Ameriprise Financial is a recent spin-off from American Express that primarily provides financial services such as financial planning, mutual funds and online brokerage accounts. The organization has been one of the leaders in financial services for more than 110 years and is now its own publicly traded company, ranked 384 in the Fortune 500. With over two million clients and one of the largest advisor networks in the country – more than 10,000 personal financial advisors in more than 3500 offices nationwide – Ameriprise Financial aims to usher in a dynamic new era of financial planning.
Over the last few years, Ameriprise has been rolling out an IT service management program across its organization. As Vice President of Technologies at Ameriprise, Troy Jenkauski is responsible for the company’s service management functions as well as application production support. Here he talks to Business Management about the challenges of implementing a service management approach – and how his organization got it right.
BM. What are the key influences behind the unprecedented rise of IT service management in recent times?
TJ. Now that companies have acknowledged that technology is essential to run and grow a business, there is a need for greater focus around the quality of the services that technology delivers. People are now looking to see how they can give quality and credibility to technology processes at a rapid pace without re-inventing the wheel, and ITIL or service management is a way of doing that.
BM. So how does a service management approach help ensure that business needs are met and that IT delivers value and supports the business?
TJ. I think there are several ways, but one of the primary reasons we implemented it here at Ameriprise is that we really lacked customer focus. In the past, we were just delivering services and didn’t necessarily understand that when a server went down, for instance, this really had a big impact on the end-users. However, service management and the use of ITIL is helping us really focus on the end-user impact – from a problem perspective, from an availability perspective and from a service-level perspective – and helping us manage that experience much better than we have in the past. It’s about getting closer to the customer and ensuring that the services we deliver are operationally excellent.
BM. And what questions did you ask when deciding how best to approach service management?
TJ. We started with a typical review of our processes using a standard process maturity model, and asked an external resource to come in and rate us on that. Once we got the results back we looked at the organization as a whole and established what constituted the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – those areas that we absolutely needed to focus on (including some processes that we should have already been doing) – as well as some longer-term goals.
When we started out initially we were using a decentralized model, where the IT service management resources were part of each of the various lines of businesses; however, after reviewing our processes we decided to centralize those resources because we got more leverage, better end-to-end processes and a greater level of standardization from a centralized model.
BM. What benefits are you realizing from taking that approach?
TJ. We’ve seen continued improvement. We have four primary goals within the service management and product support teams: improving availability and capability; reducing the overall cost of running our operations; improving the overall quality of the services we provide; and creating a place where employees want to work. Since we launched this initiative, we’ve seen improvements in all of these areas.
BM. Did you look to an external provider for your ITSM needs, or was it something you developed in-house?
TJ. We have a shared model in which we use both internal and external resources. We looked at our organization and decided that there were certain roles within service management and the ITIL discipline that were core-critical and that we wanted to have our own employees involved in, but that there were certain other roles that could be performed just as well by an external provider.
BM. What advice would you offer to companies looking to set off on the road to ITSM?
TJ. First (and most important), you need to have senior leadership buy-in and support. One of the reasons we’ve been so successful in our implementation is that our senior management were very supportive and understood the importance of what we were trying to do. Our current CIO is a great advocate of ITIL, as was the previous one – speaking on the subject regularly at town meetings and supporting it by letting our vendors know that they need to be ITIL-compliant, or at least moving in that direction – and I think that’s a big help.
Second, internal support is vitally important. When you’re looking to change the way an organization operates – from a situation where each line of business has its own ways of managing problems, processes and change, to one where everything is centralized – it’s important to make sure that your internal peers and customers understand why this needs to be done and what value can be gained from it.
Third, you’ve got to have factual data to support the direction you’re heading in. I think it’s critical to start out by understanding where you’re at, and then based on this understanding, establish both a short-term roadmap and a longer-term roadmap with measurable goals in place to help you get there. This, in combination with having the right people in place who understand those goals, is a key factor in the success of an ITSM deployment.
Finally, it’s important to remember that this is not a short-term project that can be achieved in a few weeks; we’ve been rolling this out for almost two years now and we still have a lot of work to do.
BM. Although the UK Government created the ITIL, it is rapidly being adopted across the world as the standard for best practice in the provision of IT service. Why are best practices important to IT services and, specifically, ITSM?
TJ. I think for a couple of reasons. Trying to build something on your own is costly and takes a lot of time; having these best practices that are tried and proven to use as a guide gives you a real headstart. ITIL is built on the previous knowledge and experience of people who have already implemented ITSM, so you know you’re not trying to do something that hasn’t worked in the past. Of course, there’s always some degree of tweaking needed (unless you’re dealing with a brand new organization without established processes in place), but it’s important – and comforting – to be able to draw on the experiences of companies facing similar challenges.
BM. One of the major concerns organisations have at present has been brought about by the introduction of SOX, the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act and other (increasingly stringent) regulations. What role does ITSM play in compliance management?
TJ. We actually have our own compliance department, but from a service management/ITIL perspective we support that by ensuring we have good change practices in place, by ensuring that people have the right level of access to various pieces of information through the proper use of IDs, and by ensuring that when we conduct a fail-over we don’t duplicate or corrupt data, or cause any other regulatory compliance issues.
The area we’re really focused on right now is change control – making sure that the information that’s going into our systems or being changed in these systems is audited and regulated and that we’re not doing anything we shouldn’t be doing.
BM. Business success is determined by the bottom line. A key consideration therefore is the ROI ITSM can provide. Is it possible to quantify the monetary benefits gained from ITSM?
TJ. It can be tough. Unless you understand what stage you’re at and have a baseline against which you can measure, it can be difficult to go in and say: “We’re going to save ourselves X number of dollars”. The approach that we took from the beginning was to build a very simple business case that established where we were in terms of the availability of our interactive systems and websites, where we were in terms of our business-use systems, etc. The plan also set out what our expectations would be if we were to see an X percent improvement in the availability of the systems, and what the dollar-impact of that would be.
We’ve also looked at approaches such as Six Sigma to provide a standard way of measuring quality and reducing service imperfections, and I think that’s been fairly successful for us.
BM. And finally, what’s next on the agenda for Ameriprise with regard to its deployment of service management?
TJ. We’ve been very methodical in our approach to service management and ITIL implementation, and so far have focused only on those areas that were broken and that we needed to get fixed. Now we’re stepping back and taking a more holistic look at the whole process: we’ve established some standard best practices/processes for managing change and for managing problems, and now we need to start tying everything together. We’re now looking at achieving better service management from an end-to-end perspective, which means having more integrated tools that are able to talk to each other. Everyone needs data, but if the tools aren’t talking you waste time doing a lot of manual stuff. We’re also looking at those processes we spent less time on in the past, applying some resources and energy in those areas.
It’s really about rounding out the process, taking an end-to-end view and making sure everything’s tied together and integrated.