A more caring conference: ITSMF 2018

The key themes at this year’s ITSMF conference were about ensuring the ongoing relevance of IT Service Management (ITSM) and the importance of the people that work in the profession  These themes were constant throughout the various sessions be they digital transformation of the year or the debate on the future ethics of AI.

The keynote opening speech was delivered by the Mental Health charity “Sane”, which was received like no other I have witnessed before at an ITSMF conference.   It really is OK to talk about mental health and loudly applaud a speaker who opens up on issues which some may see as a taboo.

Of the 46 sessions that ran this year, 29 of the sessions were people focussed.  Personal journeys, the support and benefits of being in the profession.  It really was People first at ITSMF 2018 and not the usual People, Process and Technology Mantra.  Whether it was process automation or chatbots, the focus was on the people using these technologies or enabling them.  Some of my personal highlights from the conference are below:-

The Great Relevance Debate

This was the headline panel session with industry experts including our very own Dave Green.  The debate centred on the relevance of ITSM in the digital age.  The conclusion was that there would always need to be an approach for managing IT Services.  The principles of ITIL, COBIT, Lean, IT4IT etc. will therefore remain relevant.  VeriSM, (a service management approach for the digital age) and the forthcoming ITIL4 demonstrate the evolution of best ITSM practice thinking and alignment to the digital age.  In the future, key ITSM activities will be automated, accountability will be pushed to the coalface and metrics will be based on the customer experience.  There will though still be a need for operational frameworks and ITSM professionals measuring and improving service.   It was also noted by the panel many organisations are tied long term to Bi-Modal operations.   Legacy systems may best be managed with the disciplines of what we can call legacy ITSM.  In short, ITSM is still relevant but not in the same way as it was 10 years ago.

Experience Level Agreements (XLA) – Kicking the KPI habit

This session was all about creating measures of IT performance that are relevant to the End User of the Services.  The customer experience will become the critical success factor in the truly digital world.  It is driving a power-shift from the business to the customer, so to drive higher user demand businesses need to understand customers and their expectations. It’s important, therefore a means of effectively measuring the customer experience needs to be in place. If XLAs are not in place, customers may go elsewhere even with all the IT Metrics green. IT Metrics should be kept for IT and relevant XLA metrics developed for the end customer.  An XLA is created through starting with a targeted end result and re-engineering backwards.  A key principle was that IT shouldn’t just be looking to align to business, it should be aiming to ENABLE business. More information can be found here https://xla.rocks/

The New Management of Service – Joining up the Enterprise

This session talked of the New Management of Service, joining up the Enterprise and the concept of Enterprise Service Management rather than just the ITSM in isolation.  The speaker talked of 2 key concepts.  The first being the benefits of applying best practice ITSM techniques to the wider enterprise.  The HR department could use the technologies and processes of the IT Request Management was an example cited. The second concept was of everything as a Service and the mapping of customer journeys end to end across all organisational pillars; IT, finance, sales, marketing, procurement, customer support, facilities management, HR.  Break down the silos and manage enterprise services end to end from the customer’s perspective to reduce costs, eliminate waste and increase organisational efficiency. Other speakers at the conference championed the concept of Enterprise Service Management.

Going digital isn’t Transformation, its evolution

The speaker stated that 22% of companies think they completed their digital transformation, which indicates they do not understand the nature of being a digital business.  There were several sessions on digital transformation at the conference but this session had some good pragmatic content.  The speaker stated that business users often have better IT at home than at work as home IT doesn’t get business priority.  Going digital by just changing the front-end is not transformation, it’s like a new coat of paint on a building, only the 1st step in refurbishment that needs to move on to other areas like flooring, wiring etc.  I especially like the term GADU to describe the expectations of the digital consumer.  It must search like Google, order like Amazon, be packaged/bundled like Dell and track like UPS for each step of the activity (GADU).  Anything less than GADU capability is viewed less favourably by the customer.  I also liked the speakers view that there is no such thing as the cloud just someone else’s computer J.  The speaker also talked of the importance of properly marketing digital transformations in the same way an organisation would market a new product.  This applies to both internal and external digital transformations.

The Ethics of AI

There has been a lot of talk about AI and the ethics around it as we approach “the 4th industrial revolution”. The speaker had some interesting ideas on empathy engines that could take Siri and Alexa to the next levels.  The speaker talked of the emergence of “Robophyschologists” as persons that would bridge the gap between human and machine learning and interaction.  They would create algorithms that would enable machines to learn in the same way a human babies do.  This all felt a little far off for me but the speaker cited things that are happening now around the ethics of AI.  Laws already enshrined in Germany ensure AI favours human life over anything when making emergency decisions for example.  A very thought provoking session.

Overall I felt the ITSMF 2018 conference to be forward looking and compassionate but still with a nod to the past.  I met the man who first coined the terminology “Incident” and “Problem” whose lanyard displayed the words Malcolm Fry “ITSM Legend”.

How the Equality Act 2010 affects you

Most of us use online services such as banking, travel and social media everyday with little thought as to how we can access or use them. However, this isn’t the case for many users, including employees.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 legislation, which previously provided protection against direct discrimination, has been updated to the Equality Act 2010 (except Northern Ireland). The Equality Act became legal on 6 April 2011, and changes the law to brings disability, sex, race, and other types of discrimination under one piece of legislation.

One major change is that the Equality Act 2010 now includes perceived disability and in-direct discrimination, making it easier for claimants to bring successful legal proceeding against businesses and public bodies.

What it means

The Equality Act essentially means that all public bodies or businesses providing goods, facilities or services to members of the public, including employees (For example: retail, HR, and councils) must make fair and reasonable adjustments to ensure services are accessible and do not indirectly discriminate. Being fair and reasonable means taking positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access online services. This goes beyond simply avoiding discrimination. It requires service providers to anticipate the needs of disabled customers.

Benefits of compliance

UK retailers are missing out on an estimated £11.75 billion a year in potential online sales because their websites fail to consider the needs of people with disabilities (Click-Away Pound Survey 2016).

In addition, 71% (4.3 million) of disabled online users will simply abandon websites they find difficult to use. Though representing a collective purchasing power of around 10% of the total UK online spend, most businesses are completely unaware they’re losing income, as only 7% of disabled customers experiencing problems contact the business.

How to comply with the Equality Act

The best way to satisfy the legal requirement is to have your website tested by disabled users. This should ideally be undertaken by a group of users with different disabilities, such as motor and cognitive disabilities, and forms of visual impairment. Evidence of successful tests by disabled users could be invaluable in the event of any legal challenge over your website’s accessibility.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is the international organisation concerned with providing standards for the web, and publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which are a good indicator of what standard the courts would reasonably expect service providers to follow to ensure that their websites are accessible.

WCAG provides three ‘conformance levels’. These are known as Levels A, AA and AAA. Each level has a series of checkpoints for accessibility – known as Priority 1, 2 and 3 checkpoints. Public bodies such as the government adhere to Priority 2 – Level AA accessibility as standard.

According to these standards, websites must satisfy Priority 1 – Level A, satisfying this checkpoint is a basic requirement and very easy to implement. Priority 2 – Level AA, satisfying this checkpoint will remove significant barriers for customers. Finally, Priority 3 – Level AAA, is the highest level of accessibility and will ensure most disabled customers can access services, and requires specific measures to be implemented.

Read the Equality act 2010 quick start guides to find out more about how this affects you.

Accessible Innovation

Innovation is a word that cannot be missed in any part of our lives today. Technological advancement has touched the lives of people in the most remote parts of the world – we are all better connected, better aware and better resourced. Who could have imagined touch-based devices could become every day commodities in practically every corner of the globe! Innovation has the power of true societal transformation. Accessibility is one topic which has been affected directly by such trends in technology. For example, hand-held devices have heralded as a game changer for disabilities including visual impairment. The rise of AI (Artificial Intelligence) gives more hope to disabled users to be empowered by technology.

There has been a glowing example to demonstrate this idea called ‘Humanitarian Hands-on Tool’. This fully accessible app aims to address the idea that in case of an emergency, a disabled person is likely to be the worst affected. The app aids workers by providing step-by-step guidance on how to implement an inclusive emergency response. This includes easy access to key information including emergency shelter, health services, distribution of essential items etc. Through easy to use task cards, the aid workers are provided with clear, practical and detailed instructions, which help them assist people with disabilities better. Such exemplary tools are to be celebrated for their thoughtfulness and trendsetting nature – and also for putting accessibility in the heart of innovation.

Followers of the popular Television program ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ will distinctly remember the recent awe-inspiring performances of Jonnie Peacock, a celebrated Paralympian. His participation in the famed dance competition was hailed as a sign of disabled people well and truly entering the ‘mainstream’. It is time we bring that spirit to innovation as well. Accessibility cannot be a marginal idea. It has to be the driver of a thought, a development or even a movement! Come, be a part of it – let us innovate for everyone!

To read another of my pieces on accessibility, click here.

Make way for accessibility

I recently came across this fascinating report on the help extended by a computer scientist for a little girl with severe memory loss. It is an extraordinary example of the efforts of an individual in addressing an accessibility problem very effectively. Close on the heels of this story, there was the big announcement of a new Microsoft app being released for public use called “Seeing AI”. This app is perhaps one of the most intuitive tools out there for people with visual impairment and has been built with a lot of thought. I remember following this project a couple of years ago and wondering if only such large scale developments can bring about a change, or is it a good idea to keep working  on humble ideas, while not holding our breath for one big change to improve our lives. In reality, we need both just now – big technical corporations investing heavily in researching on ground breaking solutions, as well as small measures from individuals giving their best shot in ensuring someone feels comfortable in their everyday life.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Association-UK published a factsheet to mark the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, which indicates a grim situation for people with disabilities. Disabled people are four times more likely to be out of work than non-disabled people and the poverty rate is twice as high in comparison too. According to another factsheet published by the Papworth trust, disabled people experience much lower economic living standards than their peers, which is again attributed to increasing rate of unemployment. This deeply concerning trend needs to be immediately addressed on many levels. One of them is to improve the confidence of people with disability in approaching employment opportunities and to provide them with an environment in which they can operate comfortably. Here in Sopra Steria, our Company CEO Vincent Paris has reflected similar thoughts about being an employer with empathy. We have to think of being more proactive in engaging people with disabilities in our work places and also to engage better with those amongst us with disabilities, so they have the motivation to continue in employment. In the context of service industry that we are a part of, we often think about disabled people mainly as our customers/end-users but we have to think of colleagues with such conditions too, facing barriers constantly.

The topic of accessibility is a complex one which is dependent on perceptions of individuals as well as the bigger society, about the idea of disability. It will take a lot of determination to support this topic and we have a long way to go. But this journey can be easier if each one of us stand firmly to make sure accessibility is given its due consideration. Let us make way for accessibility in our lives, as individuals and as professionals, in the world around us.

What are your thoughts? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Accessibility: The path less trodden

“Diversity is the world’s biggest asset and inclusivity is our biggest challenge.”

These are the words of the renowned design researcher Jutta Treviranus, and this powerful thought was shared at the recent Accessibility Scotland 2017 conference in Edinburgh. The event was a brilliant congregation of accessibility experts, enthusiasts and advocates. The topics ranged from the fantastic new innovations from the likes of Microsoft, to accessible ideas in gaming technology. Many insightful thoughts were exchanged in great spirit, making it a highly engaging event.

One of the interesting exercises tried out at the event was to have open discussions about accessibility matters of common interest. I was involved in the one about the implications of Brexit on laws and regulation around accessibility. Amongst the various arguments we made in this connection, there was one question that we all debated intently –

Should we have a culture driven by legislation or should it be the other way round – and have legislation empowered by common culture?

If the latter, we perhaps have to invest in a strategy on how to go about it. We should be encouraging learning on these concepts early on. Hence there is a need to perhaps develop awareness about inclusivity at schools and universities. We should also be ensuring that web accessibility is included in study materials for new recruits in companies. We definitely have a long way to go in making accessibility a default feature of all our work.

It is a well-known fact now that not many countries have been very successful in making accessibility an obvious aspect in their technology domain.  This less trodden path could very well be taken by the UK, to set an example to other societies. There are innumerable charities working across the country for this cause, which reflects the amazing work done here for the disabled community. We have a great opportunity in the world of technology too to become leaders on this front. This call goes out to everyone, irrespective of working in public or private sectors, to think about the impact we can potentially make by being inclusive – in our web designs, in our programming, in our testing and above all in our attitudes.

It is ironic that people with disability were one of the early adopters of technology (like speech processors etc.) but have been left behind as the new innovations are arriving in unbelievable speed. As the famous writer William Gibson has said,

“The future has arrived but it is not evenly distributed.”

Our world today boasts of advancement in technology which is beyond imagination but it is very much our battle of the moment to make sure it is in reach for everybody.

Read more about how Sopra Steria drives digital inclusivity through improved web accessibility.

One for all and all for one

Today, we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness day, and I can’t help but mention about witnessing perhaps the most divisive times in our recent memory. While harmonious communities are at the brink of deep divisions and our collective thought process is ever preoccupied with the volatile political and social situations, it is perhaps a good occasion to remind ourselves of those who are most vulnerable. There is a need to come together to support them more than ever before. The technical community has always taken pride in transcending boundaries most effectively.

There is a greater responsibility on us now to operate in a manner which looks out for end users who are the risk of getting completely ignored.

Internet inventor Vint Cerf has recently called for it to be considered an offence if a web based service is not accessible. While the sentiment seems fully justified given the service providers can get away without doing much about web accessibility, his views seem to predominantly hold programmers / developers responsible for such aspects. In reality all roles in a software development life cycle need to contribute towards making a service accessible. Right from senior management down to the operational teams, there is an onus on every role to make the end-to-end accessibility a reality, which the accessibility experts have been highlighting all along. There is something we can all do no matter what our position is in the big IT juggernaut.

Recently, MP Dawn Butler created history by using sign language for her speech in Parliament – an utterly inspirational gesture about caring for every person in our audience and for making sure everybody understands what she was trying to convey. To think, ensuring everyone understands our work is actually a basic obligation to ourselves as it will give it most reach and recognition. Looking at the same idea with a business hat on, there is a very obvious commercial benefit to it. The more people understand / access the content the better it is for marketing and hence better for business. It is sheer common sense to make our work accessible.

In future, the new innovations may very well address these requirements completely. For example, the improved voice browsing technologies are a great alternative for people with visual or motor disabilities. But at the moment there is still a big need to build websites with consideration to the diversity in user communities. At Sopra Steria we have a full set of services to make this happen – see our dedicated website for accessibility services and service infographic.

Now is a time for all of us to renew our pledge to achieve complete accessibility in the world around us.

Seamless accessibility: improve user experience with end-to-end business support

Have you had an online experience which has been of great quality but found the accompanying business service less than satisfactory?  I recently went through a similar experience with a popular cultural festival. There was an inconsistency in the ticketing process where an online ticket purchase required a visit to the ticket collection point to get a print of the ticket. Some of these points were difficult to reach and were poorly sign posted. It got me thinking how one inadequately supported aspect of an otherwise fantastic event was sticking out like a sore thumb for me! Allowing the customers to print the tickets at home would perhaps resolve the issue? Or offering a mobile e-ticket which would also be environmentally friendly?

A similar thought was mentioned by a speaker at the Accessibility Scotland 2016 conference that I attended recently. Accessibility expert Mark Palmer highlighted:

Accessibility needs end-to-end support in a business and web accessibility is just one aspect of it

Quoting the example of booking a flight ticket for a customer travelling with a guide dog (which is yet to be made a fully online process by some airlines and can be quite laborious), he explained that unless the business processes around this idea are well designed, it does not serve much purpose to just get the IT part of it right. Say if a software implementation has delivered a perfectly accessible web based system to place order for a product but the ordering process needs the user to physically go to an inaccessible collection point to pick up the product, the purpose is defeated. Yes, we do want the web accessibility requirements fully addressed but there should be an associated review of the business set up as well.

Coming to think of it, I can see many examples around me where the quality of an online experience is not followed up in the delivery of the actual service / business process. The priority seat booking in some of the low cost airlines that still requires the customers to wait in a long queue to make sure they get to keep their hand luggage on the aircraft with them. Another instance is when I booked classes for my son with a local swimming company, which had marketed their website in all flyers. The highly presentable website did not have the option to pay the fees online; hence the transaction did not end with my online activities, I had to follow up with a phone call to make the payment. While this could be true of any online service, the same principle is applicable to accessibility i.e., user experience as a topic is not limited to the web part of the customer’s journey in accessing a service.

An excellent example of getting this idea right is the ‘Accessible Tourism’ initiative by the public sector organisation Visit Scotland. The aim of this project is to encourage tourism businesses to consider making the full experience to be completely accessible. Right from practical tips around a disabled person using their facilities to case studies of success stories, there is extensive information provided to encourage businesses to make the overall experience fully accessible. This measure is to be appreciated as a step in the right direction to encourage the thought process of thinking through the end-to-end user experience.

Can you see such processes around you where the overall service experience is inconsistent with the online service?

It could be a project you are part of, an experience as a customer / end user? Can you imagine the frustration of such an experience? Perhaps it’s something we should bring to the attention of our clients / project teams who are on such missions. Project managers and business analysts need to look at this more closely perhaps? After all, it is the end-to-end user experience which ensures customer loyalty and complete user satisfaction.

Leave a reply below or contact me by email.