Social ITSM - a skeptical view
The hype around social media is reaching the usual almost religious fervour typical of our industry when faced with anything novel. We run shrieking into the street like kids chasing a noisy carnival parade. Social media is a distraction to our day job, just like Cloud. Social media is a communication channel, and not a very good one. Get over it.
For ITSM in general, i.e. for IT Management in general, social media presents a few issues to be dealt with, and even fewer opportunities.
Forums and streams allow users to communicate directly with each other and form communities outside our control. The Cluetrain Manifesto is quite right in saying this is something for user-relations functions of the organisation to take note of. They need to actively reach out to and participate in these communities. One more job but not a big one.
If you support an external community e.g. a vendor, this has more significance. But the Cluetrain Manifesto and others are hysterical in one regard: social media doesn't put users in control. It gives them more voice but that is not the same thing. Most services are hard to switch. Think Microsoft gives a toss how angry I am at them? User voice is over-rated as an influence on many companies, despite the lip service. And besides, for the majority of readers of this blog, the users work for the same company. Guess how much power the staff users have and how much extra voice social media gives them.
If you support fellow staff, then what they do in the webosphere is of low importance. Risk and compliance managers might want to set good policies and keep an eye on what staff do and say with a company hat on. Social media provides the opportunity for staff to be more stupid more quickly and more visibly, but the difference between that and traditional channels is quantitative not qualitative. I've spoken to the press on behalf of an employer before - tricky.
Even for the Service Desk, who spend their day working with communication channels, social media is not that significant, other than dealing with the "new" external communities. To keep users happy, service desks will have to adopt these new channels just like we did with email and with web forms. Some level of integration with the service desk tool might be useful here because most social media channels, e.g. Twitter, are even more unreliable than email: there is no permanent record, messages are on a notoriously insecure and flaky platform, and the interfaces are even more primitive for flagging important messages and sifting out dross. For those with external users, Service Desk will need to seek them out in their uncontrolled communities, ensure the support information they are exchanging is correct, feed them good info, offer help, and try to do some problem identification. As I said, one more job.
What are the exciting attributes of social media?
As Jim Finister said recently (in his social media blog channel)
there is a lot of talk about social media and ITSM, but not many ideas for how it can be used in reality, either now or in the future
I like Jim: in that very British way he can be relied upon not to get hysterical about any phenomenon. He participates actively in the thinking but keeps one foot firmly on the ground. Follow Jim.
Jim found the following applications of Social Media in ITSM
- Find out what people are saying. If you already have a press clipping service, you should engage them or someone similar to monitor the social media "airwaves" and feed back what the zeitgeist is about you. There's also this thing called Google...
- Try out ideas. This seems like a casual and unmanaged version of the focus group. Pay an expert and do it properly.
- Communication. Social media adds another layer to your other networks and professional organisations. Yes it gives wider reach and more diversity. Tick.
- Build relationships. Big time, this is a powerful benefit of social media that I can personally vouch for. I'd not be doing what I do today without social media. There is no doubt that social media makes the world smaller. Tick. But is it something new? No, just really really good networking. The itSMF didn't build ITIL using social media. They did it with airplanes and conferences and red wine.
- Build user communities. Tick. Users can get together worldwide, and have been ever since the advent of bulletin boards twenty years ago. But this is not necessarily a positive. The data they generate is often crap; negative memes get whipped up beyond reason; and usually it is the vocal minorities that dominate not your true community.
- Educate users by getting them to inform each other. This is very very dangerous. The web amply demonstrates how bad people are at being discriminating consumers of information. Controlling the quality of peer "education" is near impossible. Check out ITSM forums. Or ITSM blogs. Or ITSM Wikipedia entries and other "open content". Even on the internet with huge populations, collaborative knowledge is seldom good. Inside an organisation - or anywhere with a smaller population contributing - collaborative knowledge rapidly degenerates into rubbish. As Jim himself said "I've seen the state of far too many internal ITSM Wikis". Knowledge sharing is a culture problem not a technology one.
- Gamification. This actually has nothing to do with social media. I recently interviewed a US company who are building gamification into their in-house service desk. It is a real stretch to call gamification "social media" just because they can see each other's scores and compete.
Nothing much new there and certainly nothing that is going to radically impact business models or core practices, despite what the fizzy analysts tell you. Social media will help us do some things better, especially getting chummy with users and helping them get together with each other and help each other. And it will help us do other things worse, mostly around maintaining quality and controlling risk.
Is social media going to change how you conduct any of the 27 ITIL processes? No. I agree with Stephen Mann: mobility and bring-your-own-device are two developments with far more impact on IT and ITSM than social media (though neither of them are game-changing either, just more challenging).
Of course the ITSM software vendors are leaping on the social media band wagon with alacrity. ITSM tools have very little to differentiate them these days; anything new gives a short-term edge to the first hype-merchant to implement it. Of course anyone who buys software on the basis of feature-function in this millennium gets what they deserve. Select tools on business value, vendor reliability, price, local expertise etc, not bells and whistles.
Sure it would be cool to send ticket status updates to Twitter. Sure you could carefully validate and quality-assure your level-0 support advice and then publish it on a wiki so the users can hack at it for themselves. Sure internal chatter-tools can improve inter-tech communications (it couldn't be much worse). But in the meantime we have request and incidents to process, problems to resolve, changes to implement, services to build... Back in the real ITSM world the impact of social media is like rain on the window.
[Update: here are some additional points I missed that have come up in comments below:]
I'm all for adopting social media. Everyone is citing the same use cases. We all agree on what is going to happen. The only disagreement is around how important that is. As usual it is the IT skeptic's role to prick the hype bubble.
Most evolution does NOT involve mass extinctions. The internet didn't cause mass extinctions of businesses. The bursting of the internet hype bubble did.
Social media will change things. I don't like talk of "survive or perish", a "coming tidal wave" etc. and I certainly don't appreciate being treated as stupid because I choose not to panic my clients into precipitate actions (such as buying stuff they don't need or cant use yet)
It's not the technologies I don't believe in, it is the irrational exuberance surrounding them. You'd think we'd learn.
Here is a fine article on Getting to Social by Harold Jarche: "everyone is connected but few know what to do".
It reminded me that social change isn't about social technologies, even if the technologies themselves trigger the changes, as the internet did. We have had the internet for more than a decade and we are only now beginning to evolve social norms, laws, critical faculties etc to deal with it.
I commented on Harold's article
A fine model and a fine aspiration. How long will such behavioural change take? How long will it take the community to assimilate this new model of interaction? years? Decades? Generations?
I think you are right and as a result i think you prove that social technologies will change nothing in any useful timeframe.
I've been talking to someone deeply knowledgeable about tool developments related to social media, and i came up with an analogy that I like: social media is causing changes to ITSM in the same way as the move from GUI clients to browser-based tools did.
i.e. none really.
When our ITSM tools changed to browser deployment it gave us opportunities to access them anywhere, to be mobile, and it simplified client deployment.
that was mildly interesting but it didn't change the way we do Request, Incident, Problem, Change, Config, SLM, any of the processes (except a few improvements to field support, and some mobility for working from home).
And power operators still don't want browser-based tools because they are clunky and slow compared to a local rich client. they reduce value.
I'm sure that "social" extensions to ITSM tool function will be mildy interesting too and make some enhancements to how we communicate. But they won't change the fundamentals and they won't be for everyone. remember "MyCMDB" from four years ago. Boy has that swept the industry and revolutionised support. Not. I repeat, the ITSM vendors are desperate to generate some life and some differentiation in a moribund product sector. They'll talk up anything right now to try to meet quotas. Don't fall for the hype.
One counter-example raised is the idea of "virtual CABs", but virtual CABs have been in ITIL for a long time, are already in some tools using email, and are well entrenched in some organisations. that's not a function of social media.
Then we come to the question of "empowered" or 'connected" users and how this is somehow going to transform business. the analogy still holds. I well recall all the bullsh1t around how the internet was going to transform business and the apocalyptic predictions for those who didn't drop everything and embrace the "digital economy". It nearly collapsed the world economy.
The fact is that the internet changed little about how business is conducted (except in selected industries) and changed next to nothing about how ITSM is conducted, the topic of this post.
We've had digitally "connected users" since the first bulletin boards and chat rooms in the 1990s. We've had militant user groups since long before that, for centuries. The internet didn't fundamentally change how we relate to customers and users, certainly not in an ITSM context, and social media won't either. Some things improve, some get worse, life goes on.
i think the embrace of new technologies as some sort of messianic saviour of consumers/users/customers reflects people's own personal powerlessness and frustration as individual consumers. that powerlessness is also not something new, it has been with us for centuries. "You can have any colour so long as it's black". Social media isn't going to help. it's just a new hammer to bang on the corporate doors with.
the relationship between enterprise customers and suppliers is entirely different, has never had the same powerlessness. Social media won't change anything there either for ITSM. It'll introduce new channels and value chains like the browser/internet did and social media may even disrupt some industries like the internet did, but that's not the point of this post. Social ITSM is nothing much.
User self-help - a skeptical view
Transformational technologies are a small view
Analysts create markets so that they can feed off them. Vendors too.
Talk of IT innovation is the last gasp of the IT cowboys
Technology does not fix process
"People change slowly, so don't expect technology to alter the way business is run."