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ITSM: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Truth)

So, what is service management anyway?, asks ITSM Watch columnist Rob England. And is it working?
Feb 23, 2008

Rob England


As we mentioned in the first article, the Y2K spending overhang drove new attitudes to transparency and justification. This led to new techniques (or rather new adoption of established techniques) for business alignment: service management. Put another way, the threat of slashed budgets is excellent motivation for CIOs to find new ways to explain the value IT delivers to the business in terms understood by the business.


IT traditionally operates with its back to the customer, focusing on its internal silos or domains of technology (security, Web, application, desktop, network, database, Windows platform, *Nix platform, storage, hardware, etc.). Some users would argue that IT is so inward looking its head has disappeared (where I’ll leave up to you).


The current preferred mechanism to fix this situation can be broadly labeled as service management, which represents a real paradigm shift (a much-abused term that is used correctly here, as compared to the salesman’s “noo para-dime” where the toolbar has a new look).


The shift caused by service management is to base all IT planning and management on the business and the IT services it needs, i.e., to the users of the services, instead of starting from underlying technology, from the stuff we have to build services with. This is a “customer-centric” approach, which is very much in vogue as part of the rise of the Information Age. Never mind the product: it is all about the customer and our relationship.


Processes and roles are structured around these services, not around the technology. For example: problem, change, availability, service levels. Not servers, networks, applications, desktop. This is a rotation of IT outlook from inward looking to customer facing (a rotation that is challenging if IT’s head is where some users suggest it is).


Service management applies the TQM (total quality management) concepts of customer-defined quality, continuous improvement, and measurement-based management. Services are defined in the terms of the people who use them. So are the levels at which the services are to be delivered. The starting points are the strategy and goals of the business, and how computing needs to support them.


Services and service levels are agreed formally with the customers (those who pay for them). In an inward facing, technology-based IT world, customers don’t know what they want, encouraging a patronizing contempt from IT. In a service-based IT world, customers know exactly what they want (well, sometimes), and what they are willing to pay for it.


Technology? What Technology?


The technology comes last. If it doesn’t make sense in terms of services and processes, we don’t need it. In the past, projects could pop up because the technology involved looked good on certain CVs, not least of them the CIO’s. This is harder (but not impossible) when projects are measured against the resulting change in service.


And maybe, just maybe, the techo’s will understand the relevance and impact of what they do. When a daytime outage leaves five hundred users unproductive and steaming—maybe that matters (just contemplating here). When the choice is between restarting the server or spending hours digging for diagnostics, maybe restoring the service is more important (just a thought). When upgrading to Windows Vista won’t actually change a single level of service except perhaps to degrade response times, maybe it isn’t a good investment.


Don’t let anyone tell you a service view is simpler than a technology view. It isn’t. A service catalogue sounds simple but ends up quite complex even in the most straightforward of organizations. A service view involves as many components and considerations as a technology view, but the views are orthogonal; they cut across each other. So, IT has to turn its perspective through 90 degrees rather than a complete about-turn which will come as a relief to those IT contortionists.


The ITSM focus is on maintaining and continuously improving quality of service. Service levels are measured. Processes are refined to improve them. This is an example of how ideas from the manufacturing industries have been showing up in the service industries as we move from the Industrial Age to the Information Age.


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