Many municipalities are behind the times when it comes to technology. Not Los Angeles County.
L.A. County’s executive management team possesses an enlightened perspective on IT delivery. They realize that services, not systems, bring business value. They understand the transition to a customer- and service-centric IT approach is a journey, not a destination. And they grasp the need to prove the worth of their IT services every step of the way.
Mark Coulter, Operations Manager for L.A. County’s Internal Services Department (ISD), was instrumental in cultivating this perspective. While some other IT leaders in the industry continue to hope the next software tool, the next virtualized server, the next anything will solve their technology problems, Coulter works collaboratively with ISD managers to transform the county’s culture.
“We have customers, and we have competition for those customers,” Coulter says of L.A. County’s ISD. “To be effective, we need to demonstrate the value we deliver to the county.”
With more than 10 million residents, L.A. County has a larger population than 42 of the 50 states. It spans more square miles than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. If it were a nation, its GDP would be in the world’s top 20.
“We’re not your typical U.S. county,” says Coulter. “Supporting the diverse IT needs of our various departments has always been a challenge.”
A matter of perspective
Each of L.A. County’s 43 departments, in varying degrees, contracts with ISD to provide IT support. They have a choice when it comes to IT services, however. They can build and manage their own. They can outsource from a third-party. Or they can contract with ISD.
Until recently, some in the organization were content with their results. The lights on the mainframes were blinking. The desktops had dedicated support staff. The local and wide area networks were operational. All seemed to be good.
Not in ISD management’s estimation. County departments were increasingly opting for homegrown or outsourced IT services. The county is about to break ground on a new data center, and they didn’t want to populate it with broken processes and bad habits. And the disjointed, reactive manner of ISD’s operations had taken its toll on everyone.
“ISD was focusing too heavily on technology silos and uptime metrics,” Coulter admits. “We were largely reactive and spent most of our time resolving avoidable problems. And we weren’t in touch with our internal users or their IT needs.”
Instead of a cost center, L.A. County’s executive staff wanted ISD to be more like a business that delivers valued services to customers. As ISD executive leaders began reevaluating the organization’s operations, it became apparent that most problems were tied to processes, or lack thereof.
“We were having weekly outages, but few were related to hardware or software failures,” Coulter says. “They were caused by changes we were making that had unforeseen ripple effects in other areas. We had very little consistency or visibility, and got trapped in an ongoing cycle of problem resolution.”
ISD needed to improve its change management process, among others. Coulter was certain that IT Service Management (ITSM) and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) approaches could help. He spent months selling his vision to the department’s executive staff. Only one question remained: what now?
Rediscovering the purpose of IT
“There is no silver bullet,” warns Dan Rueckert, Worldwide Practice Director of Service Management for HP Consulting and Integration. “Organizations are realizing that ITSM and ITIL can help them improve their IT operations and delivery, but they want it wrapped in a tidy little software package with a bow. In reality, effective service management is more involved.”
ITSM- and ITIL-related software tools are available. But they aren’t a panacea for IT transformation. Breaking free of reactive IT silo management requires a focus on business goals and a dedication to people and processes. For L.A. County, the journey started by rediscovering its purpose.
“We were so focused on things like mainframe availability and application maintenance, we had lost sight of the opportunity to fully align with our customer’s core services,” says Stephanie Telander, IT Process Manager for ISD’s Operations Division. “Ninety-nine percent uptime is trivial if families don’t receive welfare checks or if emergency systems are slow.”
With the assistance of HP Consulting and Integration specialists, ISD set out to identify, characterize and formalize the IT services that it delivers. In doing so, it took the first steps toward becoming a customer- and service-oriented organization.
“We talked about our internal users, how they serve taxpayers and their IT needs,” says Telander. “That led to a discussion of the services we want to offer and how they should be delivered. As we characterized our people and desired processes, we started thinking about the software tools that could help.”
L.A. County’s ISD took advantage of a unique ITSM/ITIL “Blueprint.” A combination of processes, preconfigured software and a proven implementation methodology, HP Blueprint for Service Manager 2.0 helps organizations deliver standardized, high-quality IT services that mean more than uptime percentages.
“We have helped thousands of companies transform their IT operations and improve their service delivery,” says Rueckert. “But we don’t do it by throwing a generic software tool at them and wishing them luck. We offer finely tuned, best practice processes and customized, preconfigured software. Our Directed Design methodologies and ITSM experts help pull it all together.”
The ITSM journey
L.A. County ISD leaders were well aware that their ITSM initiative would be a long multifaceted endeavor. After establishing goals and identifying desired services, the next step was revamping ISD’s change management process, to reduce the number of avoidable IT incidents, improve the response to unavoidable setbacks, and free up time and budget to focus on the newly defined services.
“We now have a single process, reporting structure and repository for all IT changes,” Coulter reports. “It may not sound like much, but it has been a big step for us and we’re much more efficient as a result.”
The success of the change management initiative has led to funding for additional process transformations. L.A. County ISD has developed a five-year roadmap that leverages HP Blueprint solutions and Directed Design services for problem management, incident and service request management, configuration management and other processes.