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Extending service management across the enterprise

Kenny MacIver Profile picture for user kmaciver February 10, 2014
IT service management tools are not the sole preserve of IT, argues Red Hat CIO Lee Congdon. And since adopting ServiceNow, the open source software vendor has sown the cloud-based ITSM tool into the processes of HR, payroll, engineering, and more.

Cloud service management
IT service management (ITSM) has always been at the mundane end of IT, whether it involves responding to things like application bugs or disk drive failures, lost passwords or jammed printers.

But in recent years, the resolution of incidents and problems has taken on a new dimension as parts of the business outside of IT have injected service management functionality into their own processes — and come to depend on its responsiveness and effectiveness. In the payroll department that might mean a service request from an employee who is trying to track down a copy of an old payslip; or in HR, it might be a ticket raised when someone is unable to access their company pension details.

Open source market leader Red Hat may portray itself as a company at the cutting-edge of software, but only in the last few quarters has it been able to put its service management house in order and start to extend such capabilities to other parts of the business.

Having standardized on basic ITIL processes several ago, Red Hat found itself struggling with a legacy system from a major service management vendor (whose blushes we’ll spare). According to CIO Lee Congdon, that application was cumbersome and difficult to use, with teams forced to input ticket details generated by the system’s numerous modules and then work around its many limitations. He characterizes it as morale-sapping; others on his staff put it more starkly, describing the experience as “soul-crushing.”

Unmet business needs

As a result, the legacy system was simply too unwieldy to contemplate using it to serve the needs of the IT organization’s business customers.

“For the parts of the business that needed their own workflow management capability, we couldn’t offer them a solution for their own service management activities that was going to be even remotely usable. They were stuck using a variety of tools, including just emails, to track things,” says Congdon. “We had this unmet business requirements both in terms of improving our ITSM processes and in implementing a solution for the business’s service management processes.”

It was a costly set up too: When Red Hat wanted to change a workflow, it typically involved bringing in experts in the legacy tool, says Congdon. “They would then take anything between six weeks and six months to make the configuration changes and charge several hundred thousand dollars in the process.”

Lee Congdon, CIO of Red Hat

Cutting its losses with the legacy toolset, Red Hat switched to a cloud-based service management offering from ServiceNow, implementing functionality for incident, change, problem and service request management, plus other modules covering knowledge management, service-level management and reporting. As well as addressing its need for consolidated ITSM, the tools immediately opened up options for other parts of the business.

Teams in credit, payroll team, HR and engineering are now all using the tool as part of their customized workflow, says Congdon, “and we continue to add other departments to the mix.” In a company of over 6000, he reckons 400 staff are now responding to service requests.

In that context, Congdon feels ITSM has become something of a misnomer: When Red Hat realized it was causing some confusion among users by sending staff emails referencing ‘IT service management,’ it quickly changed that to ‘Red Hat Service Management.’

Payback time

For an organization that typically logs 33,000 service requests, 93,000 incidents, 164 problems and 2500 changes per month, the ServiceNow implementation was not just about quality and responsiveness — it was always going to about lower spend. Though unwilling to be specify amounts, Congdon talks of “significantly lowered costs.”

“We’ve also seen an order of magnitude or more improvement in responsiveness to making changes to the processes, ticket resolution times continue to fall, and we now have much better reporting of services.”

Another big saving has been through its ability to move more users to self-support. “Our strategy for mobile, for example, is to continue to provide base line support but to increasingly encourage users to self-support. By creating self-service in the portal, people that need to connect, say, a new device to the email system or to set up their phone to generate soft tokens for access to other systems, can source articles on that before they even think about raising a ticket.”

Cloud ramp up

Going for a cloud-based service management solution was not a pre-requisite, but it was always going to be the preferred option, says Congdon.

Cloud has become the default choice for most of Red Hat’s new applications, he says. Indeed, the company has identified that it will be able to move about 70% of its IT capability to the cloud over the next 18 months, a process it is about half was through.

The drivers for that are pretty well established: “Flexibility, ease of access inside and outside the firewall, scalability, resiliency provided by the cloud vendor rather than by us,” are just some of the benefits he highlights, pointing out one of ITSM’s ironies. “One of our earlier considerations in the process was that if the company lost its own data center or network, it would then not have a service management tool to help it bring it back up — unless we spent heavily on a completely redundant configuration.”

Aside from ServiceNow, Red Hat has already deployed cloud applications for sales automation, partner and customer support. It uses Jive for business social networking and is currently rolling out support for Google Docs and Drive. It also makes use of its own OpenShift enterprise product running in the cloud to provide utility compute capability and plans to move from internal hosting to the open source CMS, Drupal, most likely running on Amazon Web Services.

That still leaves core ERP for finance and HR, as well as business intelligence, on-premise — but perhaps not for long.  “We expect those too to become cloud-based in a similar sort of timeframe,” says Congdon. In preparation, it plans to run those on an OpenStack cloud platform in its own data centers, thereby easing the switch to the cloud “when vendors have rewritten those legacy ERP applications to take better advance of the cloud.”

There’s no firm date for that, but certainly the company hopes it will be long before those legacy apps also earn the label “soul-crushing.”

Image: iStockphoto/ewg3D


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