Along with Stuart and Simon, I attended the annual IT Service management Forum in Birmingham on 9th and 10th of November. This is the event of the year for service management where 80 + suppliers exhibit their products including Service Desk tools, Monitoring tools, ITIL training and consultancy. Everyone serious about Service Management is there along with the all the governing bodies and sponsors.

The theme this year was ‘optimising IT services for business success’. Along with a few celebs, some I’d even heard of, there were 57 presentations spread across the 2 days on various subjects. Some of these are from consultants and vendors and these tend to be covert sales pitches and sometimes rather academic or theoretical  in that they are too good to be true or sound slightly removed from reality. The sessions given by employees of companies, govt depts, universities etc tend to much more real world and they share some of the problems and challenges as well as the benefits.

Of the sessions I went to one was entertaining but didn’t actually tell me anything, it was titled “can I have cheese with my burger please” which made me curious. I then spent an entertaining hour watching a presentation given by a good speaker with some great anecdotes and pictures but virtually devoid of anything useful. To give him credit, he made one good point which was that a Service Catalogue should not list every service on offer, it should just list the services available to the role of the user. The obvious benefit is to make it quicker to find the service you need but the other angle is staff morale. The example he gave was that the call centre user who needs a new PC could get a bit de-motivated if they see an option for the executives to book the company jet. Therefore Service Catalogues should be linked to active directories.

Two other sessions I went to were better but for different reasons, one was slightly alarming, the other very useful and relevant.

The alarming presentation was given by The University of Teeside and Northumbrian Water and was titled “Service management and the Youth of today”. The alarming thing about it was that Teeside is the only university in the UK (maybe even the world) where Service Management is included as a mandatory part of a computer science degree. They include ITIL foundation and about 50 hours of tuition + course work on the subject. Presumably other universities think that IT systems are created put live and then just look after themselves! Another alarming thing was that the students who are forced to do service management complain that it is diluting their IT skills. I don’t necessarily disagree with this but it’s alarming that they even think of this and explains why we sometimes struggle to attract the right people into service management. Maybe the answer is to stop calling it development and service management and have one name for the entire IT systems lifecycle. On the plus side the professor giving the lecture reported that most students felt quite positive about service management once they had completed it and obviously having an industry recognised qualification looks good on their CV.

The other interesting session was given by Co-operative Financial Services and as they are one of our customers I went along and was very glad I did. The title was “end to end service management – a low cost approach”. The focus of the presentation was on service reporting. A lot of  IT services companies are very poor at reporting, others like us put a lot of effort into producing very comprehensive and accurate reports with lots of graphs and metrics. CFS view from conducting surveys with their users is that users (and presumably customers) don’t want masses of detail and often don’t understand, or don’t have time to understand some of the metrics we produce such as availability figures. A report stating 100% availability would be reported as green and we’d think we’re doing a great job but the user may have had several hours of slow performance to put up with. If this was reported as one incident and as the system wasn’t down it was classified as a medium priority in line with the SLA then it probably didn’t even breach a service level. Other examples are where a recurring problem is fixed quickly every time, so again no breach of service level and a nice green service report but a frustrated user. The message here is that big fat reports are a lot of effort, often don’t get read and can even annoy the reader.

Their solution was to ask the user what they wanted – a novel approach!  What they came up with was a one page report with a single performance indicator and a calendar with trouble free days as green, other days were amber or red depending on the severity of problems occurring on those days. Behind the single performance indicator can be a variety of simple or complex metrics and measures based on the users view of an impact of a problem and the speed of resolution; these do not  necessarily need to be in line with the contract and can differ between depts for the same service. The user does not need to remember exactly how the performance indicator is made up but knows that they have agreed with the measures and what an acceptable figure is and can see the trends over time. The one page report also had a couple of other trends and free text but essentially it was a very simple and understandable view and probably less effort than the reports we produce. They also managed all this without the need of expensive monitoring and reporting tools.