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.

Rethinking the CMS

I first started this post in response to the IT Skeptic’s CMDB is crazy talk post about 2 weeks ago. My own position derives from several observations in the real world:

  1. Few organizations are willing to perform a full spectrum CMDB implementation, due to cost constraints. (In my opinion few organizations actually require this.)
  2. Observation #1 even includes those organizations that have purchased a commercial CMDB software package. They purchased the software to achieve a more specific objective.
  3. And yet most organizations perform some level of configuration management, even if that is as simple as tracking software licenses on a spreadsheet.
  4. Most organizations would benefit from doing a little more than they are currently doing. The “what” depends on the organization.

The ITSM community needs to stop thinking about the CMS / CMDB as a process (which has defined inputs and outputs) or a thing or a database. Instead we can think about it as a broad collection of activities that help maintain information and documentation on the configuration of assets and software inside an organization. This isn’t a black or white implementation where you do it all or you don’t do any–most organizations span the spectrum of gray.

The trouble with ITIL (as if there were only one) is the concept of a CMS is so abstract that most people cannot understand  it. This is by design–it saves the authors the trouble of actually doing anything. I still have trouble describing ITIL’s take on the CMS, and I have done practical implementations in a dozen organizations.

Let’s help practitioners by enumerating and describing the various CM activities that take may take place that are common in the real world. We will explain the benefits and costs associated with each.

For example:

  • Automated discovery of hardware assets
  • Automated discovery of installed software assets
  • Automated discovery of network assets
  • Automated linking of software and hardware assets
  • Automated linking of hardware and network assets
  • Automatic reporting on software compliance and unused licenses
  • Linking Incidents to CI’s
  • Linking Changes to CI’s
  • Linking Problems to CI’s
  • Linking CI’s to end-users
  • Linking CI’s to end-user organizations

This list is VERY incomplete, and there is no out of the box solution for any of the above. There is a wide variety of expression of CI names, CI types, attributes, and statuses of the above items. Each can be automated to different levels.

By making a checklist we can help practitioners and organizations understand what they can do, what other organizations do, and what they should consider in the future. It would be a list of available options, rather than a document of the One True Way dictated high from above. We can expand on Skep’s checklist concept.

A checklist of practical activities could also feed into a maturity assessment.

We can call it the Management of the Configuration of the Configuration Management Database Database. Or we can call it WikiCMDB for short. Stay tuned here for more details.

I am thinking out loud, so everything in this post may be wrong. I welcome your feedback.

OBASHI and the CMDB

In September 2010 APMG unveiled its new OBASHI Certification based on the OBASHI methodology developed in 2001 in the gas & oil industry. I won’t go into detail here, but there is at least one book available at the APMG-Business Books but apparently not on Amazon, and least of all not in Kindle format. There is also a OBASHI Explained white paper. Confession: I haven’t yet read the book.

This is just a first impression, and it was this: this is a lot like the CMDB analysis I have done several times in the past. Here is a CMDB framework which I have commonly seen used in industry.

At the top you can imagine are products that your company offers to its customers. Those products are provided by Users (of Services provided by IT), which may be individual users, departments, divisions, teams, etc. The Users use services which may be provided by other services or by applications. Applications run on servers and computers, which are connected by networks.

That sounds obvious but have found some people find it a bit abstract until they start laying out practical examples. The important thing to remember is the objects (rectangles on a diagram) are connected by arrows. In CMDB parlance, the objects are Configuration Items (CI’s) and the arrows are relationships. I typically label the diagrams.

The OBASHI framework seems to use the same concepts. When modeling a CMDB I usually allowed the customer a little more flexibility of CI Types and Relationships, depending on their requirements. OBASHI seems a little more rigid in the use of components and data flows.

At first I wondered what is the purpose of OBASHI. However, I like it after further thought. Although it describes data flows, it is easy to envision it describing other flows, such as process flows. It is an effective framework for analysis that effectively communicates complex systems. It doesn’t require the full implementation of an expensive CMDB to achieve its benefits, and the information collected will readily be reused in the implementation of a CMDB.