05 March 2008

Utility Services: The Funnel For Driving IT Request Fulfillment Efficiencies and Savings To The Bottom Line

David A. Zimmer

David A. Zimmer
Practice Manager
Corporate Learning & Training
Veris Associates, Inc.

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You know the drill. Someone from the business side makes a demand for new technology. Users have needs unmet because their applications stop working. Servers need to be updated, upgraded, maintained and babysat. The critical business application everyone takes for granted decided to take a vacation during the end of quarter sales blitz. And the auditors are breathing down your neck asking you to prove the value of your existence. Meanwhile, your number one lead technician is sunning himself on the beach somewhere without cell phone coverage.

Your Average Day

Just a normal day in the life of the IT manager and CIO. But, we can handle it – we’ve got enough fire-fighting equipment in place and hours in the day to keep everything down to a low roar. Then, the CFO calls your network administrator directly to ask for an upgrade to the fiber switches and more secure firewalls. “Not a problem,” comes the reply. The VP of Sales is pushing for a record-breaking year and needs more terabytes on the sales processing system. He hall-tackles the lead database administrator to discuss the possibility of adding space by the end of the week.

In the day-to-day operations of the IT infrastructure, we must meet the demands of the business as quickly as possible and maintain stability to the environment. While at one point we might have developed some system to handle requests in an orderly manner, the heat of the moment seems to win out and we bypass our own methods because of emergencies. As a result, we settle into a routine of emergencies, headaches and many activities. In fact, dare I say, we feel comfortable in this mode. We equate busy-ness with productivity, esteem and accomplishment.

At the end of the day, we can look back and actually glory in the number of BlackBerry messages we smacked, meetings attended, phone calls fielded, and “things” crossed off the to-do list. As we lay our heads on the pillow at night after the fifteen hour day exhausted, we feel good because of all the forward progress, even if chaotic, we made.

The major problem with this mode of production is many customers don’t get served. Business units needing IT infrastructure updates done sooner decide to go on their own and create it themselves. Of course, once in place, the IT department must maintain it adding to their already overflowing plates. While the business got served through this method, the company suffers through duplication of effort, loss of purchasing power, disparate systems supporting similar functions, non-traceable changes to strategic systems and an unstable environment. In short, a train speeding down the track out of control and no Superman around to keep it from crashing.

Fulfilling the needs of the business is what the IT department does – that is their purpose. Support the business so the business can meet the needs and demands of its customers. If IT systems fail, the business fails its customers. Therefore, IT Request Fulfillments is a vitally important part to the business. Making it efficient and effective benefits all: the IT department, the business and the business customers.

What is Utility Services?

Utility Services takes IT fulfillment request and pushes them through a defined methodology that funnels requests through a “gatekeeper” without introducing a bottleneck to the speed of business. It puts sanity into the chaos, providing economy of scale through purchasing power, efficiencies in operations, and effectiveness in implementation. It preserves the holistic view of the overall system so changes can be tracked, monitored and maintained. Overall, the IT department gains through planned organization of changes, the business benefits through greater functionality and IT responsiveness plus stability of the IT environment and the business’ customers acquire a more secure sense of comfort from their supplier.

Utility Services is an independent workflow management system providing a single interface for IT requests – updates, upgrades, new functionality and the like. It leverages the good industry practices such as ITIL and reuses existing infrastructure for new applications, combines similar requests into a single work stream leveraging purchasing power for greater cost savings. Most importantly, it frees the IT department from the chaotic request processes of today so that they can be more responsive to the business requests, which seems almost counter-intuitive.

I hear you moan, “Oh great, more processes, more paperwork, more red-tape, more structure equals more pain to get anything done.” After years of helping companies develop and institute processes, we have learned at least one thing: Those companies that develop systematized methods, enforce their use and improve them rather than ignore them, progress further, sell more and increase profits and savings than those that do not. Some see increases in ranges of 20%, 50% and greater. Industry studies back up these claims.

Companies have greater insight into current and project capital spending, human resource allocations and requirements and more efficient day-to-day operations and successful projects.

A Governance Model To Meet Customer Needs

Utility Services is a governance model of ensuring all solutions implemented within an IT organization meet the traditional criteria of customer sign-off requirements, solution design and testing, and release into the environment. It establishes and enforces necessary customer communication checkpoints via a series of documentable and repeatable processes and procedures. It ensures IT goals align with business needs and initiatives through a consolidated resource management interface to manage work-loads and enable resource forecasting. And finally, it streamlines standard requests by automating approvals, traceable milestones, requester communication and hand-offs as appropriate.

Why Utility Services?

The big question still remains. Why implement Utility Services? You already seem to be getting the job done. Sure, your people are overworked and under-appreciated, but they still show up for work each day, don’t they? Why rock the boat, change the way of doing things and suffer through the cultural shock of more efficient operations?

For those companies where we helped them implement Utility Services, here is what they report:

  • Utility Services enables organizations both small and large to best utilize their money and people.
  • Utility Services reinforces ITIL good practices by building the underlying philosophy into the systems that IT departments live by.

  • Utility Services can be implemented in a relatively short period of time, enabling “quick wins” for management and IT workforce stakeholders.
  • Utility Services continues to evolve with your IT department so it becomes more transparent and easier to adapt to business initiatives.

  • Utility Services takes the mystery out of implementation status.
  • Utility Services helps align the infrastructure with business goals, and escalates issues before they become problems.
  • Utility Services enables purchasing departments to more accurately forecast spending schedules and empowers them to negotiate better pricing and support from vendors, be it hardware or services.
  • Utility Services allows more effective time management and prioritization of your IT department’s time and money.


Fulfilling business requests takes up much of IT’s daily time. Inefficient methodologies erode the very infrastructure and people required to keep the business going. Untraceable changes and updates introduce instability into an already overly complex and vital system to the business. Personal agendas and priorities drive the changes without considering the benefit or detriment to the business. IT staff, desiring to do a good job and meet the needs, work at full speed but seem to fall short at the end of the day.

Utility Services takes the inefficiencies, the uncertainties, the liabilities and the insecurities out of IT Request Fulfillment. By funneling requests through an automated and organized process, duplication of effort is eliminated, overspending on materials is slashed, workloads can be adjusted to align with business needs, personal agendas can be removed and priorities are established to truly meet the business’ highest priorities for the greatest gain.

We have seen companies transformed saving millions of dollar annually on purchases alone. IT efficiency increased dramatically and the stability of the infrastructure reached desired service levels without significantly increasing costs. The implementation and definition of Utility Services takes a chaotic methodology, structures it and drives it for the maximum utility to the business.

You are invited to obtain our free whitepaper, “The Games We Play: Conquering The Challenge of IT Fulfillment” by fellow consultant Cheryl Winters. Simply Click Here to get a copy.

Project Management - Like Crossing the Street

David A. Zimmer

David A. Zimmer
Practice Manager
Corporate Learning & Training
Veris Associates, Inc.

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Recently while giving a presentation to a potential client, I used an analogy of crossing the street. I said:

"Project management is a lot like crossing the street. You can listen to others who have gone that way before and heed their advice. Look both ways, make sure the way is clear and cross before oncoming traffic hits you. Or, you can simply jump out into the street and see what hits you and then deal with the issues that arise."

Sadly, too many people and companies people take the latter approach. From our study conducted in January and February 2006, we learned that 76% of project managers are not formally trained in project management. They are intelligent people, probably very good at what they were trained to do. But somehow, they were volunteered to manage a project and were not given the training to do the job properly. As a result, they stuggled to make the project a success.

Experience shows that even though you are confident in what you are doing, it is always good to have someone watching your back and helping in areas that are new, even though they look very similar to the past. I learned this lesson, almost to my demise, while crossing a street in England. I was ready to cross a road, had my foot off the edge, when I was quickly yanked back to the curb. I was indignant at the person who would do such a thing. I had looked and the way seemed to be clear. I had successfully crossed many streets in my life. But just as I was going to say something to the person who yanked me, a car went whizzing by me and nearly clipped me. I had looked the wrong way! It would have been a fatal mistake. Another perspective on the situation saved my life. My indignation turned into gratefulness.

Veris Associates, Inc. provides that extra perspective. We have crossed many streets successfully - not always without incident though. We have the scars to prove it! Through our "coaching" services, we help you make more informed decisions. We help you see the way more clearly.

One of our clients used our service and saved over $5 million dollars! They were embarking on a new marketing campaign. They wanted us to provide a sanity check on the project plan and roll-out. While the intent was to make sure the "project management" was sane, our understanding of the market and the broader scope helped us to show them the fallacy of their thinking. Yes, we could have helped them manage their project successfully, but our greater understanding of project management show us that the stakeholders' expectations would not have been met properly - a successful launch of the product and the wise use of $5 million. The project would have been a failure and a waste of the valuable $5 million.

Another client asked us to determine how they would make money from a particular project. The project had already been underway for two years with more to follow. The annual budget for the project to date was $90 million ($180 M total) with increased budgets to come. So it was critical to understand the profit potential for such a project. After careful analysis of the business plan, we determined that expenses on the project were 77% of the potential revenue. That 77% of the revenue represented operation expenses and did not include the overhead of the ongoing development of the project or other corporate overhead! As a result, the project would never had made any money. We recommended that the project be cancelled based upon the financial analysis.

We felt like that person who saved my life in England by yanking me back from a speeding car coming for a direction I was not looking. These are just two examples of times when people, confident in what they were doing, looking the wrong way when something was coming from the other direction. We were there to help save them from certain disaster.

So, the next time you wade out into the street, make sure someone is watching your back!