Dreamforce 2013: Service management customers warn of customisation challenges

Customers speaking at Salesforce's annual Dreamforce event this week in San Francisco have warned about the challenges of implementing Salesforce and Remedyforce for ITIL service management, claiming that the products were “not a silver bullet” for their implementations.

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Customers speaking at Salesforce's annual Dreamforce event this week in San Francisco have warned about the challenges of implementing Salesforce and Remedyforce for ITIL service management, claiming that the products were “not a silver bullet” for their implementations.

ITIL is a set of practices for IT service management, which were developed by the UK's civil service, that focus on aligning IT services with the needs of business. Salesforce and BMC Software's Remedyforce, developed and integrated on the Force.com platform, are both cloud-based service management solutions aimed at supporting the ITIL standards.

Technical support company, Taos, which has implemented Salesforce for its hundreds of support agents, also uses the product to process the thousands of client requests. Ryan Munson, VP of infrastructure services at Taos, told attendees that they will still have to redesign their processes to implement ITIL, claiming that the tool chosen isn't going to solve all problems.

“If I had to highlight something that was a lesson learned and was reinforced pretty aggressively through our lifecycle, is the idea that, and with all due respect to Salesforce, the tool is not the silver bullet. As you go into these implementations, spend time up front looking through requirements and really defining your processes – take those into account when you are designing your system,” said Munson.

“We had to go custom because of how we needed the product to behave and interact with all these different organisations, but part of the challenge and the expense to that was us having to invest in our own process changes and tweaks.”

He added: “Salesforce has hundreds of technical support agents doing B2B support 24/7 in it - all the ticketing, any of the service requests, incidents, down to the event layer, goes directly into Salesforce. We are doing 20 to 30 thousand tickets through the system a month. We had to work very hard to customise all that.”

Data dictionary is your Bible

Munson's colleague, business systems analyst Jake Diebert, also advised that if companies are faced with having to redefine processes and customise applications to support ITIL, that they should create a 'data dictionary' from the outset. He claimed that this will allow the business and IT to better measure against its KPIs, which can be difficult when heavily customised.

“We have a significant number of customised fields and objects that we have got in the tool and one of the pitfalls that we ran into was having consistent repeatable measurables. It may seem rudimentary, but I'd really like to stress the importance of having a glossary of terms or a data dictionary,” said Diebert.

“When we take on new customers, they may have a specific definition of what a response or a resolution time is – but when you have so many custom fields and objects, making sure you are speaking the same language is very difficult. To build it up front as a cornerstone as part of your repeatable processes and then maintain it moving forward it's vitally important.”

He added: “If you can't refer back to something as your gospel or bible its hard to measure what your KPIs are.”

Break it down into smaller pieces

Lisa Kraas, IT business support services manager at digital marketing company Dex Media, also had to heavily customise when rolling out BMC's Remedyforce. This need for customisation also forced Dex Media to separate out it's Salesforce implementation from its Remedyforce rollout.

“Dex Media had a strong Salesforce implementation over the past four our five years. Remedyforce came in about two years ago because it had a strong integration with Salesforce. We did start with one instance [putting it all in Salesforce], but ended up pulling out and moving into a separate one for Remedyforce - honestly because of the customisation,” said Kraas.

“We really tried to approach it out of the box, it was recommended, because you gain a lot of efficiencies with standardisation, but with our technical needs as well as the business needs, out of the box didn't work.”

She added: “There was considerable customisation that was done and as part of that we really needed to be separate to drive the agile development that was needed to release Remedyforce as quickly as possible into the organisation.”

Dex Media has rolled out Remedyforce to 7,000 self-service users and 700 staff users. Kraas said that in hindsight, if she was faced with another customised rollout of an application to support ITIL, she would break the project down into smaller pieces – focusing on one aspect of the standard at a time.

“We didn't break it down into smaller pieces and that's probably a recommendation that for those that haven't gone through the process which might help. We really implemented everything at once, it was a huge undertaking and almost took us a year to do it,” said Kraas.

“But to break it up into smaller pieces, then identify what isn't working with the standard implementation and what would warrants customisation, and look at where are we adding business value by further developing the product would be a better approach.”