Next-Generation Service and Support in a Mobile-First, Cloud-First World, Part 1


by John Clark
August 15, 2017

“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things… Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new." —Niccolo Machiavelli

Cloud computing continues its epic growth and momentum; cloud vendors such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and others continue experiencing huge growth numbers. What’s driving this phenomenon is not just economic in nature. Organizations seek updated business impacting opportunities resulting from increased agility and innovation, reduced information technology costs, and modern repeatable, predictable, and available IT. These business goals long preceded the cloud and will continue long after as cloud becomes mainstream.

One of the challenges facing IT organizations when leveraging the cloud is determining what their role is in this new mobile-first, cloud-first world. What skills, roles, processes, and practices need to be abandoned? What updated skills, roles, processes, and practices are needed? What remains the same? Service and support organizations are equally impacted by cloud. Questions invariably surface such as “what is our updated support model” and “where are the people accountable for services not provided by our organization?”

What about the era of digital transformation we are entering, enabled by cloud-scale microservices, pervasive mobility, and extreme automation permeating every facet of business? Today, it is safe to say every business is a software business—or at least any that want to remain in business. Those that don’t adapt will be displaced by those transforming digitally. Think of the companies and industries pictured below that were displaced by digital transformation and the companies that disrupted listed below them:

digital transformation
 

Unfortunately, one estimate claims more than 62% of employees indicate their organization is in denial about the need to digitally transform. Yet, 96% of organizations see digital transformation as critical and recognize that it is estimated digital disruptors will displace 4 out of 10 incumbent companies over the next 5 years. Are you going to let your organization find itself on the wrong side of that equation?

Service and support challenges with cloud and mobility often start upstream.
Tweet:Service and support challenges with cloud and mobility often start upstream. @CyberJMC66 @ThinkHDI #servicedesk

Microsoft Enterprise Services recognized that aspects of traditional IT Service Management (ITSM) didn’t embrace, and in fact hindered, our own company’s strategy of mobile-first, cloud-first, and more so digital transformation. Obviously, disciplines, practices, and recommendations that inhibit value from your own organizational business objectives isn’t a good thing. Many traditional ITSM patterns had to be evolved regardless of the cloud as far too often our customers weren’t realizing the benefits and ROI that “following the model” had promised. To be fair, this isn’t an attack on ITIL™ or other ITSM frameworks, the problem was simply that IT organizations pedantically made ITIL™ their goal, implemented two or three processes, and hoped for magic value to result rather than driving business value and outcomes recognizable by their business stakeholders. It was all inward focused while, according to the 2016 State of DevOps Report, more than 70% of CIOs are willing to increase risk if it results in IT cost reduction and increased agility. This means CIOs are willing to reduce the control that ITSM often imposes if it means IT cost reduction and increased agility.

This article, along with my presentation Next-Generation Service and Support in a Mobile-First, Cloud-First World at HDI 2017 Conference & Expo, provide a primer to help IT organizations evolve their service and support models to optimize value of the cloud and mobility.

However, we must first be honest and recognize gaps and challenges with current day service and support that existed even before the cloud became a thing. Service and support challenges with cloud and mobility often start upstream from decisions made by application and service owners, application development and infrastructure teams that aren’t accountable for support. Infrastructure and operations teams tend to lag behind app teams in modernizing, often underfunded, under-appreciated, and often resistant to the change of embracing the cloud. Not having common alignment across these teams often results in poor experiences in service and support.

Common Problems with Contemporary Service and Support

As stated before, if you ask most organizations outside of IT, or even within IT, questions such as:

  • “What’s the quality and value of your service desk, service, and support organization?”
  • “Is the support experience of an employee or associate customer obsessed or does IT focus more on sausage making and less on their customers?”

The answer sometimes will be “they are OK”, but often it is “utterly useless.” This perception results in the service desk and support organization being viewed and functioning as a cost center versus a value center. And what do most organizations do to cost centers? Correct. Reduce them.

Today’s service desk and support teams struggle to demonstrate value for many reasons:

  • Lacking “Customer Obsession”—While service and support staff members might want to focus on pleasing their customers, the systems and capabilities they are provided with often run counter to this goal. They are forced to “take calls” and pass them along with little shared knowledge, and the customer (e.g., employee or associate who has a job or outcome to achieve) is hindered and stuck in the middle awaiting IT to sort out a response.
  • Fragmented and siloed applications, infrastructure, and operations teams are often separated from service and support teams, missing the opportunity to integrate and incorporate shared service knowledge, experience, and awareness.
  • Often automation tools are used to back drop manual efforts by other engineering teams, and the value and capabilities provided by automation are not available to service and support.
  • Limited Visibility—Service Desk staff often do not have end-to-end visibility to the services their customers consume, the health or telemetry, the interdependencies, or even status. They are left to simply catch and forward and attempt to determine how to resolve issues.
  • Knowledge is often not shared among silos within the organization, and the quality of knowledge is poor.
  • Without the understanding of all of the above, staffing service and support becomes a major challenge, and predictability is non-existent other than “historical calling patterns.”
  • Self-service portals have become more mainstream but miss the opportunity to offload call volumes and, in many cases, employees or associates have to still contact service support through telephone—not a modality millennials, who are making up more of the workforce, prefer.

With all these challenges to service and support, cloud and digital transformation just adds another layer of missing information and automation, complexity, role ambiguity, and missed opportunities to evolve.

New Demands Imposed by a Mobile-First, Cloud-First World

The first mistake many organizations make in regards to the cloud is viewing it as just an extension of their own data center. This is a mistake, and virtually all cloud providers agree. While it technically appears as an extension of an organizations network and identity domain, more services and capabilities are available from a cloud platform in the form of Platform as a Service (Paas), Software as a Service (Saas), Container services, and other services that do not exist in a typical enterprise data center. Managing, operating, and supporting all these new capabilities result in gaps between application owners and developers, who desire increasing consumption and utilizing cloud capabilities, driving continuous release, and bypassing change controls and processes imposed by legacy ITSM. This results in the gap that exists between traditional IT and modern IT organizations:

  • Enterprise IT often has very good hyper-visor and virtualization skills and experience but lacks cloud management, automation, and operations skills to optimize their use of cloud.
  • There is also often a level of automation and security around cloud data centers that doesn’t occur in enterprise data centers available to enterprise IT but not leveraged as it should. 
  • Enterprises often lack the telemetry and monitoring capabilities inherent in cloud-scale data centers and available for use by customers.
  • Enterprise IT is unable to handle the change velocity and volume of changes that cloud data centers have been instrumented to support, often transparent to cloud customers.
  • Enterprise IT still struggles with end-to-end services and visibility.
  • Unfortunately, some in enterprise IT organizations believe the cloud to be a fad and that they can deliver more capabilities for less than what cloud offerings provide. What they don’t realize is that cloud provides some advantages over colo or on-premises datacenters:
    • They can develop, maintain, and operate IT management platforms that cannot be matched in the enterprise space
    • Their cost structures are exponentially lower as they buy everything from land to white label servers and network devices in huge volume
    • They are not strapped with older data centers in expensive locations; they build cheap cloud data centers in low cost locations. It matters which country a cloud data center is in, but not the location within that country.

    The other challenge facing service and support organization is that mobile, obviously enabled by the cloud, becomes the new modality of applications.

    It is anticipated that by 2018, 100% of the line of business (LOB) apps in customer-facing roles and 75% of LOB apps in internal-facing roles will be built for mobile-first consumption. These changes impact IT not just in service and support, but across the lifecycle of service and application delivery:

    service application lifecycle

    1. Customer/employee needs and development—Common pain point with waterfall planningis that the requirements inventory becomes bloated and aged. There is immediate desire for updated features and capabilities at an increasing pace. This includes new, responsive mobile interfaces or applications.
    2. Procurement and coordination difficulties across server, storage, networking, and firewall in provisioning test environments. Lengthy handoffs between each of these teams and differing priorities. Slow processes for quality assurance often skipped. And little ability to test cloud and mobile.
    3. Testing and fixing defects—Typically led by quality assurance with issues of repeatability of results, that is, false positives caused by the test harness, environment, or deployment process.
    4. Large production deployments that are cross-organizational efforts led by Ops rather than in continuous automated manner.
    5. Monitoring and operations—Lacking end-to-end service visibility, telemetry, management, and monitoring across application development and service and support. Missing feedback loops and connection to backlog.

    Modern Service Management

    To address these challenges, Microsoft Enterprise Services evolved our perspective and approach to ITSM with “Modern Service Management.” It’s not a Microsoft product or service, not sold or licensed, and we have made it very public and open to help drive change across the industry. Similar perspectives from other vendors, such as Amazon, Google, and IBM, have been established as well. The definition of Modern Service Management was crowd-sourced in 2016 within Microsoft to read as follows:

    A lens, intended to focus ITSM experts around the globe on the most important outcomes that evolve our customers from legacy, traditional IT models toward easier, more efficient, cost effective and agile service structures—Microsoft 2016

    While Modern Service Management addresses more than just service and support, for the purposes of this paper we are only focusing on service and support. So why Modern Service Management?

    • Lack of collaboration between Dev and Ops teams and unclear accountabilities.
    • IT staff not customer-obsessed and lacking a service provider perspective.
    • Little to no awareness, knowledge, experience, or readiness to manage and operate modern, cloud-enabled services.
    • High service delivery lead time and over- or under-provisioned resources.
    • Highly integrated/interdependent infrastructure with no end-to-end ownership of services.
    • High failure rates for companies trying to adapt legacy tools to DevOps practices.
    • Bugs/defects caught in production cost exponentially more to fix and with greater impact to the organization.
    • Production issues take much more time to diagnose in production than in development or testing, and obviously, also with greater impact

    What does Modern Service Management look like? The following list highlights some of the traditional versus modern differences and positions, which results in improvements and reduction in demand for service and support:

    • DNA of disintermediation to remove IT as the middleman.  IT becomes broker of services versus the sole provider. This reduces workloads and drives more value from dollars invested in IT.
    • Continuous service delivery where smaller, less impactful defects are continually discovered and remediated versus big bang delivery where outages often occur more often with larger, wave-based service delivery.
    • Service stability assumes components, services, people, and processes will fail requiring architecting, developing, and building solutions that are resilient to these failures.
    • Moving delegation and decision making across services versus within technology or lifecycle silos or domains.
    • Reduction of document heavy process guides and more process automation, self-service, and outcomes that depend less on manual human efforts.
    • Automation is backdropped by human manual effort rather than human manual effort sometimes backdropped by automation.
    • End-to-end monitoring that is inherent in application design and deployment, provided as a service to applications and service owners, that supports service owners defining the targets, triggers, automation, and workflow rules and needs.
    • Evolution of service and support from legacy phone-oriented call center or help desk, to a modern, knowledge-based, automated self-service environment, with bots that handle most initial intake underpinned with human, knowledge-enabled support.
    • Focus on keeping technology current or as close to current as possible (evergreen); avoiding taking on technical debt.
    • Declarative configuration and asset management rather than discovered or manually maintained asset and configuration management.

    There are a number of other positions in Modern Service Management, but the ones I mentioned impact service and support the most. Obviously, as IT organizations evolve and modernize, service and support practices, procedures, and roles change. In addition, new demands and updated technologies will impact service and support. Next month, in part 2, I will highlight trends and the revolution taking place in customer service, support, and care.


    John Clark is an ITSM service management architect with the Microsoft Americas ITSM practice and a subject matter expert in the Modern Service Management Worldwide Community. In his current role, John is responsible for shaping opportunities with customers seeking to apply or enable ITSM improvements. John has received several honors in recent years, including being selected for the WW ITSM Communities SME Award, Microsoft Sr. Technology Leadership Program (2014), and the Americas Gold Club (2016). He is also a past president of the Ohio Valley itSMF USA LIG and a former LIG of the Year recipient. Connect with John on LinkedIn, and follow him on Twitter @CyberJMC66 and @MicrosoftITSM.


    Tag(s): supportworld, service management, mobility, cloud, cloud computing

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