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Texas college CIO pushes into enterprise service management

A mature ITSM program has not only won Link Alander's IT team kudos for superb service delivery, but it is also driving automation of business processes in other departments.

Link Alander is CIO and vice chancellor of college services at the Lone Star College System, Houston's largest...

institution of higher education, which serves more than 100,000 students and is one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the nation.

In part one of this case study, "An ITSM program evolves from subpar to superb," Alander described his nearly decadelong effort to replace and centralize IT systems and to move the college from a disparate collection of help desks to a mature IT service management program. Over the course of this IT transformation, he has forged a productive relationship with his ITSM provider, ServiceNow. As the vendor has added functionality to its platform, Alander has kept pace and, in recent years, made a push into enterprise service management -- the emerging discipline of applying ITSM practices to other areas of the business.

Here, in part two of this case study, Alander describes how he is doing the following:

  • deploying ServiceNow's program management module to organize and closely track big initiatives;
  • launching an "idea and demand" component to project management for eliciting and analyzing the viability of new ideas; and
  • working with finance, legal, HR and other departments to apply a enterprise service management approach to crucial business processes.

Accountability for big projects, gateway to enterprise service management

When Alander spoke with us earlier this month about the evolution of his ITSM program and his recent push into enterprise service management, he was preparing for a meeting with the college's President's Cabinet on one of Lone Star's largest annual IT initiatives: the "readiness for opening" project.

Link Alander, CIO, vice chancellor, Lone Star College Link Alander

"We go through everything," Alander said. Every classroom, computer, network switch, you name it, is checked for IT readiness at each of the college's six campuses. "This is a gigantic project that takes everybody's effort."

One aspect of the project, however, is easy: checking the status of the work. Thanks to the project management module he and his team have built out, everybody who has a stake in the readiness project, including the President's Cabinet, can check its status through an online portal. At the beginning of August, Alander said he typically expected to see a 20% to 25% completion rate.

In fact, as he pulled up his dashboard, there was one campus at 92.7% completion -- well ahead of schedule; others were in the 40% range, and two campuses were at 0%. The transparency the tool provides has proved critical to operating IT as business, he said.

"I know exactly what's going to happen [at the meeting]. The presidents of those colleges are going to ask, 'What's going on?'" Alander said. His visibility into the project not only allows him to present a plan for moving resources from other campuses, if necessary, to close the gap, but he can also direct the board to drill down into the details themselves. "I can say, 'Go room to room.'"

As to whether academic leaders actually look at the dashboards, Alander joked that he "kind of stuffs it in their face regularly," along with "short-burst communications" to keep them in the loop on IT services. As important, the project management module has familiarized them with the concept of enterprise service management, a big push for Lone Star functions such as legal and finance -- more on that later.

Eating your own dog food

I don't dare send an email asking for the status report on a project, because if I do, my expectation is they're going to send it back and say, 'Go look at it in ServiceNow.' I have to eat my own dog food.
Link AlanderCIO, Lone Star College System

Alander's IT teams, on the other hand, are completely habituated to the project management tool -- to the point where he said he's had to change his habits. "I don't dare send an email asking for the status report on a project, because if I do, my expectation is that they're going to send it back and say, 'Go look at it in ServiceNow.' I have to eat my own dog food."

But CIOs shouldn't expect this level of ITSM prowess to happen overnight, he cautioned. "It took years of maturity" for his team to take full advantage of the project management functionality, starting with a mandate from him that this was the project tool his teams had to use. He instructed three project managers to write "simple instructions and build simple workflows" to spur adoption.

"We launched and forced everybody in," he said, including a group that had never done project management before. Complainers were given explanations of how the tool would benefit them. "That's the CIO's job."

Making the most of the tool also required ServiceNow to mature. "The very first project management module was very primitive," Alander said.  Now, he's convinced the vendor's project management module is "as good, if not better" than many of the stand-alone products out there.

With his IT projects accounted for, the tool allows him to "paint the picture" of IT's value to the community and the customers it serves. He said he has also been able to educate the academic administrators on a standard "Run, grow, transform" operating model. College executives see which percentage of IT work goes to running the operations, which to growing it and the projects that are designed to be transformational.

"Your transformers are always going to be very small, as transformational change is difficult," he said, noting that he recently added protect as the fourth component of the model.

As for the benefits of this approach? "During the years of everybody getting budget cuts, I've never received one. Our budgets continue to increase. We're at a stable point now where they're minor increases, but bottom line, I've never had to actually take a knife and cut core services."

Now, he is revitalizing the project management module with a new capability that he said he believes will add speed to project completion and bring IT strategy to a new level. An "idea and demand" component in the ServiceNow tool allows people to easily submit ideas for IT initiatives. The ideas can be sorted and analyzed for viability and value to the business. "This is so cool," he said. "It's going to help us include more people in decision-making, but not inhibit us."

A push to enterprise service management

As Alander and his team have refined the delivery of IT services, they have built services for other college functions, including financial aid grants and a veterans' benefits service. Students and faculty can see the status of requests through employee and students portals.

The "big transformation" in enterprise service management, Alander said, came with the appointment of a new general counsel looking for a better way manage legal affairs. Alander pointed him to ServiceNow's legal module.

"We sat down and looked at it. I said, 'Let's just map your legal processes.' And so we ended up building a legal module in ServiceNow," he recalled. Requests for legal services are recorded and tracked, giving the department and clients visibility into the status of a contract, from submission to completion.

"They were able to bust every myth about what their workloads were," he said.

The tool's analytics component allows the department to not only balance the workloads of attorneys, but also alert clients about peak busy periods and how to avoid delays by getting requests early. Customers have responded positively to the changes. Legal uses "soft service-level agreements" internally for setting turnaround times for contracts, and Alander said it is capable of publishing hard SLAs for clients, if it decides to go in that direction.

As the school year opens, the move to enterprise service management for business processes is gaining steam. Alander said he has seven different enterprise service management projects in the works, from finance and governance to internal auditing. He is also taking on a new project: building a unified recruitment model for Lone Star's six colleges. It may or may not end up in ServiceNow, but one thing is certain for a technology leader whose portfolio keeps expanding: "It's a new job responsibility," Alander said.

This was last published in August 2018

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