How ITIL is helping the Dutch make light work of Service Management
IT Information Library (ITIL®) processes are at the heart of its IT department which provides crucial support for services to the northern province's 470,000 inhabitants.
The internationally accepted guidelines for ITSM Best Practice "are a way of steering us from simply administering the infrastructure to actively managing it," said Head of IT Andries Visser. "It helps us structure our computer operations and at the end of the day saves the taxpayer money."
Drenthe began adopting the guidelines four years ago as it upgraded its Service Management tool to assyst by Axios Systems. Its existing DOS and character-based incident logging solution was not Year 2000 or ITIL®-compliant . The new solution now handles IT incident, problem, change and asset management, underpinning the wide range of services provided by the local authority.
Although they are enthusiastic ITIL® supporters, managers have opted for a 'softly-softly' approach to adopting its processes in order to give staff adequate time to adopt and accept the processes. "It's unrealistic for us to say: 'Next Monday everything will be ITIL®'' because small groups or individuals might then veto progress," Visser continued.
"The assyst solution enables us to enjoy what we call 'ITIL®-Light," said Bert Tuik, Senior Manager, Infrastructure Services, whose responsibilities include managing the authority's IT Help Desk. "It allows us to move step-by-step towards ITIL® processes. Sometimes it is not a good idea to move too fast. Our Service Management system grows with us at our own pace while we explore the benefits, get a better grip on IT and cut down on bureaucracy."
Each month the Desk in the province's headquarters in the town of Assen takes around 1,400 telephone calls from internal users including reports of 500 incidents and 300 changes.
Call volumes have been reducing as hardware is upgraded - the authority recently installed flat screen XP PCs for all its 700 staff.
"It makes it a lot easier to fix problems when you have standard equipment which is the same age because you don't have to keep checking back on its history," said Tuik. Equipment is swapped out every four years.
The multi-skilled 'front office' team resolves some 50% of incidents within 15 minutes. Those which have still not been cleared in this time are passed automatically to second line support specialists.
A recent survey showed that users thought highly of the Help Desk's professionalism, speed of problem resolution, and its rapid understanding of customers' problems.
The Desk's popularity is such that users have to be dissuaded from calling round personally. The section has promoted the slogan ' De Beller is Sneller' (The 'phone is faster) to encourage them to ring a dedicated number for IT support rather than knock on the door.
With new equipment under warranty, support staff have a limited need to fix hardware faults but their involvement with software applications is substantial.
The Desk supports no fewer than 350 different software packages used by the authority to run the full gamut of local government services. Most applications are installed on a server with some installed locally on one or several PCs.
One minute staff can be dealing with an application checking the speed of cars on a certain road, and the next minute with software providing geographic image mapping, regulating bus timetables, opening bridges over the region's myriad canals, or paying staff salaries.
"We have a broad range of expertise and knowledge in the team," Tuik explained. "If someone doesn't know something, the chances are there will be someone else here who does. We can improve on this further by putting the knowledge on-line."
Serious problems can be referred back to the manufacturer or supplier, or resolved by downloading drivers from the Internet.
The IT department is building up an incidents database so it can set up internal Service Level Agreements with a view to establishing criteria for improved performance. The structure of assyst (which has a default SLA setting) "forces users to implement Service Level Agreements. It's a good discipline," said Tuik's colleague Berry Polling.
One of the main benefits obtained from the ITSM tool is the management information it provides. "Our managers want to know each week whether we are delivering what we said we would, if we've achieved our targets, and the reasons for major problems. assyst allows us to do this," Tuik commented.
"We couldn't do without this information. For instance, we may find that one department has a problem with a specific application so we can then look for a common cause. "
The system allows calls to be handed over easily to different staff, and enables escalation procedures to be handled smoothly. Someone starting work on the Desk at any hour of the day can always view the current call status. assyst 's Configuration Database also provides data on things like the location and serial number of any equipment reported to be faulty, together with details of its registered user.
Built-in alerts remain on the system for two weeks once a Change (e.g. new equipment, IP address or server) has taken place so that any reported problem can be linked to that deviation.
"This makes solving the problem much easier," Tuik said. "We are handling more than 350 applications but we cannot know everything about all of them. If someone has altered something on an application which handles bus timetables, for instance, it helps if we know this in case a problem with that application arises. It gives us clues."
Berry Polling continued: "With assyst you don't lose the question or the problem. That's very important. You can always look back at what happened. It provides a good audit trail of developments. If you update the information properly it's a very handy tool. The user interface also looks attractive!"
Tuik sees parallels between the phased implementation of 'ITIL®-Light' and the assyst system which he said had been chosen because it offered the best 'performance-price' combination.
"assyst guides you through logical steps," he said. "You don't need to know the whole process. You put the process into assyst and it guides you through the procedures. Almost anyone can use the procedures flawlessly because it guides you in the right direction. "
Head of IT Visser puts ITIL® and Service Management in the context of his department's mission statement which calls for a reliable service and satisfied customers. "We like to do what we say and keep our promises. Our ITSM solution helps us keep our promises," he commented.
Visser said assyst had taken his department from the 'Post -it' era where sticky notes were left on PCs to a situation where it could save resources and improve performance - while still keeping the customer happy.
"One of our core demands was that our ITSM system should be much more than an incident logging tool," he said. "It needed to be a total solution, support the step-by-step implementation of ITIL® and be capable of being linked to Oracle since so much of our data is on Oracle databases. "
What did he think of the management information generated by assyst?
"The output from assyst is very useful and improves further when new processes go live on the system," he replied. "I get weekly information and find that very useful - it's the main input to the weekly meeting of our change advisory board."
One example of the system's usefulness is that it helped determine the choice of a standard brand for laptops (now HP/Compaq) following analysis of problems experienced with this and other makes. The analysis, however, also showed that laptops experienced more technical problems than desktops so the department advised that laptops should only be ordered sparingly. The Total Cost of Ownership study took into account the additional expense which was likely to have been incurred in resolving technical troubles with laptops.
Drenthe's IT department is now looking to the future by having consultants analyse the likely impact of projects coming up in the next year with the aim of cutting down on the number of incidents caused during these projects.
"We want to be more pro-active and innovative rather than just answering the 'phone," Visser said. "This determines the type of staff we need."
An up-to-date ITSM tool also helps the department make a sound business case to the authority's top management when it recommends investments.
Without IT the province - whose population is swollen each year by tourists who come to enjoy its nature reserves and sporting attractions - risks disaster.
"Operational reliability is crucial," Visser added. "Our systems reliability needs to be up to 98% which means just five days outage in an entire year. The most critical systems can only be down for 2.5 days a year at most so we have to be efficient."
He sees even more use of the Internet in future, particularly the introduction of Web-based applications, and believes ITIL® will continue to play an important role.
His team is looking at more examples of Best Practice such as the Application Services Library to see how they can be linked to ITSM. "We're always investigating ways in which our implementation of ITIL® can be improved," he stated. "I want even better control of what the business is doing."
Axios Systems is a leading provider of Best Practice-based IT Service Management (ITSM) solutions. Our customer-centric approach combined with our award-winning solutions, ensure customers worldwide can align their Service and Support organizations with the overall business goals. Our core solution, assyst, intuitively steers users through the ITIL® processes. Axios Global Services provides a range of consulting, project management and training services. Our commitment to Best Practice is demonstrated through being the first to achieve BS 15000 certification which has now become, ISO/IEC 20000, the International standard for ITSM. Axios is headquartered in the UK, with offices across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific.