Monday, March 17, 2014

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

At least that is what my grandmother always told me...I think I heard a collective gasp around the IT Service Management industry when ManageEngine announced earlier this month that the basic version of their ITSM solution - ServiceDesk Plus - would now be offered free, with no licensing restrictions to current and future is this the ITSM version of a free lunch, or just a clever marketing strategy?

My first thought was "OK, what's the catch?" ManageEngine is in the ITSM game for profit, not philanthropy, so obviously they are viewing this as a way to increase their market share and upsell this offering to higher value products, we have to assume that they are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts!

How free is 'free'?

So does this really mean that organisations that may be in the market for an ITSM solution can grab this with no costs? Well...yes and no...anyone who has taken on the unenviable task of selecting, configuring and launching a new service desk product can tell you that the software cost is just one of the components of the project and, in every case that I have been involved in, not the largest cost. So 'yes', the software is free, but 'no', this by no means that you will get away without cost. It will remove one line item from the project and reduce your capital costs, but the project will still need a substantial budget.

ServiceDesk Plus is not a lightweight freeware help desk application. It is well regarded ITIL-based service desk offering and is currently installed in over 60.000 locations worldwide. In a very crowded and competitive market, this is a pretty gutsy move and I imagine one that will instantly put the solution on the short list for many service desk initiatives globally. So, apart from service contracts and some configuration and installation charges for ManageEngine partners, how does this move make sense?

Getting hooked...

Freemium software is nothing new, and a legitimate way of turning a profit. I am a bit of a puzzle fan and have installed a few 'free' apps on my know the ones, you get hooked in the first few levels which are pretty easy to crack, the next few offer a bit more of a challenge and then they start to get more and more difficult to solve...then you get that little message on the screen -'you seem to be having some trouble with this level, would you like to buy a booster?' You resist for as long as possible, but then the frustration grows and you spend just a couple of dollars on a few boosters or hints to get you through to the next stage. When you have hundreds of thousands of people playing the game, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that there is a lot of money coming in from these tiny 'in-game' purchases.

While ManageEngine is not going to plague you with messages - 'you seem to be having problems closing this incident, do you want to purchase a knowledge base?' - or at least I hope they are not, I am sure that they will be wanting to up-sell you on to some of the other 30 odd products in their software stable. The free installation of ServiceDesk Plus will simply become one of their 'costs of sales', just as the basic game app you have on your phone is a cost of sale for the booster packs you are expected to purchase as you get familiar with the game.

Free or not, it has to be good

I really don't see anything wrong with this business model and it should be a win-win for everyone concerned. If you really only want or need a service desk solution, don't need monitoring or any of the other solutions on offer from ManageEngine then, fantastic, you have just saved the costs of your software. If you do want to expand the organisational value of your ITSM solution to include other modules, then there is a good range of options to choose from and you have still saved yourself the initial software outlay. I will certainly recommend putting ServiceDesk Plus on the short list for any of my own customers who are in the market for a service desk solution.

ManageEngine still has to prove that their software is worthy, if a service desk system is rubbish, then the cost, no matter how cheap - or free - is not worth it and you will certainly not be in the market for more paid products from the same vendor. This move has to show that the company has a lot of faith in the quality of its products. Being free does not make the product a 'shoe-in' by any stretch of the imagination.

I really hope this works, if nothing else it is a very disruptive move and one that I am sure other vendors will be watching with interest and probably some trepidation and it may well be a game changer for the SMB sector of the market that ManageEngine inhabits.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Is it time to diversify or die for traditional physical conferences?

I am sitting here at the itSMF New Zealand annual conference. It is a great event, with some excellent speakers on the programme. Really looking forward to my own session tomorrow afternoon, talking about how you actually listen to and converse with your customers.

We need to expand our audiences
beyond physical attendees
There is a lot of work involved with preparing a presentation...designing the slides, rehearsing the words. Personally I invest many hours in getting it, hopefully, just right. The fruits of that preparation will probably be shared by 30 or 40 people and, unless the presentation is picked up by some other events, that is as far as it will go. A lot of work for a very limited exposure.

Contrast this to the session I did for TFT12 in December of last year. This was broadcast live globally and the presentation is still available through multiple channels and is being consumed regularly. The whole production of TFT was pretty stress free for the presenters and was actually, for me anyway, a lot of fun. Even though you do not have a live audience, you do get immediate feedback through social media channels, and it is very satisfying to know that hundreds of people, or more, have found your presentation useful and informative enough to watch the whole thing and to recommend it to their own networks.

Now, I don't believe that the physical conference is doomed. But the organisers of these events need to consider how they augment the physical event with exposure in the digital world. Share the knowledge that is being presented with a far wider audience than those who can actually afford the time, the travel, the accomodation and the, not-insignificant, conference registration.

There are events, outside of the ITSM world, that I have been involved in over the past 12 months that have done this well, streaming keynotes and other sessions live. Some of these have provided this free to registered virtual attendees, others have charged a virtual registration fee to allow you to attend the sessions you are interested in.

Maybe it is my Scots ancestry, but I prefer the free virtual registration model, and I have enjoyed a number of conference sessions via this route. I have paid for one virtual session that I was particularly interested in, and the fee was well worth the knowledge I gained from the presentation. None of these have been in the ITSM sphere...I think it is time we caught up!

TFT13 is starting this party. The event on June 18 will touch down briefly at the SDI Believe event in Birmingham broadcasting live as part of the 24-hour virtual event. No charge, no registration, no email gathering, just go to YouTube and enjoy.

I have no plans to stop going to physical events. The value of being able to actually meet the presenters, ask questions and network with the ITSM community is invaluable and pretty difficult to replicate in a digital arena. But I look at the programmes of events I cannot get to and wish that I could experience some of the wisdom that is being shared there...and I should be able to.

Image credit

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lady Penelope calling...

This week has been one of reminiscing with former work colleagues as the final remaining member of our original IT team has been retrenched. We have all gone on to various other IT roles but have very fond memories of what a great team we built in our time working together.

The company we worked for  could not really be called a 'great' employer, but we had one of the best teams I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of. We had fun, enjoyed each other's company, did outstanding work and provided a great level of service to the business.

Lady Penelope was my game handle
The thing we really had sorted was feeling that we were part of a team that cooperated and worked together to get things done. The key to that feeling of belonging was a first-person shooter, multi-player computer game.

Somewhere along the line one of us found Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory, found a bit of real estate on a server and set up a game. After the first evening of shooting at each other, learning our way around the maps and general mayhem and mirth, we were hooked.

This became our 5pm fix, as soon as the little hand clicked on to ET time, the server was started and the fun began. We all adopted personas in the game, I was Lady Penelope (reliving my Thunderbirds obsession from childhood), we had Superenigmatix (an obvious Asterix and Obelix fan) Disco Inferno (none of us can call him anything but Disco to this day, I had to ask what his name actually was so I could add him on LinkedIn), Chief, Chewbyka...

But, what to the outside world seemed like real Geeky stuff, actually helped us build a team that knew how to work together and I would venture to say was probably a better team building exercise than any weekend retreat could ever have been.

I guess husbands, wives and significant others probably wondered why we had to work so late, so often! It was very easy to lose track of time, and someone was always ready to say 'just one more map'. I do have to admit that we were 'occasionally' tempted to start up the game server before the magic 5pm clicked round.

One evening we managed to persuade a vendor to join in the fun with us from their own site in Auckland. This was a vendor who had let us down consistently and I have to say that we took great delight in totally annihilating them that night...for some reason they were never very keen to come back and play again!

If you look carefully you will see the
ET time mark at 5pm
The lesson I am trying to get across here is that when you play together you do stay together, the understanding that we were able to get about each other from playing a silly game cannot be underestimated. Whether it is going bowling, rock climbing, golfing, or like us playing a computer game, taking part in events as a team where you need to work together, understand how the other team members interact and work WILL make you a better team at work. What seems like a bit of mindless fun can have far reaching benefits.

We certainly didn't start playing ET to improve the way we worked, we did it to escape from work, but the team spirit this game created in our department was extremely valuable. Not sure that the company ever understood it, but they certainly reaped the rewards from us shooting and blowing up each other night after night.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What did you say?

Are you really listening?
I don't hear very well...if you are standing on my right side and speak to me, then chances are that I will totally ignore you, as I have minimal hearing on that side after discovering, first-hand, what a 'sudden onset sensorineural hearing loss' is a few years back. I lost virtually all useful hearing in that ear in an instant.

But, while physically my hearing is not so good, I am a very good listener. That is because hearing is really a very small part of what it takes to be a good listener.

Working in IT I have come across a lot of very poor listeners, both in the business and amongst my fellow technologists, and this is a very real issue. Unless we really concentrate on honing our listening skills, we will continue to walk away from conversations with both parties having a totally different view of what they have heard.

Are you both on the same page?

Without employing the techniques of active listening you are likely to hear just what you expect or want to hear. When both parties to a conversation have different agendas, then you are setting yourselves up for failure and disappointment.

There can be very a big gap between 'what I thought I said' and 'what he heard you say'. Many a solution delivered from IT has failed, in the customer's eyes, due to that gap.

Tobias Nyberg wrote an interesting article for the ITSM Review called Bring me Problems, not Solutions, this again relates back to listening and asking the right questions and finding out exactly what business problem the customer is trying to solve.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I had lunch with a former colleague. He is a business unit manager who has always struggled to get what he wants from IT. His frustrations have not lessened any over the years. Where he goes wrong is in going to IT with a solution - 'I need you to make the application do xyz'. The response from IT is simply 'No'. Neither party engages in a conversation. So the outcome is that the business manager and his department think IT is incompetent and IT thinks the manager is stupid, because he is consistently asking for a change that is technically impossible.

Neither party, in this case, has actually taken the time to really listen to the other.

Real listening involves  giving the other person your full attention, noticing gestures and expressions and important non-verbal cues. Affirm what they are saying by repeating it back, ask open ended questions and WAIT for the answer.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is your own self listening. We all do it, you are chatting to someone and they are telling you about an event that has happened in their life. All the time they are telling you about this, you are recalling an event in your life that is, maybe vaguely, related to their story. You are juggling with the details and making it fit with what they are talking about and just waiting for a chance to say 'well, something similar happened to me....' The problem is that, because you were so busy listening to your own story, you didn't really pay full attention to what you were being told and it is quite possible that you really didn't get it at all.

Practice Mindfulness

If you are aware of this, then you can stop it, pull yourself away from your own story and actively listen to the person you are supposed to be engaging with. This relates to the practice of mindfulness. You need to be present, stop allowing your mind to wander off to different places. When you find yourself drifting, pull yourself back to the conversation.

One very important technique you can use to ensure that you really come away with a full understanding of what the conversation was about is reflection. This involves paraphrasing what the person you are listening to has said, echoing it back to them and getting their agreement that this was what they meant. This technique fills two important roles, it makes you consider what they have said and it ensures that your understanding of the issue is the same as theirs. It shows them that you have been paying attention and valuing their time.

If you find yourself in an important conversation in an inappropriate venue - perhaps a busy corridor, a lunchroom, or even on the street - move somewhere else, or schedule an appropriate time and place to talk so that you can give the conversation your full attention.

No closed questions

Ask open questions, avoid any question that can be answered with a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Open questions are the ones that help you understand the business need. Instead of asking 'does it work?', ask 'how could it work better?'.

These techniques are even more important when you are dealing with someone who is hostile towards you. Nothing defuses a tense situation faster than the use of active listening techniques. Don't be afraid to use the stereotypical psycho-analysis question - 'how does that make you feel?' Sometimes that one just opens up the floodgates and starts the real dialogue about how this business issue is really affecting the person you are talking to and their team. Not saying that it always works, but if you have been actively listening and watching the cues you will have a good idea as to whether or not that is the right way to go.

Listen with more than your ears - use your eyes, your mind and your body to engage actively with the other party in the conversation. You will be surprised what a bit of time spent on these skills can do for your relationships, both inside and outside of work. Even where you cannot provide the solution the customer is looking for, when they feel that they have really been listened to, the chances are that they will still walk away happy.

Come and hear more

I will be speaking about active listening and touching on mindfulness in the workplace, at the itSMF NZ conference in Auckland, NZ, May 6-8 and hopefully at some other venues globally during the year. Hope to see you there, ready to really listen!

Image credit: © Kurhan -

Monday, February 25, 2013

Geographic what!

Living in New Zealand is pretty good on most is great, not too hot and not too cold; scenery - I guess you would have to say 'amazing'; government - democratic and, pretty well, corruption free; no-one lives more than a two-hour drive from the beach...Godzone (the name coined by Premier Richard Seddon who stated, in his final shipboard telegram, on leaving Australia - 'just leaving for God's own country') is not a bad place to call home.

There has, however, always been a downside to living in the world's most isolated nation. So much happens in the rest of the world that we just cannot get to. Those ROMO and FOMO feelings hit far more often than I like ("Reality of Missing Out" and "Fear of Missing Out"). There are so many conferences, workshops and other physical events that I long to attend.

Fortunately our world just keeps shrinking, the 'tyranny of distance' becomes far less of an issue with each passing year and it no longer takes 'six months in a leaky boat' to get from the shores of Aotearoa to 'where it is happening'.

In an instant my digital self can be anywhere in the world that has an internet or mobile phone connection, I can see what is happening and interact with people who are physically there. Today I 'hung out' through Google+ with colleagues in Boston and Denver, last week I followed, in real time, what was happening at Pink13; in a couple of days I plan to follow the 'Theorizing the Web' event in New York, this event even allowed me to register as a remote participant.

Would I rather be at these events in person? Sure! But this is just not always practical. I know that I do get a lot out of the informal networking sessions in the bar or over dinner. Virtual attendance is not perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than having NO presence at key events.

Today's physical conferences can do a lot better for those of us who can't get there, take a leaf from the TFT book (the industry's first totally virtual ITSM conference) and virtualise some of your event. Push the content out beyond the four walls of the conference venue...speakers deserve to have the world listen to their wisdom. That is probably a topic for a future blog!

Huge thanks to Chris Dancy who hosted a Pink13 page on his ServiceSphere site for us to keep up with the vibe of the event and to Mark Kawasaki who set up a Google+ group so that we could follow and discuss Pink13 happenings.

Still waiting for someone to take me, virtually, to a Gala iPad and Google+ Hangout would do the trick, and I am sure we could have a lot of fun!

BTW, I still haven't seen the answer to the question - 'how many different bow ties did Matt Beran wear at Pink13?'

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why Do we Undervalue Ourselves?

Right now, along with many other ITSM specialists, I am completing speaking proposals for a number of ITSM conferences around the world. This is quite an undertaking; every conference has different requirements for submission with different levels and types of information needed. It can take hours to complete the process and successfully lodge your request to speak.

Once that has been done there is the huge task of preparing your slides and other presentation material, maybe I am a bit slow, but a good presentation takes me many, many hours of work to put together and will be revisited and changed regularly leading up to the event. If I were putting in this level of work for a paid assignment, I would be expecting a healthy payback in monetary terms.

But, like most of my colleagues around the world who are doing the same thing, I currently do not expect to be paid for any of these efforts. In fact, every conference I am selected to speak at will cost me a considerable amount in travel, accommodation and other related expenses…the only thing I will get out of it is a free conference registration.

We are told that we should be grateful to be on the programme as it will enhance our reputation and build our influence in the ITSM community.

The sad fact is that  we are currently fighting a losing battle to have a financial value placed on the contributions of the hundreds, or even thousands, of skilled ITSM professionals who appear on the programmes of industry conferences globally each year…and we only have ourselves to blame!

My friend, Chris Dancy, tells us, very firmly, that we should not be speaking for free, every conference that wants you on their agenda should pay for that privilege…and I agree with him 100%. But sadly it is not as simple as that.

Until there is a groundswell of speakers who say ‘you can have me if you pay me’, and that groundswell reaches a critical tipping point where event organisers cannot fill the programme with a majority of free speakers, then we  will get exactly what we ask for…nothing.

Currently, if I insist on being paid, then the organisers are most likely to just go to the next name on the list, who is offering their services for free. There are an elite few, those highly sought after speakers, who attract a healthy appearance fee and prime billing. But only the tallest poppies in our industry attract this treatment.  The rest struggle to poke their heads above the weeds and will accept whatever scraps are thrown from the conference table.

Now, I am not saying that there is not a place for utilizing free speakers. The first time you speak at a conference, you are an unknown commodity, they are taking a chance on you…take the opportunity to show what you are worth, after all many companies offer free samples to first time buyers!

Think outside the square, conference organisers are not the only ones who can pay you to speak at their event. If you are a practitioner using a particular ITSM tool and you want to go and speak about your business, approach the vendor and ask them to help you get there…making it quite clear that you are not going to be doing a tool promotion talk, but that you are happy to talk to other conference goers about your experience with the tool and their service during the event.  Vendors know that practitioner presentations attract good audiences, so being associated with your session makes good business sense.

Oh, and there are some great conferences out there that do pay, at the very least expenses, for all their speakers, so hunt those ones out this year.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, whether you are a speaker who has managed to climb above the pack and get paid for your appearances, if you are happy to speak for free or if you are a conference organizer who either pays or not for your speakers.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I am happy to be a number...or two

Patrick McGoohan proclaimed to us in The Prisoner that he was not a number, he was a free man.

Well I am happy to be reduced to numbers, not just a single number but a collection of numeric data that defines me.

I was always pretty good at maths when I was at school. It was a subject I took right through to graduation because I knew I could pass it without any great effort because it just made sense. That gave me the time to concentrate on the subjects I was really interested in: Music, French, History, English and Drama.

The idea that mathematics could actually be useful to me never entered the equation, my future was mapped out and the logic of maths was not really featuring there.

Lately I have had cause to be grateful for my mathematical aptitude all those years ago, and for the fact that my innate ability to understand numbers has stayed with me. Why? Because I have  discovered a movement called Quantified Self and, just like maths in my teens, this makes sense to me.

The Quantified Self movement is all about measuring and acquiring data on various aspects of your life - most commonly - the steps you take each day, the food you eat, your heart-rate amongst others. A large percentage of the population, at least in the "western world" is doing at least some of this every day and not understanding that they are quantifying their lives...taking aspects of existence and transforming these into numbers.

Quantification in this form has been around for at least as long as medicine. Every time you go to the  doctor you are reduced to a series of numbers:

   Blood pressure
   Blood composition
   Respiratory rate
   Body temperature....

If you have been in hospital, particularly after surgery, you will be familiar with the quantification of pain. You will be asked to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst pain you have ever felt and 1 being no pain at all. The introduction of this simple method of judging pain, which is very subjective, was a breakthrough in the medicine of pain control, the numbers are very powerful.

People suffering from chronic asthma will know the drill of taking peak flow readings to keep track of the state of their breathing; diabetics monitor the level of blood glucose several times daily.

All these numbers tell your doctor a huge amount about your current state of health, the movement of those numbers over time tells even more. This is immensely powerful data about you.

When you quantify yourself, rather than letting someone else be the custodian of that information, you take a lot of power back. Unless you have a laboratory at your disposal you are probably not going to keep a track of your blood composition, but just keeping an eye on the basics can tell you a lot. 

There are some pretty clever gadgets out there to help you measure these numbers. My personal tracker of choice at the moment is a FitBit One, this little device measures the steps I take each day, the number of flights of stairs I climb, the calories I burn and takes a fairly rudimentary stab at assessing the quality of my sleep. I am also able to diarise my eating enabling the FitBit dashboard to tell me whether I am in credit or deficit in the calorie stakes. 

There are a myriad of other devices and apps you can use to measure these and other aspects of your life, take a look at some of these and see what takes your fancy:

   Jawbone UP
   Azumio apps

Why do I measure? Initially it was all part of a get fit and lose weigh regimen, but then I realised that the benefits to my health extend much further than that primary goal. Monitoring and measuring allow you to notice minuscule changes in your physiology before these impact on your well-being. Tracking what you eat and what you do and the influence these have on your body and your emotional state gives you opportunities to avoid negative influences and  boost the positive.

I was looking at an info-graphic the other  day that predicted that we would see the first human reach 150 years of age in around 100 years time.I wouldn't mind betting that this current 50 year old is a 'quantified selfer' right now.