Report from SMAC 2018

By Dick Stark

Ezra and David at SMAC 2018Last week, RightStar attended and helped sponsor, the Service Management and Automation Conference (SMAC) in Las Vegas. (When BMC moved from its Engage annual user group conference, to regional Exchange one-day conferences, this created an opportunity for a BMC training partner, CyberTrain, to organize and host their own annual conference.) This year’s show was slightly smaller than last year’s because the show’s focus was Remedy only.

Key show takeaways:

Chatbots, aka, Helix Bots, are getting hot. With about eight different Chatbot presentations, (including RightStar’s), that message was heard loud and clear. BMC mentioned the RightStar GWU success in their Keynote, and we had several BMC customers express interest.

Zero Downtime Upgrades. Administrators can now roll out everything—Windows and Unix executables, etc. And everything can be rolled back later, with no loss of data, if any snag is hit along the way.

Simplification/Auto Deployment of Packages. The install process is moving from installers to deployable packages for automated deployment and synchronization of server groups. BMC reported that a cloud-based Helix software installation now takes about five minutes vs four weeks, prior to containers. Doug Mueller, Remedy inventor, described a situation where a customer moved from 76 servers to 18, stating, “you no longer need to put all the apps on different servers.”

UVA Health. Our UVA Health customer, gave a presentation entitled, “Managing an EMR Go Live using Digital Workplace.” UVA developed a form that is embedded into the Epic application that allows users to submit an Epic ticket. In approximately one year, this form was submitted 16,673 times. UVA estimated, time saved as a result of DWP, rather than a phone call was 1346 hours or more than half of an FTE, a huge success.

Remedyforce, Beyond IT. RightStar presented a customer case study on the use of Remedyforce, in non-IT applications like HR, Facilities, Benefits, Payroll, and Security. This was taken from a large county government project which is nearing completion.

Astound is a new AI Silicon Valley start-up with an AI enterprise platform for service management with integrations to Remedy, ServiceNow and Jira. Interestingly, because Astound is purpose built for ITSM, it is an alternative to IBM Watson in BMC’s Chatbot offering.

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Report from BMC Exchange NY

By Dick Stark

BMC’s New York Exchange, was held October 18 near Times Center in New York City.  Turnout was excellent with more than 400 customers, partners, and BMC employees in attendance. During the chatbot session, RightStar received praise from George Washington University about their recently completed chatbot project. Here is a short NY Exchange update.

The message heard loud and clear from BMC was that all is going very well. Remedy and Discovery sales are up over last quarter, with SaaS based sales leading the way.

Peter Leav, BMC CEO and President opened by discussing the impact of digital transformation, stating that, “50% of CEO’s expect their industries to be digitally transformed, and 84% see their profit margins going up.” What are the required capabilities for this transformation? According to BMC, it is:

  • Automate—run anywhere
  • Service—discovery everywhere, and
  • Operate—performance monitoring, security and compliance, and cost and capacity optimization

Peter concluded by saying that, “Omnichannel is non-negotiable, as customers want their choice of cloud, and service delivery platform, and BMC has the tools that best enable this transformation.”

Bill Berutti, BMC President, Enterprise Systems, then discussed the following opportunities and BMC’s alignment:

  • Cloud, especially multi-cloud
  • DevOps, and how legacy tools struggle to keep pace,
  • Cognitive, the volume of data is overwhelming, and
  • Security, the pace of change is beyond human scale.

Donna at BMC Exchange NY

Regarding, Cognitive, Chad Haftorson, BMC Director of Product Management, and Donna Hill, Assistant Director, GWU, presented a session on the future of service management.  Donna discussed her experiences with implementing BMC Chatbots, powered by IBM Watson. Thanks in part to RightStar, GWU was able to implement Chatbots in just three months and in time for the returning students in August. Donna reported that although this was a trial, the students voted by an overwhelming majority, 88% to make chatbots a permanent service. The bodes well for GWU and helps ensure that the future of service management will indeed include chatbots as a service desk essential.

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Five Questions About Productivity in Government

Metal Wheel Concept

By Dick Stark

Last Friday, I was interviewed by the Federal marketing firm GovLoop, that is putting together a productivity guide, (think multi-page illustrated handout for a Federal IT audience). Sponsored by Atlassian and Carahsoft, the guide examines the tools and strategies that public servants are adopting to increase productivity, such as Agile project management, ways to enhance collaboration, and the role of automation. The following are the five questions asked and a synopsis of my answers.

What new strategies or tactics are you seeing government agencies adopt, as it relates to project management? Agile vs the traditional waterfall approach of project management. And almost all agencies are moving in this direction and using tools such as Jira to help them get there (along with RightStar consulting services of course). One challenge with government Agile projects is the government contract process. A government agency doesn’t normally contract to provide an open ended, “we’ll know it when we get there,” approach which could be a typical Agile project. Instead we have a contract with fixed requirements and deliverables. This is often not ideal, because neither the customer nor RightStar have a very good idea about what the customer’s real needs are until we begin the project.

RightStar, “eats its own dogfood,” and delivers its Atlassian projects on an Agile basis. We begin by understanding that the limiting factors are time and cost. Scope is variable factor. The key is to ensure that we have quoted sufficient hours to the customer so we can implement most if not all of their business requirements in the allotted time.

As a long-time Project Management Professional (PMP), I try to live up to the PMP mantra of “no surprises ever,” and an Agile approach of frequent releases and quick wins helps keep the customer up-to-speed project status and helps ensure a successful project outcome.

Can you offer any successful examples of Agile in government? Once recent excellent example is the widespread cloud migration what is sweeping through the government. Cloud migration is not about selecting a Cloud provider and “flipping a switch.” It will take a long and concerted project management effort to get even just a few of an agency’s legacy application to the cloud. The good news: DHS is the poster child for Agile in government and has an Agile plan for “lift and shift” cloud migrations. Known as the Cloud Factory, it provides a highly automated, secure, reliable set of managed services that allow for DevOps flow, feedback and innovation of various applications.

DHS writes in its 2019 budget justification to congress: “The platform supports the build, test and deploy aspects of DevOps as well as the operational (production) support needed to host and secure the application and its mission. The system will ingest user code, assemble the desired machine images (MI), customize the MI configurations, validate security configurations, and deploy the environment in hours as opposed to months. It will utilize account monitoring tools which the business owner will be able to view usage statistics, costs, utilization data and various at hand dashboards to ensure they are meeting mission objectives.” The end result—rapid application deployments to the Cloud.

Specifically, what role is automation playing in project management and software delivery today? Mark Schwartz, former CIO as USCIS, at an ATARC DevOps conference confirmed that agile government is a reality. USCIS is a big agency with lots of programs. Despite that, USCIS manages one release per system per day. To do this, they use a fully automated system with end to end traceability and automated testing. Thanks to the use of micro services, Mark bragged that it takes just 19 seconds to build a new system.

Mark discussed the potential to reduce lead time to almost nothing. He said that the obstacle to reducing lead time is too much work in process. DevOps takes one requirement at a time and moves on to the next. (Which is a good way to reduce work in process.) Additionally, a large team can work on one thing until it is done (swarm) and get it to production quickly.

Mark pointed out that because most government projects are so large, when they fail, they fail big. Government does this because the approval process to get a project started is so extensive, that there is a tremendous incentive to only get approval once. DevOps can make programs as small as one requirement. The results are so good, that Mark said he “will keep at it.”

What do agencies need to adopt better strategies for project management? I had a conversation this morning with a DevOps engineer at FEMA and asked him how he became so knowledgeable. His answer? Mostly on his own time as his agency had a limited training budget. What is trending now are DevOps training certifications like DASA and Scrum Master.

How can RightStar help agencies adopt better, innovative strategies to service delivery and project management? RightStar follows a process for new business development that begins by working with prospects that have pains, like poorly defined code version control, release management, and testing processes. We propose a solution consisting of software such as Jira, Bitbucket, and Bamboo, combined with RightStar consulting services.

RightStar then offers an Agile/DevOps assessment which is scorecard based. Just recently, one customer complained that it was the first time he had received a C grade since elementary school.

We also offer Agile training and do DevOps simulation training. That is a fun way to get improved user adoption

What can other agencies learn from these examples? How to be more agile and how to use DevOps to speed up the development process. As we all know, just getting an authority to operate can take 18 months or longer. By automating the delivery process, agencies can speed up the development process, minimize risk, heighten the quality, and reduce operational costs and improve their reputation as an Agile agency.

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Five Strategies to Help You Improve Your DevOps Culture

Roller Coaster

By Dick Stark

Last week, RightStar’s senior DevOps PM delivered an excellent webinar with all new content: “Five Strategies to Help You Improve Your DevOps Culture.” The webinar covered key cultural values that organizations need to implement DevOps. What follows is a summary.

RightStar opened first with a discussion about DevOps. I know that when I attempt to discuss DevOps with a prospect, I’m sometimes told, “we don’t develop much software, or we’re moving everything to the Cloud, or we only use off the shelf software solutions.” Clearly, those propsects are under a misconception that DevOps is only for software developers, and don’t realize the impact software (and DevOps) makes in most organizations.

DevOps is for anyone that works in a team. Traditionally, most of us work in silos, which limits the amount of inter-team communication.  Since everyone in an organization is in the same “boat,” inter-team communication is critical for success. Nearly all organizations are heavily depended on software, or are going through some sort of digital transformation. According to the RightStar webinar leader, “Growing software enterprises must become more collaborative, else they will cease to exist.” So, what are the five strategies?

  1. Check in with your customers. RightStar borrowed the term, “Rightside up thinking,” form his David Field’s book, “ The Irresistible Cosultants’s Guide to Winning Clients.” The important takaway is to hold learning, not selling conversations.
  2. Trust your team. Successful teams use servant-leadership, meaning, “I’ll jump in and work along side of you,” rather than bark orders. Other important characteristics are transparency, good listening skills, patience, and self-organizing teams.
  3. Generate fresh ideas. Don’t wait until you’re stuck. Make this a monthly or quarterly exercise. For example, Atlassian holds regular “ShipIt” days, also know as hackathons, to help generate new ideas. Atlassian believes that most innovation comes from teams, rather than the lone genius.
  4. Let the data drive you. Measure what matters, but make sure you know what really matters. How is success defined and what is blocking you from getting there?
  5. Learn to love change. Do you love roller coasters, or would your prefer the lazy river? My experience at RightStar implementing ITSM toolsets for 15 years is that most customers do not like the change that a new system offers. They just want the old system back. A big part of our job is user adoption. It’s all about value and it is our job to show you how a new system, for example, Jira, along with new processes, can make your jobs easier and return value back to your organization.
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The New ScanStar is Here!

ScanStar Android

By Dick Stark

Last week we visited a local DOD customer where we were wrapping up a FootPrints/Client Management implementation. The customer asked about ScanStar and before we left asked for a quote. We didn’t even have to sell! Here’s why:

  • They knew that every new asset comes with a barcode and wanted a better way to receive assets. Saving time and improving accuracy is an important benefit. (Statistically, a typical typist will make one mistake in 300 keystrokes. The chance of a scanner mis-reading a bar code symbol is somewhere between one in a million and one in four trillion. The increased efficiency that barcode scanning allows is the reason why ScanStar has such a high ROI.)
  • The customer also needed a better way to reconcile what he thought they had with what he actually had. And they have lots of non-discoverable assets. (Currently they use their own proprietary system to track assets.)
  • The customer also wanted a way to inventory assets by location and track movement.

Enter ScanStar: an excellent fit to their needs. RightStar has years of barcode scanning experience starting in 2005 with MagicWand. ScanStar began shipping in 2011, replacing MagicWand and supporting FootPrints, Remedyforce, and Remedy.

Now, thanks to the hard work of our development team, new ScanStar for Androids and iPhones is available. No need for a purpose build scanner, although there are several Android based purpose-built scanners which do work well in a more industrial environment. New ScanStar is wifi based meaning that the scans and updates are all performed in real-time. New ScanStar supports Remedy, Remedyforce, FootPrints AND Jira and Insight. With new ScanStar there is no need for our ScanStar application to run on a server. Instead, the entire application runs on the mobile phone.

We still offer classic ScanStar, for DOD secure environments. There a purpose-built scanner without wifi or a camera can be used throughout the day to create and update items and then be returned to the office for synchronization when necessary. These scanners have a mobile operating system and can run custom scanning applications like ScanStar, which provide the benefits previously discussed.

The best news: ScanStar for Jira and InSight will soon be added to the Atlassian Marketplace where they will be exposed to more than 40,000 Jira Service Desk customers. Also all ScanStar products will be available on Google Plays and Apple’s App Store giving exposure to millions.

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FootPrints 12: Four Years Later

By Dick Stark

Footprints v12 2018

Just over four years ago RightStar hosted its first FootPrints 12 webinar with much fanfare and excitement. FootPrints 12 remains a solid BMC ITSM product offering with plenty of customer success stories. Last week I visited a brand new RightStar FootPrints retail customer, were we are off to a good start. The new account selected FootPrints after looking at many other competitors and made the decision in large part because it is a good value and very easy to use.

 It is no secret that FootPrints (FP) is #3 at BMC behind Remedyforce and Remedy, but according to BMC Sr. Product Management, FP is a profitable business unit, with no end of life plans in sight. It’s important to point out that just like BMC, RightStar’s FP business unit also continues to be profitable. RightStar provides consulting, implementation L1 Support and Remote Administration.

We are nearing completion of a medium sized FootPrints implementation for the government. The job is going so well that another group is very interested. What keeps FootPrints “in the game?”

Visuals/Views. First, v12 is not an upgrade to old FootPrints, it is a brand-new product. And it sure looks good. Overall appearance and colors are customizable by user and department. Multiple portals are now supported, e.g., IT, HR, and Facilities. The modernistic design consists of tiles, tabs, and bread crumbs. Additionally, there are plenty of attractive icons, e.g., Service Catalog IT items and non-IT requests like a hot or cold thermometer. (A blue thermometer means that you need to submit a facility request to turn up the heat—you get the idea.)

End-User Experience. What really jumps out, is that the BMC designers understand the importance of user adoption. RightStar’s experience with more than 800 deployments in 14 years is that the implementation of the toolset is the easy part. What’s difficult is getting clients to fully buy-into the changes that accompany a new process redesign and toolset roll out. Because of the emphasis on the end-user experience, the value of v12 to the client organization becomes obvious and real.

What’s impressive is that RightStar has plenty of v11 and v 12 success stories. Here are a few:

  •  A 1000 store retailer with 100 seats of FP. RightStar hosts both FPSC and BCM. FP supports both IT and customer support.
  •  A large well know fast food organization uses 100 seats of FPSC. They have lots of unique workspaces including gift card ordering, Facilities, and billing disputes.
  •  A fast-growing hospital now has more than 700 FPSC seats supporting all the IT needs of more than 20,000 employees.
  •  A utility has a large investment in ScanStar using barcode scanning for inventory and several check-in/check-out opportunities.
  •  A private label food processor with more than 450 seats has several non-IT workspaces including HR and Capital Expenditure.
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Report from BMC Exchange Chicago: Chatbots in the House

Dr Lyle Unger

By Special Contributor George Payne, RightStar Senior Consultant

The renovated Morgan Manufacturing Company was once again the site for this year’s Chicago BMC Exchange. The company manufactured tools and components used in the production of electricity. Also, to come: witnessing their ironic convergence.

Earlier this year I worked on a government project to introduce Virtual Chat (a combination of virtual agent and live chat; predecessor to Cognitive Service Management) to their customer-facing service offerings. Part of the project involved the prospect of learning Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML) to assist with enabling the virtual agent to answer more of the Level 0 questions. OOTB, you can Ask Jenn: “Who is Batman?” and she’ll give you a snappy response, but if you ask, “Who is Robin?” she politely offers to do a Google Search for you. The Batman bit was AIML that ships with Virtual Chat. We learned that even a simple, high-impact subject like “password reset” was going to require extensive work and “AI” seemed like a lot of back end coding. In addition, this simulated agent was not smart enough to carry on a conversation or build a solution out of all the answers the user provided. This clearly wasn’t going to be Siri, Alexa or Watson.

When I heard that Dr. Lyle Ungar, international expert in AI and machine learning, was the keynote speaker at this year’s BMC Exchange in Chicago, I was pumped. I could see Cognitive Service Management (CSM) as a huge selling point for BMC and the Remedy Suite. Seven minutes into his presentation, the former electrical component manufacturing facility had an electrical failure. Isn’t THAT ironic! However, in just those seven minutes, several takeaways confirmed my thoughts about AI:

  1. It’s a lot of work.
  2. Pick out the top two or three high impact issues and work on those.
  3. A company should engage an expert to get them started but then finish the work themselves.

In the semi-darkness of the skylight lit room, Dr. Ungar explained that unlike limited human faculties, computers are great at memorization and can repeat memorized material flawlessly; forwards or backwards! Google trained their software to recognize house numbers and reached 95% accuracy quickly, considering human accuracy was at 98%. After several years and millions of dollars, Google achieved 98.1% accuracy—a huge accomplishment.

AI for a computer is a narrow band of ability, not what we think of as “intelligence” or IQ. With great effort, a computer can be programmed to play checkers, chess, bridge and even Go. But just because it knows how to play one game, that doesn’t mean that it can “learn” to play others by itself. Clearly, we’re safe from the science fiction that brought us Skynet and Global Thermonuclear War! The real power comes in the “Machine Learning” and “Predictive Analytics.” When the computer knows more about you than you realize, it has a much better chance of understanding inquiry and making a much more accurate answer to grab your attention. Mark Zuckerberg was not the first person to realize that!

This year’s Exchange had 5 tracks, and although initially conflicted, I chose the ITSM track. Unlike ITSM tracks I have followed in the past, this one was different. They weren’t talking about Incident Management and Change Management. They’ve shifted their focus to the three Core Components of BMC Helix: Cognitive, Cloud, and Container. There was even a live demo of a completely containerized installation of a fully baked Remedy ARSystem with ITSM Suite in just over 90 seconds.

One of the BMC fellows asked an intriguing question of Dr. Ungar that piqued my curiosity. I found out that he was Daren Goeson, the BMC Product Manager for Digital Workplace. I attended both of his lectures and got some valuable one-on-one time with him. Imagine what could happen if IBM’s Watson were to consume all the questions in your Service Request Management system and use that knowledge to carry on a more coherent conversation with your customer…that’s what Chatbot does! He said internally they refer to that as “chattifying” your service catalog and it’s all done with the Innovation Suite.

By the end of the day, my head was spinning from all the new things BMC is putting out to sustain and increase their share of the ITSM market!

 

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