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Is My Level of ITIL Better Than Yours?

Posted by on April 11, 2013 in ITIL
I only ask, because the other day I spotted a forum where a keen, recently Foundation-certified person was handed a short sharp rebuke, for asking if he could include the official logo on his résumé to show off his new skill. His chastiser was a Red-Badge old-salt who brought up the fact that this poor person was one of hundreds of thousands marching out of courses with their new certificate. ITIL Foundation

Was it Better in the Good Old "Red-Badge" Days?

In ITIL® v2, a red lapel pin was awarded to those candidates who passed the Service Support and Service Delivery exams. At the time, this was the highest qualification before the introduction of ITIL V3 and very highly rated.

So What Changed?

The ITIL books basically got a bit of a face-lift and were split into 5 books and the exam structure changed. People still started with Foundation, but perhaps it was deemed to be a little easier to pass. Let's be honest – Foundation gives you the low-down on the terminology and the basics, and for many is a tick in the box within their organisation to show you can understand the terminology and concepts. This is no bad thing – it is a good start to have your support teams all singing from the same song sheet, and helps them to understand what your ITIL/ITSM Strategy may be, further down the line. And I can even forgive the poor unfortunate who, filled with a sense of missionary zeal at entering this august institution, perhaps got a little carried away. The realities in this scenario were that the ITIL logo is copyrighted property, and as such cannot be displayed by an individual on something like a CV (résumé). Alas the rudeness of the response took away the small nugget of truth, that experience will trounce qualifications every time.

So What if He Was One of Hundreds and Thousands?

For many people, this is their first step on the path of ITIL and its place in the world of ITSM deployments. Again, let's be honest – many will just stop at this point, and tick along in their organisations, and that is fine.

There Is No Guarantee of a Better Job with More Certification

This is very true. I sometimes find myself baffled when I see people on the various LinkedIn discussions celebrating a pass at one of the higher Intermediate exams, and then following it up by asking what they can do with this new certificate/badge?

Is ITIL Going Out of Fashion?

I was asked recently – why do press give ITIL such a bad name? Is it because new cool-kid stuff like DevOps is thumbing its nose at our established processes? Or is it because ITIL is now mature, and established? The truth is – ITIL Qualifications are still racking up, worldwide. The Cabinet Office recently released the ITIL Marketing Number for all exams sat in January to 2012. Last year 263,203 people sat the Foundation exam alone – the majority of them in Asia (84,542 - 91% pass rate) and Europe (86,835 - 90% pass rate). So Why is ITIL Still So Popular? Let's go back and look at an organisation's point of view. They invest in some kind of IT Service Management tool, probably initially to support the underlying IT infrastructure that supports their business. They log incidents, problems, changes and so on, and expect their support teams to be able to support them. We all know that ITILprovides people with a common terminology. As tools evolve, ITSM vendors also realise that the products have to offer a depth of customization to talk the language of the business. At the time I sat my Foundation exam, I had been working on ITSM-related deployments and projects for 6 years. I understood the concepts, I worked with heads of client’s businesses to translate IT-speak to business speak, but what I lacked was a single sheet of paper to say I knew all that stuff. Most people who will work directly in an ITSM/ ITIL environment will be put forward for an ITIL Foundation course. A few may have to take it on their own time, perhaps to try and change their career path. Some who were unlucky enough to have been made redundant may choose to do so, to try and give their résumé a boost.

What About That Résumé?

Every week I get all manner of job requests from the many agencies I signed up with, offering me jobs that have almost nothing to do with my skills and experience. Why? Because the automated key word searches trawl through the words I sweated over to make them look just right and picked up the word (and symbol) ITIL. It would only be when I went to apply for a role that wanted ITIL and PRINCE2®, and knowledge of Agile, and… and … and… that they would know I lacked the all round experience.

How to Rise Above the Crowd

If people choose, or organisations pay, the next logical step is to get a deeper grounding via the Intermediate exams. Looking at the Intermediate numbers, they are obviously less, but again Europe and Asia lead the way worldwide. The most popular option is Service Operation, which makes sense – it is probably the most natural progression for those involved in day-to-day IT Service Management. As I gear up to take my first Intermediate exam – let me offer a retrospective word of advice to the enthusiastic Foundation certificate owner. Take a look at the industry – browse job sites in your region and look to see how many roles there are for Foundation, versus the higher qualifications. Then have a good look at the descriptions – is this something you would like to do for a living? More importantly, look at what you do now. What can you do with the knowledge you have now to build up that even more important skill of applying all the new stuff you have learned? Because it is not about the version of ITIL you qualified with, it is how you develop your experience that makes you stand out from the crowd.

ITIL Marketing Numbers for All Exams Sat in January to December 2012

Source: ITIL Marketing Report, Official ITIL Accreditor


Total Number of Candidates 263,203
% Pass Rate 90

ITIL Intermediate by Product

Intermediate – Service Lifecycle Intermediate – Service Capability
Total Number of Candidates 5485 5836 6902 6154 9159 4422 5747 3370 6888 5659
% Pass Rate 83 80 75 83 75 76 76 78 82 66

ITIL Intermediate by Region

Africa C America & WI North America South America Antarctica Asia Europe Oceania
Total Number of Candidates 8521 3158 56,005 14,504 0 84,542 86,835 9556
% Pass Rate 82 80 90 85 91 90 92

ITIL Intermediate by Region (All Modules)

Africa C America & WI North America South America Antarctica Asia Europe Oceania
Total Number of Candidates 2098 395 12,508 1410 0 13,499 27,929 1746
% Pass Rate 66 62 74 72 83 78 79

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Come and Meet Us Face-to-Face at the Service Desk Show, 23-24 April in London

Posted by on April 3, 2013 in SysAid
Meet SysAid at the Service Desk and IT Support Show Here at SysAid we are in the midst of preparations for the Service Desk & IT Support Show (SITS13) which will be in London's Earls Court. We are thrilled to meet our customers and all the IT professionals who will attend the show. So what are we planning to do there? So much!
First of all, we will be in Booth 519, where you will meet two SysAid experts both called David (we decided to make it easy on everyone to remember their names :-). David & David will show you around SysAid and give you a live tour of all the essentials that come packaged with our service desk. Do you have deeper technical questions? You will have an option to ask Oded our VP Products directly. Feel free to also ask him about SysAid future plans because we are heading forward in full speed. While you are there, be sure not to miss Oded’s presentation on the 24th of April, 11:40am–12:20pm, Theater 2: Benchmarking & BI – Sat Navs for Service Desks. Oded is an experienced speaker and this new lecture he is preparing promises to be very interesting, educational, and eye-opening for sure! We will also be happy for you to have a chat with Sarah, our SysAid CEO, who will be with us at the show. She loves talking and chatting about IT, about SysAid, and about life in general. When you feel you will need a bit of a break from the show, come over to our booth and blow off some steam with an Xbox Kinect game. Hey, you might even be taking one home if you win one of our raffles. Just leave your details and you can win an Xbox Kinect, or an Apple TV. If you won’t be going home with one of these prizes, don’t worry, we won’t leave you empty handed—Elana, our Marcom Manager, or myself will give you one of our cool giveaways. Finally – let us buy you a drink at our customer SysAid Meet Up on Tuesday, April 23rd, 19:00, at a pub just a 2-minute walk from Earls Court. Not a customer yet? No worries, we will be happy to see you there as well. All you need to do is fill out this form and we will keep a drink voucher for you at the booth or at the pub itself. I hope you are as excited as we are, and really hope you pop over and say hi, whether you are a customer or whether you just want to check us out. It will be great to see you there. Get Your Free Drink Voucher!
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10 Tips to Improve Your Google Apps Experience

Posted by on March 24, 2013 in Cloud
How to Improve Your Google Apps After reading Oded Moshe’s post Migrating Exchange to Google Apps: This is My Story, I thought it would be nice to follow up with a post covering some cool stuff that I learned after my company switched from MS Exchange to Google Apps. Here are my 10 tips to making your work with Google Apps more interesting and efficient:
1. Use Chrome. It has more advantages than any other browser for Gmail. Keep it all in the family, so to speak. 2. Use Gmail and Calendar as pinned tabs: open 2 tabs, one Gmail and one Calendar, right-click on each and select Pin tab). This way Chrome will remember these tabs next time you open it. 3. Set pop-up notifications, like you had in MS Outlook, for each new email message. You can get these notifications by going to Settings General (tab) → Desktop Notifications, and then select the radio button for New mail notifications on. Don’t forget to click the Save Changes button (this applies to all the Settings). 4. Also as in Outlook, you can set a preview window for all email messages. Just go to SettingsLabs (tab). Find the Preview Pane lab and enable it. 5. A really great little feature I found in the Google Labs gives you the option to call back an email (undo) after you already hit “Send”. Tell the truth – how many times did you hit the Send button too soon? Maybe you included your boss in an email that he/she was not supposed to see?! Maybe you forgot to attach your document, etc. Just go to SettingsLabs (tab), find the Undo Send lab and enable it. This gives you a few seconds to regret your action. 6. If you want, you can have the number of unread messages appear on at the top of your screen next to the Gmail icon on your tab (like notifications in Facebook): Improve Your Google Apps, Tip 6 Enable this under SettingsLabs (tab) → Unread message icon. 7. An image can be embedded in a message body by simply copying/pasting it inside your email message. You don’t have to send images/screeenshots as attachments. Note that this only works in Chrome (at least from what I tested, which included Firefox and IE). 8. If you don't want Gmail to group your messages (i.e. to behave like in Outlook), turn it off under SettingsGeneral (tab) → Conversation View. 9. One cool Gmail extension I found is called: Attachment Icons - For emails with attachments, this extension replaces the default paper clip icon with the relevant icon for the specific type of attachment, as seen below: Improve Your Google Apps, Tip 9 10. Another useful Gmail extension is for adding web content and/or browser images to Google Drive with a single click -, as shown in the screenshot below. Improving Google Drive Know of any more really great Gmail/Google Apps tips? Please let me know in the comments below!
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Request Fulfillment: Keep It Simple

Posted by on March 20, 2013 in ITIL

ITIL Request Fulfillment

So you've read the ITIL book, been on the course, copied and tweaked the diagrams in PowerPoint/Visio and you have a bunch of things you can loosely term as service requests or standard changes.

Surely translating that into a singing, dancing process is comparatively easy?

But the book says….

Well I am not going to spout out what the good book says here—people are capable of reading for themselves.

But what I will say is that the key to any process implementation is your adoption of the guidelines to suit your requirements.

But the tool can do…

I am a very strong advocate of the need to really understand what the requirements are before you even tackle process, tool, organisation and who is in charge of the coffee.

In fact I would go as far as to say—the tool does not even matter at this point.

But we have ALWAYS done it this way

The reason an organisation is looking to implement (or improve) an existing process has a business rationale attached to it—more often than not to save money.

That may be through outsourcing, it may be through more automation to free up skilled staff to help meet other business drivers, but rest assured there is almost certainly a [/insert currency of choice] value behind it.

How It Works in the REAL World

I am sure many of us have seen issues when trying to implement Request Fulfillment.

  • Over-complex steps involving too many people
  • Single point of failure in some steps where only one person knows how things are done
  • Approval process involving too many people
  • A desire to constantly add things to the service catalogue so that the latest "must have" is available, regardless of whether it can be supported (yes, I know, this is a whole OTHER debate)

There are several approaches that ITSM consultants Ali Hirji and and Jennifer Gianfrancesco have found to help, and they have been kind enough to share them with us.

Ali Hirji: ITSM Consultant

His Background:

Part of a consultancy group to put together processes and procedures required in dealing with requests from large projects to routine day to day requests.

This activity eventually led to the development of a technical request catalogue, used to formalise routine activities.

The client was unhappy in the way in which requests were made, and the time being taken to deliver them.

IT personnel had little control over the time spent dealing with request activity, and the management did not have enough data to help structure and plan their teams more effectively.

They also did not have sufficient information on customers/requesters in order to re-bill the costs of their efforts.

His Approach:

  • Understand the difference between the small everyday requests and the larger project requirements.

    Ali explained:

    "There was no structure at all.

    "As and when people wanted things, they were requesting them via telephone/email.

    "The delivery teams had little control over what came their way and therefore were not able to plan accordingly."

    His team's approach was to classify activities that were Business-As-Usual maintenance tasks, and determine which were the small requests–those that take less than 50 man-days to execute.

    The small requests were further divided into standard and non-standard requests.
  • Standard requests were something that the delivery team would be doing on an on-going basis, and were quite common.

    The execution scenarios would be quite standard, formalised and could be quite easily documented, if they had not already been written up, along with a defined set of parameters.

    As a result, the lead time and effort required to execute the request would be fixed and provided as part of the catalogue.
  • For the non-standard requests, the support teams were asked to list what they did, and they examined which of those could be documented formally and which parameters were collectable from the user.

    Ali said:

    "The aim was to have as many standard requests as possible so for non-standard requests , we would try and identify what factor was stopping them from considering it as standard.

    "We could then estimate effort and turnaround time based on that factor as a differentiator, for example the size of a database, therefore helping us provide a range of standard requests."

    Their first iteration of the catalogue was very simple with free text fields and a very basic workflow, to encourage use with the intention of further maturing the tool as it was more widely adopted.

His Challenges:

  • Changing the informal culture of the environment and formalising the process
  • Some groups were better than others at documenting
  • Sometimes thinking on too large a scale—needed to dissect into smaller activities and then break down how to execute and document on a smaller scale

Jennifer Gianfrancesco: ITSM Consultant & ITIL v3 Expert

Her Background:

Jennifer offered an insight to her experiences and also advice on Request Fulfillment process implementation.

Jennifer said:

"Set-up really depends on what customers are looking for and could be around two weeks.

"It depends on if there are a lot of customisations required."

Jennifer has also found that higher management of customers feel comfortable with additional consultancy to help extend their use of the system, when they are ready to use more advanced features of the tool.

Her Approach

  • A design workshop is a key exercise
  • Really understand how requests come in, what happens and what the dependencies are
  • Get them to understand the value of meaningful statistics—it is worth developing a set of "canned KPIs" as you gain more experience
  • The idea is to improve the process and identify gaps
  • Play "devil's advocate" in the initial sessions: How would the customer handle x if y happens?
  • Remember it is not just about the request activity involved; none of them work all by themselves: How are they touching other processes?

Her Challenges

  • When working with managed service providers, there is the added complication of additional SLAs and routing

    Jennifer explains:

    "Outsourcers look at it from a different perspective.

    "KPIs and metrics may be different for them than for in-house service management."
  • Balance the theory with the practice

    "Too many people get hung up on what ITIL says."

My Final Thoughts

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Regardless of whether the implementation is in-house or as part of a managed service, a pragmatic approach is key.
  • Work must go in to defining your starting point catalogue and focusing on what works well/needs no tweaking, and then look to where automation improvements can be made.
  • No single process works in isolation, so therefore workflows cannot be built in isolation of the support teams, who are involved in the steps.
  • Have someone involved who can almost act as a conduit between the “pure” process side, and the tool configuration side; if they understand the business rationale behind all this, then so much the better.
  • Do not be afraid to evolve from your starting point—that is really the whole point of ITIL deployments—to adapt, adopt and then to improve.
  • Once you have some of your basics right, then start to build your service portfolio.

The overriding sentiment from practitioners is: Keep It Simple.

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Honoring Excellence on SysAidday 2013 – Where We Started and Where We Are Going

Posted by on March 18, 2013 in SysAid
SysAid Day 2013 Yesterday marked our annual SysAidday, a company event that joins everyone together, from every department in SysAid, to discuss our goals and ambitions for the coming year. Our newly appointed CEO, Sarah Lahav, emceed the event, which opened with a history lesson from Israel Lifshitz, SysAid Founder and Chairman, who recounted the story of how it all began. I believe that the newbies at the company, as well as the old-timers, were intrigued by the story and felt a sense of belonging to a truly innovative company.
Honoring excellence was the theme of the day, and it started by calling up all the individuals who have been at SysAid for over 5 years. There were gifts, pictures, and great rounds of applause to all the honorees. And while all this was happening, I couldn’t help but think of Justin Timberlake’s hosting last week of Saturday Night Live and having a whole celebration of being welcomed to the 5-Timers Club at SNL! I wonder if anyone else was thinking about this? :) The day continued with presentations from representatives from each department. As someone who works in Marketing, I can tell you for sure that it was very enlightening to listen to the presentations that were given by R&D, Sales, Product, Customer Relations, and Finance/IT. To hear what everyone is working on makes me impatient for the new projects and releases ahead. Now I know how our customers feel! In my presentation, representing the Marketing department, I hope I was able to convey the exciting plans that we have in store as well, like the booth we are preparing for next month’s huge service desk show in London - SITS13 (come visit us at Booth 519). IT Service Desk and IT Support Show Aside from the delicacies served to us all day long, the motivational workshop on WINNING by Yehuda Shinar (I think that probably deserves its own blog post…so stay tuned), and the movie premier we got to see at the end of the day, a definite surprise highlight was the incredible clip prepared especially for SysAidday 2013 by our über- talented SysAid Academy Supervisor, Michael Nahmias. Although he prepared it for us (his co-workers), I just had to share…enjoy!
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The Cult of Google Glass: Building a Customer-Centric Community

Posted by on March 12, 2013 in General IT
Google Glass Project I want to be a Glass Explorer! Let me explain. I recently entered Google's Twitter and Google+ competition to become a Glass Explorer, giving me a shot at purchasing a pair of wearable augmented reality glasses for a whopping $1,500, and the privilege of testing them out before they become available for public sale. To understand how out of character this is for me, you should know that my laptop is pushing 5 years old and only recently did I acquire a used second-generation smartphone. In short, I am far from a gadget junkie. Putting aside the excellent marketing campaign that Google has executed around Glass, I had to ask myself, why I so desperately wanted these glasses?
I think the answer lies in the fact that with these glasses, I become part of a very small, but unique community where my feedback matters, is taken seriously and could ultimately be integrated into the end product. This possibility makes me extremely invested in the whole idea. Google’s customer-centric approach is a large part of the company’s success and has allowed it to become one of the most popular and loved corporations in the world. With the love that people display for Google products, one could say that it enjoys an almost cult-like following. While the cult appeal of consumer oriented companies is more or less understood, B2B companies can also benefit from this model and develop methods to leverage the knowledge, passion and enthusiasm that come with a cult following. At the risk of sounding like a marketing professional, I think SysAid understands this model very well, valuing a customer-centric approach and clearly taking a vested interest in its dialogue with customers, pathfinders (beta testers), and in building their community. Ardent devotees of SysAid provide honest and critical feedback through open discussions in the online community and through regularly scheduled roundtables and webinars. These highly motivated and intelligent people do not simply belt out “Hallelujah” with every new product roll-out. Rather, they have constructive ideas about how to enhance the product or how to most effectively meet the needs of IT professionals. Learning to incorporate this direct feedback has proven to be an invaluable tool for the Company, and more generally, is probably the most important philosophical shift that takes place for any company managing a passionate fan base. Listening to suggestions from customers can help a company understand their offering through the customers' eyes, leading to a heightened awareness of what they want and need, ultimately making decision-making smarter. With a core group of evangelists (pathfinders) and an active customer community, SysAid has developed a product that has not only introduced many industry first capabilities, but also addresses the needs of IT administrators on an ongoing basis. Nurturing an open corporate culture where suggestions may be systematically implemented, building a group of evangelists and promoting overall transparency has allowed both SysAid and Google to build stronger customer relationships, in turn enabling innovation and the development of superior products in their respective markets. And in case you were wondering, it looks like I'll be buying my Google Glass with the rest of you towards the end of 2013.
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Adopting ITIL Best Practices Into Marketing Processes

Posted by on March 6, 2013 in ITIL
itil-marketing.jpg Marketing is a mess. This isn’t a secret. The average marketing department needs to take care of marketing materials for internal and external purposes, content creation, advertising, social media, the corporate websites, and so much more.
There are many tools around today, which can help the modern marketing professional to bring some order into these processes. They can be task management tools such as Trello or Asana, they can be complex project management tools such as Clarizen, or they can be dedicated marketing management tools that are built especially for marketing departments: Pardot, Google AdWords, HubSpot, etc. Recently, after almost two years of working at SysAid, marketing IT management software, I realized that the modern marketing department is actually quite similar to the modern IT department. Both departments:
  • Are service-oriented: mostly to internal company departments, but many times to external sources.
  • Have assets: IT departments have computers, servers, laptops, mobile devices, etc; marketing departments have images, documents, logos, template, PDFs, videos, and any other marketing material asset.
  • Require monitoring abilities: IT departments require network monitoring; marketing departments require web and social media monitoring.
  • Require structured working processes to cope with the scattered project and task flows.
  • Rely heavily on technology.We see a new organizational job description arising: the marketing technologist, which is the IT representative within the marketing department. Scott Brinker, a Chief Marketing Technologist, describes it best in his blog ( “Marketing has become a technology-powered discipline, and therefore marketing organizations must infuse technical capabilities into their DNA.”
  • Exist in an ever-changing, environment and have to be agile.
As we all know, IT departments use IT Service Desk software, which is being implemented at all size organizations from small to enterprise. This leads to the following question: Why haven't the dedicated marketing management software tools become as popular as IT Service Desk software tools? The answer to this brings us back to the IT departments:
  1. There is no single marketing management tool that brings you all the essentials integrated in one system: web & social media monitoring, advertising, automation, project management, marketing asset management, reporting, analysis, etc. Building such a system is a complex and expensive project, and I assume that there are several companies out there already dealing with this challenge.
  2. There isn't a structured set of marketing best practices that helps marketing departments build effective agile work procedures.
This brings us to ITIL.

So What is ITIL?

For all the marketing people reading this, here's a short explanation of ITIL: According to Wikipedia ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, and "is a set of best practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business." Such practices can focus on request management, problem management, change management, and more. It works as a circular learning structure, which leads to continual service improvement. According to Stephen Mann, IT analyst for Forrester, ITIL is based on people, process and technology.

So How Can ITIL Best Practices Be Adopted by Marketing Departments?

Let's look at how request fulfillment works: Request fulfillment starts from a service request, which is a request from a user for information, advice, or for a certain change. Examples for requests sent to an IT department could be: to reset a password, to provide a new printer, or to upgrade the memory in an existing computer. Examples for requests sent to a marketing department could be: provide a file of the company logo, create a PDF, or update a web page. According to ITIL, the lifecycle of a request model is a pre-defined process flow showing the stages needed to deal with a recurring request. This model is used to fill the recurring requests. In IT departments, many times these requests can be solved by self-help solutions such as an end-user portal or a knowledge base. In marketing departments the self-help solution can be a shared network or cloud-based folder containing the company's marketing materials (logos, templates, etc.). Self-help solutions improve responsiveness, reduce costs, extend hours of service, reduce demand on staff, and improve quality. A solution could be offered using a change management process such as: build a brief → write text → design images → implement in website → review and fix. Adopting the ITIL best practices into marketing processes can help keep marketing departments agile and ready for fast change.

So Where Does ITIL for Marketing Processes Lead Us?

There are many ITIL best practices in IT departments that can be adopted by marketing departments, but there are also many processes unique to marketing departments that require unique best practices. ITIL provides a great tool set to begin with, but in the long run I think we will need to create the MIL (Marketing Infrastructure Library). Who's ready to start it off? Please sound off in the comments below or on Twitter – follow me @ilan_hertz.
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Migrating Exchange to Google Apps: This is My Story

Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Cloud

Migration Exchange

How It All Started

I would like to share with you my experience from this past summer in migrating from Exchange Server to Google Apps.

Some background: I have been an Exchange user for as long as I remember. It was kind of common knowledge that there just wasn't anything else out there, well maybe Lotus Notes - but doesn’t only IBM use Notes, and maybe also some of their "lucky" customers that got a good bargain on it?

Anyways, at SysAid (where I’ve worked for the past 5 years) we had Exchange serve us well for several years, but as we grew from a small company to a medium-sized company the fun began.....

As we grew, the IT team kept mentioning that the licensing model we had from Microsoft needed to be upgraded because we were reaching limitations on certain features, and capacity constraints were stretched to the limit. We started to outgrow our 2GB storage limitation per user that we were granted and needed to erase emails, or save our own .pst files.

Also our needs were growing. We opened two subsidiaries abroad and they were instructed to use OWA via browser for email and calendar. They complained it wasn't user-friendly and connecting Outlook via OWA was a real challenge. For some reason they couldn't manage to maintain an Outlook environment that worked for more than a few days. On top of that our hardware was getting old and needed to be replaced. We encountered a nasty downtime of 48 hours during Exchange’s attempt to repair a corrupted database, and numerous configuration errors that caused different parts of our email services not to function. Once it was outgoing emails that got stuck, then it was OWA being down for the weekend (no email on our mobile phones!!!!), and we even experienced bouncing emails on various occasions, not to mention the growing number of spam emails we started to encounter. All of this together got us thinking that we need a high-availability solution and also a Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP), and maybe even some experts to get the Exchange to do its job.

Finding a Solution

The IT team started to put together a budget for new servers, licensing, storage, backup, and so on.

Oh, and it turned out we needed to upgrade our backup software to properly support the daily backup of Exchange 2010! I was told that ever since we upgraded, there has been an error message in the backup logs stating that the backup may not be used. So that was another few thousand $$$, right?

Somewhere when the calculation passed $20K, even before we added the Exchange experts who we needed because anything more than simple maintenance was out of our IT team’s knowledge, we just said STOP. This was the trigger that made us decide to take a deeper look into migrating our email/calendar to the cloud.

Now I must state, at SysAid we are and have always been cloud-oriented: we use Salesforce, all our marketing tools are fully cloud-based, we support our customers with our SysAid Cloud, and use the same SysAid Cloud to manage our internal IT, which among other tasks even monitors the Exchange Server. So why didn't we consider moving the email to cloud earlier? For some reason we were convinced it worked just fine (minus the downtime and other hiccups we experienced). And like all other IT departments, we were overloaded with “putting out the fires” and busy with other projects. So it just felt right not to touch the Exchange—because it was working. But that was the point—it really wasn't working that great.

Now some will say that with better knowledge and more experienced staff and maybe a different approach, we could have managed to keep our Exchange and stay within reasonable budget and quality of service. But I ask why should we? I mean email/calendar is very important to us, but why do we need to master the management of the infrastructure and software?

So we asked the IT team to bring an offering to migrate to the cloud, and insisted to bring 2 offerings, not only a Microsoft cloud offering. They came back with a high level offering from Microsoft and just said that Google isn't as good as Microsoft so it isn't really a solution for us.

That is where I stepped in, rolled up my sleeves and gave Google a call. I was transferred to Ireland, which is in charge of my region and had a nice phone call with some senior sales guy that gave me all the details in a very simple and straightforward manner. Bottom line—1/2 the price compared to Microsoft! Since we needed 100+ licenses the Microsoft price per license doubled compared to its starting price (they both start from ~$5 per user per month). The Google guy made his pitch simple and to the point. He said that Microsoft and Google have two different products, some features are the same, some are different. You will occasionally run into a missing feature, but then run into 3 new unique features that don’t exist and vice versa. Because it’s cloud-based, features are being added all the time. So he asked me to embrace the idea open minded and also make sure that our users are aware that it is going to be a change.

He set me up with a trusted local partner that has a few hundred hours experience in migration and implementation projects, and we launched the process!

I got the offer that included the migration, training, and the licenses. I won't give you the costs, but let me just say that when we ran a 3-5 year cost simulation, it seemed to break even compared to managing it in-house, but that is only direct costs without surprises and other hidden costs.

We launched the process and set a goal to fully migrate within 3 weeks, which included an initial migration and test, training, and a final migration. We were told that the migration of data may take a few days to run depending on our bandwidth…we did after all have more than 200GB of data to migrate.

We installed the migration tools, defined a group of 20 users, which included everyone in upper management plus some additional key users. We wanted to make sure to get all departments onboard in the testing phase so they can later assist with the go-live process.

Once we migrated the data we asked each of the 20 users to log in and check their emails, calendars, and contacts.

We then set up a 3-hour training session for around 15 people and were ready to go live. One more migration run with the delta and we were ready to set the go-live date.

We ended up having to wait longer than we estimated for the migration to run, but we decided to go live anyway and let the migration keep running in the background.

Going live was exciting. We “pulled the plug” from our Exchange and directed all incoming and outgoing emails to Google. Then watched how the emails started to arrive via Google. Then we tested all our email accounts including our special CRM integration accounts, our HR job accounts, etc. We had some issues, but all of them were easy to understand and fix together with the assistance we got; most of them were even dealt with by our own team and yours truly.

Most of the 100 users managed with the training and by helping each other. We set up a password sync between Google and our LDAP with a tool called GAPS (Google Apps Password Sync). We set up a special forum in Yammer (our company’s internal social network) to communicate the steps of the migration and also for support for those who ran into trouble and needed help logging in. I was able to deal with most of the support issues related to the migration, and most of the issues were related to how-to questions. The cool thing for me at this stage was the social aspect that occurred. The support and assistance moved from traditional IT support to social IT support—everyone was helping everyone—tips and tweaks were being posted daily and soon enough we discovered some new non-IT department employees fast becoming Google experts in various topics: mobile apps, customizations, lab add-ons, and more. They were all sharing their knowledge and helping everyone else out.

How The Story Ends

Believe me, it wasn't all that smooth. We had some rejections, encountered some time zone- related bugs that moved some of our meetings an hour ahead, ran into technical issues with shared calendars, etc., but we entered the project open-minded and overcame the obstacles. We were smart enough to decide to drop trying to struggle with migrating the problematic calendars and instead set up all our recurring meetings with new blank calendars created in Google Apps. It was much easier and not too much work, and it gave us a good opportunity to update the days/hours of some meetings that were historically stuck on Monday mornings J.

Now, six months after we migrated to Google Apps, I can tell you that we are very satisfied with the decision. There was a very short learning curve and we got a lot more value out of the project than we initially planned. We started using Google Docs and Drive, we communicate with Google Chat, and we keep on discovering more features and benefits. And I almost forgot to mention the 25 GB of storage each user gets!

My message is—companies can run without Exchange because there is an alternative. You just need to check your company’s individual needs and decide. But please don't forget that support from your management team is crucial. Take it from me - if you don't have support across the board you shouldn't enter such a project until you get EVERYONE on board!

If you want to know more about Google Apps, check out this clip:

Google Apps - Work in the Future

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3 Essential Changes You Must Make to Your Service Desk to Support BYOD

Posted by on February 12, 2013 in BYOD
No doubt that BYOD (bring your own device) has changed the way users are working today. However, your service desk was designed in times where most users used a company-owned PC and used it inside the office. If you want to continue to provide the best service to your organization, you need to change your service desk so it will also give support to BYOD users. I think the best way to find out what you need to change in your service desk is to look at what changed as a result of BYOD.
Let’s take a look. Basically, three factors have changed:
  • The huge variety of devices
  • The location where your users are working and need support
  • Time that your users are working (they no longer only work during regular office hours)
From these factors alone, we immediately discover the main issues that need to be checked in your service desk, i.e. availability of devices, accessibility from outside the organization, and service times.

Allow Access From Outside the Company

To successfully support BYOD users, you need to be available from anywhere in the world—meaning, always available via the Internet. Most service desk software in our time is web-based so you "just" need to find a way to open it to the Internet. One way is to move your service desk to the Cloud. If your vendor has a version of your current solution on the Cloud, then this should not be a big problem. If you prefer that your service desk will stay on-premise, then you need to find a way to make it use a public IP address. Most probably this should not be a problem with your network guys. However, it's important that you check that the software was designed and tested to work on a public IP without adding security risks. In theory, there is yet another option: keep your service desk with a private IP and require VPN access in order to access the service desk. But I'm afraid this is not a very good solution as you want your service desk to be available as much as possible. The VPN connection is very complicated and usage of your self-service portal will be reduced if you require VPN for accessing it. Also we know that large amounts of incidents are related to permissions. If you require VPN, users with permission problems will not be able to access your service desk. One of the top incidents you will get from BYOD is: My VPN connection doesn't work.

Self-Service Portal Interface Should Work From Any Device

In the BYOD era your users can use all kinds of devices so it's really hard to make sure your interface works in any device. However all modern devices support HTML 5. So if you make sure your self-service portal is using HTML 5/JavaScript/CSS, it will work on all modern devices. If your self-service portal contains parts that are only available on a PC, such as Flash or ActiveX, then you need to change the self-service portal. After you make sure your portal works in a standard web environment, you still need to consider if you want the user interface adjusted to the type of device. The best experience will be with a portal web interface that knows to detect your type of device: mobile, tablet, or desktop and adjust the user interface accordingly. See examples below of the SysAid End-User Portal that has different interfaces for desktop and smartphone.
Changes to your Service Desk Desktop interface Smartphone interface Smartphone interface

Time Factor

End users are working with their devices during hours that are not the standard working times and probably beyond your support hours. What can you do to support them? Extending the support hours is probably not a good solution as you will need too many resources (IT employees) and no one will approve that budget. I think the solution for this is to add more self-service/automatic processes to your service desk and these processes can work 24/7. You need to make sure your Knowledge Base is comprehensive enough and available to BYOD users. Also you can run some reports and find out what are the most common incidents during non-support hours and then try to find a self-service solution to them. You may find out that many issues are related to passwords (e.g. “my password expired and now I cannot access my email from my mobile device....”). In that case you will find out that you need to add a password reset option in your self-service portal that is available for BYOD users. In this blog post, I covered the more technical stuff. I will follow up soon with another post to discuss some of the harder questions that arise concerning IT’s role in supporting BYOD users and devices. If you have any questions or comments, please write me below, or even better – contact me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
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What Would Warren Buffett Do? Advice for CIOs on BYOD

Posted by on February 4, 2013 in BYOD

So what does Warren Buffet have to do with BYOD (bring your own device)?

Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet is not only one of the wealthiest men in the world, but he is also considered the most successful investor of the 20th century. And his involvement in the insurance business (heading Berkshire Hathaway) confirms that he is an expert in measuring catastrophic risk—one of the main issues CIOs are concerned with today in embracing BYOD in the workplace. They simply don’t want to risk a decrease in security when it comes to sensitive company information.

SysAid Founder, Israel Lifshitz, a zealous BYOD Believer, took some pointers from the great Warren Buffet in offering advice to CIOs on how to preserve maximum productivity with BYOD, while maintaining much-needed corporate security.

Read more in this post on TechRepublic.

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