This Year’s High-Tech Prayer Breakfast

By Dick Stark

I bought a full table at the High-Tech Prayer Break-fast held this past Wednesday at the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner.  This is an amazing annual event with more than 800 attendees. The speakers this year were Marcus Bullock, Founder and CEO of Flikshop, and Jeff Struecker, Author, Pastor, and former Army Ranger. I was not prepared for for the amazing stories they both shared.  Here’s a brief report:

HighTech Prayer BF 2018Marcus Bullock kicked things off by saying when at 15 years old he was tried as an adult and convicted to eight years in prison for stealing a car. Marcus, whose mother is a preacher, thought that God had left him during those eight long years in prison. He kept going thanks in large part to the frequent letters and pictures his mother mailed him, her regular visits, and her calls to the warden to help “look out” for him. When he left prison in 2004 he had “grown up,” and after working in a paint store came up with an idea for Flikshop, an app that makes it easy for inmates and their families to stay in touch.

So, several years after his release, Marcus created Flikshop. This free app for smartphones lets users take pictures, write messages, and send them off in the form of a 99 cent postcard to friends and family in over 2000 registered correctional facilities across the US. Since frequent communication from home kept Marcus going while in prison, he figured it would have the same impact on others. Thanks to the internet, there is little interest in letter writing, and no internet in prison. Flikshop now makes the difference connecting over 140,000 inmates.  And most of the inmates that use Flikshop don’t go back to prison. Marcus summed things up this way, “No matter where you are, God is calling you.  He has told me that I’m here for a purpose and I can help change the world.”

Jeff Struecker knew at an early age that he wanted to be an Army Ranger, and when he turned 18, enlisted and served for 22 years before retiring as an Army Chaplin in 2011.  During his service he saw plenty of action—the invasion of Panama, Gulf War, Iraq War, and the Battle of Mogadishu/Somalia, which he relayed in great detail. It turned out that this battle, was depicted in the popular movie, Black Hawk Down, in which Jeff played a key role of leading a three-vehicle convoy, that returned a wounded Ranger to base. Upon return, he set out again, on a “suicide” mission to rescue others. Jeff said that it was his strong faith in God that gave him the courage to face his fears and complete the mission successfully. He recounted the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, prior to his crucifixion, as detailed in Luke: “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” At that point, Jeff knew, that live or die, he wouldn’t lose either way. Jeff returned from the battle unharmed and his fearless behavior during the final mission convinced others having faith in God does indeed help deal with the good and not so good times that we all face.

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Is Agile ITIL an Oxymoron?

Agile ITILBy Dick Stark

Last month, BMCer, Cheng Dong Zhao wrote a blog article,“Will ITIL Die or be reborn in the DevOps Era?” The world is becoming more and more Agile, and BMC is finally starting to focus on DevOps, or what Cheng Dong Zhao calls, Agile ITIL.   Will DevOps replace ITIL and what exactly is Agile ITIL?

There is no doubt that ITIL is changing. After more than 20 years, ITIL v4 is looming just around the corner. In that span of time, more than three million people have earned some type of ITIL certification. Now, several training companies are ready to go with v4 training and certification programs in the works. But, thanks in part to the rising popularity of DevOps, ITIL has lost some of its luster.

It’s not like this message has come as a surprise. ITIL’s waning popularity has not happened overnight.  First, not everyone embraces change.  At RightStar, we know from experience that a shiny new toolset, (and Pink certified to be sure) doesn’t always equal customer satisfaction, increased efficiency and lower overall costs. Sometimes the users don’t cooperate making adoption more difficult.  Additionally, some customers go for a “huge” go-live of everything rather than taking an iterative phased approach.  Finally, we’ve seen ITIL / ITSM projects take years, not months which has opened the ITSM door to DevOps and why Gartner asserts that “DevOps is the bimodal bridge to Mode 2.” (Meaning DevOps/Mode 2 is focused on agility, while ITIL / Mode 1 is focused on stability.)

Speaking about agility, DevOps is a discipline that is all about speed, faster time to market, real sense of urgency, IT modernization, and doing more with less. Culture, tools, vision, now must all be managed alongside different processes. A single best practice is not enough. What’s needed, according to Cheng Dong Zhao, is Agile ITIL

This means that traditional IT Operations must adopt agile methods or it may be overtaken by more agile DevOps systems and processes.  IT Operations must connect all the dots. Enter ITIL v4.

ITIL v4, or Agile ITIL will be detailed in early 2019. Training courses start in February, with signups at organizations like Pink Elephant available now.  ITIL v4 expands on the previous versions by providing a practical and flexible basis to support digital organizations. It provides an end-to-end IT/digital operating model for the delivery and operation of tech-enabled products and services and enables IT teams to continue to play a crucial role in a wider business strategy. ITIL 4 also provides a holistic end-to-end picture that integrates frameworks such as Lean IT, Agile and DevOps.

Finally, I was happy to see a diagram of BMC’s Agile ITIL focused on BMC’s full stack consisting of Remedy, Digital Workplace, Atrium CMDB, and TrueSight. Agile ITIL is alive and well!

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Does an ITIL Process Assessment Matter?

ITIL Maturity ModelBy Dick Stark

This week, RightStar finished up an ITIL process Assessment for a RightStar customer. To win this business, we beat two formidable ITSM consultancies in the ITIL space. Of course, this customer, like a lot of our customers, needs significant process improvement. Unlike, most customers, they realize they need help and were willing to invest in an ITIL foundation that will eventually improve customer satisfaction, lower the cost of service management, and increase operational effectiveness. Does an ITIL process assessment matter, or should a customer just purchase a new toolset, like ServiceNow?

As an avid golfer, I often compare a new ITSM toolset to a new set of golf clubs. New clubs with the latest technology promise extra distance off the tee, more accuracy, and a lower score and handicap. This is an excellent sales pitch, as most would prefer to turn to technology, rather than spend extra hours on the practice range, or pay for lessons. Golf however, like IT service management is not easy. It takes hours of instruction and practice to improve. Unfortunately, there are few easy fixes. All golfers quickly learn it is not the club that makes the real difference, but rather the “clubee.”

It is common to see organizations blame their poor to mediocre IT performance on their toolset, rather than their processes, and invest in new technology only to discover, that a new toolset may make them only slightly better off. Plus, an ITIL assessment or process improvement, like taking a golf lesson is not fun. Who wants to really see what their golf swing looks like, or learn how their organizational IT performance compares to good practices.

In our ITIL assessment, we examine several service management processes such as incident, request, access, problem, and service level management. We compare and score each process against an ITIL good practice, and then recommend steps to improvement. Takeaways often include: ITIL training and adoption such as instructor led and simulation training like Apollo 13; baseline and benchmark metrics and KPIs using tools from MetricNet; better knowledge management; and CMDB improvements.

In a DevOps world focused on agility, ITIL’s focus on stability is now perceived as old and clunky. But Agile ITIL, or ITIL v4 is right around the corner. This particular customer understands the value of a process framework and continual improvement. And as they consider a new ITSM tool, likely ServiceNow, having a strong foundation and plan for a new ITSM rollout will ensure that they get off to a good start and successful transformation to digital IT service management.

So yes, an ITIL process assessment does matter.

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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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