The Curb Appeal of your Catalog

Performing regular application rationalization presents countless opportunities for organizations to recover waste, reduce costs and add efficiency. Although large enterprise platforms are beholden to theseWally_Shopping rationalization projects, they are often overlooked as out-of-scope.

This is usually because removing the platform has disastrous results for the customer experience.These platforms are low-hanging fruit for organizations to save millions in operations costs.

The choices you make today, drastically impact your ability to be flexible and vendor neutral tomorrow.

Thanks to several years of customer experience being a fad (and now a trend), many software manufacturers are refactoring and struggling to decrease switching costs while still providing you value.
Ideally each of your business partners and software suppliers should be working with you to decrease time to value and increase value.

Higher Ed Service Catalogs: Six Top Questions Answered

While CIOs across industries are grappling with new threats and opportunities presented by revolutionary technological change, those who work in college and university settings face unique challenges.

Top questions about higher ed service catalogsWriting on LinkedIn Pulse, Tracie Bryant notes than in addition to common CIO challenges like budgeting, strategy, and training, higher ed CIOs must also address issues like scaling up bandwidth to handle “the booming popularity of online classes,” and implementing an advanced technology infrastructure to attract the best and brightest students and faculty (as well as donations).

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Three More Key Findings About the Future of IT Service Management from EMA Research

The consumerization of IT, digital business model disruption, and the need for greater speed in technology development are combining to dramatically change the role of IT service management. According to Dennis Drogseth of Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), “Both the ‘rules’ and the ‘roles’ governing IT Service Management (ITSM) are evolving” as the relationship changes “between IT and its service consumers.”

Cloud computing, mobile, and the future of ITSMIn The Future of ITSM: How Are Roles (and Rules) Changing? Part 2, Drogseth details several conclusions from the organization’s research, expanding on previously reported findings. Here are three observations that stand out, with additional commentary.

Service management isn’t just for IT anymore.

Among EMA’s findings, “89% of respondents had plans to consolidate IT and non-IT customer service.”

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The Future of IT Service Management – New Research from EMA

Two recent posts here have explored predictions for IT trends in the coming year and what IT may look like by 2020. While specifics vary, the common thread is that IT teams will be expected to accelerate their own workflow while delivering technology to transform business processes.

Future of IT support - EMA researchA new study from EMA Research on the future of ITSM, reported by Dennis Drogseth on APMdigest, reflects this theme as well while adding new insights. Here are half a dozen key findings from EMA’s survey, along with additional commentary and observations from this blog.

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Three Ways to Reduce the Stress of IT

IT professionals are feeling unprecedented levels of stress. The situation is unhealthy for those who work in IT as well as the organizations and business users who depend on them.

With technology playing an ever-larger role across enterprises, from analyzing exponentially-growing data sets to automating marketing functions to keeping remote and mobile employees productive, holding onto experienced and knowledgeable IT staff is more vital than ever.

How to reduce stress in ITYet according to recent research reported on eSecurity Planet, nearly four out of five IT administrators say they are “actively considering leaving their jobs due to job-related stress”—up from just over half of respondents a year ago. A third or more have missed social functions, time with family, and sleep, due to issues at work.

Of course, some level of white-collar stress is inevitable. But again, given the magnitude and pace of change in IT right now—from consumerization to “big data” to the high-profile importance of information security—retaining expert staff is vital. Bringing down the stress level is not only crucial for retention, but also for optimizing productivity, encouraging strategic thinking, and preventing mistakes.

How can stress be reduced? As the article notes, “providing realistic IT budgets and staffing levels” is ideal—but pressing for budget increases (particularly to hire more people) in this still-sluggish economic recovery is tough. So here are three other ideas for reducing the time demands on IT professionals.

Automate service delivery tasks. Are IT workers still manually chasing down approval signatures, scheduling resources, or entering data into long (and often redundant) online forms? Use workflow automation software in conjunction with email, calendar, and business management systems to automate approval routing and scheduling, and pre-populate forms with known data wherever possible.

Empower process owners. Instead of having business process owners describe their requirements to business analysts, who then write specifications for developers, who then write code to automate those business processes—give business managers the ability to build their own automated task workflows. Implement enterprise request management (ERM) technology that provides departmental managers with graphical tools for creating, testing, refining, and implementing their own process flows, with minimal technical assistance.

Hang up the phone, pick up self-service. Not only does self-service save money (by enabling IT help desk staff to process more issues in less time), users prefer it in most cases to using the phone. Providing employees with online tools to submit requests, and track the status of pending requests, not only deflects the initial phone call but also follow-up calls to “see where things are at.”

As the role of IT expands beyond managing business users and computing devices to all manner of digitally-connected things, the demands on IT professionals will only continue to expand. Making smart use of automation, empowerment, and self-service, among other efficiency approaches, can help IT professionals get more productive work done while decreasing destructive stress.

To learn more:

Give Your Employees Shoes, So They Don’t Walk

Most of us are familiar with the parable of the shoemaker’s children. The analogy of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes because the cobbler is too busy crafting footwear for customers is frequently applied to individuals, consultants, organizations, and businesses whose external expertise is notably lacking in their internal affairs.

Don't leave employees shoelessA classic example of this is described in a recent report from Gartner, Design IT Self-Service for the Business Consumer: (Jarod Greene, 19 February 2014): “IT organizations should employ the same self-service techniques consumer service providers use to increase uptake and satisfaction levels.”

Often,  enterprises that offer convenient and user-friendly self-service capabilities for external customers fail to adopt such systems or approaches for delivering internal IT (or other functional) services to employees.

The report also states, “The majority of IT self-service deployments are not designed with the end user in mind. IT organizations should employ the same self-service techniques consumer service providers use to increase uptake and satisfaction levels.”

Employees want the same type of user experience from internal systems that they get from consumer apps, ecommerce sites, and social networks; yet IT doesn’t design employee-facing applications this way. IT and other departments (HR, finance, facilities, etc.) too often design systems to fit their own preferences rather than users’ wants.  Enterprises can address this gap by designing employee-facing self-service portals which are more like customer-facing applications.

The Gartner report further predicts that “by 2016, 20% of I&O (Infrastructure & Operations Management) organizations will incorporate consumer self-service practices into their IT self-service strategies, up from less than 5% today.”  That’s heady growth, but still surprisingly low adoption.

On a larger scale, these observations apply as well to enterprise request management (ERM), a business process improvement approach to service delivery that provides employees with a single, intuitive  “Amazon.com-like” portal for requesting anything they need to do their jobs, from any internal department or function. The process of implementing ERM starts with redesigning services and processes from the business user’s perspective.

To improve request management and service delivery processes across the enterprise, four additional points are worth noting:

  • Not just IT systems, but IT support models must also evolve to reflect consumer offerings. In addition to self-service, IT help desks should offer walk-up and schedule-based support to meet the needs of an increasing mobile and remote workforce.
  • The success of self-service offerings depends upon utilization. If portals are too difficult to use, or simply automate poor back-end processes (i.e., doing the wrong things, but faster), employees will go around the system to get things done. This not only renders the technology investment a waste, but can actually decrease productivity.
  • Scope creep can often risk the success of enterprise projects—but it needn’t be a concern due to the agile approach of the strategy. An ERM implementation can start small, with just one or a few processes, and expand as it proves its value. The implementation is also scalable as process managers in business functions outside of IT can design, test, refine, and deploy their own service items with minimal technical assistance.
  • Moving from phone-based support to online self-service can both increase user satisfaction and reduce costs. As the Gartner report notes, “Self-service is both cost-effective and scalable. The 2013 average IT service desk cost per agent-handled contact is $17.88. Comparatively speaking, the costs of building, maintaining and administering IT self- service portal to manage contacts are much lower than the costs of people to support the same contacts.”

Evolving IT support, and internal business service delivery more broadly, to a more consumer-focused model can both delight business users and reduce fulfillment costs for the enterprise. Failing to do so, conversely, negatively impacts productivity and frustrates employees. With ERM, the figurative cobbler can make shoes for his children that keep them from walking out the door.

To learn more:

Make Your Customers Happy AND Cut Costs with Self-Service 2.0

Most of the time, increasing customer satisfaction also means increasing costs: adding product features, providing off-hours support, extending warranty periods, etc.. So, it’s surprising that when an opportunity comes along to both delight customers and save money, many enterprises fail to jump on it.

Yet that’s exactly the case with self-service 2.0 (which is distinguished from self-service 1.0 by being action-focused rather than knowledge-focused). In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Why Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You, Matt Dixon and Lara Ponomareff report several provocative findings from research on customer service preferences, among them:

  • “Companies tend to think their customers value live service more than twice as much as they value self service. But our data show that customers today…value self-service just as much as using the phone.”
  • Furthermore, “this indifference holds regardless of (customers’) age, demographic, issue type, or urgency.”
  • Two-thirds of the customers…told us that three to five years ago, they primarily used the phone for service interactions. Today, less than a third do, and the number is shrinking fast.”
  • While time is a factor, the efficiency of using an ATM or airport kiosk vs. interacting with a live employee alone doesn’t explain “why we go out of our way to take care of our service needs ourselves.”

In attempting to interpret these findings, the authors hypothesize that “maybe customers are shifting toward self service because they don’t want a relationship with companies…(and) self service now allows customers the ‘out’ they’ve been looking for all along,” which, if accurate, leads to the startling conclusion that “Running your company as if customers want to talk to you isn’t just expensive, it’s potentially undermining your efforts to build longer-term loyalty.”

Avoid customer frustration: use self-service 2.0
Photo Credit: couragextoxlive via Compfight cc

What may be most surprising about the post is that it was written in 2010. Yet if you’ve tried to resolve a customer service issue recently on any number of corporate sites, you’ll realize how little has changed.

The issue in 2014 isn’t that companies (by and large) don’t offer online self-service, but that many still don’t do it well. In a final finding, the HBR authors note that “a staggering 57% of inbound calls (to customer service centers) come from customers who first attempted to resolve their issue on the company’s website. And over 30% of callers are on the company’s website at the same time that they are talking to a rep on the phone. That’s a lot of frustrated customers.”

Business-to-consumer (B2C) sites are (generally) mature in ecommerce, and making strides in other aspects of online customer service. Their business-to-business (B2B) counterparts are now catching up: according to MarketingCharts,  “B2B commerce is shifting offline to online and self-service, say 57% of B2B vendors from the US and Europe,” with 44% of respondents “also agreeing that B2B commerce is adopting B2C best practices in order to optimize the purchasing experience.”

However, “The most commonly-cited challenge in B2B commerce is providing intuitive and user-friendly interfaces for multiple touch points, cited by half of the respondents.” The challenge in optimizing the user experience and ease of use for customers explains why the HBR findings regarding the high percentage of customers frustrated with online self-service offerings remain relevant.

Fixing these problems is vital. As Forrester Research states in their January 2014 report, Transform Customer Processes And Systems To Improve Experiences, in what they term the age of the customer: ” Competitive differentiation achieved through brand, manufacturing, distribution, and IT is now only table stakes. A major source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption —an obsession with understanding, delighting, connecting with, and serving customers.”

And obviously, firms that can reduce costs while also achieving these objectives will be at an even greater competitive advantage.

Consequently, Forrester lists among its top customer management trends for 2013 (with our comments in parentheses):

  • “Brands are turning their attention to CX (customer experience) design: More firms will realize that the right customer interactions across all touchpoints don’t just happen; they must be actively designed.”
  • “Untamed processes are getting more attention: More firms will move away from isolated BPM and/or front-office CRM projects and toward cross-functional transformation initiatives to support the invisible, untamed customer management processes critical to exceptional CX.” (This is why an enterprise request management (ERM) approach is valuable; it entails  automating and optimizing cross-functional processes, designing process steps to address the “white spaces” between functional groups where these “invisible, untamed” processes dwell.)
  • “Agile implementation approaches are scaling to the enterprise level: More firms will adopt agile project management” (as well as agile request management) “and software development methodologies based on iterative development principles…”
  • “Mobile applications are empowering employees and consumers.” (Agile service management is again also key to supporting a mobile workforce and mobile consumers.)

Tracking service-related metrics with Kinetic InfoForrester further recommends identifying and tracking specific service-related metrics (such as “the number of customer support cases closed per day, the number of calls handled per agent, the service-level agreement (SLA) compliance rate”); setting process designs  before applying technology; and overcoming adoption issues  by letting business users influence functionality.

Which leaves only the final question of how to improve the online experience for customers; how can organizations best simplify UIs to eliminate the need for customer calls, thus simultaneously increasing customer satisfaction and reducing customer service costs?

One approach is “rip and replace,” discarding existing customer service systems in favor of newer installed or cloud-based offerings. While this approach may seem to offer long-term advantages in terms of a more modern IT infrastructure, it’s expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive; and unless it can completely replace existing systems, it can actually make an organization’s technology environment more complex, and increase the risk of redundant and potentially mismatched data elements.

A better strategy is what Forrester covers in its July 2013 report, Prepare Your Infrastructure And Operations For 2020 With Tools And Technologies, of adding modern systems of engagement atop legacy systems of record (established, in-place management and control systems). This is the approach taken in ERM; leverage existing enterprise and department applications in which you’ve already invested money, time, and training—then add new technology only as needed (e.g., request management portal software, workflow automation, EAI, etc/).

The good news for organizations embracing the challenge of redesigning processes and customer service UIs to simplify the user experience is that doing so not only reduces service costs, but also increases customer satisfaction and loyalty. The even better news is that taking an ERM approach can reduce the time, effort, and expense of conquering that challenge.

For more information:

Enterprise Request Management: The Movie [video]

The Enterprise Request Management (ERM) model optimizes business service request and fulfillment processes across functional departments by combining a unified web-based portal front-end with back-end task workflow automation. The benefits include reliable first-time fulfillment, faster service delivery, lower costs, and happier employees.

Importantly, ERM is an “enhance and extend” approach to existing enterprise systems, not a “rip and replace” project. It’s designed to leverage an organization’s financial and intellectual investments in core management and control platforms as well as departmental software applications.

But what does that look like? In this video, Wally shares his frustration with the tortuous process required to obtain a tablet with fellow members of the Unfulfilled Request Support Group  at Omnicorp. But then a new member of the group suggests the antidote to Wally’s vexation may be ERM.

 

Following this advice, Wally becomes an internal champion for ERM at his company. The rest of this saga is cinematic history. Watch for yourself!

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