How Gremlins And Vanilla Ice Can Help Us Deliver Better IT Services

After the success of his previous blogs (including The ABC Of ICT — The Top 10 People Issues), Paul Wilkinson of GamingWorks returns with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at IT, IT service management (ITSM), IT service delivery, and this “IT end user thing” some people call a “customer.”

I hope that it makes you smile but, more importantly, I hope that it makes you act. I’ll leave it to Paul . . .

“IT’s not about the IT?” Really?

I’m always surprised — no, amazed — in fact staggered. That’s it, literally staggered, at how poor “we in IT” are at being customer and service focused. Ever since I passed my ITIL v1 exam I have been aware that ITIL (the ITSM best practice framework) has always, always, been about customers and service. David Wheeldon taught me this when I was a “technogeek” who thought that end users were something dangerous and contagious.

I used to think that we should outsource the business, as they got in the way of IT and were simply annoying. David taught me that end users were human after all, just like us, and it was our job to provide services and value to them. I wasn’t convinced initially, but I was willing to be open to the idea.

That was more than 20 years ago, and while we have had ITIL in all its variants for more than 25 years, we still score badly on the customer-focused side of things.

Why does IT struggle with the concept of customers?

Is it because we are genetically incapable of understanding the concept? Are customer expectations changing so quickly that we can never hope to close the gap between them and our delivery? Are we frightened of end users?

Believe me, users don’t glow in the dark nor turn into savage creatures when fed after midnight like Furbies or whatever they were (Stephen: I think you will find they were Mogwai . . . then gremlins . . . but you knew that). I’ve met some and they were really quite pleasant, and I didn’t catch anything after shaking their hands — users that is, not Furbies. Or do we in IT simply not give a hoot?

That’s enough about our views of end users, what do they think of us?

GamingWorks continues to undertake its ABC (Attitude, Behavior, and Culture) workshops and Apollo ITSM simulations all around the world, capturing key customer issues (with IT). And it’s like “Groundhog Day” — today is as it was ten years ago. It’s scary.

In describing IT, these are the top ten ABC cards customers choose:

1.     IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority.

2.     Everything has the highest priority according to the users.

3.     Not my responsibility.

4.     Throwing (ITIL) solutions over the wall and hoping people will follow them.

5.     Too little business involvement in requirements specification and testing.

6.     IT is too internally focused.

7.     Plan, do, stop . . . no real continual improvement focus.

8.     Process managers without authority.

9.     No management commitment.

10.IT thinks it doesn’t need to understand the business to make a business case.

So what can we do to solve this problem?

ITIL publications and examinations (for version 4/2015):

1.     Put pictures of users/customers on the front covers of the new books with the message, “Have you ever seen this person?”

2.     Make it mandatory to interview a user before anybody can get an ITIL certificate. Better still, insist that everybody spend a day in the business before being certified.

3.     Change the books to say all new help desk or service desk staff should first spend a day in the business.

itSMF chapters:

1.     Go out and film three to four users from different industries explaining how they use IT and what they’d like to see change. Ask them what ITSM is to them. Then show these as the opening film at all itSMF conferences worldwide.

2.     Put articles with interviews from users in the itSMF magazines.

3.     Introduce a business stream at the itSMF conferences and involve the users and customers; let them present their views and needs related to ITSM.

4.     Start a new award, a “Save the User!” campaign . . . “Let’s take satisfied IT users off the endangered species list!”

5.     Have a user come on stage with the itSMF project of the year.

ITSM organizations:

1.     Send all your IT staff into the business at least once for a day. Get together and actually agree what customer-focused behavior means and what it looks like. Then hold each other accountable for doing it.

2.     Invite users to come and talk to IT.

Let’s make 2013 the Year of the Customer

This all might seem a little tongue-in-cheek from Paul, but we need to do something and what we’ve done before doesn’t seem to have worked. Maybe we need to take advice from the IT management guru that is Vanilla Ice and simply “stop, collaborate, and listen.” I don’t need to remind you that the internal IT organization no longer has a monopoly on IT service delivery . . . how are you going to continue to win business?

As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated.


I met a was painless

Stephen thanks for reposting this. Thanks for stating 'lets make 2013 the year of the customer', I believe I also stated that at the start of 2012....not a lot happened....I have a feeling of 'Groundhog day' again. I suspect I will be reposting this in 2014 as well. I'd like to make a call to people to leave a comment here about ther action 'send people into the business for a day', tell what happened, what you discovered. I will add one here myself. I did the ABC customer workshop for a group of IT managers. Suggesting they go into the business. The IT manager of a large government organization 'went into the business, not for 1 day but for 3!', he sat for 1 day at the customer desk where citizens came in with requests...he saw how unhandy many of the screens were and saw how they could be made much quicker and more effecient saving many hours in a week......I met him a few months later and he said 'It was an eye opener! I discovered so much about the impact of our systems on their daily work, I saw and felt some of the frustrations, the users were so happy that we in IT spent the time to sit and ask user said to him how pleasant it was to have somebody from It talk to them about their work...she though It people were all technoids...and geeks....' The IT manager started sending his specialists into the business. This acton had changed his attitude and changed his behavior. He now has more talks with the business and this has also started changing the business attitide and engagement with didn't cost much as an action, and the return on value was enormous.

I couldn't agree more! In my

I couldn't agree more! In my previous position as a service delivery manager, every 2 month I went and done a round trip around my company's bigger offices (6 in total) and every 4 month in the smaller offices.
I didn't organise meetings or booked time with office managers. I just grabbed my laptop and went to sit with my customers. I had lunch with them, I say next to them, got to know them, listened into calls, stood by a filing cabinet sorting through archives, cleaned desks for office dos and baby showers, moved furnitures and IT equipment, plugged pulled cables, manned the reception desk and meanwhile I've listened, asked questions and helped them. Sorted out issues which my customers didn't think about as issues. Began process improvements, refreshed IT assets. It was a true pleasure being one with the customers.
And this experience, this approach is what I intend to use in every job I do. In my present one too.

Follow the process, ignore the rest

A few years ago I was a business partner manager within a large bank. According the escalation process, all tickets that exceeded SLA could be escalated by the business to the BPM.

One day I received an email from a business manager that if he logs a ticket with the servicedesk for one of his core services:
- the ticket is often closed without resolution
- the tickets stays open and exceeds SLA timings.

Indeed, I saw a significant history, but although he stated it was business critical to him, all tickets had the lowest priority.
My friends at the servicedesk told me that this was an imaging service, but that the server connected was still running on Windows NT4 and was not supported anymore, so hence the lowest priority. Some of the tickets where even closed with "Not supported" as reason.

The architects told me that, within the NT4 upgrade project, this system could not be upgraded for technical reasons. There where items build into the server that would not function in newer versions.

Hard to believe, so I went to the floor. The business manager and his team where in total shock. Someone from the ICT departement wanted to know what their where doing.

Apparently they where scanning in financial documents and transferred it in a secure way with other banks. Once a week they had a bunch of documents they needed to scan in (automatic feeder). The professional scanner was connected through a SCSI interface to an old server (with SCSI card build in).

Two weeks later, a multifunctional copier with an advanced document scanning option was installed (existing service). Again the business manager was in total shock. After 18 months he finally had a reliable piece of equipment.

The question I had, why was ICT so short sighted. They never questioned why this system was set-up? They say something interfacing with one of their systems and took the conclusion that for this reason, no updated was required.

2013 Year of the ...

I fully agree with Paul, and Stephen's original comment. This is a theme being picked up by a few (ref. Charlie Araujo and www. Let me take the idea a step further - "2013 is the year business takes control of IT".

There's a huge elephant in the IT room. The business has choices, and they're increasing - fast - and becoming more enterprise. If you're in IT and you don't think SaaS and IaaS are competing for ALL of the business, you'd better go look for the elephant.

Are we going to be the change, or the changed?

Thanks Paul for suggesting I put this post up.

Oh no! we started off with

Oh no! we started off with Gremlins and vanilla Ice cream and now we have Elephants in the room. I didn't realize the world of #ITSM was so of my wife's freinds (who is an IT user) suggested I add hobbits 'you IT people are like cave dwelling in your own worlds!', she pointed to the ABC worst practice card ' IT is too internally focused' and said she recognized this. I made the mistake of mentioning this in a small social gathering (sad I know, when you talk about work in a social gathering. being the only IT person in the room I thought I would test their perceptions on the world in which I work). When I mentioned the ABC worst practice cards and described a few of them I received 1 snort! and two grunts from the assembled gathering of 3 people. These were a government employee who relies on IT, a member of the defense organization who relies on IT, and an fraud investigator who relies on IT. The good news is they all rely on IT, the bad news is that they instantly recognized the ABC worst practices and that their perception of IT can be summed up in these monosylabic terms....but then again I am IT, maybe the grunts and snorts are positive feedback.

Sad but true

I very much enjoyed reading this article and (unfortunately) could also relate much of it to my own career in IT. During my time at a major UK bank I made the effort to get the development team to spend a day in a branch seeing how the system they developed was actually used - a significant departure from our view of what we thought they did. It had a big impact. However, it took a lot of perseverance to get this to happen. Most of the push back was from the business reps - we might promise things we couldn't deliver, set the wrong expectations or create an even worse image of IT in the minds of the users. Obviously this didn't happen and much as you describe it was an overall positive experience.

It is disheartening to see that things are not changing and the gap between users and IT is still so wide. I will definitely be advocating "Save a user".

How about adding the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" to you ITSM playlist?

David Wheable, hi. thanks for

David Wheable, hi. thanks for leaving your comment. You are right. I see this so often, Kick back about 'setting expectations', 'promising too much', 'make relationship worse' which reinforced one of the TOP chosen ABC worst practice cards 'IT is too internally focused' and the number 1 customer chosen ABC worst practice card 'IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority'. I can only hope..........HOPE that SDITS/itSMF and perhaps even Forrester in THEIR conferences will devote a stream to the customer. I love the idea of have a badge 'save the user'

I agree with you. In IT

I agree with you. In IT Service Management we started with process focus, we have continued with Service Lifecycle focus and now, the next should be Customer focus. Finally IT is all about people, receiving services and delivering them. Also it is necessary not only focus on Service Management knowledge area, but also un Service Managers responsible for change business. I recommend this site that supports this view:

Kind regards and merry christmas!!

2013 Year of the ...

Thanks Global-Service-Mgr-guy for the web site, I like the attention to business alignment, the good article. Good resource.

I met the user... And I liked it!

This subject reminds me one song :)


We lack the will to attach new age skills

Where that drum - oh there it is - the one labelled - think outside-in!

Why, oh why do we thrash around, gnash our teeth and fiddle away while Rome burns? Its not our decision in It as to whether customer exist, whether they are users, guests, patients, or internal or external.

Customers are real. They can be anyone who just needs to get something done and have to use a veneer or wedding cake layer of IT. They do not care about IT. They care about 'outcomes' (results - getting what they need to do, done), and its best if IT stood for 'invisible technology' in that whole process.

Process - irrelevant - never met a capability level 5 process I liked as a customer - it would inflate the ATM transaction from 4 steps to 24. All visible. Don't mind if 20 remain invisible.

Now for my outside-in pitch - well its not mine really - its the customer. If you can't understand what I need to get done, why and how, get out of the way. If you want to get involved IT, make it easier for me to do my job, easier and cheaper I suppose, although as a customer I'm always open to paying more for a superior experience.

Outside-in is focused on the customer, the 'why', the successful outcomes, and the experience (anything other than visibly less than acceptable) to boot. Its simple, but it does require recognizing customers exist, and are likely the reason you exist at all... apart from your parents ...