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Practical Steps to Getting Started with ITSM

Many IT managers are daunted by the complexity and sheer effort it will take to implement IT Service Management practices. It doesn't have to be that hard.
Jan 23, 2006

Sharon Gaudin

While savvy IT managers are looking for ways to run their IT shops more efficiently and to get on board their company's business team, they may be hesitant to dive into exactly what many analysts say they need -- IT Service Management.

Changing processes and delving into a new mindset -- it all can seem complicated and daunting. How do you tackle getting started on such a big job when you're already dealing with perpetually tight budgets, staff positions that need to be filled and infrastructure upgrades that have been waiting to be made?

Well, it may not be simple, but it is doable, says Rick Sturm, president of Enterprise Management Associates, Inc., a Boulder, Colo.-based IT research and analyst firm. The trick, he adds, is not to make it harder than it has to be. And there are practical steps to take to ease ITSM implementation.

''This is a new world,'' says Sturm, who has authored four books on ITSM. ''It's going to be the topic for IT managers for the next few years. It really reflects the changing landscape of IT beyond the technical parameters. When we do research on this, and we've done quite a bit, we find that roughly 100 percent of IT senior management says ITSM is very important to them. If you ask them if they have a strategy for it, half of them will say no.

''These people are generally mentally healthy so how do you explain this seemingly schizophrenic behavior?'' he asks. ''They really don't understand ITSM. What they do is ask questions. What's it going to cost? Do I need to buy tools? Do my people need training? So rationally, they take the safest course of action that they can see -- they do nothing.''

IT Service Management is a mindset, followed up with a set of practices that make processes reliable, dependable and traceable. It's all about making sure IT people are thinking about the business and the customers, instead of just about the technology. It's a major change in thinking for people who are more accustomed to being immersed in a back room with wires and hardware than talking about speed of product delivery and market fluctuations.

That discomfort can quickly lead to fear. And then managers end up doing nothing because they're afraid. They're afraid there isn't enough time in the day to get this project rolling. They're afraid it's all too complicated. They're afraid they'll change or add processes that will clog up their systems.

And those fears are widespread, says Nick Schneider, a principal consultant with Pepperweed Consulting LLC, an Indianapolis-based IT management consulting firm. In fact, many of the IT managers he talks to share that same hesitation.

''I'm actually in a meeting with a number of customers right now and we're talking about how ITSM can be overwhelming and if you're not careful, you can bite off way too much,'' says Schneider. ''You're on the hook to deliver something. These managers and directors are responsible for delivering something. They're being asked to do something that they don't know how to do and they know there's a lot of pressure on them to do it right.''

Getting Started

Gerry Gebel, a senior analyst with the Burton Group, an industry analyst firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, says it's easy enough -- or at least easier than most might think -- to get started because there are logical ways to split up those first steps to implementation.

A major goal of ITSM is to create a service level agreement. IT and business sit down and hammer out a contract of sorts -- this is what business can depend on receiving from IT, whether it's availability, response time to a problem, or speed of service.

The service level agreement is a critical commitment, and IT will have to take a few steps before getting to the point where it can make one. Here is what some ITSM experts say IT should focus on:

  • Outline the Goals -- ''I think the first thing that any good project manager would do is document the goals of the effort and the critical milestones,'' says Gebel. Sit down and think it through. Get it down on paper. Once you know what it is you're shooting for, you have a clearer path to take.

  • Spread the Word -- Gebel says it's critical to get the support of everyone who will be involved in the project. Educate people inside and outside of IT about ITSM and what it can do for the business.

    And don't forget that this isn't an IT project. It's a business project. ''It's important to get their input and not just their support,'' says Gebel. ''Maybe you won't get their support unless you're receptive to their issues and problems. It's a delicate dance that you have to deal with in all these communities that you're supporting.''

  • Know Your Assets -- You must know what you have. What are your resources? Where are they? How are those devices and components configured? You need to be able to monitor these resources in real time to know if they're functioning properly so you can capture data for subsequent analysis, says Sturm. ''You need to be able to talk about fault, performance, accounting, configuration and security. You need to have those basics in place as the starting point for ITSM.''

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