Monday, May 11, 2009

Brave New World

Organizations face significant challenges today as opposed to 20 years ago. The rapid advancement of technology is the primary reason for this as people can now obtain information quickly and easily, make changes to their financial strategies with the click of a button and research doctors and their feedback by past patients from their armchair. The result of this technological advancement is that the customer (whether a customer of donuts or a customer of software) is extremely savvy and aware. The customers, themselves under deadlines and obligations caused by this state of affairs, cannot afford to be sympathetic to disruptions in service availability. Loyalty from the customer is now becoming less and less dependable and providing service to the customer in such a way as to retain their patronage ranks paramount in the minds of organizations nowadays.

To illustrate my point, I would like to compare the interaction of a Bank with its customers 20 years ago as opposed to today. The differences may be laid out as follows:

Services Offered: 20 years ago, a bank offered basic services and a few rigid loan possibilities. Today, a vast portfolio of services is offered by even the smallest “credit union” type of bank in order to service the more sophisticated customer's growing list of demands. Therefore, services offered have grown more numerous and complex.

Availability: In the past, a bank was accessible by the customers only if they physically visited the premises of the bank. Banking activities could only be carried out during the typical 9-5 hour range and not much was available during the weekend. Today, customers expect access to banking activities 24x7 through a variety of means such as telephone, internet, cell phone and other devices. Thus, availability expectations are now much higher than before.

Incident and Problem Handling: Decades ago, a bank could count on a certain degree of patience by the customer when things went wrong and customer expectations were not met, allowing the bank enough time to restore service levels. Today, the customers will switch to the competitors services in a heartbeat due to pressures and deadlines that they themselves face. Hence we may state that incident and problem handling expectations have increased tremendously.

Disaster Recovery: In the past, banks could expect a certain degree of sympathy and understanding in the event of a disaster (e.g. fire) that disrupted services. While sympathy might still exist in the hearts of customers today, due to the customers themselves having to adhere to a high level of expectation to their own customers and/or superiors, they will reluctantly switch to the competitor’s services in order to stay solvent. Therefore, effective contingency planning and handling of disasters is a must today.

Security: 20 years ago, a heavy vault and a man with a gun was all that was required by a bank (well, maybe several men with guns) as far as security was concerned. Now, we have hacking, phishing, identity theft, piracy, social engineering and a host of other modern threats. Security issues and the means to counter them are now far more numerous and complex.

Financial Management: In the past, while banks did meticulously maintain their accounts, the regulation and reporting of financial statements is now far greater than before. Financial management is, therefore, more involved and complex as well.

Ability to Change: In the past, banks were often compared to elephants or dinosaurs, mocked for their inability to change. Now, agility is a crucial attribute of survival with the bank’s ability to bring in new and improved services to the customers being a significant means of achieving greater market share and profits. The ability to change quickly, without causing disruption is now a very important attribute in any organization.

Customer Relationship: In the past, customer needs were minimally analyzed. Products and services were usually devised while thinking of customers as a group and individual customer needs were largely ignored. Today, individual customer service is the norm and special products and services are created routinely for singular needs. Therefore, establishing a relationship with and analyzing and understanding individual customer needs are extremely important today.

It is thus illustrated that the challenges organizations face today are greater in complexity across all aspects of management and customer interaction as compared to the past. What is more alarming is the trend for the future seems to indicate an even greater increase in complexity and customer expectations. Therefore, it is imperative to get organized not just for today but also as preparation for an even more challenging and demanding future.

The ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) set of best practices have been created with these challenges in mind. ITIL provides guidelines for Availability Management, Portfolio Management, Incident Management, Service Continuity Management, Financial Management to name a few. The reader will notice that these processes correspond exactly with the challenges detailed above. Next week’s post will focus on ITIL so please stay tuned for that information.To summarize, it is a brave new world we are plunging into at breakneck speed. Only a disciplined approach utilizing industry standard best practices will enable companies to stay competitive and ahead of the competition. All employees from top management to the individual workers will have to adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement or the harvest will be unmerciful, as recent events have demonstrated to us all too vividly.


  1. ITIL in of itself is not the only answer. Many businesses struggle with just answering how they want to address the points you have outlined. A documented dusiness strategy, that has been developed inconjunction with IT, is a must today. Yes, ITIL calls that Service Strategy. However, to effectively support a strategy Architectural guidelines and standards are key, including Event Management. OK - maybe it seems like I jumped very quickly from 100,000 feet to 50,000 - but far too many times I've taken on assessment work around lifecycles, processes, technology deployment etc - to see that architectural standards are inconsistently and incompletely defined. Combining ITIL and architecture catalyzes IT action and effectiveness.

  2. Hi VigilantJon,

    Thanks for your comment.
    I agree that ITIL is not the only answer
    If you scroll on down, and look at my "Pick and Choose" post, you will see that I recommend utilizing a host of best practice methodologies and not just ITIL.

    Thanks and keep visiting

    Vivek Shrivastava