Customer experience at heart of NextDC service management project

‘Data centre as a service’ provider to open up service management platform to external customers

NextDC's B1 data centre. Image credit: NextDC.

NextDC's B1 data centre. Image credit: NextDC.

A business transformation program undertaken at NextDC has seen the data centre provider roll out a service management platform, initially to manage internal IT ticketing but now increasingly used throughout the business as alternative to email and with an eye on extending it to more customer-facing interactions.

At the heart of the project, which has involved working with systems integrator RXP to implement ServiceNow’s platform, has been a focus on customer experience as part of NextDC’s ‘as a service’ philosophy, according to David Dzienciol.

Dzienciol’s title at NextDC is executive general manager of customer and technology, a role that carries the CIO and CTO areas and encompasses IT, software development, the company’s business transformation program, and customer operations.

The last of these functions covers “everything front of house,” Dzienciol says. “My team doesn’t manage the DRUPS and the electricity in the data centre, but all of the access points to enable getting into the data centre, the service desk, the customer solutions and delivery managers — they all fall into what we call ‘customer operations’.”

Since NextDC was founded in May 2010 the ‘data centre as a service’ provider, as it dubs itself, has undergone rapid expansion, both in the number of tenants in its data centres and the number of partners in the company’s ecosystem.

The company’s data centre portfolio has undergone similar growth, from the launch of B1 in Brisbane in late October 2011 to a string of facilities across Australia — M1, C1, S1 and P1 in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Perth, respectively, and M2 and B2 on the way.

NextDC’s facilities are carrier- and vendor-neutral. “A lot of traditional data centres over the last 30 years have been purpose built for one customer; think of banks, airlines, outsources and so on,” Dzienciol says. “We really have been in that mode of a true shared service, down to, believe it or not, the racks.” (The company offers everything from a data hall down to a quarter-rack product, he notes.)

The company’s expansion meant that it quickly outgrew its early processes for dealing with IT requests and incidents, according to Dzienciol.

“When you’re a very young company, particularly a capital-intensive infrastructure company, a lot of the focus from day one before you have customers is: How do you build the best facility in the world? We really spent a lot of our engineering and IT energy day one on getting the best product to market. Very quickly we started to win business and win customers.”

“If you go back to 2011 when we opened the doors in Brisbane, we were doing very, very well servicing customers in one facility — then we quickly went and started to build Melbourne,” he adds.

“It was probably at the time when we were getting ready to open [M1 — the company's second data centre] where the complexity started to creep in.

“It's fine to have one facility and run your service management on some home-grown email, Excel, and basic open source systems that can drive a little bit of ticketing. But when you start to bring in a second site and larger customers, more complex customers that have their own unique incident processes, as well as customers that have their own unique set of security requirements, it starts to make our job harder.”

The options as Dzienciol saw them were to either throw more people at the problem or take an enterprise-wide approach to service management.

“It does go really to the core of what we've always been about and we've always been about the customer experience. So we actually looked at the ServiceNow investment as a customer experience benefit and platform more than a ticketing replacement platform.”

ServiceNow has become a key element in enabling the data centre provider’s ‘as a service’ approach, Dzienciol says.

“They’d built a very, very highly functional product and it was just a good time for us to dip our toe in. We started the journey trying to simplify IT incident management and IT problem management and requests and really drive ITIL [based processes] in our organisation, but we really saw that was the starting part.

“Our goal was always: This is not about IT, this is about ‘everything as a service’.”

Dzienciol says the relatively greenfields internal environment of NextDC was a big plus when it came to implementing a service management platform.

“I’ve spoken to many large organisations around Australia and around the world that have got 30,000 employees, six different ticketing systems, and three service management platforms and their program is bringing those together,” he says.

The project has led to an up to 500 per cent increase in the resolution speed of some IT requests, Dzienciol says.

The platform has extended from IT into other areas of the business, including legal and HR. “Our mantra was always we need to leverage this platform across the entire business,” Dzienciol says. Expanding the scope of the platform meant developing an in-depth understanding of business processes within different functions.

He says that legal, for example, “was a reasonably quick win for us because we were going from something basic to something sophisticated — and we understood the business processes.”

Engineering was another business area quickly moved onto the platform

“Every time we build down another hall, design and engineering is done in-house. A lot of the resource tracking and the engineering requests were being done by email and spreadsheet. That's just wasn’t scalable, particularity when you start to look at reprioritising, on an ongoing basis, based on customer demand where we want our resources to be focused.”

Now engineering service requests are routed through the platform and the head of engineering can get a dashboard view of what his engineers are working on, what the relative priorities of those requests are, and whether they require third-party assistance; “that whole workflow can be built in,” Dzienciol says.

NextDC is currently piloting a module within the platform to streamline the work of its change advisory board.

“The current process again is an old-school process,” Dzienciol says. “It’s email and a spreadsheet and lots of people dial into a call and everybody has to listen to the one- or two-hour call. When we look at that it's not really that efficient.”

NextDC is around 14 months into its ServiceNow program. “When we started with RXP 14 months ago, we focused heavily on driving internal adoption across number of business units that we targeted,” Dzienciol says.

“We're now exposing different elements of our platform through our journey directly to our external customers and partners. Our staff at the service desk are creating incidents, or tickets, or requests on behalf of customers or partners and over the coming months we'll be opening up the portal directly to our customers and partners and getting them off the old ticketing system.”

The customer interactions will be through NextDC’s OneDC data centre management platform for customers.

“We’ve done some work in partnering with customers that are using that platform already that are also service now customers. Our research has shown that most of the customers that we're speaking to have got a ServiceNow deployment and are looking for that integration into what ServiceNow calls the CMDB, which is effectively its core database. Customers will be coming through OneDC and it will be talking directly, or integrating directly, to ServiceNow.”

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