Over 1600 delegates attended Pink Elephant’s 15th annual conference, Pink11, at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. UK ITSM consultant Barclay Rae was there and witnessed what he believes to be the seeds of immense change in the industry.
The main thing I took away from the conference was that this was a turning point for the ITSM industry. Over-hyped? No, the challenges, threats and opportunities were laid bare in raw detail for all to see and it was a thoroughly engaging experience.
I’ve been to many conferences over the last 20-odd years, but this was the first time that I experienced challenge, discord and the desire for change, plus a sense that my own industry needs to get moving if it is to survive. I was well aware of these issues beforehand, but the conference was a public crystallisation of this, bringing many difficult topics out into the open. So, what was so different about this conference?
Firstly there was a prolific use of Twitter, which allowed all ‘Tweeps’ to get an understanding of not only the sessions they were attending, but also those that they were missing. Many people were tweeting key points from each session dynamically and this provided a heightened atmosphere of awareness and understanding of content. The conference practically encouraged all attendees – particularly practitioners – to start using Twitter. From a networking perspective it was interesting to meet up with many US-based people that I’d got to know only via Twitter – a very positive experience.
One of the best quotes of the show came from Chris Dancy, Pink Elephant social media guru; ‘if it’s free then you are the product’ – meaning that the value of Facebook and Twitter is not in the software interface itself, but from the patronage and content of users. Dancy also raised the flag over the speed of uptake in such areas as gamification, plus the need for IT to wake up to the new world of multifarious devices and applications that challenge the traditional IT department landscape.
The conference opening session also set this tone with a strongly and concisely worded video-montage, which basically set out the impending challenges for IT and ITSM – the clear message of this was ‘are you ready?’ to meet these challenges; Cloud, the spread of mobile personal devices, social media, app stores, customer choice, new IT commercial models.
The opening keynote was an inspiring session from a US Navy captain Michael Abrashoff, who took the poorest performing ship in the US Navy and turned it into a model of excellence, using a mixture of some independent thinking and (mostly) superlative man-management skills. His own personal style was the key to many of his successes – he was the down-to-earth antidote to the professional ‘management guru’ presenter. The real relevance of this session became more clear as the conference developed – i.e. that people need to be empowered and inspired rather than controlled and managed (‘you can’t order excellence’). ITSM needs real culture change and shifts in mindset to succeed – however we not only need to apply this to our IT colleagues, but also to our own comfortable ITSM approach, which is now starting to look slow and ponderous in the new world of technology.
The presentations that followed over the next two and half days summarised the current tensions and dilemmas facing this industry. There were a number of good sessions dealing with traditional ITSM process topics, case studies and expert theses. There were also a number of panel discussions that ripped through the current received wisdom around ITSM implementation and value. This can be summed up in a couple of debates around CMDB and Service Catalogue – despite these sessions including some very eminent and experienced people, there was no clear consistent message on what these things are, what their value is and how to make them work successfully. There were comments on the need to move fast and cut through a lot of the existing process-driven teachings (‘commoditise or die’), while there were others punting the message that a service catalogue will take ’12-18 months to pull together’. While both views have their merits (I’d subscribe to the former), the message to the industry is muddled and confusing.
The debate on ‘services’ also took a further step with discussion around whether we actually need to create this layer of ‘IT Service’ within an organisation – whether we need to bother with services any more than we might not bother with a CMDB (rather than asset management). Regardless of the pros and cons of this I came away worrying about what sort of image the ITSM industry portrays to its customers if we can’t agree some basic definitions amongst ourselves.
The panel session that involved the least disagreement concerned Cloud computing. There were some questions around security, confidence and loss of control, however there was convergence of thought – in short everyone expected more cloud implementations to happen sooner rather than later. The best reply to the security question put the ball back in the buyers court – control and security all depend on the quality of supplier management.
The conference closed with strong calls for practical action (commitments via Twitter), plus the announcement of a ‘Reality TV’ type makeover programme, sponsored by Pink, Hornbill and others, where an organisation would be given resources to improve its service quality over the next year. While this will be an interesting experiment it will carry some risk for all parties – overall it seems like a good idea to publicise and openly demonstrate the potential value of a co-ordinated ITSM programme.
In summary, the conference opened up the debate on the value and currency of the ITSM approach. Is this relevant in its current form to support the IT profession over the next 5 – 10 years? As the commercial and delivery models for technology change, do we need to rely so heavily on process frameworks, possibly getting more business benefit from governance models like COBIT and ISO38500?
While I came away with a clearer view of these issues and the need for some urgent action, it’s apparent that the industry as a whole needs to quickly unify to deliver cohesive messages and simple guidance.
We need to be ready, but we also need to be decisive, clear and consistent in our message. I hope that the industry can take note – I also hope to return to Vegas next year to what could be quite a different looking industry and conference…
Barclay Rae is a management consultant working in the ITSM industry. He is running Service Catalogue workshops in the UK on 15th March (London) and 16th March (Leeds) – click here for more info.