Great customer service

a satisfied customer
a satisfied customer

A colleague recently told me of a poor experience she had with the IT department. She was involved in an international video conference and one of the remote sites could not connect. A call to the IT department went to voice mail. When IT was finally roused, they called the remote end, could not make contact so left a message and placed the incident on hold.

The impression this left was of an incompetent IT department, leading to the comment “… if they can’t even set up a video call, why would we trust them with any part of the business strategy?”

So how does an IT Department become excellent at customer service? It may surprise you, but I have a few simple steps (simple to say, difficult to do).

1. Process. The IT department needs good processes to ensure that calls are properly prioritised, escalated, resolved and reported upon. The ITIL incident, problem and change processes are essential. Add in knowledge, service level and configuration management and you’re cooking with gas.

2. People. Staff with a great customer service attitude put their heart and soul into effective communications and getting the customer back up and running. The challenge is to elucidate this talent within the constraints of agreed process. Sometimes front line staff have to go around processes or bend policies, but this must be the exception rather than the rule and non-compliance must be reviewed without blame. It may be an opportunity to improve the process or to re-enforce the reasons why things are done a certain way.

3. Technology. Good people and processes using a well adapted technology is a baseline for any organization to be successful. An IT service desk should have up to date tools – excel spreadsheets only work in small organizations and software as a service applications are available at a very competitive price.

4. Continuous improvement. Every poor interaction with a customer is an opportunity to improve customer service. Measure satisfaction with each interaction, identify underlying causes of dissatisfaction. These can be classified in an improvement register to tackle the high impact, low effort initiatives first. The video conferencing example from above should be solved with changes to process if it is a systemic or high impact event.

There are two qualifications to the above which need to be understood by decision makers. First, customer service improvements are neither free nor immediate. When you invest, the service delivery manager should be held accountable for real improvements in customer service. Second, if the systems that people use are not well adapted to their work, they will be dissatisfied no matter what the IT department does. Effective and timely investment in technology, done correctly, will immediately boost morale in the company.

So how happy are you with your technology?

Don’t get comfortable, the internet of things is coming

Flat out
Flat out

The role of a chief information officer in a large company has its challenges. They have to intermediate between the messy world of business and the even messier world of IT. Their focus is on the risks, costs and opportunities of today and they have few resources to prepare for the future.

I would argue that the next big challenge in IT is something that most CIOs are not ready for. This is the integration of information technology (IT) with operational technology (OT). It is a question of how we manage the internet of things – devices communicating over the internet without human interaction.

To give a personal example, as CIO I supported the operation of a newly purchased ore crushing machine (OT) at a remote mine site. The machine needed to run optimization software that was hosted on the vendor’s computers. This meant connecting the machine through our corporate network (IT) to the vendor. The vendor had no security accreditation and did not offer the security tools that we insisted on from our regular IT suppliers.

The machine had been purchased and the investment in a second communications link was substantial. In the end we accepted an increased security risk, given the costs of mitigation.

There are 3 big challenges with the internet of things:

  1. Security. As soon as we connect devices to the internet, there is massively increased opportunity for malicious attack. Hackers from anywhere in the world may obtain access, as highlighted by Mandiant. Many suppliers of OT do not have the resources to invest in properly secured systems.It is just a matter of time before serious mechanical or safety incidents occur. The Stuxnet virus destroyed hardware used to enrich uranium in Iran, but also infected over 200 Australian based devices. The Australian Government Computer Emergency Response Team found that 35% of attacks were non-targeted and indiscriminate.
  2. Integration. As the complexity of internet of things devices increases, so does the ability to store and utilize data. This data needs to be exchanged efficiently with corporate IT systems, however there are few standards.One example I came across recently was from an engraving firm. They had a web site through which customers could place their orders. To get the details into the connected engraving machine required them to rekey all the data, leading to errors and wasted time.
  3. Purchasing. The people buying OT hardware and software have a focus on the performance of the system. They are often less expert at understanding the license conditions and costs of ongoing support. It is not uncommon to see the same corporate license purchased more than once in an organization.

Some organizations are taking the bull by the horns. At the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, they have put the engineering services for recording and digital editing under the CIO. The critical infrastructure providers such as the utilities and airports have invested in professional approaches to OT. For many however, this is another problem just waiting to happen.

Do you have any plans for the internet of things?

Will we all be playing games at work?

Playing games
Game on

One of the most interesting pick from Gartner’s technology trends for 2013 was the imminent impact of gamification on the enterprise of tomorrow. The argument goes that 70% of Americans hate their job, but many go home at night to complete routine tasks in front of a computer screen by playing computer games (from Angry Birds to Resident Evil). Now if games developers have created scenarios where people want to achieve, why should we not do this in the workplace?

There are good examples of gamification being used for marketing, customer engagement and training. I have been wondering how the game strategy might be manifested in the dreary workplace of IT systems that I know and love. I decided to pick an area that I know– IT service desks – and imagine a gamed environment.

There need to be 3 components in a good game – an objective, a reward and a compelling environment.

1. The objective. Service desks should be measuring 3 key areas – staff productivity, service level breaches and customer satisfaction. The last of these is fairly difficult to manipulate (unless your father owns a chocolate factory).

For staff productivity, the obvious approach is to measure number of calls actioned. A more interesting strategy would be to measure how long it takes an analyst to fill in fields and move around the screen, very much like hand eye co-ordination games.

Service level breaches are often a result of poor interactions between first and second level teams. Providing visibility to expiring service levels and meaningful rewards could motivate the second level staff to pick up tickets and find speedy resolutions.

Customer satisfaction is the gold standard of measures (especially net promoter scores). The front line staff can have a major impact, but ultimately the result shows how well the whole IT team is working. The environment needs to make it easy for customers to give feedback.

2. Rewards. For sure there is merit in conventional rewards against objectives, but they have to be used carefully within the context of a game. True gamification requires that the rewards are integral to the game. For example a service desk analyst might get an “immediate escalation power” as a reward. This lets him or her prioritise a call in the queue and may improve their customer satisfaction score, leading to further reward.

Analysts at the second level, may accumulate a virtual currency (e.g. tchotchkes) every time a call is solved through a known problem that they resolved. This would encourage them to quickly analyse escalated tickets and create, then solve problems. The tchotchkes may be used to buy training on new technology, to develop system improvements or just to browse the internet. For many analysts visible mastery is reward enough, for others they can see work as an epic quest.

Games could have some level of randomization to add interest and fairness. The supervisor could create a shiniest shoe award one day or a best overheard service call reward.

3. The environment. Maybe the most challenging area for change is the visual and social environment. The screens for conventional service desk tools are a myriad of tabs and fields, a long way from the background in Call of Duty. Analysts could arrange their own screens, introduce background graphics and link their own visuals to objectives (e.g. a fire breathing dragon appears when service levels are breached).

Of more importance is the social environment. Staff must feel part of a great team, with a mixture of healthy competition and collaboration. A visible leader board can provide status to successful analysts. The game must provide opportunities for high score gamers to coach lower achievers and create team outcomes where everyone can win together.

Staff might get stressed about the scores that they do achieve, leading to higher absenteeism and higher turnover. It might be that having game objectives that are not explicitly linked to personal performance objectives is an advantage.

One of the exciting aspects of gamification is that it gives management a whole new set of levers to pull. With sufficient measurement and continuous improvement, managers should be able to adapt the games to deliver the organizational outcomes they wish to achieve, without the unintended consequences that are inevitable in any measurement regime.

How do you feel about going to work to play a game?

Is technology too expensive?

Leap of faith
Leap of faith

Successful business leaders ensure that the scarce resources available to them are best used. They focus on all aspects of spending and ask is it absolutely necessary? Is there a cheaper way of doing this? Can we squeeze out more for the same cost?

Given the challenges of the last few years, most of the low hanging fruit has already been harvested. The competitive pressure has not come off and CEOs are looking to balance an increased demand for services with a reduced ability to attract income. There are 3 main options to achieve this:

1. Transformational change. Radically changing the operating model through acquisition, amalgamation or strategic repositioning is an option. James Carlopio from the World Future Society suggests that these efforts fail 50-80% of the time.

2. Intermediation. This is where the relationships between suppliers and consumers is modified and may be as simple as consolidating suppliers to achieve discounts. This strategy can sometimes be affected with little of the risk associated with business change.

3. Incremental. Typically this involves turning the handle on business processes to make them more effective, reducing cost and improving quality. Technology is likely to be a core component and the biggest risks are around organizational change.

As a CIO I have been involved in a number of successful incremental change projects. One example was the introduction of a logistics management application in a large not for profit organization.

The new application had many technology challenges causing delays and frustration amongst the users. The business processes were standardized and simplified, which made some users feel disempowered. Fortunately there was a clear vision from senior management on what they wanted to achieve. The turning point came when a major disaster struck, requiring a highly complex logistics operation.

The simplified processes improved productivity of staff who were working 18 hours per day. The on line nature of the application meant that geographically dispersed stakeholders collaborated effectively. The biggest impact came from being able to analyse the supply chain and optimize ordering, reducing delivery time by a factor of 6 and costs by 80%.

Of course for every success story, there are litanies of disasters where IT investments have soaked up huge amounts of money. I have a few tips for making sure that you get value if you are investing scarce resources:

1. Create a business case. This clearly states the expectations behind business drivers, strategic outcomes, options, scope, benefits, costs, risks and timeframe. If the costs and risks outweigh the benefits, cancel the initiative early.

2. Assign accountability. You need to have individuals who are fully accountable for the business case and in particular the delivery of business benefits. The expectations should be clearly stated in the individual’s personal performance objectives

3. Excellence in delivery. Running IT projects is risky. The concensus from a number of surveys on IT projects is that just 1 in 5 are fully successful. A solid project methodology, experienced project managers and executive support focused on delivering the promised benefits will increase your chance of success

4. Connect initiatives. Running a series of disconnected IT initiatives will lead to lower agility and higher costs in the long run. Plan your IT like you would plan a city to make sure that your roads connect and you don’t build an abattoir in a residential area.

How confident are you about investing in organizational change?

Excuse me CEO, just one question please?

It's tough at the top
It’s tough at the top

Gartner runs a CEO survey every year and in his blog, Mark Raskino asked what questions we should be asking in these surveys. The focus is on how the CEO sees the current state of IT and how it needs to change to support the business.

In my time as CIO, I have often wanted to ask my CEO that killer question that reframes his view of IT. I am not sure that I ever quite succeeded, but the accelerating pace of change driven by technology is probably making some CEOs nervous. Time to hit them with the big one ….

But first I need to frame the state of play as I see it.

The executive and senior management in many organizations are disappointed with IT and do not trust the IT department to deliver the technology that they need for transformation. IT departments provide solutions too slowly; they are too expensive and overly restrictive. The existing solutions are often not fit for purpose. CEOs don’t want to restrict innovation and profit by forcing all technology solutions through IT, so they are allowing the business to buy their own cloud solutions.

The IT departments are frustrated by the way that the business engages with IT issues. Best practice approaches to architecture, IT governance or security are only paid lip service by business leaders. I hear comments like “the business really needs to improve its maturity to be successful with IT”. Furthermore IT budget are constantly under pressure and IT management is having to focus increased effort on supporting products that they had no part in procuring.

A classic Mexican standoff, with the majority of guns pointing at the unlucky CIO!

So how does the CEO think IT should be run in their organization?

Do you believe that following IT best practices would deliver the right IT solutions for your business?

The best practices are there to ensure agility, quality, alignment, risk management and costs control – exactly the problems that organizations are experiencing. IT best practices stretch well beyond the IT department and can only work when the CEO is committed to them. The nexus of the question is who the CEO trusts to fix IT.

If the CEO does not trust the CIO, do they trust ISACA, ITSMF, or PMI (the best practice organizations)? If they don’t trust these industry groups who do they trust? Please let me know your thoughts

Just do these 5 things!

Food in Laos
Recipe for success

I am passionate about making organizations work better through technology. We could vastly improve business performance and prevent wanton destruction of wealth. With the resources freed up we can tackle poverty, the environment and global inequity – or am I getting carried away?

The agenda is clear and many would agree that the solutions are clear – but not simple. Every organization should be doing the following 5 things:

1. Corporate governance of IT. Technology is not a separate thing to the business, it needs to be managed by management and not by the IT department. There are best practices (Cobit5, ISO38500) but the real implementation challenge is that many senior managers do not have the skills and knowledge to make the right decisions about the technology in their business.

Implement a corporate governance of IT best practice and develop your senior staff to be excellent in its application

2. Enterprise architecture. This must not be confined to the IT department, it must become a central component of all business initiatives. Enterprise architecture is very difficult to do well despite the best practices (TOGAF, FEAF etc).

Invest in an enterprise architecture and use it broadly for business decision making

3. Continuous improvement. If you have ever taken delivery of a new enterprise IT system, it probably resembled a bath tub and not the speed boat that you expected. It takes time to update practices, fix bugs and improve processes. This should never stop, even when you realize that the system has grown into the beautiful sleek machine that you were expecting.

Formalize continuous improvement in all areas of the business, maybe through Six Sigma and an Improvement Register

4. Service management. It is now almost universally accepted that the only way to run IT in complex organizations is through a service management approach (ITIL, ISO20000 etc). In my view this approach should be extended to other internal service departments such as HR and finance.

Commit to a service management maturity level of 3 and above

5. Execution methods. Execution of technology projects is notoriously tricky, with 70% not delivering to expectations. Those that do deliver use proven methodologies run by high quality people. Project management, business process management, software development lifecycle, security, and information lifecycle are 5 key areas to look at.

Develop and nurture excellence in execution to deliver 90% on time, on budget initiatives

All organizations can benefit from the above approach, but the government sector is probably most in need. Citizens who see their hard earned tax payments go up in smoke through the likes of the Queensland Government Health Payroll debacle should be insisting on a plan from politicians. This was a $6M technology project that cost $1.2Bn (or $1000 from my family).

Commit to the above 5 steps and not only will IT disasters be less likely, we should also get IT enabled and connected governments. From this we can expect transparent government, a citizen centric approach, better social inclusion and at a reduced cost.

This would be a good start on the quest for a better world!

So how can we make this happen?

How do CIOs befriend the miners?

Hole in the glacier
Undermined

I have worked as a CIO in a number of industries and each has their peculiarities. One segment where the CIO has to be particularly nimble is in the mining sector. There are a few top tips that I have learned from working for a contract miner, producing ore from working mines.

I’ll try to frame up the key requirements in this industry

1. The mining industry is cyclical and when it is hot, it is hot. They need solutions quickly and run high profit margins in the good times. As the cycle turns there is a focus on cost control. In many cases IT is delivering projects late in the cycle and appears out of step with reality.

2. The equipment used in the mines has become technologically complex. There are management systems on the trucks, the crushers have IT components and there are a myriad of complex systems such as slope stability monitoring. The vast majority of this equipment is purchased without IT involvement, but these days most of the systems connect to the internet via the corporate LAN.

3. Many in the mining workforce are engineers or technicians and technologically literate. They often source their own technology solutions and have the skills to make them effective in the workplace. Examples are collaboration systems and mobile enabled ordering systems. These are nearly always disconnected from the corporate IT systems.

As CIO, I was keen to get onto the front foot with these issues. I wanted to understand why the IT department could not deliver the solutions as quickly and cheaply as business units buying it themselves. I succeeded in providing solutions quickly, cheaply and properly supported (my perspective), but I don’t think I won the business over for the following reasons:

1. Acceptance of risk. The business had a higher tolerance of risk than that practiced in IT. When the business implemented their own technology there was no business continuity planning, security was dealt with in a superficial manner and there was often a complete loss of capability when a key staff member left (key man risk). The truth was that these systems would fail, but as different systems were used on different sites the impact would not be catastrophic.

2. Opaque costing. The actual costs of these systems were not well understood. There was no aggregated cost (as you would find in an IT budget) and the costs were often wrapped into other high value contracts. The costs benefits were calculated simplistically by referring to the punitive expenses of having plant not working.

3. Inconsistent expectations. Business provided solutions would fail and they often had poor maintenance arrangements. The business was surprisingly accepting of these issues (given the costs of down time) and much more accepting than for corporate provided IT systems. I put the inconsistency down to the extra control that the business had over the issue. They would deal directly with the supplier and often leverage a relationship to accelerate resolution.

So here are my 3 top tips for success (or at least avoiding disaster)

1. Know when to get out of the way – you may not have the capability or resources to deliver. Ensure that you engage the key stakeholders in this decision.

2. Map the risk – ensure that you have a holistic view of technology risk, not just IT risk. The Audit and Risk committee should be thankful for such a perspective.

3. Be excellent at project management – if you are providing solutions apply a professional, agile project management technique. Good people, a strong methodology and business involvement is a recipe for success.

What are your experiences with IT and the mining industry?

How do we benefit from technology? Wrong question!

Bandah Acheh 2005
Destroyed by a tsunami

We all know “it” is coming, although we really don’t understand exactly what “it” is. It has something to do with new ways of working, new business models, changing customer habits and connectedness. For certain it is all driven by changing technologies and information technology is at its heart. Businesses want to be on the wave and are asking how to achieve this. I think it would be more useful to frame the question the other way:

How do we stop technology from destroying the value in our business? I have three easy steps:

1. Be excellent at running technology within your business. There are a host of best practices for IT out there, and while there are differences in approach at the edges, they basically agree about the major concepts. The business leaders must mandate a level of maturity to these business practices.

The key areas that should be in place are: Quality & improvement (e.g. ISO9000, Six Sigma, Continuous Service Improvement); Corporate governance of IT (e.g. ISO38500, ValIT); Service management (e.g. ITIL, ISO20000 or my new favourite Cobit5); Execution methods (e.g. BABOK, PMBOK, Prince2, CMMI); and architecture (e.g. TOGAF, FEAF or Zachman).

2. Make technology a core component of strategic planning. You should be rewriting your business strategy with some urgency if it does not have technology as an important component (yes this applies to every business). The market analysis that informs the strategy should include a technology evaluation (use your CTO if you have one).

Once you have current state, transition state and target state identified, you need to model the organization. This is called enterprise architecture and will identify what needs to change (people, technology, processes) as you progress. With this you can estimate costs and create a business case around the strategy.

3. Drive accountability. You now have a strategy, an investment plan and expected benefits (increased profit, more loyal customers, better compliance etc). Make key staff accountable for delivery on time, on budget with all benefits realized. Be particularly careful to manage scope and do only those things that truly drive the benefits.

The above is not the complete recipe for success – you still have to get the right strategy, but it is likely to eliminate a key cause of failure. Unfortunately I do not see many businesses doing this.

This year in the UK alone we have seen retailers Jessops, HMV, Blockbuster and Republic go into administration. There has been a huge destruction of wealth that should be sheeted back to their boards. I very much doubt that any of these chains were following the principles above.

Are you thinking about how you prevent technology changes from destroying your business?

How can the not for profit sector join the digital economy?

Tough conditions
Tough conditions

A recent Queensland Chamber of Commerce event, showed the poor state of engagement with the digital economy by Queensland businesses with nearly 70% realizing less than 10% of revenue through the internet. Improving in this area is a cultural challenge and not a technology challenge.

So how can organizations engage? The answers are different for different sized businesses:

  1. Small and micro business. These businesses rarely have dedicated IT resources, but the tools on the market are accessible to everyone. Create a basic web site as a reference point. Think about whether you should have a mobile version (recommended), an online payment gateway, videos, maps, blogs and a Facebook presence. Some sites may gain an advantage with more than one language. You might be able to get a keen teenager to throw something together for a small sum, but someone must go in and continually review the site.
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  2. Medium sized businesses often have limited IT resources who manage key business systems and interface with external providers. Focus your internal resources on the systems that directly relate to the business niche. Buy everything else from the cloud (email, web, Salesforce.com etc.). Make sure that your IT resources are kept in the loop on business decision making – these all have technology impacts these days.
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  3. Larger businesses and enterprises need a different approach to technology. A professional IT department is needed with an IT strategy that forms part of the business strategy. If you can state your competitive advantage, you should have an investment plan that develops the technology to support this differentiator. IT should be buying most services from the cloud and integrating them for the business. Service management might be the most boring term in the universe, but it is key to making a transition to the cloud.

I once did some work with the Congalese Red Cross. They had no IT systems outside of their head office in Brazzaville. One year they had to postpone their annual general meeting, which was not a simple as sending an email or a phone call. They had to dispatch messengers to all their branches –  an exercise that cost as much as hosting the meeting!

The digital economy has brought us a long way. If you don’t jump on the bandwagon will you end up with your own story like the Congalese Red Cross?