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Hot Trends in IT Service Management

  • 06 April, 2007 11:00

<p>Infra Corporation’s Andy Wade takes a look at four key trends in IT Service Management with the potential to drive efficiency, transform the service desk and shape the role of IT within the enterprise.</p>
<p>IT Service Management (ITSM) has undergone a transformation in the last decade. Tools and technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and processes more streamlined. But all the while customers’ expectations have leapt ahead to the point where the commonplace workarounds of just a few years ago are no longer acceptable. Today resolving the issue ‘somehow’ will not suffice; the service desk must now ensure that the whole customer experience is slick and easy as well.</p>
<p>Beyond the frontline, the pressure has also been mounting on IT departments to align their services more closely with the wider business and to demonstrate how they are contributing to the success of the enterprise. Budgets are being squeezed and in some cases companies are having to spend IT money originally intended for other technology investments in order to achieve regulatory compliance, Sarbanes Oxley, COBIT and ISO 20000 being prime examples.</p>
<p>The burning question for IT departments is how to do more with less whilst delivering greater benefits at the same time.</p>
<p>1. Automated Service Management</p>
<p>Recent years have seen the rise and rise of ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) best practice as the accepted basis of improved service delivery and as a framework for the closer alignment of IT with the business. ITIL is also fundamental to ISO 20000, and therefore an essential for many organisations.</p>
<p>Today ITIL training for staff is often the starting point for those seeking to implement a new service desk solution. When it comes to choosing a software solution, care is taken to select an ITIL-certified solution that spans the range of IT Service Management disciplines - Incident and Problem Management, Asset Management, Change and Configuration Management, Release Management, Capacity Management, Availability, Financial and Service Level Management.</p>
<p>With the prevalence of ITIL, another consideration has moved into focus – the degree to which it is now possible to automate key ITIL processes. Given that people tend to “adapt” manual processes over time to suit their own needs, automation has a critical role to play in the elimination of service desk inconsistencies and the reduction of errors. It enables the establishment of consistent and repeatable rules for Incidents/Problems/Known Errors (IPK) and enforces their use.</p>
<p>Automatically ensuring that the defined business process is always followed creates a ‘win win’ situation: for managers the task of training and deploying new staff becomes much easier. Service desk analysts need allocate less time to routine issues, while customers benefit from faster, slicker service.</p>
<p>This is just a foretaste of the power of automation. The technology can be used in a myriad of ways: setting up automatic alerts so that managers become aware of critical/hot issues at a very early stage (decreasing service downtime as a result, and even allowing such issues to be resolved before the customer realises there is a problem); ensuring that calls from ‘VIPs’ within the organisation are always handled appropriately; generating customer surveys automatically after each call; creating workflows that assign work automatically, removing the need for detailed management of service requests. And much, much more.</p>
<p>Automation is on the up not only as a means to faster implementation of ITIL, but as an easy way to drive service desk efficiency and reduce costs. Critically for many organisations, automation also holds the key to cost-effective regulatory compliance, because it can easily enforce required best practices and generate the audit trails that prove compliance.</p>
<p>2. The smaller, smarter CMDB</p>
<p>To manage services from a business perspective, IT staff need to have visibility of the components of the IT infrastructure and all related business services. A Configuration Management Database (CMDB) should provide a model of this infrastructure, offering detailed information on all ITIL configuration items (CIs), including each item’s location, configuration, and physical and logical interrelationships with other items.</p>
<p>However, to be effective the CMDB must ensure that all processes are working from consistent and accurate data. Herein lies the problem: because of the complexity and fluidity of the IT infrastructure, developing an efficient CMDB within a reasonable budget can prove a sticking point for ITIL implementations.</p>
<p>In response to this challenge, a new model for the CMDB has emerged which relies on the ‘federation’ of existing data sources rather than the creation of another separate centralised database that is inherently difficult to maintain. The new federated CMDB model allows IT to take advantage of best-of-breed asset discovery tools with their own dedicated resource, and requires only core configuration data to be stored within the CMDB, making it much simpler to maintain.</p>
<p>The infraEnterprise Federated CMDB can also plug into multiple LDAP Directory services on different platforms simultaneously. This enables the IT department to rapidly populate the CMDB with officer and customer information and greatly simplifies the entire process of providing detailed audit trails for financial and data protection compliance.</p>
<p>Having this “helicopter view” of the IT infrastructure is key to improving traditional IT services. Not surprisingly, finding the smartest way to achieve this visibility now forms a vital stage in any ITSM implementation. The prize is an effective CMDB that enables IT staff to make decisions based on business impact and business priorities - the end goal for many organisations today.</p>
<p>3. The significance of self-service</p>
<p>Implementing self-service has become a pertinent consideration for organisations when planning a new Service Management solution. Once the core Service Management processes, such as Incident, Change, Configuration and Service Level Management are in place, the next step for many companies is to release functionality through a Customer Portal. This use of self-service technology not only enables more efficient Service Management in terms of cost reduction, but is also an important means of improving the customer experience.</p>
<p>The cost benefits of self-service are generally well understood. A well-constructed system can have a significant impact on cost per transaction and an initial 10-20 per cent reduction in calls to the Service Desk is not unusual. Some of Infra’s clients have managed the transition so effectively that around 80 per cent of calls to their service desk are now logged via a customer portal with many of those calls resolved using self-service options.</p>
<p>The potential for self-service to improve service delivery is also coming to the fore. Often there exists a subset of customers who prefer not to call a service desk – mainly due to the perception that they will be placed in a queue. Others simply prefer to troubleshoot problems on their own. These customers represent a pool of previously unmet demand, to which self-service delivers.</p>
<p>Moving IT operations online neatly dovetails into the current trend away from paper based processes and manual audits. Implementing self-service allows requests to be kicked off by the customer (via the portal); once logged, an audit trail of the call is automatically produced. Applying online workflows also enables specific workflow tasks to be automatically completed, speeding up the end-to-end process and meeting customer expectations for more mature service and delivery models.</p>
<p>4. Open Knowledge Management</p>
<p>IT service management is a knowledge intensive activity where the skills and experience of staff play a key role in determining success. As not all analysts can be experts in everything, having a comprehensive, up-to-date Knowledge Base directly integrated with the service desk makes life a lot easier and minimises time spent on routine requests such as password resetting.</p>
<p>Customer self-service also depends to a large extent on the quality of information available via the portal. Integrating internal Knowledge Base content into a customer self-service solution is an effective way of ensuring that users have access to the content they need.</p>
<p>It is therefore not surprising that promoting the sharing of skills and experience amongst IT staff through a Knowledge Management strategy is fast becoming a critical factor in Service Management outcomes. But inspiring analysts to pool and use knowledge can be far and away the biggest challenge.</p>
<p>A highly effective option that is currently gaining ground is Knowledge Centered Support (KCS). KCS is an open approach, where knowledge creation is closely bound to the support resolution process. Articles are created directly from logged calls, and the original problem description is preserved as part of the knowledge article. Subsequent calls that are resolved using particular articles are linked to those articles, and their problem descriptions added to the document.</p>
<p>A major advantage of this approach is its capacity to encourage knowledge sharing. The immediate nature of knowledge creation and the fact that authors of knowledge are automatically recognised for their work encourages the creation of material. In addition, the link back to the initial call maintains the connection to original context, which provides the best of both worlds – a refined knowledge article that is bound to the raw problem description.</p>
<p>ITSM solutions from developers such as Infra are important enablers of Knowledge Management. For organisations seeking a more open approach, KCS Verified status provides independent assurance that their selected ITSM solution is based on industry best practice.</p>

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