The Impact of Automation on ICT Service Management
Customer demand drives companies to innovate, while new technical possibilities lead to greater diversity in the product and service portfolio. Digitization has paved the way for the emergence of innovative offerings that combine physical products with ICT services. While customers enjoy unprecedented flexibility and personalization, providers have to rethink the way that ICT services are delivered and create sustainable, future-proof concepts that meet growing demands.
EXPERT PAPER BY Roland Koller, Business Consultant bluEDGE Methodik GmbH
There’s an app that lets you remotely adjust the central heating in your home. There’s a wristwatch that tells you when it’s time to exercise. There’s a car that calls the nearest repair shop for assistance in the event of a breakdown. And there are high-bay warehouses that automatically reorder items so they’re never out of stock. Those are just a few examples of how a digitized world is changing our everyday lives.
Consumer goods are increasingly enriched with ICT (information and communication technology) services, transforming them into new and innovative products.
For consumers, these products offer totally new possibilities that add value to their working and private lives. For providers, they present a range of new challenges that must be overcome. At the same time, companies can use innovative offerings to power ahead of their competitors.
Looking to the future, it is extremely important to establish a production process for ICT services that is analogous to the industrial manufacturing of physical goods. The main challenges here are in the areas of standardization – of product and service definitions – as well as digitization and automation. While large and medium-sized companies already have a high degree of process maturity thanks to ITIL/eTOM and can adopt innovations relatively quickly, they still struggle to implement the principles of industrial production. One of the reasons for this difficulty is that industrial principles are fundamentally different to the principles traditionally used in the delivery of ICT services.
What decision makers need now is a new paradigm and a genuine understanding of the crucial importance of good leadership.
They also need a comprehensive methodology that lets them work efficiently through every stage in the lifecycle of industrially produced ICT services. All changes should be as sustainable as possible, with built-in support for future AI applications and innovations. In addition, it’s important to consider cost control and cost optimization as well as ways of achieving maximum output in terms of both quantity and quality.
In this Expert Paper, I will present my views on the industrial production of ICT services in three steps and explain how you too can equip yourself to remain competitive in the face of changing demands.
The Customer Experience Chain
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.” – Steve Jobs
No matter how you market a product, it cannot survive without customers. The customer experience chain thus plays a pivotal role in ICT management and should be at the heart of all business decisions.
Every step in the customer experience chain should be matched by an operational response within the company. The functions that serve as a link between the customer and your internal implementation are correspondingly important. During the first step, it is irrelevant which tools are used to perform or support which functions.
Step 1: UNDERSTAND
As Albert Einstein said:
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
If we want to accurately comprehend the needs and behaviors of customers, we have to change our perspective and consider the entire customer experience chain, i.e., all of the technical and commercial processes involved in the production and management of a service, as seen from the customer’s point of view.
Next, we have to identify how customers prefer to find out about services and then order them. This leads naturally to the ways in which services should be delivered, operated, and rectified in the event of a problem. How important is it to provide information, such as service guarantees, delivery status, and service availability, via online portals and in the form of reports? Anyone asking these questions will soon find that most customers today expect to have all their information needs met by a central online portal. They also expect to receive automated e-mails whenever there is a change in status. Through their experience with online shopping, people are accustomed to certain ways of doing things – and likely to walk away if they encounter any deviation from these standards. It is therefore important to adapt the processes used to deliver ICT services.
Of course, there are already numerous online store systems that provide this capability – but they don’t cover every aspect.
When implementing an order processing system, most companies tend to overlook a prior, and much more crucial, step: defining the product and service portfolio.
When considering the operational aspects of the customer experience chain, it is therefore essential to document your ICT services as a standardized and normalized product catalog before you begin to offer those services via online portals and stores.
Digitizing this information obviously makes it easy to reuse, e.g., in the instantiation (delivery) of services, which becomes faster and less prone to error if the service inventory has been properly normalized. It also enables a high degree of automation in workflow-driven provisioning, tool-based monitoring, process management, and reporting, thereby making a crucial contribution to process speed.
Often, these tasks involve a range of different tools, which is why a uniform functional architecture and the automated interplay of these systems are essential for achieving the necessary management and optimization as well as providing scope for improving efficiency.
When these systems are merged to form a supply and production management environment – analogous to a production line in industrial manufacturing – we have what we call a “service engine.” The service engine provides the transparency required to proactively operate and manage the production process and to provide customers with a direct and automated flow of information. In short, the service engine is the central data hub and thus the basis for all further steps.
Step 2: PLAN
- Strategic planning – understand where you’re going and why
Consider the strategic direction of your ICT service management activities over the next 36 months and beyond. What do you want to achieve? Which products and services do you want to offer? What do you have in your portfolio and how should it change over time? What are your “cash cows” and what special innovations do you have planned? My recommendation would be to disrupt your operating model by increasing your levels of standardization, digitization, and automation. You should also begin to lay the foundations for artificial intelligence. Only then will you be actively contributing to the evolution of service management within your organization.
- Tactical planning – create focus, provide leadership
Make a medium-term plan for the next 6 to 12 months. Bundle your implementation projects to gain maximum synergy and efficient control of dependencies. Define your requirements and initiate operational implementation. Bear in mind that any reorientation – especially of an operational nature – requires staff with a clear growth mindset. These employees are more intrinsically motivated and ready to face new challenges because they understand the progress you want to make. Of course, there will inevitably be some people within your organization who have more of a “fixed” mindset. It is also important to inspire and refocus these individuals, which will require time and genuine leadership.
The Service Engine
An effective service engine requires an end-to-end functional architecture. Functions can be integrated quickly and flexibly via a service bus using the XCHange format.
The benefits of an end-to-end functional architecture are obvious. As well as providing the basis for automation in conjunction with large quantities of data and a high level of data consistency, an end-to-end architecture enables clear allocation of master data as well as the creation and utilization of appropriate information across all levels.
- Operational planning – achieve results
Next, we come to the detailed planning and operational implementation of governance, architecture, product definitions, documentation, processes, and – ultimately – the service engine. Achieving standardization, automation, and a contemporary architecture model requires strong experience. You should therefore seek out reliable partners, who can bring functioning concepts and a long track record to your project. By doing so, you will save yourself a lot of time and money by getting things right first time.
The time required to implement a project depends on your specific objectives, the current maturity of your infrastructure, the size of your company, and the leadership skills of your management personnel. At bluEDGE, we have helped many different companies to achieve the goals described above. Before committing to your project, you may wish to contact some of these companies to discuss their experience of bluEDGE. We will be glad to provide you with the necessary contact details.
Step 3: IMPLEMENT
Your planning is complete, the tasks clearly defined – now it’s time to create or augment your general architecture and carry out a normalized inventory of your products. You will also need to create documentation, adapt or redefine processes, and gradually implement the service engine. The entire planning process was only the first step toward a sustainable, future-proof ICT service management system.
But before you get started, you have to choose between two fundamental approaches to project implementation: width before depth or depth before width? Which approach is right for you depends on many different factors, and I recommend you seek expert advice. Implementation itself is not primarily a technical problem – it is mainly an issue of leadership. This is particularly important when dealing with internal politics and employees with a fixed mindset. So use your project to motivate and inspire staff in every part of your enterprise. And enjoy the process of equipping your business with the innovative tools it needs for the future.
Last but not least, always remember: today is tomorrow’s yesterday.