HDI’s SPOCcast is your single point of contact podcast for service management and support insights. Episode 25 is an interview with Claire Agutter about the effect of current conditions (COVID-19) on e-learning, the status of women in tech, ITIL® 4, VeriSM, and the future of IT. Although I’m sure you will find these excerpts enlightening, do listen to the entire podcast when you can.
Roy: Here we are in the era of COVID-19, and a lot of what you do is online delivery of training and consulting, and as we speak now in March 2020, a lot of organizations are considering travel restrictions or have implemented them. And after the current wave of immediate health concerns subsides, do you expect the level of online engagements will be higher than before?
Claire: Gosh, I really hope so, because I do think there are a lot of organizations that still, maybe have some misconceptions about what's possible, particularly in the training world now. I've been developing e-learning for 12 years now. And the way that the technology's changed, the way that we deliver material has changed so significantly. But I still think you have people who had maybe a bad experience five, six years ago with, you know, a filmed PowerPoint deck or something. So, I think, in the training world, I would love to see more people taking online courses. I would love to see people having more of an understanding about just how good the material is online.
From the consultancy side of things, that one, I'm still not so sure about. So, I launched a virtual consultancy practice coming up three years ago now. And so, through the Scopism side, we've got the consultancy offering, and the idea was that we were working in hours rather than days. So, for example if somebody was in a new job, they could have somebody that they could chat to for a few hours on a Friday afternoon, just to give them some mentoring and some support. But to be honest, that has not taken off at all and I still think in the consultancy space, and it is true that people buy people, and the relationships that get formed were maybe not quite there yet. But perhaps what we will see in, in this interesting time that we live in, is perhaps we will see that people do find new ways to make these things work for them. And I think probably the biggest challenge for a lot of people at the moment is events, and we're seeing some events going ahead, some events being canceled. And I'm busy organizing our Service North event.
But even though there's a lot of uncertainty, I think online events is something that I would love to see some innovation happening in that space. I did a Twitter poll last week and I asked people you know in these times that we're living in, what do you think about online events compared to face to face? And some people said, “Yeah, I’d go if it was free.” Some people said, “I’d pay to attend,” but the majority said, “You know what? It's not for me.” But we can do amazing things with software these days. Maybe we will see some real innovation, and something developed that actually facilitates networking in an online space.
Roy: When you talked about consultancy and then talking about events, it seems that people really do get something extra out of the in-person contact, whether it's being a consultant working closely with people inside an organization, or doing networking at an event, and I think that's interesting. So, software hasn't replaced people, at least at this point. Right?
Claire: Yeah, there is an amazing word, agglomeration, which is used to describe kind of the benefit we get when you put a selection of firms and people together; the ideas that come out of that are greater than any of those firms or people could produce on their own. And I think we've probably both seen it in our careers is that some of the best things that you do come out of the most random places, you know? You chat to somebody on a train, and you come out with a completely different idea. Or, you know, you meet somebody at a conference and that turns into a new business venture, or whatever it might be.
You look at things like, Slack is a tool that's being used in so many organizations now, and it's brilliant, but I think it also still contributes to that feeling of overload. You know you've got email to look after, you've got your social media. Now you’re supposed to be taking part in Slack conversations as well. And it's kind of finding that that balance of, where is the technology helping us, and where is it actually disrupting what we're doing?
ITSM Zone, we're a virtual company. We've got staff in several different countries. We don't have a head office, so we are quite used to working virtually. But we do still see the benefit of getting the team together a couple of times a year and just, you know, really brainstorming together, and it does introduce things that don't happen with the technology that we use.
Roy: So, you're talking about the some of the various organizations that you certainly are central to and have formed, and you're a woman, you're in a technology field, which in itself, puts you in a kind of a minority position. So, let's talk a little bit about how to promote inclusion in the industry. Is it enough to make sure that we've got women on panels at conferences and that we include women in webinars and so forth when we have multiple presenters. What do you think? Are we on the right track by doing that and being careful about it, or is there—I would think there's more to be done—but what do you see as fruitful?
Claire: This is a tough one, because I think there's more initiatives, events, groups for women in tech than there have ever been before. But what the diversity statistics are showing is that that's having very little impact on the level of women in senior positions, the amount of women in tech; it's not stopping women jumping out of roles in tech.
I do very firmly believe that people coming into the industry need to be able to see people that they can aspire to become like. So, I think if you come into this industry as a woman, you need to be able to see women in the higher roles, you know, being visible, doing things. And my hope would be that all of the initiatives that are happening, women in tech events, the focus on STEM in education, you know, Girls Who Code. I hope that builds a pipeline; I really, really do.
But I think, there are those little things that that we can all do, and even being conscious of it is a start because I remember when we did our first Service North conference so going back three years now. We did a call for papers. We had a selection process; we were looking at all the different speakers based on the quality of the submission. And we kind of put together a draft agenda and we looked at it and we went, it's all men, how, how has this happened? You know, and that's even trying to think about it. As you're going through the process and what we did. What we found we had to do was—we knew there were amazing women in the industry, we knew that they were doing brilliant things, we knew that there were compelling speakers, you know, people like Andie Kis, Reni Friis, amazing, amazing women—so, we went and asked them, and I think sometimes you maybe need to take that extra step.
Why it happens, I don't know, and it's difficult to speak from my own personal experience because I've kind of stumbled into the roles that I'm in by accident. I don't think the fact that I'm a woman has ever particularly caused issues for me. But then I've been running my own business for 12 years. So you get to make different decisions and you may be not fighting against any institutional sexism within organizations.
But I do think all of us as individuals can be conscious of the events that we’re involved with trying to make them diverse, trying to make them welcoming. And I think for me, I will see it as success when we maybe don't need the women in tech events anymore, and we can just have tech events. That would be kind of the aspiration for me.
I will see it as success when we don't need the women in tech events anymore and we can just have tech events.
Roy: That would be a good thing.
Claire: There's some people that I've had interactions with who are viewing the people by different types of status and different levels of status. So, one example would be, we're back in ITIL version two, and I taught a version two managers course in Egypt, and there were two trainers running the course so there was myself, and a male trainer. All the delegates were male, and in the first sort of day of the course, they weren't really listening to me. They were happy to listen to the male trainer but they weren't really listening to me until it became apparent that I was an ITIL examiner, and as an examiner, I would be possibly one of the people who marked their exam papers, and I was certainly the person who was in the best place to give them guidance about the how to get the best score in the exam. And those two statuses then kind of played off against each other and the examiner status ranked more highly I think than any concerns about the fact that I was a woman. So then they were very happy to interact, and I think that there will always be people who are judging based on some element of how you appear whether it is, you know, whether you're a man or a woman, whether it's the color of your skin, whether it's how important they think you are.
But I do think service management, in particular, is actually a really inclusive community. I've seen very little poor behavior in the service management world. There's one or two people that I've come across that I wouldn't really want to work with. I think in general we are a really amazing community. There's not a lot of prejudice. There's a lot of volunteer programs that go on. There's a lot of kind of sharing between countries and between different user groups. So, I don't feel that it's ever held me back. I could be completely wrong, and I could just be blind to it, and maybe I'd have been a millionaire by now. But no, there’s very few instances in my career, I think, where I've looked at something and thought, that's just horrific sexism.
Roy: You touch there on the inclusiveness and the communal spirit that exists in this industry, and of course, you and I knew each other virtually before we met and then were ships passing in the night at multiple conferences until we finally got together and sat down and had a lunch together, which was lovely. People in service management tend to respect each other.
And speaking of service management. ITIL 4 is out; it's a year old now. And ITIL has been quite the dominant framework. And we at HDI—when we do our annual research—we've seen a little bit of a drop in the use of ITIL as a framework upon which to base things like software purchases, right? People used to say in a very high percentage, “Yes, we try to align our software to it.” And we've seen that drop. Do you agree with that assessment or will ITIL 4 change, as adoption ticks up because I think, you know, more people are being certified, more people are being trained now and at the higher levels you know, Managing Professional and so forth so, do you see that ticking up?
Claire: I need to try and answer this in a concise way because I could talk about this for a long time. If I look back to when I first started in the service management world, so going back 20 years, and taking my ITIL Version 2 Foundation, which at the time I think covered 11 processes and the service desk, the first thing about that situation was that it was ITIL or nothing; it was kind of ITIL and PRINCE2. And for a lot of organizations, just having that understanding of ITIL helped them work in a consistent way. It was really tangible; it was really practical. And, you know, we can look back on it now and say, well maybe there were times when it felt a bit prescriptive. But, in general, ITIL was kind of shaping operations in IT departments and service providers.
What's happened since then, is first the landscape of IT has changed so where it used to be just ITIL, now we've got DevOps, we've got Agile, we've got Lean, we've got SIAM, VeriSM™. You know, there's so many other things that are kind of competing for attention now. And those initial elements of ITIL that we all tend to think about when you say, “ITIL” you know, incident, change, problem, service desk, have become kind of hygiene factors for organizations that’s just how we work now. If you don't necessarily think of it as being well this is how we've adopted ITIL in this organization. We've got customers ringing. Of course we need a service desk, and we need to prioritize the work, so of course we do incident management. And the software generally does that out of the box, so people don't necessarily have to develop these complex invitation to tenders, because one incident workflow is pretty much like another.
But then, looking at ITIL 4, specifically—and I'm saying this from the perspective of a training provider—we kind of categorize the training that we sell into two main groups. And there's the first group is training products that teach people how to do jobs or how to work with systems that already exist. So, things like SIAM, things like the “old” ITIL, were basically organizations saying to people, “This is how we work; learn about where it's come from, and then come back and apply this in your job.”
Then the other type of training product is more—I think probably the word would be aspirational—is kind of showing organizations, “This is potentially how you could be working, or this is what you should be moving towards.” And for me now, ITIL 4, and other methodologies like VeriSM, fit into that category because they are kind of reflecting the challenges that digital transformation is putting on a lot of organizations, and they're suggesting possible ways to adapt to that. But, you know, when ITIL 4 was first released, there wasn't a single organization in the world that had a service value system that it would call a service value system. They weren't talking about service value chains.
So, I think what we'll see is organizations, looking at ITIL 4, picking elements of it, and then kind of weaving them in with everything else that they're doing—so, weaving them in with their Agile development teams, you know, weaving it into the Lean work that they're doing. And I think ITIL will become part of a sort of a set of ways of working that every organization is going to have. So, the change is quite enormous, and what they've done with ITIL 4 I think is very bold and very brave, and quite how the market is going to respond to that, I don't know yet. And I think we need all of the books to be published, which I think is the case now, and all of the trainings be available. We need to start seeing ITIL 4 bedding into organizations.
Roy: One of the things that you touched on there is how many of the various methodologies and so forth are being used in the same organizations, which is something we also see in our research as well. And I think if we look back at some of the things that have been spoken about ITIL, over the years, adopt and adapt, of course, is one of the main points. So, this is a good thing from a lot of perspectives, wouldn’t you say?
Claire: Absolutely. I've got such almost an emotional involvement in ITIL, because it's been such a big part of my career, and I remember you know starting out and doing my V2 Foundation and just running back to work and going, Oh, we need a CMDB and everyone just looking at me, thinking shut up Claire. But it absolutely is adopt and adapt. It does make me a little bit sad to see that there is a bit of revisionism going on I think, and people are pointing at previous versions of ITIL and going, so prescriptive so bureaucratic and of course it wasn't, it was just a series of books, and what you chose to do with the knowledge that was in those books is up to you. If you talk to people from the DevOps community, there's a real misconception about how things like change management work. And it's all about forms and meetings and approvals and change management has always just been about how do we protect the business, how do we get changes live, how do we not break things, and over time things build up around that. But I think, you know, previous versions of ITIL do huge amounts of good in a lot of organizations, and it's important not to forget that.
Roy: Businesses run on information technology now more than ever, and so is IT still a department? Will it be a department, or are those days gone, do you think?
Claire: It’s a tough one, isn't it? And I think we had real debates about this when we were going through the VeriSM author process, because we used to have conference calls every week and you know you'd have maybe 10, 15 people, and we'd argue about a piece of terminology in 30 minutes. But IT was one of the things that caused a lot of problems. And it wasn't until we understood that everybody interprets IT in a different way that we could actually start to use that as a meaningful piece of terminology. Because you say IT to some people, they think you mean the data center, the servers, the network. You say IT to somebody else, they think it's a department.
And I think when you’re talking about IT purely as a department, that's when you immediately get, you know, the business and IT. It's a silo. It's something that you have to ask for permission. So, what we said in the VeriSM books is, “Think about IT as an organizational capability.” And what that allows you to do is embrace the technology, the people, the skills, the knowledge. All of that becomes part of IT, but it doesn't then have to be segregated in a department.
So, if you think about an organization—what IT capabilities do we have? And I can look and say well you know, within ITSM Zone, we've got IT capabilities in marketing, because our marketing executive is using social media,she's using all these analytical tools, and these reports that she's pulling out. That's an IT capability that's essential for the business, as is creating e-learning, as is the website, as is our hosting company. We need all of these.
Yes, I think you probably will always need an IT department. But the role of the IT department I see as changing to enabling the capabilities within the rest of the organization. So you will always still need somebody who can say, “You can’t use that. It’s not secure.” Or, you know, “This one doesn't integrate with something else over there that you actually need it to be able to talk to.” So, I think you need that capability, just as much as you need all your other bits of IT. You need something centralized, you need policies, you need principles. But the IT department could well shrink quite significantly, because that capability is then embedded right through the rest of the organization. Anything where they’re talking about IT and the business like it’s two separate bubbles is just missing the point. You know, organizations now are highly complex, highly interconnected entities. And there is no one silo that completely encompasses a skill set.
It's not just IT. You know, any organization that is having its team use social media has embedded a marketing capability throughout the business. Any organization that is allowing its people who were out and about working, you know, to scan the receipt, to automate the filing of their expense claims, you're moving that finance capability around the business. And this is how it's going to be in the future. People don't just have one single skill set. We're involved in lots of different things and our organizational structures need to evolve to accommodate that.
About Clair Agutter
Claire Agutter is the lead tutor of ITSM Zone, an organization that specializes in best practice e-learning. Claire is also director of Scopism, and was lead architect for VeriSM, an approach for managing the digital organization. Claire is one of HDI’s Top 25 Thought Leaders for 2020, and she’s on Twitter @ClaireAgutter.
Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as Group Principal Analyst, he acts as HDI's in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @RoyAtkinson.