What’s New in Kinetic Task 3.0

Ben Christenson, one of the primary architects and developers for Kinetic Task,  is presenting “What’s New in Kinetic Task 3.0” today at the 2nd annual KEG (Kinetic Enthusiasts Group) Conference.  For those of you who couldn’t make it to the Denver event, here are  some highlights of his presentation.

One of the biggest questions we got during KEG 2012 was: “When can I use Kinetic Task to automate workflows outside of Kinetic Request?” The answer is right now with the release of Kinetic Task 3.0.

We’ve  always had the long-term goal of making the Kinetic Task engine a kind of platform- and application-agnostic enterprise “glue”  that provided a modular approach to workflow automation anywhere in  the enterprise where automation could deliver real benefits.  Our initial focus was on ITSM service request automation delivered through a Kinetic Request management portal.  (That’s why we bundled Kinetic Task with Kinetic Request.)  But interest at KEG 2012 in bringing  the power of the Kinetic Task automation engine to other parts of the enterprise was so strong  that we vowed to make Kinetic Task work with any application by the time KEG 2013 rolled around.

And I  mean any application. Or at least any application that can trigger a call back into Kinetic Task based on some event, like a new or updated field in an application database, and automatically launch a task tree.  The user experience won’t change. Task trees will still be built and processes configured in the same ways.  But now tasks can be triggered from any application, not just Kinetic Request.  That includes home-grown applications, which can be configured with Task Handlers and linked to  Kinetic Task through an improved  API.

So what can you now do with Task 3.0?   When  users learn of Kinetic Task’s radically expanded functionality, their imaginations ran riot.  Just think of it—simplified business process automation in any nook and cranny of the enterprise where, in the past,  the cost of the development effort couldn’t be justified.  In HR, facilities management, sales and marketing, finance, logistics, operations, and customer service (indeed, just about any area of the business), you can leverage your familiarity with  Kinetic Task to build automated  workflows.

Kinetic Task Workflow Automation Engine
Several other enhancements have been  made in Kinetic Task 3.0, including an improved API, easier installation, an improved admin console, and changes to Kinetic Security Language (KSL) to create a powerful new strategy for implementing business-logic-driven security policies. But the real difference is summarized by the slide above. Before, Kinetic Task only accepted input from Kinetic Request.  Now, Kinetic Task 3.0 , which is still packaged with Kinetic Request but also available independently, has  been opened up to allow any external source to start a task tree. That means it can backend any data source. And it can deliver process automation anywhere you want using the Kinetic Task knowledge and skills you already have.

Get in touch with me (Ben. Christenson[AT]KineticData.com) if you want to learn more.

Saying Goodbye to the IT Service Management Queue

If you own an Apple product, chances are you’ve paid a visit to the Genius Bar, the mystical  place in the back of an Apple Store where your broken iThings get fixed.  To many Apple fans, what makes the concept so appealing is its convenient self-scheduling functionality. Apple users find their nearest Apple store online, click on a calendar showing open time slots for the week, and click on a day and time convenient for them.  It’s perhaps the ultimate in customer-driven service, since service is completely scheduled on the customers’ terms, when and where they want it. Of course, Apple spends a ton of money running Genius Bars in each of its hundreds of stores, but consider this: 40 percent of Apple customers have visited a Genius bar; and of that number, 90 percent say the experience makes them more likely to buy an Apple product in the future. That’s probably the ultimate example of a service organization bringing value to the business.

Is Genius Bar-type scheduling the future of the IT help desk?The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon and the fact that many employees work know where to  get responsive and convenient support for their devices  are putting tremendous pressure on traditional corporate help desks. The “log it and flog it, detect and fix” model is dying, say several prominent analyst groups.  What is emerging instead are versions of the Genius Bar in companies like Intuit, SAP, Intel, Hewlett Packard and many others, and growing efforts to allow employees to select the time and manner of their service and support encounters.

That means replacing  traditional IT service management queues with schedule-based services. That requires tools that work with underlying service management platforms to:

  • Track the availability of resources;
  • Apply business rules concerning resource utilization,
  • Provide trained call takers a rich interface to schedule complex activities.
  • Provide self-service requestors a much simplified interface to schedule a visit similar to using  Apple’s online concierge service.
  • Create automated workflows that update resource availability as scheduling activity occurs and notify service requestors and service delivers that a scheduling event has occurred.

These tools may not completely kill off the queue, but they offer an efficient and cost effective alternative for businesses grappling with a changing IT service management landscape. If you want to read more about how Kinetic Data does it, check out a new white paper here.

How to Create a Consistent User Experience (And Why You Should)

What makes Facebook a success?

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!

But even when Facebook does introduce updates and new features, it keeps enough of the fundamental functionality and navigation consistent that users are able to fairly easily roll with the changes.

Consistency and ease of use have driven Facebook’s success. From the beginning, the company knew it wouldn’t be able to scale rapidly if it had to hire a huge support team to help users utilize the site. (Ever tried to reach human support on Facebook? Good luck.)

So they focused, relentlessly, on keeping it simple–so simple that even grandmothers (and grandfathers) with almost no computer experience could figure out how to create a page and share photos of their grandchildren.

The Challenge of Simply UI DesignBut if Facebook was like most corporate intranets, its doubtful users would have returned again and again.

Corporate intranets too often present different styling, navigation and features across different applications, sections and pages. Users experience a chaotic environment where they have to work at navigating through the site. Inconsistency causes confusion for users and results in incorrect choices and incomplete responses and general frustration. In a request fulfillment environment, this results in reduced usage and an increased need for ‘call-back’ from the fulfillers.

Consistency Not Chaos

The example below (one of the standard templates provided with Kinetic Request) illustrates a better approach: consistency, not just in styling but also in navigation and layout. From page to page, navigation elements and “action” links remain in consistent locations.

Consistency and clarity result in higher user adoption, faster service request processing, and smoother workflow for service delivery staff.Request Management Screen Example

With a clear and consistent design, users should be confident after the first page of a number of vital things:

  • Where to expect to find information
  • How to navigate from the page and back to the page
  • How to leave the page
  • How to get more information about an item
  • How to select an option or item

Even complex forms can be simplified by pre-populating fields with known information (e.g., if the user is logged in, the system should already know the user’s name, title, office address, phone number, email and other similar data) and keeping the layout consistent with other pages while removing unnecessary information.

Elaborate Yet Simple Request FormQuestions should be “nested” so that additional questions are revealed only if and when the added information is required.  Complex instructions can be avoided by clear and simple navigation that is consistent between forms.

Consistent site style provides a number of benefits for users: it’s easier to use, more predictable, and speeds the request-to-fulfillment process by avoiding unnecessary support phone calls and clarification emails.

In addition, consistent design benefits the organization by:

  • Controlling ‘rogue’ development
  • Enhancing corporate identity / branding
  • Lessening “silo” effects between departments
  • Unifying fulfillment – especially when it is multi-faceted

This post was based on the presentation “Creating Consistent User Experiences” delivered by Michael Poole and Shane Bush at the 2012 KEG event. You can view details of the original presentation on Kinetic Community or learn more about the upcoming 2013 KEG event.

Last Day of Early Bird Rate for KEG 2013 – Register Today!

Today is the final day of the early bird special for the Kinetic Enthusiasts Group (KEG) 2013 event, to be held once again at the beautiful Inverness Hotel in Denver.

The keynote speaker for this year’s conference will be Eveline Oehrlich, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. Evenline’s areas of focus at Forrester include information technology infrastructure library (ITIL), the implementation of IT service management, business service management (BSM), and many other aspects of IT operations. In this role, she offers strategic guidance to help enterprises worldwide manage their networks and systems, define key projects that focus on IT service management, and bridge IT to the lines of business.

Last year, attendees came to KEG to learn more about products like the Kinetic Task workflow automation engine, get new ideas for use of service requests, and to discuss the future direction of Kinetic Data products.

This year’s conference will feature sessions on moving from a queue-based model to a schedule-based approach for service desks, creating blueprints for service items, connecting service items in a parent-child relationship within a service request, and much more.

Get more details about the event as well as the new pre-event training sessions, and sign up today to take advantage of special pricing for KEG 2013.

The Benefits of Bundled Service Items

What exactly are “bundled service items” and how can they help your business? To answer the first question first, bundled service items are simply a group of individual service items that are linked in some fashion.

The benefits are many, and depend on the type of bundling, the nature of the task, and the specific service items in the bundle, but often include reduced time, better documentation and reporting, development of more efficient processes, more consistent follow up, improved user experience, simplified approval processes, easier maintenance, and improved business results.

A few examples will help to illustrate, but first some structure. There are three different types of service item bundles that can be deployed, depending on the nature of the high-level task:

  • Linking refers to chaining different service items together. It works well for processes that require phased approvals or multiple steps, each requiring separate information and often involving different users.
  • Embedding means a situation where one or more service items are initiated as part of another service item. This works best for complex, multi-step processes where each service item could stand alone but embedding the items provides a better user experience. Embedding service items also normally results in faster delivery of the entire process.
  • Grouping is when unrelated, stand-alone service items are correlated only because of who completed them or when they were requested, that is, when unrelated items are grouped for a business reason. The simplest example is an online shopping cart; two (or more) items that are completely unrelated may be bundled using grouping only because they are placed in the same cart.

Linked Service ItemsOne simple example of linking would be a work-from-home approval process. Without applying service management principles, the process is likely to be informal, ad hoc and inconsistent, with no documentation or structured measurement of results.

The bundled service item method would simply entail linking three service items—request authorization, request equipment, and schedule performance evaluation—in a new process.

Once authorized, the user could be prompted to order equipment, acknowledge specified company policies, or take other actions. The process can be configured to include a “wait cycle” before the first evaluation; but at the end of that time period, the evaluation is automatically triggered. There is no “dropping the ball.” Depending on the results of the evaluation, the worker may be authorized to continue working from home or a “discontinue working from home” process could be initiated, including the return of any checked-out equipment.

Embedded Service ItemsAn example of using embedded service items could be in employee onboarding. Without a firmly defined activity flow, the onboarding process can be chaotic, complex, inconsistent, inefficient and frustrating. A better approach is to create a single service item that “contains” the overall process, and consists of many nested, embedded service items that deliver the results. This simplifies what can be a very complex process.

In this embedded service item structure, the container or “parent” service item contains overall process details and common elements (e.g., employee name) applicable to every “child” service item; these child items handle the unique details of each request. Child service items are completed within the task tree of the parent.

Once created, the onboarding template can easily be cloned and have specific items changed or swapped out to accommodate bringing on employees in different locations, functions or levels of the organization.

Finally, a common example of grouping, as noted above, is online shopping cart functionality. Without the ability to bundle service items in this manner, an employee may have to “buy” service items in the equivalent of a shopping mall, going to different departments for different items, each with its own “checkout” process.

But using grouped service items is more like shopping at the supermarket; the user can place different service items into an online shopping cart and “check out” all at once. Even though different approvals may still be needed, these are routed automatically at the end of the process to their appropriate destinations; this is transparent to the user, creating a faster and simpler user experience.

Bundled service items are typically deployed as a process. All that’s needed is creativity (think about the objective to be achieved or process to be re-organized), bringing together the right group of people (users, approvers and other stakeholders) and then creating the workflow that bundles required processes to automate, simplify and accelerate.

This post was based on the presentation “The Impact of Bundled Service Items” delivered by Kinetic Data consultant Matt Howe at the 2012 KEG event. You can view details of the original presentation on Kinetic Community or learn more about the upcoming 2013 KEG event.

 

Request Management Potential is Still Unrealized

While reviewing some sales and technical materials to see what needs updating, I was struck by how some content–such as the white paper Using Service Catalogs to Run IT As a Business (Not Like a Business)–written a while back still remains very current.

The Past and Future of Service CatalogsFor example:

” In most large organizations, the employees who rely on IT to provide and support the myriad devices and software applications that help them do their jobs have only a minimal appreciation for how these devices and applications really work. Consequently, the IT department’s importance to keeping the organization running is seldom fully appreciated.”

Still true? To a large extent, yes. Though in the case of certain devices (e.g., smartphones), users understand quite well how they work. They’ve just placed the burden on IT to figure out how they work with everything else in the corporate information technology stack.

The paper also notes that:

“Though service catalogs can provide clear benefits across an organization, many IT organizations are taking an unnecessarily complex and expensive approach to their implementation. One reason is that IT organizations fail to appreciate that they are already doing much of what is required for successful service catalog implementation; there is no need for excessively complex and expensive service catalog applications that require them to re-engineer their operations.”

Indeed,  this situation still seems more common than it should be, with organizations more focused on “projects” than on “outcomes.”

Most important though is this:

” IT roles in the past have been highly technical and often specialized. Service catalogs will result in more business-focused service ownership. Since service catalogs enable IT to run as a business, services owners will need more business skills as opposed to purely technical skills. And service owners will eventually utilize reporting to identify the types of people who should be taking advantage of their services. This will allow them to send marketing materials to potential users and educate all users on different functions in an application.”

For many organizations, this paragraph may well have been written yesterday. They may be planning a service catalog implementation in IT, or have an active project, or may even be using a service catalog for a subset of IT functions, but it’s gone no further than that. Service catalogs, and request management portals more broadly, can improve the user experience and delivery of IT services, no question. But the real value in these systems will be unlocked only when business process owners in departments beyond IT–such as facilities, human resources, accounting, marketing and others–are able to easily build and manage their own request management portals.

Perhaps the corporate world is moving slowly on this front. Or perhaps this white paper was just very prescient.

What is this “Level 0” thing? (Part 2): Knowledge, Self-Analysis and Feedback

Tools of the Trade (Part 2)

A Vision From Down Under
By Michael Poole

In my last blog, I mentioned a major client who is ‘shifting to the left’ and implementing ‘Level 0’ methods.

For those who missed my last blog, in short, ‘Level 0’ is the process of enabling users to resolve their own incidents and requests.

Obviously, one way of implementing ‘Level 0’ is to shut off the phone lines and email addresses of the Help Desk. A very effective way of getting users involved in the process, but not one I would recommend to anyone wanting a long future in an organisation. Of course, sometimes we implement this method by under-resourcing our support teams – but that is the subject for another blog.

To implement ‘Level 0’, users have to have the information available to them to resolve issues as they arise. So how do we give these to them.

There are a number of tools available.

The Knowledge

It has been famed around the world that London cabbies spend years “doing the knowledge” — learning every street, lane, theatre, hospital and pub in London — before they can sit for the exam to obtain a cab licence. Do we need to ensure that before any person joins the organisation they have an intimate knowledge of computer hardware, software, networking etc.?

No, because now, they can be like today’s Sydney cabbies who avoid “the knowledge” by having a SatNav or GPS system in the cab. Our users’ SatNav can be a Knowledge Base.

The move to implementing “KCS” or Knowledge Centred Support has been going for a number of years, but for many organisations, this has been limited to building knowledge bases directed at and only available to the support team — not the user. With the development of Web 2.0+, users are becoming more accustomed to “googling” for solutions and answers and also using self-help resources that are a part of the major social media sites. I admit, in doing these blogs, I have often consulted the blog site’s help pages and Support Forums.

So KCS is one of the tools that can be deployed as part of the “shift to the left.” But to do this, we have to make sure that we develop our KCS articles, not for computer engineers, or if we are deploying across an enterprise , HR experts or accountants etc, but for the average user and common issues.

Self-analysis

No, I’m not becoming Tony Robbins — all “SHAMish” (Self Help and Actualisation Movement) — perish the thought — or bringing Freud onto the Help Desk — even though at times he might be useful in dealing with users, but more IKEA!

The results of some IKEA assembly projects might belie the concept — but I assume that they have more successes than failures through the step-by-step self-assembly process.

A few — well maybe many — years ago, I was involved in a project that required me to have what is called an “Assumed Rank” in the Australian Armed Services. I made Colonel for a month — the duration of the contract — but thankfully did not have to do the physical, wear a drab khaki uniform, bear arms or be saluted. But I did get into the Officers’ Mess and people had to answer my questions in a respectful way, but that is past. What I did get to find out was how the most complex maintenance and repair processes for a fighter jet could be broken down into simple steps and documented so that even I could have replaced, as an instance, the wiring loom on an F-111 or the laser-guidance system. The “repair manual” — and it was all hard-copy — was contained in a room-full of filing cabinets and needed a librarian to keep it in order and up-to-date. This of course was an extension of the production line methodology introduced by Henry Ford at his eponymous company to make the most complex consumer engineering  product of the day — the motor car — with relatively unskilled workers. Other car makers of the time were using skilled engineers and coach-makers to make one car at a time.

As the makers of the F-111 and Henry Ford knew, every process can be broken down to simple steps and delivered in an appropriate way to produce a complex result. For Ford this was a car; for General Dynamics it was the F-111 repair manual; for us this can be a fault-finding and resolution process.

In fact for the client mentioned above, we implemented such a system — a fault-finding process that enables staff with little or no technical knowledge to analyse and, in over 30% of cases, resolve issues with lap-tops ranging from OS to wireless network issues through a series of simple steps that relied on the answers to a number of questions and test activities that they could understand and carry out.

So another tool in the “Level 0” process, is intelligent and responsive self-analysis and resolution tools. What is sometimes called an “expert system.”

Information, Contribution, Monitoring & Feedback

Implementing “Level 0” also requires openness of information and a positive response to user feedback.

Users should be given every opportunity to be a part of the process.

Where KCS is implemented, users should be able to rate and suggest improvements to KCS articles and guides and also author and submit new KCS articles. As well as providing another source of input into the KCS system, users will develop a group ownership of the KCS system and its acceptance will be more easily gained.

This is also true of any self-analysis and resolution process. A network engineer may be able to define the step-by-step process for resetting a head-end switch, but it may take some input from an end-user to enunciate the process in easily understood vocabulary or point out areas that need better definition.

Users must also be contribute to the areas that need to be covered in the KCS or self-service system. What the experts think are trivial matters, may be a source of confusion to users.

Access to monitoring information in a easily understandable format can reduce calls on the Service Desk. If users know that a system is down for maintenance then they have no need to log a call.

And of course feedback to users is essential when they make a contribution or highlight an area that needs better coverage.

In part 3, I will look at ways to integrate these tools into web-based portals that can be deployed to users.

 

 

 

 

Why Self-Service Matters in Service Request Management

By Nancy Nafziger

In today’s competitive market, organizations are under pressure to provide visibility to the costs and benefits of existing and planned technology expenditures.

When considering technology, it is imperative for organizations to migrate to solutions that reduce the overall Total Cost of Ownership, (TCO). So what is essential for reducing TCO? Technologies that save time, reduce costs, reduce errors, and improve user satisfaction.

With that said, it is advantageous to consider technologies with self-provisioning features. Self-provisioning features have the power to reduce TCO. Let’s take a look at one technology that has made significant advances in self-provisioning—Service Request Management.

Leading Service Request Management solutions are automated and empower authorized users to self-provision their Requests. So how does this provide value? Self-provisioned Requests trigger a variety of automated processes that reduces time and eliminates errors. The lack of automation loads organizations with increased costs, security issues, and provisioning errors. Automating request fulfillment eliminates hours of staff time that was previously spent manually responding to requests.

In addition to reducing TCO, other self-provisioning benefits in Request Management include:

  • Enables process owners to have full control of managing their processes
  • Reduces support costs
  • Enables compliance with governance audit and reporting requirements
  • Empowers users with fast-response access to critical business services
  • Improves user satisfaction through greater transparency and better management 

In summary, self-provisioning features in Service Request Management Solutions requests enable requests to be fulfilled more efficiently, faster, and at a lower cost.