Diagnosing Pain in the IT Support Center

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Knowledge management – timely, on-demand access to all relevant enterprise information – is a vital, pervasive process affecting all areas of IT operations. Effective service management cannot be provided without effective knowledge management.

Recognizing the widespread impact that effective knowledge management can deliver, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) now recognizes it as a service management best practice in ITIL 3, providing guidelines that did not exist in ITIL 2.

Despite advances made through adoption of the ITIL® framework and IT services management (ITSM) tools, in order to resolve issues, support analysts typically must still access multiple silos of information – not just structured data that ITIL and ITSM tools address, but content from system logs, vendor documentation, wikis, PDFs, SharePoint, websites and other sources.

The challenge of managing IT incidents is draining IT staff resources, wasting money and slowing down the resolution process. The result is prolonged downtimes that lead to lost sales, dissatisfied customers, violated SLAs and low service team morale that ultimately leads to hefty training costs for new hires.

Hidden Information

A key barrier to implementing a service knowledge management system (SKMS) is the fact that IT organizations tend to operate in distinct “silos,” each with its own disparate information and based on technology rather than how IT actually supports the business.[1] In fact, organizations that built out their IT service management based on the prior ITIL 2 framework often found the dozen distinct service processes owned by separate teams, and isolated in silos.[2]

In the past, the SKMS has been described purely in terms of databases (or structured data). For example, the reference guide IT Service Management Global Best Practices presented the SKMS as consisting solely of databases; specifically, one or more configuration management databases (CMDB)[3], along with other databases: service desk data, response time data, etc.[4] 

However, to be truly effective, the SKMS must include a significantly wider array of knowledge artifacts, drawn from diverse information sources throughout the organization, spanning well beyond databases to include other types of data: 

  • Semi-structured data (“machine-readable” text information with tags or other markers enabling the parsing and identification of useful data; e.g., log files, XML, etc.)
  • Unstructured content (“human-readable” text information; e.g., documents, web content, email, wikis, etc., residing in enterprise content management systems; websites, file servers, etc.). 

Unstructured information sources are typically far more prevalent and plentiful – often estimated as comprising more than 80 percent of all enterprise information – than structured data sources (databases). It is the unstructured, text-based sources of service information that will comprise most the SKMS’ wide body of knowledge as envisioned by ITIL 3.

Problem – Unnecessary Fire Drills, Wasted Time

Support specialists are typically burdened with the task of manually referencing multiple databases, log files, knowledge bases, wikis, documents, and other repositories across an organization, each with its own login and methods for finding and accessing relevant support materials. Often such manual inquiries may be abandoned due to the excessive amount of time required, which frequently result in unnecessary and more costly service escalations.

Without the ability to converge, join and present all relevant information from disparate structured and unstructured information sources into a single search-centric support portal, IT support specialists have to deal with manual information-gathering, which inevitably results in:

  • Poor service performance
  • High IT employee turnover
  • SLA violations
  • Needless costs
  • Impaired business competitiveness

Solution – A Unified View

ITIL defines an SKMS as “…a set of tools and databases that are used to manage knowledge and information. The SKMS includes the Configuration Management System (CMS), as well as other tools and databases. The SKMS stores, manages, updates, and presents all information…to manage the full lifecycle of IT services.”[5] 

This ‘guideline’ definition  is subject to interpretation, which has led to some misconceptions.

One misconception is that deploying an SKMS requires, by definition, the stitching together of various service information sources in the form of a custom systems integration project:

The vision of SKMS is a good goal to shoot for… But with the heterogeneity of data, the diversity of tools used in most organizations…, and the fact that most large ITSM tool vendors [have yet to integrate] products that have been merged together through acquisition, [the SKMS] still remains one of the largest…ITSM challenges.[6]

ITIL guidance clearly encourages companies to envision the SKMS as an enterprise knowledge platform, not a point solution for problem resolution.[7] This is important: an SKMS platform, rather than a customized, purpose-built integration of a finite set of data sources, will prove far more effective in overcoming IT information silos, empowering service professionals to effectively manage incidents, problems and system changes, and easily integrating new information sources as required.

One such approach, unified information access (UIA), acquires, integrates and presents all sources of information – structured, semi-structured and unstructured – in ways that enable the integration of seemingly unconnected information. The result is faster incident resolution, root cause analysis, problem solving and necessary system changes.

UIA provides integrated views of all relevant data and knowledge enabling service specialists to more quickly and efficiently access a large number of support knowledge repositories, without prior knowledge of where the answers might exist.

Similarly, UIA helps organizations “connect the dots” between the multiple databases and information repositories used by IT support specialists to resolve incidents, identify problem-solving root causes, manage system changes and “system collisions” – incidents caused by simultaneous changes to dependent systems – and more. They also now have an operational management view into service management activity over time, including performance by support specialist, which systems incur the most incidents, which incidents impacted SLAs and more.

________________________

Mike Urbonas is Director of Product Marketing at Attivio and has held BI/DW software product marketing roles over the last 13 years, including Director of Product Marketing for Blackboard Analytics (formerly iStrategy). Before that, Mike was Product Marketing Manager at Datawatch Corporation. Mike earned his MBA with a concentration in IT from Bentley University and holds an undergraduate business degree from Northeastern University.



[1] Bryce Dunn and Linh C. Ho, “Bringing wisdom to ITSM with the Service Knowledge Management System,” p. 415-424, IT Service Management Global Best Practices, Norwich, UK: Van Haren Publishing (2008).

[2] Peter Dorfman, Knowledge Management and the New ITIL Framework, May 12, 2007.

[3] A configuration management database (CMDB) contains relevant attributes of IT assets, or configuration items (CI) along with relationships and dependencies with other CIs. One or more CMDBs may be managed by a configuration management system (CMS). Source: see endnote 4, below.

[4] Dunn and Ho.

[5] Office of Government Commerce, ITIL: Service Transition, page 244. London: The Stationary Office (2007).

[6] Compliance Process Partners blog (cppit.com), Service Knowledge Management System Nirvana, January 3, 2011.

[7] Dorfman.


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Edited by Rich Steeves


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