ITIL® and Me

In the trenches with ITIL and ITSM.

“Dear journal,

It’s day five of my journey.  The temperature is over 100 degrees (I think it is anyway, since people here don’t believe in the universal measurement of Fahrenheit), I’ve already braved free wifi on trains, falafel and hummus for lunch almost every day, cab drivers that can put NASCAR to shame, and the waves from the Mediterranean are almost unbearable when I’m trying to sleep.  When Mark Twain mentions a ‘desolate country’ in Innocents Abroad, I finally understand what he means…

Of course, I now know he’s referring to the IT industry in Ohio, because nothing could be further from the truth when describing technology in the Holy Land.”

- Michael Slabodnick, 8/8/2013

 

And with that, I boarded the train into Tel Aviv to visit one of the native ITSM vendors in Israel, SysAid.  Two trains and a cab ride later, I arrived at the office.  I instantly recognized the steps they used to film their “SysAdmin day video” and I was greeted by my (now) friend and colleague, Dena Wieder-Freiden.  I got a chance to meet several people in the company, learn about how a native Israeli company works (and some of it involves an X-Box), talk about the future of ITSM tools, enjoy a happy-hour in a bomb shelter (it’s Israel after all) and, most importantly, was given my own personal tour of SysAid 9.1 from a very cool brit by the name of Josh Phillips (he prefers Firefox but I’m sure he’ll come around to Chrome eventually).

During the demo of SysAid I saw a lot features that were simply “OOC” (Out of Cloud) and, given my experience with technology in ITSM, I have to say I was quite impressed.  The only sad part of the demo was that it ended and I didn’t have a chance to get my “hands dirty” to take the technology for a test-drive of customization.  But needless to say, here’s a quick itemized summary of what I liked:

1.  A simple, clean interface

9.1 is the most recent version and I honestly was surprised when the program launched; not much was on the screen except an incident list.  It’s not to say that all the screens are hidden and difficult to find.  It’s just that the interface is clean and simple.  Navigation is done through main sections at the top of the screen, drilling into a record shows a “breadcrumb” that easily takes the user back to the main navigation screen, and each record has tabs that keeps fields logically separated so the screen isn’t too cluttered.  Searching/sorting was pretty easy to accomplish through the column headers.  I like clean and I like simple, so when it’s together I’m happy.

2.  Cloud

I was surprised to learn that SysAid was created in 2002 with the original intent of being delivered by SaaS.  Keep in mind, I’ve always thought of ServiceNow as the SaaS ITSM tool pioneer, but it was created in 2004…two years after SysAid.  Score one for Israeli innovation (nothing against Fred Luddy – you already know I only write Chuck Norris blogs for things that I love).

3.  Built around the core IT processes

One thing I will say is that SysAid is not a platform, but that’s not a bad thing.  It covers the core ITSM processes (Incident, Request Fulfillment, Change, Problem, Asset/CMDB), and as a technology, works quite well for automating IT processes.  Of course, it’s not a good idea for an organization to change to fit the tool, so I was also happy to see that customizations in SysAid were pretty easy to make.

4.  Lots of “extras” to help IT meet demand

During the demo I was taken through the menu and shown how SysAid also can manage mobile assets, focused around BYOD.  Keep in mind this is OOC; no add-ons required for management of phones and tablets.  At one point my demo host, Josh, even made a statement that matches my belief; “SysAid isn’t out to manage the device, but only wants to manage the data.”  Eureka!  I made the same claim in a previous blog post (check out my BYOD Manifesto), so I was excited to hear that someone designed their product around the same idea regarding mobile devices and BYOD.

Other “extras” I enjoyed seeing had to do with automatic screenshot capture during an application error, user chat and queues, type-ahead search on the knowledge base, and a very needed “Show Me How” tutorial system to guide me through the demo so I could adjust quickly to the tool.  Even though these are all features that can be found in other tools, SysAid is an epitome of the phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

 

There you have it, my impression and review of SysAid.  It’s not a platform like ServiceNow, and it’s not intended to be, but it hits well on all the core IT processes and, as a cloud application, is scalable for any size organization.  Also, as an Israeli company with a brilliant and eclectic group of individuals (I referred to them as the United Nations, given the mix of nationalities in the company), SysAid demonstrates how a relatively small IT vendor can build a solid and reliable product, with the key features required to “get the job done”….much like a Swiss Army Knife.

I’m sad to say that my tour in Israel has come to an end and I’m back in the good ‘ole USA.  Despite the fact that I was in the land of Milk & Honey for two weeks, I really only spent about two days of it bumming around Tel Aviv and talking to my colleagues and friends in the IT world.  Yes, I do have a few good blog posts to write from my trip, but while I’m collecting my thoughts (and taking my sweet time doing it) and putting together topics, I want to start with a general summary that, if you can’t read anything else, will give you a good overview of my technology travels in the Holy Land.

There’s tech, tech, and more tech!

I have never been in a place where I could drive in a single day and see offices for Microsoft, CA Technologies, BMC, Google, AT&T, Intel, Xerox….the list goes on and on!  Just about everywhere you go, there’s some technology park or office building that has several dozens of technology companies, with at least one or two bearing internationally recognizable names.  Not only that, the Israeli infrastructure supports a culture where people are continually connected to the internet.  I found that the trains have free wifi and power, I had a strong 3G signal on the top of Mount Masada, and even one of the oldest cities in the world has free wifi.  Come on – if a city that dates back possibly 7,500 years can get free wifi, certainly the airports in the US can do the same (unless we need to wait 3,000 more years for it).  My point is that Israel isn’t just a place where IT has grown by accident, but rather by years of cultural evolution established by societal needs to make the most of technology…and it’s very prevalent everywhere you go.

Technology is great.  Service Management…not so much.

What surprised me the most about IT in Israel is that for all the technology and the cultural entrepreneurship, Service Management is pretty behind compared to the US or UK.  It’s not to say ITSM doesn’t exist at all in Israel; I’ve found a few colleagues in the space that are the die-hard evangelists for Service Management and they are doing some fantastic work, but as a country leading the world in IT innovation, it’s sorely lacking.  But when I think about the reasons why ITSM isn’t strong in Israel, I’m not really surprised after all.  Here are a few of the key reasons:

1.  Israel is a ‘Start-Up Nation.’  There’s no need to focus on process or business value when technologically innovative companies are most likely to be purchased by international companies at a nice profit.  Once purchased, the entrepreneurs move on to another project.

2.  IT in Israel is experiencing major growth and profitability.  Typically, in such economies no one tends to focus on IT process to be as “efficient as possible.”

3.  Technology and computer development is strongly emphasized over process.  There’s a reason why several IT companies (Apple, BMC, CA, etc.) have R&D campuses in Israel, and it has nothing to do with ITIL.

4.  IT (and the people) move quickly in Israel.  When it comes to IT process, it can take several months to over a year to establish and improve a process.  At the rate IT is growing in Israel, the technology is quickly outpacing the process; and the people in Israel like to move just as quickly.

5.  With everyone expressing an opinion, changing culture can be tough.  I really think “customer service” needs to be renamed “opinionated service,” because in Israel everyone has an opinion and likes to express it.  While it can be a shock as an American getting used to an Israeli mindset, I also found that it’s quite refreshing to have almost everyone care about the choices I make.  As an example, my wife was out to lunch with my son and he didn’t like the food (not surprising since he’s a picky 3-year-old).  Since my son was eating my wife’s food, she decided to just pay for another order for him.  When my wife asked the server for a new dish, the server stated something like “Why?  That’s too much food.  Just give him some of yours and he’ll be fine.  I’ll get you a plate.”  And really, the server was right and saved us a few dollars of wasting food.  My point about the story is that while there’s an opinion given in every interaction, it’s done so because everyone treats you as a human, not just as a “paycheck” that will give you whatever you want just because you’ll pay money.

Entrepreneurship comes from innovation, which comes from survival.

To recap the general situation in Israel; there are about 7 million Israeli citizens, living in a country that’s about 27,000 square kilometers in size (a little bigger than New Jersey), surviving in a geography that’s about 60% desert, with no oil or natural resources to draw upon, and surrounded by 22 Arab countries that contain a cumulative population of over 300 million people that historically have announced intentions of destroying Jews in the Near East region of Asia.  Yet, somehow Israel has come to be a leading innovator in the world.  While I can confidently state that Israel’s greatest asset is the people, I also don’t want to ignore a quote from General George S. Patton that “pressure makes diamonds.”   In such an environment and with such pressure that’s part of everyday life (how many of you can say you’ve had a happy hour in a bomb shelter?), it’s no wonder innovation, technology and entrepreneurship are key values in the Israeli culture.  It’s not a country that sits back and waits for things to happen; doing so has historically never worked out well for Israel.  Because of the history and culture, young people aren’t afraid to take risks to create a start-up and push a new idea or technology.  While not every software company in Israel has the luck of Waze, the aura of innovation permeates society and people like to move quickly to turn ideas into reality.  It’s refreshing to be in such an environment compared to the boring, mundane IT life in Ohio.

 

There you have a quick summary of my impression of IT in Israel.  I’m sorry it took me a few weeks to get this out, but now that we’re going into Rosh Hashana (שנה טובה לחברים שלי), I’m becoming a little more contemplative and will hopefully be publishing more detailed blog posts.  Until then, may you be inscribed into the Book of Life for a good year!

Here I am, sitting at the airport and waiting to board my flight to Tel Aviv.  It’s going to be a great two weeks hanging out on the beach with my family and mingling with Tel Aviv natives (Obama, eat your heart out!):

But…with my inquisitive personality and love for technology, am I just going to sit unplugged for the fourteen days while lounging by the Med or hiking through minefields (http://twitter.yfrog.com/0ehu8z?sa=0)?  Hell, no!  I’ll be pounding the pavement of the hot streets of Tel Aviv and visiting a few IT companies to learn the latest of the ITSM world in the land of milk and honey.  So, my iPhone’s GSM chip is unlocked, my Israeli sim card is ready, I have all my tech gear, and there’s falafel and hummus waiting for me when I land.  To give a preview of my trip’s events, here are the companies who will be graciously hosting me during my IT sabbatical in the holy land:

Ayehu (http://www.ayehu.com)

I first met with Ayehu two years ago during a different visit to Israel.  During that trip I had a chance to demo their product called eyeShare and needless to say, I fell in love with its capabilities.  I later helped build a proof of concept at one of my employers and I admit that I’ve missed working on the product since moving into the dark world of IT consulting.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the tool has advanced and the direction it’ll be taking.

BMC (http://www.bmc.com)

OK, so BMC isn’t native to Israel.  But with the help of a good friend in the ITSM community (I owe you Chris), I’ll have a chance to talk with the Israeli branch to see what they’re doing in the market.  Since Israel has a large pool of technical talent, many companies have built R&D centers in Israel and I’m hoping to get a chance to see if any cool things will be coming out for BMC.

ServiceNow (http://www.servicenow.com)

So, here’s another non-Israeli company.  But come on, anyone who’s read my blog knows I’m a huge ServiceNow fan.  I couldn’t visit Israel without getting in touch with someone from ServiceNow to hear what they’ve been up to.  Given the concentration of tech in Israel, this group has a good chance of making some waves in the community.

SysAid (http://www.sysaid.com)

Anyone with a sense of humor that celebrates sys admin’s day will know SysAid (Revenge of the SysAdmin).  Their videos are hilarious, it looks like a fun place to work, and I heard that they’re becoming a “mobile first” type of tool (which I love).  I’m looking forward to getting a chance to really see their product (and I’m hoping to get Tony’s autograph).

During the next week I hope to have some good video, pictures and of course, blog posts of my journey.  Since this is a vacation, I’ll also be enjoying the sun, falafel, and trying to understand my 3 year old since I heard he’s now only speaking Hebrew.

During the past few days I had the fun and privilege of spending time at two ServiceNow user groups here in Ohio (I recommend not visiting Cleveland in July – the hail is brutal).  After the time of learning about ServiceNow, seeing cool features planned in future releases, and generally talking with my fellow fans and cohorts of the product (along with enjoying the fine beverages served during happy hour), I was talking to a friend and colleague about the future of ITSM tools and I had a chance to brainstorm what the next five to ten years may look like.  I certainly won’t make the claim as being someone that can successfully predict the future, but I came to the conclusion that the next “big” thing isn’t just a new tool or technology, and it’s not even automating our tools or technology, but rather what I’m waiting to see is some intelligence in a tool.  And not only intelligence, but something that can actually improve itself over time.

I’d like to take a step back and give a picture of where we are today.  IT is going through some fantastic changes and in the ITSM industry, there’s a player called ServiceNow that is currently the 800 pound gorilla in the market.  The tool came from humble beginnings in the mid-2000′s in which no one had a product in the market that was using web 2.0 technologies.  Sure, Remedy, CA and HP were all big players, but their tools were built on proprietary languages and still had to be hosted onsite.  So when ServiceNow hit the market and not only was a cloud-based solution, but was also easy to develop for as a platform, it’s no wonder the product has grown so quickly and by so much.  Getting back to today, ServiceNow is now (that’s a lot of “nows”) positioning itself to be an enterprise platform for applications used by people outside of IT.  In other words, it’s going away from just being another ITSM tool and the recent marketing material suggests that’s where Fred and Frank want to take the product.

Moving ahead slightly into the future, I’m going to guess that we’ll eventually see another product come out that, like ServiceNow, will start small, be built on the recent common technologies, will have the potential to be a platform as well as be something that has an ease of development, will incorporate best practice ITSM processes, and will be inexpensive for IT departments to not only purchase, but also to implement.  If such a tool also includes a social media and mobile platform, then it’s sure to disrupt ServiceNow’s market in ITSM.  But such a product will only disrupt, not dethrone.  And there is where the conversation over dinner turned into answering the question….what will dethrone ServiceNow in ITSM?  And please keep in mind, I specifically put “in ITSM” for the very good reason that ServiceNow is looking to be an enterprise platform and competing on such a level will probably take a force of nature.  But change the scope to only IT and the core processes, and the field of competition will change as well.

In the IT world we’ve had a few interesting themes that I’d like to bring to attention.  First, analytics.  How to take data (and probably a lot of it) and find meaningful patterns, preferably to help make intelligent decisions.  Second, artificial intelligence.  With AI, we want to essentially automate finding the patterns and making the decisions.  I think the best quote I’ve heard in the context of this blog posting is “Artificial intelligence is common sense wrapped around an algorithm.” – Christopher Dancy.  With that in mind I hope you know where I’m going with the “evolution” in ITSM tools…automated intelligence.

I describe the idea (and I’m sure other people want this and have stated it, so I won’t say I’m the first to think of it) of automated intelligence as that of an IT product that can take in vast amounts of data, or inputs, and over time start to identify patterns to the inputs that leads to high probably of correct outputs.  In other words, it’s something that just learns how people in an organization operate and eventually starts to learn what they want.  Of course, there would need to be some kind of algorithm that needs to rank the probably of outputs, and human intervention is a necessity to ensure people have input into the process.

Now, does any of this sound familiar to you?  I hope so, because Google is already providing such a service on their webpage.  The Google search takes input, and based on several pieces of data (your location, search history, page ranking, etc.) it gives results based on what you want to find.  In the ITSM world it wouldn’t be as simple as displaying web pages, but in our IT world each request really only provides one of a small handful of results; someone needs something fixed, someone needs information, or someone needs something new.  Those three items can be translated to creation of an incident ticket, direction to a knowledge article, or creation of a service request.  Could it get more complex?  Absolutely, but for purposes of this blog post I’d rather keep it simple.

And this is where Google has the lead; they already have the experience and technology for being able to take input and provide a ranking of outputs.  Not only do they have the experience, but they have the experience based on the human practice of typing searches into a free-text format.  When it comes to the ITSM world, they would even have an easier time with providing correct results as several pieces of data would be in a structured environment and easy for an algorithm to search.

So Google has the advantage, but why even try to go with automated intelligence?  My thinking is simple:  The goal is to have a way to have an IT tool improve itself, and with improvement based on the patterns and behaviors of the environment.  As an example of how such a system could work, let me lay out a scenario of a high priority incident.  It has information such as the location, CI, key words in the description, etc., etc.  Eventually that information provided on the incident form creates the actual P1 incident and during its life it gets passed around between groups, until something major goes wrong and the (hopefully they have one) incident manager opens a bridge to resolve the incident.  Fast forward to weeks or months into the future and another incidents gets created matching most of the input from the previous incident.  The person created the incident saves it with a P1 and assigns it to some group as the previous ticket.  At this point, an intelligent system would match that inputs are similar, and immediately prompt the incident manager that a similar ticket was created that required a bridge to be opened for resolution.  In this case, a previous experience matched to an outcome would help automate matching a similar experience to the same outcome.  Ironically, it’s the exact same way that humans work where experience influences our behavior.

When you consider how Google works, it just takes input and matches it to output based on previous experience, and often by using the search experience of others.  Us humans work the same way, so why can’t our tools do it?  Sure, the algorithms will be complex and will always need tweaking, and it’s something that will build value over time, but why can’t it work?  We’re simply dealing with inputs and outputs and matching them from previous experience.  If Google can become a multibillion dollar company from the concept, certainly the ITSM industry is ready for a tool that does it as well.