The Top Five Worries for IT Service Managers

Stressing
What keeps you up at night?

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

What keeps you up at night? People love to ask business leaders this question. You can find the worries for IT service managers in the headlines of your favorite news sources every day.

IT service managers have to contend with everything from routine service tickets to critical connectivity outages. However, IT service organisations are no longer just incident response customer service representatives. Today, they are strategic departments working closely with IT resolution teams and other business units.

What we believe to be the top five worries for IT Service Managers:

Alert Fatigue

When a major retailer suffered a data breach in 2013, more than one IT employee on the front lines saw alerts but nobody acted. Why? Large IT organisations can receive up to 150,000 alerts per day from their monitoring systems. How are IT employees supposed to sort through them all to pick out the one or two legitimate threats? They can’t, of course.

So many similar alerts come in, many of them routine notifications, that alert fatigue sets in and IT service workers move them to alternate folders or just delete them. Some 86% of data breach victims had the alerts in their logs at the time of attack, but didn’t act because they had too many alerts. Some IT organisations have backup call center employees. On-call employees sometimes take advantage and let calls and emails go through, and as a result no one takes action.

Your IT organisation can be more strategic by establishing rules and automating which alerts reach a threat threshold that requires review by IT resolution teams. Establish clear escalation processes to maintain open communication.

Another good strategy is to automate proactive communications. Often one event can cause hundreds of alerts and notifications from employees, partners and customers. If your service providers are too overwhelmed by inquiries to fix issues, proactive communications can limit these inquiries and enable more effective resolution.

BYOD

There is little value in resisting the BYOD movement. Embrace it so you can manage it. And it’s happening – most large enterprises now allow their employees to bring their own mobile devices to work.

The good news is that employees who bring their own devices are happy and productive. In fact, a study by CIO Magazine indicates that employees who use their own devices work an extra two hours and send 20 more emails every day. One-third of BYOD employees check work email before the workday between 6-7 am.

The downside is that IT departments can’t ensure that employee devices are one the same platform versions, are using only approved apps, and are visiting only approved websites. Mobile phones are no longer immune from malware and if you don’t know their own mobile landscape, you’ll have a difficult time maintaining a safe environment.

Trust your employees to use good judgment, but inform them of best practices and be vigilant about alerts. Calls to your IT service desk for mobile issues can be very time-consuming because your representatives might have to test issues and fixes on mobile phones in the office.

Job Changes

Business continuity and disaster recovery situations used to revolve around whether the building would still be standing after a storm or a fire. Today the building is just where the data happens to reside. And the data is what matters.

Major issues like data breaches or malware attacks can threaten the future of a business. For large global enterprises, the challenges can be enormous. Business continuity situations require issue resolution and communication, combined with the pressures of speed. Time, after all, is money, and downtime is frequently estimated at more than £5,000 per minute. So pressure is squarely on IT service providers to be prepared when critical incidents cause alerts and notifications. Gathering disparate information sources, assessing the causes and communicating with departments around the world requires technology, flexibility and strategy.

Conditions can change frequently, so be organised and prepared. If you and your front-line service representatives are calm, your company will likely stay calm, and eliminating panic could be the difference between disaster and recovery.

Your processes have to be agile as well just to deal with business change. Re-organisations happen all the time, and your people will have to learn new skills and work with new people. Make sure they can.

Finally, the cloud is changing the way IT departments provide services too. Cloud-based infrastructure was once an afterthought. As of September 2013, DMG Consulting estimates that more than 62% of organisations were using some cloud-based contact center application as part of their operations, and nearly half the hold-outs were planning to convert within the next year.

Will I Even Have a Job?

The role of the IT service desk continues to evolve. Just a few years ago, IT desks were very reactive. They fixed issues, implemented updates and prevented disasters. Today they must play a more strategic role, aligning with other business units to address fixers with clients in today’s more distributed workforces.

More and more clients expect to use self-service tools to resolve their issues. In its Q2 2014 Benchmark Report, Zendesk says 27% of customers have tried to resolve an issue using self-service tools in the last six months.

Looking a little further ahead, your clients might be expecting to use virtual agents in their attempts at issue resolution. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2015, 50% of online customer self-service search activities will be via a virtual assistant. ICMI research shows that 64% of contact center leaders feel that advanced self-service options such as virtual agents improve the overall customer experience.

If you’re going to provide virtual agents and self-service options, though, do it well. In 2013, Zendesk stated that 72% of customers were going online to serve themselves, but only 52% were finding the information they needed.

M2M (Machine-to-Machine)

Are you tired of hearing about the Internet of Things and connected devices? Are you tired of the #IoT and #M2M hashtags? Well, sorry. Just when you thought you had your world on a string, connected devices are creating a future you could never have imagined just a few years ago.

Your servers are monitoring appliances, devices and machines. Something as innocuous as a down printer can seriously impact the ability of sales or finance to do their jobs. Servers, laptops and mobile devices have obvious business productivity consequences. At hospitals, equipment and wearable devices have to be connected to monitor patient health.

It’s important that the machines are not separate from the IT departments. In other words, your IT service teams should have intimate knowledge of all the connected devices, and the ability to apply swift resolutions.

Conclusion

In today’s business and technology environment, there is always a lot to think about when it comes to managing IT departments. The above list of our suggested top five worries for IT Service Managers could go on for much longer. IT Service Managers have to contend with basic routine service tickets to business critical connectivity outages. Within that spectrum, the sheer volume of alerts, the increasing workforce demands of BYOD, job uncertainty along with M2M & IoT continue to challenge the Service Manager.

However, as we have outlined, you have to manage this workload and uncertainty, so take control, be organised, and continue to be a strategic partner to your business. Today, there are a number of strategic departments working closely with IT resolution teams and other business units, in harmony, to plan for and manage the burden. To do so will help you reduce the stress and worry that this challenging and exciting role brings.

This article has been contributed by Teon Rosandic, VP EMEA at xMatters.

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The Internet of Things, Big Data and ITSM

Science fiction becoming science fact
Science fiction becoming science fact

I have noticed recently during my travels with EasyVista, that Hotel staff have begun to offer two or three WIFI codes on check-in, in recognition of the fact that we are all carrying multiple devices. Like sheep and rats, devices connected to the Internet outnumber humans.

The number of objects connected to the Internet actually surpassed humans back in 2008. According to Cisco 12.5 billion devices were connected in 2010 and they predict 25BN devices by 2015 and 50BN by 2020. Nowadays the average professional might be connected via their phone, tablet and PC. In a few years time you might also add their home thermostat, fridge, home media centre, home surveillance system, health monitoring system and so on.

The Internet of Things

This growing trend of everyday objects sending and receiving data over the Internet is known as the Internet of things or industrialized Internet.

Sensors can be embedded everywhere and programmed to either communicate with us, or communicate with each other.

Machine-to-Machine Communications (M2M)

RFID chips have led the way in devices communicating data about themselves – but this has been surpassed by the incredibly low cost and ease of access of simply providing devices with WIFI connectivity and management control with a cheap smart phone app.

In the absence of a usable WIFI connection, many devices can use a simple mobile phone SIM card to communicate with the wider world. M2M is a huge growth area for the mobile telecommunications industry, especially as connected devices are growing at a faster rate than humans and can provide significant strategic advantage to businesses that analyze and act on their activity.

Runbook Automation – If this, then that

Futurists have long predicted the fridge that can order it’s own food. But the Internet of Things is far from science fiction. Smart meters and apps on smart phones can already monitor and regulate heating in your home or remind you of tasks to be done based on location.

One of the most fascinating developments in the last couple of years is for devices and services to perform actions based on certain criteria. This is demonstrated perfectly via the free online service IFTTT (If this, then that). Simply connect your online services and use ‘recipes’ to automate tasks such as ‘Turn on the lights when I go into a room’. 16 years ago I travelled to Microsoft in Seattle. I had a meeting with Steve Ballmer, but while I was there, one of the execs showed me around ‘Microsoft house’. When you walked from the bedroom into the lounge, the building sensed nobody was in the bedroom, so the wall moved making the lounge bigger and the bedroom smaller. Perhaps a little too visionary, but it was clever.

It is only matter of time before these consumer-oriented services are standard in the enterprise; Zapier is an example of a corporate grade automation tool for joining together hundreds of different SaaS APIs. If the automation sounds too trivial for business consider that pharmaceuticals are building tablets that can signal when they’ve been swallowed or suitcases that can tell passengers their luggage has been loaded on the wrong flight.

Enterprise Automation

Early adopters for such automation are logistics companies using efficient freight routing or redirection based on real time congestion data to save fuel and time. Manufacturing plants are using sensors to adjust the position of component parts in the assembly process to improve efficiency and reduce errors.

The same logic can be applied to the delivery of IT Services:

  • Enterprise objects can have an online ‘information shadow’ similar to the additional reference material found on a Google map or an augmented reality. Printers have long been able to communicate their status over the network – this can be applied to all things a business owns.
  • Support can be provided in context. In an ideal world I only want to be reminded to buy batteries when I’m stood in the queue at the supermarket next to the batteries. The same filtering can be applied to support – for example knowledgebase information can be shown when customers are in a certain location, or using a certain process or device.
  • Devices can also create new knowledge or provide intelligent services. IBM’s Watson is already answering help desk calls.
  • Smart business equipment can report their own faults in real time, and use predictive analysis to prevent failures in the future.  Field service operations can be quicker and more efficient.

Automating a network of connected devices over the Internet is obviously not without risk. As with all IT Services, organizations need to be concerned with what happens with a system failure, or the ramifications of a vulnerability attack when business devices are automated and autonomous. Privacy of data and cultural shifts should also be considered, the UK retailer Tesco received complaints from packing staff for using armbands on staff to track worker productivity.

What this means for IT Service and support

What does this mean to those delivering and supporting IT services?

Ultimately businesses can harness data collected from the Internet of Things to provide better services and make better decisions based on real time data. All of these devices and online services create unprecedented volumes of data to analyze (known as Big Data). For IT Service Management professionals, new skills will be required to visualize these huge data sets, draw insights from the data exhaust and architect run book automation scenarios.

Traditionally IT support have used data from tickets or infrastructure to facilitate support – the great opportunity with the Internet of Things is to learn more about the users themselves and their behavior in order to provide exceptional support.

It also means that IT may just become BFF with marketing 😉