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Service Failure Analysis

Service Failure Analysis (SFA) is a technique designed to provide a structured approach to identifying the underlying causes of service interruptions to the user. SFA utilizes a range of data sources to assess where and why shortfalls in availability are occurring. SFA enables a holistic view to be taken to drive not just technology improvements, but also improvements to the IT support organization, processes, procedures and tools. SFA is run as an assignment or project, and may utilize other Availability Management methods and techniques to formulate the recommendations for improvement. The detailed analysis of service interruptions can identify opportunities to enhance levels of availability. SFA is a structured technique to identify improvement opportunities in end-to-end service availability that can deliver benefits to the user. Many of the activities involved in SFA are closely aligned with those of Problem Management, and in a number of organizations these activities are performed jointly by Problem and Availability Management.

The high-level objectives of SFA are:

  • To improve the overall availability of IT services by producing a set of improvements for implementation or input to the Availability Plan
  • To identify the underlying causes of service interruption to users
  • To assess the effectiveness of the IT support organization and key processes
  • To produce reports detailing the major findings and recommendations
  • That availability improvements derived from SFA-driven activities are measured.

SFA initiatives should use input from all areas and all processes including, most importantly, the business and users. Each SFA assignment should have a recognized sponsor(s) (ideally, joint sponsorship from the IT and business) and involve resources from many technical and process areas. The use of the SFA approach:

  • Provides the ability to deliver enhanced levels of availability without major cost
  • Provides the business with visible commitment from the IT support organization
  • Develops in-house skills and competencies to avoid expensive consultancy assignments related to availability improvement
  • Encourages cross-functional team working and breaks barriers between teams, and is an enabler to lateral thinking, challenging traditional thoughts and providing innovative, and often inexpensive, solutions
  • Provides a programme of improvement opportunities that can make a real difference to service quality and user perception
  • Provides opportunities that are focused on delivering benefit to the user
  • Provides an independent ‘health check’ of IT Service Management processes and is the stimulus for process improvements.

To maximize both the time of individuals allocated to the SFA assignment and the quality of the delivered report, a structured approach is required. This structure is illustrated in Figure 4.16. This approach is similar to many consultancy models utilized within the industry, and in many ways Availability Management can be considered as providing via SFA a form of internal consultancy.

Figure 4.16 The structured approach to Service Failure Analysis (SFA)

The above high-level structure is described briefly as follows.

  • Select opportunity: prior to scheduling an SFA assignment, there needs to be agreement as to which IT service or technology is to be selected. It is recommended that an agreed number of assignments are scheduled per year within the Availability Plan and, if possible, the IT services are selected in advance as part of the proactive approach to Availability Management. Before commencing with the SFA, it is important that the assignment has a recognized sponsor from within the IT organization and/or the business and that they are involved and regularly updated with progress of the SFA activity. This ensures organizational visibility to the SFA and ensures recommendations are endorsed at a senior level within the organization.
  • Scopeassignment: this is to state explicitly what areas are and are not covered within the assignment. This is normally documented in Terms of reference issued prior to the assignment.
  • Plan assignment: the SFA assignment needs to be planned a number of weeks in advance of the assignment commencing, with an agreed project plan and a committed set of resources. The project should look at identifying improvement opportunities that benefit the user. It is therefore important that an end-to-end view of the data and Management Information System (MIS) requirements is taken. The data and documentation should be collected from all areas and analysed from the user and business perspective. A ‘virtual’ SFA team should be formed from all relevant areas to ensure that all aspects and perspectives are considered. The size of the team should reflect the scope and complexity of the SFA assignment.
  • Build hypothesis: this is a useful method of building likely scenarios, which can help the study team draw early conclusions within the analysis period. These scenarios can be built from discussing the forthcoming assignment with key roles, e.g. senior management and users, or by using the planning session to brainstorm the list from the assembled team. The completed hypotheses list should be documented and input to the analysis period to provide some early focus on the data and Management Information System (MIS) that match the individual scenarios. It should be noted that this approach also eliminates perceived issues, i.e. no data or MIS substantiates what is perceived to be a service issue.
  • Analyse data: the number of individuals that form the SFA team dictates how to allocate specific analysis responsibilities. During this analysis period the hypotheses list should be used to help draw some early conclusions.
  • Interview key personnel: it is essential that key business representatives and users are interviewed to ensure the business and user perspectives are captured. It is surprising how this dialogue can identify quick win opportunities, as often what the business views as a big issue can be addressed by a simple IT solution. Therefore these interviews should be initiated as soon as possible within the SFA assignment. The study team should also seek input from key individuals within the IT service provider organization to identify additional problem areas and possible solutions that can be fed back to the study team. The dialogue also helps capture those issues that are not easily visible from the assembled data and MIS reports.
  • Findings and conclusions: after analysis of the data and MIS provided, interviews and continual revision of the hypothesis list, the study team should be in a position to start documenting initial findings and conclusions. It is recommended that the team meet immediately after the analysis period to share their individual findings and then take an aggregate view to form the draft findings and conclusions. It is important that all findings can be evidenced by facts gathered during the analysis. During this phase of the assignment, it may be necessary to validate finding(s) by additional analysis to ensure the SFA team can back up all findings with clear documented evidence.
  • Recommendations: after all findings and conclusions have been validated, the SFA team should be in a position to formulate recommendations. In many cases, the recommendations to support a particular finding are straightforward and obvious. However, the benefit of bringing a cross-functional team together for the SFA assignment is to create an environment for innovative lateral-thinking approaches. The SFA assignment leader should facilitate this session with the aim of identifying recommendations that are practical and sustainable once implemented.
  • Report: the final report should be issued to the sponsor with a management summary. Reporting styles are normally determined by the individual organizations. It is important that the report clearly shows where loss of availability is being incurred and how the recommendations address this. If the report contains many recommendations, an attempt should be made to quantify the availability benefit of each recommendation, together with the estimated effort to implement. This enables informed choices to be made on how to take the recommendations forward and how these should be prioritized and resourced.
  • Validation: it is recommended that for each SFA, key measures that reflect the business and user perspectives prior to the assignment are captured and recorded as the ‘before’ view. As SFA recommendations are progressed, the positive impacts on availability should be captured to provide the ‘after’ view for comparative purposes. Where anticipated benefits have not been delivered, this should be investigated and remedial action taken. Having invested time and effort in completing the SFA assignment, it is important that the recommendations, once agreed by the sponsor, are then taken forward for implementation. The best mechanism for achieving this is by incorporating the recommendations as activities to be completed within the Availability Plan or the overall SIP. The success of the SFA assignment as a whole should be monitored and measured to ensure its continued effectiveness.

Consider categorizing the recommendations under the following headings:

DETECTION: Recommendations that, if implemented, will provide enhanced reporting of key indicators to ensure underlying IT service issues are detected early to enable a proactive response.

REDUCTION: Recommendations that, if implemented, will reduce or minimize the user impact from IT service interruption, e.g. recovery and/or restoration can be enhanced to reduce impact duration.

AVOIDANCE: Recommendations that, if implemented, will eliminate this particular cause of IT service interruption. The proactive activities of Availability Management

The capability of the Availability Management process is positively influenced by the range and quality of proactive methods and techniques utilized by the process. The following activities are the proactive techniques and activities of the Availability Management process.

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