I attended the HDI show in Las Vegas and I’ll be attending the SITS show in London later this year. It is a great opportunity for me to meet lots of IT folk from the service management industry. When I talk to these good folk about why they are attending the event, I often get the same response. They are experiencing similar challenges and are there talking to ITSM tool providers about how they can improve their current situation.

What is that challenge?

The main challenge these people face is about being able to upgrade their current solution, or at least be able to make changes to it easily, whether the solution is on premise or in the cloud. This is usually to take account of variations in their ITSM environment.  Upgrading to the latest versions allows them to take advantage of new features, functionality or user experience, but this can be a costly proposition. Some of the concerns I hear include:

  • “The solution has been heavily customized or hard coded, so it’s a difficult to upgrade or even make a change.”
  • “We’ve lost the original in-house developer skills.”
  • “We don’t have the time to train people on coding.”
  • “The cost of hiring a consultant is as much as a new solution would cost.”
  • “Last time someone did it they brought down the live system.”
  • “They are new to the role and have never done one and don’t know how.”

Any of these sound familiar?

When people discuss these things with me at the booth, I try to establish what they want to achieve from their service management operation beyond just simply upgrading. I cross my fingers and hope that it’s more than simply putting the processes they have now in a new or cheaper solution, or to “implement ITIL.” I try to understand what the ultimate goal of their ITSM journey is. I help them to look at not only upgrading their solution, but to focus on what the new solution will do better than what they are currently doing. For example, I’ll answer questions about SLA management, discuss how to easily introduce a knowledgebase, and possibly show them our self-service user interface, all while watching as their eyes light up. They frequently ask for more information to take away, or ask for a business card. I love this part, we’ve made a connection. I could say thank you and good bye, or I hope to hear from you soon, but I don’t.

Once Bitten…

I’d consider myself irresponsible if I didn’t give them more guidance than that. Think about it, they came to the booth because they have concerns about an upgrade or change, but without the proper input they are likely to make the same mistake again. You may say, ‘well it’s a booth and a 10 minute conversation’, but the challenge is not limited to just conversations at the booth.  I’ve seen too many RFPs where we get asked lots of ‘check box questions’ that don’t actually provide any real guidance to help make the decision. RFP’s may contain question like, “Are you certified on the 15 ITIL processes?”, “Can you do password resets?” or “Do you have data centers outside the US?” But, once again, provide no opportunity to address the main concerns regarding upgrades or making easy on-going changes to an on-premise or cloud solution.

…Don’t Be Shy

Remember to ask the question, “What would we need to do to make a change or upgrade later down the line with your solution?” Hopefully, if you are talking to the right vendor, they will talk to you about how easy it is to configure without the need for costly developers or the need to work with source code. Maybe they’ll mention how you won’t need to customize to the point that you can’t upgrade without breaking what you have, and will provide you with a test environment at no extra cost so that you don’t have to make changes to a live system. They should reassure you that, in the unlikely event of an issue, there are backup and restore options. And, perhaps most importantly of all, they should assure you that if you have to contact their support team, they won’t need to learn about your code each time they run into a problem.

If they are a responsible vendor, they will probably give you some additional advice whether you choose to go with them or not. They may provide suggestions for creating test plans, or ways to keep your users notified at each stage, and may share other experiences they have learned along the way.

If you forget to ask this question during a booth visit, vendor call or presentation, don’t feel bad, it happens. But when you are back at your desk, and you consider the interaction you had with a vendor who didn’t talk to you about these kinds of things, you might want to reconsider your long or short list. There is a reason the title of this blog is “The Million-Dollar Question”, it’s because if you don’t ask this question, it could become a million dollar ongoing cost and maintenance mistake.