Perhaps the most classic ServiceNow use case, the theme of service quality relates to an organization’s ability to deliver what they have committed to. The nature of services may vary but the underlying principles are quite similar and even the terminology used to manage them is often aligned. In an IT organization, service quality is the availability and smooth operation of the enterprise software and hardware, from laptops to Wi-Fi and from email to accounting systems. In a telecommunications company, service quality is about the stability and speed of communications services such as the internet and cable TV, while for an internet company, the availability of their website might be the primary consideration.
Defining a service scope
When striving toward service quality improvements, it is critical to define a service scope consisting of the services whose stability we aim to improve or maintain. This is easiest in an IT organization where the service scope might be “all systems managed by IT” or more commonly, “All production systems managed by IT,” but again, the same principles can be applied to other domains.
ServiceNow supports service quality primarily within the IT Service Management (ITSM), IT Operations Management (ITOM), and Customer Service Management (CSM) product areas, although other products are involved for particular use cases as well. The starting point for most organizations focused on service quality improvement is usually the establishment of ITSM processes for in-scope services. In these cases, it’s common to see scopes targeting all data center devices, or everything on the network – the underlying assumption being that if all the individual components are running smoothly, then the collective service is also performing as expected.
In defining a service scope, you may include components such as servers, switches, or storage arrays, and you will also need the list of business or application services that you are targeting. With ServiceNow implementation in particular, it is essential to at least define the applications that these components support, as these form one of the cornerstones of the ServiceNow Common Services Data Model (CSDM) as Application Services (more detail on the CSDM can be found in the current version of the ServiceNow published "CSDM Whitepaper" available from ServiceNow).
Some guidance on service scope is warranted, as companies often try to tackle all systems and services for service quality optimization simultaneously – while that is possible, it also requires an expert level of coordination and is subject to significant risk. A more targeted approach can remove risk and decouple these objectives, allowing you to move rapidly in a small domain to deliver value quickly. It also allows an implementation team to build confidence by tackling a smaller problem with a clear end in sight, rather than a single goal that is difficult to envision reaching and even more difficult to execute.
Service quality metrics
It is common for projects to be commissioned with high-level value objectives tied to a value theme such as service quality. Organizations may know that there is work to be done to keep things running smoothly but have not yet translated that into actionable metrics. In these cases, the project team will now need to collaborate with stakeholders such as business and IT leaders and service owners to create clear value statements for service quality tied to specific service quality metrics. Some examples of value metrics related to service quality include the following:
- The number and severity of SLA or SLA breaches
- The number of critical incidents
- Unplanned downtime of mission-critical systems
- Failed customer interactions with your mobile application
Note that while these are quantitative metrics that undeniably matter to your organization, they may or may not be financial metrics. An SLA with your customer may incur penalties for being violated but an internal OLA isn’t likely to have a hard dollar cost associated. This will be a common trend in your ServiceNow journey and will be repeated for other value-related themes. Recall that a value statement should be measurable in terms of the impact on a specific group of individuals. This requirement should be easy to meet when formulating service quality metrics and value statements, as you generally know what the user demographic of a service is. Examples of user communities can include employees in the accounting department, your customers, or your suppliers.
A value statement for service quality might read as follows - Reduce the impact of database anomalies during the month-end close: Monitoring and responding to anomalous database performance during peak periods around the month-end close reduces overtime worked by the financial accounting team by 50%.
This value statement is clear in scope and delivers value to a clear audience, although whether the accountants are working long hours or the budget holder is footing the bill for the overtime pay may depend on the organization. By targeting specific systems or services that have a measurable impact on the organization, you avoid a peanut butter approach where a diluted version of the value is spread across a large surface area of applications. This is important because a very small impact on a large number of teams can be difficult to measure and it therefore becomes difficult to show that an improvement is related to the efforts of your project team.
Planning for service quality
With the metrics established, the next task for your team will be to develop and execute a sequence of activities that lead to the realization of value. A critical step will be to confirm that you have the appropriate ServiceNow licensing in place to support the service quality value objectives and that your project work plan includes the activities required to deliver on those value objectives.
If there are any gaps, you must work with your project management and governance structure to either modify the plan or the objectives. This is an essential point, as all too often, the connection between objectives and the plan is ignored. If you as an insider within the project, a dedicated member of the team, or a seasoned leader overseeing the project can’t tell how a particular objective will be achieved, then there is a good chance that it will not be.
Identifying opportunities in the current state
If service quality is a target outcome for your project, then you should understand the current state of the in-scope services first. This is a common challenge where organizations believe that the current state is not relevant to their future state. They are re-imagining their IT operations and implementing an entirely new ServiceNow instance after all. Experience shows that a good map is substantially more valuable if you know where you are starting and for that reason, it is worth your while to get a sense of how the processes are currently performing.
Questions to ask include the following:
- How stable are the services?
- When something goes wrong, how quickly is the issue detected?
- When investigated, what are the common root causes?
- How often are issues resolved at the service desk versus being resolved only after escalation?
Answering these questions will help you map specific ServiceNow capabilities to the problems most relevant to these services. This, in turn, allows you to focus your resources on the key levers to drive improvements in your objectives.
Aligning the implementation scope with the opportunity
If you find that the in-scope services often fail due to changes being made to those services, then that suggests it’s necessary to focus on the change management process to better assess and manage risk. ServiceNow has specific capabilities in ITSM for change risk calculation to help you navigate that scenario. However, if an unreliable software solution, perhaps one prone to memory leaks, is spontaneously failing after some time in stable operation, then the instrumentation of that infrastructure and application using the ITOM monitoring capabilities should be considered to identify leading indicators and even execute automated remediation steps as a stopgap until the software is updated.
The essential process of discovering the problems or opportunities that exist in the service quality requires you to speak to those who are knowledgeable about the services, analyze the data, and think critically about how the capabilities you will implement can bring about a positive change for their teams. During this time, keep an eye out for teams who have substantially better service performance or who have established and proven solutions for managing their systems.
If you are operating from a templated plan or even one devised at the outset of the project when you had very little information, now is a good time to revisit your planned activities and to critically assess whether changes are required to remain on track to deliver value.