As an ITSM vendor, we often get organizations approach us with an interest in purchasing and using our Service Desk product to help drive their IT support and IT service management. This is a good thing. We are always happy to talk to potential future customers, and we love seeing the difference out products can make.
But there’s one question which always comes up which is guaranteed to make my polite helpful face slip very slightly. That question is: How many reports do you provide?”
It’s not an unreasonable question, but it’s a telling one that gives away more about the background of the asker than anything the answer itself can give. That question usually indicates that there is an expectation that all information can only be obtained through ‘reports’, and that the more that are provided, the better the solution must be. These are two flawed assumptions.
Let me explain.
Once upon a time, software products were fixed and limited. You needed a new blue button that made the coffee? No problem, we write a specification and wait for Engineering to produce a future release with a blue button that makes coffee. And if the coffee it makes is luke warm, and with cream and no chocolate sprinkles on top, then hey, that’s what it is. At least you have a blue button right?
And those products in the ITSM arena would typically be shipped with a set of “reports.” That’s where the first part of the question comes from. The software engineers know there will always be a table in the database holding blue button coffee requests, so a “report” can be coded that shows the total number of cups dispensed over time. Back in those days, the only way to get the information you needed out of a service desk or help desk product would be to run a report as a freestanding view of information. So, in that mindset, clearly the solution that comes with 5,000 prebuilt reports is more likely to give you the information you really need than a solution with 50, right? So an arms race developed, with vendors competing to see who could ship product with the most prebuilt reports across the largest conceivable range of subjects.
Here in LANDesk land, our customers tend to be overflowing with information, yet often only run a small set of reports. How can that be? Well, you need to understand a bit about LANDesk Service Desk and a bit about the concepts behind our reporting.
Let’s start with the four types of information-delivery.
- Awareness. Information that is presented to you, in context, in small, subtle ways keeps you informed and appraised on things happening that may affect you. Maybe its emails, RSS feeds, or Twitter. It’s the pop-ups that says, “I know you are in the Paris office, and you need to be aware that SAP access in Paris is currently slow.” You read it, process it, and move on.
- Information. Whether in IT or elsewhere in the business, when you approach the Service Desk you should be able to see what you need to see. Dashboards, lists, counts, charts, dials. If you look at a request you should be able to see all incidents raised by that user, all changes planned for request, and all problems relating to that service. You need the information to make human decisions about what to do next. And yes, you can print them, email them, save them, and distribute them. But they are dynamic and in front of the right people.
- Reporting. Now we come to the original question. I regard that word reports as referring to documents. Formally produced, calculated, formatted, branded, and printable documents containing data from your service desk and other sources. You have to ‘run’ them. Back on the bad old days these were often the only way of getting information. However, these days a modern solution should present your operational information to you as you work. So we increasingly see that the number of cases where a formally produced document is required are reducing. You don’t need 500 reports. In most cases you might just need five or six.
- Management Information. It’s about capturing key business metrics from multiple sources both inside the service desk and across the business. Those metrics are captured and calculated and stored and warehoused and used for tracking progress towards goals against time. Almost like GPS for IT Service. For example, it’s management information that lets you see how as your roll out of Windows7 you started to see a reduction the number of major incidents, an increase customer satisfaction, and an increase in employee productivity. It’s reports that deliver meaning over time that are important.
So, there you have it. Four different types of information delivery, and hopefully a good explanation of why many successfully ITSM practitioners tend to run a surprisingly small number of reports, yet are totally immersed in valuable information.