As we all know, if you stay where you are then in effect you will be going backwards. So it is for IT service providers. They must continually be looking for ways to improve the services they deliver or to introduce new services that enable new or better business outcomes to be achieved. Being more cost effective - as long as it does not have a detrimental effect on the quality of service - can also be viewed as an improvement.
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With this in mind, therefore, it is important that organisations look for the areas of greatest need of improvement and the areas where effective improvements can be made quickly and at minimal costs. Organisations must change for the better or risk failure.
The ITIL Continual Service Improvement (CSI) book suggests the use of a CSI register to record improvement opportunities. It argues that each initiative should be categorised into small, medium or large undertakings and into quick, medium-term or longer timescales for completion. It is vital that each documented improvement initiative shows the benefits that will be achieved by its implementation together with the business case. With this information a clear prioritised list can be produced. The CSI register will introduce a structure and visibility to service improvement, ensuring that all initiatives are captured and recorded and the benefits realised.
So if we accept that we have to improve and we know we can document all the improvement initiatives and ideas in the CSI register, the next question is where do we get the ideas from? They will come from many sources such as change requests from the customers and IT staff, from measurements and perhaps by using ITIL’s seven-step improvement process, but it is likely that some form of assessment will be required to identify the areas of greatest need. There are many different ways of doing assessments but by conducting a formal assessment, and then acting upon the findings, an organisation is showing a significant commitment to improvement.
After more than 20 years of conducting IT service management assessments, I have never found an organisation where there was a shortage of ideas or improvement initiatives that could be identified. There are advantages with conducting the assessment internally - the main one being cost - but there is a value in having an external assessment as the assessors will not have any preconceived ideas and are likely to have assessed many other organisations. Experience has also shown that when conducting interviews people are more open with a non-member of staff.
Here is a baker’s dozen of tips for conducting an assessment:
- If using an external company, select carefully ensuring independence.
- Make sure everyone is aware of the assessment and the reason for it – people can get very suspicious if clear communications are not undertaken.
- Make sure the assessment is planned. For example, a meeting room or office set aside for interviews, all IT section representatives are included in the interview schedule, IT customer representatives also included. I once conducted an assessment where 12 interviews were cancelled at the last minute – frustrating but it said something about the organisation in terms of commitment to improving.
- Use a standard set of questions for the interviews but when interviewing don’t be too rigid, allowing the interviewees to say what they want to say.
- It is imperative that customers are included in the interview schedule but if this is an external assessment ensure no IT staff are present, to allow them full freedom to talk.
- Attend relevant meetings such as a change advisory board meeting or service review meeting.
- Observe areas such as the service desk and the event management area in operation.
- Look at documentation to check its accuracy and completeness. Analyse all the assessment findings and check for accuracy and where discrepancies have occurred - it's common for a member of IT to say one thing and a customer to say something quite different, for example.
- Don’t just focus on processes but also look at the lifecycle as a whole, the organisational structure, the use of technology and communication channels. Look at the interfaces in place between the business units and IT unit at strategic, tactical and operational levels.
- Produce a report detailing all improvement requirements for inclusion in the CSI register and a maturity rating if required - many companies like to get some form of rating which is useful when comparing with others but also when comparing with yourself on subsequent assessments.
- Produce and present the key findings, ideally to everyone who was interviewed.
- Re-visit the assessment every one or two years to ensure improvement is keeping pace with the requirements.
- And finally don’t believe everything you are told in interviews – check out your information.
Vernon Lloyd (pictured) is honorary life vice president of the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF UK).