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Service Management in action today's solutions, tomorrows challenges


Richard Horton reports on the recent ITSMF UK Service Management in Action event, where service management leaders explored the key issues facing us in delivering new services that support and enhance the business, while rising to some newer challenges for ITSM such as cyber security.

Look at this picture until you are confident that you know its contents then cover the picture. Can you remember what the flag in the bottom left hand corner was? How many of the flags have red as one of their colours? How many of the countries are in the EU? Memorising items and then being asked questions on them was an illustration used at the recent ITSMF UK Knowledge Exchange, where people assembled to explore a range of challenges around the theme ‘Service Management in Action’.

Karen Brusch from Nationwide used this memory game (or one very much like it!) to illustrate the difficulties we experience when we try to design services. No matter how hard we look we miss things, because they don’t look important. But when we take those signed off requirements and get down to building what we have designed, we find that these things that we missed do matter. And all this assumes that people know what they want in the first place, which they tend not to. Even if they do, when we’ve worked out what they want and documented it neatly for a supplier to fulfil, does the supplier understand the business language being used. There are many pitfalls here. The understanding that was shared was that we have been unrealistic in our expectations of how we can design and how a design will be interpreted. And then we blame people (at a different stage in the chain, of course). To get better results we need a more open culture.

Design is not the only area where we have struggled. Planning also causes a lot of difficulty. Consider a stone thrown into water. It causes ripples. Imagine that stone is a change being implemented. Now imagine multiple stones being thrown: lots of conflicting ripples. Yet we insist on planning as though the stone we are throwing not only will be landing on a flat surface but won’t cause any ripples either. This was explored in the context of collaboration. The more complex, uncertain and disturbed the environment we are working in, the greater the need to collaborate.

Two of the speakers at the event, Jon Dodkins of OVO Energy and Chris Williams of EE, gave their first-hand accounts of leading service management in dynamic market place conditions. It was striking here how Jon highlighted the value OVO place on humility: are people willing to put aside their hard won experience to take on a new way of doing things? And this is a company value, not a service management value – embracing the way that the business works as a whole and being fully part of it. Chris Williams from EE outlined his view of the Service Manager of the Future with its emphasis on business relational skills and raised a challenge of ITIL needing to be reviewed for a mobile age to remain relevant. In both cases challenging environments had shaped how people organised themselves.

David Wheable of Forrester explored the future in more detail. Do service managers expect to be doing the same role in 5 years? This was his starting question before he outlined how difficult it has proved for general service management practice to move forwards with no one achieving good maturity levels across all processes. There’s clearly plenty to work on here, but it’s likely to be more in the same sort of “core ITIL” areas within organisations focused on supplying services, while others move more in the brokerage direction, seeking to utilise the capability of business (rather than IT) technology.

Alison Cartlidge from Sopra Steria provided another perspective, focusing on Customer Experience. First we looked at the questions Forrester use when asking about CX: did you enjoy it, how easy was it, how effective was it? Customer Experience is much talked about and the message here was painted clearly: you can’t afford not to pay attention to this – it’s differentiating organisations that succeed. Alison highlighted how key to this another CX is: Customer Expectation. Lurking behind any conscious expectations are subconscious expectations – and these are more than half the picture. So what do we think the expectation contract might look like? What is going on here is rarely teased out but is key to successful service provision. As Philippa Hale highlighted in her subsequent session on collaboration, “Thinking, Feeling and Doing are all significant elements. If we ignore one (and it’s often Feeling that we ignore), we do so at our peril.”

The increased importance that the customer has reflects in a need to respond more immediately: picking things up as they happen rather than through month end retrospective reporting. Which isn’t to say you throw out such reporting, but you might do it a bit differently. For example, we like our RAG charts, but we do insist they reflect measurable criteria. What about asking the customer to give a RAG rating for relationship status with no criteria. You do the same and then you talk about it. What is driving perceptions and any differences in them? This sort of approach is an example of how we can engage with the undervalued emotional perspective.

At the moment a lot of attention in this area is playing catch-up: e.g. how do we detect and respond to issues? What about putting the different threads here together and making sure that we design for a good customer experience in the first place?

Stuart Rance concluded the day with a look at Cyber Resilience. Previously we’ve talked about security, and the focus has tended to be on prevention. However the stark picture is that you can’t prevent a sufficiently determined attack. In this context we still need to stop what we can, but need to be detecting breaches and making sure our responses are appropriate. Do we have processes that will enable the organisation to rescue itself or are we at risk of joining high profile cases where it’s not just the initial breach that’s the problem, but the failure to detect and address it appropriately. Here Service Management can add value to the Information Security world.

So, a thought provoking day with threads shared between the various presentations. A final image: Chris Williams talked about his 11-year-old daughter and how amazed he is at the consummate ease with which she adapts to rapidly changing technology. A service manager of the future, perhaps?

Richard Horton is Service Delivery Manager at the NIHR Clinical Research Network and a member of the ITSMF UK Management Board.

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