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
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?

Strongly disagree
Strongly agree
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.
  • 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 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):


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.

In my previous article, “10 Tips for Better ITSM Tool Selection,” I wrote about – and offered tips on – IT service management (ITSM) process enablement and usability. With these the first two areas that I covered in a webinar on seven recommended ITSM-tool selection checklist points.

Part two of the two-article series offer 10 tips on “configuration, customization, and integrations” and “vendor relationship and (lack of) communication” needs. These are probably at different ends of your IT organization’s ITSM-tool selection criteria, but both will cause it serious pain if the right questions aren’t asked and suitable responses, and evidence, received.

Configuration, Customization, and Integration Tips

While ITSM tools offer “out-of-the-box” ITIL best practices, there will often be the need to customize or to configure them to your organization’s preferred – or required – ways of working. Plus, your ITSM tool is not an island with a need for it to work with both other IT management and business systems.

The key tips here are:

  1. Know the differences between ITSM-tool delivery models – this is a wider area than just this checklist point, but it needs to be considered somewhere. There’s on-premises and software-as-a-service (SaaS)/public cloud delivery models, then variants on these such as hybrid and private cloud, and subscription pricing for on-premises. There are numerous pros and cons for each delivery model, but the important ones to consider for this checklist point are the ability to customize (and delivery model limitations), the relative ease of customizations and integrations, and how customizations and integrations fare during tool upgrades. The latter is returned to in bullet 5. below.
  2. Understand the difference between “clicks” and “code” – because it’s easy for people to use the terms configuration and customization interchangeably, including in ITSM tool selection, and it’s also dangerous. Configuration is usually as simple as clicks, and customization is usually code-based. So, nail down the terminology in your internal and external conversations.
  3. Aim for configuration wherever possible but don’t discount the need for customization and integrations in the tool selection process – configuration is easier to do and, as bullet 5 outlines, customization can create future issues. But will your organization always be able to survive purely with configuration? If it has with previous ITSM tools, then maybe you’ll be okay. But, if it hasn’t, then at least understand a new tool’s customization capabilities even if you expect to never use them – you just might need to though. The same is true for integration capabilities, although there’s far more chance that your organization will need to benefit from multiple integrations to other IT and business systems.
  4. Test the ease of configuration, customization, and integrations using real use-case scenarios – because watching someone, who’s experienced with a particular tool, demo an example that’s easier than your organization’s required, real-world, use-case scenarios might be interesting, but it’s not necessarily a true picture of what can and can’t be done; and the relative ease.
  5. Understand the impact of customization and integrations on future tool upgrades/versions – it’s critical, especially as cloud-based ITSM tools are changing far more frequently than their on-premises equivalents, that the ability to benefit from new releases isn’t held back by anything that has been introduced into the mix by your organization (customizations and bespoke integrations). Thus, don’t just look at what can be done now, also look forward to how vendor changes will impact your required changes and integrations – plus, of course, the effort and costs involved in keeping your new ITSM tool as you need it to be over time.

Vendor Relationship and (Lack of) Communication Tips

Relationships with partners and suppliers are becoming more important in an increasingly services-based business world. From getting fit-for-purpose support, to ensuring that products and services live up to both current and future organizational needs.

The key tips here are:

  1. Know the ITSM-tool vendor landscape and which vendors suit different customer types – but you don’t need to know as much as an industry analyst. There are hundreds of IT help desk and ITSM tools on the market and it’s helpful to know about possible tools (and vendors) long before your organization is at the point of new-tool investment. Because, once they’re in your subconscious, you’ll be more likely to pick up on “mentions” of them – be it in their own content or that of others. Thus, allowing you to get an appreciation of what they offer and how well they’re doing – especially for organizations similar to your own – over time rather than just at the point of needing a new ITSM tool.
  2. Understand what your wants and needs from a vendor relationship perspective are – which is hopefully much more than a one-time exchange of money for software/service, followed by annual contacts for renewals and upsells. Look to create a relationship, with proactive communication mechanisms, such that the vendor is proactively assisting your successes with their ITSM tool. After all, this benefits them as much as you, and makes it easier for them to land those renewals and upsells.
  3. Know the IT industry research into ITSM tool vendor satisfaction and dissatisfaction – many sources are free and others that are behind paywalls, including the growing prevalence of crowd-sourced tool-review websites. A word of warning here though – while such websites contain valuable insight into customer experiences, there’s also a need to understand how they work and when they don’t. In particular, if they’re being “played” in terms of enticing happy customers to post reviews and, more worryingly, any conclusions drawn by the websites that don’t really stand up if one looks at how things – such as reported market share – are established.
  4. Use Google or similar, and social network sites, to better understand what other customers are saying (about both ITSM tools and vendors) – it’s a simple, and cheap exercise to undertake but, as with crowd-sourced information, it’s important to understand that not everything you’ll read is a true reflection of a particular tool or vendor. What it does do though, as a minimum, is allow your organization to a create list of difficult questions to ask each vendor under consideration.
  5. Agree on the organizational value of the vendor relationship (along with other business requirements) – is finding a vendor you can work with super-important to you? Consultant and ITIL author Stuart Rance offers this sage advice to clients when selecting a new ITSM tool: “Select a vendor you think you can work with.” The quality and effectiveness of the vendor relationship is a growing area of concern for ITSM tool customers, and a possible barrier to tool exploitation. So is the lack of ongoing communication. So, do sufficient research to help ensure that your organization gets what it needs in terms of relationships and communication.

Hopefully these ten tips, and the ten in my previous blog, will be helpful to your organization. If you would like to find out more, then the webinar I recorded – “Your 7-Point Checklist for Selecting the Right ITSM Tool” – is now available to watch on demand (registration required).

Selecting a new, better-fitting, IT service management (ITSM) tool can be difficult – from understanding and agreeing what’s really important (to your organization) in your selection criteria, through to eventually choosing the right tool and vendor.

The effective use of industry research and good practice will help though. For instance, recognizing that two simple conclusions can be made from freely-available industry research on modern ITSM tool wants and needs, that:

  1. Traditional ITSM capabilities are still important (and it would be surprising if they weren’t)
  2. People are now looking for key attributes (in, or with, ITSM tools) such as – ease of use, automation, self-service that employees want to use, ease of configuration and customization, and the ability to access the tool (and its capabilities) from any location and using any device.

Plus, importantly, that it’s no longer just about the technology, i.e. the ITSM tool’s features and functions, it’s also about the end-user or customer experience – something that should be thought of as a constant theme running throughout everything else that’s considered a tool requirement.

The spectrum of ITSM tool requirements

I recently recorded a webinar that offers seven recommended ITSM-tool selection checklist points across:

  1. ITSM process enablement
  2. Usability
  3. Self-service
  4. Business intelligence (BI) and reporting
  5. Automation
  6. Configuration, customization, and integrations
  7. Vendor relationship and (lack of) communication

With tips offered up for each of these seven checklist points.

This article shares ten of these tips – those related to ITSM process enablement and usability.

ITSM process enablement tips

This is the tool’s ability to support all required aspects of current and known future ITSM operations; something that will of course vary in breadth and depth across different organizations. The key tips are:

  1. Agree the real reason(s) for wanting to change ITSM tool (and potentially vendor) – understand the true root cause(s) of the need to change your ITSM tool. This might not necessarily be that the current tool is lacking capabilities, or is suboptimal in some process or management/governance areas. Instead, it might never have been the best option for the procuring organization – perhaps the wrong questions were asked during the previous tool-selection process. Your organization then received the wrong answers, and thus made the wrong investment decision.
  2. Know what you’re trying to achieve with ITSM (and the new tool) – because there’s a real danger that any organization seeking a new tool is overly-focused on ITSM or ITIL processes, and the features and functions that support them. These organizations are ultimately more focused on what they need to “do” – the mechanics of ITSM – than what they need to achieve by “doing” ITSM. Thus, as part of investing in a new ITSM tool (and vendor) it’s important to know why a new ITSM tool is needed and how it will ultimately benefit your organization. This understanding of desired business outcomes will also help to reinforce that ITSM and the ITSM tools are merely “the means to an end” rather than the “end” itself, and will help to identify the opportunities and pain points that your organization ultimately needs to address.
  3. Understand your organization’s true ITSM tool requirements – your organization will most likely follow one of two tool-selection routes (or use both): participating in a, usually 30-day, free trial of various ITSM tools and/or issuing an RFP for a group of ITSM tool vendors to rate themselves against your needs. Either way, it will hopefully help you to get a good understanding as to how well each ITSM tool and vendor meets your needs. However, organizations need to start with their desired business outcomes rather than the commonly-used features and functions available in ITSM technology. So, ensure that you know your organization’s true requirements – requirements that are based on business-outcome-based needs, not the art of the ITSM-tool possible.
  4. Know the common ITSM tool/vendor differentiators – while most ITSM tools have been created with ITIL as a blueprint, they’re all different in some way. These differences can relate to a number of things, for instance:
    • The target market, such as company size and industry vertical
    • The breadth of ITSM capabilities – in terms of the ITSM processes supported
    • The depth of ITSM capabilities – for example, does the ITSM tool cater for a lot of ITSM processes in a “shallow” way or a limited number of processes in a “deeper” way?
    • The focus of future product improvement and innovation – and whether new releases are focused on customer wants and needs, industry trends, or both
    • The relationships the vendor has with its customers and the wider ITSM community.
  5. Understand how business and IT strategies will impact tool-selection decision making – ITSM isn’t an island; and thus, new ITSM tool and vendor decisions can’t be made in isolation. Instead, an understanding of third-party requirements and compromise might be needed, for instance accommodating:
    • A corporate cloud-first strategy
    • An enterprise service management strategy – this is where ITSM thinking, best practices, and technology are used to improve the performance and outcomes of other corporate service providers such as HR and facilities
    • A service integration and management (SIAM) approach to IT service delivery and support – this is where the customer organization is using multiple service providers working together to meet the organization’s IT service delivery and support needs.

Usability tips

Usability is increasingly important in the context of consumerization. As employees, no matter their business role, expect more from enterprise software. Ultimately, if software or services are hard to use, they’ll find ways of not using them in favor of other options.

  1. Know what employees think about the current ITSM tool (and vendor) – importantly, this is both IT and end users. And this shouldn’t just be a list of what’s wrong with the current ITSM tool. Instead, it should be “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” So, know what works well for users. And when things are disliked, it’s important to understand why – i.e. go beyond the symptoms to understand the root cause(s).
  2. Access and consume IT industry research into ITSM tool satisfaction and dissatisfaction – this might be from Tier 1 analyst firms such as Gartner and Forrester. It might be from IT support industry bodies such as the Service Desk Institute (SDI) and HDI. Or it might be the current growth in crowdsourced technology-rating websites that look at customer feedback. Be careful with these though – remember that this analysis and feedback might be from organizations that are totally different to your own.
  3. Recognize the difference between the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) – self-service is a great example of this. If end users find self-service capabilities intuitive and easy to use (the UX), then they’ll use them again. If not, they won’t. Thus, self-service delivery projects (in this example) need to understand that new self-service technology alone, even with a sexy UI, isn’t always the answer. What’s more important to success is how the end user uses and experiences the technology – the UX or customer experience (CX).
  4. Design and deliver capabilities with the “customer” at the heart – hopefully you’ll agree that an important aspect of ITSM software, or in fact any piece of enterprise software, in 2018 is usability. In particular, ease of use in light of consumer-world applications, where personal technology is now so intuitive and frictionless to use that when it isn’t it gets swapped for something that is. Employees now expect to receive a similar level of usability at work to what they get outside of work – it’s the aforementioned consumerization in action. Thus, failing to design and deliver ITSM capabilities around the people who use it is going to result in something that doesn’t get used as much as it should be.
  5. Never stop improving (and remember that demands and expectations will change) – this might seem like a throwaway line, but hopefully people now appreciate that what was acceptable (or even great) last year might have already been superseded by something new and better. Whether you want to take a formal continual service improvement (CSI) approach to ITSM tool usability, or something less formal, it’s important not to stand still as employee expectations change around it.

Hopefully these ten tips will be helpful to your organization. If you would like to find out more, then the webinar I recorded – “Your 7-Point Checklist for Selecting the Right ITSM Tool” – is now available to watch on demand (registration required).

So, what are the 18 most important ITSM tips for 2018? If I really knew the answer to this, then I’d probably be drinking cocktails on a beach somewhere right now. And anyone who can offer you such a list could also probably sell you a bottle of snake oil.

What I can offer though, is a list of IT service management tips that MIGHT be important to your IT organization in 2018… depending on your organization’s circumstances.

It’s similar to what I tried to articulate in my “ITSM in 2018: So Much to Do, So Little Time” blog that looked forward to what would be important in the ITSM space in 2018. It really does depend on your organization’s circumstances (to quote your friendly neighborhood consultant) – from its challenges and opportunities, to its capacity and capability for change.

So, please take each of the bullets below as a potential tip from which your organization’s ITSM activities may or may not benefit. They might all fit, or many might not – the important thing is to decide which are most appropriate to your organization.

18 ITSM Tips for a better 2018

To give a balanced list, I’ve chosen two tips – or recommended actions – related to each of nine areas I selected from the aforementioned “ITSM in 2018: So Much to Do, So Little Time” blog.

So please find 18 tips for 2018 below, split across nine areas…

Addressing continuing financial pressures:

  1. Understand what the oft-used ITSM term “running IT like a business” really means – that (in addition to delivering high-quality services) your IT organization needs to truly know its customers’ wants and needs (including what they deem to be of value), what individual IT services cost and the associated cost drivers, and how to minimize costs without adversely affecting service quality (although some loss of service quality might be an acceptable tradeoff for sufficient cost savings).
  2. Invest, or reinvest, in IT asset management (ITAM) capabilities – covering hardware, software, and third-party services (such as cloud). It’s time to stop wasting IT budgets; and to understand that ITAM done well will more than pay for itself. Getting started is easier than you think, for instance you don’t need to start with an expensive ITAM tool (at least for delivering quick wins). Please check out “ITAM 101: Getting Started with IT Asset Management” and similar online resources for help.

Removing costly and inefficient manual activities:

  1. Consider and address opportunities to automate repetitive and labor-intensive activities – from the more traditional “heavy lifting” automation to newer “heavy thinking” opportunities made possible through artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. For more tips on succeeding with automation, please check out “5 Common IT Automation Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.”
  2. Start understanding and testing the potential of AI for IT support as soon as possible – AI is already helping with business-to-consumer (B2C) customer support; with a logical, and potentially lucrative, extension of this being AI’s use by internal IT service desks (as has already happened with self-service adoption). So, it’s already time to pave the way for AI in IT support – from testing out possible use cases to dealing with the required people change and “The Three Elephants in the “AI for IT support” Living Room.”

Meeting the growing demands of employees and customers:

  1. Recognize that “consumerization” is affecting all corporate service providers – that the rising expectations of employees based on their personal-life experiences of services, support, and customer service are being brought into the workplace. If you would like to read more on this, then please try “6 Ways Consumerization Is Affecting the Service Desk” as a good starting point.
  2. Get the “customer experience” basics right – starting with the aforementioned understanding of consumerization (and customer or user experience) through to the use of capabilities that (should) help to deliver a better customer experience. For example, self-service and chat.

Addressing the IT management issues that come with growing cloud adoption:

  1. Recognize that one of the biggest issues with cloud is now cost management – while a subset of bullet #1, it deserves its own focus. Managing cloud costs – effectively – isn’t as easy as one might think. You can find out more about cloud cost management in this “Cloud Is Now for Grown-Ups” blog.
  2. Understand how existing ITSM practices need to change in the context of cloud – for example, the ITIL best practice related to capacity management, where cloud turns the traditional long-term capacity-planning model on its head. You can read more on this in “5 Ways Cloud Changes ITIL Capacity Management.”

Tackling the ongoing “disconnects” between DevOps and ITSM pros:

  1. Recognize that DevOps is delivering significant business value – that the days of DevOps being “the next big thing” or an App-Dev fad are over, it’s already here and it’s here to stay. Just look to the annual Puppet State of DevOps report to understand the gains made by organizations that get DevOps right. ITSM pros need to be involved, if only to ensure that they’re part of the solution, not the problem.
  2. Understand and address the (potential) lack of ITSM involvement in your organization’s DevOps initiatives – the 2017 The Future of ITSM survey found that “70% of respondents think that there has been insufficient involvement of ITSM personnel in their company’s DevOps activities and ambitions.” There’s thus still much to do in getting ITSM pros a seat at the corporate DevOps table (and time has to be running out).

Dealing with more complex supplier-management scenarios:

  1. Understand that service integration and management (SIAM) isn’t just a new-tool thing, it’s a people and “way of working” thing – obviously fit-for-purpose technology will help, but SIAM requires so much more. This “starter for 10” blog is a great entry point for “Navigating the Road to SIAM” should you (and your organization) need it.
  2. Realize that there’s already much SIAM good practice information freely available – and while your organization will still probably benefit from employing experienced third-party resources during its SIAM journey, blogs such as “10 Key Steps for SIAM Success” and the free, crowdsourced SIAM BOKs will allow you to ensure that many of the mistakes made by others are avoided.

Giving security risks the respect, and attention, they deserve:

  1. Be prepared (as in readiness) to invest more than expected in security during 2018 – with it unfortunately a “necessary evil” that’s becoming increasingly necessary. Security is now a board-level topic that’s going to dominate 2018 for many ITSM pros, with the key question being whether the stable door will be closed after or before the horse has bolted (and the stable boys/girls have been fired).
  2. Ensure that ITSM staff understand at least the basics of security – in an ideal world, use an internal subject matter expert to share “the minimum” people should know internally including the common risks and threats, and what people need to do in their roles (we’ll probably be hearing a lot more of “everyone is responsible for security” this year). If this isn’t possible, then share some easy-to-digest reading such as this “Information Security and Encryption – an Overview” blog.

Addressing the impact of increased technology adoption:

  1. Look beyond the serious security risks associated with the internet of things (IoT) – scary things often seem to get the most media attention these days but, while the risks associated with IoT devices are very real and shouldn’t be ignored (see bullets #13 and #14), there’s also much to be done in uplifting IT management capabilities in light of the growth in both “dumb” and “smart” network-connected devices. For instance, dealing with the volume-related impact on availability and capacity management, and (device) fault management.
  2. Be ready to sell the increasing importance, and value, of ITSM in a technology-reliant world – and it’s very easy to overlook this need. While ITSM has become a staple of many (if not most) organizations, corporate investments in cloud services and DevOps in particular have sparked debates over the future need for ITSM. It leaves ITSM teams with two choices – either to sit on their hands expecting business colleagues to just “get” why ITSM is important in a service-centric world, or to proactively market and demonstrate ITSM’s worth. This shouldn’t be a tough decision, with approaches such as business relationship management (BRM) available to help.

Delivering against the business need for “digital transformation”:

  1. Appreciate that digital transformation is about people change not just new-technology use cases – that while technology is involved in creating new products/services and revenue streams, and improving both customer engagement mechanisms and back-office processes; digital transformation is ultimately a requirement for people to do things differently.
  2. Don’t forget the required transformation of back-office operations too – so much attention is being paid to the sexier, externally-focused aspects of digital transformation (new revenue streams and better customer engagement) that it’s easy to forget the third element, the transformation of potentially manually-intensive back-office operations. Organization can’t afford to do this though, because whatever they transform “front of house” will struggle to work optimally if their “back of house” operations are still stuck in the Dark Ages.

So, that’s my chosen 18 ITSM tips for 2018 (and it was hard to select just 18). What would you add? Please share in the comments section.

In a galaxy not so far away, I’ve frequently talked of the evolution of ITIL – the popular IT service management (ITSM) best practice framework – following a similar path to the original Stars Wars movie trilogy. Now, with the second movie in the third Star Wars trilogy (The Last Jedi) hitting theaters, I thought it a good time to share my opinions more widely… as well as what the next update to ITIL can learn from the reinvention of the Stars Wars movie franchise that started with The Force Awakens.

My original ITIL-Star Wars comparison

Some of you might have heard me talk of this before, so please bear with me, I’ve been using it since my Forrester industry-analyst days… take a read and see if you agree with my comparisons…

The original Star Wars trilogy had three movies (it’s probably why it’s called a trilogy) and ITIL has three versions (if you count v3 and the 2011 “refresh” as the same version).

The original Star Wars film in 1977 (along with the early Steven Spielberg blockbusters) changed the way we’re entertained at the movies, even though one could say that it still borrowed from our movie past – that Star Wars was really a cowboy movie set in space. Likewise, ITIL (v1) started to change how we deliver corporate IT.

Then came the second and third Star Wars movies, and I’ll still often (flippantly) say that ITIL v2 is The Empire Strikes Back to ITIL v3’s Return of the Jedi – with one being just brilliant and the other, shall we say, a little wooly (or furry, given the Ewoks). Although the IMDB scoring still rates the latter highly for some reason.

Ultimately, the second versions of both Star Wars and ITIL are considered the best. And let’s not forget, the creation of the prequel movies caused the original Star Wars movie to be rechristened “A New Hope,” which I think reflects the original purpose of ITIL well in terms of improving IT service delivery and support.

It’s probably best that I don’t dwell on the prequels though. For brevity’s sake, let me compare them to the many other ITIL-related books that have been created around the original content. There was a big fuss at launch, some serious money was made (at least with the movies), but years later people are still more likely to return to the originals.

The Force Awakens

The first movie in the third Star Wars trilogy was great – for both fans and for Disney’s coffers. And, like the original trilogy, it’s a movie that you could easily watch again and again. I’ve not seen the newly-released The Last Jedi yet but, knowing the previous work of the director and writer (and the fact that he has been handed another Star Wars trilogy by the very-savvy Disney), there’s no way that it’s not a great movie.

So, let me jump back to The Force Awakens – J.J. Abrams, the director and co-writer (in conjunction with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi screenplay writer), faced a massive task in pleasing the fans who have loved Star Wars for nearly 40 years, the newer fans who have joined along the way, and then brand-new fans.

The movie buffs among you will know that he succeeded, and he succeeded in a way that most likely even surpassed Disney’s highest box-office expectations. With Wikipedia stating that The Force Awakens is the third highest grossing movie of all time (and let’s not argue about inflation right now). Something that offers hope to the new version of ITIL. So back to the title of this blog…

What ITIL 2018 – or whatever it will be called – can learn from Star Wars

Firstly, The Force Awakens was crafted by someone who loves the original movies. If he couldn’t make a great addition to the ongoing Star Wars saga, then he wouldn’t have created the new movie. And, in another writer/director’s hands it could have just been another attempt to boost Disney’s bottom line (like it needs it given its growing “universe”-based empire).

Secondly, while the odds were that it would always make lots of money (after all the Star Wars prequels did), The Force Awakens was created for Star Wars fans old and new. The key was blending the old and new. It’s easy to see how much is derivative from the original trilogy – but this is fine as it gave the audience what it wanted. And here lies the biggest trick, and potential pitfall, for ITIL – keeping all the great stuff that ITIL adopters use (and benefit from), it’s probably stuff from v2 too, and then adding newer stuff that reflects how we have moved on in the ITSM industry.

ITIL also needs to cut out the fluff (or fluffy – think way too much Ewoks in terms of Star Wars). Sometimes less is more, and in these days where time and attention are often our scarcest resources, ITIL 2018 needs to make every word count – there’s sadly no time for superfluous fancy writing that shows the size of the author/editor vocabulary, but sadly just delays the required learning.

As with delivering a great ITSM conference presentation, the audience wants (and needs) to hear things that will help them, not how great the presenter has been in his or her career. The same is true of writing stuff – is the author writing to help people or just to show how smart they are (or think they are)?

So, let’s make ITIL 2018 about you the reader (as ITIL Practitioner correctly did), not “me” the author(s) – it’s not me writing any of the new ITIL by the way – and we’ll then have a great starting point in ensuring that ITIL can start to regain the popularity of its v2 heyday.

What do you think? Too harsh on Return of the Jedi and ITIL v3? Please let me know in the comments.