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ITSM: From Best Supporting Actor To Leading Role

IT Service Management (ITSM), also known in some quarters as “the artist formerly known as helpdesk”, was historically always placed into the “IT support tools” category – a necessary expenditure in the eyes of many boards.

In reality, it was always much more than an insurance policy; it was a means of keeping the users productive when otherwise, extended downtime also meant company profits going down in equal measure. Certainly, there were companies who attempted to maintain control and status of their user base via a combination of wholly inappropriate tools, not least the infamous spreadsheet, and here a dedicated helpdesk solution added enormous value to the ill-advised alternative approaches. However, helpdesk or early iterations of ITSM were undoubtedly IT-centric; designed solely to support the IT element of the company.

In line with early generations of ITIL guidelines, this approach was appropriate to the times. But times change, as do industry standards, and ITSM itself has moved on to reflect these changes and especially so at Sunrise.

The ITSM Platform – Where ITSM Becomes ESM

It is important to think, firstly, of ITSM now being a solution that supports a company-wide set of problems and resolutions, not a product focused on supporting IT specific requirement.

Other key company departments, such as HR, facilities and finance are all equally likely to have a requirement for an ITSM style solution, not just IT – basically any situation where you have a support desk fielding queries and dealing with problems. In other words, the definition has expanded to what is now coined ESM or Enterprise Service Management – applying a service-oriented business model to the way a company operates internally.

So ITSM nowadays stands for much more than “IT” – it is an underlying engine that manages the entire process flow of a company, throughout its life, from the moment a new employee walks through the door, to the day they leave. When ITSM becomes ESM ties very much in with recent ITIL updates – the “cradle to grave handling of company assets” which ITIL V4 talks about, for example. A contemporary ITSM solution therefore must have the ability to track and manage all company assets in its broadest sense – and from a single viewpoint.

ITSM As A Service – SaaS & The Cloud Factor

The past decade has seen a massive change in the way software is delivered, hosted and paid for. SaaS – Software as a Service – has become the accepted norm, being exceptionally OpEx (Operating Expenditure) friendly and equally developer friendly, as it enables a far easier update and patch management path forward.


The recent dominance of the cloud as a primary outsourcing option has further encouraged the “as a service” delivery and ownership choice. At the same time, there are valid reasons as to why a private, OnPrem (OnPremise) alternative still makes sense. For this reason, Sunrise offers both options – but it is the same product, the same solution, so there is no potential issue in starting with one “flavour” and moving to another or a hybrid solution. It is often perceived that “keep it in the home” security mentality is behind an OnPrem decision, but Sunrise has also done its utmost to allay cloud-related fears on this count too. The cloud-based solution is based on the industry giant IBM cloud. Importantly, given Sunrise’s location in Chessington, Surrey, the two IBM data centres hosting the cloud-based version are on the doorstep in Chessington itself and just up the road in Slough, which is reassuring in terms of delivery and support. At least 5 years in, the reality of a SaaS solution is indeed being hosted “in the cloud” but that cloud is very accessible!

Same Game – Different Names

While the fundamental concept of Sunrise ITSM – that of being a framework-based, flexible solution, rather than a hard-coded product – has remained the same from day one, the actual ITSM template itself has matured enormously over the years and is far more user friendly and comprehensive than before.

It has also been expanded to reflect the different roles such a platform can play within a company, as we mentioned earlier. There are actually three different flavours of the “template” itself: ITSM, MSP/services and HR, where the solution becomes a true ESM platform. While the underlying elements are shared, with access based around HTML5, whether accessed whether through via the self-service portal (see later) of the main user interface, in each case the template has been adapted to reflect the specific requirements of each user type. However, the concept is broader than it first appears. For example, the MSP template is not purely designed for an independent service provider, but equally any body that effectively hosts a number of underlying clients. Elements of the NHS are another perfect example of ESM vs ITSM in practice, as is the public sector in general, such as local councils.

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Modular ITSM – But A Single Solution

While Sunrise ITSM is effectively a series of modules, it is sold as a complete solution, with everything included. The modules cover all ITIL elements, such as Change Management, Project Management, Instant Problem Change Management, SLAs, Items and Assets, Knowledge Management, Release Management, Event Management, Availability Management and Service Management. The aim of the software is to be functionality heavy, but simple yet flexible to use – complex beneath the engine cover, but easy to drive.

It is also important to iterate that, while Sunrise ITSM provides comprehensive coverage of the ITIL recommendations, it also adds value beyond ITIL compliance. Areas such as Project Management, Task Management and IT governance through risk control and audits showcase this extension of ITL-compliance capability. So, for example, while the risk management features may not be as comprehensive as those provided by a dedicated, standalone risk management product, in many cases they could prevent the customer from having to invest in acquiring and learning how to use an additional product while, at the same time, being infinitely superior to a “DIY” alternative, such as by using spreadsheets. An example of risk management might be controlling the potential impact of a cyber security threat; so, a control might be ensuring auto-update of all Anti-Virus software is enabled, for example.

Sunrise has also added a Crisis Management module. While this is especially relevant right now, with respect to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is equally relevant for any crisis scenario such as those caused by fire, flooding, earthquakes and other natural disasters, or indeed the result of terrorist activity, for example. Taking the Covid-19 crisis as an example, the software is able to bring together all the relevant areas – such as announcement, contacts, status (e.g. staff that are furloughed), place of work, any data breaches etc – and create points of focus, enabling potential problems to be far more easily resolved, or – better still - avoided in the first place. An example might be that – with basic analysis – it becomes clear that VPN capacity needs to be immediately increased, in order to provide secure remote connections to a new group of homeworkers.

The Covid-19 Effect And Other Trigger Points

Historically, IT is thought of as being fast-moving and ever-changing. However, while this may be true in one sense, at the same time it is wholly cyclical in nature. Certain eras of IT demand certain requirements are put to the forefront, which are then put on a back burner for a generation or two, before re-emerging.


Often there is some kind of “trigger point” which refocuses attention on those “historic” elements of IT, and the Covid-19 pandemic is clearly a case in point. It has forced organisations to reappraise the bigger picture of where their staff operate from and how to support them in those environments; Moray Council provides one such example. Of course, from a technology standpoint, every element is in place already to manage “the new normal”; it’s more about adapting the approach to ITSM and how it is used to support the changing workforce. As IT has developed over the past two decades, from more ubiquitous – and affordable - broadband Internet to cloud-based deployment, the emergence of self-service portals and the ability to management a workforce from almost anywhere in the world via a smartphone, all of these threads have merged to enable IT to function as a flexible, distributed model, supporting the workforce wherever they might be located.

As ever, key to the success of remotely supporting a workforce is to give them access to as much useful information as possible, while making the whole process of problem reporting and solving as simple as possible. Even in an office environment a user is prone to panic in the event of a problem arising which impacts on their immediate work. In a remote environment, that panic is likely to be elevated and the last thing a support team wants – and needs – is to be inundated with emergency phone calls and playing the “20 questions” game with 20% of the user base!

A centralised solution integrating Crisis Management within ITSM – increasingly cloud-based, though with the OnPrem option to satisfy the needs of certain companies – is fundamental to controlling a geographically diverse user base. On top of this, a flexible customer service portal that can act as both a safety blanket for the user and a means of – often significantly – reducing the strain on the support team, providing potentially instant remedies or otherwise automated management of support requests raised and the chain of events following through to resolution, can prove invaluable.

Standardised Yet Fully Customisable

In terms of general usability, it is important to be able to drive as much as possible from a central dashboard, simplifying interaction by using drag and drop techniques, for example, in order to minimise training requirements and human error. At the same time, those dashboards – as the primary user interface – need to be fully configurable as every user ideally wants a view that relates directly to their job role and most relevant processes.

Interaction between user and the service desk effectively takes on four primary processes; even today, a phone call reporting an incident is common for initiating the logging of the incident and setting the wheels in motion. However, self-service is obviously preferable as it reduces both the strain on the service desk personnel and can reduce time to resolution. As an aside, it is also likely to help the user self-manage incidents in the future, especially where they use the knowledge base library as part of the resolution process. Email reporting of incidents is still an option and logging into the ITSM system is fully automated. Finally, with Sunrise ITSM there is also support through APIs for 3rd party integration with existing tools, so as network monitoring/management products or social media platforms.

Not only is it important to provide a user with an interface that relates to their needs, but also one that is optimised for the device they are using. For example, Sunrise Mobile detects that the software is on a smartphone and automatically adopts an “app style” look and feel in order to make it as native as possible in use.

Minimising The Human Error Impact – Helping The User Help Themselves

Regardless of the physical interface, the way Sunrise ITSM is driven is designed, by default, to be as fool proof as possible. Screens are automatically pre-populated with the relevant fields in order to give consistency and reduce human error, with users continually prompted to provide the relevant information. All searches are dynamic, with relevant information automatically delivered onscreen. So, for example, if an incident is reported by a given user, all relevant information on that user and incident history comes up onscreen. Searches can also be pre-filtered. Other ITIL processes such as Problem Management and Knowledge Management are fully integrated, linking incident to problems and knowledge items, all of which become part of the end to end workflow.

Sunrise ITSM also uses a tagging concept, not dissimilar to a Twitter hashtag, so relevant items and information automatically are related; for example, a specific error might be tagged and auto-suggest relevant knowledge articles or history relating to an existing product. All incidents raised are directly related to their relevant, pre-defined SLA levels and escalation options – again an example of the all-important automation and workflow process. A graphical process builder forms part of the Incident Management – so process flows can be defined, flow chart style, with no programming whatsoever required, or screens and forms can be defined, copied and edited. Every element of the platform is configurable.

The self-service portal uses the same underlying technology while providing a different form of access. All dashboards – again – are configurable using drag and drop techniques and are intended to allow them to be as relevant as possible to each individual. The idea is that users are now familiar with self-service techniques, such as when interacting with their energy and utility service providers, so a work interface should be no different. It's important that Self-Service works in the real world, after all. All related knowledge base information is direction related and any content can be embedded. Relevant information can also be pushed out to a user, as well them finding it themselves through dynamic searches. Chat features can also be embedded; while Sunrise does not provide its own, the platform integrates with the many 3rd party examples that are in regular use.

Another interface option that related to common Internet usage is a shopping cart type view of office assets – such as laptops and smartphones – so that when, for example, a user is raising a request, they can choose the impacted devices and related elements by simply selecting them and adding to a basket, with an order number identifying the exact devices – again a fool proof methodology for minimising human error, rather than getting them to enter details manually.

Using ITSM To Optimise The Business

As a “cradle to grave” support technology, contemporary ITSM solutions effectively both monitor and analyse the success levels of that support.

There are a number of different report options, including live dashboards, online wallboards and KPI reports, offered out of the box. It is worth noting that Sunrise ITSM has Service Desk Institute report accreditation. Microsoft’s Power BI support has also been recently added; this is a business analytics service from Microsoft, which provides interactive visualisations and business intelligence capabilities via a configurable user interface that allows users to create their own reports and dashboards. Out of the box, the user is provided with 40 reports, driven by the Power BI engine.

The point is – analysing the performance of the ITSM system also provides significant clues as to how to tweak and improve the running of the business itself. Community Integrated Care has many examples of ITSM reporting in Power BI proving of value from the service desk to the Board.Efficiency is the key word and a natural by product of an ITSM solution – especially when focused upon the entire company – is the ability to adapt business processes to streamline those very processes and maximise employee productivity and the business bottom line. In other words, ITSM has moved from being “a necessary evil” to a primary means of increasing the value of a business. Now that is a step change…

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