ITSM: A Conversation With Garry Schmidt (Part 1 of 3)

Garry Schmidt first got involved in IT service management almost 20 years ago. Since becoming the manager of the IT Operations Center at SaskPower, ITSM has become one of his main focuses.

Bruno: What are your thoughts on ITSM frameworks?

Garry: Most frameworks are based on best practices developed by large organizations with experience managing IT systems. The main idea is they’re based on common practice, things that work in the real world.

It’s still a matter of understanding the pros and cons of each of the items the framework includes, and then making pragmatic decisions about how to leverage the framework in a way that makes sense to the business. For another organization, it might be different depending on the maturity level and the tools you use to automate.

Bruno: Did SaskPower use an ITSM framework before you?

Garry: There was already a flavor of ITSM in practice. Most organizations, even before ITIL was invented, did incident management, problem management, and change management in some way.

The methods were brought in by previous service providers who were responsible for a lot of the operational processes. A large portion of IT was outsourced, so they just followed their own best practices.

Bruno: How has ITSM evolved under your leadership?

Garry: We were able to make progress on the maturity of our processes. But really having focused effort to review and update our processes and some of the standards we use, and then automate those standards in our ITSM tool, we were able to take a big step forward in the maturity of our ITSM processes.

We do periodic maturity assessments to measure our progress. Hopefully, we’ll perform another assessment not too far down the road. Our maturity has improved since implementing the ITSM tool because of the greater integration and the improvements we’ve made to our processes and standards.

We’ve focused mostly on the core processes: incident management, problem management, change, event, knowledge, configuration management. Some of these, especially configuration management, rely on the tools to be able to go down that path. One of the things I’ve certainly learned through this evolution is it’s super important to have a good ITSM tool to hook everything together.

Over the years, we’ve had a conglomerate of different tools but couldn’t link anything together. There was essentially no configuration management database (CMDB), so you have stores of information distributed out all over the place. Problem management was essentially run out of a spreadsheet. It makes it really tough to make any significant improvements when you don’t have a centralized tool.

Bruno: What kind of evolution do you see in the future?

Garry: There’s a huge opportunity for automation, AI Ops, and machine learning—we can feed all our events into and proactively identify things that are about to fail.

More automation is going to help a lot in five years or so.

Bruno: What kind of problems are you hoping a system like that would identify?

Garry: We’ve got some solid practices in place as far as how we handle major incidents. If we’ve got an outage of a significant system, we stand up our incident command here within the ITOC. We get all the stakeholder teams involved in the discussion. We make sure we’re hitting it hard. We’ve got a plan of how we’re going to address things, we’ve got all the right people involved, we handle the communications. It’s a well-oiled machine for dealing with those big issues, the severe incidents. Including the severe incident review at the end.

We have the biggest opportunity for improvement in those little incidents taking place all over the place all the time. Trying to find the common linkages and the root cause of those little things that keep annoying people all the time. I think it’s a huge area of opportunity for us, and that’s one of the places where I think artificial intelligence or machine learning technology would be a big advantage. Just being able to find those bits of information that might relate where it’s difficult for people to do things.

Bruno: When did you start focusing on a dedicated ITSM tool versus ad hoc tools?

Garry: In 2014 to 2015 we tried to put in an enterprise monitoring and alerting solution. We thought we could find a solution with monitoring and alerting as well as the ITSM components. We put out an RFP and selected a vendor with the intent of having the first phase be to implement their monitoring and alerting solutions, so we could get a consistent view of all the events and alarms across all the technology domains. The second phase would be implementing the ITSM solution that could ingest all the information and handle all our operational processes. It turned out the vision for a single, integrated monitoring and alerting solution didn’t work. At least not with their technology stack. We went through a pretty significant project over eighteen months. At the end of the project, we decided to divest from the technology because it wasn’t working.

We eventually took another run at just ITSM with a different vendor. We lost four or five years going down the first trail.

Bruno: Was it ITIL all the way through?

Garry: It was definitely ITIL practices or definitions as far as the process separation, but my approach to using ITIL is you don’t want to call it that necessarily. It’s just one of the things you use to figure out what the right approach is. You often run into people who are zealots of a framework because they all overlap to a certain extent. As soon as you start going at it with the mindset that ITIL will solve all our problems, you’re going to run into trouble. It’s a matter of taking the things that work from all those different frameworks and making pragmatic decisions about how it will work in your organization.

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