Symcor moves IT service management to the cloud, beefs up BI

A Canadian financial services processing provider saved money and manpower by moving to IT service management firm ServiceNow and redeploying staff to BI and development projects.

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Aleks Dmitrovic worked in an IT department unhappy with its clunky, on-premises IT service management (ITSM) tools and eager to expand its skills in areas like data warehousing and business intelligence (BI).

Dmitrovic, the senior IT service process manager at Canadian financial services processing provider Symcor Inc., worked with systems administrators and database managers who were bored with mundane tasks like routine maintenance and fighting fires.

“We were using [Hewlett-Packard’s] service center and we had everything on-site,” Dmitrovic said. “We had two admins managing production and a backup and a reporting instance. We had database admins who would administer the database side. We’d do hardware refreshes every three years and they had to be on call 24/7. There was a lot of overhead with the old system.”

In need of an IT service upgrade that could provide new capabilities and cost savings, Dmitrovic embarked on a process that culminated with Symcor’s adoption of ServiceNow, a Software as a Service (SaaS)-based IT service management application. Symcor selected a cloud application after considering on-premises offerings from EMC, CA Technologies, HP and IBM. Price was a driver in the decision, but Dmitrovic added that what separated ServiceNow from the rest is that he believed it would be able leverage its capabilities to a greater extent, allowing Symcor’s IT staff to “flex their tech muscles” and take on new roles in data warehousing and BI.

“We really wanted to make sure we had a tool in place that could grow with us and the industry at large,” Dmitrovic said.

A key differentiator for Dmitrovic was how ServiceNow delivered its service, allowing for customization to his business’ needs in a way that the on-premises solutions did not.

“Where they separate themselves is in the delivery of their platform,” Dmitrovic said. “You either have a footprint in your shop, the ASL model where you go through the net to get an access to your instance -- but it’s a vanilla flavor that you share with 10 different companies -- and the SaaS model. ServiceNow is the only true SaaS model right now.”

“They don’t tell you how to run your process, and no company is the same as the next. You need the ability to design your own workflows and [take a] start-to-finish approach to procedures.”

While ServiceNow’s capabilities fit what Symcor’s IT staff wanted, Dmitrovic was cautious throughout the process, which took 18 months from the browsing period to the implementation.

“People really know what they know. Sometimes they don’t even know why things work the way they do; they just do,” Dmitrovic said. “That was pretty hard to overcome, but what we did was we looked at leveraging ServiceNow from the perspective that we’re no longer looking at the limitations of technology but what the technology can do to drive business outcomes.”

ServiceNow was demoed for the IT staff, and Dmitrovic worked hard to sell it at the mid-management level, finding people to champion the software there before moving on to make the final pitch. After the decision was made, it was time to implement -- a process that posed no major obstacles.

“Moving to the cloud, the only challenge really is you oversell how simple it is, but it’s really not,” Dmitrovic said.

However, that didn’t mean the company could jettison its IT staff.

“At the end of the day, there are certain skill sets you don’t need absolutely [with the cloud], but you have to think about technologically differently,” he said.

Symcor after moving to ServiceNow
A hidden benefit of moving to ServiceNow was the positive effect it had on employees’ work happiness.

“Technology folks really love new and modern technology, and a lot of times they’ll take a job if they know it will let them play a little bit,” Dmitrovic said. “ServiceNow was a really exciting opportunity for people here.”

Symcor has set up a sandbox using ServiceNow’s application development tools, challenging developers to come up with new ideas to move business forward.

The new technology has also allowed Symcor to redeploy its staff. On the old system, Symcor had two systems administrators, but now the job only takes up half of one employee’s time. The rest of the manpower was shifted toward business development.

Additionally, database administrators who were doing routine maintenance are now given a chance to take on more of a BI role.

“You take some really smart database guys, and if all they’re doing is database maintenance, that’s pretty boring,” Dmitrovic said, adding that ServiceNow freeing up staff is a greater benefit than the short-term cost savings Symcor gained from the transition.

The former database administrators are now being pointed toward building federated data models, a project that is still in the works. Dmitrovic believes the new challenges better fit their skill sets and provide for a more interesting job.

“We’ll be able to do what-if analysis and make business decisions based on historical context,” Dmitrovic said. “You start to validate, justify all those fun things that real, true BI does for you.”

While Symcor has realized significant gains from ServiceNow, there is still the security concern that comes with working in the cloud.

“In today’s world, the guys that are doing the breaking into security are really advanced, and it’s not a matter of whether they’re going to kick down your front door, it’s when,” Dmitrovic said. “You need to hold your vendors feet to the fire and really make sure they’re taking care of that.”

Best practices when looking for an ITSM
If there’s an inaccuracy in the logic behind moving toward the cloud, it’s that the transition will allow chief information officers to dramatically cut their IT staffs. Dmitrovic disagrees, seeing it as simply an elimination of unnecessary hardware.

“You still need somebody who is going to think from an architecture perspective, but you may not have to host the infrastructure itself,” Dmitrovic said. “Never dismiss people for quality and skill sets, but absolutely leverage the cloud for infrastructure and scale.”

He also believes IT departments need to learn how to build and sell business cases and to better understand their own build requirements, because “the vendors in the cloud aren’t going to hold your hands on this.” 

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