Much Ado Over Gamification

Gamification is coming, whether you need it or not.

In December 2013, BMC announced a partnership with Bunchball to integrate its game mechanics engine with RemedyForce. I am told other vendors have game mechanics on their roadmaps.

Two years and a half years ago I expressed my skepticism about including game mechanics in non-game scenarios. We are still waiting for anything to happen. And waiting, and waiting…

The idea behind gamification is to promote desired behaviors. Examples may include first call resolution of calls, submission of knowledge base articles, utilization of KB articles in issue resolution, on-time resolutions Incidents and Requests, implementation of Changes without an Incident, etc.

Question Mark BadgeAny behaviors you ever desired with traditional tools can be reinforced with game mechanics. Traditional tools include dashboards, metrics reports, disciplinary actions, public humiliation, and performance rewards. To these we are adding badges, leader boards, and progress bars.

It seems to me a like much ado over very little.

Process Before Tool (right)?

Tonight at the IT Service Management Fusion 12 conference I ran into an old colleague. It was nice to see him again. We worked together at an IT good practice consultancy, and like me he later moved on to a tool vendor.

This isn’t unusual. Most work in this industry involves the configuration or customization of tools to meet the specific needs of the organization. Consultants need to earn a living and that means going where the work is, or much of it anyway.

He and I still focus on good practices, but now from a different perspective. Operational excellence, consistently executed, usually requires defining the process at some level. Sometimes this definition is informal, in the heads of the stakeholders, and sometimes the process is defined more formally, using Visio diagrams and descriptions of process details and statements of policy.

In many organizations the sum total of the process is expressed in the configuration of the tool. This is not good practice and I don’t advise it. It happens a lot.

Consultants in this space repeat “process before tool” ad nauseum. Another variation is “a fool with a tool is still a fool (or a faster fool).” At conferences and in presentations there is no shortage of this advice, and I expect to hear it repeated several times this week. Tweeting that will make me a faster fool too.

There are, however, some problems with this advice. A process defined completely in abstract, and devoid of any tool consideration, is unlikely to be useful. It will demand process steps that cannot be readily automated, or cannot be enforced through automation. Or it will demand complex configurations (or customizations) that make the tool brittle. It will ignore current state processes implemented in the tool and try to supplant it with something that is foreign.

We almost never define services devoid of any tool considerations.

The definition and improvement of the services and processes go hand-in-hand with the implementation and configuration of the automation. The industry calls it Continual Service Improvement (CSI), and it is important to get this right sooner rather than later. CSI is internal to the organization and very organic. It is not a binder delivered by credentialed IT Service Management consultants or the tool vendors.

The automation of IT service delivery and process execution is underway. It has been for several years, and new tools are appearing to make this easier and better. Publicly-traded BMC Software acquired Numara Software in February 2012. ServiceNow went public in June 2012.

Not only will the trend continue, it will accelerate. In fact, I believe the “Continuous Highly Automated Service Management” organization will require integrated automation that is several orders of magnitude more effective than today. Crossing that chasm will take a lot of work from vendors and their customers, and we have some hard problems to solve.

And yes, it will be outside-in, as well as outside-out, inside-out, and inside-in. In short, it will be awesome, but we will develop this theme in more detail later.

Key takeaways:

  • Get Continual Service Improvement right first
  • Improve services and process together with the automation
  • Automation of services and processes will accelerate non-linearly and disruptively (a chasm)

HP’s $10 billion SKMS

In August 2011 HP announced the acquisition of enterprise search firm, Autonomy, for $10 billion.

It is possible HP was just crazy and former CEO, Leo Apotheker, was desperate to juice up HP’s stock price. With Knowledge Management.

Within ITSM the potential value is huge. Value can be seen in tailored services and improved usage, faster resolution of Incidents, improved availability, faster on-boarding of new employees, and reduction of turnover. (Ironically, improved access to knowledge can reduce loss through employee attrition).

In 2011 Client X asked me for some background on Knowledge Management. I did prepare some background information on ITIL’s Knowledge Management that was never acted on. It seemed like too much work for too little benefit.

ITIL’s description does seem daunting. The process is riddled with abstractions like the Data —> Information —> Knowledge —> Wisdom lifecycle. It elaborates on diverse sources of data such as issue and customer history, reporting, structured and unstructured databases, and IT processes and procedures. ITIL overwhelms one with integration points between the Service Desk system, the Known Error Database, the Confirmation Management Database, and the Service Catalog. Finally, ITIL defines a whole new improvement (Analysis, Strategy, Architecture, Share/Use, and Evaluate), a continuous improvement method distinct from the CSI 7-Step Method.

Is ITIL’s method realistic? Not really. It is unnecessarily complex. It focuses too much on architecture and integrating diverse data sources. It doesn’t focus enough on use-cases and quantifying value.

What are typical adoption barriers? Here are some:

  1. Data is stored in a variety of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured formats. Unlocking this data requires disparate methods and tools.
  2.  Much of the data sits inside individual heads. Recording this requires time and effort.
  3. Publishing this data requires yet another tool or multiple tools.
  4. Rapid growth of data and complexity stays ahead of our ability to stay on top of it.
  5. Thinking about this requires way too much management bandwidth.

In retrospect, my approach with Client X was completely wrong. If I could, I would go back and change that conversation. What should I have done?

  1. Establish the potential benefits.
  2. Identify the most promising use cases.
  3. Quantify the value.
  4. Identify the low hanging fruit.
  5. Choose the most promising set of solutions to address the low hanging fruit and long-term growth potential.

What we need is a big, red button that says “Smartenize”. Maybe HP knew Autonomy was on to something. There is a lot of value in extracting knowledge from information, meaning from data. The rest of the world hasn’t caught up yet, but it will soon.

BMC and Numara: What it Means

Disclaimer: I contracted at Numara Software as an Implementation Consultant in Professional Services from July 2007 to June 2010.

Chris Dancy said it best: this is about as close to J-Lo and Marc Anthony as we get in the IT industry. On January 30, 2012 BMC Software announced the acquisition of Numara Software.

My initial reaction was shock—both have been stable, mainstays of the industry. Shock gave way to disappointment. Disappointment soon gave way to cautious optimism about the future of the combined company.

Stephen Mann and David Johnson of Forrester fame have written some initial reactions. Here are mine.

Track-It

The Track-It family of products is the core of the original Blue Ocean Software, which was acquired by Quicken then spun-off again as Numara Software.

The initial indicators are that BMC intends to allow Numara to operate as an independent unit and to continue to operate Track-It as a standalone product. Track-It forms the low-end of the product line but generates high margin maintenance fees.

Track-It is profitable on its own and does not undercut sales of FootPrints Service Core or BMC Remedy. BMC may choose to scale back feature development, but it cannot make significant reductions in commitment or support without jeopardizing the highly repeatable and stable revenue stream of maintenance and support.

FootPrints Service Core

I joined Numara Software as a contractor shortly after the acquisition of FootPrints from Unipress and watched them struggle to make the transition from high volume transactions to high touch solutions. They did make this transition successfully, though it has become apparent in the last couple releases that the code-base is brittle. Version 12 to be released in 2012 will be a major refactoring of the code base to a new programming language.  I expect development to continue along its current path and schedule unless the refactoring seriously jeopardizes backward compatibility–in which case product management should revisit the product line.

FootPrints Service Core is more directly competitive with BMC Remedy, and I have been engaged at several customers where FootPrints replaced Remedy or beat Remedy in a competitive comparison. FootPrints provides easy configuration and rapid ROI, but is flexible enough to support several business processes. Although there are workspace templates built-in, they aren’t very useful, and customers usually start from scratch. As such what are customizations in Remedy are web-based configurations in FootPrints.

Nevertheless, while there is competitive overlap, FootPrints usually sells at a lower point in smaller environments. The question is whether BMC’s sales force is up for the transition to lower customer service and reduced professional service requirements of FootPrints customers. It depends on whether BMC sales staff consider this a threat of reduced revenues or an opportunity to retain valid sales leads where Remedy isn’t competitive. I suspect Remedy has been squeezed by competition (primarily Service-Now and Hornbill) and will welcome a competitive solution that can be sold on-premise or SaaS.

FootPrints Asset Core

FootPrints Asset Core (formerly Numara Asset Management Platform, or NAMP) has always been an enterprise product designed for stability and scaleability.  It is a product based on client agents that provide hardware and software inventory, software deployment, patching, and policy deployment of Windows, Mac, and Linux devices.

Asset Core competes more directly with BMC’s BladeLogic Client Automation. BMC will need to pay more attention to how they position these product lines. Asset Core is poor at automated discovery and agentless inventory and is very complementary to Atrium Discovery & Dependency Mapping (ADDM) in its mid-market. I anticipate BMC will strip some functionality and complexity out of Asset Core and keep it focused on the mid-market, leaving BladeLogic in the enterprise.

Mobile Device Manager

Numara Cloud is a repackaging of FootPrints Service Core, FootPrints Asset Core, and a new product called Mobile Device Manager (MDM) they acquired in 2011. The strategic positioning was brilliant and the growth potential is huge. BMC does not offer much in this area, and this addition should be welcomed in their product line.

Conclusions

Numara has traditionally been weak in several areas.

  • Mobile computing: no solution here, nor even a hint of future product development. BMC could capitalize on this with mobile solutions that integrate across the spectrum of IT Service Management and asset management products.
  • Social networking and chat integration: While FootPrints provides web-based messaging capability, the functionality is slow and dismal and it provides no workflow or issue integration. FootPrints provides no integration or API for social networks.
  • Configuration Management and Service Catalog: the initial release of the CMDB functionality was promising but they have failed to improve on it. Reporting, data federation, and data reconciliation functions are very poor. Product management has mostly focused on integration with Asset Core.

 

I would look for changes and improvements in these areas. BMC would be wise to focus product management in these areas in order to capitalize the relative strengths of both organizations.

For existing or prospective customers of both organizations, I don’t expect much to change in 2012. For many organizations I don’t expect much to change through 2015 beyond “normal” product feature evolution that would have occurred anyway.

The reactions of my current and former inside Numara have been very positive. If BMC is planning on major force reductions (RIFs) they have been very quiet about it. I don’t expect many RIFs beyond back office staff, where Numara has already been very efficient. I don’t expect many reductions in development, product management, or sales because the products are either high-margin and non-strategic (Track-It) or strategic and complementary (MDM).

I am rushing this response in order to get out some initial reactions. Overall I believe they provide complementary product coverage that, if utilized and coordinated, could provide a lot of future growth for customers and BMC. I will keep an eye on things and let you know what transpires, but please feel free to provide feedback and updates.

Implementing a Service Desk Application, Part 1

In this multi-part series on planning and implementing a Service Desk application, I start with identifying the characteristics of the tools.

Tool Characteristics

Service Desk applications usually support at a minimum the ITIL® V3 processes of Service Request Fulfillment and Incident Management, Problem Management, and Change Management. They frequently also support Release Management, Service Catalog Management, Service Asset and Configuration Management. They less frequently support Capacity Management, Availability Management, and/or Asset Management, but the tools may support integrations with other products in these areas.

In a nutshell, a Service Desk application is a mechanism for tracking tickets. I am sometimes asked what do Service Desk tools do that cannot be done in open source bug tracking applications Bugzilla. Without commenting specifically on Bugzilla or other products, Service Desks usually have a few requirements not supported by those tools. In general Service Desks require support for multiple processes, each with different fields, statuses, priorities, workflows, and approvals, and they require integration of ticket flows between those processes. For example, an Incident can initiate a Problem, which can initiate a Change. An Incident should be held Pending until the Change is complete.

Service Desk applications usually provide some capabilities to develop workflows. They are not true workflow engines, but provide lightweight workflow development capabilities consistent with the needs of Service Desks. Usually they provide configurable priorities and statuses. Often they provide configurable fields. They usually provide the capability of one or more drop-down dependency trees for categorizing the tickets. Usually there are workflow rules around, for example, how long tickets can spend in a particular status, and what should happen if that time period is exceeded. They usually provide approval workflows.

Service Desk applications also need to provide some reporting capabilities, which can come in a variety of manners. Some provide built-in reports. Some provide built-in capabilities for reporting configurations. Others provide templates with 3rd party tools, such as Crystal Reports or Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Service. The reporting may also include exporting of ticket information for consumption, manipulation or presentation in a tool like Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access.

It is also important to have methods of interfacing the Service Desk application with other systems. In order to automate the population of customer information in the ticket, the Service Desk tool needs to import or input data from a corporate repository such as Active Directory or an HR database. Ideally this data will be imported dynamically or real-time at the time the ticket is created, but some tools will replicate the data into its own data store. The most common method is to interface with Active Directory via the LDAP protocol. Service Desk systems might also provide the capability of importing other data into the tickets, such as asset data from a 3rd party SQL database. Some tools allow dropdown or multiselect field choices to be imported from a data table. If the application includes a CMDB, then it should also provide methods to import or confederate data from multiple 3rd party data sources.
Some Service Desk systems use a “fat client” that is installed on the machine. The issue with this is having to install the fat client on every machine which will be used for the service desk and or its customers. Other Service Desk applications support user interactions via a web browser, so there is nothing to deploy on the clients. Others support a hybrid model, whereby limited or customer interfaces are provided via the web, while assignee and/or administration functions are provide via the fat client.

Most tools provide email interfaces in which agents or customers can create or update tickets via email, and updates to tickets can be sent to agents and/or customers via email. In addition many tools provide API’s and/or web services interfaces for programatic updates to tickets. Finally, most tools provide role-based access to the tool. For example, customers have fewer rights than agents of the tools. Depending on the role, some people can approve tickets at certain times, or others can enter certain information depending on the status, for example.

Next week I will outline some steps to prepare and plan for the selection of a tool.

Not a Review: SCSM 2010

At heart I am a hands-on geek. When I learned that Microsoft finally released its Service Center Service Manager 2010, I was excited to try it. I logged into my partner account and signed up for the 90-day trial.

Then reality set in. As is so frequent with Microsoft’s business applications, initial enthusiasm gave way to confusion, then to despair. Let’s look at the requirements. Microsoft defines the minimum server roles:

Server 1: Service Manager management server + Service Manager database + Service Manager console

Server 2: Service Manager data warehouse server + Service Manager data warehouse databases

Nominally there is a SQL Server 2008 instance running on each server, but kindly Microsoft allows us to use a single instance:

Server 1: Service Manager management server + Service Manager database + Service Manager console

Server 2: Service Manager data warehouse server

The point is that SCSM doesn’t allow the data warehouse server to run together with the management server. Now let’s look at the hardware requirements:

Service Manager database Dual Quad-Core 2.66 GHz CPU
8 GB of RAM
80 GB of available disk space
RAID Level 1 or Level 10 drive*
Service Manager management server Dual Quad-Core 2.66 GHz CPU
8 GB of RAM
10 GB of available disk space
Service Manager console Dual-Core 2.0 GHz CPU
2 GB of RAM
10 GB of available disk space
Data warehouse management server Dual-Core 2.66 GHz CPU
8 GB of RAM
10 GB of available disk space
Data warehouse databases Dual Quad-core 2.66 GHz CPU
8 GB of RAM
400 GB of available disk space
Self-Service Portal Dual-core 2.66 GHz CPU
8 GB of RAM
10 GB of available disk space

These hardware requirements a far higher than many competitive products, but still modest for an enterprise. On top of that you also need a domain controller. For all this you achieve capabilities that are even more modest:

  • Up to 20,000 users with up to 40 – 50 IT analysts providing concurrent support.
  • Up to 20,000 supported computers, assuming up to 10 to 12 configuration items (installed software, software updates, and hardware components) per computer.
  • 5,000 incidents per week with 3 months of retention for a total of 60,000 incidents in the Service Manager database for the 20,000 computer configuration, and 2.5 times that for the 50,000 computer configuration
  • 1,000 change requests a week with 3 months of retention for a total 12,000 change requests in the Service Manager database for the 20,000 computer configuration, and 2.5 times that for 50,000 computer configuration

What perplexes me the most, in this day and age of Web 2.0, is Microsoft’s decision to use a “fat client” aka the Service Manager console.

To be fair, Microsoft is probably making serious attempts to use their product in-house (a strategy Microsoft calls “eating your own dog food”). In fact they made a video of one of these attempts. What I saw in the video was a CMDB with a little bit of ticketing and assignment routing strapped on the front end, and some customizations required for notifications. It was an honest video, but not impressive and certainly not an inspirational endorsement of a weak first release of the product.

At the very least I can say that SCSM 2010 is a solid attempt to sell other Microsoft products (Windows Server, SQL Server). Microsoft will probably get SCSM right sooner or later. They can always be counted on that, but only after they have exhausted all other possibilities.

W00t: The ITSM podcasts are back

I posted almost two years ago about the dearth of ITSM podcasts. The IT Skeptic blog is alive and well, but the podcasts are dead.

Fortunately a new batch of podcasts have arisen. Three that appear to be alive and well are:

I think the first organization needs no introduction: Connect, Learn, Grow! The itSMF USA Podcast

A second is the ITSM Weekly The Podcast From the folks at the ServiceSphere.

And last, but not least, the ITSM Manager: the IT Service Management Podcast, from ITSM Manager.

All are linked from the iTunes Store.

Numara Software Introduces FootPrints 9

Last week Numara Software announced the new version of FootPrints. Cutting through the marketing hype, the new version of the product consists mostly of minor refinements and enhancements to functionality. For example, customer accounts can now be Change approvers (only Agent accounts could approve Changes in v8), and the Address Book now allows a field for manager, which will assist in approving Changes. Otherwise they expanded the tabbed interface in the Project Administration and System Administration screens.

The lack of major new functionality is a good thing, as the product shouldn’t be plagued with a lot of new bugs typically associated with new products. The major new piece of functionality they did add is the Service Catalog, which uses (and extends) the CMDB. Service Catalog is free for CMDB customers. I will review the Service Catalog functionality later, as I haven’t yet had time to play with it in depth.

Note: The author is a contractor and consultant for Numara Software.