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The Time Has Come for ITSM

With the tumult of the tech boom and bust behind us, analysts say IT managers now have the time and inclination to take stock of how they're running IT. It's time for ITSM.
Jan 17, 2006

Sharon Gaudin

After years of great expectations that repeatedly were met with slow growth, some industry observers say this finally may be the year that IT managers not only learn what IT Service Management (ITSM) is all about, but also start putting it into practice.

While ITSM has been around for more than a decade, it's failed to catch fire. Bring up ITSM -- or its accompanying set of best practices, ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) -- in a room crowded with techies and you're sure to be met with a few blank stares. That, though, is changing. IT professionals increasingly talk about becoming more 'business facing' -- in both their careers and their corporate IT shops. It's less about the inner workings of the wires and routers, and more about serving the customer and the company's specific business needs.

''Finally, ITSM's time has come,'' says Chip Gliedman, vice president of Forrester Research, an industry analyst firm based in Cambridge, Mass. ''It's the right time in the industry. We're past the bubble and we're past the slump so IT people now have the time and the capacity to sit back and look at what they're doing and how they can do it better... Now we're digesting a lot of what we purchased five years ago. It's a good point in time to take stock of how IT is delivering on their services and their infrastructure. There are no wholesale changes taking place right now. A few years from now, we'll be dealing with the next wave of technology, and we'll be back to trying to keep up and trying to figure it out. So this is the time to see if you can do it better.

''I think a year from now ITSM and ITIL will be closer to words that people know and use,'' he adds. ''It will become the way that people do things.''

As long as technology has been a part of business -- linking people together, storing and making sense of sales information, making sure the trucks run on time and products are delivered -- IT professionals have been enamored with the technology. And sometimes they've been more at ease dealing with downed servers than a roomful of business types unfamiliar with technical jargon. It was easier to stay in the server room or in a bare-bones back office than to stick a toe in the turbulent business waters.

Focus on the Customer

Today's IT professional is expected to know how to keep the network up and running at top speed while at the same time understanding where the business is heading and how technology can help it get there. What do the customers need? What is slowing down product delivery? Who are the company's competitors and what needs to be done to beat them to market? These all are questions that good (and marketable) IT workers need to be able to answer.

How does IT work together with the business side to focus on the customer and provide products or services in an efficient and timely manner to them? That's a question ITSM will help IT people answer, says Gerry Gebel, a senior analyst with the Burton Group, an industry analyst firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah. And the ITIL set of rules and best practices will help them put ITSM into effect.

''It looks to be getting some legs here,'' says Gebel. ''It's starting to move forward. There's definitely more interest in it out there because it's a way to be more efficient -- more streamlined. IT budgets are still tight, business demands are increasing and there's a general climate of cost containment. It's all making for a huge push on this.''

And Gliedman says IT people are telling him this is the year they'll make that push in their own IT shops.

''I'm a pragmatist and two years ago nobody was talking about ITIL,'' he says. ''There were some governmental or European organizations but that was about it. It's begun to trickle over to the U.S. and into the private sector. Now when we talk to clients who are thinking about making changes to their service desk, they're keeping the ITIL service model in mind as a good starting point for how they plan to at least look at the problem.''

More than half of Gliedman's clients at Forrester are looking at ITSM and how it it could fit in with what they do, he notes.

''They'll pick and choose processes,'' he adds. ''It's a way to start building repeatable, definable processes... Once you start doing pieces of it, you can look at other pieces of it.

Driving the Push

While some like Gliedman say ITSM thinking and practices are getting a big push from the fact that IT is in a good place for reevaluating their work. Others say stiffer regulations and vendor adoption also is behind the coming conversion.

When regulations, such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, are being backed up with stiff fines and penalties, IT managers start to look for ways to meet those demands -- efficiently and dependably, says Steve Wrenn, senior director of IT Service Management at Liberty Mutual.

''Sarbanes-Oxley said all these places have to have traceability. People thought, 'Wow. If I have to have traceability, I need better processes to make that happen... It made people realize that they should have been doing this anyway. Traceability isn't difficult at all if you automate and have control of your processes. If you don't have control of your environment, it's difficult because you have data going everywhere, and you have different paths to follow to find it.''

And the Burton Group's Gebel says vendors, like BMC, CA, IBM and HP, are playing a big role in bringing ITSM to corporate IT shops. ''They've been the first to adopt the ITIL theme.

The vendors are using ITIL processes as a template for installing their software in a preconfigured way, says Gliedman, adding that he recently looked at a dozen different service management products and 11 of them had basic ITIL configurations that can be implemented in their current version without having to build it yourself.

Vendors, notes Gliedman, are talking to users about installing ITIL out of the box.

It all adds up to the belief that ITSM's time has come, says Gliedman. ''People are hearing more about it and they can't put off figuring out what it is for another few years. It's time for people to learn about it.''

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