The perils of customising IT service management software

The perils of customising IT service management software

Summary: NSW Businesslink and Suncorp detail the headaches customising their ITSM software platform has caused at the BMC Remedy User Group event in Sydney.

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IT service management (ITSM) software is meant to reduce complexities associated with implementing IT services to meet business needs. There is a temptation for enterprises to customise ITSM software to fit their organisations like a glove, but if Suncorp and NSW Businesslink's stories are anything to go by, that may not be such a good idea.

NSW Businesslink, which is charged with providing outsourced business services at the lowest cost to government and associated external organisations, initially decided to upgrade its IT service ticketing system in 2010, but ended up craving an offering that supported the business' ability to provision services.

It began to use BMC's Remedy On Demand ITSM software as a service (SaaS) to replace its on-premises Quantum ITSM software. NSW Businesslink is currently looking to upgrade from Remedy on Demand 7.6 to version 8.1, but has found that customising its old ITSM platform in the past has made the upgrade a costly affair, according to the organisation's program manager Simon Allsopp.

NSW Businesslink asked BMC how much it would cost to upgrade to the new software with all of its old system's 30-odd customisations intact. Those modifications were a result of the organisation's fragmented and siloed nature, and could be as simple as making an input field in the ITSM a different colour for various departments.

"The ballpark figure came back as around AU$100,000 just to upgrade, because of our customisations," Allsopp said at the BMC Remedy User Group event in Sydney. "We see that as being an avoidable cost."

Part of the problem was NSW Businesslink being used to customising its ITSM system to bend to the needs of the business. It now has to learn to modify its own business processes to accommodate the system.

Suncorp faced the same issue. The financial services corporation had implemented BMC Remedy version 7.1 software in 2007. One of the advantages of the ITSM at that time was that it was easily customised.

By 2011, the enterprise was being driven insane by its own ITSM, and staff within Suncorp were constantly complaining about issues with the Remedy software.

"Our Remedy 7.1 system in the company was chocked full of customisations — they had all been shoved into the system," Suncorp executive manager for enterprise applications Dawn Stephenson said at the Remedy User Group event. "They weren't managed in any way, and while the system was running well functionally, underneath the covers it wasn't very pretty."

There was no governance around the process of implementing and maintaining the customisations that were being piled onto the ITSM system by different Suncorp departments. The seven IT staff members who supported Remedy could not keep up with the changes.

At that point, Stephenson decided the issue wasn't just about the software, and proposed an organisational transformation.

Ultimately, the company decided to upgrade to BMC Remedy 7.6 and forbid customising the software altogether.

"We decided to go with a whole new platform, made it clear to everybody that it was out of the box and not doing customisation," Stephenson said. "We were all suffering from too much of that in our organisation."

NSW Businesslink also settled on a similar path, banning customisation of its ITSM platform.

"We are actually going to undo some of the customisation we did in the early stages of the project," Allsopp said. "There will be some occasions where we want a particular integration because it is key to our business, but we now have a benchmark for benefits and costs that we have to think about."

Correction (11/04/2013 1.30pm AEST): NSW Businesslink had used Quantum ITSM software on-premise before adopting BMC's Remedy On Demand. This has been amended.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Government AU, Australia

Spandas Lui

About Spandas Lui

Spandas forayed into tech journalism in 2009 as a fresh university graduate spurring her passion for all things tech. Based in Australia, Spandas covers enterprise and business IT.

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4 comments
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  • Does The Technology Serve The Business, Or The Business The Technology?

    This seems completely backwards to me. Didn't they maintain their customizations as a patchset of differences from the upstream version? That would have made it easier to reapply to the new version. It's called "merging", and it's a standard procedure in collaborative software development.
    ldo17
  • Customisation = deviating from best practice+expense+long term headaches

    In the old days it was always a case of forcing software to meet the customers requirements. This inevitably meant mangling an otherwise acceptable base product into some overly customised monster that can no longer match the vendors original promises, and will inevitably be difficult to support or upgrade.

    Businesses need to realise they aren't that radically unique from others in their market. If they do believe they are 'unique', then they are either uniquely successful or uniquely failing. Only one answer is correct and the odds suggest it's likely to be the later.

    Commercial Software is developed to target the needs of a specific market. That requires the product to implement the leading/best practices for that market. Customisation is a deviation, typically away from 'best practice'. Why spend a fortune customising the product so it deviates from your market AND best practice? You can only go backwards.

    The days of forcing products to meet 'unique' customer requirements is over. Whenever you feel the need to customise, take another look at the reason for that. It will invariably be to satisfy something (no matter how long you've been doing it) that either detracts or fails to contribute to your business's bottom line.

    Adapting your business to suit a proven standard product will always be cheaper than creating unique customisations. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel.

    Is there a place for customisation? Yes, but you better be 100% certain it's needed!
    Scott W-ef9ad
    • Not Necessarily

      Put quite simply software is designed to meet a business need... And ITSM software is designed to accomodate Service Management processes. Now the way that different companies implement ITSM processes can be radically different - hence the need to be able to at least configure and have some sort of flexibility in the software.

      BMC Remedy for those that have not used it is badly in need of a complete redesign from the ground up. It has an extremely dated and complex application back end that is a nightmare to get data into and out from the system. Basic business needs are absent that BMC themselves in the use of their own product have had to modify with custom code (Note this is a sign at least that some of these features will eventually make it to market in a formal release - but in the meantime the business need remains with no solution)

      Taking a one size fits all approach with an ITSM tool is a great way to lose customers and "best practice" for one company in ITSM will be completely unsuitable for another.

      That's my two cents worth...
      canuck82
  • What's the success rate for overly customised products?

    Consider some of the larger mega-apps that are structured around basic modules which are then heavily customised to suit each organisation (I won't name any).

    How many of these are implemented on time, on budget, and achieve the original promised 'success'?

    Very few can be called successful, and those that are relied on minimal customisation.
    Scott W-ef9ad