Knowledge Management Is More Than Just Buying A Tool

bana
“Knowledge, like bananas, has a finite shelf life”

Knowledge Management is a hot IT service management (ITSM) topic again.

Spurred on by the interest in social-enablement and self-help/service, many organizations are looking at how best to manage knowledge or, more specifically, how to make pertinent information available to people as and when they need it.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail” applies here

Organisations and their practitioners who are considering buying and implementing Knowledge Management technology should consider the following: What is the process trying to achieve?

The actual implementation of knowledge technology usually requires detailed and specific tasks and use of highly tailored and focussed content. Therefore it’s essential to be absolutely clear on what result is expected from this – e.g.

  • Increased first level resolution for Service desk staff
  • Fast induction/training of IT support staff
  • Consistent/auditable use of policies and procedures across all IT support staff
  • Faster resolution/turnaround time (across teams) using crowdsourcing/increasing visibility of issues
  • Development of specific technical skills for specific staff and teams
  • Development of broad skills and product knowledge for all staff and teams
  • Reduction in incidents and problems being escalated to 2nd/3rd level teams
  • Reduced cost of operating a service desk or IT support service
  • Development of shared understanding and awareness of technical issues across a department
  • Greater use of self-help or self-healing technology for IT staff and IT customers
  • Improvement across various service management processes – e.g. request, incident, problem, change, asset and configuration, SLM

“Managing knowledge” is not a suitable end result to have in mind.

Turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge can be perilous

It can be easy to start writing knowledge articles (KAs) without a clear and consistent view of these goals – this can result in KAs that are useless, inappropriate, pitched at the wrong level, over or under engineered etc. Clarity on purpose is essential.

It’s essential to understand and clarify the format of how an article is written and by whom – so define some simple guidelines for completing the KA, as well as the basic format of the article. As an example this could include the need for some context (i.e. a map), some indication of testing errors, known errors as well as other (service catalog type) information about the service and users.

All of this will help the service desk analyst or support analyst to be able to quickly use the information as needed. The other side of this is simply that, if the analyst cannot quickly identify (1) if this is a useful piece of information, then (2) read and use it, then the whole process is wasted.

Think about who will consume the knowledge and how

Another key point is to use relevant and appropriate language – be clear on who it’s for, as well as when and how it will be consumed and used. It may be that more or less technical language can be used, depending on the consumer of the KA. Some contact centres use different text formats for different levels of staff, so that trainees are given scripts, whereas supervisors see bullet points only – this can be transferred to IT support with the same criteria. Also for some IT technical areas, it can be useful if access to records is controlled by level of training or qualification – i.e. so that only those with the right skills are able to use the content.

Knowledge, like bananas, has a finite shelf life

Ownership of articles and their approval, maintenance and removal is also important. The role of Knowledge administrator or even Problem Manager does not imply that that person will provide all the input to articles, so a clear and effective approval and maintenance process is vital. Ideally this can be driven via a tool where alerts are sent to relevant approvers/owners regarding the need to approve or review an article based on set time periods etc.

The value of knowledge is not in its creation but in its consumption

Finally, and most importantly, any knowledge system is only of value if it’s used and used effectively. It’s not good enough to simply set up a series of records and expect them to be used. The only way to understand what is and isn’t useful is to track this constantly. Measuring the use and success of articles is a key element of this process and should help to drive improvement, effectiveness and relevance.

Sometimes the most basic records (such as lists) can be the most used and useful documents, whereas elegantly crafted pieces may lie unused and unread – the success of your knowledge system will rely heavily on being able to see what is working and to then work on improving the KAs that are not.

Final thoughts

Overall it should be accepted that Knowledge Management is a permanent ‘work in progress’ which will never be completed. The success of this depends on clearly understanding the outcomes the systems is expected to achieve, in addition to knowing the audience that the articles are aimed at. In addition, this requires a culture of constant review and improvement. Also remember that Knowledge Management doesn’t always put people in touch with information, sometimes it puts people in touch with people who have knowledge.

Finally, while tools can help to automate and deliver very specific content to specific situations – in fact Knowledge Management is difficult without them –the success of Knowledge Management in your organization will still depend more on cultural acceptance and shared goals than anything else.

Does this match with your experience of Knowledge Management? What would you advice be?

Service Desk and IT Support Show 2012 – All in all a good two days.

Diversified Communications reported a 13% increase in attendance

Just before taking up my new role here as an Analyst for The ITSM Review, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to come to this show as preparation for the task ahead.

Certainly on the second day, in our London “drought”, the shelter from the torrential rain provided by exhibitors was interesting, perplexing, and at times irritating, thankfully not in equal measure.

 A Commercial Success

Diversified Business Communications UK reported an impressive 13% increase in visitors for the Service Desk & IT Support Show, held last month, heralding a success as its new owners.

The two-day show drew 4,495 ITSM and IT support professionals from thousands of leading UK and European business organisations, over 24 and 25 April 2012.

“The reaction to the show this year has been incredible,” said event manager Laura Venables.

From visitors to exhibitors, from sponsors to speakers, everybody gained real value from being involved and we’re delighted that it was a complete success.”

The Foot-soldier’s view

It was an interesting two days for me, leading into my new role as an Analyst for The ITSM review mainly because it has been a while since I have been to any technical conference shows like this.

Back in my early days we graduates would all gallop gleefully around the big exhibitions at the NEC, and we were allowed, as it gave us a good chance to learn those all important networking skills.

Also, we weren’t ‘useful’ yet; once you get established in client projects, these jaunts soon disappear from the diary.

It is not as easy as it looks to just launch into conversations with people, even if they ARE trying to sell you something.

For this role in particular, I have to strike a balance between getting information, and giving some kind of perception that they will get anything other than an independent review, should we ever choose to do one.

Of course, it has been amazing for putting faces to some of the great-and-the-good names of Linked In group leaders, providing me with hopefully some good material for my ITSM Review articles.

Review

It would be unfair to base my review on my tired legs, and worn out stand-staffers fed up of smiling, so it’s best to round up my experiences based on the second morning.

  • For the most part, exhibitors are keen to greet with the words “are you looking to invest in a new [insert offering here],” and some seem a little disappointed if they find out you are Press.
  • Others see it as an opportunity to find out if they can send you more stuff.

There have been a couple of disappointments though.

  • One vendor seemed uninterested to the point of: “here’s our literature, email if you have questions.”
  • One key ‘Best Practice’ organisation was not really capable of giving me their three minute elevator pitch and finally just resorted to suggesting I read their website, or maybe come to an event.
  • My pet peeve is where you are having a conversation with someone and suddenly they spy a more established customer and bellow across at them in the “old pals” style with delightful in-jokes and joshery – plain rude, in my opinion.

Conspicuous by their absence

Perhaps more confusingly, some of the biggest players in the ITSM field were not here.

IBM, for example, have a SaaS ready model for their IBM Tivoli Service Request Manager suite, yet they were at Infosec show next door, but not here, with a product that focuses on Service Desk, Incident, Problem and Change Management etc.

Meanwhile in one of the larger displays, BMC are proudly announcing to anyone and everyone about their ability to appeal to any size of market.

The giveaway chart

Now, young or old, a vital part of any conference is the amount of freebies you can get!

Herewith, my run down of what I got!

  • The boys from Service Now won my heart with coffee, jellybeans, a metal pen and an iPad stylus.
  • Followed by the ITIL Training Zone with a nifty plastic card holder (handy for hassled commuter travel cards especially!).
  • Pink Elephant were promoting their latest facilitation offering, looking at Attitude, Behaviour, Culture (ABC) and bravely gave away their ABC decks of cards.  I say bravely, because the cards on their own are amusing, but the value is the workshop that fits around it, and it’s a subject I intend to dig into for The ITSM Review.
  • BMC had a little plastic dancing/boxing man, which was cute but really served no purpose other than to set up to two of them and watch them fight to their plastic death.
  • Axios gave away the smelliest plastic bags but maybe I should thank them as it meant no-one was keen to stand too close in the rush hour tube journey.

Best Value Add

Some stands gave away content on USB memory sticks – especially vital if you want to demo ITSM up in the clouds.

Looking at these purely in the context of my new role, these were the best prizes of the lot.

Will I do this all again next year?

All in all, for me anyway, it was a good two days, and something I see myself doing more and more.

Having worked largely in the enterprise solution space, and rarely having implemented in small-scale projects, it was especially interesting to stop in on some of the less ostentatious stands.

I look forward to testing out a number of demos, getting started with a cycle of Operational Assessments and Product Reviews.

But right now, I would settle for a comfy pair of slippers to rest my tired feet.

UK IT Conference Season Starts With Service Desk & IT Support Show

Laura Venables "Our 2012 line-up of big name exhibitors and illustrious expert speakers has already generated a lot of positive feedback from pre-registered visitors"

Spring has sprung and the IT conference season engine for 2012 has officially started. Actually, Las Vegas and Orlando got going in January/February, but at least we’re civilised enough to wait until the clocks go forward before we dust off our conference venues.

April is special of course as this is the month that we see the Service Desk & IT Support Show return to London’s Earls Court from the 24-25 April, with over 80 suppliers demonstrating 250+ products and services.

This is the UK’s biggest showcase for the IT Service Management and IT support industry and this year the central exhibition will also benefit from a comprehensive two-day free education programme, which combines eight keynotes, 40 seminars, breakfast briefings and roundtable discussions.

New Faces

A full exhibitor list is available here. Looking over the attendees we can see that there are plenty of the “usual suspects” and that’s always a good thing. Even better is the news that there will also be nearly twenty completely new faces taking part this year.

New names at the show include:

“The support from the industry this year, as always, has been fantastic. Our 2012 line-up of big name exhibitors and illustrious expert speakers has already generated a lot of positive feedback from pre-registered visitors,” commented event manger Laura Venables. “I’ve been working on the show for five years now and it’s a testament to its continuing success that, with less than two weeks to go, we’re still getting significant exhibitor interest from some top ITSM providers.”

Further info: http://www.servicedeskshow.com/

How to Provide Support for VIPs

One of the outcomes of IT Service Management is the regulation, consistency and predictability in the delivery of services.

I remember working in IT before Service Management was adopted by our organisation and realising that we would over-service some customers and under-service others. Not intentionally but we didn’t have a way of regulating our work and making our output predicatable.

Our method of work delivery seemed to be somewhere between “First come first served” and “She who shouts loudest shall get the best service”. Not the best way to manage service delivery.

Chris York tweeted an interesting message recently;

It’s a great topic to talk about and one that I remember having to deal with personally in previous jobs.

I have two different views on VIP treatment – I think it’s a complex subject and I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

if your names not down you're not getting support
if your names not down you're not getting support

The Purist

Firstly IT Service Management is supposed to define exactly how services will be delivered to an organisation. The service definition includes the cost, warranty and utility that is to be provided.

Secondly, there is a difference between the Customer of the service and the User of the service. The Customer is characterised as the people that pay for the service. They also define and agree the service levels.

Users are characterised as individuals that use the service.

There are loads of great analogys to reinforce this point – from local government services that are outsourced (The local Government is the customer, the local resident is the user), to restaurants and airports. The IT Skeptic has a good discussion on the subject

It’s also true to say that the Customer might not also be a user of the service, although in organisations I’ve worked in it is usually so.

This presents an interesting dilemma for both the Provider and the Customer. Should the Customer expect more from the service than they originally negotiated with the Provider? I think the most common example that this dilemma occurs is end-user services – desktop support.

The people that would “sign on the dotted line”for the IT Services we used to provide would be Finance Directors, IT Directors, CFOs or CIOs. Very senior people with responsibility for the cost of their services and making sure the company gets a good deal.

Should we be surprised when senior people that ultimately pay for the service expect preferential treatment? No – but we should remind them of the service warranty that they agreed would be supplied.

Over-servicing VIPs has to be at the cost of someone else – and by artificially raising the quality of service for a few people we risk degrading the service for everyone.

The Pragmatist

The reality is that IT Service Management is a people business and a perception business, especially end-user services.

People call the Service desk when they want something (a Request) or they need help (an Incident). Both of these are quite emotional human states.

The performance and usability of someones IT equipment is fundamental to their own productivity and their own success. It feels very personal when your equipment that you rely on stops functioning.

Although we can gather SLA and performance statistics for our stakeholder meetings we have the problem that we are often seen as being as good as our last experience with that individual person. It shouldn’t be this way – but it is.

I’ve been to meetings full of good news about the previous months service only to be ripped to pieces for a request submitted by the CEO that wasn’t actioned. I’ve been to meetings after a period of general poor service and had good reviews because the Customer had a (luckily) excellent experience with the Service desk.

Much as we don’t like it prioritising VIP support it has an overall positive effect when we do.

The middle ground (or “How I’ve seen it done before”)

If you don’t like the Pragmatist view above there are ways to come to a compromise. Stephen Mann touched on an idea I have seen before:

Deciding business criticality is obviously a challenge.

In my previous role, in the advertising world, the most important people in an agency are the Creatives.

These guys churn out graphical and video content and work on billable hours. When their equipment fails the clock is ticking to get them back up and running again.

So calculating the financial cost of individuals downtime and assigning a role is a method of designating those that can expect prioritised support.

As a Service Provider in that last role our customer base grew and our list of VIPs got longer. We eventually allocated 5% of each companies headcount to have “VIP” status in our ITSM tool.

I think there are ways to write VIP support into an IT Services contract that allows the provider to plan and scale their support to cater for it.

Lastly, we should talk about escalated Incidents. This is a more “formal” approach to Service Management (the Purist would be happy) where a higher level of service is allocated to resolving an Incident if it meets the criteria for being escalated.

When dealing with Users it is worth having a view of that persons overall experience with the Service Provider. If a user already has one escalated Incident should she expect a better service when she calls with another? Perhaps so – the Pragmatist would see that although we file each Incident separately her perception of the service is based on the overall experience. With our ITSM suite we use informational messages to guide engineers as to the overall status of a User.

Simon Morris
Simon Morris

In summary…

I think everyone would agree that VIP support is a pain.

The Purist will have to deal with the fact that although he kept his service consistent regardless of the seniority of the caller he might have to do some unnecessary justification at the next review meeting.

The Pragmatist will have to suffer unexpected drain on her resources when the CEOs laptop breaks and everything must be focussed on restoring that one users service.

Those occupying the middle ground will be controlling the number of VIPs by defining a percentage of headcount for the Customer to allocate. Hopefully the Customer will understand the business well enough to allocate them to the correct roles (and probably herself).

The Middle Ground will also be looking at a users overall experience and adjusting service to make sure that escalated issues are dealt with quickly.

No-one said IT Service Management was going to be easy!


IT SmartDesk: When Everyone Can Work in IT Support

I recently spoke with Maff Rigby of ITSM start-up IT SmartDesk.

Maff recently presented a session at the itSMF UK conference entitled ‘Social IT – how social media is turning ITSM on its head’. The slides from Maff’s session can be found here.

Facebook Meets IT Support

In a nutshell, during his itSMF session Maff suggested ways in which Social concepts could be used to our advantage in ITSM. These included real time chat and collaboration, using live feeds and activity ‘walls’, harnessing new technology to notify customers or users of issues and using modern collaboration techniques such as wiki’s, crowd sourcing and tagging.

IT SmartDesk is positioned as ‘Social IT Service Management’; using IT SmartDesk I can invite anyone to join me on the system, they can share what they are currently working on, log incidents, ask questions, follow an incident, log bugs and generally join the conversation and collaborate. It’s Facebook meets small IT team support.

IT SmartDesk is aimed at small teams or businesses seeking an online solution, Maff and his team have initially focused on logging incidents and bug tracking – but for me the real key differentiator with this offering is the type of user who can collaborate and provide support.

IT Support for IT Savvy Companies

Traditional ITSM solutions are based on a certain number of IT users who support the larger customer base. E.g. I’ll buy 5 concurrent users for my service desk system to support hundreds or thousands of my customers or users.

IT SmartDesk have turned this model on its head and have priced the system by total number of people logging into the system. They have wisely recognized the market trend that IT support does not have all the answers and many companies are providing support to IT savvy users. With IT SmartDesk anyone in the company can jump in and collaborate. The IT support operator changes from gatekeeper to curator.

The paint has only just dried on this new tool, but from what I have seen so far I found the system to be blindingly obvious to use, easy on the eye, fun to use and clean. Let’s hope they can keep it that way as the feature set expands.

I look forward to keeping track of IT SmartDesk over the coming months.

Further details can be found here > www.itsmartdesk.com

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