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Next Practices in Business Service Management



Simulation - Testing BSM Assumptions through Workshops
by Rich Ptak

For the past few years, a major ITSM vendor has invited a selection of customers and partners to participate in a shortened (3-hour) version of an intense all-day role-playing workshop. The make-up and focus of the workshop has changed a bit over the years as it tracks the evolution of and changes in IT, the vendor and their IT customers’ needs. Ptak/Noel analysts have participated in several of these sessions. We found them to be educational, enlightening and challenging.

The basic model simulates the high-pressure environment of an international logistics firm facing operational problems that must be resolved by business partners providing outsourced IT services. The focus was on problem identification and resolution with Service Desk and IT operations the major pressure points. This year the featured technologies were Cloud computing and the capabilities associated with integrated service management.

Why the Workshops?

IT staff, along with their business colleagues live and operate in the proverbial ‘interesting times’ [From the alleged, but never proven to be, Chinese curse ‘May you live in interesting times’ –  Wikipedia.org identifies it as more likely of American or English in origin] that never seem to end. Whether it is the introduction of new hardware, technological innovation or leading-edge theories about using IT, the stream of transformational ideas introduced to IT and business staff appears endless. Today the focus is on aligning IT with business needs and IT delivering dynamic services by leveraging Cloud computing, all with the intent of maximizing the profit of both companies.

The IT challenge comes in bridging the gap between the ideas and technologies and their application in the real world of day-to-day operations and interaction between business and IT. What exactly does it mean for an IT organization to “align with the business”? Why is it important? How does that relate to what IT the Service Desk are doing? I’m focused on meeting my job metrics; if I do that right won’t the business take care of itself? What does the Cloud do for me? Processes - we have them, but how do our processes affect the business success or achievement of goals?We’re using processes that were set in place a long time ago, why do I need to change them?

Nearly everyone can understand the arguments and value propositions given for new technology or products. The difficulty comes in identifying the path to a successful application. Some people are able to learn what they need to know in manuals and lectures. Others need the concreteness of experience and example. Simulation provides an opportunity for experience learning without putting the business at risk. The workshop provides a very worthwhile first step at achieving that educational experience.

IT Service Management Simulator Workshop

During the vendor’s Service Management Simulator Workshop interactive simulations, participants are assigned roles in two different companies. There is the logistics company with its executive and operations groups. The other is the IT outsourcing company consisting of executives, operations and service desk. There is also a consultant available to help you figure out what to do when you are hopelessly lost or unsure how to solve a problem. This isn’t a ‘get out of jail free’ card, but a quick lesson on both the benefits and downside of using consultants.

The Facilitator assigns the roles with the unspoken, but obvious intention to have participants NOT operate in their day-to-day, real-life roles. In our session, most everyone was able to experience the exercise from an unfamiliar perspective. This makes for a quite chaotic first round as everyone tries on and adapts to their respective role. I found the result a remarkably insightful experience. It also served as an effective way to learn why aligning IT with the business and using processes are fundamental to improved corporate performance.

The logistics of the game are consistent with normal operations. There is shared, common knowledge, information and data, as well as pieces unique to the individual groups. There are no prohibitions on communication and data sharing, although as the dynamic of the game played out, it became clear that inconsistent and ineffective sharing of data and information was a formidable and real hindrance to corporate success. The different groups have to figure out how to work together most effectively and how to change their performance, metrics and goals to solve the problems that damage profitability and revenue.

As noted, the first round was chaotic as instructions and descriptions of tasks, events, responsibilities and business-impacting events merged into a furiously fast-paced sequence of action and reaction. The need for defined processes, communication across the operational silos and fixed distributed,operational responsibilities quickly became apparent. The need to adjust metrics and goals to achieve the overall goal of generating profitable revenue for both companies was a hard-learned lesson.

Breaks between each round were used to get feedback and commentary from the Facilitator, as well as for participants to identify operational problems, recommend and make changes, as well as to try to improve strategy for activities during the next session. The pace was fast during each of the three simulation sessions, but became more orderly over time. This was as a result of the lessons learned, changes made to processes, as well as the management tools and infrastructure added to the environment.  The simulation was concluded with both companies profitable.

So, what was learned?

The lessons learned during the session came in two flavors – flashes of individual insight emerging from what each player brings to the session; and then –insights common across multiple sessions because they are inherent in business and IT operations as well as the goal of integrated service management.

In the first category are four that came from discussions with other attendees:

  1. Know the business revenue cycle - IT mustcoordinate with and understand business needs. Revenue lost from a poorly timed IT infrastructure change shocked one player.
  2. Never assume anything – a new service was introduced, everyone was informed, except the Service Desk. When that service failed, they were not prepared to handle it.
  3. Process structure and discipline is critical – consistently applied processes pay off in efficiency and effectiveness thru ingrained adherence when operating under pressure. Process review and improvement must be continuous.
  4. Don’t rush to action – sometimes it’s better to delay action until the situation is better understood – a frantic rush to ‘do something’ can have negative results.

A few of the structural lessons learned important to us include:       

  1. Chaos is frustrating andexpensive – automation and structure reduce chaos.
  2. IT Operations Maturity: the operational level IT service management operation maturity determines effectiveness. The levels progress from chaotic to reactive to proactive to service oriented to business value-based.
  3. Verify that the right information/data goes to the right peopleat the right time: otherwise the effort is wasted.
  4. Getting the metrics right maximizes the benefit– link IT and business goals and metrics.
  5. Understand the goals and metrics of the other (business/IT) – corollary to #3.

Clearly there were more lessons that will emerge as attendees reflect on the workshop. One we expect is a change in perspective as a new understanding and appreciation emerges of the viewpoint of their business/IT counterparts. This insight should make each a more effective, efficient and sympathetic partner as they work to maximize their contributions to business success.

The Final Word

The Workshop provides participants an accelerated education and opportunity to experience the value of structured processes, integrated service management and management products as an aid in aligning IT with business operations and goals (BSM). The lessons learned during the workshop weren’t just about the value of and benefits derived from the capabilities of this vendor’s integrated solutions. Those payoffs made themselves manifest very effectively and visibly during the interaction.  

More importantly, it provokes individual ‘ah-ahs’ – the personal insights that erupt from participation in the simulation. These can take the form of interesting insights into decision-making, group dynamics and how just KNOWING the ‘right thing to do,’ doesn’t always, or even consistently, result in DOING the right thing. I highly recommend this shortened course. However, even better, attend the day-long session – you and your team will be amazed, improved and very satisfied with the results.

































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