How IT Pros can be Business Heroes August 26, 2014 No Comments

Though IT groups are sometimes criticized for being disconnected from or out of sync with “the business” (sales, marketing,  finance, etc.), IT professionals—like their colleagues in other functional areas—want to be heroes to the organization.

How to be an IT business heroNo employee or group wants to be seen as a roadblock to business or operational progress. Quite the contrary, most would like to display the agility to leap over financial or technological obstacles; the speed to accelerate cumbersome manual processes; even the foresight to anticipate needs and solve problems before they happen.

While being born on the planet Krypton or getting bitten by a radioactive spider aren’t realistic paths, there are practical steps that IT professionals can take to become business heroes.

How to be a hero

Saving time, reducing costs, and improving the user experience are always popular achievements. Doing all three at once is even better.

Consider utilizing an approach like the enterprise request management (ERM) framework to simplify and accelerate business processes of any complexity, from password resets to PTO requests to new employee onboarding.

ERM is a model that combines an intuitive web portal with powerful workflow automation software to make it easy for employees to request any type of equipment or shard service easily, at any time, from any device,  and check on the status of open requests;  accelerates service delivery; ensures first-time fulfillment; and reduces employee provisioning costs.

To be a business hero, evaluate the ERM approach to delivering services from IT or any functional group better, faster and cheaper.

How to be a super hero

Improving processes for business users is great. But even better is giving business process owners the tools and capability to redesign, test, tweak, and deploy their own automated workflows.

To go beyond better-faster-cheaper, look into graphical automation engine tools that enable business managers, with minimal IT assistance, to map out their own business task workflows.

These tools enable process owners to automate tasks by passing information (employee names, dates, vendor IDs, etc.) between in-place functional or enterprise management and control systems (HR, ERP, ITSM, etc.) without modifying core application code.

To be a super hero, give process owners tools to quickly and easily redesign and automate their own workflows, without risk of “breaking” any functions in legacy applications.

How to be a Guardian of the Galaxy

To achieve the highest level of hero-dom, go beyond meeting user needs to anticipating them. Famous examples of this business super power include Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

While anticipating needs can be challenging, the ability isn’t limited to visionaries. Take a look at a business process. Talk to users about their most immediate needs. Then imagine that’s done; what are they likely to ask for next? What ability to meet need B follows from addressing need A?

An example is: your organization has a busy tradeshow schedule. Your company’s exhibit booth is always stored at the same warehouse and shipped via the same carrier. Your marketing team would like the ability to specify event dates and locations for the coming year,  and have the booth automatically shipped to each new venue.

Imagine—poof, that’s done. What else is the marketing team likely to want as a follow-on?

How about connecting your organization’s universal request portal into travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, and Orbitz, as well as your corporate rental car provider and even airline sites, so marketing staff can get alerts about airfares as the next show approaches?

How about also connecting it to your expense reporting system so air, hotel and car rental costs can be reported automatically? And automate shipping of product literature and any equipment needed? And send reminders automatically to marketing staff about key show-related milestones and activities,  like requesting press lists?

To be a guardian of the galaxy, think beyond fulfilling the immediate needs of users, and ask yourself what other capabilities are enabled by the technology that solves that short-term problem?

One final note: heroes don’t keep people waiting. When the Penguin is freezing over Gotham City, Batman doesn’t tell the good citizens to wait while he replaces the engine in the Batmobile. Even if you’ve got a major ITSM, ERP or other system implementation project in the works, you can continue with smaller projects that add near-term value by utilizing software tools that work with what you have today as well as what you’ll have tomorrow.

Even without a cape, super strength, or x-ray vision, you can be a business hero. It just takes the right approach and the right technology.

Next Steps

How Agile Development Powers IT at the Speed of Business August 19, 2014 No Comments

By any number of measures—scientific progress, computing power, economic output, enterprise technology—the pace of change continues to accelerate exponentially. When combined with the shift in customer and employee expectations of technology (a.k.a. the consumerization of IT), this likely spells the end for waterfall-style development processes and expensive, disruptive, long-lead-time big-bang enterprise software system implementations.

Agile methods speed software developmentTraditionally, the challenge in waterfall-style development processes was ” trying to come up with every requirement a product might possibly need to meet before starting to build it,” according to CIO magazine’s Sharon Florentine in How to Use Agile Development to Avoid Project Failures.

Because it’s difficult for people to identify and articulate every feature they may need in advance, additions and changes to specifications were nearly inevitable, leading to scope creep, which caused most projects to be delivered late and over budget.

Given the accelerating pace of change, the concern today isn’t so much that users can’t predefine all needed features (though they still can’t), but that even if they could, the list would be obsolete well before the project was finished. Possibly even before the list was finished. Business requirements today simply change too quickly. And “It’s…depressing for developers (to)  see that the product they’re working on doesn’t meet the objectives (business or consumer) while they’re writing them,” per Florentine.

As noted in both the CIO article and here previously, the answer is to utilize an agile approach to development, combined with collaborative teams: “You’ve got (to get) business and IT working together, collaborating, and that’s what will make the difference…At first, everyone feels like they’re ‘forced’ to work together, but once it becomes apparent that the goal for both teams is continual improvement, that’s when you start to see the value.”

Even more powerful than having IT develop a product that iteratively meets an expanded range of user needs is for IT to create an environment where users can do it themselves. Graphical workflow process automation tools enable business process owners to map out their own business processes, starting with simple tasks and building in complexity over time.

One example is an HR manager automating a simple task (such as ordering business cards for a new employee), then building upon that over time to automate a much more complex process (like employee onboarding). Taking an agile approach enables business process owners to achieve “quick wins” by automating simple tasks, then building the confidence and trust to expand the parameters for automation.

With the right tools, processes can be tested and tweaked before activation. And since processes can be easily rolled back if needed, and the workflow process design happens at the system of engagement level with no modifications to core enterprise applications code, there is virtually no risk that user-designed processes will “break” any mission-critical functions.  Mature workflow automation tools will provide this agility while still giving the IT organization ongoing management and monitoring of these processes.

Collaboration and agility are vital components of project success for IT and the business. By empowering business process owners to easily design their own customer-facing services and automated workflow IT groups can better align their goals address a critical issue raised in the CIO article, that “what the business side and IT side want to deliver don’t sync.”

Next Steps

The Ultimate ITSM Glossary August 13, 2014 No Comments

There are many words, phrases, and acronyms that are either unique to the ITIL / IT service management world or have a specific meaning within those contexts.

To help clarify these terms and concepts, Kinetic Data has compiled definitions for almost 60 items in our IT service management glossary.

ITSM GlossaryHere are a few sample definitions from the glossary of ITSM terms.

Agile Service Management

A methodology for providing users with the ability to order and obtain physical items or resolution of issues in a manner that permits new offerings to be defined and added to the system quickly; that makes it easy to change existing items; and that allows new items to be added iteratively, starting with one or a small set of offerings and scaling to large numbers of varied items. With an agile approach to service request management, new service items can be defined an added to the system iteratively, allowing for “quick wins,” rather than requiring an extended effort followed by a “big bang” release of a large, complex catalog of business services all at once. Agile service request management also provides the flexibility to easily accommodate changing user needs, such as modifying or expanding existing service offerings to support mobile users.

Business Service Catalog

Extending the concept of providing a portal interface in which physical items or issue-resolution processes are defined and can be requested by users, from IT-related items only to all functional departments across an organization. Though the concept of service catalogs began in IT as a recommendation of ITIL, these are now evolving into enterprise or business service catalogs per Forrester Research. Accordingly, the architecture of enterprise service catalogs is evolving to accommodate a wider range of service offerings than just IT services; to enable non-technical business function managers to define and optimize their own service fulfillment task workflow processes; and to scale to the enterprise level. This evolution extends the benefits of service catalogs across the business.

BYOD

Acronym for “bring your own device,” this is one manifestation of the consumerization of IT, the trend for users to prefer their own smartphones and tablets over company-issued phones and bulky laptops, and to use a single device for both work and personal purposes rather than managing applications and data sharing between multiple pieces of hardware. Enterprises are adapting to the BYOD phenomenon by creating policies and procedures that provide employees with flexibility while protecting corporate data and application access, and shifting to schedule-based rather than queue-based support services to better accommodate mobile workers. By adopting processes such as simple BYOD device registration and remote installation of required software, organizations can benefit from both lower overall support costs and happier employees.

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

Variously defined as an integrated set of IT best practices recommendations, a framework for accepted IT service management best practices, and a set of documents designed to improve IT service delivery. ITIL provides an extensive set of IT management procedures designed to improve the efficiency, timeliness and quality of IT services delivery. The library was first developed by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), a U.K. government agency. It is now managed by the U.K. Office of Government Commerce (OGC). ITIL V3 consists of five core documents: IT Service Design, IT Service Introduction, IT Service Operations, IT Service Improvement and IT Service Strategies. One key element of ITIL service delivery recommendations is the establishment of an easy-to-use, dynamic IT service catalog; Kinetic Request service catalog software supports implementation of an enterprise-wide service catalog by providing service request management functionality coupled with backend process automation via Kinetic Task.

IT Service Management (ITSM)

An approach to managing large-scale IT systems and processes focusing on the customer perspective of service delivery (as opposed to technology-centric), and promoted by ITIL best practices. ITSM is a framework for continual improvement in the IT services delivery process, much as CMM is focused on application development. Effective IT service management integrates technology with people and processes in a manner that supports industry best practices, such as implementation of a service catalog.

Check out the ITSM glossary for the full set of definitions.

Enterprise Request Management: How Kinetic Data Products Support ERM August 11, 2014 No Comments

Enterprise request management (ERM) is a business efficiency strategy that combines an intuitive Web portal interface with integrated business process automation to improve delivery of business services and ensure first-time fulfillment. ERM enables organizations to implement actionable self-service to accelerate business service delivery and reduce costs while dramatically improving the customer experience.

How Kinetic Data products fit in the ERM modelShared services groups (IT, HR, facilities, accounting, etc.) typically design their services and delivery processes around their own preferences and convenience. As a report from Interactive Intelligence Group puts it, “Many firms perform their business processes with no attempt to delight the customer.” Typically, each functional area has its own systems and processes in place for delivering services.

These approaches are function-centric rather than customer-centric. They require users to learn and use multiple methods for requesting the services they need, and to “manage” their own service requests (e.g., following up with emails and phone calls to “see where things are at” and keep needed approvals and processes moving along). The result of these inconsistent and manual processes is frustration and lost productivity.

The negative impacts of this “siloed” approach to service management are multiplied for complex requests that require services from multiple departments—for processes such as onboarding a new employee or coordinating resources for a development project.

Requiring employees to learn and use different systems, forms, and workflow processes delays fulfillment and increased training costs. And if these disparate functional systems don’t communicate with each other, error-prone manual data re-entry is required, leading to further inefficiencies, as well as to redundant and potentially mismatched data in different systems.

A new white paper, How Kinetic Data Products Support Enterprise Request Management, describes the technology components required to implement an ERM strategy, and more specifically how Kinetic Data software applications support key operations in the ERM framework.

A previous white paper, The Technology Behind Enterprise Request Management, defined the software components required to implement ERM in generic terms. This new white paper covers much of the same ground, but focuses specifically on how Kinetic Data products support an ERM strategy and where each of the company’s products fit within the end-to-end ERM model.

Practical Ways to Bridge the Gap Between IT and The Business August 5, 2014 No Comments

Every successful enterprise, obviously, relies on a range of skillsets within the organization: strategic, financial, promotional, technical, managerial, inspirational, and interpersonal. But why is the “technical” component–IT groups in particular–so often criticized for being disconnected or out of sync with “the business”? In contrast, no one ever complains that their company’s accounting department is holding back the organization’s forward progress.

Mark Thiele, in the InformationWeek article Sync IT And Business Like A School Of Fish, writes:

How to bridge the gap between IT and the business“Keeping IT and business in sync is not a new goal — it’s been discussed for years…Even when the business removes political and functional barriers, there are serious limitations in how quickly and effectively IT can respond. The limitations of legacy IT relate to the difficulty of effecting change…The fact is, businesses have historically always acted faster than IT, and new digitally driven business models will only widen the chasm.”

His recommendation is an approach he terms “composable IT”–essentially, basing the delivery of operational capabilities “on services outside the enterprise datacenter” in order to more deftly adapt to  “mobility, cloud, SaaS, wearable tech, the Internet of Things,” and other emerging trends in this era of disruptive IT change.

The recommendations in this article are, for the most part, thoughtful and productive; particularly in terms of how training and incentive systems will need to change in order to accelerate adoption. But discussions of the “chasm” between IT and the business too often paint IT professionals as resistant to change, or even opposed to new business technologies.

That’s nonsense, of course. Everybody in business (that includes IT professionals) wants to be the hero: to exceed expectations, improve the bottom line, bring new capabilities to the enterprise, enhance productivity, reduce costs, and still be home in time for dinner.

Given the wave of new cloud-based and mobile capabilities washing over the business world, IT groups undeniably need to evolve practices to be more nimble and agile. But business leaders and users in other functional areas also need to understand that sometimes there are extremely valid reasons to wait, or at least proceed with caution, that are indeed in the best interests of “the business.”

Here are three practical ways to productively bridge the perceived gap between IT and other business functions, and move forward in ways that embrace change without discarding prudence.

- Recognize the importance—to the business—of system and data security. As noted here previously, the attitude of IT groups in general toward the BYOD trend changed dramatically in just 24 months; in some companies, from forbidding the use of employees’ own devices for work to demanding it.

IT leaders weren’t wrong to be cautious of employees using their personal devices to access business systems back in 2011 when data security, anti-theft, data backup, and device management tools were weak or lacking, any more than they’ve been wrong to shift to a more embracing approach as those tools have matured (though somesecurity concerns remain).

Data security is a business concern, not just an IT worry. The average cost of a data breach is $3.5 million, and includes not just direct loss but also loss of customers (and customer confidence) and, in many cases, negative media coverage.

The challenge for IT leaders is to communicate the risks of poor data security in business terms. It’s not that the latest mobile business intelligence app isn’t really cool and useful, it’s that CIOs don’t want to risk millions of dollars and the company’s reputation on an untested and insecure connection to corporate data.

- Don’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Without delving into the origins of that idiom, in this context it means: don’t presume it’s best to throw out those dusty old legacy applications and replace them all with cloud-based apps. In many mature enterprises, core legacy applications remain vital in storing customer and financial data and running fundamental business processes.

That said, applying intuitive, web-based, mobile-friendly systems of engagement to legacy management and control systems of record increases enterprise agility and flexibility, as well as the speed with which IT can respond to changes in the business, without the difficulty and risk of modifying core legacy application code.

- Empower business users to create their own solutions (using approved tools). One example of this is in enterprise request management (ERM) rollouts; graphical mapping tools enable business process owners in any department (e.g., HR for PTO requests, facilities for conference room reservations) to design, test, optimize, and deploy their own workflow processes–with minimal IT assistance.

ERM represents, in many ways, the ideal approach to the new IT paradigm; give users information about the options, capabilities, and costs of different approaches to solving business problems, then enable them to choose from a (tested and approved) set of alternatives.

To respond to rapid change, in both business practices and technology, IT groups need to adopt approaches and processes that support speed and flexibility. As Thiele and other authors point out, some old beliefs and practices will need to be discarded. But prudence, maintaining a clear-eyed view of data security, and leveraging existing investments wherever possible will never become obsolete.

Next steps: