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IT Service Management -- Keeping IT Out of the Weeds

A wave of evangelism about IT Service Management is rolling across the industry. IT leaders are being told that IT should be all about servicing the customer. But with tight budgets and short-staffed departments, will this be the one thing that sends IT managers over the edge?
Aug 11, 2003

Sharon Gaudin

IT budgets are tight. Systems that should have been replaced last year are still bumping along. IT teams are short-handed because of corporate layoffs. On top of that, IT managers are being asked to better archive email, better secure the system and set up a wireless network.

The last thing an IT manager wants to hear right now is that there's one more thing -- one really big thing, actually -- that he has to do. But that's exactly what's happening.

A wave of evangelism about IT Service Management is rolling across the industry. IT leaders are being told that IT should be all about servicing the customer -- whether that means getting products to them faster, making sure their online questions are being answered promptly or providing services at the speed of light. And that means IT managers are being told that they need to change the way they think about their jobs, the way they think about their systems and the way they spend their work day.

It's no longer just about keeping the system up and running. It's no longer just making sure email is going in and out, and the databases are operational. That's just a part of it now. It's a means to an end, instead of the end result.

''IT managers shouldn't be getting lost in the weeds thinking about low-level software,'' says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, an industry analyst firm based in Nashua, N.H. ''Keeping the infrastructure up and running is kind of a base-level function. Anybody who wants to use IT for competitive advantage needs to be spending some of their time looking into the future.''

But when IT managers hear that they need to refocus their thinking and refocus their jobs, it sounds like one more request being added to their ever-growing pile. At a time when IT departments are likely understaffed and budgets are being squeezed for every penny, simply keeping the company network up and running can be a major feat unto itself.

How can anyone tell them -- with a straight face -- that keeping the network running is just a 'base-level function'?

''I can understand the annoyance they're feeling when they're being told to do more with less,'' says Dan Kusnetzky, president of system software research at IDC, an industry analyst firm based in Framingham, Mass. ''But it's possible they're doing things they no longer need to do... It's not just if you're able to do more things but are you doing the right things? Now matter how efficiently you're doing something, it doesn't matter if you're doing the wrong thing.''

Figuring out what the right things are is probably the biggest, and hardest, part of the IT Service Management philosophy, says David Ratcliffe, president and CEO of Toronto-based Pink Elephant, Inc., an IT management research and consulting company.

''We often talk with people about how regular obstacles have to be overcome to break free from the feeling that they haven't got time for this now,'' says Ratcliffe, who has spent the last 16 years espousing the benefits of a service management philosophy. ''People say, 'I like the ideas you're talking about but I don't have time to pay attention right now.' They have to break through the shackles they're dealing with so they can figure out how to work more efficiently.''

Ratcliffe notes that if a CIO or an IT manager is spending her day focused solely on keeping the system running, that's a sure sign that something is wrong. Lower-level IT workers should be keeping email flowing, making sure security is tight and managing the WAN. The IT shop should be set up so the managers have the time and the focus to keep their heads up and foresee how the network could be better serving the company's customers.

''It's about how you organize your work day,'' says Ratcliffe. ''The way IT managers organize their day shouldn't be about sitting around and watching the lights flash. It's about communicating. It's about initiating changes with a minimum of interruption.''

Both Ratcliffe and Kusnetzky note that if a manager is continually putting out fires, there's a big problem with the way the system is being run.

''Yes, things happen unexpectedly but you should have a way of dealing with the unexpected,'' says Ratcliffe. ''It's about replacing chaos with order and control. We aren't saying that things won't go wrong but when they do, we have confidence that what will happen next will happen efficiently.''

Kusnetzky adds that it's sometimes as simple as making sure that what the system is doing is what the company needs from it.

''It's critical for priorities to be assessed,'' he says. ''That's where the technology people and the business people come to agree on what is important... It may be that what we've been focusing on is simply no longer important.''