Bob Speaks Business

Episode 11: A Holistic Approach to Service Management

I decided to post an episode instead of trying to get a post out. This one talks about a particularly complex problem I am trying to tackle in an integrated way at work.

The tracking of assets, people, and setting of some network security settings based upon those things needs a refresh and I am still struggling with what to do. Here are some links:


Head in the Cloud

There is an infuriating post over at Wired’s Innovation Insights titled MDM is Dead, Long Live the (Enterprise) Cloud.

Let’s start with the obvious. The author, Israel Lifshitz, is the founder and CEO of Nubo.

Who is Nubo you might ask?

Nubo is, from their site: REMOTE Enterprise Workspace for all mobile devices. It says that right on their homepage.


Well, almost all mobile devices. iOS and Android.

They’re a Cloud company (I’m going to use the capital C when referring to the hyped marketing term). The CEO of a Cloud company wrote a fluff piece about how Cloud is going to do away with managing devices and that BYOD (with the Cloud) is going to rule all things, forever.

First, I want to believe in this future. I really do. The idea that anyone can bring any device and get all of their work done without any issues is indeed something I would love to see. It would free IT up from having to manage devices so that we could work on providing new technology to people and maybe even, *gasp*, training them as well instead of fighting fires.

However, I think that we grossly underestimate what that might mean for not just IT, but for our colleagues as well.

Moving to an entirely Cloud-based future puts all of the strain on networking, for one thing. Your internet connections become the only way for you to get work done. Don’t have a ton of options or can’t easily afford redundant connections so that if one provider goes belly up for a little bit everything doesn’t grind to a screeching halt? Well, too bad. It is in the Cloud, so hold tight because it will come back.

That’s not always acceptable … so you better be ready to have an answer for that besides an SLA with a few 9s attached to it.

Here’s a quote:

If nothing is stored on our personal devices, IT has nothing to manage. The can take data out of your control. Ultimately, isn’t that the purpose of MDM and EMM?

The problem with the idea that there will never be anything to manage is that you’ve moved the management from company-owned devices to person-owned devices … which still need to be watched. Updated. Fixed. Cleaned. You get the idea. What you have done is expanded the number of types of devices that IT is now supposed to support.

Does your new Enterprise Cloud support the latest version of IE 11? No? Too bad, three people in Finance just updated their machines to IE 11 so you need to find a way to support them. Also, the person in Recruitment just called and updated to Mavericks and the Enterprise Cloud currently does not support that either.

It’s coming. Soonish. You’ll need to purchase the next service pack in order to continue to have access to that. Also, don’t think about ending your service contract anytime soon because now all of your information is stored in an Enterprise Cloud and getting it out could prove tricky.

Mobile is happening right now and IT needs to catch up, but I’m not convinced that BYOD is going to be some great liberator of the masses from their technology hatred because, shocking, most people don’t love their technology like IT does or can. People want to get work done, in the easiest way to do it, and in a consistent way that will continue to work.

BYOD brings in inconsistency, no matter how well things might work. Even Facebook acts differently and I’m pretty sure you aren’t going to find an Enterprise Cloud with the narrow focus of Facebook nor the resources available. They have a hard enough time.

Big changes are coming, but let us be certain not to throw out the good in the endless cycle or searching for the perfect. We’re going to end up very disappointed.

Business Technology

Where Does IT Fit

Nate Beran wrote a really good post about how IT views itself within a business over at his personal blog. It is called Dangers of IT Exceptionalism and I recommend you go and read it. It cuts to the heart of how IT views itself and how it is viewed within businesses. Both really excellent things to look at.

Here is one of my favorite lines:

The other problem, as I see it, is that IT has a uniquely global view of the enterprise.

That is 100% true. IT has the opportunity to touch almost every aspect of an organization. This is both a great power … and a great responsibility.

I agree with everything else Nate writes in the post about treating other departments as colleagues because, really, that is what they are. Every person you work with as an internal IT member is a colleague at that organization. You all are working toward the same goals and need to keep that in mind.

This can mean cutting people some slack when they seemingly “just don’t get it”, but also speaking your mind and being outspoken about things as well. The part about being true colleagues is that everyone should feel free to both agree and disagree on almost every subject because from that mass of ideas and/or opinions a good one will pop out you were not expecting.

Business Technology

The Outsourcing Conundrum

The first round of “outsourcing” was focused around the physical shift of employees from their one country to another for cost savings (moving support staffing from the United States to India for example, or moving manufacturing to China).

The current round of outsourcing doesn’t necessarily have to do with shifting geography, but from shifting responsibility and skill from an organization to a third-party. It could be about using managed services or moving to “the cloud” in some form or another.

The question now doesn’t seem to be “if” an organization should be outsourcing, but “what” and “how much”. If some administrators would have their way, it seems like they would completely and totally outsource their information technology needs to an outside provider in the hope that things would work out.

I can’t help but think going that extreme is nothing less than a huge and glaring mistake.

So if we can’t outsource everything, what things should we be working to keep “in-house” when it comes to technology?

Basically, ask yourself this: what are the goals of the institution? If something is directly involved with the mission or goals of the institution or organization, those things should be kept as close to home as possible.

What are you held accountable for by law? That might be a good place where you DO want to invest some effort into keeping it as close to home as possible. This is another lens through which to look at a pending decision.

Think about what sorts of skills you want your IT workforce to have. What do you need a quick response to? If you are outsourcing major parts of your IT staff and infrastructure, when something happens, you are now bound to that company. Even if you have a good relationship, that company does not care as much about you as you and your own staff do, say experts at 360ict in London.

Outages happen (even to Google, I can assure you), so try not to look outside every single time but think hard about what outsourcing is going to mean for your organization and talk with your current staff to get their perspective on things. They might have some ideas on how to improve things too.

Business Technology

How I Use Request Tracker

We just went public with our Request Tracker (RT) instance here at Martin Luther College this past week and so I thought I’d do a little post on how I am currently using it to try to help me get stuff done … and more importantly, make sure I get the right stuff done.

We have a support email address which feeds directly into Request Tracker every five minutes and I’m trying to get into the habit of asking people to submit requests themselves so that I can better track what is getting done and what needs to be completed.

From there, a ticket is automatically created in the General queue and then an email is sent off to myself and our support supervisor so that we can triage and assign the tickets to whomever it might need to be. We keep a number of other queues for internal purposes and to easily see where our time is needed.

I then use RT to handle almost all communication between myself and the requestor so that I can easily look into the history to find what has been said. I have custom searches organizing my tickets first by status (open on top), then priority (higher number higher up), and then finally by most recently updated (via a reply). This gives me, at a glade, a look at what I am working on, which are the most important, and then which have been replied to most recently as well. It works for now but there will be tweaks.

I use one queue, Server, to keep track of the changes needed at the next maintenance period. Right now I have seven updates queued up which range from updating our XenServer stack to replacing the batteries in our network rack UPS. I can then pull those tickets together to plan for what we are going to try to accomplish at the next maintenance period. It also lightens my cognitive load by allowing me to dump things into RT where I can refer back when there is a need.

I also just setup an Outage queue where our intense of Icinga will dump its emails and then RT will create a ticket for each outage. Then I can track what was done to fix the issue and refer back if there is a question in the future. I need to look into automatically closing tickets or not sending the final online notice so that there isn’t TOO much noise in the queue.

The next issue will be reporting, but that is for another time. For now, it is “good enough” to have a place to put down our needs and keep track of what is being done. Having that has been a huge help and allowing people to send in their support requests and have a ticket automatically generated has been good PR for the department too.

There is always room for tweaking, and I’ll report on that in the future as well.