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Next Practices in Business Service Management

 

 

Business Service Management:
The move to a new way of working

by Peter Armstrong

BSM

Some years ago I owned an alarm clock, which sat next to my bed. Its fundamental purpose in life was to wake me at some hideous hour of the morning so that I could fly off somewhere and talk to customers. Technically the alarm clock was fine. It told the time and it had an alarm function which played the radio or made an annoying buzz. So the man who designed it (and by the way you can still buy the same model and many others exactly like it) probably thinks he did a good job. WRONG! When you came to actually use it, you discovered that it had several major faults.

  1. To change the alarm from 7am say to 6.30am you had to press the forwards button and spin it through twenty-three and a half hours. You miss this the first time round, of course, and have to do it again.
  2. Now you set it to 6.30 and pat yourself on the back, only to realise later when it doesn't wake you that you have set it to 6.30pm and not 6.30am. Yes, there is a stupid little red blob, which is supposed to show you whether it is am or pm but you can't see that late at night when you are tired.
  3. The next time you use it, you have to get up at 4am, so you carefully set it and choose the radio option to make sure your wife doesn't get disturbed. In fact, no-one gets disturbed because the radio programme you selected doesn't start broadcasting until 6am.

Needless to say I bought a new alarm clock, and this one appears to have been designed by someone who understands the fundamental rules of design:

  1. Does it look good?
  2. Is it well made?
  3. Does it do its job well?

The new alarm clock sets the time automatically as it picks up a signal from the atomic clock in the UK, changes automatically for summer/winter time, and has a forwards and backwards button for the alarm. It stills let you set a dud radio station, but I know which ones transmit 24 hours now.

As I look around at pieces of technology, I see all too often a similar story. Think about VCRs, which started as simple machines and then turned into technical monsters that no-one over the age of eighteen could programme. At last we are now getting Tivo/Sky+/V+ boxes, which are easy to use and actually enable you to record the right programme. Looking forwards a few years these will become totally obsolete as you will be able to watch anything you want, whenever you want, which is, if you think about it, the solution you wanted in the first place. Technicians love to sell us solutions that show how clever they are, which may or may not deliver a useful service, and are  designed to be obsolete a couple of years later. It is unfortunately incredibly easy for us and companies to jump on the technical bandwagon. The balance between exploiting new technologies and investing in tried and trusted solutions is one of the CIO's major headaches, and will obviously vary from business to business, but it has to be based on sound business input.

So gradually I see a move towards a new way of thinking / designing / delivering products / services. The questions now being asked are the ones that are driven by the customer experience rather than the technical features that can be squeezed in.

  • What service do you provide?
  • What does it cost?
  • Am I prepared to pay for it?

This move is extremely prevalent in the world of computing and is driven to a large extent by the move of computing from back office to front office to, as a colleague of mine puts it so neatly, front of front office. Your systems, which used to just process the batch stuff that no-one understood (but generated lots of money), moved to powering all the internal departments and are now used by the man (and woman) in the street. They have always been a strategic part of the business, but are now also a highly visible part of the business. For instance, I am currently sitting in Spain writing this and my local Wifi provider has died. I just rang them to discover that they are having problems with the antenna, and are not sure when they will have it fixed. I, of course, demanded my money back and am moving to another provider. As an aside, why does it always take twenty-seven times longer to get your money back than it does to take it from you in the first place? That is not good service.

So today's business has to realise two things.

  1. That IT is a fundamental part of the business and the business cannot run without it
  2. But, IT cannot provide the services you require unless you are prepared to answer the service questions raised above, where the customer may be internal or external.

This means that you really need to take an inventory of what you have in IT – not from the technical point of view, but from the viewpoint of what the business needs. Ask the business which systems are the most important, and how much they are worth. When they want something new, ask them what it is worth and how much they are prepared to pay for it. Ask them what service levels they truly require. Then ask the most important question in IT/business relationships – why? Many people will tell you they need a sub-second response time or 24x7, but when you ask them why, they can't tell you the sound business reasons.

At this stage, you should also be looking at the reporting structure of IT. To whom does the CIO report? A recent survey showed that companies where the CIO was a direct report to the CFO were usually behind their competitors in the business exploitation of IT. IT is a vital tool of the business and as such has to represented at the highest level, so that business and IT strategy are defined jointly and developed in parallel in a language that both sides can understand. CIOs have to able to explain the IT options in words that a business man (or woman) will understand, and vice versa.

Once you have these answers, then you know what matters and you can concentrate on running that efficiently. There is frankly no point in tuning, improving and automating something if it transpires that it is not that important and hence not worth the investment. Working forwards from there, you should now run everything - e.g. capacity management, incident management, problem management, change management, service desk, service automation etc. - from that business / customer point of view. This is what is known as BSM (Business Service Management).

The good news is that you are not on your own. Methodologies like ITIL® are now well known in the marketplace, with experience available showing how to take a theoretical framework and implement it in practice. Experience has also shown that whilst ITIL is very good at telling you what should be done to deliver better services at lower costs, it does not enforce the practices you should adopt and hence you need some sort of control mechanism like CobIT to ensure that all your efforts aren't wasted. For instance, at one customer (who shall be nameless) a change was going through the authorisation process. Unfortunately, the last person to sign off the change decided to add something to the change request before he signed it off. This addition brought the production system to its knees the next day. Properly implemented BSM ensures that errors like this do not happen and that IT can demonstrate a better and cheaper way of working to the business.

 

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