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The Unified Service Desk

posted 20 Oct 2017, 07:17 by John Ward   [ updated 20 Oct 2017, 07:18 ]

Machine Learning

The standard operating model for business support services such as IT, HR, Finance, Facilities is to have siloed initial points of contact. These are a natural segmentation of business functions. Segmented in order to better maintain management of the sheer breadth of services offered across the business.

For example, in today’s businesses, IT is largely centred around the ITIL processes, so we may have a Service Desk as a point of entry for enquiries, which can handle requests for services, raise incident tickets, perhaps provide knowledge in the form of conversations and pre-written knowledge articles.

Behind these front-line services, we may have an IT operations team, either in-house or contacted in using supplier services. A pipeline of projects and modifications to services are put into service through the Service Design and then Service Transition processes, with the appropriate quality assurance and governance activities. People and processes have to cross department boundaries to communicate with other business support services. After all, the IT team cannot support the business in isolation. And so it goes with the other business support services - HR, Finance, Facilities and Operations.

But what if you’ve also got end-customers, that may interact with a customer support desk? The customer services support desk own the responsibility for providing service to that customer. If some part of that service call involves a downstream request for service to one of the business support services, how does that get handled? Let’s take a look at the process:

Call comes in from customer -> Problem is articulated to customer service agent -> Case opened in CRM -> Agent goes through a standard script _> Standard workflow initiated in CRM -> “I’ll have to get someone to call you back” -> Call Closed -> Offline activity by agent to contact business support service. Not exactly what you’d call lean, or great customer service.

Even internally, if you have a request for information from another business support service, you often have varying methods of communication and experiences of interaction. Call them, IM them, eMail them, or perhaps it’ll be quicker if I go in person? We often tie up valuable resources in answering similar types of queries.This does lead to frustrations and worse, passing process across to other departments where that isn’t appropriate. In one business I saw access to Active Directory given to HR to manage the Joiners, Movers and Leavers process.

How do we attempt to use technologies to help? Intranets are often deployed and more often than not become a complex repository over time, despite starting out with the best intentions. Sharepoint anyone? Worse still, the tone within any instructions you find are often very dry. Just fill out this lengthy form and send it to this person or shared email address and we’ll get back to you. I’d rather deal with a person directly! I’ve told them what I want - now it’s their problem to sort!

Processes change over time and this leads to the big problem of how we keep services up-to date, avoiding any conflicting entry points to the internal customer. How do we keep a culture of iterative improvements to the service, whilst communicating those changes to the internal customer? Certain company types are inherently better at managing documents, i.e. legal firms, others meanwhile just spend large sums on document management systems in the hope this will sort the issue. It doesn’t of course, humans are just programmed differently to each other!

Now let’s look at some technology platforms out there in the marketplace today.

Traditionally IT has used IT Service Management (ITSM) software. The 2 current market leaders according to Gartner are BMC Remedy and ServiceNow. Why are these products leading? It’s down to their having the coverage of the full set of ITIL processes and they achieve the fringes of these processes through collaboration tools with other vendors in the marketplace. For example, do you want to integrate your network alerting platform into the ITSM tool, so IT staff and the end users can be made aware of any outage or degradation of service without having to resource the manpower to field incoming enquiries? That’s certainly possible today. Actually, that was available yesterday, but machine learning is now taking this a step further in analysing previous patterns of alerts to predict when they may happen again. This is the power of these leading platforms.

There’s evidence of ServiceNow getting into wider coverage of business areas. In a similar way the traditional CRM tools are now making inroads into ITSM functionality (Microsoft CRM particularly)

In a similar vein, HR may have to respond to requests for knowledge from employees. Modern organisations and modern workplace laws are complex and deep. No one person is going to know the answer to all the queries and often going trawling through policy and contract documents is the way to go. What about trying to uncover the skills you have in an organisation for new role planning or inclusion in projects? I guess we could record this in a HR database under ‘Talent’. The point is, that systems may actually be more consistent at responding to incoming queries and certainly more scalable than human response.

If we are to start thinking about using automation to respond to standard requests for information, then we need to be giving serious thought to the structure, the processes involved, but more critically than ever -  the technologies deployed. We are reaching that tipping point where we can achieve far more with a tool than we can manually. AI plays a role here as does automation. There are a crop of tools out there today that have started the journey in this area. In the same way that SharePoint Portal Server (MOSS - remember that?) served up some fairly duff results in it’s search, we need to be running test queries through these new engines to determine their accuracy.

Where does this leave the unified service desk? We certainly have to move towards AI responses to incoming requests for information and services. The current human model will just not scale either outwards with the increasing number of requests or upwards in terms of the sheer amount of knowledge that the operatives will have to take on to satisfy the range of requests. We also have to invest the time in making the automation work to downstream systems. This is where the bulk of the work will be in setting up and maintaining those links. The skillsets and patience in making these links work is notoriously difficult in the detail. If a vendor can help you in this area, accept it. The hidden costs in DIY in this area are significant when multiplied across the number of automation integrations possible.

Progress as they say is inevitable to help realise further efficiencies in the ways we do business and that time to start making these changes is here.

Wise Words In Turbulent Times

posted 24 Apr 2017, 01:41 by John Ward


Recently I was reminded of the wise and evergreen words of Kipling that still ring as true today as they always have. Do you identify with these words in your work and home lives?


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!


From Play To Flybe

posted 24 Oct 2016, 01:50 by John Ward

Flybe Logo

Like many businesses today, the regional airline Flybe is undergoing a period of significant business change. To enable this, a large amount of time and effort is going in to business analysis and project benefits realisation. 

Sapphiratech are very proud to be providing project management and business analysis resource, into this exciting and forward thinking company.

What's really setting Flybe apart for us is playfulness. In a age of stressed workforces and ever more to do, we believe that this is the route to a sustainable business. Backing this up is a solid, but unobtrusive governance structure, which we could all learn from.

We're really pleased to be working on the smooth introduction of the leading IT service management software, ServiceNow. Flybe is taking advantage of Sapphiratech's ITIL and project management expertise in this area. Having undergone several implementations, Sapphiratech was a natural choice of partner. Working with the internal IT team already in place, we're embedding a culture of continuous service improvement.  Taking advantage of the ServiceNow integration and automation capabilities, Flybe will also improve visibility and consistency in their IT service.

Water Under The Bridge

posted 16 Sep 2016, 09:08 by John Ward   [ updated 24 Oct 2016, 02:07 ]

Open Water Logo

An industry that's seen very little organisational change for around a decade was faced with a regulatory-driven transformation programme. 

OFWAT, the Water Industry regulator, decreed that customers should be able to choose their water provider in the UK, in a similar way to choosing your electricity and gas provider. For water companies throughout the UK, this has meant significant planning and investment in new people, processes and technology, not to mention a steep cultural learning curve.

Sapphiratech came in to provide project management with Azure infrastructure, Office 365, Microsoft InTune and cloud telephony experience to help out one such water company in the South West of England. Constraints on the programme included a fixed completion date for getting the new business operating, and the re-creation of enterprise-level systems within a much smaller and more agile retailer.

Major milestones were not only reached, but always bettered, and the project was carried out within quality standards, such as the ISO27001 Framework, and business stakeholders consulted and appraised along the journey.

The market for the B2B water providers opens in April 2017 after Shadow Operations complete, and this retailer is ready for business.

Proud to support Taunton Running Club

posted 14 Jan 2015, 07:11 by John Ward   [ updated 24 Oct 2016, 02:09 ]

TRC Logo

Taunton Running Club is a "Run for Fun" club, having been established in September 2014. It is already boasting well over 100 club members and is providing a great way to improve the health and well being of many people in the Taunton area. 

Sapphiratech are pleased to announce a sponsorship deal with the club that sees the funding of sessions for the 'All Blacks' club members on the athletics track to improve performance. 

If you're in the Taunton area, and you'd like to give running a go, then get in touch with Taunton Running Club via their website at Total beginners and seasoned runners welcome.

Benefits of Using Interims

posted 22 Oct 2014, 08:35 by John Ward   [ updated 22 Oct 2014, 08:36 ]

The fact is that organisations do get stuck and this is where very experienced intuitive executive interims come into their own to quickly identify the situation and solution and capability, seamlessly engage and transfer capability and if they are any good leave a sustaining legacy (rather than drag on assignments).

The sustainable outcome is the difference between a cost and an investment.

Interims are not directly employed by the ‘hiring’ organisation, they are a bought in service, ‘paid’ through the Purchase Ledger like other external services.  Not being directly employed means lower-risk, shorter term contracts without the usual employee overheads. Use the services of an interim when you need it.  

Not restricted by the usual boundaries imposed by the corporation, the focus of an interim can be far more objective than any ‘employee’. They are unconcerned with having to climb the corporate ladder, can be highly objective and can focus on constantly adding tangible value.

Interims live and die by the benefits their experience and skills bring. As such, time ‘off contract’ is spent enriching their skills through formal learning. This translates for you into latest industry skills and a breadth of practical industry experience, integrated right in to your team. Interims often have an excellent and current network of industry experts.

Release Management across borders

posted 24 Sep 2014, 03:07 by John Ward   [ updated 24 Sep 2014, 03:08 ]

Clarks Logo
Being a massively successful footwear retailer across the globe, Clarks have been engaged in a program to leverage and further co-ordinate it's talented resources. For IT this has meant partly moving towards common systems across regions, with 'follow the sun' support. The reality of increased co-ordination across multiple time-zones and with adoption of complex systems meant tight release and deployment management. This is where we came in, by providing services that enabled a workable and sustainable release schedule that accommodated ambitious business needs.

On the ground this meant embedding release tracking further back in the service design process and overlaying the environment management from multiple regions. The concept of 'being on the release bus' was shared and is one example of making a complex system more understandable for all involved.

Further along the Service Transition journey a key benefit has been to embed enhanced knowledge management processes that go way beyond the basics. It's been all about ensuring that the IT ops team are armed for support on day one and their understanding of how they escalate any questions they can't answer.

Clarks have a very ambitious set of targets to hit by 2025, which they stand every chance of getting to. We'd be honoured to continue playing our part in enabling that dream.

Building ITIL best practice in at Bradfords!

posted 14 Oct 2009, 23:16 by John Ward   [ updated 15 Sep 2014, 06:48 ]

Bradfords Building Supplies Logo
We're working with Bradfords Group to provide interim IT application services management. Bradfords is one of the largest independent Builders Merchants in the UK and has been supplying materials to the trade for over 200 years.

Sapphiratech are providing team management, to provide a safe pair of hands in the support of their key BisTrack ERP and Microsoft Dynamics GP applications.We are also adding value into the IT service by a staged introduction of ITIL areas such as Service Design, Service Transition and Service Operations.

Starting in the centre with the existing IT Portfolio, we've introduced  Change Control, Support Models, CMDB and more.

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