Adding value with ITSM and collaboration

So far in these blogs we’ve looked at IT value and Customer experience – these should be our drivers and not simply how good we are at responding to failure. It would be preferable if we can change our mind-set and avoid the whole ‘incident’ process and IT support requirement altogether – i.e. get it right first time – although that is still for many organisations a pipe dream.

We will look at avoiding Incidents in a future blog but for now I’d like to focus on how to be more successful with IT Service Management – what are the key elements that we need to use to make this work, and work better than the current experience?

The challenge I find regularly is that IT organisations – internal and externally facing – have got themselves into a position where they believe that they have ‘done’ ITIL®. In some ways this is true – i.e. they may have sent people on ITIL training courses, bought tools that claim to deliver ITIL processes and embarked on projects to ‘implement ITIL’.

These projects and initiatives may have been successful, to a greater or lesser extent – i.e. they may have made support more consistent, more accountable and more predictable. Some incident and requests management initiatives may also have improved turnaround times for IT incidents and service requests. Change management processes may have improved on service availability and reduced unnecessary service interruptions. There are many areas where processes as ‘point solutions’ will have improved individual areas of the IT support service and experience.

However there are still issues with these projects – (1) the benefits may be limited and not clearly defined or appreciated (2) these benefits may not in fact have been achieved at all and (3) many issues still remain unaltered and this can cause friction and irritation where IT people are claiming great success from their use of ITIL.

There are it seems 2 key areas where the projects fail – (1) from a lack of focus on customer experience rather than ‘best practice process’ as previously mentioned (last blog) and (2) not enough focus on the ‘people’ aspect of what needs to be done – so culture, communications, motivation, influence, buy-in, management, governance. All of these things are referred to as part of the need for ‘culture change’, in an improvement projects, but also often without any sense of what this means and how to achieve it in practice.

The reality is that the people elements of a service change or improvement project are the most important and need most attention, yet they are often ignored or paid lip service, or worse, defined as separate elements that are delivered by one or more individuals, rather than being universal responsibilities.

Quite simply you can have the best technology and processes, but the project will fail without shared commitment, understanding, collaboration and ownership, as well as governance.

For many internal (retained) IT departments, whilst this may be an issue, there is currently a growing groundswell of activity which is forcing them to change, by collaborating more, automating and building end-to-end processes with other internal ‘back-office’ departments.

To me however there is a greater challenge for many MSP companies, who similarly need to modernise and automate many ITSM processes and services, but are perhaps not positioned suitably to influence their clients to look at doing this. There is a real spectrum now emerging of what is offered, bought and delivered by IT Managed Service Providers, although those that don’t look forward could end up in trouble and losing market share.

I visited and worked with an MSP in the last year that needed some help on positioning and marketing – it seemed that they weren’t winning new business. They were pretty well organised and operated to good standards, plus their pricing was competitive, so there were no real issues there. The problem however was that they were still offering what they thought their (IT department) buying customers were expecting – and couching this in somewhat dated ITIL process language.

So they had Incident Management and Problem Management and Change Management as ‘services’ – and whilst this seemed to get a good reaction from some of their prospective IT buyers, it was not ultimately achieving success with sales. In particular there was some feedback that, if ‘business people’ were involved on the customer side during the sales process, then this seemed to drive a negative wedge between the parties. Customers didn’t understand what they were getting or see much point or relevance of what would be delivered and its metrics.

So first of all there was little to attract the non-IT buyer – both in terms of what services were offered and also how this would be presented and evaluated. More importantly however was the lack of any business related interface or portal, that was in a recognisable form, with any attempt to develop real quality initiatives on behalf of customers. They were offering what they had been asked for in recent years – IT Support services, to ‘keep the lights on’ via recognised IT (SM) processes.

Of course it was relatively straightforward to point out the need for a more modern and less ITIL driven approach to services and offerings, certainly the need to orientate these towards customer needs and business goals rather than simply IT functions.

There was inevitably some push back from the MSP about some aspects of this – i.e. they sell to IT people so shouldn’t they be using the language that these IT people were used to? My point was that they may not be selling for long to IT people, both because these people were having to change and those who weren’t might not be around for long. And the key outcome of this was of course that the old approach wasn’t selling…

However the bigger challenge – and this is borne out in many other recent experiences – is that MSPs need to be braver, offer more innovation, quality, reduction in ‘incidents’ – even if this is challenging to their commercial models. In effect they need to try driving their customers’ expectations and behaviours, as well as offering new options for service delivery.

So as more internal organisations are developing collaborative tools and processes, MSPs need to find ways to compete with these functions and offer solutions that can not only carry out support functions, but also deliver value and quality improvements that are tangible in business terms.

In practise this may be challenging for both people and organisations that have grown around ITIL and other process frameworks. I am not of course suggesting that key ITSM processes are abandoned – they offer MSPs the opportunity to provide consistent delivery – however I do suggest that these are not used as the focus for services, or indeed sold and marketed as services, without quality and error reduction built in as part of this.

I recently worked with an organisation that had changed (MSP) supplier and in doing so moved from a pay- per- incident model to a payment depending on incident reduction model. So payment moved from being based around volume of incidents, to being based on reduction of incidents. This is also a trend that is emerging, but it would be good to see more.

So ultimately here we are seeing the realisation of the dream of Continual Service Improvement (CSI) , Problem Management and error avoidance, taking shape within a commercial model. The challenges here are around the need for greater collaboration across and between organisations, as successful CSI requires a holistic approach, involving all stakeholders in the supply chain. So the DevOps concept of respect and lack of blame culture is key in order to attain this.

As ever for organisations to survive they need to be current and look ahead to stay in front of the competition. It’s now no longer good enough to simply offer commoditised and industrialised IT support that fits the ‘best practice’ model – as this is looking dated.

If IT providers and MSPs want to stay around, they need to forge ahead, providing new solutions that support customer experience and using new and innovative models. ITSM has become a commodity and we need to ensure that the focus of this goes back to adding value…


About the Author

Barclay Rae has extensive experience in ITSM, Service Desks, Service Catalogues, and CRM. He is a high profile industry consultant and business manager, with significant business, sales, project and operational delivery experience including:

  • Consulting and project management on over 500+ Service Management
  • Creation of ITSMGoodness – a practical approach for ITSM
  • Media input via ITSM TV and podcasts – also white papers and blogs
  • Commitment to service excellence and business success.

BRC clients include; Aggregate Industries, Lloyds Pharmacy, Nationwide, Thomson Reuters, Thomsons Solicitors, BP, RBS, Sony, Oxford University, United Nations.

For more information, please visit:

Barclay Rae