ITSM14 Preview: Karen Brusch and Managing Multiple Suppliers from an SLM Perspective

Karen Brusch of Nationwide Building Society and itSMF UK
Karen Brusch of Nationwide Building Society and itSMF UK

In the run up this year’s itSMF UK conference, ITSM14, I chatted with Karen Brusch of Nationwide Building Society and itSMF UK about her upcoming session entitled “Managing Multiple Suppliers from an SLM Perspective”.

Q. Hi Karen, can you give a quick intro to your session at the itSMF UK Conference?

The itSMF UK Service Level Management SIG has always been keen to research and present topics that are identified as problem areas by practitioners in the industry. Supplier Management and how that impacts Service Level Management has been an area of discussion which has gained momentum over the last 18 months. This session takes a look at some key points around the complexities of managing multiple suppliers.

Q. What impact does managing multiple suppliers have on an organisation?

The most obvious impact is the failure to deliver what an organisation’s business needs. It is hard enough to understand and document business requirements when you have one supplier; but when you have a multitude of suppliers, there is a real risk that requirements become diluted, compromised, or more crucially missed. Managing multiple suppliers is a black art, where what works for one set of suppliers will not necessarily work for another; so each combination requires a modified approach. Service Integration specialists (SIAM) have helped to shape some answers, but even here, flexibility is the key. So any organisation embarking on a multi-vendor strategy has to have the knowledge, capability and determination to succeed.

Q. Where should organisations start with managing multiple suppliers?

The most important thing is to understand your business’ end game; where do they want to be in 5 years’ time, for example. Once you have this information you can begin to formulate supporting IT strategies and requirements. Too many organisation write their Invitations to Tender (ITTs) and Request for Proposals (RFPs) without understanding business strategy

Q. What are likely to be the potential pitfalls and/or benefits an organisation may experience with implementing a framework for managing multiple suppliers?

An organisation will derive real benefit for taking the time to develop an appropriate governance framework for the selected preferred suppliers. As I’ve said already, each combination requires a modified approach, so it really pays to invest some time in this activity. The fundamental pitfall that I’ve seen on many occasion is that organisations select the cheapest provider for each area/tower of service, not taking into consideration the overall impact and integration issues. It goes back to having people with the knowledge, capability an determination to succeed.


Karen is an ITIL Expert, recognised as a member of the itSMF UK Expert Faculty, and a Service Design specialist with 12 years’ experience. She chaired the itSMF UK Service Level Management Special Interest Group for several years, and has recently stepped down from this role to support the newly formed Service Design SIG. When not engaged in itSMF activities, she works for Nationwide Building Society as a Service Design Consultant.

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Karen’s session is on day two and featured within the Managing Complexity track. To find out more or to book your conference place please visit itSMF UK

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Review: itSMF Continual Service Improvement SIG

Like many who work in ITSM, I am of course aware of the need for, and the importance of Continual Service Improvement throughout the Service Management Lifecycle.

But what does it entail in real terms, and not just what I read on the ITIL course/in the books?

I came along to the itSMF CSI SIG, held in London to find out.

CSI in a nutshell

The purpose of CSI is to constantly look at ways of improving service, process and cost effectiveness.

It is simply not enough to drop in an ITSM tool to “fix” business issues, (of course backed up with reasonable processes) and then walk away thinking: “Job well done.”

Business needs and IT services constantly evolve and change and CSI supports the lifecycle and is iterative – the review and analysis process should be a continual focus.

Reality

CSI is often aspired to, and has been talked about in initial workshops, but all too often gets swallowed up in the push to configure and push out a tool, tweak and force in processes and all too often gets relegated to almost “nice to have” status.

A common question one sees in Linked in Groups is:

“Why do ITIL Implementations fail?”

A lack of commitment to CSI is often the reason, and this session looked to try and identify why that might be.

Interactive

I have never been to a SIG before, and it was very clear from the outset that we were not going to be talked at, nor would we quite be doing the speed-dating networking element from my last regional venture.

SIG chair Jane Humphries started us off by introducing the concept of a wall with inhibitors.  The idea was that we would each write down two or three things on post-it notes for use in the “Speakers Corner” segment later in the day.

What I liked about this, though, was that Jane has used this approach before, showing us a wall-graphic with inhibitors captured and written on little bricks, to be tackled and knocked down in projects.

Simple but powerful, and worth remembering for workshops, and it is always worth seeing what people in the community do in practice.

Advocates, Assassins, Cynics and Supporters

The majority of the sessions focussed on the characteristics of these types of potential stakeholders – how to recognise them, how to work with them, and how to prioritise project elements accordingly.

The first two breakout sessions split the room into four groups, to discuss these roles and the types of people we probably all have had to deal with in projects.

There was, of course, the predictable amusement around the characteristics of Cynics – they have been there and seen it all before, as indeed a lot of us had, around the room.

But what surprised me was a common factor in terms of managing these characteristics: What’s in it for me? (WIIFM)

Even for Supporters and Advocates, who are typically your champions, there is a delicate balancing act to stop them from going over to the “dark side” and seeing become cynics, or worse assassins to your initiative.

The exercises which looked at the characteristics, and how to work with them proved to be the easiest.

Areas to improve

What didn’t work so well was a prioritisation and point-scoring exercise which just seemed to confuse everyone.

For our group we struggled to understand if the aim was to deliver quick wins for lower gains, or go for more complex outcomes with more complex stakeholder management.

Things made a little more sense when we were guided along in the resulting wash-up session.

The final element to the day was a take on the concept of “Speakers’ Corner” – the idea being that two or three of the Post-It inhibitors would be discussed.  The room was re-arranged with a single chair in the middle and whoever had written the chosen topic would start the debate.

To add to the debate, a new speaker would have to take the chair in the centre.

While starting the debate topics were not an issue, the hopping in and out of the chairs proved to be hard to maintain, but the facilitators were happy to be flexible and let people add to the debate from where they sat.

Does Interactive work?

Yes and no.

I imagined that most people would come along and attend a Special Interest Group because they are just that – Interested!

But participating in group sessions and possibly presenting to the room at large may not be to everyone’s liking.

I have to admit, I find presenting daunting enough in projects where I am established.  So to have to act as scribe, and then bite the bullet and present to a huge room of people is not a comfortable experience for me, even after twenty years in the industry.

But you get out of these sessions what you put in, so I took my turn to scribe and present.  And given the difficulties we had, as a group, understanding the objectives of the third breakout session, I was pleased I had my turn.

The irony is Continual Service Improvement needs people to challenge and constantly manage expectations and characters in order to be successful.  It is not a discipline that lends itself to shy retiring wallflowers.

If people are going to spend a day away from work to attend a SIG, then I think it makes sense for them to try and get as much out of it as they can.

Perhaps my message to the more shy members in the room who hardly contributed at all is to remember that everyone is there to help each other learn from collective experience.  No-one is there to judge or to act as an Assassin/Cynic so make the most of the event and participate.

For example, in Speakers’ Corner, the debate flowed and people engaged with each other, even if the chair hopping didn’t quite work, but acknowledgement also needs to go to the SIG team, who facilitated the day’s activities very well.

I have attended three events now, a UK event, a Regional Seminar and a SIG and this was by far the most enjoyable and informative so far.

A side note: Am I the only one that hears CSI and thinks of crime labs doing imaginative things to solve murders in Las Vegas, Miami, and New York?  No?  Just me then.