Home �   ITIL�  Index

IT Service Management: It's About the Customer

Already widely used in Europe, IT Service Management is gaining more presence in the U.S. This article explains what ITSM is as well as its fundamental goals.
Jul 8, 2003

Paul Desmond

At State Farm Insurance, IT service management (ITSM) "is a philosophy, a way of life," says Michael Cardinal, business analyst for the Bloomington, Ill.-based firm.

Why? Because ITSM helps the company's IT department achieve three fundamental goals: Achieve customer satisfaction, exceed customer expectations and manage customer perceptions.

While exact definitions may vary somewhat, experts agree that those fundamental goals are at the core of what ITSM. It's no coincidence that each of the goals includes the word "customer," since ITSM demands a customer-centric view of IT.

Rather than focusing on whether a given server or router is functioning properly, ITSM is a set of processes and procedures that help organizations ensure end users are getting what they need from the IT organization.

To describe ITSM, David Nichols, president of MacKAY Management USA LLC, a consulting and educational firm in El Cajon, Calif., uses the analogy of subscribing to a carrier for long-distance telephone service.

"You're not subscribing to the connection to the central office, and from the CO to the local exchange carrier and on to the microwave towers and so on," he says. "You just expect that when you dial a number everything connects up. The traditional view of IT has more often been one of providing the components and the application that rides on top, but never really looking at how they provide an end-to-end service."

"It's all about having a way to deliver IT services that meet the requirements of the organization," says Gary Case, managing consultant with Pink Elephant, a consultancy based in Burlington, Ontario.

Establish Proper Processes

While there are tools that play a role in the ITSM effort, most any expert will tell you that it all starts with putting proper processes in place. Often those processes are based on models described in the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a set of documentation that describes best practices for achieving ITSM.

The processes break down into three distinct areas, Nichols and Case agree -- strategic, tactical and operational. Together, the three describe how to manage the relationship between IT and its business customers.

"It's an IT version of customer relationship management," Nichols says.

Strategic processes involve setting policies and procedures, and forming architectural controls and committees to help the organization achieve its long-term goals, Case says.

Tactical processes are those involved in actual service delivery, including service level management, which he says is one of the keys to proper ITSM. Service level management requires that IT understand business requirements and negotiate for levels of IT service that match those requirements, using measurements including service availability, capacity and cost.

"You can develop infrastructure for a high level of availability, but it might be more expensive than what the business requires," Case says. "Service level management also provides guidance for capacity management -- making sure you have the right amount in the right place at the right time for the right cost."

Operational processes cover the support functions that are performed on a day to day basis, such as incident management, problem management and change management. Incident management, for example, involves coordinating the restoration of service after a problem occurs, while problem management is finding the root cause of the problem and fixing it.

Focus on Change Management

Change management is another important process, since an inordinate number of IT failures result from changes gone awry. Nichols says change management should involve two objectives: make sure there is a business benefit to any change you make, and have processes in place to minimize risk when making a change, such as test procedures and a fallback to a known good state.

"If you can even come close to reducing the number of change-induced problems by a half or two-thirds, then you'll have made significant improvements overall," he says.

Chances are your organization has at least some of these processes in place, but may not call it service management or have the "rigor and accountability that service management brings," State Farm's Cardinal says. ITIL describes how to approach ITSM in a consistent way across the entire organization, to produce the appropriate inputs and outputs between the various processes.

It is crucial, then, to educate IT staff about those ITIL processes and methodologies, Cardinal says. That doesn't mean each member has to become an ITIL expert, but they should be familiar with the concepts.

"You need to get people to understand that they've got to go spend time with their customers and internal business partners, to understand what they do on a daily basis," he says. "It's not just about response time and availability, it's about providing services that meet a business need."

Paul Desmond is president of Paul Desmond Editorial Services, an IT publishing firm in Framingham, Mass.

IT Management Daily Newsletter

Related Articles

Most Popular