Tracking Bigfoot and Missing IT Assets: A Tale of Poor Discovery Techniques

One dark cold night, three men are quietly sitting deep in the woods, somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. They listen intently to every noise, then from a distance they hear a sound that could resemble the creature they are seeking—Bigfoot. One of the men jumps up, takes a deep breath, and with all his strength lets out a sickening howl that sounds like he is part screaming and part singing. Meanwhile, at a campsite a couple of miles away, a group of young adults are sitting around a campfire. They hear what sounds like a man screaming in the distance. A young man sitting by the fire and under the influence of alcohol, jumps up, takes a deep breath, and lets out a scream in an effort to mimic the sound he just heard. Upon hearing a scream off in the distance, the three Bigfoot hunters stare at each other, eyes wide open. One of the men says, “It’s a Squatch!”

An IT administrator has finally been able to free up some time to start a very important project. He cleans up his office and calls the warehouse to have someone retrieve the server for him. “What server?” replied the man from the warehouse. “I ordered a server two months ago,” said the IT administrator. “In fact, someone came by my office and told me it had arrived,” claimed the administrator. The man from the warehouse responded, “Are you sure they were talking about the server? Anyways, we will have someone search the warehouse and give you a call back.”

  • Marcel Shaw’s Observations – The Bigfoot hunters could probably benefit from scientific equipment while IT administrators will benefit using IT asset management discovery software with B2B and lifecycle tracking capability. If you don’t track your IT assets from the time they are purchased, including a method to document when they arrive, they could go missing.

-Poor discovery techniques lead to confusing conclusions.

  • Patricia Adams’ Observations – Having a formalized process that centrally receives all IT assets would assist with tracking. By linking the asset request and purchase order to the shipping info, when the asset is received it can be matched back to the request. When it is stored on the stockroom shelves, using a barcode on the exterior box will automate the manual processes so assets are not easily misplaced after they are entered into the ITAM tool.

Bigfoot1b

The Bigfoot hunters, or Bigfoot scientists as they like to call themselves, decided to document the Bigfoot with a camera. One of the men takes an apple and climbs eight feet into a tree. He takes the apple and pierces it into one of the branches. He positions his camera to capture anything that might come for the apple. The three men leave the area for several hours and return to see that the apple has been taken from the branch. The camera’s battery did not last for more than 30 minutes, which meant they did not capture any video of the apple eater. One of the men looked at the others and said, “Don’t worry about the video, that apple is eight feet up in the tree.” They instantly became excited, looked at each other, and simultaneously said, “Squatch!” Meanwhile, a black crow sits atop a tree not far away enjoying the rest of his fresh red apple.

The IT administrator stopped by the data center in search of his server. While he was there, one of his employees approached him and said, “You know those two virtual servers I told you about a couple of months ago?” “The servers that we don’t know anything about?” said the administrator. “Yes,” replied the employee. “Nobody knows what they are used for and I am afraid to remove them in case they are part of somebody’s project. If we keep them, we will have to pay for the licenses in the upcoming renewal. What do you you me to do?” asked the employee. “Turn them off and wait for the phone to ring,” replied the administrator.

  • Marcel Shaw’s Observations – Next time, the Bigfoot hunters should probably focus on making sure that the camera is working before making any conclusions. The servers in the data center are not properly tracked using current asset management processes. Virtual technology has drastically reduced the effort it takes to spin-up a server for projects or testing purposes; however, many organizations have been surprised with unexpected costs as the result of a software audit. Those servers need a license, so organizations need to put discovery procedures in place to ensure virtual servers are tracked when they are created. Be sure to track who it was that spun-up the server and for what purpose. The good news, the IT administrator did not make any assumptions as did the Bigfoot hunters. Shutting down the servers to see if someone would notice was probably their best option. If he had concluded that the servers were no longer in use, he might have destroyed important data or set someone’s project back several months.

-Assuming is not considered discovery.

  • Patricia Adams’ Observations – Virtual server sprawl is an expensive problem in many data centers. Any VM that has been staged requires a supporting software license. If it is online and hasn’t been used within a defined time period, it should be removed. You don’t want to leave costly software licenses sitting around unused for extended periods of time.

-Inaccurate conclusions lead to inaccurate decisions.

Bigfoot1a

While returning to their truck, the Bigfoot hunters (scientists) discover a dead deer not too far from the road. They analyze the deer. One of the men points to the bones and says, “You see how clean that break is right there? That is the result of a Squatch.” He explained to the others that when the Squatch eats, it breaks the bones much like what they were observing. “They just snap the bones,” he said. Meanwhile, eight miles down the road, a young family traveling home from vacation sits in a repair shop waiting for their car to be repaired after hitting a deer several miles up the road.

The IT administrator stopped by to see the asset manager. “Have you seen that server I ordered?” he asked. The asset manager looked at his spreadsheets. “I see here when it was ordered and I have an email from the warehouse that they received it. I told them to take it to your office,” said the asset manager.

  • Marcel Shaw’s Observations – Apparently there is little to no education required to be a Bigfoot scientist; however, asset managers should be educated on ITAM best practices. Using spreadsheets and email demonstrates a poor understanding about how IT asset management should be done when tracking IT assets.

-Subject matter training minimizes mistakes

  • Patricia Adams’ Observations – Putting in place a process to track hardware and software throughout its life cycle is not complex, though it might be difficult to standardize the process which might vary based on geographies, locations, headcount, IT staff, or many other factors. If an asset manager needs training on how to create applicable policies, processes, and metrics to implement an ITAM program successfully, IAITAM offers a hardware asset management training course.

Bigfoot1c

Conclusion

When the IT administrator returned to his desk, he looked around his office to see if there was a possibility someone had put the server in his office. He got down on his hands and knees and looked under his desk and sure enough, there it was along with a few other boxes. Meanwhile, the Bigfoot hunters went on to have a weekly TV show where they could demonstrate their Bigfoot expertise. Although Bigfoot never appeared in any of their episodes, they convinced millions of people to watch their show that was really about nothing at all.

Bigfoot2

Whether or not you are tracking animals or IT assets, poor discovery techniques will lead to inaccurate results.

Three Keys to an Efficient ITSM Self-Service Portal

Traveling can be quite stressful, especially when visiting unfamiliar places. Many years ago, when I rented a car, I would ask for a map and directions. Even though I had a map, I always seemed to get lost in unfamiliar places. Sometimes I misunderstood the directions I was provided, and sometimes I was given poor directions.

GPS technology simplifies the process of getting you to your destination because it has the ability to pinpoint your location. With GPS technology, it is almost impossible to get lost, even in the most unfamiliar places.

When IT Service Management organizations design efficient self-service capabilities for their customers, it is much like providing GPS capabilities to someone who is looking for directions. When customers are provided the ability to solve their own IT problems, or to make a request without soliciting the help of another person, they will have a better experience. Self-service improves customer satisfaction while reducing IT service management costs.

When building self-service capabilities for incident resolution and request fulfillment capabilities, it is important to have three key building blocks for an efficient ITSM self-service portal.

  1. Knowledge
  2. Automation
  3. Asset Management

Knowledge

Empowering your customers with relevant information in a self-service portal is critical. If customers do not trust the knowledge provided, they will not use the self-service portal. An app using GPS technology not only provides directions, it provides additional relevant information about surroundings such as restaurants, gas stations, and hotels. Like a GPS, a self-service portal needs to display relevant information to the customer through the self-service portal.

Knowledge provided to customers in the self-service portal should include the ability to search for an answer to a question. Known issues should be easily obtainable along with instructions for a resolution.

Self Service Portal1

Create a ‘How-to’ section on the portal. How-to knowledge will reduce support calls. If customers are calling to ask the same question about a specific task, create a ‘How-to’ knowledge document. For example, if customers often call support to have someone assist them through the task of connecting their phone to the wireless network, create a ‘How-to’ document and post it in the ‘How-to’ section of the self-service portal. Use pictures where possible to show the customer what to do.

Consider adding a social media component to your self-service portal. Much of the information we get today comes through social media. As customers learn tips and tricks, they will post their findings for other customers to see.

Be sure to monitor the knowledge information provided to keep it fresh. If the knowledge provided by the self-service portal is not helpful to the customers, they will not trust the content. If they don’t trust the content, they will not use the knowledge database. The result will be more calls to the support analysts.

Automation

Automating redundant tasks will reduce costs and minimize errors. Analyze your incidents to find the most common issues.

Self Service Portal 4

If possible, create an automated process to resolve common issues such as a password reset. For example, when someone forgets their password, have an automated task verify the person’s identity, then allow that person to reset the password. Meanwhile, the process can log an incident as opened then resolved without intervention from an analyst.

Self Service Portal 5

When providing catalog services to your customers, automate request fulfillment through the self-service portal. For example, a request for software that requires a license might need a manager’s approval. The request process can be automated to notify the manager of the request. When approved, the software will automatically install to the customer PC.

Asset Management

Automation in conjunction with asset management will enable your self-service portal to manage and track IT assets that are requested by the customers. For example, if a customer requests a laptop, integration with an asset management database allows you to verify if the asset is currently available.

Self Service Portal 2

Connect self-service hardware requests to IT asset management procurement processes, if possible. If an asset is not available, automated processes can facilitate a purchase request with minimal intervention from the analysts.

For software, create automated processes that will facilitate the automatic delivery and installation of the software package. Use asset management to track the software license. Map the software license to the customer in addition to the location of the device. Software license tracking will insure the organization is prepared in case of a software audit.

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw

Help Desk vs Service Desk: What’s the difference?

In my first IT job, I worked as a Help Desk Analyst. I supported a software package that tracked individual documents when DOS was predominantly used as the operating system on most IBM-compatible computers. The software we used to support customers would create incidents, which meant it would create a profile with a unique incident number, a category, the analyst, the customer, and various other pieces of information we considered important. The way we provided IT support was what many called a ‘Help Desk’ or ‘ticketing’ solution.

We often hear the term Help Desk or Service Desk when talking about IT Service Management (ITSM) solutions. Help Desk solutions usually refer to incident management, whereas Service Desk solutions extend beyond incident by adopting additional ITIL disciplines.

When defining an IT Service Desk, Gartner says that: “IT Service Desk (ITSD) products range from simple call tracking/trouble ticketing (aka “help desk” products) to broad suite solutions encompassing call management, incident management, problem management, IT change management, configuration/inventory repositories, request fulfillment and self-service portals.”

Let’s discuss the difference between a Help Desk and a Service Desk in more detail.

Help Desk 

Help Desk solutions, which do incident management without formalized processes for other ITIL disciplines, tend to focus on getting the customer back up and running as soon as possible. 

Help desk

Help Desk solutions provide a reactive method for IT support. Ownership of an incident from start to finish is typically the responsibility of the front–line-support analyst. Depending on what is considered to be most urgent, escalation analysts often perform all the tasks of a problem manager, change manager, and release manager.

Service Desk

Service Desk solutions provide a way to accomplish problem, change, configuration, knowledge, and release management, in addition to incident management. Today, most Service Desk solutions are able to be designed according to ITIL V3 best practices. When organizations move from simple ticketing systems (i.e. Help Desk) to an IT Service Desk solution, they usually require a change in software tools so they can meet their objectives.

ITSM Model

Service Desk solutions focus on preventing problems by measuring performance, sharing knowledge, managing configurations, and formalizing problem, change, and release management processes.

With a Service Desk, IT service management organizations will separate incident and request processes, creating an environment where IT can provide a value to the organization through request fulfillment and catalog services.

Service Desk software tools can also help improve efficiency by providing self-service portal capabilities. Services offered include requests such as software, hardware, and network access to corporate resources.

Help desk 2

With a Service Desk solution, IT service management organizations structure their employees into groups and roles such as change managers, problem managers, and release managers according to ITIL best practices. Furthermore, analysts are aligned with the appropriate IT experts when doing problem and change management.

Service Desk solutions share information with analysts, and their customers, through automation and a managed knowledge database.

Service Desk software solutions can be integrated with internal or external corporate resources.

Through integration and automation, a Service Desk solution will increase efficiency and add value to the organization by providing automated request fulfillment services.

Summary

Organizations not providing Service Desk capabilities should examine their ITSM software and their IT service management organizational structure so that appropriate changes can be made when moving from a Help Desk to a Service Desk.

BrightTalk ITIL BP

On February 16, 2016, I gave a presentation for BrightTalk discussing best practices for adopting ITIL into your ITSM solution. Adopting ITIL best practices, along with choosing the right software tools, will transform your IT service management organization from a Help Desk solution to a Service Desk solution.

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw