“I’m stood in front of the bathroom mirror practising tying a bow tie on a Sunday morning in early November. It can mean only one thing. It’s time for my 20th annual trip to itSMF UK’s conference and awards…” Barry Corless offers a personal insight into ITSM23.
Sunday 12th November – Conference Eve
Despite a four-hour car journey to Reading I arrived at my hotel in high spirits. I suspect the couple of hours listening to Liverpool FC defeat Brentford 3-0 via Radio 5 Live helped perk me up.
I’d be joining CGI colleagues staying at the Holiday Inn about a mile or so from the venue. Within minutes of arrival, I said hello to fellow itSMF volunteer Sean Burkinshaw walking down the corridor to his room. Sean works for BT so I knew his crowd would be in the same hotel. More of their exploits later!
For the second year, the event was to be held at the ‘Mad Stad’. To cut a long story short, itSMF were using the facilities at the Select Car Leasing Stadium, the home of Reading FC. It used to be named after ex-Chairman Sir John Madejski, hence the affectionate Mad Stad nickname.
I decided to make my way across for the Sunday Networking event a little early to see if any help was needed with the set-up. As it happens, I timed it to perfection. They’d just finished so I got away with it… or so I thought.
PB Projects once again had helped itSMF UK complete the preparations. They have been both skilful and professional in supporting the itSMF UK conference organisation and execution for well over 10 years now. So, after a quick ‘hello’ and chinwag with Laura and rest of the PB crew, it was off to Club 106 for the PeopleCert sponsored networking.
Club 106 is usually used for pre- and post-match hospitality and overlooks the pitch at the stadium. Well over 100 people attended and of course there was an opportunity to say hello to lots of old friends. I will never tire of Stuart Rance’s dry humour and Daniel Breston’s infectious effervescence. Of course, there were a couple of ITSM conversations. You’ve not lived until you’ve spent part of your Sunday evening contemplating the importance of governance and ownership of CMDB foundation data with a complete stranger!!
As we left for the evening my dodging of the set-up work came back to haunt me. PB Projects shamelessly ambushed me on the way out of the venue. I was now chairing two conference sessions on Monday afternoon. As it happened, they were both talks I wanted to see so not a chore at all.
Monday 13th November – Conference Day 1
Monday started early with 5km on the treadmill at the hotel followed by breakfast with Chris and Holly, two of my CGI colleagues attending the event. I offered to chauffeur us across to the stadium. We arrived and the sell-out conference crowd was already building.
The conference was opened by the Chair of itSMF UK Karen Brusch sharing her thoughts on various ITSM topics. Graham McDonald, General Manager of itSMF UK told us what the forum had achieved in the last 12 months. Our opening keynote speaker was introduced by the Worshipful Mayor of Thatcham, Councillor Mark Lillycrop. Many of you may be unaware of the itSMF UK office stalwart’s life outside of work. Mark is currently holding the chains of office for the Berkshire town as well as doing his usual outstanding job for the forum.
Our keynote was delivered by Mandy Hickson. Whilst in the Royal Air Force, Mandy was only the second woman to fly the Tornado GR4 on the front line, amassing over thirty years of experience within aviation, completing three tours of duty and 45 missions over Iraq during that time. She spoke eloquently and with appropriate humour about overcoming her many barriers to getting the seat in the fast jet and describing the strategies and behaviours that can adopted when the stakes are at their highest. Testimony to her popularity was the length of the queue afterwards when she was signing her book “An Officer and Not a Gentleman”.
My first conference session featured Peter Hubbard and Karl Twort from The Body Shop telling the story of their journey creating a SIAM ecosystem. One of their key messages was to ensure you have a base line of who does what (internally and externally) before you start. It seems obvious but as they told us, “There were a few gaps we discovered”.
Next up was Sean Burkinshaw from BT who posed questions about a ‘menagerie of meaningless metrics’, a tongue twister better suited to a Monday morning than a Tuesday with a post-gala dinner hangover! Sean made some very salient points particularly about the dimension of metrics. Every metric has its place, whether it be trailing, leading, adding context to other metrics or indeed contributing to a performance profile. However, the wrong metric in the wrong place can actually be massively self-defeating.
After lunch, the itSMF UK volunteer event chairs took the opportunity to meet up and start planning next year’s itinerary. We’re a very diverse group from various organisations, superbly marshalled by BT and itSMF UK’s resident cat herder, Val Wilson. In an hour or so Val managed to get us to produce an outline for the 2024 programme!
Later in the afternoon it was time for my session chairing duties. First it was Sean Auckland from Vodafone who gave a very pragmatic view of their evolution from problem management to reliability management. The progression from reactive to proactive with an accompanying change of focus and name was music to the ears of this problem management enthusiast.
My old friend Jane Humphries of Fujitsu Services was next up, telling us about the importance of delivering outcome-centric services. Jane’s passion for delivery that meets customer need shone through as she challenged the status quo of regular metrics and output-based delivery. After all that I needed a drink. Not because of you Jane, the whole day. A couple of mouthfuls of Inch’s Cider and it was back to our hotel…
Much of the pleasure of conference is the annual opportunity to get dressed up to the nines for the awards ceremony which recognises substantial achievement in the ITSM field. Practice makes perfect and the bow tie was looking good as I made my way to reception for our taxi to the event. Already in reception were the BT crowd in their best bib and tucker. We drew some quizzical looks from other guests wondering why a dozen or so people might be dressed so formally on a Monday evening in November!
CGI’s ranks had swelled to seven for the gala dinner and awards. The one Senior Vice President and three Vice Presidents had a photo taken together, leading the other three of us to ponder on a collective noun for a group of VPs. Answers on a postcard please! We were joined on our table by Rob Akershoek of DXC in his unmistakable purple dinner jacket emblazoned with IT4IT logos.
The host for the awards was Troy Hawke. Troy is the character alter ego of comedian Milo McCabe. Milo describes Troy as an ‘erudite homeschooled 1930s throwback. Educated, sophisticated and yet utterly clueless!’. I’d not seen any of his work before this evening but particularly enjoyed his delve into Scouse psychology. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Liverpool and obviously learned a lot from a city that has produced more than its fair share of comedy genius.
The awards themselves are covered in more detail elsewhere so I’ll mention just three worthy winners. CGI’s own Chris Kingsbury won Content of the Year for his piece on Customer Experience. Well done, mate! The Dave Jones Leadership Award went to the very deserving Matthew Burrows. It is in no small part due to Matthew’s efforts that the SFIA framework is as successful as it is today. The Paul Rappaport Award for outstanding achievement is perhaps the ultimate award in our industry. I was humbled to be amongst the names of the previous winners flashed up before the incomparable Barclay Rae was presented with this year’s award. A massively deserving winner and a chance to reflect on some of the service management greats who are no longer with us. Dave Jones, Ashley Hanna and Rob Stroud were all people I could genuinely call friends – may you all rest in peace!
For once, and with my Tuesday morning presentation in mind, I made an early exit from the post-awards festivities. Others stayed…
Tuesday 14th November – Day 2 – Gala Dinner Hangover Day
“What time did you get back, Chris?” I asked at breakfast on Tuesday. “Ask BT. I was in their taxi,” was the reply. Suffice to say, a good night was had by all with both Chris and BT celebrating awards. Tuesday started with a healthy dose of presentation panic. The tech crew at the conference couldn’t find mine and Frieda’s presentation on the pen drive that I’d given to them on Sunday! Hot footing it over to the venue we quickly came to the conclusion that I’d run it from my laptop. Good job I’d copied the latest version to my desktop that morning before breakfast… just in case! Thanks to the tech crew for the quick swap.
With that minor crisis averted I settled back to watch Akshay Anand and Roman Jouravlev present a very cerebral and enjoyable session on rethinking ITSM roles and responsibilities. I found myself nodding in furious agreement with their assertion that service assurance should be pretty much a universal skillset and responsibility.
Our big moment then arrived. I was co-presenting with Frieda Morton-Evans (my boss at CGI) on the topic of IT Service Management and Sustainability. It’s such an enormous topic that I could spend hours on it. I will do so in a separate blog. If we had one key message it’s that we are but one very small cog in a massive organisational machine; a machine that sees sustainability range way beyond a reduction in greenhouse gases into many other areas. One thing is for certain, it is unlikely that Frieda will get the chance to talk about phytoplankton at itSMF ever again! Listen to the recording when you get the chance!
Coffee and cake are the way to relax post-presentation but not before interesting discussions with Jeetender Surma from NEYO and James Warriner from Precision Bridge on the topic of sustainability.
The break afforded me the chance to chat to Henry Strouts of SXP. Henry is another regular on the ITSM circuit that I’ve known for probably 15 years. A passionate fan of Chelsea FC, we got the football conversation out of the way first. We chatted about how their (SXP not Chelsea) excellent digital simulation-based experiential games might be enhanced by adding a sustainability flavour. One for further discussion me thinks…
With lunch approaching I took in what would prove to be my final talk of the day. Vytautas Adomaitis of Danske Bank was talking about practical aspects of Resilience Management. He bemoaned the fact that the Bank’s business calendar left him with only 4 or 5 weekends a year out of 52 that he could test their readiness for a variety of scenarios. ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose’ as the French might say!
It would be remiss not to thank the stadium staff for their efforts, particularly on day 2 when they were also preparing for a first team fixture that evening. Just for the record, Reading sealed their qualification to the knock-out stages of the Bristol Street Motors Trophy with a 5-2 win against Arsenal Under-21s in front of just over three thousand spectators.
With the prospect of a four-hour drive home I made my exit shortly after lunch. I’m already looking forward to ITSM24, to be held in Reading again. Maybe there’ll be a diary from a delegate aged 58 and a quarter next year.