Research shows that service management softwares, which accounted for little more than 6% of the total Enterprise Software market in 2008, will represent more than double that percentage by the end of 2011 – and the growth is likely to remain exponentially impressive. As a result, over the last 4 years these applications have been seen to have a significant impact on the whole service management solution marketplace.
A shift towards hosted solutions has been driven by a number of factors, in particular the flexibility afforded to the user by these types of solutions – given the imperative imposed on businesses to adapt or suffer the consequences in these cost-conscious times. The value of these solutions is most obvious for companies trying to increase the speed of adaptation and transformation of their service operation from simple break/fix into brand-and-people-driven operations, providing customers with high-value knowledge input. The role of the service management solution consequently becomes more than just an efficiency engine supporting productivity, and instead provides real-time, instantaneous data transfer, providing usable information immediately and creating a highly effective operation.
A challenge for many companies is to have their service management software on a single platform; currently systems are rarely fully integrated despite the claims of providers, instead being comprised of a number of systems coming from different sources, and most solution providers currently do not provide a complete solution. This is despite the fact that a single platform provides the basis for total visibility and gives a significant advantage.
For a successful service transformation, as the operation develops, businesses have to deal with significant change, including a complete overhaul of their measurement and process dashboards. Once the measures and processes start to be questioned, the obvious uncertainty is how fast and how radical the changes should be. It would appear that one reason for the phenomenal growth in SaaS is its ability to provide a rapid speed of change, allowing adaption to become significantly faster and cheaper to execute.
Some software providers are now extremely agile and able to assume a new role in the implementation process, supporting the customer with continuous improvement as well as ensuring that the software develops effectively in line with the changing needs of the customer, and no gap is permitted between the latest product and what the customer is using. This shift of role and responsibility has encouraged some suppliers to focus heavily on providing the highest quality of service to their customers during and after implementation, guaranteeing fast results and, most importantly, continuous improvement and support throughout the lifetime of the solution.
The shift in the way the implementation of service management solutions is supported, as well the change in what is required from the solution, has meant that the huge list of standard requirements is fast becoming questionable and instead a very specific list of requirements is being produced. The long standard list often produced an over-engineered project which took longer and potentially introduced unnecessary constraints and hand-offs; in addition there were often potential restrictions inherent in the tailored solution – with little opportunity for change, once signed off, because implementations were costly and time-consuming and mitigated against tinkering. Significant change in product and software technology and the supporting applications has been revolutionary, encouraging innovative suppliers to provide intuitive and dynamic solutions able to be changed, developed and grown with the business quickly and effectively. The value of providing a dynamic solution becomes evident when the life-time cost of ownership is assessed and seen to be dramatically less when compared to the older models of solution provision, particularly when trying to keep pace with the changing customer environment and consequent changing demands on the business operation.
In the current environment, the focus of the software solution must be on the business more than on the IT, and skilled input from the business staff has to be significantly increased. In almost all cases, service management solutions have provided real impetus to change and helped businesses perform significantly better than before, however in a few cases this improvement has been relatively short-lived (maybe one or two years) primarily because the business and the software begin to diverge, and the ability to work with the software and for it to keep up with the business becomes severely limited: In many cases replacing the system ends up with a repeat of the process described above as the customer goes through the same process with either the same supplier or a different one. The reason for failure each time is that the supplier neglects to establish the proper relationship essential to a successful implementation. The imperative must be to get the new system in as quickly as possible to begin to reap the benefits, but it is also essential to have an effective relationship which ensures that the business and software remain closely aligned as the service business undergoes the necessary transformation over time to keep pace with changing customer demands.
SaaS solutions also provide value in the way they handle scheduling and mobile solutions. With SaaS solutions the information is real-time, however unless the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) solution is effective as well, the information is not timely enough to provide the necessary feedback to enable the scheduling engine to give an accurate response. In addition, the PDA is the tool used by those on the front line as their key resource; it provides task information for the engineer and feedback for the business: It has to respond rapidly to changing customer needs, reflected in the sophistication of the PDA workflows and the mobile forms produced. In many systems the PDA provides time-stamps and can be used to ensure data is accurate when the engineer is busy or misses a data input. In this way the PDA is currently used as an input into the system, and the way data is captured.
In many solutions this cannot easily be changed because of the way the system operates. Unless the software supporting the PDA is designed to recognise the almost continual need to change the way information is captured, then the business will continually struggle to keep up with the customer’s changing needs. In certain systems the innovative use of data captured from convergent sources – tasks, location, and scheduling, underpinned by an analytics dashboard optimises information capture without incurring the costs of the old fashioned models and Optimatics has come to be accepted as a term to describe this capability. The PDA system could become an obstacle presenting challenges to the user because the information provided could be limited or inaccurate. In some systems having a source of GPS data, independent of the engineer and their PDA converged on a single gantt chart is used to overcome this situation.
If the effective lifetime of the system can be extended, then the benefits are obvious. Many solutions comprise a modular structure – which can be fine as long as they can be fully integrated, but the opportunity for adaption is often more illusory than real. The key to future-proofing is to configure systems to maintain alignment with changing requirements, giving the advantage that the system evolves as the business transforms, therefore training and staff development can continually be worked on – with the benefit of continuous improvement and positive demonstrable outcomes. Future-proofing also means that the disadvantages of upgrades or changes taking time and incurring cost can be avoided as the software remains fully up-to-date, thereby increasing its value to the customer and ultimately the customer’s customer. A supplier able to continually align each solution to the customer’s own requirements gains control over common problems such as diverse customers operating with different versions, or the customer unable or refusing to upgrade – so the solution accrues greater value.
In summary, the philosophy change is there to see as customers become more demanding of their technology providers and are no longer prepared to “dumb-down” when they come into the work place. Customers are also expecting service management software providers to support them with sustainable solutions which can be utilised over a number of years, without high-cost upgrades or replacements every couple of years – in other words a relatively low life-time cost, commensurate with other technology providers. The only resort for providers is to get close to the customer and provide value from the very beginning and work with individual customers to understand their special requirement. In the majority of cases this requires working so closely with customers that the suppliers are able to provide help and support to their customers’s customers – which is currently beyond the ability of almost all suppliers. Hosted solution providers providing low life-time cost of ownership have managed to avoid the problem experienced by a number of software suppliers who have a reliable product but possibly showing signs of aging and potentially losing out to newer solutions that do not age but mature with the customer.