Making IT tick quicker under the Liver clock
With the company pursuing a policy of growth through acquisitions in the UK and Ireland, the department has had to rapidly become more dynamic to support new business directives and ventures that it could not have accommodated in the past.
"Businesses are much more dependent on technology these days," summed up Support Services Manager Donna Petrie. "Last year email wasn't a business-critical application. Now if it goes down we're lost. The Internet is going the same way. We're increasingly dependent on how these services are provided and the timescales for providing and restoring them."
Royal Liver, a leading friendly society, has been racing through the most prolific period of change since it was founded in 1850. This year it acquired the Industrial Branch business of Irish Life (Retail) following the acquisitions in 2000 of Guardian Life Ireland and the Personal Financial Services division of Friends Provident. It now has 5 million life assurance policies and over GBP 2.5 billion (more than USD 4 billion) funds under management.
Its home is Liverpool's best known landmark - The Royal Liver Building that dominates the city's River Mersey waterfront. The building, topped by the legendary Liver Birds, has a clock with four dials each with a diameter of 25 feet - bigger than Westminster's Big Ben.
The culmination of the IS department's work is its service improvement program. "In essence this means aligning what IS does and offers with what the business needs," Service Manager Nick Edwards said. "It might seem simple and obvious but many companies' IS departments don't do it."
To achieve service improvement an integrated IT Service Management support tool was essential. "It's not an overall solution but a critical enabler," Edwards added.
Royal Liver formed a selection and evaluation team to choose the best product based on three key selection criteria:
1. Compliance with the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®). Royal Liver required a product purpose-built to support ITIL® rather than one that had been adapted from a Help Desk tool.
2. Integration. Configuration, Incident, Problem and Change Management had to be integrated from a single source to allow comprehensive reporting and incident life-cycle management
3. Ease and speed of implementation. Two products were shortlisted - assyst from Axios Systems and Red Box from Fox IT. assyst was selected because of its ease of use, features, reporting facilities, support and strength of its existing user base.
A key decision taken at the outset of the project was to fully implement Configuration Management. This represented a significant investment in time and effort but provided a solid foundation for all subsequent ITIL® disciplines. The team had witnessed other organizations which had seemingly made a great deal of progress with Service Management without full Configuration Management only to find they had reached a point where they could go no further without having to start again from scratch.
"Configuration Management is the foundation for everything else in ITIL®," Edwards said. "It makes Incident, Change, Problem and Release Management possible as well as supporting service delivery disciplines. It can be time-consuming and onerous. A lot of organizations skimp on it. We don't."
Royal Liver's use of automated hardware and software tracking tool, Discovery shows the state of a desktop - based on procedure, procurement and change information - and provides a physical validation, all from a single source.
The society's acquisitions meant that equipment from organizations taken over by Royal Liver risked being added to the database with different naming conventions.
"We cleared the decks and re-tagged everything with names which corresponded with assyst," Edwards recalled. Every single machine was physically audited and a Discovery agent installed on it. "There was a bit of PR involved too," he went on. "We were a new department and wanted everyone to meet us." The database currently contains some 9,000 hardware and software configuration items.
The acquisition program also influenced the IS team's implementation of assyst. "We had two choices for the original audit," Edwards explained. "We could go externally or develop the capability internally. The costs were similar. We developed the internal capability, knowing it would not be a one-shot process. After we'd done it once, the next time there was an acquisition we'd be able to use the same resources."
Confidentiality meant acquisitions could not be notified to staff in advance so the team had to work to particularly tight deadlines. Equipment had to be rationalized and sometimes moved. "That involved a huge amount of amount of data coming in and out of assyst which coped very well," Petrie said. "We had a few small problems but they were due to server capacity."
Change Management was put in place before the configuration database was populated by the audit so it could be kept up to date and linked to individual assets.
"If we had introduced Change Management initially we wouldn't have got the support we needed within the organization," Edwards commented. "The ramp-up was gradual. The whole thing has been a culture change for staff so we've been very conscious about how we've managed it. Rather than wield a big stick we've gone 'softly softly'. Now we have the buy-in of pretty much everyone."
RL's Service Management team is the bridge between the IS department and the rest of the business with the Help Desk in the Royal Liver Building forming a single central point of contact. Staffed by seven people, it has been transformed from a call logging desk to an active support unit resolving almost 40% of incidents at the first line. "This would not have been possible without assyst," Edwards said.
All IT problems are referred to the Help Desk which has a carefully selected knowledge database and assigns to specialists the calls which it cannot resolve on the spot. There are special support teams for Royal Liver's 900-strong field force of financial advisors - who have their own laptops and printers - and assurance premium collectors who use 500 hand-held computer devices known as 'Electronic Round Books.'
The Desk also raises all purchase orders for IT equipment throughout the organization.
"We wanted to get everyone using the Help Desk," Petrie explained. For Incident Management the question was: 'OK, we're going to have a Help Desk but how are we going to manage everything once it's in? How are we going to keep the Configuration database up to date once the information has been collected?' We decided to put in a Configuration database rather than an assets database because it has relationships and dependencies, which allows us to do accurate Change Management. So it's impact analysis. It's about giving the business the service it wants when it's wanted."
The team has regular meetings with service departments to review problems. "We've focused on areas where there are a lot of repeat calls," Edwards said. "We've been able to cherry-pick areas and get quick wins, freeing up the service departments to do more technical things."
Problem Management was ramped up with the appointment of June Pedley as Problem Manager. "assyst is easy to use and can link calls which is particularly useful for major incidents," she said.
"When something goes wrong everyone's rightly preoccupied with restoration of service but we need to get to the root cause of the problem," Edwards added. "Having a Problem Manager also helps when you have a major incident because the problem is managed formally."
There are positive aspects to major incidents too: Post-Incident Reviews cover what staff did well in addition to what could have been done better.
Are there conflicts between serving the Information Technology department and the overall business?
"It's effective for everyone because often the nature of technical guys is that they don't want to talk to the business and vice-versa," said Edwards. "We act as translators, turning 'techno-babble' into plain English and the other way round. That's one of the reasons the department has been so successful."
"We also understand business urgency," Petrie interjected. "Technical people don't always appreciate that. Anything affecting customer service is critical. As soon as we get a call from the customer service center we respond."
The Service Management team believes assyst has proved popular inside Royal Liver because staff have been able to see the benefits for themselves. For instance, they were able to give the right information to the section responsible for insuring the assurance giant's own IT equipment. "We populated assyst with the insurance replacement costs," Petrie said. "The data is accurate and we are correctly insured."
Edwards went on "A significant feature of assyst is that people actively want to use it - even some departments outside IS. Previous support tools were difficult to use and didn't really provide the information people wanted."
Reports generated from assyst provide useful management reports on a variety of issues ranging from how IS is managing its own workflows through to statistics which can be used when re-negotiating hardware maintenance contracts.
"We have very good in-house reporting capabilities with Crystal but assyst gives us everything we've ever wanted," Edwards said. "There's a huge amount of information in there. The data repository has never let us down."
Royal Liver also deploys Axios' assystNET on its Intranet. Departments such as Human Resources and Treasury are successfully using this for scheduling reports including General Ledger, and Customer Relationship Managers turn to it to track incidents. End-users do not need in-depth training on assystNET.
The team is particularly enthusiastic about the introduction of Change Management, which will automate processes currently handled manually. When a new member of staff joins the company, for example, tasks are automatically set up to allocate IT equipment, a telephone, email account and security access. "Previously it was a huge laborious process," Petrie said. "Change Management will give us even more benefits. It should be brilliant."
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.