Service Delivery Management Software Helps Construction Materials Producer Build Automated System for Processing Requests

Organization:
Producer of high-quality construction materials.

Challenge:
Replace manual process for handling and approving user requests for system and account access, set-up, and application changes with an automated system to eliminate lost approvals, inconsistent processes and lack of control, as well as to provide an audit trail for approvals.

Results:

  • Reduction in routine request fulfillment effort from 5 days to 1.4 days.
  • Electronic documentation provides audit trail for approvals.
  • Service Desk and local IT offices save approximately 50 hours each month sifting through paper.

At this environmentally responsible producer of high-quality construction materials, five regional locations supply aggregate-based materials and contracting services to a wide range of projects including both large, publicly financed infrastructure jobs and commercial and residential developments. In addition to crushed stone, sand, and gravel, the company produces ready-mixed concrete, asphalt, and concrete products. Some regions offer recycling, liquid asphalt, soil remediation and retailing operations.

To keep a large, multi-location company successful, it’s critical to have rock-solid core business processes that run like clockwork. That’s why the company’s end-user-services manager was concerned about inefficiencies in a manual, paper-based system for handling user requests for system, application, and account access and set-up.

While the IT Service Desk is based in its corporate office, the manager is responsible for the company’s desktop support and Service Desk operations, and managing three full-time Level-One people who support approximately 1,600 end users and 13 Level-Two desktop personnel who support all five regions. The manager explains his concern, “User frustration among all of our lines of business was growing as approvals were lost or delayed by days and fulfillment lagged far behind expectations. Part of the problem was due to incomplete original user request submissions, which required requests to be handled by multiple employees and rerouted for approval signatures. In the end, it took longer than expected to fulfill user requests.”

The manager estimates that this extra time added up to an average fulfillment cost of at least $300 or more for each request. There were added costs: training and retraining IT staff responsible for execution of requests; lost time for end users who were not able to perform job functions because of execution delays; and the reworking of requests. “The problem basically boils down to an inconsistent and poorly managed process that offered average control and lacked solid and consistent accountability and audit capability to support our Internal Control Systems (ICS) compliance efforts,” he says.

A whole new landscape with automation and accountability

Using Kinetic Request, the company replaced its manual user-request process with an automated system that provides uncompromising reliability and accountability. “The most noticeable improvements we’ve seen are that user requests are completed the same day instead of over several days, and instead of taking us 10 hours of processing/fulfillment time, we can normally handle a request in one day or less,” explains the manager.

The system prompts the user with questions that lead them to correct responses needed to fulfill the request, and immediately routes requests to the appropriate system approvers under ICS control. System Approvers find it quick and easy to locate, review and approve the requests. “We don’t lose time having to resubmit a request because the information is incomplete. Today, we are correctly capturing everything we need the first time. What’s more, the system captures and stores all approvals for audit trails,” he says.

In charge of training Service Desk employees on Kinetic Request, the end-user services manager observes how easy it is to learn and use. “It’s all there—the information that needs to be entered before the system sends it off to the right person(s) for approval. And it’s all captured. If there’s a glitch, we know where it is and can easily respond with the quick and proper solution. Kinetic Request is an amazing enhancement to our BMC Remedy system. That’s why we’re planning to leverage its power to automate our other key ICS controls, general IT requests, and maybe even other business functions.”

Facebook Has Taken Over the World

A Vision from Down Under
By Michael Poole

 

We hear this, even in the antipodes, so often and it may be true, especially for anyone under 40.

Why? Well, obviously it provides a way to communicate with friends and acquaintances; but it’s unlikely it would have been as successful if it had followed the design methods that can be found in too many corporate intranets.

One of Facebook’s major features is “consistency.” Consistent styling; consistent behavior; consistent look-and-feel.

Consistency is paramount to the success of all successful social networking sites. In fact, consistency is such a hallmark of these sites that ANY change to the design makes headlines or at least millions of wall posts!

If Facebook was like most corporate intranets, I doubt if users would have returned again and again.

The “public” internet sites of companies are owned and controlled by the marketing department whose whole purpose is attract visitors and ensure that the site is friendly, usable and informative. They usually follow the same design philosophy that has produced Facebook – consistency and ease of use.

Intranets, on the other hand, are usually owned by IT departments and the content is produced and published by individual departments with differing design (or non-design) skills.

Each department will often have a different set of design parameters and styles. Without a set of design guidelines that stress consistency and ease of use, the intranet can easily look like a “mash-up” – or perhaps a “mess-up” – of isolated intranet sites with jarring and confusing inconsistencies from page to page and area to area.

We have all experienced the corporate intranet that changes themes, banners, fonts for each department area. Intranets that use different layouts, even within department areas – some departments may have text links to some forms, buttons for others; one part of the site may work with IE9 – other parts need will not work with IE7; one might use bold, bright colors, another subdued pastels. The variations can be as many as there are contributors to the intranet site.

Rule one for a successful intranet

The intranet should look and behave in a consistent way. Having an intranet that changes its appearance and behavior between sections disorientates users and can introduce doubts into their minds as to whether or not all sections are as reliable and current as each other.

Of course, I can hear some of my readers saying: “Yes, we tried to do that, we had a theme designed, set standards for user interaction, had a template for all pages. We did all that but then we had to integrate a web-based application into the intranet and it all went bad. We could not change the way that application looked or worked, so we just had to compromise and accept it.”

So, many people, though trying to build in consistency into the intranet, are brought to a crashing halt by having to incorporate inflexible and inconsistent applications.

Why has this happened?

Let’s face it, most corporate applications have been around for some time. Many pre-date the internet and most certainly Web 2.0. They have been developed for dedicated user clients – some were even developed for dumb terminals. And when they produced the “web” version they did try for consistency – but it was consistency with the old, pre-web version. As a result, they produced clones of the old client down to the colors, key-strokes, layout etc.

With this design philosophy – consistency with the past – when they developed “new” functionality, they repeated the design errors of the past. And because in the past they had prescribed the layout, theme and style of the application, they did it again with the new functionality. As a result, application portals came so they fitted in with the parent application and not easily, if at all, styled to be consistent with the intranet they would be integrated into.

If you want a graphic (no pun intended) proof of this, look at the majority of ITSM application vendor’s web offerings – nearly all clones of the dedicated client interfaces of the past.

Should this be the way?

No.

The web is designed to be able to be styled and themed in very powerful ways giving developers the ability to produce interfaces and pages that can be easily integrated into any existing style or theme or to any device.

One way to do this is to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to define the look and feel of an individual web page or a whole site.

This is the strategy that we have embraced when designing not just Kinetic Request forms but the whole Service Request Portal interface. We have empowered our clients to easily integrate both Kinetic Request forms and portals seamlessly into their existing intranets by leveraging the CSS definitions that they use for the rest of the intranet site. The result is CONSISTENCY – consistency of style, functionality and experience, and a reduction of confusion.

By putting the focus on enabling consistency of styling and functionality in the web interface to request management and fulfillment, our users have not had to compromise the consistency of the intranet. The payback is not only better customer satisfaction and better adoption by the users but also a reduction in costs of implementation, user support and training.

It is not the magic bullet – your intranet will never be as popular as Facebook and you will still have to battle to get HR to follow a design guideline – but having the power to enforce consistency is a major step along the way!

Service Provider Innovation – Three Easy Pieces

Industry analysts covering service providers at Gartner and Forrester Research monitor the evolving structure of outsourcing deals on a constant basis. These analysts report an interesting trend – innovation is included as a deliverable in an increasing number of deals.

What can a service provider do to ensure a constant stream of innovations that can be delivered to their clients?

There are three related pieces to address this that service providers using Kinetic Request bundled with Kinetic Task can adopt. The first is re-purposing service items developed for other clients, demonstrations, trade conferences, RFPs, etc. In our last service provider blog post on enterprise value, we explored the enterprise value that accrues to service providers by capturing, replicating, and re-deploying useful service items. Service items configured using Kinetic Data’s architecture contain a task tree that is a visible representation of the actual service item. It is abstracted from the branding and theming so as to be re-usable and is portable (see series of blogs on Service Item Portability) so it can run in any BMC Remedy environment version 6 or greater. Inventions designed for one purpose or client can be captured, re-branded, zipped up, installed, tested, and registered for another client. Innovation number one.

Service Innovation GoalsIn a related move, an existing service item can be cloned and modified, creating a new innovation. An example of this might be to add a robust approval process for service/product requests that goes down different paths based on data collected such as dollar amounts or urgency. A well planned master library will include this approval process as a task handler that can be pulled into any service item, connected, configured, tested, zipped up, installed and registered as a new service item. Innovation number two.

Since Kinetic Data service items are made up of configuration data with no programming change to the underlying service platform source code, playing with, testing, and experimenting are encouraged and do not pose a risk. This kind of sense and respond innovation can happen reactively or proactively without the time, cost and risk of programming. Service innovators need only a business process analyst level of familiarity in order to sense and respond their way to new service items. Innovation number three.

Service innovation can come in many forms. Having a configuration driven, portable approach with an eye towards re-using service items and their component parts to modify existing service items is one easy way to achieve your service innovation goals one piece at a time.

Self-Fulfillment—Not a SHAM

A Vision from Down Under
By Michael Poole

The other night, I made my usual stop at the supermarket to pick up a few things for dinner. I am doing this more often now that my son has moved in to be nearer his University. I also am finding that his 18-year-old’s appetite and eating habits are something akin to those of a herd of locusts passing over a particularly attractive stand of wheat!

So, with my laden basket, I approached the “checkout choice” moment. There’s choice #1, the normal queue, where you get the full human experience but have to wait behind the shopper who is buying for a family of 12 for the next 12 months; choice #2, the “12-items-or-fewer Express” queue, where I inevitably get behind the innumerate shopper who has 35 items stuffed into the basket; or choice #3, what I call the “Self-checkout” queue, where you get the chance to scan, weigh and bag and then swipe your card for payment. I, of course, went for “Self-checkout’.

Now I think I foolishly revealed a couple of blogs ago, that I recalled with some warmth the days of punch-cards and paper tape in the EDP (Electronic Data Processing) industry. I am also old enough to remember the transition—that should be called a revolution—of the grocery store, through “cash and carry” to “self-service.” Gone was the smiling grocer with his long grabbing implement to get items from the high shelves prior to bagging them and later delivering them to your door.

Self-service revolutionized the grocery industry and then went on the do the same for clothing, shoes, hardware, white and brown goods to ultimately end up in the supreme embodiment of self-service—IKEA—where you not only self-serve but self-construct the items you have purchased. The “flat-pack revolution” with the  “Allen-key” replacing the gun.

So, back to the self-checkout.

After self-scanning and self-weighing vegetables and selecting the appropriate ones from the screen (I can’t help but wonder how many people click on potatoes when they are really weighing an exotic and expensive imported fruit? Not me, but I have been tempted!), self-bagging my item, and finally self-swiping my credit card for payment, I took the receipt, picked up my shopping bag, and was free to go. As I left, I heard the plaintive sound of the scanner thanking me for visiting the store.

A little while ago, no matter what the amount of my purchase, I would have had to wait for a customer service representative or perhaps retail experience facilitator to check my signature and authorize the card transaction. But now it seems that they are either tracking my previous self-check-out experiences, have a face-recognition system that thinks I look honest, or have a minimum purchase level that is automatically approved. A sensible idea in any case and it reduces the cost to the chain yet again.

So, you may be wondering what my shopping experiences have to with Kinetic Data or the Self-Help and Actualization Movement (SHAM) catch-cry of self-fulfillment.

Well for the former—i.e., Kinetic Data—a great deal; for the latter—SHAM—nothing. So feel safe, I am not launching into an Anthony Robbins moment!

While in the meditative posture adopted by the neophyte scanner, I realized that I was not just involved in an advanced form of self-service, I was SELF-FULFILLING—completing the evolution that began when the local full-service grocer’s shop became the cash-and-carry store.

Just as social networking has been credited with major developments in the Internet, I believe that the supermarket sector has driven the way purchases of goods are fulfilled.

We are now really in the land of self-fulfillment every time we enter a supermarket, K-Mart, or Wal-Mart and their ilk.

How is this related to ITSM?

The push towards service request management (SRM) is, in my opinion, at the start of the revolution that has nearly completed in the retail sector. Whereas in IT we have implemented picking the stock off the shelves—initiating the “service request” in ITSM parlance, we are yet to embrace the idea that the customer can do scanning, bagging and payment transaction themselves—the complete fulfillment process in ITSM.

Why is this so? As a TV physicist of the ’60s used to say.

We have spent a lot of time and effort designing service request systems, service portfolios and catalogues, and service request portals, but they are still just delivering orders to a prerevolutionary fulfillment process that involves multiple tasks, approvals, and work-orders that are, in most cases, still handled by a person.

Think of the common “new starter” request. While we may have an intelligent web-based request form that allows all the necessary tasks and approvals to be started, at the end of the day, all that is produced are tasks yet to be performed—set up login, print security card, order lap-top, configure applications—by people.

The self-service process ends when the request is submitted and the old processes take over to do the fulfillment.

We should be designing not service request systems, but service fulfillment systems.

I don’t think I am alone in this. I may be the first to give it the name self-fulfillment, but at Kinetic Data, we have been involved with a number of thought-leading clients to develop end-to-end SRM processes that are really self-fulfillment systems.

What does a self-fulfillment system look like?

At the front end, the requester end, it looks very much like any SRM system. A portal with a catalogue of services available. It is when you select a service that the differences begin to show. Intelligent forms guide the user through ONLY the options and questions that are necessary for the version of the service he or she is requesting. Upon submission, all the approval rules are assessed and the request is either approved automatically or referred. Once approved, the same intelligent task engine will communicate with all the other applications and create the required records and tasks. Only when something cannot be done by the systems alone will a human be involved and, even then, when that task is completed, the task engine will be ready to take up the rest of the fulfillment process. All the while, the requester will be kept informed of each stage and step of the process.

The major result is the requester being the main actor and as much of the process as possible being triggered and completed by the requester’s action alone.

This is self-fulfillment—it is not a SHAM. It is the next era in the evolution of enterprise and IT management.