Keeping Up in an On-Demand World

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Fostering good relations with business counterparts is a good place to start

It’s a fact that business user expectations of IT continue to grow in today’s tech-heavy consumer culture. In a world where we can get access to new capabilities and services quickly in our personal lives, it’s no wonder that business leaders are seeking the same continuous delivery of new capabilities in their work lives.

Here are five tips that will help you adjust your culture and tooling for this era of on-demand IT.

 

Tip 1: Take notice of the level of collaboration between your company’s business unit managers and the IT department

Ask yourself, is either side pleased with the situation at present? I’ve seen companies invest in roles within IT to foster improved collaboration with the business (e.g. what ITIL calls Service Managers or what Gartner and others call Business Relationship Managers). This is a useful investment for IT organizations to make because it gives a focal point to work with the business, someone who can sit in executive meetings to understand what needs they have and problems they are trying to solve. In a lot of companies the CIO still tries to act as the “relationship manager” for every business unit and sometimes also the head of development tries to do so – these approaches just don’t scale effectively.

 

Tip 2: Do something every quarter to improve communication and collaboration between non-IT managers and the IT department

Standing still in this area means that communication and collaboration is likely eroding. Both the business and IT sides of the house are moving so fast that it requires a proactive communication and collaboration to maintain alignment. I hear a lot of CIOs talk about the need for an “open line of communication” with other departments and that’s a good mindset, but it’s not enough. We have to move beyond appealing to better communications and the need to align with the business. The question you should be asking is “what are some concrete actions I can take now to improve communication and collaboration between non-IT managers and IT?” One idea is the creation of relationship manager roles as mentioned above. Investing in good quality IT relationship managers and aligning up front on project scope is critical.

But even with that in place, challenges for communication and collaboration will persist. For example, if you’re relying on the relationship manager to translate and explain the business needs to those in IT who need to know about what the business is trying to achieve, the priorities, etc. there can be some big communication gaps because not everyone who needs to know gets the information, or, the business needs are changing so rapidly and people in IT are working with outdated information about business requirements. What’s needed is an ongoing dialog between not just the business and IT relationship managers, but also with project managers, developers, and even those in operations that need to deploy and run the applications.

There’s a lot IT can learn here from enterprise collaboration projects in the business (with products like Jive) and apply that to how IT works with the business. Imagine if the people working on the project in IT could “follow” and collaborate on business requirements with the business like you follow someone on Twitter or have a friend on Facebook. Followers could get updated as things change and engage with the business if there are questions or concerns. Maybe the development manager draws a cut line for the release and the business knows about that in advance and can give feedback on features that need to be added or confirm which others can wait. Perhaps there’s a policy that governs an app but operations isn’t aware of it and is going to deploy it in such a way that they would violate the policy – instead the enterprise governance team can know about it and weigh in before the deployment happens.

 

Tip 3: Revisit the tools and approaches you use for IT collaboration work today. Be intentional about your go-forward tools strategy

The challenge I see here (a lot) is that IT is still using the same techniques they’ve always been using for collaboration – meetings, emails, conference calls, sharepoint sites, spreadsheets. There is no substitute for meetings and face-to-face interactions and even conference calls are important, however, the challenge is how do we capture and disseminate that information so those in the meeting can refer back to it but ensure others that weren’t in the meeting can still have access to it? What about someone new joining the organization, how can they get up to speed faster without having to go to lots and lots of meetings?

IT needs a new way to think about how we capture knowledge and make it available to people in the context of the work they’re doing so they don’t have to go hunting for it on sharepoint sites, send out lots of emails, search knowledge bases etc. In effect looking for the needle in the proverbial haystack.

What we need in IT, and which we have been lacking, are cross-team workspaces. An area you could bring together the right people with the right tools and information in a workspace that was defined around the context of the activity that needs to get done – whether that’s a development project, an infrastructure upgrade, an incident that needs to be resolved, etc. And then help facilitate the team making the necessary decisions and documenting the actions that will be taken – while also notifying everyone who needs to know.

 

Tip 4: Accept that complexity is increasing and that your people are key to managing it not just automations

IT environment complexity is a major issue for many companies because their systems have now been linked together so that the user community can move from one system to the next easily and so that data is quickly passed between systems. So now when change comes in it can affect how multiple systems work together. As IT practitioners, we’ve been working so hard to support the business all these years and we now have a collection of lots of legacy stuff and new technologies and it’s all been woven together in a way to help the business as fast as possible.

There’s a lot we’d change if we could go back and do things over, but that’s just not practical, and so for the most part we need to work with the environments we have. The challenge is how do you understand all these integrations, relationships and dependencies, all the tribal knowledge that’s been built up in the IT organization over the years?

There have been several approaches to address this like Configuration Management Databases (CMDBs) and discovery tools, and they help, but they raise their own issues. First, there’s only so much that discovery tools can discover off the wire. They do a decent job of telling you how things are configured and relationships between them but they still miss a lot because they have to be programmed to find “patterns” and there’s no way they can discover things like policies and how those govern your assets.

The other big challenge for discovery tools is that they don’t capture intent – i.e. why things are the way they are. That’s tribal knowledge that’s in your people’s heads. Someone at sometime knew why SAP was configured that way or why a certain port was opened on that server or switch. The problem is that tribal knowledge isn’t well documented, it gets lost as people forget it or leave.

The complexity problem is really a tribal knowledge problem. What we need is a living, breathing CMDB, think of it like a “social CMDB” that leverages discovery tools but then uses crowd-sourcing and peer review, like Wikipedia, to validate what’s been discovered and fill in gaps on an ongoing continuous basis. Until we have this, IT is going to be very resistant to the pace of change the business wants, because we’ll be concerned something might break that we weren’t expecting.

This is another area where you can apply the cross-team workspace concept. The idea of not only capturing the tribal knowledge and continually validating the CMDB but then pushing that information forward in the context of planning a change or resolving an incident. So if people are following the things in the IT environment that they care about, when it comes time to work on a change, the right people can be brought together in a shared workspace (instead of guessing who to involve like in traditional change process management) and arm them with the right information and tools to provide their risk assessment. That way, when the change board goes to review the planned change, they know who’s been involved and what information they had access to and can feel a lot more confident about their decision and approve the change a lot faster to keep the business moving forward.

 

In summary

The fundamental business-IT challenge in a lot of companies is that the business is simply frustrated with the pace at which IT moves. Fostering good relations with business counterparts and investing in relationship managers as mentioned above is a good start. But having the business engaged in a shared workspace for projects they care about, giving them more transparency into the project and decisions being made about cut lines for releases or the like, will give them a greater sense of ownership and appreciation for the work we do in IT and how it’s not just ‘there’s an app for that’ in an on-demand world.

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The ITSM Review are holding a series of seminars this year headed by ITSM superstar Barclay Rae. We will be starting in March with Transforming User Experience – Enterprise Service Management & Self Service. For more information click here

The secret to change success – understanding multiple perspectives

People
People are both the problem and the answer

A recent Forrester consulting study (commissioned by automation vendor Chef and downloadable from their website at the link above) found that 40% of Fortune 1000 IT leaders report first time change success rates below 80% (or they simply didn’t know what the first time change success rate was at all), with another 37% stating their first time change success rate was between 80% and 95%.

In the same study, 69% of these same Fortune 1000 IT leaders report it takes them more than a week to make infrastructure changes, and an equal 69% report that it takes them more than a week to release application code into production (mind you that’s not to develop, test, and release the code, but just release code that’s already been written and tested!). Finally, 46% report that more than 10% of their incidents were self-inflicted from IT changes and, shockingly, 31% say they don’t even know what percentage of incidents are caused by changes!

Why Otherwise Capable IT Leaders Struggle with Change

What is going on in these IT shops to produce such bad numbers?  Based on my experience with a number of Fortune 1000 IT organizations, I’d like to think that these study participants are  just as smart and capable as the IT leaders and professionals I regularly meet with. They are well educated, very experienced (as are their teams), and nearly all of them have some form of change process, changes management software and a change advisory board to assess risks before changes are made. So, why isn’t this enough to produce better results?

I submit that there are two problems, which are actually related to each other.

Problem One

Our environments have become extremely complex. The dependencies and relationships across multi-tiered applications / business services are way more than what one individual can know fully – no matter how talented and how long they’ve been working there.

Trends like virtualization, agile development, cloud, mobile, big data, etc. are also making this even harder as IT moves faster and faster to respond to business needs and as innovative new technologies proliferate.

Problem Two

We aren’t effectively capturing the input from multiple perspectives during the change planning process so we aren’t effectively identifying and mitigating risks.

Think about how a typical change and release planning process goes. It starts with a request for a change and a change planner filling out an electronic form about it. They assign various people to review and approve the change and this step might include consulting with a spreadsheet, perhaps looking at Configuration Item (CI) information in a CMDB, and maybe calling a meeting or sending out an email or two.  In a lot of cases, those selected to participate in the review will include managers or more senior roles who don’t have a very good working knowledge of the operational environment, so they consult with their teams (or at least we hope they will) and eventually the change gets brought forward to the Change Advisory Board (CAB) for a formal approval. It may have taken a week, two weeks, a month or more just to get to this point.

Then the CAB, which is often made up of even more senior people, reviews the planned change. Often one of the CAB members will recognize that a key team or expert wasn’t included in the review process and “kicks it back” for further input and the change approval is rescheduled to a future CAB meeting.  Equally often there’s a lot of pressure from the business to make the change happen right away (it could be a new application release the business has been waiting for), it could be a security fix and “we just can’t allow ourselves to be exposed by delaying it”, or maybe it’s just a firmware upgrade to a router and the vendor has said “it’s no big deal”.   So the CAB says “go” and hopes everything works out okay, but a lot of times it simply doesn’t.

People Are Both The Problem And The Answer

By now you may have guessed that the way we engage people in the change process is not only the problem, but it’s also the solution. There’s a great quote from the MIT artificial intelligence expert, Marvin Minsky, that I think is very relevant here: “You don’t really understand something until you understand it more than one way.”

This is, in effect, what we try to do by assigning multiple reviewers and approvers to a change request, but the problem is that we often guess about whom the best people are to involve so we end up oversubscribing the list and inundating people with emails and meetings or we undersubscribe and leave out key individuals.

The information these people have to work from is also very fragmented. Yes, we have our CMDBs and CI information, but they’re often incomplete and not always trusted, so people fall back on their tribal knowledge, which may also be incomplete and out of date.  A lot of the time, we might intentionally leave out groups because we think that will slow things down, “Do we really need to involve the network team on a SAN upgrade? Why do we need security involved in a database patch?” The network might have a direct impact on the success of the SAN upgrade, because we might need to optimize network device settings to handle additional load to the SAN. That database we’re patching might contain sensitive customer data and the right patch procedure better be followed or we’ll create a compliance problem. So if we leave out people that may be necessary, we create unexpected ripple effects from our changes too.

Engaging Relevant Experts to Collaborate Is The Key

I suggest that there are two things we need to do in order to better engage the right people so we can improve first change success rates, speed the time to execute changes, and reduce incidents from changes:

  1. We need to know up front who the right people are to involve (and who not to involve as well), so we can be sure we include all the right perspectives (and don’t unnecessarily pull people off of what they are already working on as well)
  2. We need to arm those we involve with accurate information about upstream and downstream dependencies so they can make informed and quicker recommendations

As an industry, this is what we should be focused on rather than whether a strict approval process alone was followed. By enabling our experts to opt-in to the things they are responsible for and care about, they can be automatically identified and engaged when it comes time to plan a change .  We also need to take a lesson from academic journals and apply a peer review process to our CMDB data so we can increase trust in its use and fill in the gaps with the tribal knowledge of our experts, validating that both sets of information are accurate and up to date. With this type of an approach, we can have a much stronger basis for smarter change decision-making. This is exactly the type of approach we’re taking in my organization, and I invite you to check out what the ITSM Review team has to say about it.

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Power to the People

How Social IT Rebalances the People Process Technology Equation

A remarkable transformation is taking place in the world of information technology today. It reflects a new generation of knowledge workers utilizing social media to improve problem-solving, foster collaboration and spark innovation.

However, despite the continued reference to the traditional triad of success encompassing people, process and technology, the IT world has typically focused more on the process and technology sides rather than emphasizing the ‘people’ component.

This has been particularly true of IT products, consultants, and executives who have emphasized a command and control approach to IT that tends to downplay and minimize the people factor.

While a highly industrialized, mechanistic view of IT over the last five plus years has led to enormous gains in automation and productivity, the IT industry has now reached a point where differentiation around process and technology has become smaller and smaller. At the same time, innovations such as tablets and smartphones have introduced a new era of enterprise IT consumerization that is dramatically changing workplace habits and forms of communication and collaboration within and between organizations worldwide.

Get on board the collaboration economy!

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, among others, has proclaimed a paradigm shift to a new “collaboration economy” that allows people, teams and companies to effectively organize and focus their activities on creating value and driving profitability. Thus, the traditional IT emphasis on process and technology is giving way to new ways of thinking that recognize the increasing importance of the social or people component in IT in order to unlock new sources of productivity and value through greater knowledge sharing and collaboration.

The following five key behavioral attributes are necessary to increase people engagement and rebalance the IT operations equation for success:

  1. Divide and Conquer – Overcome limitations of traditional mechanistic approaches to IT information discovery and share the knowledge and expertise of IT staff across the enterprise
  2. Feed and Engage – Facilitate new ways of engagement to break down traditional barriers to communication and collaboration among IT teams and stakeholders
  3. Assign and Trust – Foster accountability for knowledge, so that individuals take on responsibilities that go beyond traditional IT processes and systems and their peers trust in the knowledge captured
  4. Make it Second Nature – Use approaches that feel natural and interact intuitively to increase adoption and value
  5. Reinforce and Reward – Compel executives and IT managers to recognize and reward collaborative behavior among IT staff and stakeholders

Behavior #1: Divide and Conquer

Most IT organizations today conduct operations with a heavy emphasis on machine-driven automated discovery and monolithic configuration management databases (CMDBs) that attempt to capture all information about the IT environment. In many cases, these tools and databases are managed by a specialized team charged with keeping information current. However, these teams often have far less institutional knowledge and expertise than others within the IT organization. Those who do have the most knowledge are either blocked from directly accessing and updating these tools and databases, or they refuse to do so because they are already comfortable with their own personal spreadsheets, wikis, and other tools.

This results in a situation where IT departments all too frequently spend limited budget dollars to staff full- time resources to establish a “single source of truth” that is, in fact, either out of date, not trusted by many in their own organization, or both.

As a consequence, IT departments either do not use these tools and databases for their intended purposes, or IT professionals are forced to rely on inaccurate information to assess issues or problems and make decisions.

In contrast, social knowledge management gives everyone in IT a stake in contributing to and verifying the accuracy of the knowledge about the IT environment. The “burden” of maintenance doesn’t fall on any single person or team, but is the collective responsibility of everyone participating.

This is not to say there isn’t value in machine discovered knowledge. Instead, machine knowledge must be augmented by human knowledge and validated so that the organization can confidently make decisions. Stated another way, rather than trying to eliminate the human factor, as traditional approaches have done, social IT actually encourages all knowledgeable individuals to share their expertise and contribute to the knowledge pool by creating and following a new breed of “social objects” that leverage well-known principles from Wikipedia and Facebook-style news feeds.

Behavior #2: Feed and Engage

IT organizations that emphasize process and technology at the expense of people often tend to erect boundaries between individuals and teams in an effort to strictly manage operations through a hierarchical command and control structure. This approach reinforces the traditional technology silos in IT and exacerbates them by creating new process silos. For example, if the network is up and running, why should the network group worry if an application is slow? “It’s not our problem” is a typical reaction when IT behavior is siloed and not collaborative.

Social IT-based crowdsourcing and peer review of knowledge, on the other hand, taps into the human instinct to fill in the gaps of known and unknown information. Then, when confronting incidents, problems, and changes, the organization can make better decisions by better coordinating team effort where individuals contribute to issues they feel connected to and care about based on their responsibilities, their expertise, or simply their individual interests. This can be accomplished by leveraging familiar social media principles and “following” the objects IT manages (such as servers, network devices, applications, etc.) and by automatically assigning experts to collaboration activities around incidents, problems, and changes. With this approach, individuals can also be alerted and fed new information as social objects are updated leading to an organization that is continually current on the latest IT environment reality.

With such an approach, rather than hoarding knowledge for job security, individuals are encouraged to take ownership of objects in their sphere of influence and responsibility, keep those objects updated with new knowledge, create new objects when performing daily tasks, and then automatically share their activities with others who are affected by or depend on them.

Behavior #3: Assign and Trust

If the people potential of IT is to be fully realized by pooling collective knowledge and continuous engagement via social media types of communication and collaboration, then individuals must be accountable to others for their contribution and actions. In other words, you can crowd source knowledge but all knowledge is not created equal. Even though multiple individuals can contribute knowledge, a single individual or role should have sole ownership of a “social object.” In this manner, the organization can increase its trust of the knowledge about that object, or, if it is not being accurately maintained, replace the individual who is responsible.

Behavior #4: Make it Second Nature

IT organizations and bookshelves are littered with the bones of projects that have tried to enforce processes that individuals pay lip service to and then promptly ignore in their daily operational activities. What’s more, IT professionals are usually some of the busiest employees in the organization, so adding on a new set of activities can easily be met with skepticism.

The real potential and promise of social IT stems from its ability to foster ways of communicating and working that feel natural and intuitive to human beings without adding more to the plates of those who already feel overworked. The fact is, IT organizations are inherently social already. IT teams just haven’t had tools that are designed to support collaboration and the capture of knowledge.

IT teams that use email or instant messaging, conduct daily SCRUM meetings, or hold regular Change Advisory Board reviews, are ripe for the benefits of Social IT. But to leverage social IT requires products that fit naturally into the work IT professionals are already doing, and that augment existing processes and practices without being seen as another thing that must be done in the course of a day.

By taking this approach, IT organizations will find that “offline” communication methods like email and instant messaging will be used less and less in favor of the social knowledge management system. They will also find that SCRUM meetings are more productive and CAB meetings focused more on the changes that have the biggest risk.

Behavior #5: Reinforce and Reward

As human beings, we pay close attention to the kinds of behavior that are actually valued and rewarded in the workplace by management. Therefore, it’s imperative that executive and IT management understand and reward social IT activities that contribute to the knowledge and collaboration necessary to improve problem-solving and decision-making among IT staff members.

IT leadership must create a culture of collaboration that encourages and rewards individuals who participate in social IT by assuming responsibility and ownership of objects in their sphere of influence and actively contributing on a daily basis. One IT organization that I know of set a goal for getting a specific number of social objects into their knowledge management system by a certain day, and then paid a bonus to those who contributed to meeting that objective. You might consider providing incentives through bonuses like this and/or as part of annual performance reviews for those who make decisions by consulting the social IT knowledge management system.

Finally: An unprecedented opportunity to improve IT productivity

The introduction of social technologies into the IT workplace presents an unprecedented opportunity to improve productivity and even job satisfaction of IT professionals. Taking advantage of that opportunity, however, requires that IT leaders rebalance the people, process, technology equation by driving behavioral change and equipping teams with the proper tools and incentives to achieve success.

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Getting started with social IT (Part 2 of 2)

Following on from Matthew Selheimer’s first installment on social IT, we are pleased to bring you the second and final part of his guide to getting started with social IT

Level 3 Maturity: Social Embedding

The saying, “Context is King!” has never been truer and this is the foundational characteristic for attaining Level 3 social IT maturity; Social Embedding.
This level of social IT maturity is achieved by establishing relevant context for social collaboration through three specific actions:

  1. The creation of a social object model
  2. The construction of a social knowledge management system that is both role-based and user-specific
  3. The enhancement of established IT processes with social collaboration functionality to improve process efficiency and effectiveness

The goal at Level 3 maturity is to leverage social embedding to improve IT key performance indicators (KPIs) such as mean-time-to-restore (MTTR) service or change success rate (additional examples are provided below). It is important that you select KPIs that are most meaningful to your organisation; KPIs that you have already baselined and can use to track progress as you increase your social IT maturity.

While the value of Level 2 maturity can be significant in improving the perception of IT’s responsiveness to users, Level 3 social IT maturity is where the big breakthroughs in IT efficiency and quantifiable business value are created.

Focus on key performance indicators

Focus on the KPIs associated with the processes you are enhancing with social collaboration. An incident management KPI measurement, for example, could be to multiply your current mean-time-to-restore (MTTR) service by your cost per hour of downtime or cost of degraded service per application. This will give you a starting point for benefit projections and value measurement over time.

Focus on the KPIs associated with the processes you are enhancing with social collaboration. This will give you a foundation for benefit projections and value measurement over time.

For change management, you might use the number of outages or service degradations caused by changes and multiply that by your cost per hour of downtime and MTTR to arrive at a true dollars and cents measure that you can use to benchmark social IT impact over time. You might also consider other IT process metrics such as first call resolution rate, percentage of time incidents correctly assigned, change success rates, the percentage of outages caused by changes, the reduced backlog of problems, etc.

The point is to select IT process metrics that are meaningful for your organization and enable you to calculate a quantifiable impact or benefit. Decision makers may be skeptical about the value of social IT, so you will need to make your case that there is real quantifiable benefit to justifying the investment to achieve Level 3 maturity.

Relevant Context and Three Required Actions

Let’s now more fully consider the establishment of relevant context and the three actions characteristic of Level 3 maturity previously described: 1) creation of a social object model, 2) construction of a social knowledge management system, and 3) the enhancement of IT processes with social capabilities. We noted earlier that context is defined in terms of relevance to a specific audience. That audience could be a group of individuals, a role, or even a single individual. The most important thing is that context ensures your audience cares about the information being communicated.

How do you go about ensuring the right context? What is needed is a social foundation that can handle a wide variety of different perspectives based on the roles in IT and their experience. The most effective way to do this is to treat everything managed by IT as a social object.page7image27920 page7image28080

What is meant by a social object? Consider, for example, a Wikipedia entry and how that is kept up-to-date and becomes more complete over time through crowd sourcing of knowledge on the subject. The entry is a page on the Wikipedia website. Now imagine if everything that IT is managing—whether it’s a router, a server, an application, a user, a policy, an incident, a change, etc.—was treated along the same lines as a Wikipedia page. Take that further to assume that all the relationships which existed between those entries—such as the fact that this database runs on this physical server and is used by this application—were also social objects that could be created, modified, and crowd-sourced. In this manner, organizational knowledge about each object and its relationships with other objects can be enriched over time—just like a Wikipedia entry.

FIGURE 2: A Social Object Model as delivered in ITinvolve for Service Management™. Leveraging social collaboration principles

Define a taxonomy for your social objects

Knowledge comes from multiple sources. Existing IT knowledge may be scattered in different places such as Excel spreadsheets, Visio diagrams, Sharepoint sites, Wikis, CMDBs, automated discovery tools, etc. but it also resides in the minds of everyone working in IT, and even among your end users. To effectively capture this knowledge, you will need to define a taxonomy for your social objects. You can then begin to source or federate existing knowledge and associate it with your objects in order to accelerate the creation of your social knowledge management system.

With an initial foundation of knowledge objects in place, your next task is to make the system easy to use and relevant to your IT teams by defining perspectives on the objects. Establishing perspectives is critical to a well- functioning social knowledge management system, otherwise, you will fall into pitfall #2 discussed earlier. For example, you might define a Network Engineer’s perspective that includes network devices and the relationships they have to other objects like servers and policies. You might define a Security Administrator’s perspective that focuses on the policies that are defined and the objects they govern like network devices and servers. Without this perspective-based view, your teams will not have the relevant context necessary to efficiently and effectively leverage the knowledge management system in support of their day-to-day roles.

Enrich your knowledge and keep it current

Once you have initially populated your social objects and defined perspectives, you need to keep knowledge current and enrich it over time to ensure your IT staff finds it valuable. This is why defining your objects as social objects is so critical. Just like you might follow someone on Twitter or “friend” someone on Facebook, your teams can do the same thing with your objects. In fact, when you created your perspectives, you were establishing the initial baseline of what objects your teams would follow. In this manner, whenever anyone updates an object or its relationships, those who are following it will automatically be notified along with a dedicated “news feed” or activity stream for the object.

When you create your perspectives, you establish the initial baseline of what objects your teams will follow. In this manner, whenever anyone updates an object or its relationships, those who are following it will automatically be notified along with a dedicated “news feed” or activity stream for the object.

This does two important things. First, it keeps those who “need to know” current on the knowledge about your environment so that everyone has up-to-date information whenever there is an incident, change, or other activity related to the object. Instead of waiting until a crisis occurs and teams are interacting with out-of-date information, wasting valuable time trying to get each other up to speed, you can start to work on the issue immediately with the right information in the right context.

Provide a point of engagement for subject matter experts

Second, it provides a point of engagement for subject matter experts to collaborate around the object when they see that others are making updates or changes to the object and its relationships. This second point should not be underestimated because it taps into a basic human instinct to engage on things that matter to them and directly contributes to the crowd-sourcing motivation and improvement of knowledge accuracy over time.

Your third action is to embed your social knowledge management system into your core IT processes in order to enhance them. This is not simply an add-on, as described in Level 2 social IT maturity, but rather it is deep embedding of the social knowledge management system into your processes as the most trusted source of information about your environment. For example, imagine creating an incident record or change record, initially associating it with one or more impacted social objects, and then being able to automatically and immediately notify relevant stakeholders who are following any of those objects and then engage them in triaging the incident or planning the change. This is the power of social collaboration and why it can deliver new levels of efficiency and value for your IT organization.page10image25552

Create new knowledge objects

As an incident or change is worked using social IT, collaboration in activity streams creates a permanent and ongoing record of information, which at any point can be promoted to become a new knowledge object associated with any other object. For example, let’s say that a change record was created for a network switch replacement. Each of the individuals responsible for the switch and related objects like the server rack is immediately brought into a collaboration process to provide input on the change and contribute their expertise prior to the change going to the Change Advisory Board (CAB) for formal approval.

FIGURE 4: In-context collaboration and promotion to knowledge as supported by ITinvolve for Service Management™

This is just one example of the power of in-context collaboration. The same principles apply to incidents, problems, releases and other IT management processes.

To exit Level 3 and start to move to Level 4 on the maturity scale, you need to be able to provide your IT staff with in-context collaboration that is grounded in a social object model, utilizes a social knowledge management system that is easy to maintain and provides an up-to-date view of your objects and relationships, and enhances your existing IT management processes. But more importantly, you need to be able to show the quantifiable impact on one or more KPIs that matter to your organization.

Level 4 Maturity: Social-Driven

The final stage of social IT maturity is Level 4, the Social-Driven IT organization. The goal at this level is to leverage social collaboration for Continual Service Improvement (CSI).

The value of Level 4 social IT maturity comes in two forms. First, as your organization becomes more adept at leveraging social collaboration, you should benchmark your IT process KPIs against that of other organizations. Industry groups such as itSMF, the Help Desk Institute (HDI), as well as leading industry analyst firms, provide data that you can use. Getting involved in peer-to-peer networking activities with other organizations via industry groups are a great way to assess how you are doing in comparison to others. At this stage, you should be striving to outperform any organization that is not leveraging social collaboration principles across your KPIs, and you should be performing at or above the level of those organizations that have adopted social collaboration principles.

Measure the size of your community

Second, you should measure value in terms of behavioral change in your organization. At maturity Level 4, you should have established a self-sustaining community that is actively leveraging the social knowledge management system as part of its day-to-day work. Measure the size of your community and set goals for increasing the community size. Metcalf’s law applies directly to social collaboration: The “network effect” increases the value of the social knowledge management system exponentially as you add users to the community.

Measure the size of your community and set goals for increasing the community size. Metcalf’s law applies directly to social collaboration: The “network effect” increases the value of the social knowledge management system exponentially as you add users to the community.

One way to foster a larger and more active community is through recognition and rewards. For example, you might choose to publicly recognize and provide spot bonuses for the top contributors who have added the most to the social knowledge management system. Or, you may reward service desk personnel who consult the social knowledge management system before assigning the incident to level 2 personnel. You might also choose to acknowledge your staff with “levels” of social IT expertise, classifying those who participate occasionally as “junior contributors”, those who participate regularly as “influencers”, and those who are most active as “experts” or “highly involved.”page12image22344 page12image22504

What’s Beyond Level 4 Social IT Maturity?

One of the most exciting things about being engaged in advancing your social IT maturity is that we are all, as an industry, learning about and exploring its potential. In the future, we are likely to see new product enhancements from vendors that employ gamification principles that encourage even greater growth of our social collaboration communities.

We may see the integration of information from biometric devices that help us to more quickly assess end user frustration and initiate collaboration to resolve issues prior to the user even contacting the service desk. There are certainly going to be even more use cases for social collaboration than we can imagine today.

Getting Started with Social IT (Part 1 of 2)

Today’s post from Matthew Selheimer of ITinvolve is part one of a two-part feature on Social IT maturity, part 2 will follow soon. 

"Most of your customers, employees and stakeholders are actively using social media"

Today, 98 percent of the online population in the USA uses social media sites, and worldwide nearly 6 out of every 10 people use social networks and forums.

From a business perspective, this means a very large percentage of your customers, employees and other stakeholders are already participating in the social media universe where smartphones, tablets, video communication and collaboration are a part of daily life. It almost goes without saying that, if you want to connect with new audiences and marketplaces today, there is no other platform that compares to social media in reach and frequency.

In fact, a recent McKinsey & Company report suggests that the growth businesses of tomorrow will be those that harness the power of social media and its potential benefits not only externally but internally as well:

Most importantly, we find that social technologies, when used within and across enterprises, have the potential to raise the productivity of the high-skill knowledge workers that are critical to the performance and growth in the 21st century by 20 to 25 percent.’

We are social by nature

How might IT departments take advantage of this social media potential? IT organizations are, in fact, quite social by nature. Knowledge and expertise reside in different teams, and specialists must frequently come together and collaborate to plan for changes and resolve issues. These social interactions, however, are typically ad hoc and take place across a wide variety of methods from in-person conversations and meetings, to email, to phone calls, to instant messaging, to wiki sites, and more.

How can IT build upon its existing social culture to deliver new value for the broader organization?

To be considered as more than just a ‘nice to have,’ social media must provide tangible benefits. The good news is that social media principles do provide real benefits when applied to IT – and they do so in a big way. For example, IT organizations that are using social media principles are finding that their staff can interact with users and each other in new and more immediate ways. They are also finding that they can much more easily capture and share the collective knowledge residing across their systems and teams; and then armed with this knowledge, they are able to better understand their IT environment and the complex relationships that exist among their IT assets.

Being social brings risks and rewards

This, in turn, is leading to increases in staff productivity and is making day-to-day tasks like resolving incidents and planning for changes more efficient and more accurate. The results include faster time to restore service when outages or degradations occur, a higher success rate when executing changes, and a greater overall throughput of IT process management activities – just to name a few.

But the adoption of social media principles in IT also has the risk of certain pitfalls. In this article, we will explore a four-level model of social IT maturity, (See Figure 1) including how to avoid the most common pitfalls.

  • At Level 1, organizations begin to explore how social IT can contribute by defining a milestone-based plan with clearly established benefits as their social IT maturity increases.
  • At Level 2, IT takes specific actions to add on social capabilities to existing operations, and begins to realize projected benefits around user intimacy and satisfaction.
  • At Level 3, social IT becomes embedded into and enhances IT operational processes, providing relevant context to improve collaboration among IT professionals thereby making IT teams more efficient and accurate in their daily work.
  • Finally, at Level 4, IT evolves into a socially driven organization with a self-sustaining community, recognition and rewards systems that further incentivize the expansion of the community, and a culture that harnesses the power of social collaboration for continuous process improvement.

 

Figure 1 - A Proposed Social IT Maturity Model

Level 1 Maturity: Social Exploration

The first level of social IT maturity is Social Exploration. The goal of Social Exploration is to learn, and the value delivered comes from defining your plan to improve social IT maturity.

Such a plan must include specific key performance measures that can be tied to financial or other tangible business benefits. Otherwise, your social IT plan is bound to be greeted skeptically by management.

Start by asking yourself simple questions like ‘How can social tools improve my ability to provide better IT service and support?’ and ‘What social IT capabilities are available in the market that I should know about and consider for my organization?’ If you’ve not started asking these types of questions, then you aren’t even on the social IT maturity scale yet. Exploring what social IT could mean for your IT organization is the critical first step.

To exit Level 1 and move to Level 2 on the maturity scale, you must have a documented plan for how you will improve your social IT maturity that incorporates specific key performance measures. The following sections will discuss a variety of elements and performance measures that you should consider.

Social IT Pitfall #1: Ungoverned Broadcasting

In your transition from Level 1 to Level 2 maturity, a common pitfall is to look for a ‘quick win’ such as broadcasting via Twitter or RSS. A number of IT management software vendors include this capability in their products today, so it seems like an easy way to ‘go social.’ However, if you haven’t taken the time to define your communications policies clearly, you could end up doing more harm than good. Posting IT service status to public feeds could leave your organization exposed or embarrassed. You wouldn’t want to see ‘My Company finance application unavailable due to network outage’ re-tweeted and publicly searchable on Google, would you?

You can do more harm than good if you try for a ‘quick win’ approach to social IT by broadcasting via Twitter or RSS. Posting IT service status to public feeds could leave your organization exposed or embarrassed.

Level 2 Maturity: Social Add-ons

The most important thing about getting to Level 2 maturity, Social Add-ons, is that you are now taking specific actions to leverage social capabilities as part of your overall IT management approach.

While some organizations may choose to move directly to Level 3 maturity, because of its greater value, a common next step in increasing social IT maturity is the adoption of one or more social capabilities as add-ons to your existing IT processes. The goals at this stage are typically to leverage social capabilities to improve communications with users and, to a lesser extent, within IT.

The value of Level 2 social IT maturity is defined in terms of metrics such as user satisfaction, the percentage of incidents or requests that have been acted upon within their prescribed SLAs, and the creation of formal social IT communications policies that clarify what should be communicated to whom and when.

A logical place to start is to evaluate the social add-on capabilities of your current IT management software. You may find that your current vendor offers some type of 1:1 chat (instant messaging, video-based, virtual chat agents, etc.), often with the ability to save or record that chat. You may also find support for news feeds and notifications (e.g. Twitter, RSS, Salesforce.com’s Chatter, Yammer, or Facebook integration). You might also consider using these approaches on a standalone basis outside of your current IT management software if your current provider does not offer these capabilities.

Define your communication policies

Remember the first social IT pitfall of broadcasting, though. Before you start communicating, you must define your formal communications policies. Most likely, you already have a policy that pertains to email or Intranet communications to users and employees. If you do, that’ll give you a head start to work from. In any case, here are a few good rules of thumb to follow:

  1. Only communicate externally what you are comfortable with the entire world knowing about. In most cases you will find there are very few things, if any, which fit into this category. For example, you might push out a tweet to a specific user’s twitter account that their incident has now been closed, but without any details about the nature of the incident.
  2. If you do want to communicate using social tools externally in a broader way, consider using private groups that are secure. For example Twitter, Chatter, and Facebook all support private groups, although there is administrative overhead for both users and IT departments to request to join them and to manage members over time.
  3. Make sure what you communicate is focused on a specific audience.Don’t broadcast status updates on every IT service to everyone. If you create too much noise, people will just tune out your communications defeating their entire purpose.

To exit Level 2 and start to move to Level 3 on the maturity scale, you need to shift both your thinking and your plans from social add-ons to how social capabilities can be embedded into the work IT does every day. This means expanding your social scope beyond IT and end user interactions, and working to improve collaboration within IT.

Social IT Pitfall #2: Feeds, Walls, and Noise – Oh My!

One critical success factor for social IT communications is to ensure you are targeting specific audiences. Some vendors offer a Facebook-like wall in addition to the ability to push updates out via Twitter or RSS. In addition to the exposure risk previously discussed, these approaches can also create a tremendous amount of noise, which will make it difficult for both business users and IT to identify useful information in the feed or on the wall.

Relying on a solitary Facebook-like wall for social IT, as well as pushing updates out via Twitter or RSS, can create a tremendous amount of noise, making it difficult for both business users and IT to identify useful information in the feed or on the wall.

There is a simple analogy to illustrate this point. Imagine you are invited to a dinner party and arrive as one of twenty guests. As you enter, you hear many conversations taking place at once, music playing, clinking of glasses behind the bar, the smell of food cooking. What’s the first thing you do? If you’re like most people, you look around the room to find someone else you know, someone who appears interesting, or maybe you head toward the bar or the kitchen. What you’ve just done is to establish context for the party you’re attending. A single IT news feed or wall doesn’t provide useful context. It’s like listening to random sentences from each of the conversations at the party and contains a lot of noise that a business or IT user just doesn’t care about.

While news feeds and walls typically have a keyword search capability, both users and IT users will end up spending too much time trying to locate relevant information. As a result, they will likely over time start avoiding going to the feed or wall because it contains far too much information they don’t care about. What’s more, the feed can grow so long that it needs to be truncated periodically causing useful information that was posted a long time ago to become lost to the organization.

Stay away from one-size fits all walls or feeds. They’re not useful and will hurt the credibility of your social IT project.

This is part one of a two-part feature on Social IT maturity, part 2 will follow soon.