Category Archives: Technology

Five Reasons the Data Center Needs Software License Optimization (Part 2)

In part one of this series, I suggested that every organization should consider implementing a software license optimization solution in the data center. Here are five reasons your organization needs Software License Optimization:

1 .  Complex License Variations

Software licenses are defined using multiple factors. These factors include the physical server, the number of processors, or the number of users; however, licensing becomes much more complicated if using virtual servers, cluster or fail-over solutions, and storage arrays.

IDC predicts that “Software License Complexity will Indirectly Cost Organizations an Average of 25% of their Software License Budgets in 2016.”  

 

Software vendors that sell into the data center tend to have many license variations for their product offerings. For example, terminology used in software license contracts will use terms such as Power Value Units (PVU), Resource Value Units (RVU), and Core Factor Table to define their software entitlement.

Complex statements in software license contracts are often confusing for most IT managers, especially when conditions or exceptions are added to the license definitions.

Some software vendors have up to 5,000 active license variations, which leaves many IT managers guessing about how to properly apply the licenses they have purchased.

2.  License vendors make changes which can affect licensing

Software license posture can be compromised when configuration changes or software updates are made to the network.

 

IT managers that are tasked to manage licenses need to understand how these updates or changes impact current license agreements. This is a lot to ask of someone who does not have licensing experience or expertise.

3.  Technology alone is not able to correctly calculate most server licensing

Software licensing tools provided by a software vendor or a third party are needed to monitor and manage software licenses, however these tools are not sufficient without people who have licensing knowledge and experience. It would be like providing software to model data in a database to someone who does not understand a database.

The complexity of datacenter software licenses requires those that manage the licenses to have a proficient understanding about the licenses and license contracts they are managing.

4.  Market expertise required – Having the right people with the right knowledge

Organizations that try to manage software licenses without hiring the proper expertise are at risk. Unfortunately, too many organizations are willing to take on this risk and as a result, software auditing has become a lucrative and profitable business for many software vendors and their partners.

Software optimization solutions require people with expertise in many areas. For example, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle have unique licensing models that have many license variations that are often modified or updated.

Software optimization vendors typically employ software license experts that keep up-to-date with changes or updates to software licensing models. These experts can provide valuable insight and recommendations to help their customers stay compliant with their software license agreements.

5.  Software Audit Protection

Software optimization vendors can also assist an organization that is facing a software audit. In fact, some of these vendors will even represent an organization, much like an attorney, and fight on their behalf during an audit. These experts are usually people that have worked as software auditors in the past, so they are familiar with the software audit process.

Another important benefit is that software optimization experts can help organizations that have been hit with fines and penalties after a software audit by negotiating with the auditors on behalf of the organization. These experts are often successful at reducing penalties and fines demanded by the software auditors.

Conclusion

When software auditors are aware that an organization uses IT asset management (ITAM) best practices, they tend to move on to their next victim. In a study, Express Metrics claims: “Respondents whose organizations have implemented IT asset management (ITAM) tools report a 32% lower audit rate within the last two years than organizations with no such tools.”

Organizations that do not partner with software license optimization solutions and experts need to budget for unknown expenses. Why? Because these organizations will probably be out of compliance with software license agreements and as a result, they will pay the price.

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw

Five Reasons the Data Center needs Software License Optimization (Part-1)

Many years ago, I supported document management software used primarily by legal firms. The software provided attorneys with the ability to quickly access legal documents on the network. The software included intelligent searching capabilities, powerful reporting features, and version control for thousands of documents on a local area network. The capabilities we provided boosted the efficiency of legal departments and law firms all over world.

Although we provided a great software package that supported legal departments everywhere, the software alone was useless without the expertise of a legal expert or an attorney. When organizations need legal expertise, they hire legal experts. They don’t rely on legal software alone to handle legal matters.

Hire the Right Experts

When taxes are due, tax accountants are hired or subcontracted versus relying solely on a tax software solution. Software vendors that audit their customers typically employ software license experts along with software tools to perform the audit.

Regarding software license management, I am amazed how many organizations still do not employ or contract with  software license experts in addition to software optimization tools for software license management in the datacenter.

Software audits are on the rise because software vendors are realizing that audits can generate revenue, and that customers are not investing in software license management solutions or experts.

As long as there are organizations that are non-compliant with their software license agreements because of poor license management, software vendors will continue to find software audits to be profitable.  

In a gated Gartner report published May 28, 2014. Gartner claimed: “Tracking license entitlement has become a priority for many organizations as a means to alleviate the anxiety caused by annual software vendor audit. Gartner has seen an exponential increase in the number of contracts it has received from customers looking to purchase an SLOE tool during the past nine months. We don’t expect this trend to slow down…”

It is not practical to rely on IT managers to manage software licenses in the data center unless they have licensing expertise. This would be like having an accountant with very little legal expertise represent the organization in a lawsuit accusing executives of misappropriating funds. Although the accountant could provide the information required to defend against the accusation, the accountant would not have the required expertise to handle legal process, legal negotiation and most importantly, knowledge of local applicable laws.

Here are five good reason’s every organization should consider implementing an efficient software license optimization solution in the datacenter:

  1. Complex License Variations
  2. License vendors make changes which can affect licensing
  3. Technology alone is not able to correctly calculate most server licensing
  4. Market expertise required – Having the right people with the right knowledge
  5. Software Audit Protection

Part 2

In the second installment of this two part series, I will discuss complex license variations, market expertise, software audit protection, and how software licensing can be affected when configuration changes are made in the datacenter.

 

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw

Five Future Technologies to Watch for IT Service Management

As technology advances at such a rapid pace, many IT solutions become outdated very quickly. If organizations want to stay competitive and up-to-date with current technology, they need to stay informed about future technologies or their current solutions become quickly outdated . With regards to IT service management (ITSM), here are five technologies to watch that impact ITSM solutions in the future:

    1. Internet of Things (IoT)
    2. Security and Compliance
    3. Security Broker Authentication
    4. Predictive Analysis
    5. Virtual Reality

 

Internet of Things (IoT)

We will see an impact to ITSM solutions from IoT in two areas, CMDB and ITAM. To support IoT, ITSM processes and tools need the ability to integrate into IoT APIs.

Network systems and applications are typically provided access with Identity and Access Management (IAM) technology; however, IAM would be overwhelmed with the relationship and access demands required by IoT. Therefore, the Identity of Things (IDoT), which is an extension of IAM applies a unique identifier (UID) to IoT devices. This allows you to control relationships and access between the IoT and other entities inside and outside of your organization.

Gartner says, “IT asset management (ITAM) and software asset management (SAM) systems have traditionally managed IT and software assets of all types. The IDoT will assume some functional characteristics of ITAM and SAM within or integrated with IAM architecture, or be linked to ITAM as attribute stores.”

Without proper tracking of IoT devices and their configurations, it is difficult to apply security policies. ITAM and a CMDB will be critical for tracking the influx of IoT devices that are expected to hit company networks over the next several years.

Security and Compliance

Security is the number one priority in most organizations; however, not all organizations have integrated their security with IT service management processes. ITIL security management defines best practices when planning, controlling, analyzing, and maintaining security policies and processes to protect sensitive data.

A solid padlock securing the data paths of a circuit board. White Background.

It is important to build processes that integrate security management into change management processes if organizations are looking to minimize risk in the future. Over the next few years, IT organizations should expect to see more integration capabilities from their ITSM solution providers, which will allow them to integrate their security tools.

Security Broker Authentication

As IT solutions move into the cloud, many organizations will implement a cloud access security broker for authentication.

2016-09-16_8-08-31

Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) can be on-premises or cloud-based. CASBs enforce security policies prior to allowing access to cloud resources.

Gartner says, “By 2018, 50 percent of enterprises with more than 1,000 users will use cloud access security broker products to monitor and manage their use of SaaS and other forms of public cloud.”

IT service management need to be prepared to support those having difficulty accessing the organization’s cloud solutions using CASBs

Predictive Analysis

In order to make informed decisions, it is important to understand current network service impact and costs. This is accomplished when current data as well as historical metrics are analyzed in order to predict future behaviors or to understand unknown events.

Predictive Analysis helps IT service organizations distribute workloads based on data from multiple sources.

Many ITSM software solutions are expected to add predictive analytics capabilities to their service management solution; however, these features are not useful if the IT organization does not have the expertise required to understand the data provided by these tools. IT organizations should consider employing a data scientist if they want to take full advantage of all the data and metrics that IT service management tools will soon deliver.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) solutions could soon work their way into the IT business environment. Knowledge management is a challenge for many organizations. In the near future, don’t be surprised to see IT organizations flirt with VR technology as they advance their employee training services.

Double exposure of man wearing virtual reality headset

Research and Markets believes that the industry will see over 60% growth every year for the next five years, transforming it from a fringe technology enjoyed by the techy few into a major medium for gaming, entertainment, and business.

VR could one day become a component of your Knowledge Management offering if the technology is retrofitted and accessible via an ITSM self-service portal.

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw

Three Tips for IT Asset Management (ITAM) Discovery

Many years ago, I observed a house being built directly behind my house. Once the house was completed, I was surprised when one day workers showed up and began to take the house down. In fact, they took everything apart including the foundation. As it turned out, the foundation was not built correctly. As a result, everything built on top of that foundation was not reliable.

IT discovery is the foundation to your IT asset management (ITAM) solution. If discovery is unreliable, then all of the asset information you are trying collect will not be reliable. According to an article published by computer weekly, “almost 66% of IT managers admit to not having a completely accurate record of their IT assets”

For accurate IT asset discovery, make sure you consider the following guidelines:

  1. Understand the difference between discovery and audit
  2. Don’t Discover everything from the start
  3. Define IT asset reports needed for IT asset management (ITAM)

Understand the Difference between Discovery and Audit

Do not confuse IT asset discovery with an IT asset audit. Discovery tools should allow you to automate manual processes. Gartner defines “discovery” as follows:

IT asset management (ITAM) entails collecting inventory, financial and contractual data to manage the IT asset throughout its life cycle. ITAM depends on robust processes, with tools to automate manual processes. Capturing and integrating autodiscovery/inventory, financial and contractual data in a central repository for all IT assets enables the functions to effectively manage vendors and a software and hardware asset portfolio from requisition through retirement, thus monitoring the asset’s performance throughout its life cycle.

The key difference between discovery and an audit is that an audit is more of a one-time event, whereas, discovery will be on ongoing process. For example, if a technician spends a day with a clipboard inventorying every PC in the organization, then you will have an accurate inventory report for that day only.

If you deploy discovery tools that show when PCs connect to the network, then you will have an accurate report every time you run an inventory report. Discovery tools will also account for PCs not connected to the network by showing you the last time they connected. PCs that do not check-in for a period of time can be flagged as missing in the inventory report.

Be sure to choose tools that can ‘monitor’ critical IT hardware assets such as PCs and Servers. PCs and Servers often contain additional software assets that need to be monitored.

IMPORTANT: If you are not able to see the hardware, then you probably won’t see the software.

IT assets that are not monitored need to check-in to the asset management system on a regular basis. This can be done by setting your discovery tools to run daily or weekly. Discovery tools should then be able to report any changes from the previous inventory scan.

Don’t Discover Everything from the Start

When looking to implement IT asset management, don’t try to do everything at once. Allow time for your asset management solution to mature. If your asset management solution is too complicated, chances are it won’t be successful.

When architecting your asset management solution, be sure to have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish. For example, are you able to address the following questions?

  • Why do you need asset management?
  • What do you want to track?
  • How do you want to track assets?
  • What type of reports do you expect?
  • Why do you want those reports?
  • Who will manage and maintain the ITAM solution?

If you don’t clearly define your IT asset management objectives, you could end up giving your employees a lot of unnecessary “busy” work. For example, if an organization is concerned about managing software licenses, it would make sense to build your solution so that it tracks the software, as well as the hardware hosting the software. You could complicate and distort you software asset management objectives if you try to include switches, routers, and printers.

Allow your IT asset management processes to be perfected before expanding the solution to include additional assets such as switches, routers, and printers. It is more important that your solution is successful. Keeping your solution simple from the beginning will increase your chances for success.

A simple and successful IT asset management solution can be matured into a fully functional and reliable solution that follows ITAM best practices.

Trend dashboard

Define IT Asset Reports Needed for IT Asset Management (ITAM)

Reports and dashboards will give you a summary of all your IT assets. Patricia Adams, an ITAM expert says ”by having an understanding of the benefits that a complete end-to-end solution can provide, CIOs, CFO’s and chief security officers (CSO’s) will be better able to address the issues they are facing (many unknowingly) within their particular organization.

As you begin your IT asset management project, define the type of IT asset reports you expect from your solution. This will help you identify what to discover and how often it will be re-discovered.

Be sure to design Business Value Dashboards (BVD) for your solution. BVD’s will help you translate technical information into cost and risk for non-IT management inside the organization. Ultimately, BVD’s will show the value that the IT department brings to the organization by helping executives make informed decisions.

Summary

Don’t let IT asset discovery become a stumbling block to your ITAM solution. Be sure to have clear objectives and a clear vision of the reports that will be needed to support those objectives. Set your discovery tools to discover and monitor assets relevant to your objectives. Most important, don’t overwhelm your IT employees with unnecessary discovery information, especially during the early phases of the project.

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw

How IT Asset Management (ITAM) Can Integrate With Your CMDB

Tracking IT assets using ITAM best practices can be confusing for organizations looking to use a Configuration Management Database (CMDB). The confusion stems from a perception that managing a configuration item (CI) and managing an IT asset is the same or very similar. In reality, ITAM and CMDB objectives are quite different.

If you were looking to travel from New York (NY) to London, you would identify the flight to London by a flight number. For example, let’s say the flight you book is identified as flight #192. The airline’s database for flight #192 from NY to London would have a date, time, plane, crew, gate, and any relevant information needed to complete the flight service offering.

2016-07-06_15-21-32

In addition to a database that tracks flights, airlines also have a database that tracks aircraft. The database used to track aircraft logs details about aircraft performance, maintenance, and contracts. This database is used to help airlines identify the lifecycle status of each aircraft. For example, is the aircraft in service or out of service? Is it time to service the aircraft? Is it time to replace the aircraft?

Obviously, Flight #192 needs an aircraft so let’s say that a Boeing 777 identified as B777-1421 is scheduled to support flight #192; however, an issue is discovered with the aircraft. To keep flight #192 in service, imagine the airline replaces the aircraft identified as B777-1421 with a similar aircraft identified as B777-1502.

2016-07-06_15-38-10

Notice that when the aircraft is replaced, the fight number does not change. Flight #192 will continue to be flight #192. Integrating your CMDB with an IT asset management solution should be similar to how an airline integrates their flights database with their aircraft database. An IT asset should be looked at as a supporting component of a configuration item (CI)

The CI can be a single physical asset but in most situations, the CI is a combination of IT assets, such as an email server which consists of hardware and software. Imagine a CI for the email server is identified as “EMAIL-SRV.” Let’s identify the physical server supporting EMAIL-SRV as SRV01.

ITAM CMDB 12

When SRV01 approaches the end of its lifecycle, a change request would be issued to replace the server. Let’s call the replacement server “SRV02”.

ITAM CMDB 9

Upon completion of this change, the CI record would need to be changed to show that it now uses the physical server identified as SRV02; however, the name of the CI, EMAIL-SRV would keep its identity.

ITAM CMDB 5

When you link the physical server to that CI, you will be able to update the CMDB with that server’s specifications logged in the asset management database.

Why should the CMDB and ITAM be separate solutions integrated with each other?

The CMDB and ITAM have much different objectives, so building a single solution to meet both objectives would be challenging. A CI located in a CMDB is tracked because the organization wants to monitor availability, stability, and impact to the organization.

ITAM CMDB 2

CIs use ITIL best practices and processes such as “problem” and “change” for the purpose of maintaining and improving business processes supported by IT assets.

ITAM best practices focus on tracking IT asset inventory (hardware and software) as well as associated contracts, cost centers, lifecycle status, and location.

ITAM CMDB 1

ITAM solutions will assign, unassigned, or re-assigned IT assets to end-users or to CIs so that IT assets are not misplaced or lost. ITAM provides details about the IT asset contracts, warranties, refresh schedules, and cost centers. ITAM primarily focuses on IT assets from an organization’s financial perspective.

Summary

When managing IT assets, use ITAM processes to manage the IT asset inventory. Build integration into the CMDB, then link supporting IT assets to the CI instead of recreating the IT asset in the CMDB. When choosing software tools, choose tools that provide seamless integration between the CMDB database and the ITAM database.

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw

Five Tips for Improving the ITSM End-User Experience

I often use public transportation services. Sometimes I have a good opinion of the service provider and sometimes I do not. I develop my opinion of service offerings based on the experience I have when I use the services offerings. For example, if I travel on a train that is dirty and doesn’t smell very good, then I am likely to judge the service offerings in a poor light. As a passenger, I am expecting to arrive at my destination so I am not going to develop my opinion of the services based on whether or not I arrive. Instead, I develop my opinion on the overall experience I had while traveling to my destination. If I have a poor experience, I will probably try to find another way to get to my destination even if it takes longer and costs more money.

When providing IT services to end-users, it is important to understand that end-users expect that IT services will be delivered much like I expected my train to arrive at its destination. Therefore, end-users will judge the quality of IT services based on their experience while using IT support. For example, imagine a process is published offering a way to request a laptop through a self-service portal. If the interface is difficult to navigate, or if the automated process fails to deliver the asset in the time it was promised, then you might find your end-users searching for other ways to fulfill their asset requests.

Unhappy end-users reflects poorly on the IT department. Without the support of the end-users, your ITSM solution will not be successful.

  • Do you know what makes end-users happy or unhappy?

When designing your ITSM solution, use the following steps to identify and document what makes end-users happy or unhappy, then design your ITSM processes and interface in such a way that end-users will have a positive experience:

  1. What makes end-users unhappy?
  2. How does IT make end-users happy?
  3. Design your ITSM solution to improve the end-user experience

sad face

What makes end-users unhappy?

When the IT department doesn’t notify end-users about projects that impacts end-users

  • End-users don’t want to be surprised by changes to the interface or changes to ITSM processes without prior knowledge. To ensure end-users buy in to new IT service offerings, be sure to include them in the design processes so they can provide feedback from their perspective.

IT analysts over commit and under deliver

  • Proper expectations need to be set for the end-users. If a callback to the end-user is promised by 5:00 PM, then be sure to call them back. If analysts are over committing, they might have too much on their plate. When assigning tasks to your analysts, be sure to monitor their follow-up. If analysts are not following up in a timely manner, monitor their workloads. Poor follow-up should never be acceptable. Remove analysts that consistently demonstrate poor follow-up capabilities.

We don’t make easy answers readily available

  • Knowledge is extremely important when providing IT services. It can take a lot of time for an analyst to troubleshoot an issue. Avoid duplicating troubleshooting efforts by providing up-to-date knowledge for your analysts. As methods for resolving an issue are discovered, document and publish those methods. When possible, publish methods for resolving an issue to the end-users. If they can fix the issue by following directions from a knowledge article, they will not have to call the help desk.

End-Users don’t like to wait on the phone

  • Long hold times frustrate end-users that call for IT support. It is important that the IT department understand peak call times, then develop methods to handle large call volumes during those times. Provide additional staffing during peak times if needed or build a process that facilitates a call-back from the analyst to the end-user when call volume is high so that end-users do not have to wait on the phone for a long period of time. The longer the wait time, the unhappier the end-user.

We treat end-users like end-users, not customers

  • The customer is always right mentality used by sales operations should be the mentality of the IT service Dept. ITIL calls the end-user a customer which is how they should be treated by the IT analysts. Encourage and positively reinforce good customer service provided by analysts.

Happy Face

How does IT make end-users happy?

Keep end-users informed and involved with IT projects

  • If end-users will be impacted by an IT project, involve them in the design and testing phase of the project. End-users are happy when they are heard. Furthermore, they will be more likely to support the IT project when it goes into production.

Apply Service Level Agreements

  • Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) provide a way for IT to set expectations for the end-user. SLA’s also provide a way for IT to monitor how well it is providing support for the end-users.

Create multiple ways to ask for assistance

  • Provide multiple ways for the end-user to open an incident or make a request. Providing multiple access points for opening incidents or making requests can alleviate long wait times for telephone support; especially during peak hours.

Provide help through a knowledge base with up-to-date relevant information

  • Today’s end-user knows how to find answers to their questions using a smartphone and Google search. If IT provides answers to commonly asked questions by publishing a knowledge database to the end-users, calls into the support center will decrease. Over-all wait times will decrease while end-users will feel empowered as they are able to solve issues themselves.

End-Users want respect

  • Although IT questions and requests might seem elementary to an analyst, they are not elementary for the end-user. Analysts need to avoid talking in a condescending way to the end-user. For example, “you should know that,” or “didn’t you go to training?” are statements that should never be uttered by an IT analyst. When end-users get respect, they will probably give respect to IT and appreciate all that the IT department does for them.

Self Service Portal 5

Design your ITSM solution to improve the end-user experience

  1. Build a self-service landing page – Publish services through a self-service catalog then automate request fulfillment processes where possible. Build approvals and authorizations into the automated self-service processes.
  2. Provide Multiple Ways to Open Incidents and Make Requests – Today’s end-users access the internet in a variety of ways. Be sure to provide a way for them to open incidents and to make requests from multiple access points. For example, not only should end-users be able to make a request for an asset by calling IT services, they should be able to make the same request using their mobile device or personal computer. I have also seen organizations that have IT services provide a “one-stop-shop” where employees can physically go to an office to report an issue or to make an IT request
  3. Look for Ways to Modernize Your Interface – Much like music and furniture, an IT interface can quickly become outdated. Be sure to use software solutions that have a modern, easy-to-use interface. Today’s software solutions need to be easy-to-use across all platforms. A good ITSM interface will change very little when going from a PC browser to a mobile app or browser. Today’s end-users want consistency.
  4. Never believe your processes are perfect – ITSM in not a destination, it is a journey. Never stop measuring and improving ITSM processes. End-users have little patience for redundant tasks that do not make any sense. Keep in communication with end-users and analysts to find areas where a processes can be improved to make them easier, faster, and more reliable.
  5. New technology is your friend – Stay current with the ITSM community by subscribing to ITSM magazines or online forums. New technology that can help you improve IT support will help you reduce your IT costs. Recently, I looked at some new ITSM technology that uses a screenshot to search a knowledge database.

Summary

If your ITSM software solution is not providing you with the latest technology available, or if it cannot be integrated with the latest technology features available, it’s probably time to look for another ITSM solution. To create a positive end-user experience, build an interface that is easy to navigate, provide processes that are quick and efficient, maintain an up-to-date knowledge database, and schedule re-occurring meetings with IT services and a focus group of end-users for the purpose of re-evaluating and improving your current IT services and their processes.

-A special thanks to Kirk Noren ( @kirkNoren ) for helping write this one

-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

Three ITSM Projects for Your Five-Year Plan (Part 4 of 5): Integration & Automation

Recently, I called a company because the heater in my house would continue to operate regardless of the temperature reading. They insisted on having their service technician come to my house to evaluate the problem and make a diagnosis. For several hours, I was concerned about how much this would cost because they could not tell me until the technician completed his investigation.

I have had this same experience when calling IT support; however, I am not as concerned about costs as I am about meeting a deadline. In any event, this is still a cost for IT support. Anytime IT has to investigate issues on the network, or in software for a solution, there are unknown costs associated with that process. The longer it takes to find the issue, the more it costs.

Historically, as IT organizations looked at the costs of supporting all their computers, they began looking at tools that could automate manual processes. The reason for automating processes was simple, automation reduces costs. Furthermore, integrating your IT solutions into your ITSM solution makes IT support easier, faster, and much more efficient.

For example, many years ago, an analyst would often dispatch a tech to a person’s desk to troubleshoot a problem that could not be diagnosed over the phone. Many organizations found that implementing a tool that controlled the computer remotely from the analyst’s computer reduced the cost of the incident by up to 90 percent.

The only way to prepare for emerging technology, in addition to supporting your current ITSM requirements which are often operating with reduced budgets, is to implement automation tools that can integrate with all your network, database, and software solutions.

For example, when an account is locked because a customer forgot their password, the analyst might need to call the IT admin. However, if the analyst has the appropriate rights, they could unlock the account by accessing the required network tools. If an automated process is implemented, the analyst could trigger the account to be unlocked by simply pressing a button from the incident page. Ultimately, the best way to handle this example would be through a self-service process; however, I will discuss this in more detail in part 5 of this series.

When examining costs, an incident can fall into one of three categories:

  • Instant Resolution
    • Known cost
  • Resolution Pending Action
    • Known cost
  • Resolution Pending Investigation
    • Unknown cost pending investigation
    • Most expensive
    • Troubleshooting required

Instant Resolution

Integration Projects 1

When an incident can be instantly resolved by the technician, the cost of the incident is easily determined. Some examples of instant resolution would be a password reset, a “how-to” question, or a known issue with resolution instructions available in the knowledge base. Any incident that is opened and resolved during a call falls into this category.

Resolution Pending Action

Integration Projects 2

When an incident can be resolved by the technician pending an action, the cost of the incident is also easy to determine. For example, if it is determined that a customer needs a software update or a replacement phone or laptop. The analyst would determine if the item is under warranty and initiate an automated process to replace the device. The analyst would mark the incident as ‘resolved’ when the customer receives the replacement device or software update. The incident cost is easily determined, even if there is an outstanding action item that needs to happen prior to closing the support incident.

Resolution Pending Investigation

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Anytime an incident needs further investigation to determine the cause of an issue it is placed in this category. For example, if the analyst has to dispatch a technician or escalate an incident, the cost of the incident will be unknown until a diagnosis and resolution is determined.

In some cases, these types of issues are moved to the Problem Management team. To reduce the costs of IT support, organizations are focusing on incidents that require investigation. This is accomplished using smarter technology.

When I called about the problem with my heating system, a technician was dispatched to my house.

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In the near future, embedded technology such as (IoT) will eliminate the need to have someone investigate an issue.

The ideal solution would be to know about an issue before the customer realizes there is an issue.

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When technology can self-evaluate and determine the cause and resolution without manual intervention, the cost of the incident can immediately be determined.

With embedded technology, my heating system could have reported back to a central system with the diagnosis. As a result, a person or an automated system could contact me and notify me of the impending problem and recommended resolution.

Forbes quoted Gartner regarding future technology trends stating that “to an increasing extent, technologies will be able to not only collect information, but learn based upon it. In the process, much of the initial analysis that has typically required a human can be done by machines, elevating the analysis in the process. People will need to engage at a higher level as a result.”

We can expect this type of technology to rapidly expand over the next several years for IT support. The demand for problem notification from network and software solutions continues to increase as budgets for IT support shrink.

Process Automation

It is important that organizations have tools in place to support automation. This can be done using a business process manager (BPM).

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Automation tools can eliminate redundant manual tasks. For an ITSM solution, automated tools can trigger a new incident.

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Be sure to choose process automation tools that are easily integrated into a wide variety of network solutions, including your ITSM solution.

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Process automation tools should be able to listen for changes in other databases. Tools should be capable of triggering a process based on a change. Also, automation tools need to have the ability to move data from one system to another. For example, if a person is terminated from an organization, an automated process should be able to cancel all accounts that have been setup through the IT department, such as a mobile telephone account.

Be sure that automation tools can execute programs or run scripts. Finally, automated tools should be able to integrate with database standards such as ODBC or web services in order to integrate the different network solutions.

Summary

Building automation and ITSM Integration into your network architecture will reduce the cost to support redundant manual tasks that could introduce human error. The tools used need to have the ability to integrate with different solutions on the network. With this type of architecture in place, your ITSM solution will be prepared to handle the smart technology that is evolving which can notify the ITSM solution of impending issues, thus reducing the time and costs required to investigate and diagnose a problem.

In Part 5, I will discuss Self Service as an ITSM project.

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw

Four Ingredients to Build Meaningful ITAM Dashboards (Part 2 of 2): Add Value

I am a ‘bottom–line’ type of guy. I remember several years ago, my daughter came home one evening and began to tell me a story about a very dark road, a street lamp that wasn’t working, and how all the cars were cramped into a small space. She was excited and I was confused. I stopped her abruptly, waving my hands back and forth as if I were trying to stop a car. I yelled, “Give me the bottom line!”

She said, “Dad, your son backed into another car this evening.” Yes, that was the bottom line and needless to say, I was not happy. I then worked my way through the story backwards, getting the details I needed because I knew I had to call the insurance company.

I find IT managers and non-IT managers often experience similar communication challenges, especially when it comes to reports. If an IT manager communicates down–time statistics for a router with a non-IT business manager, the non-IT business manager is going to ask, “How does that affect me?”

IT asset management reports and dashboards need to show the ‘bottom line’ to the different non-IT business managers. Remember, the ‘bottom line’ is going to be different for each department. What is important to them is determined by their objectives, and each department will have different objectives.

In part 1 of this blog, I introduced four ingredients to build a meaningful ITAM dashboard. 

  1. Build dashboards integrated with ITSM data
  2. Display trends
  3. Create queries aligned with each department’s strategy and objectives
  4. Create business value dashboards (BVDs)

If you build dashboards that include information from your ITSM solution, you will be able to provide additional information about IT assets including the cost to support those assets.

Display trends

Trending information should include how often help is required from end-users while using software tools to meet their objectives. By integrating ITSM data, you will have a wealth of information available to build trending dashboards for your assets. For example, trends can show if training is adequate based on how often help requests are made to the ITSM knowledge base.

Trend dashboard

Trends can tell you if your software solutions meet performance requirements and whether or not any issues are related to the software or to training. For example, an application that updates a database might slow down during certain times of the day, resulting in increased support incidents and decreased output.

Build hardware trends that track vendor and model. The cost of a failed laptop includes loss of productivity and/or loss of data, as well as the time required by IT services to address the problem. Trending reports can identify specific models that tend to have a higher fail rate over other models.

Trending reports provide IT asset managers with valuable information; however, the challenge will be how the dashboard adds value to non-IT business managers of the organization.

Create queries aligned with each department’s strategy and objectives

IT department managers need to have a good understanding about what information is relevant to each non-IT business manager. Remember, each business manager will differ in what is important to them, so work with business managers to understand what type of data would help them with their objectives, then build dashboards that are relevant to each business manager.

For example, imagine a company website that generates revenue. The sales organization might be concerned about the performance of the website used to sell a product. Queries that display performance metrics, support incidents, change requests, or down-time related to the website might be relevant for the business manager and not the sales department. However, the accounting department business manager might be interested in queries that find warranty, contract, and maintenance renewals schedules so that he/she can properly forecast operational expenses.

Create business value dashboards (BVDs)

After you have aligned IT asset data queries to the objectives of the organization, and the departments within the organization, I suggest you translate the results into business value dashboards (BVDs). BVDs are aligned to the organization’s business objectives verses the IT department’s objectives.

The primary audience for BVDs are business managers and executives of the organization. These dashboards will show the value of IT asset management and the role IT plays in meeting the organization’s objectives.

In a gated report titled Market Guide for I&O Business Value Dashboards, Gartner states “the I&O organization is accustomed to dealing with metrics such as network availability, application uptime, response time and mean time to repair, whereas the business ultimately cares how those things translate into revenue, cost, risk or some other business value metric.”

Gartner also predicted “by 2020, more than 50% of infrastructure and operations (I&O) organizations will adopt business value dashboards (BVDs), which will be a significant increase from today’s level of less than 10%.”

Colin Fletcher, Research Director, IT Operations Management for Gartner, talks about the emergence of the business value dashboard (BVD).

The Business Value Dashboard audience, much as defined for Business Service Management, is people outside of IT. It has to be something that they care about, that they want to use, and ultimately that is the measure of whether or not a dashboard is successful or not.

A single ITAM query can produce information that is relevant to multiple business managers throughout your organization however, the way the information is presented through a dashboard may differ according to what is relevant to each manager. 

Business Value Dashboard Scenario for ITAM

Let’s take a look at software license vs. software installation data as an example for creating an ITAM BVD.

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An IT Asset Manager can look at a dashboard that shows how many installations the organization has installed and then compare the information to the license agreement. This information is valuable to the IT Asset Manager if the organization is audited.

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Imagine if the organization needed to purchase 100 additional licenses. By applying cost to the dashboard, you could show that it would cost $10 per license to comply with the license agreement. This additional $1,000 would be important information for the accounting business manager to have on a dashboard. This information could be used for budgeting purposes which is the accounting department’s objective.

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Now imagine if you could take the software usage information over the past six months. Then create a dashboard that shows 500 software installations were not utilized during that period, therefore, if the organization removes those installations, it would reduce the upcoming renewal fee at $20 per license totaling $10,000.

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Dashboards that can show a cost savings scenario would be of value to executives and decision-makers.

Summary

ITAM dashboards can provide complete visibility into every system within an organization. The knowledge that is provided can be used to make informed decisions about IT strategy and IT asset acquisitions. IT Asset Managers can add value to an organization by learning how each business within the organization operates, thus assisting them by displaying relevant information using dashboards.

I believe the value of IT asset data is only as good as what can be clearly and accurately reported through dashboards. Organizations should explore reporting tools that can provide data from multiple data sources, tools that are easy to use, and tools that can display dashboards which are easy to understand.

-follow me on Twitter @marcelshaw

Buried Alive in IT Assets (Part 1 of 2) – Why ITAD is Important

As I pulled into the car dealership to look at a new car, smoke started to rise out of the engine. I hopped out of my car and said to the approaching car sales representative “I’d like to trade-in my car.” He responded, “Do I smell something burning?”

I was stuck. Either I buy a new car or I call a tow truck and a taxi, so I decided to purchase another car and leave my smoking old one with the dealership. It took some convincing, but they credited me $200 for my car and told me I should be paying them to remove it from their dealership.

The other day, I noticed the boxes of old technology I have in storage since I am running out of storage space. I seem to be hoarding a lot of older IT devices and I don’t know why I feel so attached to these old things. It seems like the only time I am willing to part ways with my cars, or my IT assets, is when they stop working. I find it difficult to get rid of things that work perfectly well, even though these devices are out of date.

Many organizations have a similar problem with their IT assets because they do not have a method in which to dispose of them. Companies that are able to control inventory by using ITAM standards usually know how they will dispose of their assets prior to purchasing. Companies that do not have policies for asset disposal can quickly become buried alive in older out-of-date equipment that costs more to operate and support than to simply dispose of them.

When I purchased my car, I decided I would drive that car until it stopped working. Lucky for me, it stopped working the day I decided to look at another car. I accepted several risks with this strategy. For example, I could have broken down and been stranded on a freeway. I would have had unexpected costs such as towing and who knows how much time it would have cost me.

Keeping IT assets until they stop working is not an option for an IT department. Unlike a car, IT equipment becomes outdated very quickly as technology advances at such a rapid rate. Managing the lifecycle of IT assets includes building an exit strategy into your purchase strategy. It is important that organizations understand how long they will keep an asset and how they will refresh it. Without an exit strategy for assets, you could lose control of your inventory which can also become a security problem. Many older assets do not support current security requirements.

Some people purchase or lease a car and then replace it every three years. Although, in the beginning it may appear to be more expensive, one could argue that the overall savings, including time savings, makes it cheaper to replace the car when the warranty expires. There is a much lower risk of having unexpected costs because everything is covered by the warranty. People who keep their vehicles after the warranty expires take on additional risk. Unexpected costs of repairs can tear into a family budget, interfering with projects around the house, vacations, and increased stress as a result of the circumstances.

IT organizations have budgets, and when those budgets are disturbed by unexpected costs that come from audits or repairs, the organization may find that they have to delay existing projects and future projects. I mention audits because if older assets are not disposed, then you could be paying for software licenses on those assets as well. If you are not properly tracking software licenses, you could end up with an unexpected cost against your budget resulting from a software audit.

IT Asset Disposition (ITAD)

IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) provides guidance for policies and processes to dispose of IT Assets.

ITAD processes and services help organizations in the following areas:

IT assets that are no longer needed by an organization need to be disposed of in an environmentally sensitive manner. Many countries have the ability to impose stiff fines to organizations that don’t dispose of IT assets properly.

  • Sensitive data needs to be protected. When disposing of IT assets, methods need to be defined to properly sanitize all hardware that contains sensitive data.
  • If assets are donated to a charitable organization, tax credits might be available to the organization making the donation. If assets can be sold, then an organization can recover some of the money originally used to purchase the assets. Several companies offer ITAD as a service and might be able to help line up charities or buyers for assets that need to be replaced.

Summary

It is important that IT assets are documented properly when they are retired. In Part 2, I will discuss how an internal ITAD process can be created within an ITAM solution to initiate the asset disposal process.