capabilities offered by ITSM tools – can be difficult to use (effectively)
  • The absence of knowledge management methodologies, such as KSC, outside of North America (plus inside North America) means that knowledge article creation is often unplanned and neglects the wealth of content already captured in tickets
  • Knowledge needs to be more than “available” – from being easy to find to its ease of consumption. For instance, focused short-form content over technology-led “brain dumps” – this is returned to shortly
  • There are other common factors holding organizations back from knowledge-sharing success.

So, while knowledge management already delivers benefits to IT service desks, it could deliver so much more – both in terms of more organizations succeeding with knowledge sharing and the extent of that success. As to why this is, you’ll need to wait for my next article or alternatively you can read a paper I wrote for Kaleo Software: “Prepare Your IT Service Desk for Its Knowledge-Powered Future Now.” This is available on the Kaleo website now.

Digital transformation seems to be at the top of every CIO’s 2018 agenda. As to what it is and entails – it depends on who you ask. However, digital transformation can be boiled down into three core components:

  1. The introduction of new products and services (and thus revenue streams) based on both technology and data exploitation. These new products add to one or more of corporate reach, competitiveness, and financial success.
  2. The improvement of customer engagement mechanisms. To improve the customer experience across the customer lifecycle – from the initial “product investigation” touchpoints, through customer conversion, to retention, growth, and loyalty. This helps to “stick” customers to products and services and thus the company.
  3. The improvement of back-office operations, in particular modernizing antiquated manual procedures. This “third element” of digital transformation underpins both aforementioned customer-facing elements.

And, without the third element, the first two can be considered tantamount to sticking go-faster stripes on a horse and cart. Why? Because the corporate back-office operations’ processes are unfit for purpose. Most likely manually intensive, error strewn, slow, and with a lack of visibility into performance and success (or failure).

Eating the digital transformation elephant one bite at a time

The full scope of digital transformation is a massive undertaking, and something that requires an enterprise-wide strategy and approach. However, organizations can take advantage of a quick win, building on what they already have at their disposal – IT service management (ITSM). With the corporate ITSM tool already offering many of the capabilities required to meet the back-office improvement needs of digital transformation.

Think of it as: enterprise service management through a digital transformation lens.

But the quick win needs the right foundations to be in place

In using enterprise service management to deliver against back-office digital transformation needs, organizations must understand:

  • The need for back-office digital transformation
  • The importance of people and people change to digital transformation
  • The benefits of the application of enterprise service management to back-office digital transformation
  • The key ITSM tool capabilities for enabling back-office digital transformation.

The latter of which can be viewed in a number of ways, and I’ve chosen to select the following five key capabilities – they might not be what you’d have thought of.

5 key ITSM tool capabilities that better enable back-office digital transformation

These are:

  1. A well-designed user experience
  2. Automation and orchestration, including newer automation technologies
  3. Multipurpose knowledge management
  4. Consumer-like support services such as self-service, multi-device access, and the introduction of new support technologies
  5. The ability to change to match business needs.

And as to what each of these entails, I’ll be explaining in a webinar on the 14th June called “5 Key Ways Your ITSM Tool Must Support Digital Transformation” – please click here to find out more about the presentation. For example…

The ability to change to match business needs

Any good ITSM tool will be flexible enough to bend itself to a business’ needs, rather than expecting the customer to change corporate ways of working – and expectations – to those of the tool. This is even more true when viewed from a back-office digital transformation perspective, with capabilities requiring flexibility across a number of business functions and their respective needs and peculiarities.

So, ensure that your ITSM tool is fit-for-purpose across the following areas:

  • Enterprise service management table stakes. The use of an ITSM tool by other business functions shouldn’t be a force fit and/or a long list of compromises. Instead, it should be built for multiple use-case extensions.
  • Configuration and customization (for each business function). In back-office digital transformation scenarios, the ability to change out-of-the-box parameters – such as workflows, form fields, and dashboards and reporting capabilities – is incredibly important to delivering a solution that other business functions, and the people they serve, will want to use.
  • Back-office digital transformation requires even greater integration capabilities to allow for the wide variety of systems employed by each business function being transformed.
  • Bespoke app creation. The ability to create bespoke apps to meet unique organizational needs will benefit both the back-office digital transformation business case and execution.
  • Support for service integration and management (SIAM). While this might be perceived only as a need for the largest of organizations, and their IT organizations, right now – there’s no reason why SIAM best practice won’t eventually be applicable to smaller organizations and different business functions.

If you want to hear more on the above – I’ll be talking for about 40 minutes, going deeper into each on the five outlined ITSM tool capabilities, in the “5 Key Ways Your ITSM Tool Must Support Digital Transformation” webinar.  Please click here to sign up.

The art, or science, of the organizational capability known as “knowledge management” is already over two decades old. Its benefits are easy to quantify and articulate, yet many organizations still struggle to get knowledge management right. This is true across all corporate business functions but it’s especially relevant for IT organizations, and their service desks, that are becoming increasingly reliant upon knowledge.

This is the first in a series of knowledge-related articles that together present a picture of the state of knowledge management in IT service management (ITSM) and, in particular, in the context of the IT service desk.

The power of knowledge sharing for ITSM and IT service desks

As already mentioned, knowledge management as a corporate capability is nothing new – having been initially fashionable at the end of the last century.

From an ITSM perspective, it was added as “a separate process that supports other ITSM processes” in ITIL v3 (published in June 2007). And prior to this, knowledge management was subsumed within the more-limited number of IT service delivery and support processes of ITIL v2.

In many ways, this separation of knowledge management from the day-to-day IT operations – even if just perceived as such – has been part of the issue for IT organizations struggling with knowledge-sharing success (and there’s more on this in later articles).

But putting the barriers to knowledge-sharing success to one side for now, there are so many ways in which IT service desks can, and will need to, benefit from knowledge management. Please read on for some examples…

18 benefits of knowledge exploitation

This subtitle is very deliberate – i.e. mentioning knowledge exploitation and not knowledge management – because the power of knowledge is aligned to its use, and exploitation, not to its management.

For example, a company could have the best knowledge identification, capture, organization, and management capabilities, but still struggle to exploit its collated knowledge – failing with its distribution. Why? Because the real value of knowledge is ultimately driven by its effective use and reuse.

Putting the semantics to one side for a moment, there are numerous benefits to be realized from knowledge sharing/management. These can be viewed through a number of different – yet overlapping – lenses, for instance:

A business outcomes lens:

1. Better outcomes through increased “collaboration,” especially when organizations grow in size and complexity
2. Lost productivity is minimized – from finding answers/solutions more quickly to the minimization of downtime (in an IT context)
3. Reduced operational costs – with quicker access to needed resources and decision making
4. Reduced duplication of effort and “wheel reinvention” thanks to knowledge reuse
5. Providing an infrastructure for innovation across team and functional boundaries.

An operational lens:

6. Greater consistency of operations and outcomes
7. Increased operational efficiency – from decisions through to actions
8. Increased operational effectiveness
9. Quicker problem solving and opportunity assessment
10. Maximum use of scarce people types and their knowledge
11. Providing a platform for improvement.

A people lens:

12. Empowering staff with collective knowledge – all staff know more than they personally know
13. Greater awareness of “the important things”
14. Reducing the risk and impact of employee (and their knowledge) loss
15. Quicker onboarding and training of new staff
16. Increased staff motivation and morale (because work is made easier).

A customer lens:

17. Better customer-level outcomes
18. A better customer experience (across speed, quality, and cost).

At this point, everything seems great – there’s this organizational capability called knowledge management that offers a multitude of benefits – “So, where can we buy it?”

Sadly, it’s not that simple and, in my next knowledge management article, I’ll explain why. If you can’t wait, then you can read more about the current state of knowledge sharing in a paper I wrote for Kaleo Software: “Prepare Your IT Service Desk for Its Knowledge-Powered Future Now.” This is available on the Kaleo website now.

An interesting thing happened in the IT service management (ITSM) industry last week. I wouldn’t have noticed, or even known about, it had it not been for a Back2ITSM post on Facebook that showed multiple examples of one ITSM tool vendor’s marketing (see the photo below), related Twitter posts, and then this blog post.

For me, the important thing for the ITSM industry is not what the advert below and other promotions say, or how they say it, but where this was and what it means. With the implications relating to far more than the advertiser (Freshworks) and the object of their marketing activity – a potential competitor (ServiceNow).

Before I continue, in the spirit of openness (or disclosure if you want to get all fancy), I need to state that I have worked for, and continue to do pieces of work for, both of these companies. And that I also do work for most of the well-known ITSM tool vendors.

So, what happened?

Now the above might just seem like a cheeky advert placed at Las Vegas airport’s taxi rank to grab the attention of the existing customers and prospects arriving for the ServiceNow Knowledge18 event. We’ve seen similar before – in fact, I was at an earlier Knowledge event when a competitor offered liveried-up rickshaw rides between buildings to the event attendees.

But it seems that these taxi-rank adverts were just the tip of the marketing iceberg for Freshworks at the Knowledge event. Not only was there advertising, they were also carrying out the marketing equivalent of “random acts of kindness.” (Yes, I know it’s not the right term – and maybe not an appropriate term – but it’s the best way I could describe what happened as Freshworks tried to raise its industry profile in a nice way).

In addition to the many taxi-rank adverts, event attendees:

  • Might have sat in Freshservice-liveried taxis as they were transported to the event
  • Were invited to an after party on the Monday evening
  • Were offered free meals in restaurants that were booked out by Freshworks
  • Invited to Starbucks for breakfast on the Tuesday morning
  • Were given Starbucks gift cards to have a (free) coffee on Freshworks
  • Would have seen both mobile and walking Freshservice electronic billboards.

It might have been an “aggressive” marketing campaign, but it looks to have been done in a non-aggressive way (as I said, a nice way). And as to the appropriateness of the campaign, it probably depends on your perspective. Some will hate it (and think it inappropriate), some will love it, some will like it but question its impact, some will find it mildly amusing, and other will just go “Meh!”

But as already mentioned, what happened at Knowledge18 is not as important as what it potentially means for the ITSM industry. In particular, the ITSM tools market.

What Freshwork’s Knoweldge18 marketing campaign means (for the ITSM tool market)

There are two obvious points to make from where I sit (and I don’t just mean at my desk).

Firstly, Freshworks has always had money to spend and now it looks as though it will be spending more of it on ITSM-based marketing. I didn’t see the full extent of Freshwork’s Knowledge18 campaign (as I wasn’t there) but, as with most marketing efforts, it was probably a serious chunk of change dropped to raise the profile of both Freshworks and Freshservice in the ITSM community.

With an expected 18,000 people attending Knowledge18 (including ServiceNow and partner/sponsor staff) – making it the largest gathering of service management (and ITSM) professionals in the world – there were certainly a lot of ITSM-interested eyeballs to catch (whether the eyeball-owners were looking for an alternative ITSM tool or not).

Secondly, Freshworks has started to make an attempt to go up against the largest and most successful ITSM tool provider in the enterprise space (and my apologies to ServiceNow who might find this description limiting). Which I think signifies that Freshworks is moving beyond its traditional hunting ground (of smaller organizations with the occasional big win) to actively target larger customers who might otherwise choose one of the many ITSM tool vendors that currently sell to the mid-market up.

It would be interesting if this worries ServiceNow. It would also be interesting what other ITSM tool vendors make of Freshwork’s marketing campaign at Knowledge18. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of when a relatively young software-as-a-service (SaaS) ITSM company was gaining market awareness, and large customers. From where it built what would eventually become a multi-billion-dollar/year company that’s still growing.

Have I read too much into Freshworks Knowledge18 marketing campaign?

Obviously, I could be adding two and two to make five, but what else would drive such a marketing campaign? Especially one that’s so public and with “no way back” without a certain level of humiliation (unless this is played as a bit of fun).

Freshworks could have kept it simple (and made the lives of its Freshservice marketing team simpler). They could have continued to sell Freshservice to the existing customers of the Freshdesk product (a help desk for external customer support). Or they could have aggressively targeted the customers of one or more ITSM tools vendors that have “lost their way in the ITSM space.”

But they didn’t. They instead aimed directly at the market leader. Which, unless it’s a case of firing once and running (to hide), has to be an indication of an ambition beyond their current focus and levels of customer success.

Think about your IT service desk for a moment – how well is it faring as the business and IT landscapes rapidly change around it? How many of the common IT service desk issues does it suffer from? It wouldn’t be alone in struggling with some all of the following:

The incessant need to deliver more with less

Many of these common challenges can be bundled into the “doing more with less,” or “delivering more with less,” mantra that IT service desks have been subject to for what seems at least a decade.

Which, with further consideration, can be distilled down into an example of: “Faster, cheaper, better – pick any two,” where:

  • Faster relates to incident resolution, service provision, the delivery of new capabilities, or service improvements – thus it’s both speed and a measure of flexibility.
  • Cheaper, while relating to costs, also includes a “value-growth” dimension in 2018.
  • Better is the improvement of IT services, operational performance, and – increasingly – the provision of a better end-user or customer experience.

The challenge here, of course, is that all three of these aspects are important to IT service desk success. And thus, it isn’t helpful for an IT service desk to abandon any one (of these) in favor of the other two.

Automation to the rescue

Fortunately for the IT industry and its customers, it no longer needs to be a case of “pick any two,” because automation can help IT departments – and IT service desks in particular – to become faster, cheaper, AND better.

This shouldn’t be a shock revelation as the industry is already pushing to use more automation – as the following stats show:

  • The Service Desk Institute (SDI) “A View from the Frontline” report shows the increased focus on service-desk-related automation capabilities for 2018 – when asked “What are your top (5) service desk priorities for the next 12 months?”, 70% of survey respondents said automation.
  • The HDI “The State of IT” report has service automation is the second highest tool or technology investment expected for 2018, after cloud applications.
  • ITSM.tools survey data has automation as the top area of interest for ITSM pros from an offered list of 25 topics.

The power of automation

Automation is nothing new. Businesses have been automating their manual operations since the 18th Century and the Industrial Revolution – when manufacturing operations transitioned from hand-production methods to the use of machines, i.e. automation.

Then the corporate IT department has been providing automation to other business functions since the dawn of IT. But, as with the story of the Cobbler’s Children, how many IT departments – and their support organizations – have yet to sufficiently invest in automation for their IT service desks?

It seems odd when there are so many benefits to be had.

The generic benefits of automation (for IT service desks)

There are three primary, and oft-quoted, benefits of automation:

  • Increasing speed of execution – where the automation ultimately “works” at a far quicker pace than people and, from a different “speed” perspective, it also provides the ability for 24×7 operations when used in conjunction with IT self-service and self-help capabilities.
  • Reducing operational costs – not only is automation quicker and more “available,” it’s also cheaper relative to the human labor that would otherwise need to be employed.
  • Improving end-user experience – the aforementioned benefits then jointly contribute with other factors to deliver better IT support and customer service.

This hopefully sounds great, but automation will still offer more to IT service desks:

  • Extending and enhancing human capabilities. Automation, especially when we start to talk about AI, can help to get more out of people.
  • Reducing human errors. Human errors, even if simply viewed as mistakes, can be expensive.
  • Reducing human intervention. Automation doesn’t always need to replace discrete human activities, it can also be used to bridge between existing automation-based activities.
  • Providing greater flexibility and adaptability. It’s easier to change automation-based activities than the people-based equivalents. Why? Because, for people, their day-to-day practices are engrained and thus difficult to move on from. At least without some slippage back into the old routine.
  • Providing a platform for additional improvement. The introduction of automation doesn’t need to be an exact replacement of the previous manual operations. It’s therefore an opportunity to seek out additional improvement opportunities in creating new ways of working.

5 things to automate now!

So, what should your IT service desk be looking to automate now?

  1. Password resets. It’s an obvious one to start with. There are so, so many stats out there as to the proportion of service desk tickets that relate to password resets. For instance, “that around 20%–30% of service desk calls are concerned with password reset.” Of course, it will differ by company, security policies, and the time of year, but it’s definitely a service desk resource hog that would benefit from automation.
  2. Ticket processing and work progression. From automated initial categorization, prioritization, and routing, through automated workflow facilitation, to automated escalations. And this will get smarter, and more accurate, with AI and machine learning adoption.
  3. Knowledge availability. It’s nowhere close to the opportunity of AI-assisted knowledge management, but the automated provision of context-based knowledge is extremely helpful, and time saving, for both end users and IT staff.
  4. Provisioning and remediation through third-party automation and orchestration tools. Your ITSM tool will most likely not include all the automation capabilities you need to make people’s lives easier. So, look to third-party, potentially partner, offerings for automation capabilities related to provisioning, restarts, health checks with automated remediation, etc.
  5. Self-service resolutions and provisioning. Basically, using these other automation capabilities to provide real-time resolution to the end user. Whether this be password resets, software downloads and installs, email client set ups, IT service restarts, or something else.

5 tips for exploiting automation on the service desk

So far so good? But watch out for the common automation mistakes. When automating please pay heed to these five tips:

  1. Don’t introduce new technology just because you can. Automation should only ever be about better business outcomes.
  2. Don’t create an automation island (or silo). Link up with and exploit any corporate automation strategies, policies, technologies, and people. And don’t try to reinvent the wheel here and thus create unnecessary business costs.
  3. Don’t neglect the people aspects of automation. Firstly, the need for suitably skilled people to both manage and to work with the automation. Secondly, recognize that the successful use of automation will require a shift in organizational culture.
  4. Don’t overlook enterprise service management automation opportunities. If you’re automating IT service desk and ITSM capabilities, and have also extended the use of ITSM outside of IT, then ensure that your automation plans also extend to these other business functions.
  5. Don’t stop with traditional process and activity-based automation. Think of automation as anything where “a machine” can assist, so AI and machine learning for “heavy thinking” as well as heavy lifting – providing analysis and insight that goes way beyond human capabilities.

The evolution of automation

It would be remiss of me to write about automation without spending a little time on AI. For me, it’s the evolution of automation and extends letting the technology undertake the “heavy lifting” to also bring in “heavy thinking” too.

How do you feel about the opportunities of AI? And just as importantly, what do you fear?

The elephant in the room – concerns related to AI

These include that:

  • AI is a job killer. Thankfully “Just 16% of (survey) respondents view the adoption of AI capabilities as a serious job killer in IT” and 44% think that there will be IT service desk job cuts but nothing dramatic. In many ways template reductions have been a reality for IT service desk for many years now. From the constant need to reduce costs to the more recent all-in adoption of IT self-service capabilities.
  • Industry hype is painting an AI-assisted world that isn’t completely here yet. And while the eventual expectations of AI will be realized, some early technology adoptions will inevitably fall below the initial promises and expectations. Thus, a degree of realism is required.
  • Overly focusing on the technology. Plus, if the technology is mismatched to business needs, then AI is as capable as any technology of delivering the wrong outcomes.
  • The long shadow of increased expectations. As with any well-publicized technological innovation, there are heightened expectations and the extra pressures these bring.
  • The hypothesis that people prefer to be helped by people. People will ultimately choose what’s easiest for them in different scenarios – think of the ATM for banking tasks. But if the non-human choice offers an inferior service experience, then of course people will most likely continue to choose the human option. And then do so until they receive a better service experience from technology.
  • The technology won’t be able to comprehend and engage as well as humans. This somewhat assumes that all humans can provide a similar, great service experience. And humans are also inherently prejudiced – we prejudge and have preconceived opinions that are not necessarily based on fact. It’s where we generalize, compartmentalize, and can potentially make the wrong assumptions. For instance, that a printer issue is always unimportant – it isn’t if the printer is a critical part of business operations. The technology, on the other hand, will be consistent and will work with facts not prejudices. Although it’s perfectly possible that human prejudice can influence some of the source “knowledge” used by AI.

Examples of AI for IT service desks

So how will AI initially help IT service desks? Here are a few examples:

  • Reducing the labor-related costs of repetitive service desk tasks. It’s similar to traditional automation and will ultimately free scarce IT-people resource up to concentrate on higher-value-adding tasks and projects.
  • Better event management and the predictive identification of issues, along with automated remediation. This includes self-learning analysis – with the AI handling way more data than a human ever could
  • Improved demand planning and staffing optimization. AI can use historical data, and affecting factors, for smarter resource planning and goods ordering – saving time, money, and stress. In terms of staff optimization, the AI will know more about staff capabilities and work patterns than their line managers do.
  • Automated categorization, work routing, and processing. AI can know when a given situation requires human support, or not, and who needs to be involved. It will get this right much more quickly and reliably than any human worker can.
  • An automated 24×7 first-contact chat(bot) experience. This could be using the more traditional text-based chat or voice UIs via smart devices such as Amazon’s Alexa.
  • AI-assisted knowledge management. This includes intelligent search and “recommendations” – with a search capability that comprehends context and meaning, and what has or hasn’t worked for knowledge seekers before, not just the existence of specific keywords. And intelligent autoresponders – where end-user emails are automatically responded to with the most-likely solutions. Plus, the identification of knowledge-article gaps. This might be new articles or existing articles that can’t easily be found or effectively used. AI can then help further through the automated creation of new articles from recorded resolutions.

5 tips for preparing for AI

So how should organizations make their first foray into AI?

  1. Set AI expectations internally. I’ve already mentioned the industry hype – so get a realistic message out to key stakeholders. From senior management to those whose roles will most likely be affected.
  2. Deal with the largest elephant in the room. As already alluded to, staff might feel threatened by AI and, as such, organizations need to involve them in exploring the opportunities for using AI. This should include explaining the benefits of AI to all. And, if staff cuts are expected, be honest and emphasize that the remaining work will be more interesting.
  3. Assess supplier AI capabilities and roadmaps. And learn more about what other customers are already achieving through AI adoption. Even if you have no AI adoption plans for 2018 – do this now!
  4. Create an initial AI strategy. With the service desk a subset of the larger organization. This might initially be very high level and become more detailed as more is known about business needs, the available technology, and peer successes.
  5. Take an Agile approach. Don’t see AI as one big project. Instead, start small, with something of use and value. Plus, learn from other existing company AI use cases such as AI for external customer support.

It’s a lot of words to consume but hopefully it has you thinking about how your IT service desk could work smarter – both now and as AI becomes a staple of business life.

How often do we look at technology and just see… technology? I’m not talking the usual: “It’s not about the technology, it’s about use cases and positive business outcomes.” This time I’m talking about the types, or “layers,” of technology that IT service management (ITSM) pros need to understand and manage effectively.

Clear as mud? Let me explain.

Think about your current use of, and plans for, technology. There’s:

  • The existing IT infrastructure – the proverbial “keeping the lights on” and, more recently, ensuring that technology is meeting business expectations of IT service delivery and support.
  • The near-term technology “futures” that you’re currently thinking about – probably continued cloud exploitation (so not so much a real futures), digital transformation (again something that’s here and now), and artificial intelligence (AI).
  • The technology you use to manage existing and new technology as it’s introduced, including your ITSM and other IT management tools.

Right now, you might be thinking: “Well, that’s the three levels I was thinking of, so what’s the fourth?” I cover this next before dropping into some advice on this and two of the other three levels.

“The fourth level”

The idea of technology “levels” came from my attendance at the Cherwell EMEA Conference and the sessions I consumed. In particular, the following three:

  • The first-day keynote by Matthew Griffin, a futurist – this is level 4
  • A session called “Understanding Digital Transformation Trends” by IT industry analyst Roy Illsley of Ovum – level 3
  • A session called “Blood Sweat, and Cake: A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Implementing an ITSM Tool” by the London School of Economics (LSE) – level 2

Why this level ordering? It’s nothing scientific, just me think that:

  • We already have technology – level 1
  • We need to manage it – level 2
  • We need to consider and bring in new technologies – level 3
  • Then there’s these other technologies that might be too far out to worry about – level 4.

Level 4 – the future is much closer than you think

When you look at what the IT media and analyst community are currently interested in there are definitely some common themes. For instance:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – in particular machine learning and bots
  • Digital transformation
  • Cloud
  • Security
  • Internet of Things (IoT)

And it’s not unsurprising, it’s what their customers and audiences want or need to read about.

But how “future” are these commonly promoted futures?

Futurist Matthew Griffin gave the conference audience a great number of examples of current and near-term technology advances (and their real-world use cases). These I’d imagine surprised most, if not all, of the audience.

They also made me wonder if we – as an industry – have been so focused on what we’ve been repeatedly told “is coming” to see the far bigger picture around the speed of technology advancement and its business and social impact.

To give you a better idea of what I mean, please consider these golden technology-futures nuggets (from Matthew) relative to how your IT department is currently thinking and working:

  1. In talking about disruption – companies don’t just suddenly die, they’re more likely to fade into insignificance, slowly, and painfully.
  2. Very few organizations spend the time to adequately examine the future and then wonder why they get sideswiped.
  3. When you look at (single) technologies in isolation you miss the bigger picture.
  4. Technology is disrupting businesses far quicker than most CEOs will willingly acknowledge.
  5. You don’t need a huge amount of resources to change your organization’s thinking, but you do need the right attitude.
  6. Is your company looking at AI? And blockchain? And quantum computing? But is it also considering AI + blockchain + quantum computing? The point – companies often only see technology-silo views of the opportunity.
  7. There aren’t just 5-10 game-changing technologies affecting us today (i.e. those that the media and IT analyst firms will talk to you about), there’s closer to 280!
  8. When you look at technologies based on what they are, it’s unlikely that you’ll be interested in them. However, when you look at what they can do, it’s a different matter.
  9. We are close to having the technologies to strip out at least 50% of the costs of operating aircraft (pilotless tech, battery tech, baggage handling robots, etc.) – so what about corporate IT?

Plus, a final nugget that runs through all of these is that science-fiction-like technology use cases are far closer than most of us know. With an important one for IT departments being that the current – i.e. in use – real-world adoption of AI to solve issues and open up new opportunities.

Level 3 – near-term technology futures

Roy Illsley spoke about digital transformation and the roles that cloud and AI are playing within it. Roy’s key nuggets included that:

1. Businesses are focused on increasing revenue while decreasing costs through organizational efficiencies in 2018 – only achievable through true digital transformation.
2. Creating a digital capability is the top IT priority for 2018:


Source: Ovum ICT Enterprise Insights 2017

3. In terms of understanding the current global state of digital transformation – organizations seem to be focused more on the digital, and less on the transformation.
4. Key facets of global digital transformation efforts are:

a. “Organizational thinking and financing is still immature
a. Most completed transformations have been customer experience (CX) driven
c. People and processes are the least mature (capabilities), as skills remain in short supply
d. CIOs are unsure of what the customer’s expectations are of digital services.”

5. IT-related challenges (for digital transformation) include: IT architecture, business knowledge, and digital expertise.
6. Business-related challenges include: speed of implementation, business cases and ROI, and shadow IT.
7. In terms of shadow IT, what are companies doing in the context of GDPR and the “non-official” systems/services that hold personal data?
8. Global cloud adoption use cases are moving to mission-critical workloads:


Source: Ovum ICT Enterprise Insights 2017

9. Decision making is the top AI use case in 2017/18 – with telcos and banking the leading AI-adopting verticals.
10. AI and cloud require CIOs to:

a. “Adopt new processes that will work across lines of business
b. Apply new behaviors linked to business outcomes
c. Adopt new organizational structures and skills
d. Change the thinking about responsibility
e. Live with managing chaos.”

Level 2 – winning with ITSM tools

If you’ve worked in ITSM for a couple of years, then you probably already know that the industry is still subject to a high level of ITSM tool churn. If things aren’t going as well as they could, the ITSM tool (and vendor) gets blamed, and a new-tool selection process is kicked off. And this is then probably repeated, and repeated.

Given this, it was probably unsurprising to see how many engaged people attended LSE’s “Blood Sweat, and Cake: A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Implementing an ITSM Tool” session. What was surprising though was how many questions the audience asked the presenters – well over 20 – even after the presenters had dropped such golden ITSM-tool nuggets such as:

  1. We’d customized our ITSM tool beyond recognition and it was not fit for purpose – so do we continue with it or just start again? We needed to start again.
  2. Design your ITSM processes before you start to implement your new ITSM tool.
  3. Don’t be a slave to the tool, make it the other way around.
  4. Not involving process users in process design is a fatal ITSM mistake.
  5. ITSM processes should be tool agnostic.
  6. When replacing an ITSM tool, which is probably disliked, still take the time to record everything users like about it before assessing alternatives.
  7. When gathering issues related to the current ITSM tool, ensure that you understand whether your people are complaining about the tool or the process (or both).
  8. Change management is often difficult for new ITSM tool implementations because – unlike incident management – different companies do things slightly differently. And improving LSE’s change management process has caused change volumes to increase by a third.

It was also interesting to note that prior to choosing Cherwell, LSE went out to tender to eight ITSM tool vendors, of which six responded. Pretty odd (and I won’t name and shame) considering that LSE would be a prestigious customer logo. They whittled these down to three to assess each vendor on the ability to have a close working relationship and collaborative partnership. It’s something that is increasingly determining the outcome of ITSM-tool selection processes.

Hopefully this article helps to show that IT departments, and ITSM pros, have different levels of technology challenge (and opportunity) – including “keeping the lights on.” How does your organization ensure that each is given the attention it deserves (and needs)?

If you haven’t heard the growing volume of whispers, let alone the shouts, related to customer experience (CX) and IT service management (ITSM) – and the IT service desk – then you really need to stop talking and listen more. Sorry if that was rude, but I was struggling to finish the sentence quickly.

There’s no doubt in my mind that employees – your “end users” – are demanding more from corporate service providers (so not just IT). It’s the “consumerization of service” – which is both more impactful and scarier than the “consumerization of IT” that plagued (and improved) many IT departments, as personal technology surpassed its corporate equivalents.

This article takes a quick look at CX before requesting that you kindly complete a survey to help us see the future of CX and the IT service desk.

Making sense of CX and the corporate IT service desk

It’s easy for people to make predictions about the future. But being right in your vision (of the future) is incredibly difficult (and helped by the fact that bad predictions are rarely looked back on and lambasted for being wrong).

What we can, and often do, do though is to look to our peers – and their aggregated plans, actions, and opinions – to understand how they are thinking about the future and the plans they have in place to get there.

You’ve probably read a number of reports, or even participated in the supporting surveys, around hot topics such as:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation
  • Digital transformation
  • Enterprise service management
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Service integration and management (SIAM)

But have you ever seen a survey and report solely related to CX and ITSM (and the IT service desk)?

I haven’t.

The signs of the growing CX adoption are already here

Existing statistics from the Service Desk Institute (SDI) and HDI – such as what’s currently driving ITSM toolset changes (it’s delivering a better CX according to HDI) – definitely point to the growing importance of CX in the context of the IT service desk.

And our own survey into what ITSM.tools readers want/need help with in 2018 (and beyond) shows CX as a top-5 item (based on respondents choosing 5 options from a list of 25):


Source: https://itsm.tools/2018/03/07/the-5-hottest-itsm-trends-and-topics-for-2018/

Plus, there’s more and more talk of IT departments and other organizations replacing their service level agreements (SLAs) that they use to manage their relationships with customers/end users with experience level agreements (XLAs).

But there’s nothing being widely shared – survey-wise – that digs deeper into: CX’s relevance to corporate IT, the impact on service desk operations and culture, the required evolution of service level agreements, what people are doing to improve CX, etc.

That is until now (well, something is happening thanks to SDI).

SDI is currently running a CX and ITSM survey

SDI is seeking to understand the current and future state of CX in the context of internal IT support – both to offer insights into the level of interest and to offer help for those organizations looking to understand, consider, and potentially improve the CX they offer.

Their survey is described as follows:

“We would be delighted if you could spend around 5-10 minutes* completing this survey about your service desk. SDI research suggests that customer satisfaction is the most significant indicator of success on the service desk. This could potentially indicate that traditional SLAs will become obsolete, as CX becomes the new agreement between service desks and their customers.”

There are 27 multiple-choice questions, including the demographic-related questions, and SurveyMonkey states that the average completion time for the survey is actually 6 minutes* (just so you know). At the end of the anonymous survey, you’ll also be asked whether you want to receive a copy of the final report (once completed).

Thus, you can be among the first to receive a copy of the SDI report, receiving the latest data and information on the impact of CX on IT support for free – well, in return for 6 minutes of your time and email address.

So please take the SDI CX survey to help both yourself and the wider ITSM and IT support community.

There continues to be a lot of IT service management (ITSM) industry buzz around artificial intelligence (AI), and rightly so – it’s an opportunity for IT support organizations to speed up resolution, use scarce people resources better, save money, and offer a better end-user or customer experience. But the technology will only be part of the answer – at least for some scenarios – and IT organizations will need to have the right people capabilities in place too.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that IT support is built on a bedrock of great people. But think about what’s written below, based on a personal business-to-consumer (B2C) experience, in the context of your organization’s initial use of machine learning and chatbots for IT support. And question whether your people and processes are truly ready to fully reap the benefits of the new technology.

Learning from Consumer-World Experiences

Imagine this: you have a faulty item from a reputable B2C retailer and want to email them to request a replacement. You’ve done something similar for years and know that it will take just a minute of your time and the retailer will get things sorted in superfast time – it’s one of the reasons you continue to use them (and talk positively about them to family and friends).

So, you fire up their mobile app and choose the Contact Us option. But this time things are different – instead of being offered a choice of email, call, or chat you’re dropped directly into a chat.

It’s OK though, chat might take longer than an email, but the upside is that there’s going to be an immediacy of resolution which is worth your additional time investment. Or at least you thought there would be!

It’s Chat, Jim. But Not as We Know It

There’s no wait for a human agent, with it quickly obvious that you’re engaging with a chatbot.

There’s rapid-fire questions, with answering made easier – and swifter – thanks to canned potential answers. At this point the AI-enabled chat(bot) customer support channel is working like a dream, a human couldn’t engage this fast (even after multiple morning coffees).

For example:

Chatbot: “Hello, I’m your automated chat assistant. What can I help you with today?” – with possible responses such as “an existing order,” “my account,” or various services that are known to generate customer queries.

You choose “an existing order

Chatbot: “Can you see the order in the following list of recent orders?” – with a list of your most recent orders shown to select from.

You choose “can’t see my order”

Chatbot: “Would you like to speak with a customer service agent?” – with options to be called back, continue the chat (now), or to try again later.

You choose to continue the chat

Chatbot: “Please wait while I hand you over to a customer service agent

So far, the support service has been incredibly easy to use, and super-fast. But then you’re passed to a human agent and things quickly deteriorate.

And the Issue Isn’t Just That the Chatbot Has Raised the Support Bar

Human agent #1: “Please wait while I read you previous conversation

In the meantime, you provide details of the order you are contacting them about

Human agent #1: “Another team member will need to help you with this, please hold the line while I transfer the chat. A colleague will assist you shortly.

Human agent #2: “Please tell me what your issue is

You repeat what you have already told the chatbot and then human agent #1

Human agent #2: “Please wait while I put you on hold

You endure 10 minutes of waiting, wishing you could have just emailed

Human agent #2 returns: “Thank you for holding

Annoyed at how long things are taking you ask: “Please may I speak with a manager”

You agree to kill the chat session and wait for a manager to call back

Manager (via telephone): “Please tell me what your issue is…

You start to a rant about a deterioration in customer service and customer time wasting

The Lessons for IT Service Desks

As the above B2C example shows, the use of chatbots – or at least the chatbot part of the customer engagement – can deliver a high-quality customer interaction, at speed, and with a great customer experience. In this scenario, I was genuinely impressed (by the technology) until the human agent was needed.

The chatbot knew how to ask the questions required to find out my issue/need and, had it been able to identify the item I was contacting the retailer about, I’m sure it could have quickly progressed me through the returns process.

Now imagine the above in use on a corporate IT service desk – where the chatbot quickly ascertains the reason for the contact and determines that a human service desk agent is needed.

It should be pretty straight forward, but how prepared and capable are agents going to be when picking up the baton? And will the human failings get blamed on the new technology? So, consider the following in light of your potential chatbot adoption:

  1. Is the right agent able to pick up the chat – based on either human or machine-learning-assisted allocation?
  2. Is the agent able to be quickly au fait with the chat detail?
  3. Does the agent have access to end-user-related information and issue/request-related knowledge bases that will help them to get to a quick resolution rather than causing a long wait for the end user?
  4. Is the agent aware of the importance of not wasting the end user’s time (or are they solely targeted and focused on closing the ticket at all costs)?
  5. Does the agent actually see beyond what they need to do – finding a resolution – to understand that there’s a person potentially wasting time, and getting frustrated, while waiting for resolution?

And is the email (or alternative) option still available? Because surely it’s not in the best interest of the end user, and business as a whole, to move from 60 seconds of email creation to 15+ minutes of chat-based interaction and waiting that still doesn’t resolve anything?

For me, this simple real-world experience is a great example of how the introduction of new technology to IT support will be suboptimal if the human elements – that should have already been there for traditional chat – aren’t improved. With the chatbot’s speed and efficiency only serving to amplify the potential inefficiencies in the existing human operations.

The new technology is a great opportunity for IT service desks to up speed, reduce costs, and to improve the customer experience but it will only happen if the people and processes that are required to work with it are up to scratch.