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On operations and agreements...

So I happened to meet an old friend of mine at a mall. We got chatting and she happened to refer to my last blog. She was quite interested in knowing how, in reality, can an ITSM organization integrate output from multiple vendors and look at it holistically.

She ordered some chopsuey for herself from one of the stores at the food court while I got myself a cheeseburger from a burger store at the same food court. We, of course, could sit together as the entire food court was managed by the mall instead of having each store manage an area of its own. Somehow it seemed to be related to what we were discussing, isn't it?!

So we got back to talking about multi-vendor scenarios. I thought it would be better if I could relate a recent experience of mine to help her understand.

I was recently working on a project where the ITSM office of a particular company was grappling with the fact that it is operating along with about 40 vendors for various aspects of its IT operations. Now that's a huge number! So I was out, meeting various people like the Service Operations head, Service Transition head, the person in-charge of supplier management, and various key folks from each vendor. I was beginning to get a picture of how things are operating.

Then I had a meeting with Keith, the Service Level Management guy. He is a good, knowledgeable guy and was genuinely interested in getting to see their IT Service Management perform better.

"So Ravi, I guess you have been meeting various people involved with our ITSM Office", he said.

"Yes. That's right. I have been going out on a lot of coffee breaks! Sorry, I have been talking to some key folks", I replied.

"So what are your ideas on getting us to a healthier dashboard?" Keith was referring to the genesis of all his troubles when, in one of his latest quarterly meeting with the CIO and team, the CIO was really unhappy that they were spending heavily on their IT operations, hiring the best-in-class vendors, but still unable to provide good service to their customers.

Ya, I couldn't blame him. You should've looked at the latest management reports. The performance of IT as a whole as well as the Customer survey results seemed to have taken a huge dip. And this was in spite of the spend on IT rising up all along.

As we got talking, I asked Keith, "Keith, how do you measure the performance of these IT vendors?"

Keith looked at me and gave a smile. Of course, I was amused as I didn't perceive any cause of a lighter moment here. He said "You know, that's a silly question! We have contracts with each of these vendors"

I nodded understandably and continued "Ya, I could guess that much. Actually what I meant was, from a Service Level Management perspective, who tracks and reports their performance?"

He said, "ABC Tech was one of the first vendors whom we signed up with long back. As our business grew, we ventured into aligning ourselves with ITIL v3 best practices and ended up outsourcing some processes to other boutique vendors. But by virtue of its long relationship with us as well as its business volumes with us, ABC took up the responsibility of monitoring each vendor and providing us with periodic inputs"

Now it was my turn to smile. I asked Keith "Isn't that an overhead on ABC? How do they manage this?"

"Well, it is an overhead. But then they don't do it every week or sometimes every month too.", he said.

At this point, back at the food court, my friend and I decided to go for some desserts. While we were having our dessert, she asked me "So was there any problem with the reporting by ABC?"

I said "No. Not at all. Its just that the reporting was not sufficient to catch Keith's attention on what could be done..."

She continued "... and Keith couldn't ask ABC for more as they were already doing a favour?" I couldn't help observing that she understood me so well! Oh, sorry for the distraction.

I said "Yes. And not just that! I got talking with Keith on SLAs and he said that these vendors are operating as per the SLAs that they had signed up for"

"That's really strange..." she said.

That's when I started burrowing further into their contracts and SLAs. For the next 2 days, I was wading through these documents. I almost felt like Prof. John Nash in Beautiful Mind with numbers floating around my head. But then I had my moment of Eureka too. I immediately walked up to Keith. He was staring at another obscure report on his laptop screen.

"Keith, how do these vendors talk to each other?" I asked.

"Well, each vendor feeds into the other for any connecting data and that's how they operate"

"You mean something like Bush Technologies gets a P1 ticket, raises an Emergency change which Barack & Co. fix?", I was referring to their outsourced partners who were managing Incident & Change Management.

"Yes", Keith was still trying to see where this was leading to.

You see, I had done my homework. Bush manages Incident with an SLA of their own. But for those incidents that lead to changes, it goes to Barack for Change Management with a different SLA. I told my friend, "Incident Management has no bearing SLAs when a change is raised, while the SLA for Change Management doesn't start until they log a change, which means..."

"...which means, while the customer is waiting with a failed service, Bush & Barack do all their sacred interchange of data, with no SLAs for this exercise?", my friend completed me. (Not literally, of course)

"Yes. You are right. Then, I asked Keith, "Aren't there any OLAs between these vendors?""

A word is enough for the wise and my friend caught my drift. Her eyes brightened up with warm adulation and we just forgot Keith for sometime and got talking about how OLAs are never really used by organizations, while they have to put up with long-drawn SLAs. Sometimes OLAs between vendors who have to work with each other can help things move swifter.

After this long chat about OLAs, my friend asked me "So how did you help Keith?"

"Well among other things, I drew up an OLA between Bush & Barack (the IT vendors) so that when a P1 is raised, the clock is ticking for Bush whereas Barack acts quite fast without keeping Bush waiting"

She said "That was really smart of you..."

I gave a coy smile and said "Oh! That was nothing. You should listen to some of the other consulting tips that I provided"

"I am all ears", she said.

"Not now. Let's catch up for dinner tonight..."

DISCLAIMER: All characters are purely fictitious. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely a coincidence.

No animals were harmed in the making of this luncheon. We had vegetarian food! J


Good to read a 'story' in an otherwise 'article' space :)

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