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David Ratcliffe, President, Pink Elephant

If you're interested in what we're doing here at Pink Elephant, then feel free to post a comment - I'll do my best to respond as quickly as I can.


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    Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    My 1, 2, 3 of IT Service Management

    It seems to be something about human nature that we’re always seeking quick and easy solutions to our problems. We prefer not to admit that some challenges are complex and need a lot of consideration. Instead we get sucked into the idea that there must be a simple “flick of a switch” solution. The so-called “Magic Bullet”.

    The world of IT Service Management is no different. Sourcing an eclectic mix of infrastructure and applications and managing it all with close to 100% availability and reliability. Oh - and do it for less than what it cost last year!

    That’s a complex challenge, right?

    No - it’ll be quick and easy if we just buy this state-of-the-art ITSM tool; or if we implement a best practice process framework (such as ITIL). Better still - buy one of those tools that come with ITIL out-of-the-box. (“I’ll have that big tool over there, and a pound of ITIL please!”) Problem solved!

    Problem solved?

    Those Magic Bullets never work. What does work is the hard graft of making sure those working in ITSM know:

    • What the business needs from IT; so we know what’s important, and what isn’t.
    • Which IT objectives and priorities truly enable the business; so we know what activities we should be focused on.
    • The ITSM metrics that really help; so we know when we’re on track.
    • What everyone’s responsibilities are; so we know how we can work together effectively.
    • How to deal with out of order situations; so we can keep things going when we’re under stress.
    • The policies and procedures that govern our decisions; so we can apply them, or not, with confidence.

    Notice everything I’ve just said is not dependent solely on which tool we use. Tools help with productivity and consistency, but they don’t always drive the right thinking or the right behaviour. Same goes for Processes. A well documented process will guide us to be efficient and consistent, but doesn’t help much when it comes to understanding WHY we need to do something. This is where good communication and thinking skills come in.

    The most valuable variable in any ITSM organization is the quality of the People. Enabling people is more about giving them intangibles like knowledge, time and support than fancy tools & techniques.

    I remember a survey of business managers a few years ago asked the question “When your staff under-perform, what are the reasons?”

    The answers were not “They don’t have the right Tools” or “They’re working with no Processes”. The actual answers were startling:

    • They don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing.
    • They don’t know why they should be doing it.
    • They don’t know how to do it.
    • They don’t know when they’re doing it wrong.
    • They work on the wrong things.

    Seems like there’s a bigger management and leadership problem than a staff problem.

    IT Service Management, like many other business functions, is all about leading and managing people. That is, providing an understanding of the purpose of ITSM and truly enabling people to be successful.

    Sure, Tools and Processes have important roles to play, especially today when we’re trying to be so super-productive and avoid repeating errors. But it’s the People on your team who do the day-to-day thinking, make the decisions, produce the plans, prioritize activities, deal with out-of-order situations and ultimately deliver worthwhile outcomes. So, if you’re an IT leader, you need to enable them with knowledge, time and your support as well as tools and instructions.

    By the way, I regularly see references to the “PPT of ITSM”, where PPT = People, Processes & Tools. My version looks like this:

    1. IT Leaders
    2. IT Staff
    3. Everything else (Tools & Processes)


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    Posted by David Ratcliffe on 11/27 at 02:51 PM
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    Thursday, November 22, 2012

    Talking About The Past, Present & Future Of Pink & ITSM

    I was recently contacted by Oleg Skrynnik of Cleverics - an ITSM services organization based in Moscow, Russia. Oleg wanted to pick my brain about Pink Elephant and the future of ITSM for his blog. The interview was later published on the itSMF Russia website.

    We talked a little about my background before Pink, how Pink got started and then the really interesting stuff - what’s happening in ITSM today and what we can expect in the future. Here is an English translation of the transcript.

    OLEG: David, first of all I would like to thank you for this wonderful opportunity and for your time. I guess you are quite busy with all the great things you are doing with your fellow colleagues at Pink Elephant, such as annual Pink Conference. Let’s begin from the beginning. What’s your ITSM story? How did you end up being President of World’s leading organization for ITIL and IT Service Management?

    David: I began working as an IT practitioner in the UK in 1976, and in 1986 I left my position as “IT Manager”.

    So as many good consultants you’ve started in IT, from the ground?

    Yes – I worked for 6 years in IT operations, then another 6 years as IT Manager. In the manufacturing industry. Then I joined a consulting firm which was co-owned by a gentleman called Malcolm Fry. Malcolm became my mentor and taught me a lot of what I needed to know to be a trainer & public speaker.In 1991 I moved to Toronto, Canada and started my own education & consulting business with my wife, Fatima Cabral. That company was later bought by a Dutch company called Pink Elephant, which had been founded in the Netherlands in 1980. Pink Elephant was then itself bought by another big Dutch IT services company, Getronics. However, in 1999 Fatima and myself made an offer to Getronics to buy the Pink Elephant brand world-wide and we moved the HQ back to Toronto. So we’ve been operating here in Southern Ontario and serving customers across Canada, the USA and elsewhere in the world for over 20 years now. That’s the short version!

    What is Pink Elephant today? In which countries are you present?

    Pink operates in about a dozen countries around the world, and with a small group of partners in about half a dozen other countries. You can find “Pinkers” (Pink Elephant employees) in Canada, USA, Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, UK, Netherlands, South Africa, Singapore & Malaysia.

    How many employees are working for Pink?

    There must be around 200 Pinkers by now!

    What is bigger – education or consulting services?

    Education and consulting are BOTH significant for us! In some countries one is bigger than the other. I think that’s because our teams in various places have one of those disciplines as a clear strength, and the markets are different - so opportunities present themselves differently from place to place.

    How many happy course attendees did you turn on to ITIL last year?

    I’m going to guess we probably trained upwards of about 20,000 people in the last calendar year. We know it’s been well over 250,000 in the past 20 years. Most of those are ITIL certification courses – but not all. We also have a range of Pink-developed “How To ...” courses. We go and deliver training in many, many countries around the world. And some customers make use of the online versions of our courses - either self-paced or instructor-led. So, with the benefit of the Web, no matter where you are you can do a Pink course!

    Could you please compare ITSM culture in different countries?

    This is a BIG subject!

    People – and their performance – is the most significant criterion for success within IT Service Management. And the culture (a set of attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviours) is a product of the people. So understanding the culture is very important when we engage with our customers.  You can easily fail in your objectives if you don’t take into account the culture within the organization. A successful approach in one organization might be a messy failure in another.

    But culture in an organization is not just dependent on the country you are in. There are more cultures at play than simply the national culture. Identify a group of people who have something in common – an employer, an industry, a club, a country, in fact a community of any kind and you’ll start to see a common set of attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviours emerge. So businesses and industries have specific cultures too. It’s not just a national thing.

    For example, if a North American multi-national sets up shop in south-east Asia we might see aspects of both types of national culture present. But if that organization is a bank – then there’s a banking culture you can expect to see too, and quite possibly the “banking culture” will dominate - strong on approvals, permissions and routine. People DO follow processes and respect the hierarchy in banks! (as they do in government organizations).

    So it’s not about countries then?

    This is a very interesting topic. A common mistake I see people making is to accept sweeping generalizations based on geographical culture. As a result of globalization you sometimes don’t see as many differences as you would expect.

    Having said all that, you specifically asked about national cultural differences, so here is one example from our experience. As a general rule, workers in Asia are more likely to need to get permission before proceeding with a change – they do not want to by-pass the boss. While in North America people are often rewarded for using their initiative and not bothering the boss!

    I am always careful to explain that cultural differences are just that - “differences”. Different does not mean better or worse, just different! But if you understand the culture of the ITSM group you’re working with then you can adjust your style (as a Trainer) or recommendations (as a Consultant).

    Now let’s move on to the topic of great public events. Pink’s Annual International ITSM Conference is well known all over the world, and we even heard about it here in Russia. How it all did started? Why Pink did it?

    When we started Pink Elephant in North America in 1997 we wanted to let businesses here know about this best practice framework called ITIL. We were quite nervous about what the reaction would be because ITIL had been “invented” in the UK and Americans, particularly, might not welcome anything that was “not invented here!” We decide to “launch” ITIL in North America via a conference. It was billed as the “1st Annual IT Service Management Conference & Exhibition” and we had a grand total of 61 attendees. That was December, 1997 here in Toronto.

    We were encouraged by the response because we had people travel from all over the US and Canada. So we quickly scheduled the “2nd Annual IT Service Management Conference & Exhibition” for June, 1998. It was only 6 months later, but it was in the next calendar year so we thought it was OK to call it the “2nd Annual Conference”! Around 100 people came this time. By year 4 we were in Orlando in February, 2000 with over 400 attendees and it’s been growing steadily ever since.

    How the idea developed over the years?

    Our goals at the Conference are to Educate, Inspire, Entertain and Connect people. “Educate” might seem obvious – that’s what any conference should do; provide people with new ideas and information. But we also want to Inspire people to take the new knowledge and actually do something with it. And if we’re asking them to give up a few days and possibly travel a long way to be there, then let’s also provide an “Entertaining” environment. More recently with the advent of Social IT we have recognized the importance of “Connecting” people to each other – to continue the learning beyond the Conference.

    Last Pink12 Conference, which was just held this past February, was huge – 16 years in a row, 15 tracks, more than 160 sessions, 40+ sponsors… How was it?

    This past Conference went very well, thank you!

    We had lots of positive feedback from our attendees and exhibitors. The exhibitors particularly value the event as it attracts exactly the target audience of decision-makers they want to connect with. People who attend the Conference for the sessions tell us they value the content most of all, plus the networking opportunities.

    In Russia it’s very hard to sell the event of this kind with no free admittance – what’s Pink’s secret to get such a big crowd together for their money?

    The success of the event is no secret. Anyone can do it if you have:

    1. An awareness of the key issues IT service management practitioners need to know about.
    2. Connections to many good consultants and industry practitioners & vendors – who are prepared to give up their time to share their knowledge and experiences.
    3. And the know-how, resources and commitment to plan almost 2 years out right through to the onsite presentation with minimal hassles!

    I am joking, of course, when I say “anyone can do it”! This is a VERY big project, and it can be very risky because so many things need to be just right if we are to be successful. Because the event is obviously tied to a particular place and a particular date, sometimes things outside of our control can get in the way, such as weather, natural disasters, political or social distractions, the economy, etc. etc. We have been affected by ALL of these over the years! But the Conference Team we have at Pink Elephant is very experienced and does a great job of managing all aspects of the event in which we DO have control. Such as project planning, venue management, content management, marketing, sales, on-site production and logistics, etc. I am particularly proud our the small team who identify the topics and select the speakers. This is so important if our event is going to be special and valued by customers. In fact, this is what our customers tell us they value most about the event, and it’s the main reason they keep coming back.

    Overall, I know everyone at Pink is very proud of our Conference, and our Conference team!

    So you even have a dedicated Conference team at Pink Elephant! What is the Conference for you now then? Is it an opportunity to promote your brand and services, a way to earn some money or means to grow the market?

    We have always reinforced to the Team that our #1 priority is to be profitable with the Conference. This objective goes hand-in-hand with delivering something worthwhile for the customer. It’s difficult to have one without the other. So it’s important to treat the Conferences we do as a line of business, not a special marketing initiative. This forces us to look at the event from a customer’s perspective. We need to deliver value to the customer and not just do things that we want to do – which is what can happen if we just treat it as an extension of marketing. No one wants to go to a Conference and sit in sessions where you’re being sold to.

    Being at the world’s largest (as far as I know) ITSM company, you no doubt know latest trends on the market. Could you please share with me your thoughts? In which way ITIL is moving? How ITSM principles are applied, what is hot right now? All the marketing buzz words such as clouds, BYOD, social – how are they influencing our precious ITSM world?

    It’s more about IT service management than ITIL. ITIL is only one way to achieve your objectives. It’s good, but it isn’t a methodology with rigid “must do” practices. You can take some good ideas from ITIL, plus some good proven ideas from elsewhere, plus your own practices that work well – and establish a good IT service management operation.

    In the market right now we’re hearing lots of buzz about other practices that can be adopted to help corporate IT. I think one of the key drivers for continual change in how we manage IT services is the very fact that many IT services are now outside the control of corporate IT. So this introduces the subjects of Cloud IT, Social IT and the consumerization of IT leading to BYOD.

    These are all trends that tell us our co-workers, users and customers are becoming more sophisticated in their expectations and demands. So how does IT Service Management support or enable these trends? I think this is a very important question, and I’d like to see more of our leaders in ITSM step forward and acknowledge that the very core of IT – the infrastructure & services – is changing. People can get IT services themselves, they don’t always need a corporate IT function to do any heavy lifting, or give permission. We’re all “activating” web-enabled services and mobile devices with great ease, low - or no - costs and with startling results. I still think there’s a role for ITSM here, but we must stop thinking that the only IT infrastructure & services that matters is the stuff that’s bought, implemented, managed and supported in-house.

    Do you think that this will lead to the dramatic changes in IT Service Management as a concept? If so, what are those changes? Many experts believe that ITSM will stay intact, but we need to change the way we implement our processes to deliver services, and the services will be different, but the concept of IT-delivering-services-not-products will stay.

    Correct! We still need ITSM. It’s just important to accept that IT services can come from other places, not just in-house.

    What is the most important thing in ITSM for 2012? Why?

    I’m not sure I’m a good predictor! Although we’re already well into 2012 and some things are becoming increasingly apparent:

    1. Don’t get hung up on any one framework. There’s no such thing as an easy solution to managing corporate IT services. Especially today when it’s more complicated than ever. So stop looking for the “magic bullet”.
    2. Despite our obsessions with Tools and more recently Processes; People are the asset that makes the most difference. For me, every dollar and minute you invest in yourself and your staff is worth more than the equivalent investment in Tools & Processes. And I’m not just talking about education & training here. Invest time in gathering information to increase understanding of what makes projects work in IT, and communicating and reinforcing vision, goals and results. You can have the most state-of-the-art Tools working within best practice Processes, but if the People don’t understand each other, what they’re doing and why – you’ll fail!

    Thank you for your time, David!

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    Posted by David Ratcliffe on 11/22 at 10:34 AM
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    Friday, November 16, 2012

    Justifying Your Next Big Idea Means Entering The Dragon’s Den Of ITSM

    One of my favourite TV shows is “Dragon’s Den”. At least that’s what it’s called here in Canada and in the UK. In the USA it’s called “Shark Tank” but I prefer “Dragon’s Den”!

    The premise is that if you have what you think is a good business idea you can present a proposal to a team of rich entrepreneurs (the Dragons) and try to convince them to invest in you.

    In ITSM, there’s 3 Dragons you need to keep in mind.

    The CIO Dragon (see how small you are!)

    The CFO Dragon (you’re still smaller!)

    The CEO Dragon (small again!)

    Each one has a different viewpoint when it comes to assessing your next big idea. So keep in mind:

    The CIO Dragon - Is focused primarily on IT resources, particularly risks to current performance and existing projects. So what will be the impact of your Big Idea to what’s currently going on in IT? And remember, the CIO may well be your boss, so you have to make him/her look good. Promoting a Big Idea that jeopardizes IT resources, projects and image will not go down well.

    The CFO Dragon - Is focused primarily on revenues and/or costs. So do you know how much your Big Idea will improve the bottom line of your organization? You better be ready to answer that. If you can describe the costs accurately and the end result is an improvement to business financial results - how can the CFO argue with you?

    The CEO Dragon - Is focused primarily on business objectives. Do you know what they are?! If not - find out and make sure you make reference to the positive effect your Big Idea will have in enabling those objectives. The CEO isn’t really that concerned with what’s going on in IT, so he/she may well be an ally if your CIO is being over-cautious. Just as long as there’s a worthwhile business benefit.

    Good luck, and let me know how you get on!

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    Posted by David Ratcliffe on 11/16 at 02:48 PM
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    Tuesday, November 06, 2012

    Frequently Asked Questions About PinkVERIFY

    Stephen Mann at Forrester recently wrote a nice article about ITSM tool certifications. After reading a lot of mis-information (and mischief) over the years about tool certifications, I found Stephen’s article refreshingly well balanced and fair. He has followed up this original piece with another short article outlining some good advice to keep in mind when selecting tools (do not just pick something because it’s on the PinkVERIFY list!)

    There were a few questions that Stephen posed that I thought it might be useful to try and answer.

    But first, a little background information. PinkVERIFY highlights the essential functional requirements needed by any ITSM tool in order to support good ITSM practice according to the ITIL model. It’s broken up into a per process assessment. So a product can meet the PinkVERIFY “standard” for specific processes, but maybe not for others - just check the list, it’s pretty clear.

    PinkVERIFY is not intended to provide recommendations for tools, but simply a list indicating what a tool DOES; not how well or how easily or how cheaply, etc. So more diligence needs to be done before making a commitment to any vendor.

    PinkVERIFY is a free service provided to the ITSM practitioner community. It is also a paid service provided to the ITSM vendor community. The fees we charge are based on our best estimates of what it costs for us to provide this service. PinkVERIFY is not a major revenue earner for Pink and we do not have the same kind of approach to sales targets as we do for our Education, Events and Consulting services. Our primary financial goal is to recover our costs.

    How it works is like this:

    Step 1: Pink has listed on the PinkVERIFY web pages the mandatory functional requirements software tools should meet to support key ITSM processes according to the ITIL model. Anyone can view and download this information for free – practitioners and vendors alike. (I think it’s actually a goldmine of a free resource! Practitioners could use this to assess their current tools and maybe activate certain configuration options to improve functionality.)

    Step 2: Vendors interested in having their product on the PinkVERIFY list are instructed to download the assessment (at no charge) and assess their tools against the criteria. They may find their tool already meets all the essential functional requirements, or that there are gaps.

    Step 3: If the vendor does as we instruct and then wants to proceed to have their tool on the PinkVERIFY web page then they ask Pink to “verify” their self-assessment. We charge a daily consulting fee for this. Depending on how many processes are involved it should only take 1-3 days for the Consultant to complete the “verify”.

    Step 4: If the tool passes the verification we include it on the list accordingly and we license the vendor to use the PinkVERIFY logo when promoting their product. There is another relatively small fee due here to cover our costs over the life of the product. (We learned the hard way over time that once the tool is on the list we still have quite a bit of work to do to, especially in ensuring the information there is up-to-date. You might be surprised how frequently vendor names and contact details change; even the name of their product and/or the version, etc. On more than one occasion a new version of a product has omitted functionality that will cause a failure if it were re-assessed. So we require that all new versions get a double-check. Rarely do vendors come forward with updated information, we have to be vigilant and regularly go out to ask - and this takes time and effort.

    Step 5: Practitioners review the PinkVERIFY web pages when creating a shortlist of tools to evaluate. That’s it!

    So here are the frequently asked questions, direct from the horse’s mouth:

    1. Why PinkVERIFY?

    When Pink publicly introduced ITIL to the North American ITSM community in the mid-1990s we quickly discovered the #1 FAQ - “This ITIL thing is a nice process model, but which tools work with it?” This question cropped up in EVERY ITIL Foundations class. As we all know, IT folks - especially in the US - love their tools! We thought it might be useful to provide these practitioners with a quick check-list of tools that met the minimal functional requirements of the ITIL model. The simple goal was to identify what a tool needed to do to support a process.

    2. How Was PinkVERIFY Developed?

    The initial version of ITIL was made up of over 40 books! Two were titled: “IT Service Support Tools” and “IT Service Delivery Tools”. We simply listed all the mandatory criteria included in those books and used them to create a simple assessment. It was all fairly black and white. The fact the list was compiled by an independent organization (Pink) with no ties to any tool vendor should have helped provide at least some degree of credibility. Nevertheless some years ago a few cheeky analysts at Gartner attempted to discredit the service by claiming we simply put products on the list if the software vendor pays us enough money. Utter nonsense! Any vendor who’s been through the process knows this is not true. The assessment criteria have always been free to download so anyone can do their own double-checking of a products applicability. Since the initial launch of ITIL, and PinkVERIFY, ITIL has been refreshed a couple of times and so we’ve endeavoured to keep the criteria up to date with new terminology and process evolutions.

    3. Does Any Product Ever Fail?

    Yes! Three of the large tool vendors at the launch of PinkVERIFY wanted to be first through the process. (I think two of them still claim they were first, but who cares now anyway!) Interestingly, the 3rd one failed. So right from the outset we’ve done an honest job. That failed product went through about 6 weeks of re-development by the vendor before eventually passing the “verification”. The vendor just didn’t understand the new concept of Problem Management prior to going through the PinkVERIFY process (remember this was in the very early days of ITIL in North America) but we quickly enlightened them and their product soon met the requirements. We’ve never publicized which ones fail, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help practitioners see which ones have actually passed the verification and also help the software vendor to understand why their product might have failed; encouraging them to do what’s necessary to make good. We’re pleased and proud to know that more than a small handful of products over the years have had re-work done in order to meet the PinkVERIFY requirements and thereby support good practice.

    4. Can We Buy A PinkVERIFY Listed Product With Confidence?

    You can be assured it meets the minimal functional requirements of the specific ITSM process, but the PinkVERIFY list should not be interpreted as any kind of recommendation list. There are so many other considerations that should be taken into account, such as cost, scalability, integration with other systems, ease of use, level of support, etc. etc. Think about when you might be in the market for a new TV. You may have a simple requirements list: screen size; physical size (does it fit the space I have available?); 720p, 1080i or 1080p resolution rate; LED, LCD or plasma; budget; etc. Using these requirements you may go online and make a shortlist of TVs that look like they will work for you. To me, this is a bit like the PinkVERIFY process - checking to see what’s out there and fits my functional requirements. But you then need to do more work before making a final decision. Going to the dealer to see what’s in-stock; what promotions might be available; assessing how each model actually looks; find out warranty details, etc., etc. So the initial requirements list helped you narrow the choices, but - unless it’s incredibly detailed - wouldn’t be the only consideration. For an ITSM tool you need to do more than just look at the functional requirements. So do not commit to a product JUST because it’s on the PinkVERIFY list!

    5. What’s The Point If Almost Every Tool Is On The List Anyway?”

    Really? When I hear this question I have to chuckle! Don’t you – as a buyer – feel confident when you buy an electrical appliance that the government has insisted it’s met mandatory safety requirements? Or that the doctor you’re about to entrust with your life is actually qualified to practice? Or that the food you’re about to eat is safe? Try finding non-approved electrical appliances in your local department store; or a doctor in your local hospital who isn’t qualified; or food on the supermarket shelf that hasn’t been approved for public consumption. So every product, doctor, whatever - is “on the list” but that doesn’t make the list redundant. There’s tons of such “certifications” across almost every industry and they serve a valuable service. I appreciate that an ITSM tool is not a matter of life and death, like selecting a safe product or choosing a suitably qualified doctor, still, using PinkVERIFY as a reference can be helpful and expedite your selection process. I’d be delighted if ALL products in the market were on the list. It means we’ve all bought in to a set of common standards which we think are useful. And it’s not just Pink creating those standards. The ITSM community at large has worked on improving ITIL over the years, and that work is reflected in PinkVERIFY.

    These are just some of the more frequently asked questions about PinkVERIFY. If you have anything else you’d like to know, please leave me a comment here and I’ll do my best to provide additional information.

    Good luck with your ITSM tool selection! And remember, I’m always interested to hear your experiences with either PinkVERIFY, or the tools.

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    Posted by David Ratcliffe on 11/06 at 12:16 PM
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