Ignoring IT is the only way to focus on people, tears of technology joy and service desks resembling Super Amazon: all in a day (and a half’s) work for Ian Aitchison at the 2012 SDI Conference.
I’ve just spent two days at the SDI Conference in the heart of the English countryside. In my mind, the Service Desk Institute has always been the softest and fluffiest of the ITSM industry bodies. Its Service Desk certification programmes focus heavily on culture, morale and customer service, as well as the ‘drier’ (but no less important) subjects of process and KPIs. The annual conference is a fixture in the industry calendar, with SDI members (typically service desk or service delivery managers) meeting to share and learn. Like the (lovely) SDI people itself, the event has a quirky personality all of its own and often delivers a few surprises.
What were the highlights? Unlike similar industry conferences and shows, the main focus at the SDI Conference for me are the keynote sessions. The breakouts are good, but the big-stage guest presenters are the big draw. They were diverse, contrasting and certainly challenging.
The first keynote was a surprising choice – James Timpson, the CEO of Timpson’s – a chain of UK high street shoe-repair and key-cutter stores. Shoes. Keys. No computers in their stores at all. But James presented a clear and compelling message about PEOPLE, and the Timpson company culture of recruiting almost exclusively based on personality, not on skillset or experience. And then enabling and empowering these people to pretty much run their own shop as long as they ‘dress for the job’ and ‘put the money in the till’. Inspiring and refreshing, it brought the themes of people and customer front and centre.
Just to underline the point, the session contained no IT. This theme continued through the SDI Conference: building a service-centric culture through putting the right people – and only the right people – in the right roles. And, controversially, swiftly ensuring the ‘wrong’ people have the opportunity to ‘be more successful elsewhere’.
Later in the day, it was time for a perennial favourite – the SDI Service Excellence Awards. These start with a panel debate where each finalist argues their case for winning, followed by their videos and finally the presentations. As usual, the videos were good, mostly of a very high standard, and full of humour and humanity. Of course, everyone was in good cheer from seeing England win over Ukraine in the Euro2012 football on the big screen over dinner.
And then it all got very weird. The entertainment. Stavros Flatley. If you don’t know them, you could visit youtube, but to save you undue distress let’s just summarise it as a fat greek man and his chubby son dancing, without tops on, very badly to Irish music. I’ll give them credit for getting everyone on their feet, but I do feel that only in the UK can something be so good because it’s just so, so very…bad. Let’s draw a veil over the evening there shall we?
So, the next day dawned and once it became clear that the fat greek naked man and his son were not coming back, things picked up. The room was pin-drop silent as the inimitable Chris Dancy of ServiceSphere guided us calmly but passionately through a journey from the IT service desk of today into an extraordinary future. Chris is rapidly carving a path to be the first ITSM industry speaker to make it onto a TED stage, and his presentation continued that trajectory. At first it all seemed to be about technology, but then it became apparent that – again – it was all about people, and the development of people, working as knowledge workers, with ever more advanced technology intruding and helping into our thoughts and bodies. It was a strangely human, almost emotional presentation. I’m sure I saw a few people wiping their eyes at the end, although they may just have been tears of joy that the fat greek man wasn’t coming back.
Overall there was a lot of talk of ‘the service desk of the future’ at the event. This new paper from the SDI looking at how IT support and service desk may change is well worth a read. My thoughts are included in the paper, along with many greater and smarter people from across the industry.
In brief, my opinion is that in five years from now, your service desk will be a combination of Super-Amazon and the Apple Store’s genius bar. Service desk staff will be roaming the business, in any location, helping PEOPLE work better and faster. Less break-fix, more enabling and productivity enhancing. If any part of the IT department has a secure and exciting future, it’s the part that’s helping people be productive.
And there you have it. A great day and a half. A continual theme of service and people placed above and beyond technology or best practice. Thought provoking, challenging, surprising and with a strange quirky human personality. My thanks and great praise go to Howard, Tessa and all the amazing people that make up the SDI. We need them.
Not so sure about the fat greek man and his son though.