IT service management going social

IT professionals have to face the fact that social networking is no longer just the domain of families and friends trying to stay in touch with each other or businesses trying to reach out with enhanced customer intimacy. It is emerging as a potential killer app within IT teams striving for continual service improvement, collaborative effort and efficiencies in the way knowledge is retained and shared.

By: Chris Dancy, Bradley Busch and Kathryn Howard

If you have not observed the increasingly pervasive influence of social media on business activity, then you are missing a huge transformation in the way the people communicate with each other.

Facebook has more than 900 million active users. If it were a nation, it would be the third largest in the world. Meanwhile, Twitter has over 140 million users and LinkedIn is rapidly becoming a powerful business network for recruitment and knowledge sharing. That’s just the start of it.

Social media is also increasingly embedded into business processes through services such as Yammer, GoToMeeting and Skype. The good news for IT professionals is that all of these social media services can be applied to supporting IT’s core function of getting on with making sure the business gets the highest possible levels of IT service and the best possible bottom line returns on its technology investments.

Social media and ITSM

In relation to IT Service Management (ITSM) improvement programs, social tools are also emerging in some organisations’ core processes for ITIL staples such as Incident Management, Problem Management and Change Management. Internal blogs, chat rooms and searchable discussion forums for self help and peer support as well as file sharing functions, “like” buttons, comments, discussions, polls and “follow” author functions are all becoming far more common in relation to service delivery operations.

Meanwhile, vendors of ITSM toolsets and services are starting to recognise the explosive growth of social media by leveraging its direct communication benefits in the way they develop and implement solutions for their customers.

While there is always going to be some form of natural human resistance to these changes, many in the industry feel that social media tools represent a snowball that is rapidly gathering momentum. It is still in its infancy, so, perhaps the best innovations are yet to be discovered.

Chris Dancy, senior product marketing manager at ITSM toolset vendor, ServiceNow and regular conference presenter all over the world, is an evangelist for the role that social media can play in ITSM improvement. He feels there is a strong relationship between social media and ITSM, particularly since the introduction of newer versions of popular best practice frameworks such as COBIT and ITIL which facilitate closer collaboration between business and IT.

“ITSM has long been accused of lacking a customer-centric focus,” Dancy said. “While COBIT 5 and ITIL 2011 have moved much of the frameworks to focus on services and business value, the actual mechanisms to capture critical feedback and create engagement are still not addressed via process, nor in most tools.

“With the advent of new social tools, skills and metrics, the door has been opened to create a much richer environment of continual service improvement by embracing social elements at the service design level. I would go as far as to say that social media is the foundation of continual service improvement.”

Unleashing social IT’s capabilities

Dancy believes there are multiple “capabilities” that can be leveraged and designed into IT service processes that enhance communication, collaboration, resolution and continual improvement. At the top of his list were social profiling, activity streams, open feedback systems, commenting systems and mobility and location services.

“These core elements create new value propositions and data gathering capabilities that traditional ITSM tools and processes have been missing,” Dancy said. “It is all about knowledge management and knowledge sharing.

“The net result of the consumer and enterprise socialisation movement is deeper data assets which can be examined to extract meaningful analysis in regards to sentiment, reputation and influence of objects.

“Those objects can take any form and range in size from a hash tag to a sprawling enterprise documentation knowledge system to a server farm. The behaviours, tools and outcomes of social IT are very real and represent a shift in the way IT organisations and knowledge workers complete tasks.”

A great example of how the value of object-oriented database management systems is now better understood lies in the fact that both search giants Google and Bing are building huge databases of objects to improve the quality of queries. These allow better context for search engines to determine what the user is interested in when they search about a topic.

It’s all about customer intimacy

Bradley Busch is on the executive Board of Management for the Australian chapter of global independent industry association, the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF). itSMF is focused on sharing knowledge and building awareness about the value international standards and best practice frameworks bring to the governance and management of IT services.

He said that, at the end of the day, good ITSM is about customer intimacy and that the ITSM community is rapidly discovering that social tools have the capability to support this objective and can help to deliver IT services that “really work”.

With such a high uptake of social media and an enormous technology choice occurring outside the workplace, Busch believes it is just natural for customers of IT services to expect the same “delightful” technology experiences within the workplace.

“ITSM practitioners now rely on seamless tools that create customer value,” Busch said. “Customer expectations are increasing and their tolerance for failure is decreasing. This is because the whole industry has matured and user friendly tools and applications are abundant in their external social media communications.

“Effective ITSM is all about helping IT to meet ever increasing business and user demands and to embed a cycle of continuous improvement to keep delighting customers. It is totally reliant on good communication between those seeking support and those charged with delivering it.

“Leveraging popular social media tools and practices as part of the greater effort to deliver effective IT services makes good sense because it is a communication medium that creates more intimate interaction.”

Over the page: Generation Next’s native language

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Generation Next’s native language

As the IT-focused and broader work-force begins to induct the next generation which is highly attached to the concept of social media, the value proposition of using it as a service delivery enhancement tool is multiplied.

Busch said that social media already represents “the native language of help desk staff” who are generally young graduates. He espoused some examples of how core ITSM processes are enhanced by the use of social tools.

“In Incident Management there can be a faster response which creates less friction between the service provider and the consumer,” Busch said. “It adds a channel that customers are already familiar with and allows for better filtering of inbox noise that is not directly relevant to their given tasks.

“Customers only have to follow the information channels that affect them most such as outages, upgrade notices, innovations and new services, etc. Gamification is another social media trend emerging in ITSM because it can be effective in reinforcing valued customer and IT Staff behaviour.

“For Problem Management there is improved access to specialist resources. Think of systems such as LinkedIn’s skill profiles. Such systems can be utilised to place retained, self-help knowledge from discussions and a clear understanding of who to go to for more detailed expertise.

“Where Change Management is concerned, there is almost unlimited potential to provide better, broader and more human communication to the enterprise about IT changes.”

The collaborative tipping point

ServiceNow’s Dancy said that many of the organisations he speaks to at conferences, through webinars and in customer engagements are at the stage where “collaboration, feedback and engagement have reached a critical tipping point”.

“Most have started with internal collaboration within an activity stream while organisations which are more mature in social IT are looking to unify the customer experience regardless of an individual knowledge worker’s relationship to the company,” Dancy said. “Irrespective of whether they are communicating with internal or external staff, a customer, a vendor or a partner, in each channel they have come to understand the value of socialised tools and are looking to push the envelope even further.

“I would suggest that it is one of the fastest growing areas of IT service delivery and there is still tremendous opportunity to innovate here at all levels of the IT service delivery supply chain.”

Communication has changed

Adapting to the new landscape is a challenge for IT departments according to itSMF Australia’s Busch. He said that they have to “primarily realise that communication has fundamentally changed”.

“The old push communication is shifting to a pull dynamic where users seek out the channels and updates that are of interest or relevance to them,” Busch said. “Controlling the message becomes guiding the message with transparency and authenticity of conversations becoming the key element.

“There needs to be a realisation that in some cases the user may be more tech savvy than the IT support person. Customers want choice in how they consume the data that is important to them. The concept of BYO device and ‘appification’ demonstrates a mentality amongst users that ‘You own the data but I own how I consume it’.

“The boundaries between the organisation and the world are continuing to blur as we speak and we are increasingly seeing hyper specialised contractors who work for many employers at the same time often from offshore locations. This is making communication skills as well as workload management and co-ordination more important than ever. Social Media allows people to collaborate effectively across location, time and organisation boundaries to deliver seamless and valuable customer outcomes.”

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

It is not all beer and skittles however in adopting social IT platforms in the IT service delivery workplace. There are challenges and risks involved but most can be successfully negotiated if managed correctly at the service design stage.

In the broader social media space, it is almost a daily occurrence to hear of the latest social media faux pas and any individual activity has the potential to be taken out of context and then go viral.

“People seem to speak their mind and disclose more than they should in social media which is not always appropriate for the workplace,” Busch said. “To mitigate against this, organisations need to have clear policies, plans and training in place. As well they need leaders who are active in corporate social media setting the tone for what is acceptable behaviour.

“There is also the risk of over-promising and under-delivering when it comes to social media initiatives within IT departments. It doesn’t have to be a stated project to implement social IT elements. Rather it should be an organic process where functionalities are tested, added and continually improved upon as clients join in the conversation. Real time social media metrics such as sentiment, follows, likes and shares can be used to measure the success of the communication strategy.

“It should also never be a means by which existing processes and structures are allowed to breakdown. Most organisations have made significant strides on their journeys to IT service improvement, so social tools need to be a complement to the following of traditional procedures and governance around incidents, problems and changes.”

So what’s the rub?

Dancy believes there are clear benefits afforded to IT departments that embrace the social media phenomenon as part of the way they deliver and improve services to the business.

“Benefits derived from the introduction of social elements in any enterprise system including ITSM are usually realised in stages,” Dancy said. “The first stage is the emergence of improved time to resolution for common questions and fixes. This is closely followed by the benefits for new employees who onboard with social systems such as activity streams that allow an unprecedented level of cultural, operational and acquired knowledge transparency.

“There is also a cleared pathway to dynamic real time support including better engagement with customers and better tools for finding, managing and measuring conversations and feedback. These improved interactions with customers will inevitably lead to higher customer satisfaction levels.”

Chris Dancy, Bradley Busch and itSMF Australia’s social media policy co-ordinator, Kathryn Howard will participate in a keynote discussion panel on social media and ITSM as part of itSMF Australia’s LEADit 2012 National Conference and Expo event to be held at the Gold Coast Conference and Exhibition Centre from 19-22 August.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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