Providing high-quality IT services to the business is not an easy task.
In today’s world, where services are delivered by many different providers rather than just one, ensuring seamless delivery has become an even more daunting task. Organisations that are moving to a multi-source environment need to make sure they are implementing an operating model that will deliver the projected cost savings and service improvements.
The operating model that has gained ground over recent years is SIAM: Service Integration And Management. It is designed to manage and integrate services provided by multiple suppliers.
Outsourcing to a single provider can appear to be the easiest option but has in fact proven to be inflexible, expensive and restricts access to innovative services. A multi-sourcing model is more likely to drive competitive behaviour from suppliers, which results not only in cost-effectiveness but also in (access to) innovative new propositions that may offer better ROI.
An effective SIAM function will support the integrated delivery of the services to the business. At the same time, SIAM will allow the organisation to benefit from the innovation and flexibility of multi-sourcing as well as the cost savings of standard services. As such, it is important that the SIAM function should be impartial and vendor-neutral with the best interest of the business in mind. This does not mean the SIAM function itself cannot be outsourced, but it does mean that you need to make sure it remains independent and that it has the power to govern and control.
The SIAM function makes use of ITSM processes to run service management, but it would be a mistake to believe SIAM is just some ITSM flavour as this does not do justice to the integration and collaboration that it needs to look after. Since SIAM is a heavy user of ITSM processes and needs to connect to the ITSM tools of the providers to operate efficiently, you would think that tool vendors would have adapted their tools to support this model. Think again.
There is little distinction among ITSM tools when it comes to supporting the standard ITIL processes. An interesting observation is that in a multi-sourced organisation, such a service is considered a commodity service. The supplier is selected based on the lowest cost and will be replaced if another supplier provides the same quality for less. But when it comes to ITSM tools, we seem to be fine with paying high premiums for commodity service.
Traditional tools were not built with the SIAM concept in mind, they were intended to be used by a single IT department. With the rise of SIAM, these tools had to come up with solutions to help organisations to manage the services that they outsourced. What they came up with were solutions that required extensive customisation and complex integrations.
All parties within one multi-source environment will use the same tool.
I am truly amazed that anyone would think that this is a viable solution. It would require the outsourcers to use many different tools, potentially as many as they have customers. And they would still need an integration into their second-line teams as these would be using the outsourcers’ own tool. You can imagine this would not be cost-effective or efficient at all, and guess who will pay the bill?
But also, suppliers do not want to share all their data with each other as it would include data that gives them a competitive edge. Likewise, an organisation only wants to share relevant data with their outsourcer, not everything in their system. Some data will even have privacy implications when shared with all. So even if you want to go down this path, you would still have to implement data segregation in your tools database, customise all SLA rules, reports, and so on. This is the perfect recipe for total upgrade and maintenance disaster.
All parties use their own tool and integrations will be built between the different tools.
The benefits of this is that everyone can use their own tool, which is more efficient for suppliers, and you get to decide what you want to share with the other party and when.
Experience, however, has shown us there are some significant disadvantages as those integrations are expensive to build and even more expensive to maintain. As soon as one of the tools is upgraded or changed, the integration often stops working. Since many ITSM applications today are still toolboxes, where continuous customisation is more rule than exception, this is likely to happen. And what about your smaller suppliers, do you require them to invest in an expensive integration that will probably cost more than their contract with you? Or are they just not going to be part of your SIAM environment?
Another disadvantage is that if you want to achieve full and efficient collaboration between your suppliers you need them to exchange information directly. This results in a huge number of integrations for everyone to collaborate. When one of the integrations is down, important information is lost and consultants are required to fix the integration. Running costs are high, reliability is low and no service level agreements (SLAs) exist on the integrations.
This approach also means there is no SLA reporting over all parties, as there is no single set of SLA rules that measures every supplier in exactly the same way, including their impact on the service delivered to the business. After all, service delivery chains are often more complex than a business service with only one supporting service.
An integration platform is used to integrate the different providers.
Since integrations turned out to be so expensive and unreliable, a new market space was created for commercial integration platforms. All integrations can now use the same platform and technology. Due to the toolbox nature of many tools, it still requires some work, but the mechanism and infrastructure to integrate is largely standardised.
The reliability of such a platform is often higher than with direct integrations. Suppliers often promise upwards of 99% availability of their platform. Keep in mind, however, that it does not mean the full integration is available, it only means the platform is up and running.
Unfortunately, integration platforms do come with negatives also. For example, adding a separate supplier means that you must manage one more. That, of course, should not be a major issue in a SIAM environment. But adding another supplier raises the cost and those integration platforms often add 50% or more to the total license or subscription price of the ITSM tool.
A larger issue, especially with many outsourcers, is the limited visibility and reporting these solutions give you. The SIAM organisation needs full visibility of the requests, SLA performance and level of collaboration of all suppliers.
Managing SLAs involving multiple suppliers comes with thousands of rules around SLA tracking, for example which SLA should stop when a supplier selects the status ‘Waiting for Customer’ and which SLAs should start again when a request gets reopened.
These rules are typically not included in the integration platforms, which means you will need consultants to develop them. This will not be a short nor a cheap engagement. Talking about costs, in a SIAM organisation one of the important goals is to be able to ‘unplug’ one supplier and ‘plug in’ another one with ease. Again, this will not be easy nor cheap. SIAM organisations are, therefore, severely limited in one of their key goals.
When it comes to SIAM, tool vendors will often take the approach where all providers are given access to the same instance of the application, either via integrations or directly. Data segregation, customisations, filters and more will be custom-built to try to support your multi-source, service delivery organisation.
In an environment where different commercial suppliers cooperate to deliver services, the approach should really be the other way around, with environments separated from one another until you decide what services you provide to other suppliers, what data you want to share and what permissions you want to hand out to other suppliers. These settings should come automatically based on the SLAs you create and offer to others and the roles you hand out to others. It should not require any customisation.
Almost all ITSM applications are toolboxes where you can customise anything and everything, and few can resist the temptation to do just that. This approach is not only very expensive and the main cause of performance issues, it also makes it impossible to collaborate with others as there is no common data concept. This can be solved by having a small core in your tool, which you cannot modify, for collaboration. Anything else you can customise if you really want to.
Integrations can support the moving and mapping of request data from one tool to another, but that is not enough to support true visibility into the end-to-end service delivery chain and performance between suppliers, nor does it allow the level of collaboration required in a SIAM environment. Integrations do not provide a common way of working or full visibility, they only allow basic data to be passed from one tool to another.
In the future, it should be possible to connect to internal and external suppliers as easily as you and I can connect on LinkedIn. You should simply be able to offer services to each other by sending an SLA to the other party. As soon as the other party accepts, you are integrated and can start providing your services. This will also allow a supplier to be replaced from the multi-supplier ITSM environment in just a few minutes by simply cancelling the SLA, which will mean your systems are no longer connected. Being able to do this makes it possible to replace suppliers if necessary and quickly start working with new, innovative suppliers that might bring a real difference to your business!
There are very few ITSM products today that provide good support for SIAM. What is worse is that many providers do claim to have a good solution when, at best, they offer an expensive technical solution that has huge white spots in functionality or, at worst, a solution that does not make any sense.
Would you like to test your current or future ITSM tool supplier on this topic? Ask them this question: “Is the integration to forward incidents and RFCs from your ITSM tool to theirs available by default, at no additional cost?” After all, you are both on the same tool and this should be the easiest integration for the supplier. If it does not exist or it must be built for you, you should doubt how serious the supplier’s claim is about making integrations easy, affordable and maintainable.