There is a trend towards Cloud and SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) offerings for Service Management tools, particularly with tools such as ServiceNow becoming very popular as well as SaaS versions of various other tools. One of the key advantages outlined by the tools vendors is the ability to get the software up and running in a matter of days or weeks, which is definitely attractive to those who normally experience projects which take 6-12 months to do this.
I'm certainly not being negative about these tools - most of them have excellent functionality which organizations will find very useful. It may be absolutely possible to get the tool instance itself provisioned and on-line in days, but I feel the need to caution people in case they think this is the only thing they have to do.
An unfortunate attitude has existed in this area for years, and I would suggest that the extremely high percentage of projects which fail in some way (usually failing to deliver the benefits in the business case, or failing to meet the expectations of key stakeholders) do so as a result of this attitude and the behavior it drives.
The attitude I'm referring to is the belief that implementing the tool is the focus and will deliver the benefits. This belief is fueled by many tools vendors because it is in their interest to sell software as quickly as possible - after all, they are in that business.
Some of them also offer professional services such as process consultancy, but very often they don't really want to push too much consultancy activity as it makes it look like their software is more difficult to implement than their competitors.
If you suggest to a customer that they ought to spend a bit more time on their business case, get their stakeholders identified and actively supporting, develop a communications plan to help ensure the users and other stakeholders get behind the project and make it work, think about the Service, people, culture and process aspects of their operating model - this can slow down the sale of the software.
I've spoken to several people who've recently completed SaaS solution projects, and most of them have a mix of positive and negative feedback. On the whole the software itself does get installed and is available for use quite quickly. However, people almost always tell me that it required more configuration and customization than they expected from this type of solution. They also tell me that they wished they'd spent more time working on the non-technical aspects of the project, usually because they haven't realized the planned benefits yet.
The reality is that getting the tool configured and available for use is the easy bit, but in itself doesn't deliver the benefits and business outcomes behind the business case. The benefits will only be delivered and realized if the solution helps people to do things in different ways and provides capability which supports revenue (usually increasing service quality to retain customers or attract new customers) or cost reduction (which means doing things cheaper but without a massive negative impact on quality - efficiency and effectiveness being key).
My plea is that we all do some careful thinking and some preparation activity before we select a tool or try to implement it. It's too easy to jump from "we need to improve our efficiency and effectiveness" to "let's buy a new Service Management tool".
The vendors use all sorts of fancy analysts statistics and reports to tell you that you can achieve massive benefits just by purchasing their tools - but it's the way you use the tool that will help deliver the benefits, and it's different in every organization.
So, before you talk to any tools vendors, work out what you need to achieve in terms of business outcomes and benefits - and don't use the tools vendors presentation slide content to write your business case! Think about the non-technical side of the business change that you are considering - you will usually be asking people to do their jobs in a slightly different way, or think about things in a more service-orientated way, so you'll need some people, culture, and communications content. Look at how this relates to your external customers, the services and products you deliver, the organization structure, roles and responsibilities, and processes, as well as the tools, data, infrastructure and integration requirements.
Can you get a tool up and running in days or weeks?
Yes, but this is not the most important driver.
Is that all you need to do to get some benefits and achieve your business objectives?
No, not by a long way!
Matthew Burrows is the Managing Director at BSMimpact.