Barclay Rae has recently returned from Pink12 and here shares his thoughts on how the event tackled social media, leadership and the challenges faced by the ITSM industry.
Last week I attended the 16th annual Pink Elephant Conference in Las Vegas – my second successive visit. Last year’s conference was notably for how it challenged received wisdom around ITIL and communicated this message via Twitter – both at the conference and beyond. So this year, there was a high expectation around what might happen and whether this would match up to the dizzy heights of 2011. Last year I was simply a conference attendee and this year I was going to present and also speak on a panel – so I expected to see the show from a slightly different perspective, but hoped that it would capture the same sort of ‘buzz’ I got last year.
This year’s conference opening video set the tone with a call for ‘leadership in ITSM’ – with the footage shown portentously flying through clouds. This message has come through a few conference and event headlines recently – although to me there’s some ambiguity as to where this ‘leadership’ is being called for – i.e. is it at the practitioner level, the industry as a whole, or do we need some sort of messiah-figure to emerge from the clouds and take us on a journey? Overall attendance seemed to be holding up with Pink reporting some increases in attendee and exhibitor numbers. Tweeting activity was definitely up although perhaps still not as high as could be expected – there certainly wasn’t the same social media ‘buzz’ this year.
The traditional Pink conference is notable and known for the volume and diversity of its sessions across the ITIL/ITSM spectrum. For me there are maybe too many and it’s quite difficult to select all the sessions you want from the large programme without entirely missing one you really wanted to attend. There were some mutterings and Tweets about some sessions also being lined up against each other and it may be worth looking in future at reducing some sessions and even possibly repeating some other key ones.
However there was a good mix of ‘traditional’ ITSM sessions – case studies, consultant theorems and Pink Elephant briefing and training sessions – interspersed with some more contemporary sessions on social media, IT futures and methodologies. A notable change for me was the inclusion of social media as a more mainstream aspect of the conference (with several SocMed ‘gurus’ speaking) – whereas last year it was discussed but featured in a more peripheral way.
At the conference I interviewed a number of key industry people for ITSMTV, including Dave Ratcliffe, Rob England, John Custy, Ian Clayton, Rhett Glauser and many others. Pink president Dave Ratcliffe notably identified the key challenge for the industry at the present time – the need to communicate with customers, listen to their needs and deliver services in terms of business outcomes. That message rang through many sessions and formulated most of the closing session on ‘what to do starting next Monday’.
It was somewhat disappointing that the SocMed sessions (certainly those I attended) were not well attended – certainly compared to the traditional Pink ITSM /ITIL sessions. As an example, two SocMed sessions were barely 20 per cent full, compared to an excellent educational service catalog presentation from Troy Du Moulin which was fully subscribed (perhaps 200 people). Therein lies the conundrum for Pink (and other ITSM conferences) - the need to break away and show leadership around new areas, like social media, while still meeting the actual demand for the more standard ITIL/ITSM sessions.
So while social media was a not much-noted part of the programme, cloud was pretty much taken for granted (very much a topic for vendors of course) and the other topic that cropped up from time to time was the matter of ‘methodology of choice’. Rob England ran an informative and enlightening session on ITIL vs. COBIT, in which he came down firmly on the side of COBIT but also mentioned other standards, frameworks and methodologies. At the conference the methodology debate was added to with the announcement that USMBOK books will now be sold by TSO.
The messages about COBIT and other frameworks/standards was definitely sent out and will hopefully be picked up on, although ITIL remains the vastly predominant force in ITSM. My guess would be that most Pink12 attendees probably wouldn’t care too much? I also had an uncomfortable moment during the closing session (which featured good advice on talking to customers), when the debate swung to whether IT and ITSM should talk about ‘the business’ or the business and IT etc. It seems to me we’re in danger of looking like the stewards re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – while we debate the finer points of methodologies and our relevance to our customers, IT is going mobile to the cloud via the business buyer.
So overall, lots of good stuff and practical dissemination of the ITSM ideals – with a strong focus on people and culture and ‘making it happen’. Maybe this show wasn’t as dramatic as last year, but maybe it was a bit less polarised and the gap between the ‘standard’ content and the new stuff was less noticeable. Certainly for me it was another indication that the very fundamentals of the ITIL model are being challenged when this in itself becomes part of the conference establishment – Pink also understands this and the potential disruption that may ensue for the ITIL industry.
Leadership remains the most fundamental challenge for all. For the practitioners and their CIOs it means showing value and delivering positive outcomes from ITSM/ITIL, via customer engagement and internal culture shift. For the ITSM industry it probably means being nimble and agile enough to change just enough to meet the new challenges and requirements for practitioner and practical content. It also means not getting too internally focused on our own navels and promoting positive use of ITIL and other methods and approaches.
We don’t need a ‘messiah’ but we do need the industry to lead on the need for simple practical guidance and advice. Certainly the ‘meet and listen to your customer’ mantra is really now being pushed as a first practical principle – pity it’s taken so long, but we seem to be getting there. I hope it’s not too late – maybe we’ll know better next year.