Tag: customer service
In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Countywide Shared Services Initiative “requires counties to assemble local governments to find efficiencies for real, recurring taxpayer savings… by coordinating and eliminating duplicative services and propose coordinated services to enhance purchasing power.”[i] New York is currently offering substantial financial incentives to municipal organizations that “create savings.”
According to a 2013 study[ii], about 8 percent of municipalities participate in IT shared services programs. Considering the financial incentives, I suspect that the percentage has increased significantly since that time.
In theory, shared services agreements among municipal entities appear to be a great deal for everyone involved, and especially for taxpayers. In reality? I am not only skeptical; I have seen the negative consequences of such agreements in the form of low-quality IT services that cost far more than similar services delivered by commercial vendors.
One possible scenario
A common scenario for shared IT services might take the form in which a county IT department becomes a service provider for cities, towns and villages in its jurisdiction. This may include email, infrastructure services, help desk services, software, printing of tax bills, break/fix services, hardware procurement and much more.
In this type of scenario, the county’s management may view such a deal as an opportunity to turn their IT operation from a cost center to a profit center. However, the differences in performance and productivity between the private and public sectors can be stark. Running a successful commercial IT services business is a tough, highly competitive undertaking that requires excellent management skills and continuous improvement.
For many municipal managers and elected officials, the one-time financial incentive may blind them to the necessity of examining the long-term consequences of such an arrangement. In other words, they will want to build the airplane in the air and the basis for the deal may be something that is not much more than a handshake deal, devoid of reality and details.
Get it right!
It is possible for a municipal shared services agreement to be successful, but success won’t be accidental. If you are involved in negotiating such an agreement, I provide the following suggestions to ensure that you make the best deal possible.
Use rigorous procurement methodology
A shared services agreement should be treated exactly the same as a deal with a commercial vendor. A few examples of documentation required for the evaluation should include the following:
- Service level requirements. This is a document that precisely defines your requirements. Before entering into any service agreements with outside agencies, your organization should thoroughly understand and document your business needs, goals and objectives.
- Service level agreement. This agreement is an essential part of any professional services contract. It defines requirements, responsibilities and accountability and includes financial penalties if the provider fails to meet agreed-upon service level targets.
- Catalog of services. What is the universe of services offered by your service provider? How much does each service cost, and when are such services available? How do you obtain services not covered in the agreement?
- PSA (professional services automation) system. An automated, auditable system for tracking incidents is a requirement for managed service providers. The system should be configured to send alerts to management and executives when the provider fails to meet agreed-upon service levels. Daily or weekly status reports should be available to the customer.
The agreement framework
Will this be a simple agreement using an MOU (memorandum of understanding) or some sort of BPA (business partnership agreement)? Regardless of the format recommended by your attorney, a clear exit path must be part of the agreement in case the relationship doesn’t work out. Agreements with commercial vendors always spell out how the relationship may be dissolved, but I have seen municipal shared services agreements that have no such escape clauses for the “customer.” Make sure you can get out of the deal if it isn’t working out.
Comingle infrastructure resources carefully
A significant risk of a shared services deal is that IT infrastructure built between the parties may become intertwined to an extent that may be difficult and expensive to unravel. Clear boundaries should be established that will allow the parties to simply unplug if the deal doesn’t work out. Also, who owns infrastructure and data? How do you get your data back once the relationship is dissolved?
Information security, governance and policy
Whose governance policies will apply? Acceptable use policies, security policies, regulatory compliance policies and personnel policies as well as organizational culture should all be considered. How will sanctions for policy violations be addressed between agencies?
Is the provider using best practices for ITSM (information technology service management) and ISMS (information security management systems). Are they in ITIL or ISO 20000 shop? How will security be managed? Do they follow any generally accepted frameworks for information security?
Who will define quality standards? In the commercial world, the customer determines quality. In the public sector, the provider often defines quality — the DMV being a perfect example. What recourse do you have if the provider fails to meet quality standards? With a commercial vendor, you simply terminate the deal. In a shared services scenario, terminating the deal may require political capital that is not available. These arrangements present the real risk that you could be stuck with a bad deal for years or even decades.
These are only a few examples of the processes required to evaluate and negotiate a successful shared services agreement.
The great advantage of democratic local government is that citizens have the ability to address poor municipal management through the democratic process. If we’re not happy with the decisions and actions of management, city council or a county commission, we can simply vote them out of office. The problem with the trend toward regionalization of government functions and services is that we lose that ability to control it through elections. Don’t lose your ability to control your information technology operations by making a bad shared services deal.
References and endnotes
“Shared Services Among New York’s Local Governments,” research brief, Office of the New York State Comptroller, Division of Local Government and School Accountability, November 2009
[ii] “Shared services in New York State: A Reform That Works,” George Homsy, Bingxi Quian, Yang Wang and Mildred Warner, August 2013.
This article first appeared on CIO.com at http://www.cio.com/article/3196248/leadership-management/municipal-shared-services-agreements-for-information-technology.html
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2017
Because Mother Nature is so stingy when she doles out the gene for common sense, frameworks and standards for IT governance had to be invented.
Recently, I heard about an incident in which a municipal IT director was planning and executing significant changes to a department’s critical infrastructure without informing the customer — the department personnel. After being confronted, he insisted that he wasn’t required to inform the stakeholders because it was routine and he didn’t need departmental approval. Huh! To make matters worse, the changes involved significant risks that were far beyond the understanding of that IT director and his staff.
This behavior is appalling on many levels, but it is representative of the service provided by many municipal IT managers who believe IT is a dictatorial, rather than collaborative, profession. A few of the things this scenario tells us about the organization include the following:
1. The organization isn’t using a framework for IT governance and IT Service Management (ITSM).
2. Executive oversight of IT is inadequate.
3. The organization lacks a risk management program with change-control policies and procedures.
I will address the first two items below, and we can address item No. 3 in a subsequent article, so don’t forget to check back.
Sacred cows and your executive legacy
Municipal IT operations tend to be monopolies, and the customer service they provide is all too often in keeping with what one would expect from any monopoly. There is no good reason for this state of affairs, and you can fix it with relative ease. Enabling deplorable IT services doesn’t have to be one of your executive legacies.
Municipal IT often operates on a charge-back model, where customers (internal departments) are forced pay a flat annual fee or an hourly rate for IT services. The customers are unable to pursue competitive services from external vendors that may provide considerably better quality at a significantly lower cost. In the bubble of government IT, market forces never apply the pressure required to initiate change, and the IT department remains a sacred cow trapped in outmoded thinking and ancient processes.
Solutions, tools and techniques
In previous articles[i], I have discussed several management tools, techniques and processes that will significantly improve IT performance and customer service in your organization. Here, I will add one more concept: the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) model.
The RACI model is an excellent tool for clarifying roles and responsibilities within a process. Using RACI can increase transparency and address the lack of oversight, so that all the players clearly understand their roles in the grand scheme. Let’s take a look at an example of how it might be used to identify appropriate roles for the operation and maintenance of a county clerk’s software application.
Although your matrix may be different, what won’t be different is that multiple stakeholders are involved. If there are a significant number of public users of the system, such as attorneys and title researchers, you might want to add them to the matrix as well.
While the RACI model is an important component of frameworks and standards such as COBIT, ITIL and ISO 20000, undertaking a full implementation of any of these programs isn’t necessary to make significant performance improvements to your IT operations and customer service.
Don’t count on common sense as a reliable management tool; use IT governance instead.
For further reading
“How to Design a Successful RACI Project Plan,” by Bob Kantor, CIO.com, May 22, 2012
[i] “Improving IT Customer Service with Service Level Agreements (SLA),” by Jeffrey Morgan, e-volve Information Technology Services
“What Is the Biggest Threat to Internal IT Departments?” by Jeffrey Morgan, CIO.com, Oct. 3, 2016
“High Crimes and Misdemeanors of CIOs,” by Jeffrey Morgan, CIO.com, Oct. 17, 2016
“Improving IT Customer Service, Part 2: Using a PSA System,” by Jeffrey Morgan, e-volve Information Technology Services
This article was first published on CIO.com at http://www.cio.com/article/3195073/leadership-management/county-municipal-it-customer-service-and-the-raci-model.html
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2017by
According to the U.S. Constitution, high crimes and misdemeanors are grounds for impeachment of a president. What are the impeachable offenses for a CIO?
In the healthcare industry, patient-centered care is a priority, and well-managed clinical organizations are eager to achieve that goal. While enterprises in industries such as healthcare receive routine audits and assessments based on widely accepted best practices and standards, the same does not hold true for the information technology industry in many market sectors.
In the IT industry, some organizations and CIOs are enthusiastic about providing excellent customer service, but adoption of standards and frameworks such as ISO/IEC 20000, ITIL, COBIT and CMMI seems to be low, especially in the public sector. I was unable to find credible (and free!) research on adoption rates, so this assertion is based solely on personal experience. Is your IT organization delivering customer-centered services using best practices?
In a competently managed IT service organization, end users are treated as valued customers and their problems and concerns are taken seriously. They are constantly updated about progress on their incident or problem even if there is no news. In poorly managed IT organizations, end users are marginalized and treated as the problem. Aside from losing data, providing poor customer service is one of the worst crimes a CIO can commit.
Perceptions of service quality in organizations
Here is a summary of quality perception that is fairly common in audit findings:
IT’s perception: We are the cat’s meow of IT. We provide great IT services, but our end users are the real problem. They just don’t understand what’s involved in providing IT services. (No records or metrics to support these assertions are extant.)
End user perception: Are you here to outsource our IT? I hope so, because our IT department is the worst thing since the black plague. They are not responsive and the system is always crashing. (The sharpest end users have spreadsheets in which they record the times, dates and results of their pleas for assistance.)
Management perception: We have no idea what the truth is, but we need a resolution.
These represent huge perceptual disconnects. If the IT operation used any best practices for IT service Management (ITSM), these perceptions wouldn’t exist. What do your end users think about the quality of service you provide? Do you routinely survey end users or personally ask them, “How do you rate the quality of services we are delivering?” This almost never happens in many, if not most, IT monopolies. The worst way to learn the truth about your customer service is in an audit document.
There aren’t many tasks less pleasant than auditing an operation that has never been audited. When the results are documented in a written report with specific examples, the denial is immediate and the pushback strong, and then a barrage of excuses is unleashed.
In many organizations, management has no idea what quality IT services are supposed to look like. IT is not their area of expertise, and they may not be aware that quality standards exist. That’s what they hired you for. Moreover, many IT staffers may not even be aware of quality standards. As for the end users, they are not stupid. They know when a service isn’t being delivered.
Admitting that their operations have flaws can be tough for many managers, because those flaws are a reflection of their management skills. In 12-step substance abuse treatment programs, Step 4 is an evaluation of your flaws, and I wish more IT managers would engage in this type of self-reflection.
IT as the center of the universe
During one recent audit, a single look at the IT support flow chart I was provided told me everything I needed to know about the quality of IT services the organization was delivering. End users and management were represented nowhere on the chart. Moreover, all the feedback management was receiving was filtered through IT. It was an entirely IT-centric model, as if the entire reason for that enterprise’s existence was for the convenience of the IT shop.
The center of your IT universe should be end users and their business requirements. Do end users hold a central position in your service delivery model? Are they treated with respect?
Moving toward best practices
If your organization is not using best practices for ITSM, take a look at the various frameworks and models and find one that makes the most sense for your organization. Start small and work relentlessly toward improvement of customer service.
For those of you who may be too young to remember, here’s a great tutorial on IT customer service by Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live: “Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy.”
This article was first published on CIO.COM at http://www.cio.com/article/3130808/it-service-management/high-crimes-and-misdemeanors-of-cios.html.
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2016by
“Private Stooper, front and center! Assume the front leaning rest position.” That’s army talk for get ready to do pushups. It’s a bitterly cold January morning at Fort Leonard Wood and every drill sergeant is here. Even the first sergeant and a couple of lieutenants showed up, which never happens. There are 200 recruits standing in formation freezing our butts off and the vapor rising from the ground has created an eerie, surreal atmosphere. What on earth is happening?
“Private Stooper,” the drill sergeant shouted in his North Carolina drawl, “I spoke with the Colonel yesterday afternoon. It seems your mama called him. Start beating your face!” That’s army talk for start doing pushups. “Knock ‘em out till I get tired. It seems you don’t like the conditions here in Charlie Company. You don’t appreciate the gourmet food and you don’t like the luxurious accommodations we provide.” Stooper is weeping like a baby and still doing pushups, occasionally shouting “Yes Sergeant.” At one point, there were about 6 NCO’s standing over him screaming. The hazing seemed to go on for hours. We all felt sorry for the guy, even though he was a pretty big screwup.
What’s the message?
The message was clear – don’t complain or your life will get a whole lot worse. In many public sector IT audits I have done, I have found that the IT Director and staff used the same tactics as my drill sergeants. If end users complained about the horrendous customer service provided by the IT Department, the IT staff would punish and humiliate the culprits in order to train the rest of the staff not to complain. It’s a common practice and not only in the public sector. Is this happening in your organization? If it is, how would you know? Everyone is afraid to be Private Stooper.
IT and Customer Service Best Practices
Many of the IT Departments I encounter aren’t using any best practices for Information Technology Governance and aren’t concerned with customer service. They are an internal service organization, don’t face the public, and don’t feel any pressure to achieve acceptable industry standards for performance. They get a paycheck whether or not they actually solve problems. The root cause of this problem is lack of executive oversight and non-tech executives frequently have no idea of where to begin or what to do. They are stumbling in the dark.
Here are a couple of DIY steps for approaching customer service problems with IT.
- Draft and adopt a service level agreement.
- Acquire a Professional Services Automation System and use it according to industry best practices.
- Establish a Tech oversight committee, chaired by an assertive advocate for better IT services. Don’t let the IT Director hijack this role.
- Write a strategic plan (or hire a consultant to do an audit and strategic plan). If followed, this sort of plan will quickly pay for itself and can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. But, only if you follow it and make the hard decisions.
Your IT Department, and all your public sector departments should be trying to provide customer service that is on par with Amazon. How well is that working out for you?
I’m sure you are wondering what happened to Private Stooper. He loved basic training so much that he went through it a second time. Feel free to send me an e-mail and share your army stories or your concerns about customer service in your organization and don’t let you users or customers get treated like Private Stooper.
This article was first published on Careers in Government at: https://www.careersingovernment.com/tools/gov-talk/about-gov/high-price-complaining/
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2016