Four Groups of People We’re Thankful For This Thanksgiving November 25, 2014 No Comments

It’s that time of year again–Thanksgiving, when thoughts turn to turkey, travel, family, and possibly some early shopping. Most importantly, it’s a time for gratitude, to reflect on the things, events, conditions, and people for whom we are grateful. Here are four groups of people we are thankful for this year (and always).

A few Kinetic Data employees at KEG 2014Our Employees

As John Sundberg says, great products are built by great teams. And great teams are built with great people. This is where it all starts: with the developers who create our products to the consultants who implement them, the experts who support them, the team that markets and sells them, and the people who hold the entire operation together. We’re thankful for each and every Kinetic Data employee.

Our Customers

We’re grateful to be working with more than 300 of the best organizations in the world …from all kinds of different areas—service providers, educational systems, government agencies, and enterprises across a range of industries. Hundreds of companies are benefiting from our efforts – and we think that is just “Turkeyiffic.” Everything we do is designed to provide them with new capabilities, reduce service fulfillment costs, improve service delivery speed, and simplify request management for their employees. Some recent customer stories we’ve highlighted include CareTech Solutions, Nordstrom, and Fairfax County Public Schools.

Our Partners

We’re thankful for our channel partners—including Acuity, AttivaSoft, Column Technologies, Maryville Technologies, Meritide, QMX, Rapid Technologies, and RightStar Systems—who extend our capabilities as a company. They provide additional services, products, industry expertise, and local presence to our customers. They’ve enabled us to grow faster and do more as a company. We’re grateful for their efforts, and everything they bring to the table.

Our Social Network

We’re thankful for the thought leaders and other engaging professionals we’re connected to on social networks. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share ideas, learn from them, and (hopefully) share some of our knowledge about enterprise request management and practical business process automation in return. Happy Thanksgiving to all, including Rob England (The IT Skeptic), Roy Atkinson at HDI, Jeff Brooks at Gartner, Jeff Kaplan at THINKstrategies, Eveline Oehrlich at Forrester Research, Josh Greenbaum at Enterprise Applications Consulting, Christian Harris at Business Computing World, Rob Preston at InformationWeek, Doug McClure, Sramana Mitra of 1M/1M, Dan Costa at PC Magazine, and Kevin Kelly at Wired.

And of course we’re thankful for the readers of this blog. Here’s wishing all of you a happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Six Key Takeaways from the HDI – itSMF USA Service Management Report November 19, 2014 No Comments

IT service management (ITSM) principles are being embraced in shared service functions (HR, finance, facilities, etc.) in an increasing number of organizations. Whether applied within the enterprise or by service providers, ITSM tools and practices are helping to improve processes and reduce service costs. The results are better alignment between IT and business functions, faster service fulfillment, and happier end users.

Service management not just for IT anymore infographicThese are among the findings in Service Management: Not Just for IT Anymore, a new research report produced jointly by HDI and itSMF USA. This outstanding report contains a wealth of data and insight for organizations in the midst of or still considering the application of ITSM principles and technologies beyond the IT realm.

Here are half a dozen key findings from the report, along with our observations and commentary.

The iPhone started it.

“As the mobility revolution and the cloud have changed the landscape, disrupting the established flow of provisioning support services and technology, there has been a significant shift in the way support organizations are viewed…If we were to pick a date for when this shift began, it would be June 29, 2007: the date the iPhone was introduced. The desirability and the capabilities of this device were prime motivators for ‘the consumerization of IT.’… end users began asserting their desire to become more productive and agile by adopting technologies that were readily available, rather than waiting for IT departments to come up with less-than-satisfactory solutions after years of work and expense. The customer moved into the driver’s seat.”

The report makes an interesting case for 2007 as the beginning of the ITSM shift, though interest in BYOD didn’t really start to take off until late 2011 and the “consumerization of IT” was recognized as a once-in-a-generation epic change in the IT world. Clearly though, the confluence of cloud computing, smartphones, social media, and nearly frictionless ecommerce in the consumer world have fundamentally changed the expectations of employees for IT in the workplace.

Support is being forced to “shift left.”

“Given the budget, resource, and staffing pressures organizations are facing today, IT service providers, whether internal IT departments or external companies, have had to figure out how to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less.”

If not always “a whole lot less,” IT groups are at the least being asked to do a whole lot more with about the same. Simultaneously, the most tech-savvy generation in history is beginning to enter the workforce. The confluence of these trends has compelled IT to shift support to the left—even to level 0 (self-service) —through four strategies:

Self-service: at the front-end of the service request or incident reporting process, IT (and increasingly, other shared services groups across the enterprise) is providing users with an intuitive portal for submitting requests and checking on the status of pending requests. Dynamic questioning (asking for different information based on the answers to previous questions) assures the query reaches the right group. Eliminating phone calls, emails, and misrouted requests accelerates service delivery while reducing the workload for IT staff.

Automation: on the back-end of those request submissions, tasks and workflows (approvals, scheduling, fulfillment, charge-backs, etc.) are being automated using orchestration tools. Again, this increases the speed and accuracy of service delivery while reducing costs and manual efforts.

Simplicity: request portals, apps, and other systems of engagement are being designed using principles from sites like Facebook and Amazon.com: make them so easy to use that there is no need for user training or how-to type support. This reduces help desk call volume, delights users, and improves productivity.

User empowerment: rather than document requirements for non-IT service process automation and then go off and build it, IT groups are increasing giving business process owners easy-to-use graphical tools to design, test, optimize, and deploy their own automated task workflows. More service items are created, with more precision, in a shorter amount of time, while IT retains control over the underlying technology to assure data remains secure, corporate standards are adhered to, and the resulting automation can be supported.

IT comes out of the shadow.

“51 percent of organizations are applying or are planning to apply service management principles in areas outside of IT, which indicates that there is interest from non-IT business units. This interest presents IT with an opportunity to lead, demonstrate tangible value, and actually fulfill the role of the trusted adviser. One respondent articulated the impact around this business need:

“’I believe customer experience has improved now that the business is operating under the same processes/tools as IT. The collaboration between the business and IT has greatly improved, and we work better toward a customer-friendly solution.’”

The report also notes that while IT is “responsible for generating demand in just over half (53%) of the organizations that have implemented service management outside of IT,” leaders from other business units and non-IT areas have championed the change in nearly half of enterprises.

When business leaders and users truly attempt to use a “shadow IT” approach—circumventing IT to build their own applications and invest in their own tools—the results are suboptimal. This can lead to security and governance issues, redundant spending, and unsupported software.

The fact that so many organizations are embracing ITSM outside of IT,  and that in nearly half the cases the impetus comes from non-IT business groups, indicates that business users recognize the pitfalls of shadow IT and are seeking more productive paths. Tools and approaches like enterprise request management (ERM), systems of engagement, and graphical workflow automation software are enhancing the ability of IT to better align with business needs without massive new investments in technology or people.

Leveraging existing systems is vital.

“Few areas in the modern organization are left untouched by IT, and, as a result, support organizations should anticipate seeing increased requests for new applications or changes to existing ones. Ultimately, this means that IT needs to learn to ‘work smarter, not harder.'”

IT groups are determining, in many instances, that evolution beats revolution. Yes, requests for new capabilities are increasing as the report notes, but implementing new systems to meet every need is impractical, expensive and wasteful. In many cases, the capabilities and data required to meet these needs already exists in the legacy management and control platforms companies have already invested in. What’s needed is to create simple, web-and-mobile-friendly systems of engagement to give employees what they need—and nothing more complicated.

Suites aren’t always sweet.

Just because an ITSM vendor offers an excellent tool box doesn’t mean that every tool inside is optimal. Fortunately, modern software architectures enable organizations to take a best-of-breed approach, not just across departmental management platforms but even within the ITSM realm. Enterprises are free to choose the best ticketing system, remote access software, service catalog portal, workflow automation tool, and other components that best meet their needs.

If a company finds that certain applications within its ITSM suite don’t extend beyond IT, or don’t do it well, it may determine that swapping out specific pieces of the system is less disruptive and more cost-effective than a wholesale replacement.

Today’s business process automation (BPA) tools are just right.

Traditionally, BPA tools have been either too big or too small for automating many common service fulfillment tasks. At one end of the spectrum were powerful but complex tools designed to automate large operational processes in manufacturing, accounting, and supply chains. At the other were simple scripting tools.

But as this report points out, “Today’s ITSM tools are more robust, providing a variety of highly cus­tomizable scripting/automation capabilities. In a very real sense, they’re almost at the level of business process modeling (BPM) or enterprise workflow tools.”

The best of these tools are powerful enough to automate complex cross-functional processes like new employee onboarding, but provide intuitive graphical workflow mapping capabilities simple enough for non-technical business function managers to use with minimal IT assistance.

Next Steps

Agility, Evolution, and Teamwork: What Big Companies Can Learn from Startups (and Vice Versa) November 11, 2014 2 Comments

Startup companies are widely perceived as being lean, agile, flexible, and most importantly: fast. Decisions are made and implemented quickly. They can “turn on a dime” when business needs or marketplace conditions require.

Large enterprises, in contrast, are known for none of these characteristics. They are however, generally, very good at “process.” Though sometimes derided as “bureaucratic,’ this process mentality is vital to successfully managing large-scale operations.

What big and small companies can learn from each otherProcess is what assures the right people are involved (whether that means activity, approval, or just awareness), and that tasks are completed in a repeatable, measurable, efficient, safe, and scalable manner.

So, can large firms learn anything from the operational models of startups? Writing in Forbes, John Martin contends in “Why Can’t You Be More Like A Startup?” — How To Build A Culture of Agility that not only can big business learn from small companies, but due to “disruptive innovation and disruptive business models,” they must.

Martin believes big and small organizations “could learn a great deal from each other,” noting that “the ‘lean’ business models on which startups thrive can be adopted, to allow large businesses to deal with uncertainty and limited budgets more effectively.” Meanwhile, startups can benefit from learning “the best operational and planning practices of large companies.”

Agility

Startups frequently adopt agile development and business models because they provide “the best fit for a company with extreme time pressures, limited resources and rapidly changing targets,” according to Martin. He proceeds to write that “this is exactly the situation many CIOs face when deciding how to spend their limited innovation budget,” making IT a place where adopting startup company practices can benefit large organizations.

Agile practices aren’t just about controlling costs, of course. They also enable IT to embark on projects that provide value to the business quickly, and to swiftly reverse course on unproductive paths.

Evolution

Startup companies begin at ground zero for operational software (HR, CRM, accounting,  etc.) implementations. Large companies, in contrast, have in-place applications and platforms in which they’ve invested significant sums of financial and knowledge capital over the years.

While there are instances where a legacy system can simply no longer support an enterprise’s changing needs that a large-scale “rip and replace” project is necessary, in many cases existing systems of record can be leveraged with new technology and processes that provide business value rapidly while minimizing new capital outlays, taking an evolutionary approach.

Martin shares the story of a client company that misunderstood the agile approach, and possibly the benefits of evolution over revolution as well:

The company’s “immediate concern was how to rapidly extract value from an underused and expensive capital resource, purchased over a year ago.” Surprisingly though (as the participants were supposedly “well versed in ‘Agile'”), “one of the reasons given for the poor utilization was that the purchase had been made as a result of an ‘Agile Decision.’…if there’d (truly) been a pervasive culture of Lean or Agile thinking, then a continuous two-week cycle of small testable actions would have begun extracting value from the investment starting the day after the equipment was delivered.”

Or, perhaps the company wouldn’t have purchased the “expensive capital resource” to begin with, if an evolutionary approach leveraging existing technology assets (perhaps supplemented by a more modest investment in smaller components) was a practical alternative.

As Martin notes, “The beauty of the incremental and measurable actions of such approaches is that they help an organization learn rapidly, not just from successes, but also from mistakes.”

Team Building

Startups know that great products are built by great teams. But it can be difficult in larger companies to build small, multi-disciplinary teams, and for management to then “support these teams by removing the roadblocks that get in their way,” in Martin’s words.

Martin further quotes Rich Karlgaard regarding the optimal size of teams: “There’s a right size for every team, and it’s almost always smaller than you think…The best leaders keep their teams small and agile.”

Or, as written here recently, teams should ideally be made “as large as necessary, as small as feasible, and as passionate as possible.” The keys to team-building in large organizations are to make sure all necessary stakeholder groups are involved—but no more—and to select individuals who can both contribute as individuals and collaborate with the group.

Alignment

Combining startup characteristics and practices like agile development and (small) team-building with an evolutionary technology approach that leverages existing investments in management and control platforms is ideal for aligning IT with the business. This combination enables IT to respond to rapidly changing business requirements while maintaining efficiency and data security.

Much has been written about “shadow IT” and the perception of some business users that IT is more hindrance than help. But agile development and an evolutionary approach to technology allow IT to demonstrate business value quickly, while team participation builds trust between stakeholders.

Big and Small

Martin advises large enterprises and startups alike to “make sure your innovation platform not only supports rapid change and growth, but also maintains adequate levels of governance and operational efficiency.”

The approaches are different, but the goals the same. New technology investments need to be made with an eye to what’s already in place and can be leveraged. Agile practices, an evolutionary approach, and teamwork are vital to enabling IT to support rapidly changing business needs while maintaining corporate standards, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, scalability, and information security.

Next Steps

For more information about agility, security or business process optimization, download any (or all) of these white papers:

Four Easy Steps to Align IT with the Business November 5, 2014 No Comments

According to recent research, the top priority for CIOs is no longer cost cutting (as it had been for the past several years), but rather improving business processes. CIOs are well aware of the need to align IT with business goals and their teams are confident in their ability to deliver.

Yet their efforts are too often thwarted by well-meaning but ill-conceived shadow IT initiatives. As described in What CIOs Need to Know About Business Alignment in CIO Insight, in many cases, the best efforts of CIOs and IT departments to support business needs “are undermined by the existing corporate culture. It’s difficult, after all, to work with business teams on optimal IT acquisition and usage when those same business teams go out and buy a load of apps without even telling the CIO or his or her tech team.”

4 easy steps to align IT with the businessPer survey findings cited by CIO Insight, “More than one-quarter of IT pros equate the visibility of their IT department into their organization’s business initiatives to ‘a foggy day in London,’” and “76% of IT leaders say business applications are rolled out without engaging IT.”

While business users believe that going around IT solves business needs more quickly, such actions can increase the risk of data breaches and waste money through redundant spending.

To protect corporate data, minimize costs, and optimally meet business needs, the CIO Insight article advises that organizations take the following four steps.

Get with stakeholders. Connect IT staff with business users to understand needs and pain points.

Match needs to IT capabilities. Avoid redundant spending; if IT already has capabilities in place, for example because the group has solved a similar problem for a different department or location, there’s no need to pay twice.

Enterprise request management (ERM) is one excellent example of this. IT can use the ERM portal (a.k.a., business service catalog) to communicate its capabilities to business users. Business process owners in other groups (HR, facilities, finance, etc.) can use the same tools and portal to offer their services to the business.

Using the same tool minimizes the investment required while simplifying life for employees by  giving them one Web and mobile-accessible interface for requesting any service or resource from any department. The process of implementing ERM also fosters communication between IT and business users,  and builds trust in the IT department among business process owners and departmental leaders.

Identify gaps. What current needs are not being met? And just as importantly, what’s the best approach for addressing them?

Not every “gap” requires a major investment in building or buying a new application. It may be a matter of creating new systems of engagement (user interfaces) atop existing systems of record (legacy management and control systems). This may involve accessing, analyzing, and manipulating combinations of data pulled from several existing applications or data sources.

Build the right team. We’ve found that great teams are often made up of individuals with broad general knowledge in business and technology combined with deep expertise in a specific area. Beyond the obvious (e.g., including both business and technology subject-matter experts), make teams as large as necessary, as small as feasible, and as passionate as possible.

Business users are often focused on speed. IT is focused on data security, standards, and efficiency. The best business solutions are a result of both groups connecting, understanding needs (and what’s already in place); identifying gaps; and coordinating efforts. This path avoids issues of “orphaned” applications, security risks, and  redundant technology spending.

ERM is one example of this approach. It enables IT to communicate its offerings (such as brokered cloud services) to business users in a user-friendly manner. It also enables business process owners to create and expose their department’s service offerings to the business via a centralized portal–but with minimal IT assistance and built atop the departmental applications they are already comfortable with.

ERM puts business process owners in control (without going around IT); leverages existing technology investments; reduces service delivery costs; and simplifies the request management process for employees.

Next Steps

Six Key ERM and IT Trends for 2015 October 28, 2014 No Comments

Danish physicist Neils Bohr is credited with saying “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” And indeed, prognostications are often proven wrong, particularly regarding technology, sometimes absurdly so: for example, Businessweek magazine’s prediction that the paperless office was just a few years away—made in 1975.

2015 IT predictions and trendsBut sometimes, predictions prove surprisingly prescient. Such is the case with Eric Knorr’s article, 9 trends for 2014 and beyond, published in InfoWorld in November 2013. The piece remains as fresh and relevant today as it was a year ago. Here’s a look at some of those predictions and how they fit with another trend: the growing interest  in extending the service catalog beyond IT across the enterprise, using an enterprise request management (ERM) strategy.

Cloud is the new hardware. “All big industry shifts have been driven by new computing platforms, from the PC to client-server to the Internet.”

While corporate data centers are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, cloud computing is clearly an attractive option for many types of applications, and many (if not most) new software implementations. The typical IT infrastructure in most large organizations for the foreseeable future will be a mix of on-premises hardware and hybrid clouds—a mix of private and public cloud resources.

Ideally, IT organizations will act as brokers of cloud services, using an ERM portal to present cloud options to business application developers along with information on costs and capabilities, enabling developers to select from approved (and secure) options the services that best fit their needs.

Systems of engagement lead the way. “Where the cloud shines is in powering ‘systems of engagement’: customer-facing Web and mobile applications.”

Business needs—as well as expectation from employees for consumer-like interfaces to business applications and data—are changing rapidly. But expensive, time-consuming “rip and replace” implementations are not the only option for adapting to changing needs and improving business processes.

Using ERM tools to provide intuitive, web/mobile access to core legacy management and control applications–i.e., using modern systems of engagement to access in-place systems of record–enables organizations to improve business processes, reduce costs, and improve the user experience without the significant time and cost of implementing new enterprise applications. Improvements can be seen in 30-90 days and at a modest cost.

Big data gets ahead of itself. What matters is smart data.

By centralizing requests for services, enterprises can more easily be smart about predicting demand, understanding the true costs of services, and measuring actual fulfillment times—that is, service level experiences (SLEs) rather than just service level agreements (SLAs).  Services requested, whether discrete or bundled, can be tracked back to a service portfolio and tied to real allocated costs (infrastructure, supplies, and/or people) in any department.  Without the demand data portion of this equation (via an ERM solution), cost-efficient capacity management is just a guessing game.

Cloud integration moves to the fore.  Close. What matters is enterprise service integration. Point-to-point data integrations are inherently unstable and impossible to maintain at scale. Using tools that embrace open standards and Web services enable organizations to integrate applications and data at the service level instead, providing scalability and manageability.

Identity is the new security. As high-profile corporate data breaches continue to make the news, from Target and Home Depot to iCloud and Snapchat, enterprises continue to beef up data security measures. But too often, security processes are optimized within corporate silos, e.g., HR is using HR security best practices, facilities manages physical access, etc.. Such an approach may (or may not) be effective,  but it is almost certainly not efficient.

Utilizing an ERM approach to data security improves both risk management and process efficiency.  By cutting out manual efforts and redundant data entry, it reduces the risk of data errors while improving productivity—providing superior protection for both digital and physical assets while reducing costs.

In terms of service request management, the ERM approach enables services and information to be presented based on each user’s identity (log in). So, for example, any user may be able to request a reset for a forgotten email password, but only managers can request pay rate changes for employees—and only for the employees in their specific department.

Knorr provides more predictions, regarding memory, Javascript, PaaS, and his final trend: “Developers continue to rule…With so many different platforms to write for—and with even data center infrastructure becoming programmable—there simply aren’t enough developers to write all that code.”

Unquestionably, developers will continue to be in high demand. But for back-end process automation, ERM offers at least a partial alternative: empowering business users with tools that enable them to map their own process workflows, test, modify, deploy, and clone them—all with minimal technical assistance. Developers aren’t completely removed from the enterprise service catalog build-out, but their efforts can be geometrically leveraged by giving business process owners with graphical tools to create service items and fulfillment workflow processes.

Predicting the future is hard. But forward-thinking CIOs and business executives are focused on using ERM and other innovative approaches to create the future, rather than worrying about predicting it.

Next Steps