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 Feature
7 April 2010 | Juan Jimenez Blog
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Why do Competent Mechanics Rarely Own Shiny Tools?
This week Juan looks at why aligning your processes to a tool can be an extremely painful and expensive undertaking...

Do you own a vehicle of some kind? If you are like most of us modern homo-sapiens’, you have come to the conclusion that in order to function in this modern society of ours, you must own some sort of conveyance to transport you from one coordinate to another on this green and blue planet of ours.

(Those of you who live in New York, or any other city where the perils of street cleaning, tow trucks and parking violations make it worthwhile to rely on kamikaze taxis and other forms of public transportation can resort to imagining the last time you owned such a mechanical contraption.)

Now that we have established you own one of these, the reality of the condition of ownership is that all things mechanical require maintenance. Owner’s manuals usually present some sort of periodic schedule for preventive maintenance, but the reality is that repairs are not a matter of “if,” they are a matter of “when.”

Think back to the last time your contraption required service. Where did you take it? Did you look for a mechanic whose advertising talks about their shiny new tools? Or did you find someone whose competency would reasonably ensure you would receive a vehicle in operating condition, lacking whatever problems it had when you drove it to the repair shop?

Of course, the point I am trying to make is obvious – people who own vehicles choose mechanics based on their level of competency, rather than on how shiny and new their tools appear to be. The repair of a vehicle is achieved through knowledge and experience – the tools help the person using them achieve the goal by allowing them to perform tasks for which their bodies are not designed. Use the wrong tool for the job, though, and the result is predictably disastrous.

The other point here is something that not all vehicle owners realize – shiny new tools will not improve an incompetent mechanic, but a competent mechanic will make do with whatever tools are in the toolbox. The value of the tool is not in its design, but rather in what it can do in the hands of someone who knows how to use it.

These concepts have a direct relationship to IT Service Management and the selection of tools aligned with ITIL® best practices. Too many organizations are being led down the path to an inevitable disaster by “consultants” and tool vendors who claim “implementing ITIL” can be accomplished by buying and installing an (expensive) tool. This type of advice can only be described with one word – irresponsible.

The folly of such action can be reduced to a mathematical formula: OP + NT = VEOP. (I did not invent this one – if you know who did, let me know so I can give proper credit.) The formula states that if you take an Old Process (OP) and add New Technology (NT), the result is invariable a Very Expensive Old Process (VEOP). Returning to the automobile analogy, if you take several long trips to a single destination and more often than not get lost and arrive late, would you solve the problem by purchasing a new car?

The purpose of tools and the automation they provide is not to fix the processes used to achieve outcomes. They are intended to decrease the variation in the output, increase its quality and allow you to get to your goal faster, once you have established how to do that. It is the process that needs to be established and improved before a tool is selected to assist in its execution. Going back to the incompetent mechanic, training and experience is what will bring improvement to competency levels.

The proper way to go about selecting ITIL-aligned tools for use in your IT Service Management activities is to first define the processes that will be used to achieve the goals your IT staff and customers expect out of them. For example, ITIL-aligned Service Desks will usually follow the general Incident Management workflow, but the details of how each call is handled, what information is logged and the detailed work instructions of each procedure will be different from one organization to another.

Once the processes, activities, procedures and work instructions are defined, along with all the other components in a process model, only then can you begin to consider what tools can be used to make the process more repeatable, scalable, controllable and measurable. Your process requirements will dictate the requirements for the tool to be used. For my clients, I recommend they evaluate tools by ensuring any candidates meet 100% of the mandatory requirements and 80% of the optional requirements.

Categorizing the requirements can be simplified by using a very common and well known technique known as the “MoSCoW Analysis.” It involves classifying requirements into “Must have,” “Should have,” “Could have” and “Would be nice to have.” The “Must have’s” represent then 100% mandatory requirements.

Only then can you begin to examine the options, test against requirements and make a selection that aligns with your processes and activities. Why is this so important?

Because the opposite activity – aligning your processes to a tool – is invariably an extremely painful and expensive undertaking that will alienate everyone in your IT staff as well as your customers.

As always, the point of my blogs is to get readers to think, rather than provide ready-made answers, because I will be the first to admit I do not always have them. Feedback on my blog entries is always welcome!

(ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.)


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