The Keys to an IT Best Practice Reporting Framework


by Paul M. Dooley


 

There is a lot of detail in ITIL 2011 about designing proper measurement frameworks, but without a timely and effective reporting framework to sort this data, convert it into information, and present it in the right format at the right time to the right people, measurement frameworks are of little use.

Most businesses and organizations rely heavily on IT services, and, naturally, they want to be assured that IT is meeting their needs and expected service levels. But without an effective reporting framework, which ensures that IT can effectively communicate service value during regular review meetings, and note any areas that are off-target and being attended to, they can’t fully appreciate the value of the IT services your organization delivers. In many ways, an effective reporting framework becomes part of IT’s marketing capability.

Reporting is also a critical element in continual improvement. Without an integrated reporting framework, all you have is data, and data by itself is of little value. It must be formatted, processed into information, and analyzed to deliver knowledge for improved decision making and performance. An effective reporting framework does just that, enabling IT managers to identify gaps in service level performance and opportunities for improvement in service delivery.

Feedback at Three Levels

When developing a reporting framework, you should plan to deliver timely, accurate, and continuous feedback to decision makers, managers, and support staff at three levels: strategic, tactical, and operational.

The Strategic Level
Reporting delivers the periodic feedback on the results of long-term strategies and policies that high-level, strategic IT managers and executives need. It also provides critical readings on the progress of services in development and those in live operation, on customer satisfaction levels, and on financial performance. With timely and effective reporting, leaders can adjust as necessary the overall strategy for the organization and the services it offers.

The Tactical Level
To achieve the organization’s strategic goals and objectives, IT must deliver on tactical projects that introduce new or upgraded services, improve the supporting IT infrastructure, streamline processes, and make other cost-effective improvements. Reporting provides service design and transition teams with feedback on the results of testing prior to launch, the effectiveness of a given change, and the performance of a pilot in the final stages of transition.

The Operational Level
Reporting informs service operation teams about whether service quality and performance is on target with expected service levels. The service level targets (SLTs) are the guiding factors for performance, and become reporting targets for the delivery systems and teams. Here the reporting framework plays a vital role in communicating the performance of service availability, capacity, and continuity to target service levels. As a result, team leads and managers are able to analyze trends for any gaps in service or component performance, and thus identify opportunities to improve services or supporting processes.

Beyond Component Reporting: Focus on the Services

An effective reporting framework must include monitoring and reporting at three levels and in two forms. The three levels of monitoring and reporting pertain to customer-facing services that directly support business processes, the supporting IT services and components that make up those services, and the performance of the processes that keep those services available.

Customer-Facing Services
The end-to-end service the customer is actually using must be monitored and reported on. In the example illustrated above, the customer is interested in the high availability of email as a service, not in the high availability of the network that delivers the email, or the storage service that stores the email, or the backup service that ensures backups are completed. Yet without the performance of these supporting components and services, there would be no email.

Supporting Technology Components
These are the hardware, software, and other supporting IT service components that play key roles in delivering customer-facing services (e.g., network services, storage services, computing services). Without monitoring and reporting on the performance of supporting IT services and components, it is impossible to assess the performance of top-level, end-to-end services.

Supporting Processes
There must also be reporting in place for selected metrics and KPIs for every supporting ITSM process. Process owners and managers must be able to determine whether their processes are delivering on-target performance and, if necessary, address any gaps in performance. Incident management, for example, will be responsible for consistently hitting such targets as “75 percent of incidents resolved at level 1,” or “user satisfaction consistently achieving four out of five points.”

The Goal: Deliver Reporting That Transforms Data into Wisdom

An effective reporting framework plays a key role in enabling knowledge management, another critical process within the ITIL framework and one that benefits all stakeholders, from top to bottom. Again, without processing and analysis, all you have is data. To be of value, data must be organized and formatted into information and captured for analysis (who did what, when, where, and why?). This information can then be analyzed to gain knowledge: why a certain event happened, and what might be done about it (wisdom). Wisdom is what results from running periodic reports, tracking trends and anomalies in performance, and taking the proper action.

For example, in a service desk environment, data should be gathered continuously through system and component monitoring. Such data should then be organized and formatted (either manually or automatically) into records, which can provide information on what happened (type of event, impact), to whom (affected users), and when. With information, knowledge, and wisdom, as defined above, the service desk and other IT support teams can take the appropriate action(s) to restore service operations to normal, according to agreed-upon targets.

The Keys to a Successful Reporting Framework

Like any best practice process, an effective reporting framework depends on a number of critical success factors (CSFs).

Provide a Single Focal Point for Ownership, with Wide Participation
For an organization-wide approach to reporting to become a reality, there must be a single point of accountability. The owner of the reporting framework, like generic process owners, should be the one responsible for seeing to it that standard reporting policies and procedures are documented and communicated to all, that proper reporting systems and data-gathering tools are in place, that the reporting framework is tightly integrated with the measurements framework, and that a continual review
and improvement process is in place.

Base It on a Sound Measurements Framework
Without a sound measurements framework to provide guidance on what to measure, a reporting framework won’t have the content that is of greatest interest to the target audience. Two critical foundational elements of an effective reporting framework are alignment with the vision of the enterprise and defining what we should measure. A sound measurements framework will link the measurements to the vision, include both quantitative and qualitative metrics, and feature measurement at three levels: the supporting processes, the technology components that make up the services, and the end-to-end services themselves.

Deploy Effective Data Gathering and Processing Systems
Quality data gathering ensures accuracy and integrity, and includes both manual data input (from the service desk) and automated data gathering (from IT operations). Process the data into usable information using automated systems or manual methods, and pay careful attention to ensuring that you filter out any “noise,” that you capture only meaningful information, and that you preserve the accuracy and completeness of the information.

Deliver Timely Information Targeted to the Right Audience
Outdated information is of little value to the decision-making process, and providing information to the wrong audience doesn’t do much good either. Real-time dashboard reporting should be targeted to frontline support staff, team leads, and technical or application managers, while periodic scorecard reporting should be targeted to IT departmental management, customers, and senior management.

Consolidate Multiple Input Sources
If possible, look for reporting systems that enable you to combine input from multiple data sources. For example, for a service desk where incidents can be initiated via phone, email, web, or chat, a reporting system that can combine input from each of these sources will facilitate the processing, analysis, and presentation of incident-related performance statistics.

Provide Reporting in a Format That Communicates Clearly
Utilize charts and graphs to illustrate the details. Clearly show the target on the report, and provide the results in both a snapshot format (to assess the current status) and a trend analysis format (showing performance to target over time), for gap analysis purposes.

Provide a Selection of Media Formats
Tailor your delivery to the desires of your target audience:

  • Hardcopy reports are best for periodic reports to IT management and customers. 
  • Online reports sent to desktop dashboards or mobile devices, or to a subsection of your web portal, are best for real-time reports. 
  • PowerPoint presentations are best for helping executive management understand how IT is performing against strategic goals and objectives.

Support Multiple Device Types for Optimized Access
Install display boards in the IT support center and in other areas of IT where visual monitoring of KPIs is crucial for IT management. Since desktop PCs are the primary delivery platform for most frontline support staff, real-time reporting on KPIs should be integrated into analyst workstations so they can be kept apprised of their performance and shift priorities as needed. The same should be included on mobile devices and laptops, so supervisors can access real-time and periodic reports on the go.

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In conclusion, an effective reporting framework is every bit as essential as a quality measurement framework. A well-designed, highly automated reporting framework that utilizes a balanced approach, effective graphics, clear targets, and real-time and periodic reporting, along with analysis and recommendations, is absolutely essential for delivering quality services, as well as reporting the value of these services to the organization.

For more on this topic, check out Paul’s latest white paper, “The Keys to an Effective IT Best Practice Reporting Framework.” 

 

Paul M. Dooley is the president and principal consultant of Optimal Connections LLC. With over thirty years of experience in the industry, he has extensive experience in service desk infrastructure development, support center consolidation, deployment of web portals and knowledge management systems, as well as service marketing strategy and activities. Paul has his ITIL v2 Foundations and Practitioner certificates and is an ITIL v3 Expert. He is also an HDI Certified Instructor and auditor.

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