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

Supplier Relationship Management – An emerging capability in the ITSM toolbox

"Development opportunities can be completely missed because the two organizations have not properly explored how to grow together, indeed contractor enthusiasm may be misinterpreted as land grabbing."

Paul Mallory is VP Europe and Africa for the IACCM, with responsibility for member services, training and certification and research.

The recent article on the role that SLAs play in the relationship style between two organizations made me think. For some relationships, SLAs replace or even reduce the effort that an organization puts into managing the strategic development of opportunities between client and contractor.

If the contractor is seen to be achieving their SLAs then they are considered to be doing their job effectively.  If they are missing their SLAs then there is a large focus on understanding why they have failed and potentially much discussion around any mitigating circumstances the contractor puts forward.

SLAs definitely have their place as they allow the client and contractor to look at service development and continuous performance improvement through stretch targets based on the existing contractual agreement.

However, supplier relationship management (SRM) comes into effect when you want to truly transform the way in which you work with your suppliers.

So first up, how should we define SRM?

In our recently launched SRM training course, the IACCM defines SRM as:

“The function that seeks to develop successful, collaborative relationships with key suppliers for the delivery of significant tangible business benefits for both parties”.

Why is SRM important?

The average tenure of a CIO is about 4.5 years.  Most IT Service Management contracts (be it for any of the ITIL disciplines, applications or data centre outsourcing) are for between 5 and 10 years, with public sector contracts often reaching and even exceeding the upper end of that range.  Therefore it follows that those people who were in place at the outset, and developing the IT strategy, may not be there further down the contract lifecycle, yet the contractual relationship continues to exist and needs the right management practices to bring the expected benefit to both sides.

Furthermore, with the cost of IT services re-procurement often being around 30% of the annual contract cost (once transition, exit and procurement time has been taken into consideration), implementing a successful contract extension becomes a financial KPI.

Keld Jensen, Chairman of the Centre for Negotiation at the Copenhagen Business School, has identified that 42% of contract value is left on the table and not even addressed or even recognised by either party during the initial negotiations.  This means that in ITSM contracts there is great opportunity for both parties to access that 42% once the negotiation and procurement teams have left the room.  The supplier relationship manager is part of the mechanism to enable that.

What does a Supplier Relationship Manager do?

First, we must remember that IT Service contracts can incorporate a number of inter-related disciplines (especially if we take the ITIL view).  Each of those teams is going to be heavily focussed on their immediate needs and how their portion of the supply chain is delivering to them.  They will also be interested in where there are process hand-offs, but my experience has shown me that often there is a poor, singular joined up view across IT disciplines.

If this is the case, a weak supplier will maximise this to their advantage, especially where they are delivering many facets of ITSM.  They will minimise exposure to their service shortcomings and keep their network of relationships separate and distinct.  A good supplier though may just accept the frustration of dealing with a discordant IT department and focus its development opportunities on its other customers, the “customers of choice”.

In both scenarios the client does not access the 42% of value that Keld Jensen discusses, it may be from fire-fighting performance issues or an inability to properly interact with the supplier through a lack of focal point.  This is where the supplier relationship manager steps in, because they are there to:

  • Manage all aspects of the inter-company relationship, especially where the supplier’s remit goes beyond ITSM
  • They look to build trust through open communications, both internally and with the supply chain
  • They understand the full capability of the supply chain and will seek to develop successful, collaborative relationships with key, strategic suppliers
  • They share company strategy, mission and values with the suppliers
  • They ensure that the relationship follows appropriate governance requirements
  • They have ready access to, and influence from the top levels of management
Paul Mallory, IACCM
Paul Mallory, IACCM

By understanding not only the strategy of IT but also of the company as a whole, they are in a position to create a collaborative relationship with the strategic suppliers where mutual win-win opportunities are developed and encouraged.  Innovation can be targeted at the right teams, process efficiency can be realised and cross fertilisation of ideas can occur between teams who may not have realised they were working towards similar outcomes.

The supplier is turned into a strategic asset that can positively affect your organisations success, rather than an entity whose invoices are paid each month if service targets were met.

Through the conversations that the IACCM is having with its membership, we see that SRM is an emerging discipline which is becoming more important in these times of austerity.  There needs to be value for every pound, dollar or euro an organisation spends.  Effective SRM is there to ensure that value is realised.

Paul Mallory is VP Europe and Africa for the IACCM, with responsibility for member services, training and certification and research.