Don't Panic!: An Interview with Hitchhiker's Guide to TBM's Ben Burkett

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The TBM journey is filled with twists and turns, setbacks and successes. At the beginning, it may seem like space; it’s “big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”




Ben Burkett is a Technology Business Manager (and TBMO of One) at Hitachi Vantara, but the TBM Community better knows him as the author of the widely popular blog Hitchhiker's Guide to TBM on TBM Connect. There, he shares his journey; giving readers a look into his personal twists and turns, setbacks and successes of implementing TBM and Apptio, as well as sharing tips, tricks, and documentation - all the while referencing the odd line or two from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


As part of my ETBMAp certification, I’m to interview an Apptio Customer and I was thrilled (and fangirled a little bit) when Ben agreed to have a chat with me about his experiences with Apptio. Read below to see what he had to say: 


First, thank you for taking the time out to do this interview with me. It really helps me out, and it lets the TBM community get to know a little bit about you, too!

Uh-oh! But seriously, we’re all here to help each other, so if I can help you out, great. When I first started out on the Community, I felt that there was a lot of consumption, but not necessarily a lot of giving back – so right away I decided that as a member of the Community, I want to give back.


Well, I definitely appreciate it, and I think your blog gives people the courage to give back to the Community as well. Let’s start with my favorite question to ask all IT people – how you do describe your job to non-technical folks? My favorite go-to is that I have Chandler’s job – nobody knows what he does!

I wish I had thought more about it, but your answer’s perfect – I’m going to start using it from now on! If I’m at a cocktail party and someone asks me about my work, I usually start off with ‘I help run IT like a business.’ and from there I start to ramble because I get excited about what I do and keep going:  ‘From there, we bring in the finance and accounting, we bring in the IT operations – we bring all that data together and we create relationships between that data so you can have information – it’s no longer just data – it’s information. Then we can use that information to make decisions based upon analysis done on that data’. Then when people start looking at you funny because they still don’t understand, I’ll say: ‘Have you heard all the talk about Big Data? How there’s so much of it out there and it’s so hard to analyze that data? Well, I do that with IT Operational data and Financial Data.’


Wow *slow clap*- what a great response!

Yeah, that’s if they stay long enough at the party to hear me say all of that.


I’m going to use your version from now on – I like that way better than my cheesy Friends reference.

As long as you start with the Chandler reference first!


Will do! Let’s talk about your blog - Hitchhiker's Guide to TBM is widely read and well-received; I feel as if I’m talking to a TBM celebrity! Other than being able to assist others as they pursue their TBM journey, how does writing your blog help you in your personal journey with TBM and Apptio?

One of the main questions I had for myself when I started writing was, will this be interesting – will it resonate with others – but then I realized, it didn’t matter; I was writing for myself, to get my own thought process out there, because what I find is that I have to process things and getting it down on paper - or on a blog in this case – was a good way to get my thoughts down, expand on it, and figure out what I wanted to do to move forward. At the end of the day, it was for me, but I’m so glad that others are interested, and that there’s been a positive response. To be honest, I’m a little self-conscious about my writing – my wife is a phenomenal writer and she’s appalled by my style of writing – but I’m glad that others on the Community are enjoying it!


Which is awesome, because you lay it all out on the table in your blog – and that’s why I enjoy reading it so much – it encapsulates all the feelings that everyone else is having when they’re going through their own implementation. And it’s great to see that the Community and Apptio recognizes it as well – I’ve seen your blog referenced in a few quests!

It is? I had no idea!


It is! Check out some of the available quests! You should be very proud of yourself and the contributions you’ve made to the Community because you and your blog are being recognized. Which brings me to my next question – what’s your favorite part about being a part of the Community?

I’d have to say it’s the Community – and what I mean by that is people are posting questions to get resolved, and it’s not just Apptio responding – it’s many people responding, and everyone has a different take. There’s a huge diversity of thought, and I LOVE it. It improves how you approach TBM and your thinking, your application of TBM, and using that knowledge in your instance of Apptio. Ultimately, it’s going to improve the tool itself from an Apptio perspective. In Community, the cream rises to the top; a lot of thoughts and ideas are out there, but what’s cool is that the ‘cream’ will come up, and everyone will be better for it.


I like that – ‘The cream rises to the top’.

Exactly, and on the personal/social side, others have similar feelings in their implementations, and what I like is the support. If I’m having a bad day with my Hitachi Vantara family, I at least have my TBM Connect family which is always a good pick-me-up.


I’ve noticed that your last blog post doubles as your ETBMA Case Study submission – you’re almost there!

Yeah – as soon as I get those 15 likes!


You’ve got 5 so far – won’t be long now! What value are you getting from your training? I also noticed that you did an Executive Course as well – tell me about that!

I’m an RTBMA, and I’m just finishing up my ETBMA, I also took the TBM Executive Foundations course. The RTBMA was very useful because I started with nothing. When I started implementation and started to talk to my implementation team, then I was like, ‘ohhhh – now I get it’. When I actually get to see what I learned about and practiced in action, that’s what made it click. Then when I started doing the ETBMA, I found lots of value in the reporting courses – but the most value I found was the exam - that’s where I taught myself to do a lot of the questions. Completing those questions and being in the middle of an implementation really brought it all together. I’m more competent and confident about Apptio, how we’re using it, and the value it brings. When Apptio eventually walks away, I’ll be comfortable in managing the software.

The Executive Foundation course would have been good to do first, to be honest. It was an intro to TBM – it talks about the framework and the model, and the taxonomy… it was nice to get the core understanding. The takeaway for me was learning about the types of conversations the executives are having in IT leadership-  what are they hearing, and what are they being told. What I would really love is to arrange that training for my IT Leadership here at Hitatchi Vantara – just to level set expectations and scope, and then follow that up with a TBM review.  For example – I have a lot of **** data. If my executives understood the impact that data has on Apptio, they could go to their teams and make data gathering, clean up, etc. a priority. That’s my uphill battle right now.


I bet – and it’s just you, right? You’re a one-man show at the moment, you’re the TBM office? 

Yup – I’m the TBMO.  


How do you find being a ‘TBMO of One’ helps or hinders your journey?

For me, specifically, it hinders. It would depend on your scope. If we were just doing the basic ITFM or ITP or the just the finance foundation layer in CT, I’d be okay. But my scope is large and my requirements are non-existent, but I’m being held accountable for them. From a one-man army standpoint, I can’t have all the conversations I need to have – I’m behind on having them – and I’m relying on others to have those discussions, but I find it’s not going where it needs to go. From a TBMO credibility standpoint, I’m worried. It’s not going to be perfect – but people have to realize that it’s not going to be perfect, so how about you just join me on this evolution.

Ideally, I would love to have an analyst to help me with the day-to-day – I have to do both strategic and technical stuff and some of the project success activities: communication, training - they’re not occurring.


How do you mitigate when you’re overwhelmed with the quantity of tasks that are on your plate – I’m sure you’ve asked for an analyst, but how do you move forward?

I’m not going to get an analyst. If anything, I’ll get someone to assist with validating data and helping to enter monthly data into Apptio that hasn’t been automated. But that’s still a while out. I’m happy to do it all for now; in the executive training I learned that there’s tradeoffs – and that’s what Apptio helps you show. If you want to reduce your costs, you have to give up something. That’s the same aspect here. There was a term I heard from an executive – “Ruthless prioritization”


I love that.

Me too. And that’s what it comes down to. Be ruthless in my prioritization. Right now my priority is implementation.


And how’s that going, implementation?

It was rough for the first little while. It was supposed to be done in March – I would say the reason for that is twofold: first, myself still learning and trying to wrap my head around everything Apptio, the second being leadership – my leader at the time was a huge supporter of Apptio, but what he wanted was getting to be too much. For example, we were trying to decide what our cost centers would be – that took two months. I had to make an executive decision and say OK, this is what we’re doing, move on. Then, we got a new VP and I started to report to a senior director - and we’ve moved to a sprint implementation with a defined scope which is so helpful. That sped things up a lot – but now we’re slowing down again because of the lack of maturity of our services.


Once you have a complete model, what’s next? Where do you see Apptio helping you once everything’s built out?

Well, the project team will walk away and I’ll have my Customer Service Rep, so I’ll bend her ear for guidance as to how to handle certain situations  - I do expect Apptio to give me a list of areas that need improvement in my model – data, configurations, etc. so I can work on that.  I know we want to work towards Benchmarking and IT Planning – but the question is do I need to stabilize and exist for a bit, or do we go right into it. Hopefully Apptio will help me to refine that roadmap.


And again, that’s where ‘ruthless prioritization’ comes into play.



That about wraps it up,  do you have any final thoughts?

This was a great conversation – So glad that we got to connect! A preemptive congrats on your certification!


Thanks, Ben, same to you! So great to chat with you!

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