And Other Fascinating Thoughts About ITSM Software Considerations
I, am a gamer.
I know, I know, not something you really care about.
But it’s true.
Now, many of you may also be gamers. Or fancy yourself gamers. Or maybe you find the whole idea cringe worthy, and liked it better when TV was called ‘Books’, and streaming was something that the creek outside of your house did as it meandered by.
But for those who had an image of a guy living in his moms basement playing on his Xbox One or Playstation 4 Pro, I’m proud to say I’m a PC gamer. Did the console thing, and never went back. (And I actually do not live in my mom’s basement).
Why does this matter and what does it have to do with IT Service Management software? (Some would call this ‘Help Desk Software’)
I’ll tell you. But I’ll call it ‘ITSM Software’ for clarity, since it’s well beyond a mere ‘Help Desk’ that this software is designed to service.
But before I do that, it’s back to gaming. Because ITSM software can be a little like Console Gaming VS PC Gaming.
Here’s what I mean.
Broadly speaking, Gamers are grouped into two buckets: Those who play on Consoles, and those who play on PC’s. And there’s something to be said for each—They both play games.
Console gamers get everything pre-configured for them. The hardware engineers determined, along with their software engineering counterparts, how the system would function and which hardware it would standardize for use, what the controller would look like, what it meant in their world to be ‘compatible’ with their platform, and even in most cases, what the actual control scheme for the game would be – laying out which buttons to press for which actions in an immutable, permanent way that you cannot change. Many are fine with this arrangement.
PC gamers meanwhile, have a different sort of environment in mind. Everyone in the PC gamer world needs something different – so these gamers built or bought their PC’s (aka RIG) to reflect those differences, which means no two peoples rigs or experiences would be the same, unlike the Console gamer, who had everything spelled out for them ahead of time and had only to plug in the system, insert a disk or cartridge, kick back on the sofa, and play.
We PC gamers had an advantage in that we could make the experience ‘our own’. We could set values for control functions that we preferred. We could run games in much higher detail, and our ability to interact with other gamers did not depend upon which ‘hardware’ they ran – if they could run the game, they could play together, even if sitting across the globe from one another.
Which mechanism is ‘better’? Depends upon what ‘Better’ really means for you. (You knew I’d say that, didn’t you?)
ITSM software is broadly like the analogy example above. Many vendors create a ‘Console-like’ experience for their ITSM software. It is pre-configured out of the box to perform a certain way. There’s usually very little if anything about the system that can be modified. The assumption here being that you don’t need to think about anything – just install the software and start taking tickets – because just like our Consoles’ can play games, all such ITSM software can take tickets – you just have very little if any control over how it does this, or which control functions do what, within the system.
Other ITSM software solutions, are more like PC gaming. Their ITSM software is configurable. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution, because no two organizations have the exact same processes or truly value the exact same measures of success in every respect, so why cookie cutter the experience of tracking your processes when they can be tailored to your specific needs, just like a PC gamer can tailor their experiences to suit their needs? (even though in the end, this type of ITSM software still takes tickets just like their Console like counterparts can.)
So, broadly speaking, ITSM software falls into those types of general categories – Is it more like a Console that everyone has the exact same version of and uses in largely identical ways, or is it more akin to PC gaming, in which your business processes can be realized in the way you’d prefer VS the way the software vendor built it?
As you might expect, there’s more to that hypothetical than meets the eye.
Most Console-like ITSM software is really not very configurable. Such software rarely gives you much of anything that can be matched to your own processes – instead preferring to dictate to you how your processes should run. This can seem very appealing, especially as a first solution (Beyond email or sticky notes) used by an organization. It’s often touted like an ‘Easy Button’ for ITSM.
And it’s also commonly replaced by its more PC gamer-like ITSM software for one big reason – It cannot be made to behave like you want it to. Which means you cannot do the reporting you wish you could, because you cannot capture the data you wish you could, because the Console-like software cannot be configured (in most cases) to match your own environment – you have to take what you get by and large with such ITSM software. But short term, it beats the heck out of using a sticky note or a PDF form to do your process bidding, because in general, most such ITSM systems can still take tickets for things like Incident Management, or Change Management, or Problem Management; you’re simply given very few configuration choices as to how it does this, and literally no ‘Customization’ choices, (or very, very few) either.
That whole concept of Configuration VS Customization is worth talking about further, because it points to a deeper component of our ability to manage our processes and therefore select an ITSM solution that works for us: That being the ability to use a ‘Codeless’ method to configure the ITSM software VS using code to ‘Customize’ the software for your purposes.
Configuring the more ‘Console-like’ software often amounts to setting up a few basic automations from a set of pre-defined possibilities. It’s push button easy by and large, but leaves very little room for any sense of individuality or corporate identity to be reflected. Oftentimes, such software will only present you with one type of ‘Ticket’, and it’ll be up to you to figure out how to hammer that single ticket into every possible process use-case you have. It’s as if you bought a copy of Microsoft Word, but were only allowed to create documents using a single, pre-defined template where the words and the layout were already set in stone.
On the flip side, It’s more PC-gamer like variants can also be ‘Configured’ to perform to your needs via a codeless interface, and many very powerful solutions that we at Flycast Partners represent, fall into this category. Configuration implies you are arranging the tool in a way that had been considered by the software vendor as a likely need, and so they’ve provided a codeless, point and click interface by which you can set up your system to behave the way you’d like (And in ways they thought you might like). This means very little time can be spent getting such a system set up for use, which in turn means that since Time = Money, these systems can be a sweet spot for getting your ITSM functions off the ground and into the future. Such systems are usually easily upgraded via a Wizard, and require very little overhead to actually ‘operate’.
But we also represent ITSM software that can be ‘customized’ to your needs. Customization usually means someone is writing ‘code’ within the ITSM software (Java, or some other custom language that the tool alone supports) in order to get it to behave in ways you might like or need. This invariably implies that such software requires more ‘overhead’ in terms of maintenance, because you’d need someone on staff who could speak the tools language, write the tools language, coax the tool to behaving the way you want, and hopefully not be busy with a ‘day job’ so they can perform all these much more time consuming tasks. The upside here is that with a code based ITSM solution (Or one that accepted coded elements but was otherwise ‘codeless’) one can think up and realize ideas beyond those that any developer of such ITSM software could have imagined.
But it puts you in the coding business, which brings with it the customization overhead, and which often makes upgrading such a system too expensive or time consuming for many organizations to successfully manage – hence the reason most such ITSM software in the field is 2, three, or even more versions behind the latest release – because it can be painful to upgrade solutions that are fully ‘Customized’ VS those that are ‘Configured’ for your use.
Again in the end, even this type of software still takes tickets, just like the other types we’ve talked about.
How to decide between these types of approaches in ITSM software is a choice that has a few variables to consider:
Do I have just one Process to manage like Incident Management?
Some think of this as their ‘Help Desk’, which differs from a Service Desk in that a Help Desk usually just receives the call and routes the ticket, with a minimum of break/fix work done at the Help Desk level (And it’s always break/fix, or ‘Incident Management’ that’s being performed) whereas a ‘Service Desk’ provides a single point of contact for all organizational services – including Break/Fix work. The former “Help Desk” use case is a good candidate for a more ‘Console-like’ ITSM solution – at least short term.
If you have more than one process such as Change Management or Problem Management or are interested in performing Configuration Management or Service Level Management, then this will push you beyond the simplest of such solutions as they are usually not flexible enough to uniquely manage each process using their own process touchstones.
Do I have data from other systems that are important to integrate into my new ITSM software?
Many of the more ‘Console-like’ ITSM software solutions provide no means to get access to other data from other systems, or it is very limited and provides no mechanism other than what is pre-defined within the system,
Virtually all of the ‘Configuration’ (VS Customization) type ITSM software provides a code based way to create your own interfaces for such data integrations through an API (Application Program Interface), but many codeless solutions do, too.
Do I need to access my data and system ‘In the Cloud’?
Remote Hosting (In the cloud) or SaaS (Software as a Service) or even PaaS (Platform as a Service) are mechanisms for getting access to the software without any of the Servers or other infrastructure required to be provided by you. It’s basically a ‘rental’ of the software and its functions. SaaS implies that not only is it hosted remotely, but it’s administered remotely, too, including upgrades and the like. This may be ideal for your organization’s needs, especially if the purchase is short term.
For most Total Cost of Ownership calculations used to determine which is the least costly way to go (On premise using your servers/infrastructure or Hosted/SaaS) the cost/benefit break starts happening around 3-5 years out, beyond which it becomes more costly to have the software hosted remotely in the cloud or as a SaaS offering, in most cases. Software costs are a factor of course, with the length of time between ITSM software changes and the business model employed in the organization, the usual deciding factors. If your organization hosts no servers or has no data center, then it’s probably Cloud or SaaS/PaaS for you.
Do I have the bandwidth/staff time/FTE’s to throw at managing a fully code based, customized solution?
Such systems always fall into the PC-like gamer bucket in our analogy here, because they typically do nothing ‘out of the box’ and often require full customization to fit into your organization. While this can lead to tremendous flexibility in how the ITSM software behaves, the price for this flexibility is often paid up front as well as all along the way, via costs incurred to write custom code, and the ongoing costs to support the staff needed to continue to update that code as time goes by.
Seems like we’ve all got ‘legacy systems’ in house that were developed by someone who is no longer with the company, and that we must now learn how to support in their absence. This is just one of the possible considerations to be made when thinking about a totally code based ITSM software solution; who cares for and feeds the thing? We all know that even ‘Free Puppies’ are seldom ‘Free’ after we factor in all the costs to keep the puppy.
Do I know my own processes? (Or do I see the need for new Processes that I don’t yet know?)
This one is a major consideration, because the more ‘Console-like’ ITSM software experiences don’t really require you to know anything about how it ‘should’ work – they’re all about telling you how it’s going to work whether you like it or not. For those who don’t know their own processes or who don’t really care to know, a pre-defined ‘Console-like’ experience may be ideal.
Folks who know their own processes and/or have processes coming down the pipe that they know are going to need to be managed like the Service they are, usually can’t get any joy out of the more Console-like ITSM software. It’s ‘Out of the Box’ readiness is its biggest downfall, because it does one thing, and it does it one way, which leaves little to no wriggle room to shape such a solution into your own needs.
When it’s all said and done, there isn’t a single magic bullet for everyone when it comes to ITSM software and choosing the right one for you. This is what we do here at Flycast Partners; we help align those needs of yours, with the right software and services to get you to the next level.
So whether you’re a console gamer who loves just plugging the Xbox in and boom, you’re gaming, or a PC gamer who loves that the whole experience can be (Usually quickly in the case of codeless solutions) configured to their liking, you’re still playing games in the end.
And whether you’re an ITSM software consumer who thinks everything should be/could be out of the box ready for your organization’s needs, or someone who has processes and business requirements that require the flexibility of codeless configuration to suit your business, or even full customizations for truly unique business cases, you’re still taking tickets.
It’s just nothing to play games with.
“He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.” ~ Douglas Adams
About The Author
Gregory A Gielda is a Sales Engineer for Flycast Partners. Greg has many years of ITIL training and implementation under his belt, and is both ITIL V2 Manager/Practitioner Certified, as well as ITIL V3 Certified. Greg lives on a hobby farm in Wisconsin, and in addition to talking about tools and processes, provides Flycast Partners with a series of Webinars on tool agnostic Process (Our ‘Fool Series’) as well as on various ITIL topics.