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Social Media for ITSM: Adapt or Perish

The implications of social media to IT service management are nothing short of profound, writes ITSMWatch columnist Hank Marquis of Global Knowledge.
Oct 9, 2009

Hank Marquis

Don’t confuse social media with popular outlets for its expression. Social media refers to a dramatic change in the relationship between suppliers and their marketplaces, and one in which consumers now have the upper hand.

IT managers should not discount social media by associating it only with marketing or outlets for its expression like Linked-In, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. IT service providers are in effect marketers selling a product to a marketplace. For most of the history of IT that marketplace has been captive, communications largely one sided, and there have been few alternatives.

That situation has changed.

To survive, IT managers need to embrace the concepts of social media to empower their customers and users, too. Social media tools are already affecting IT operations. In his article Twitter ... As an IT Service Management Tool?!? columnist Jason Druebert explains how using Twitter lead to impressive reductions in critical IT incidents.

Social media was also a hot topic at the recent itSMF USA Fusion 2009 Conference in Dallas TX (the most Tweeted IT service management show ever according to social media expert and pioneer Christopher Dancy of ServiceSphere (who goes by the Twitter handle @ServiceSphere.) Dancy says “We speak so often of 'culture change', within IT service management, social media is creating a shift in the way we deal with our customers. From videos straight into the cloud to podcast from the service desk. The walls are falling, the shift has begun and people are talking with and not to each other.”

Social media gives consumers a unified voice and input to service delivery in real time, magnifying their marketplace power over their providers. Essentially social media uses technology to convert static one-way communications into dynamic and ongoing conversations about things consumers find important. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter allow service providers to converse with communities of customers and users, as opposed to talking at them.

Social Media and IT/Business Alignment

Could social media for IT help achieve business-IT alignment as well? Bringing these concepts to IT means creation of a social media outlet for IT service providers and their constituents: customers, users, IT staff and management, and even third-party suppliers and intermediate customers. This is a new frontier in IT service management and offers an golden opportunity for IT management right when they need it most.

Key to social media for IT is some often-misunderstood points:

  • Web 2.0 is about decentralized community control, the banding together of persons with like interests and needs. These communities generate power due to their focused voice, sense of purpose, shared experiences and common goals. Failing to accept that social media puts consumers and providers on an unequal footing―with consumers in control―is a disaster waiting to happen.
  • Social media as the basis for virtually all consumer-provider relationships is not going away―it will only accelerate. Social media has been gathering steam for at least 10 years. The ClueTrain Manifesto published in 1999 is (and was) the harbinger of social media. Social media is not a new-fangled idea that must be contained but, rather, a new force you must learn to leverage.
  • While social media is first and foremost user-generated content based on opinion and experience, it is more than websites like Reddit, Del.icio.us, or Digg. The concepts driving social media and how they fundamentally change consumer-provider dynamics is what is important; not the current wave of social media expression sites and outlets.
  • To benefit from social media requires collecting user-generated content, transforming it into knowledge, and then taking action. Failure to take action on social media community input results in an amplified backlash from the community.

Implications for IT

The failure on the part IT organizations to adopt social media concepts like engaging customers and providing real two-way conversations instead of paying lip service to what customers really want is the primary reason why two-thirds of business managers do not feel that IT is a valuable contributor to business success. Existing IT "customer satisfaction survey's" and other information gathering reports no more represent social media than does a one-way radio broadcast.

Developing new ways to implement social media tools for IT and its communities of interest is critical. There are just a few basic requirements for a successful social media tool for IT services. Such a tool must:

Leverage Web-based technology and be easily accessible via a browser. Key to social media is Web 2.0 rich Internet application (RIA) architectures to reach customers and users quickly and without rigid controls.

Be as secure and controlled as any other IT system or service. While it must allow opinion and perception gathering, it should not be or become a free-for-all complaint system, nor is it simply turned over to customers and users. The point is not to recreate Twitter, but rather a supervised two-way conversation tool with real value to IT service consumer and provider.

Protect the identities of its users. Users need to feel safe from retaliation if management does not appreciate what they have to say. Simply saying this is so is not sufficient. The system needs to be anonymous if the user wants to be so.

Take advantage of recent advances in marketing science relating to service satisfaction and service quality. A revolution has occurred in the understanding of service quality and consumption as researches uncover the importance of service consumer attitudes and how these perceptions translate into required actions on the part of service providers. Innovation here is possible, after all, science is "open source" and there are numerous proven means of understanding service production and consumption―including IT services. By all means use them.

Provide consistently valid ways of turning the data it collects into action. Otherwise, this exercise is as pointless as the current crop of one-way communications from IT. Bright ideas for new ways to develop knowledge and wisdom that results in action from the valuable data collected are really needed here.

IT Benefits of Social Media

The benefits IT receives from such an approach and tool are many, not the least of which is the number one goal of most IT executives and business peers today―aligning IT with business. The three primary benefits are:

  • Getting and staying in contact with service consumers. Creating a continuous two-way conversation about service quality and requirements between service providers and their consumers.
  • Discovering the required levels of IT service quality IT service consumers need. Armed with this information, service providers can take action to focus on those dimensions of service quality to improve their delivery; increasing quality while controlling or perhaps reducing costs.
  • Understanding what service value components consumers find most important. Equipped with a direction based upon service value to the business, providers can focus efforts on those components, innovating new solutions, improving project success rates and measurably aiding business advantage.

It is somewhat ironic that IT built the very systems that consumers are using to wrest control of those very systems from IT. However, IT has to become a facilitator of business success, not a dictator of IT functionality. IT has to give over control regarding what it does for whom and why to those who use the services to run the business. This is a wrenching transformation that not all IT managers (or vendors) will survive, but those who do adopt social media concepts and techniques for IT will the bring cost-effective and innovative IT services needed for competitive advantage to their businesses.

Hank Marquis is practice leader for Business Service Management at Global Knowledge. Reach Hank at hank.marquis@globalknowledge.com.

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