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Lessons learnt from running Cloud Computing without ITIL Processes

Once upon a time, really not that long ago… approx. 3 years to be exact…. I wanted to improve our business processes to enable more streamlined customer interaction and more efficiency in account . The CRM software we used didn’t work the way we wanted it and after some research (mainly because we used Microsoft Exhange with Outlook as an email client) we looked to start using MS Dynamic CRM as our contact and account software.

Because of the nature of our business I didn’t want software on the server in the office so we opted to sign up for a / hosted solution. This seemed to be the best of both worlds:

  • No upfront large capital expenditure
  • Pay as you Go,  no long term contracts
  • Internet based, so we have access to customer data no matter where we are in the world

Well – not such a good story, I’m afraid … the company we signed up with didn’t realise or understand that when you provide hosted solutions, Software as a Service or ANY cloud based services…. you really need to be very mature in your IT Processes. Or at the very least your communication with the clients has to be exceptional.

This company didn’t seem to have any of these disciplines in place.. there was no upfront communication with clients on planned maintenance and on a regular basis we didn’t have access to our customer data on the weekend or came into the office on Monday morning to find out that the server upgrades or patches hadn’t worked on the weekend…. leaving us stranded as the offline version wasn’t configured properly with MS Vista. (for whatever reason this seemed to be extremely difficult to do…)

And with the type of business that we are (and we discussed this with this provider prior to signing up with them) we really needed 24×6 availability because our workweek runs until Saturday afternoon around 3pm due to the US timezones…  So a planned unavailability on Friday evening or Saturday morning was quite disruptive to our business…

Yes, I agree that I was probably a highly demanding client (those of you who know me personally are not surprised by this statement!) ; due to the business that I run I don’t accept mediocre service levels from anybody.. I know things can be better and I expect to see clear improvement processes. After the second issue, I told them that my company specialises in IT Service Management education and that I’d be more than happy to come over to their office to give their IT staff an overview of and and how it could help them in their service levels and customer satisfaction. They declined.

As the client their service delivery came across as being very ad hoc and not well managed at all… didn’t give me the confidence that my client data and contacts where in safe hands. As the ultimate control freak that I am, this didn’t sit very well with me. (and that is even without discussing the fact that we PAID for this service.. in the understanding and expectation that we would have access to our customer data when we needed it. ) I mean – isn’t that IT on demand?

It culminated in a disastrous Server upgrade (which we were NOT notified about) that went horribly wrong, with servers crumbling, dying… Raid arrays packing it in and corrupted data files. To top it all off, this company only did a full backup every 4 weeks and had to revert back to this backup to restore from…

Needless to say I terminated the contract and looked for another solution.. whereas before a local presence and specialisation in hosted service was important,  NOW we realised that reputation and proven ability to provide availability of service was on the top of my selection list!

(PS – while I typed this I checked the company’s website… and it only seems to be a placeholder with no content anymore.. maybe they no longer exist?)

This is only one example of a small company terminating its contract with a service provider…. Just imagine the implications and political fallout when this would have happened to a government department moving towards Cloud Based Services (and you know… this sort of stuff ALWAYS happens in an election year)

Lessons learnt

  • An IT Service mis-managed is an IT Service mis managed.. whether the IT Service is delivered locally in house or via Cloud based technology.
  • ITSM will be the saving grace for many Cloud Based Service Delivery companies
  • NOT having ITIL or ITSM Processes will have a much bigger impact on business continuity because of the larger scale and exposure
  • As client you are very concerned about privacy and security of your data and content… as the IT provider it is double important to manage expectations and placate nerves at the client site.
  • When you have a hosted or cloud based solution, try to have the offline version available to you (to mitigate the risk of not having access at all when the internet connection is unavailable)
  • Be demanding as a client. ( I didn’t manage the project well enough… I did NOT ask to see the SLA before signing up to the contract and it turned out that the service availability was defined as 95% ping to the server … )
  • How does the company manage their continuity of services? What is their methodology, what is their proven track record?
  • Ask about the values and policies of the company; what is important to them? Even when you are a small client to this supplier – what service approach do they use?