Serio Blog

Thursday, 31 May 2007

'Perhaps you would like to spend as yet undisclosed wad of dollars on a device that allows you to finger paint?' asks Tracey Caldwell.

Collaborative working the old fashioned way involved getting people round a table to thrash out the latest strategy or issue. While Web 2.0 has attempted to take that online Microsoft has decided that the key factor in the collaborative mix is the table. Its Surface Computer does put the average coffee table to shame with a 30in touchscreen embedded but it is unclear what the benefits will be above and beyond the usual touchscreen kiosk.

It will be some time before Surface is widely available. In the meantime it is educational to look at the progress of alternative input devices. The Surface is deemed a natural user interface and is joined in that category by other technologies from voice recognition to more futuristic eye gaze tracking.

So how is the Surface more than just another touchscreen kiosk? A desk or a wall can be transformed with the 30in Surface computer; there is no need for a discrete kiosk, but current touchscreen technology can be embedded in various environments so no apparent change there. HP’s coffee table PC Misto would seem to tick this box. More groundbreakingly it responds to multiple touches on different parts of the screen, not just one input.

Users can draw directly on to the screen with their fingers, resize and interact with photos and videos, creating images together. Surface can recognise objects that have been barcoded and create on-screen versions or transfer digital content from them.

Just as you start to picture the benefits of the technology – a hotshot group of designers working on a new ad together perhaps, Microsoft is on hand to suggest a variety of potential application scenarios - but many of them seem less than compelling. Its press release proclaims, “Imagine creating and sending a personal postcard of vacation pictures instantly to friends and family, while still wearing flip-flops”. Or perhaps you would like to spend as yet undisclosed wad of dollars on a device that allows you to finger paint, another suggestion? Or perhaps order wine in a restaurant and, it is suggested, heaven help us, even splitting the bill.

The Surface contains a short range projector and five cameras to pick up touch movements. It has been five years in the making according to some reports and the technology has certainly been around for a while. User interface watchers would point to technology demoed by Jeff Han last August on Youtube.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

We are going to be running a series of posts featuring how to write your own reports, in a' tutorial by instalments' form.

The good news we are trying to do this with free tools – so you can follow the posts even if you can’t stretch your budget to a report writer. If you want to follow this posts and create the reports as they are created in the blog, you will need to download the software from the links I’ve given below.

You will also need the Serio Development Kit for Crystal at some point. Don’t be put off by the name – it’s useful for any SQL-based report writer. This is also free, but you are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Before contacting your support representative to get a copy, please check you don’t already have it in your company.

The target audience for these posts is the more technically minded – getting some of the free tools working can be a bit tricky. I managed it in about 90 minutes (including the problems I had with about 5 different versions of Java on my machine), and I’ve tried to include a bit of troubleshooting below.

Important: Please don’t contact Serio support for problems with the open source reporting tools, as these are not Serio tools. I’ll try to anticipate any issues in the blog, but if something unexpected comes up use the blog comment features and I’ll try to help that way, where everyone can read the comments.

My advice is this: if you are going to follow these posts and create the reports at the same time, try to choose a machine that does not have Java installed yet – particularly the Microsoft Java Machine (JVM). For me, this was the biggest install problem I had (removing Microsoft JVM).

I’m going to be using Microsoft SQL Server as the target database platform, as it’s the most widely used DB platform. You can use Oracle, though you’ll need to use the Oracle JDBC drivers.

OK, here’s what you need. Remember these posts are for more technically-minded users.

1. Download Java and install it. The latest version link is below or google for ‘java runtime’.

www.java.com/en/download/manual.jsp.

2. Download the open-source report writer. We’ve chosen Datavision simply because it’s the easiest to install (you can download the software here). If you know of better ones let me know. It seems to be the simplest, but requires you to know something of SQL.

3. Install Datavision. There is no install as such, simply unpack the files. If you are not familiar with tar or gz google for it - there are lots of free tools.

4. Download the JDBC driver. Use the link below.

http://jtds.sourceforge.net/

Unpack these files and put them somewhere safe.

5. Within the JDBC driver software, locate the file called ‘jtds-1.2.jar’. Copy it to the Datavision directory called /lib (which will have been created in step 3).

6. Datavision is started by running a BAT file on Windows platforms called Datavision.BAT. Locate this file, and edit it by adding the following on to the end of the first line – no spaces, no CR – just add it straight to the end.

;lib\jtds-1.2.jar

Now try running Datavision (i.e., run ‘datavision.bat’).

Troubleshooting If you get an error message telling you that you’ve got the wrong Java version, you’ve got a bit of work to do. I had this problem as well, and resolved it by removing the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine (this link shows you how).

If you run a command shell (CMD) and type ‘java –version’ you can see the Java version you are running. You want that to say something like 1.6.0.1. If you still get Java version errors, search your hard disc for ‘java.exe’. I had about 10 copies, and renaming each one except the one from Sun as Java.exe.old finally fixed the problem.

You know you are home and dry when you see the Datavision login page. I’ll describe how to log-in in the next post I write.

[Update by blog admin: the next post in the series is here]

Friday, 25 May 2007

I’m asked to write this blog post for someone who has recently stepped into a new Incident Manager role. In order to help someone get started, what kind of things do Incident Managers do?

Ideally of course you’ll have worked for an effective Incident Manager yourself, in an effectively-managed IT service management operation. If not, and particularly you are promoted unexpectedly, it can be a bit daunting.

First of all, go right back to the start. Incident Managers ultimately are responsible for the Incident Management process, the goals of which can be read here. If you then expand this to include the Incident Life Cycle, you get more clues.

My brief for this blog is to focus on detail and practicalities. So what I’d do is try to give a flavour of some of the things you’d expect to do with the emphasis on practicalities. It’s not exhaustive, but I hope it will give you an idea.

1. Ownership of the Incident Management Process.

If you are an Incident Manager, you will try to describe how your Incident-handling team work with Incidents, with each other, and what you expect of them. The best Incident Managers I’ve been lucky enough to work with have been clever enough to produce easily readable, useable documents. These documents describe such things as how to escalate an Incident, how to handle Major Incidents, who has responsibility for Incidents where in the cycle, it defines some roles and assigns specific people to roles... hopefully you get the idea.

What you are trying to define is ‘how can we guarantee that, when an Incident is logged, we’ll deal with it professionally and to the customer’s satisfaction?’.

But here’s where the effective Incident Managers are marked out from the also-rans. The effective ones take the time to explain the process to the Incident team – in effect to ‘sell’ it to them. They don’t just send an email saying ‘dear all, this is what I want you to do, I’m off for a round of golf’. Instead, they hold presentations, meetings – anything that will get the message across.

2. Making Sure the Incident Management Process is followed.

It’s something I see all to often. Someone has written some guidelines, or an Incident document, emailed it to staff, and that’s the last anyone sees of it. The document (ie, the Incident Management Process) is disregarded and ignored.

The effective Incident Managers act as policemen.

For example,

If they ask for resolution information for each Incident to be complete an accurate (so as to be of use later for Knowledgebase searching) then they try to ensure that that:

a: There is some checking of this in the Incident Management process itself.

b. From time to time they examine Incident records themselves. For instance, if they are a Serio user they might look at the Incidents resolved in the past week and examine the resolution information themselves, re-opening Incidents that don’t cut the mustard (and possibly tweaking the IM process itself).

Effective Incident Managers realise that alerts and information generated by an ITSM tool are all well and good, but that many staff may ignore these at first (in fact, you set-up your tool to generate lots of alerts and notifications this is absolutely going to happen), so they look for signs of people not using their tool effectively. There are lots of subtle ways this kind of thing can be addressed, starting with ‘a quiet word’ and a little extra training.

3. Asking ‘is the Incident Management process effective’.

This is not the same thing as point 2. For the most part, the Incident Manager will use a wide range of statistics for this, and will adjust the Incident process as required. Examples of KPIs can be found here for Incidents and here for Problems, and also see our white paper. Please note, as I’ve described countless times before this does not mean simply pulling a few metrics from your ITSM tool and giving them to your boss (if an Incident Manager had done that to me, I would have given them straight back). It means the Incident Manager sitting down and deciding what data they will examine, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations for improvement.

4. Managing the work and workloads of the Incident Management teams.

What this means is this: from time to time bottlenecks appear. For instance, you might get a situation where 100 Incidents are with your one-man networks team, and virtually no Incidents being handled by others.

Incident Managers keep abreast of these kinds of issues, and take corrective or remedial action as required. For example, by re-assigning work, hiring contract staff, re-scheduling non-urgent tasks. For Serio users, this is as simple as using the Assignment and Ownership performance charts effectively.

For many Serio users, the Incident Manager is actually the supervisor for the front-line Service Desk/Helpdesk team, an arrangement that usually works very well.

As a finish, I’d recommend that our new Incident Manager pick up a copy of ‘Best Practice for Service Support’. It’s a great source of information, and you can get it from amazon.co.uk.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

WiFi internet access on trains is the last piece in the jigsaw puzzle for real productivity on the move. Passengers have been hamstrung by patchy network access as trains pass through tunnels but that is changing.

T-Mobile is fanfaring its WiFi hotspot service on the Heathrow Express train as a technology breakthrough. The company that installed the system is claiming a first for using WiMAX technology underground on the route. T-Mobile’s service, available to all, not just T-Mobile customers, promises broadband internet access at 2Mbps throughout the journey, including a 6km tunnel. But the service comes with health warnings, more of which later.

WiFi Hotspot access passes are sold on the trains for rates ranging from £5 for an hour up to £40 for 30 days. This compares to £2.95 for an hour on a GNER train, £9.95 for 24 hour access.

The aficionado of train WiFi might want to track the proceedings of Train Communications 2007 http://www.traincomms2007.com/ held in London on the 6th and 7th of June. The organisers concede that despite great progress in this sector and in the face of overwhelming public demand for such services, only a handful of train companies have so far managed to supply customers with an internet connection. This might be partly due to security worries.

The Times newspaper has uncovered evidence that criminals are using a technique known as an 'evil twin attack', where victims think that they are logging on to a genuine T-Mobile network but are in fact being diverted to a hacker’s connection. In the article T-Mobile said it was aware of the technique but hadn’t had any reported instances in the UK.

Security experts say that it would be hard for T-Mobile to spot this happening though. The security conscious might want to think twice about accessing critical data through these services which is a pity as WiFi hotspot broadband access is broadening all the time and is being offered free of charge to coach passengers.

Passengers on the Oxford Tube coach service can now access the Internet while they travel between the university city and London. Access is via Moovera Networks' mobile WiFi equipment and Vodafone 3G broadband network with access speeds of up to 1.4Mbps on the Stagecoach coaches.

Stagecoach says passengers have switched from the train to its Oxford Tube service to London after it offered customers free email and web access as part of the trial of WiFi technology. Around 4,500 users registered for the service during the three-month trial which was hailed a success – with more than 16,000 online sessions of an average duration of 42 minutes – and free WiFi access is now a permanent fixture. 

In order to increase the range of content available on this blog, we are creating a new category – Technology. We’ll be publishing articles to this category on a regular basis, alongside our existing ITSM and Serio product posts. We hope you find the new posts informative and useful.

Jackie, blog admin

Monday, 21 May 2007

(See also handling difficult customers.)

A while ago I was asked for any ideas I had on a complaints procedure from a customer whose business is the management & provision of a support service – providing a helpdesk/service desk service for external clients. I’ve chosen this as my subject for this post because it fits in nicely with the service level management posts I’ve been writing recently. Most of what follows is just as applicable to bother internal and external providers of support services, but my guess is that those who provide paid support services will be the most likely to implement a complaints procedure.

Complaints procedures are useful things to have because of their ability to avoid disputes, and to maintain or repair what might otherwise be a damaged customer relationship.

From a customers point of view, a complaints procedure will have more credibility when it is advertised, is simple, is confirmed in writing, has a few key timelines on it, and is considered by people who are (ideally) at arms length from the staff the customer usually deals with.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Advertising. Advertising (or making visible) a complaints procedure is important, and should describe the basics of how to raise a complaint, and how it will be considered. Good places to put such information might be your IT customer services portal (integrated with your SerioWeb pages if you are a Serio customer). Avoid a long description of your complaints handling procedure – focus on how and where, and what the timescales for resolution are.

Confirmation. Make sure you confirm the nature of the complaint, and agree it with the customer in writing particularly if it has been reported by telephone. Some organisations only take written complaints to avoid any confusion.

Timelines. Have a target response time for complaints (be careful to avoid the term ‘resolution’ – it can take much longer than your initial response). Ideally this will be 5 working days of less.

Fairness. Make it clear who will be investigating the complaint – ideally someone a little removed from your normal IT helpdesk/service desk. Your Service Level Manager might be a good choice.

Referencing to a trade body for arbitration. Although commonplace in the building and other sectors, paid IT support doesn’t seem to have much in the way of specialist arbitrators (correct me if I'm wrong though). However, here in the UK arbitrators.org may be able to help.

On the administrative side, it’s essential you have a clearly defined way of recording complaints – so you can report on the number of complaints received as a service level metric. For Serio users, that typically means having an Issue Type of Complaint and having (usually) a special SLA that is used (with the response time set accordingly).

Friday, 18 May 2007

This is a follow-up post to KPIs for Service Level Management

Continuing the list I started on Wednesday…

6. Times to resolve. There are lots of ways to slice and dice this – resist the urge to produce many different variations – pick just one or two, by Priority or Impact for instance. I have a personal dislike of averages here, because I think they can often do more to hide the truth than is useful. Instead, so time to resolve in a ‘banded’ form using a graph, so that the distribution of time can be seen. If you are a Serio user, have a look at SLA12.

7. Evidence of meetings. Is there evidence of your Service Level Manager (you have one, right?) actually meeting with customers to go through some of the metrics mentioned in my last post? In particular, are there action points produced and evidence of these being carried through?

8. Responsiveness and callback performance. I’m always surprised this is overlooked by Helpdesk/Service Desk staff, but it really matters to customers. Ideally your SLA will state a callback date and time for customers reporting Incidents – make sure part of your metrics is devoted to reporting on the timeliness of these callbacks.

Just a quick word about the various information resources we offer to customers, and information about where product documentation is located.

Product Documentation – Serio HowTo

Product Documentation (including documentation on SerioClient and SerioAdmin) is not available on the web. This data is for customers, and you’ll find it distributed with the product. Both general use and administration information is contained within the HowTo guide. You can access this from any machine with SerioClient or SerioAdmin installed, either by pressing F1 or by using the Start menu.

Serio Website at seriosoft.com

This contains general product overviews, key features and the blog. The blog contains articles about IT Service Management and articles about the product. These product articles are created to supplement what is in the HowTo guide and offer ideas to customers for additional areas of functionality they can use. It also offers us a place where we can announce upgrades and enhancements.

Support website at serio-support.com

This contains troubleshooting knowledgebase articles, and our support portal you can use to log and progress Incidents. This website is for customers with a valid support contract only.

Regards, Jackie – blog admin

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The post today is on the subject of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for Service Level Management. I’ve posted about KPIs before, see Incident Management KPIs and Problem Management KPIs and of course the metrics white paper we have on our home page.

I’ll state again what a good KPI does: it tells us, as managers of a process, that the process is working (or at least, not fatally broken). So our Service Level Management KPIs should tell us that our SLM process is functioning, and point to weak areas where need to drive improvements.

Also bear in mind that not all KPIs actually come from your ITSM tool. Recently I was asked to comment on a customer’s Incident Management process, and prior to the day on-site I asked for KPI’s of the Incident Managers choosing to be ready for me to have a look at. To the customer’s great credit, amongst the data he produced were

  • Meeting notes with service teams (where he was discussing some quality issues) from which action points were produced (with a plan for checking the actions where indeed actioned).
  • Evidence of him checking and correcting Incident data quality issues (such as poor descriptions, poor resolution information and bad categorisation from some Service Desk agents).
  • Call logging scripts he had introduced in the past 6 weeks.

(Although I wrote a 2 page summary afterwards, my conclusion was ‘you’re doing a great job’).

But I digress. Coming back to the point of this post, let’s have a look at some data you can use as a KPI. Some of these come from your ITSM tool, others not.

1. SLA in place? Do you actually have a well-drafted, clear and unambiguous SLA in place that is agreed by all the relevant parties? I’ve blogged about this earlier this month.

2. Are you reporting regularly? I’d look for evidence of reports being produced along the lines indicated in our white paper. Namely a summary of results, conclusions, weak areas and recommendations for improvement.

3. Availability against target for key services. Most customers seem to choose to express this as a percentage (eg, email service available 99.4% of the month as opposed to 99.5% target). If you are a Serio user, without question the best way to obtain these stats is through the tool itself, as I’ve blogged about here.

4. Customer satisfaction survey results. You can either use data recovered from customer responses after Incident resolution, or a monthly/quarterly survey, or both. These results can be hard to summarise so try to determine if the trend is up, down or neutral. Something like ‘customer satisfaction with our IT Helpdesk/Service Desk improved over the month’. If you are a Serio user, report svy_6 is a pretty good way to do this statistically.

5. Number of instances of service breach over the reporting period. This is linked to 3 – how many times, per service, did we have a service outage?

I’ll follow this up with a few more ideas in my next post.

[ Note from blog admin: the follow-up post is here ]

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

A colleague in Australia at the moment asks for a post about one of our products called the Sentinel. Serio Sentinel is a server monitoring product. Over the years much of its functionality has been transferred into the Command Center/Serio Inventory Agent toolset, so that as of today most customers who are performing monitoring of Windows 2000 and 2003 servers don’t need it.

There are some special things however that, from the Serio product family, only the Sentinel can do. These are as follows.

1. Server Event Log Monitoring. Some applications (usually Windows Services) report errors by simply writing records into the Windows Event Log. One of the things that the Sentinel can do is ‘watch’ the local Event log and tell you about different Events recorded there.

It is basically a straight-forward thing to do, but the power comes in the filters you can apply. Most messages in the Event Log are probably of no consequence and would be irritating if reported to administrators. That’s why when you start monitoring for Events you can apply filters for which Log you are interested, the Source, Message Type and Event ID.

See the function EventLogAddEventToMonitor in the SerioScript Reference for more information.

2. Custom DLL execution. We have some pretty smart customers, and some have written Dynamic Link Libraries that monitor applications that they’ve written themselves. The Sentinel can load a DLL, can a function, and then interrogate the return code for success of failure, interacting with the Command Center as required.

Unless you want to do either of the things listed above, you are unlikely to need the Sentinel.

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