To begin analysing what should guide the ITSM industry, we must start by addressing a difficult question first: is a waning ITIL responsible for pushing us off course? Being rudderless is less about industry trends and drivers, and more to do with the maturity of the market according to Simon Kent, head of technical business services for ITSM software specialist Cherwell. ”The rudderless IT shop is likely to be reactive and in fire fighting mode, ITIL is still a great guide offering solid best practice to overcome this.”
“I disagree that ITIL is waning, it continues to be a force for good, driving jobs, improved understanding and communications, birthing associations etc. ITIL helps technology leaders and professionals take a pragmatic view of the business and offers a common language to communicate difficult concepts,” says Neil Penny, product director ITSM specialist Sunrise Software. “Most people, even deep thinkers and creatives, struggle when faced with building something from nothing, having a framework is helpful. ITIL might not have all the answers for challenges such as technology convergence, but as long as expectations are not too high and those adopting it remain pragmatic, it is still an excellence resource,” continues Penny.
If this is true, what has gone wrong? Why is ITIL, once placed on a pedestal, increasingly maligned? “The vendors, associations and trainers are all at fault for over-inflating ITIL, and then in turn customers expected too much from the suppliers and the framework itself,” says Penny.
Pat Bolger, chief evangelist for service desk software specialist Hornbill, agrees that ITIL has been and will continue to fulfil an important role. However, the understandable limits of what the books can offer is partly the cause of current uncertainty in the industry. “I’m not sure the industry is rudderless, but there is a disconnect between what IT does and why it’s doing it. We’re plugging away, but we don’t pause to stop and check we’re supporting the right things. The mindset (of service desks) remains: ‘we don’t support external customers’, Well, why not? You are supporting those who support end users, so ultimately you must think this way. Implementing ITIL process is great, but unless you have limitless budget, you must offer value, and ITIL projects must be treated in the same way.”
Simon Kent says we must learn to separate what ITIL is good at, but don’t allow its teachings to dictate our every move. “The keywords are ‘customer experience’ and this is where aligning too closely to ITIL causes problems. Over-thinking ITIL promotes Harvard business speak and the use of acronyms which mean nothing outside of IT. By speaking in technical terms, we forget about the human experience. Yes, service desks must adhere to certain standards when answering the phone, day-to-day communicating etc, but if payroll calls around payday because they are having a software issue, the focus must shift,” concludes Kent.
So if ITIL’s ‘crime’ is in being misinterpreted, what else is to blame for the current malaise? What about the ITSM tools, are they holding the industry back? There can certainly be a case made for replacing some of the outdated legacy products which lack the integration and flexibility that a decent ITSM tool provides. However, this is a minor consideration when compared against more pressing matters.
“I don’t think this is a discussion about tools, people ask if the tools support 16 ITIL processes, but they might use 20 per cent of the functionality. Most ITSM tools are highly customisable, but just giving someone the tools isn’t enough – we wouldn’t all paint the Cistern Chapel if you gave us a paintbrush. We see that our customers have differing results and so ask why. It’s not the tool, it’s a different approach, the ones doing well are doing simple things effectively,” says Pat Bolger.
Sunrise’s Neil Penny takes the idea further, suggesting rather than the tools being ill-suited, they are actually under-utilised. “Many businesses overlook the (service management) tool they already have. Many ITSM tools can be used as a platform meaning the service desk can help support other areas of the business. Demonstrating value is perhaps the best path for ensuring IT’s relevance, and importance and should therefore largely decide which way to steer,” says Penny.
Penny’s phrase, ‘demonstrating value’ is becoming a crucial driver in the ITSM industry. All businesses want to see where the money goes, and IT can not escape the same scrutiny.
As an industry, we must stop hiding behind the technology, or the processes. We must start showing the value of what we do. Pointing the finger at ITIL for failing to solve a challenge – BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for example, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding about what ITIL was designed for. ITIL helps you underpin a service, how to the structure, control, and support the process – but it doesn’t tell you how to build a service. The variables – financial impact, businesses and departmental requirements, security etc. – must be considered when building the service.
The good news, or the bad news?
The bad news is that ITSM can no longer rely on ITIL, or indeed any ‘quick fix’ solution. No other best practice framework addressing today’s challenges is waiting in the wings to replace it. No association, book, vendor or individual can offer every service desk and IT shop a definitive path to walk which guarantees success.
The good news is that the absolute ‘guidance’ which some believed was so crucial to the health of the industry, didn’t ever exist in the first place. The books, papers, consultants, forums and associations should only have been references, and should remain so. The critical point is that the community needs to cease thinking it needs an omnipotent guiding force to steer its course. The starting point for elevating the ITSM industry is much simpler and can be found much closer to home.
“The challenges haven’t changed massively, even ‘new’ issues such as consumerisation, cloud and BYOD share common issues with problems already tackled. Break it down into components to make it manageable, and at each point keep referencing the business to check you are doing what is needed, not what you think is important. This is about exceeding expectations that the business has of IT,” says Neil Penny, product director ITSM specialist Sunrise Software.
Penny’s point about referencing the business to ensure IT delivery doesn’t veer off course is a crucial one. According to Pat Bolger, chief evangelist for service desk software specialist Hornbill IT has traditionally performed badly in this respect. “Businesses have codes and goals – increase market share, increase retention etc. These simply don’t appear in IT circles, we should be looking at what that IT service ultimately supports or delivers to the business. For example, when marketing sends a email campaign, IT should advise on how to stop bounces, but IT doesn’t always think of itself in these terms.”
Turning the traditional approach to delivering IT on its head and adopting a customer-first mindset is at the core of USMBOK as Bolger explain. “Next generation service management is about starting with the service that the customer wants, then applying ITIL to make sure the process runs. That’s what USMBOK (Universal Service Management Body of Knowledge) is about – keeping ITIL principles but starting outside-in. Currently ITIL projects tends to work inside-out. For example, ITIL would help you design a password reset process, USMBOK would start by asking the customer why they were resetting the password in the first place.”
Simon Kent, head of technical business services for ITSM software specialist Cherwell uses an unusual but apt metaphor to describe how the outside-in approach to IT should be treated. “Service desks need to think of themselves as front of house in a restaurant, providing a set of services as agreed by IT and the business. If they get the first stage right and communicate these services in way that makes sense to the business, the front of house service desk can make the experience enjoyable by fostering relationships between suppliers, customers and technologies. People get too hung up on process or service and become obsessed with the beautiful meal, but without the front of house experience, it falls flat.”
Steering ITSM to clearer waters
Who and what should guide IT? The bad news is that there is no longer a ‘standard’ practice to adhere to, no single supplier or type of IT delivery that will suit all businesses and all situations. The good news is that today, IT doesn’t need a new framework, guiding alliance or association.
IT departments and service desks wishing to be successful should be guided by two forces: their customers, and their customer’s customers. If IT stops assuming and prescribing, and instead facilitates two-way communication, delivers technology that the business needs, and constantly strives to welcome, assimilate and spread the word of innovation, it will succeed. If it can put the needs of customers, both those that it immediately supports and those that it indirectly serves, before considerations about delivery mechanisms, brand of technology, and platform, it will succeed.
So if all that is needed is a mind shift, why isn’t it happening more frequently? Simon Kent details why IT’s engrained way of working is throttling innovation. “Service desks typically start with incident, service request, maybe problem management with some SLA adherence, but this is still back-office firefighting mode and not much changes. The problem is that the front end – the wider strategy and engagement with the business – is overlooked. Technically the CIO or head of IT should be managing the strategy and service portfolio, but there’s a strong argument that you need a CSI (Continual Service Improvement) manager, as well as someone with responsibility for the service portfolio,” says Kent.
A lack of top level guidance is a problem also highlighted by Neil Penny. “Gartner identified this problem a long time ago, we still see too few IT heads with a seat on the board and in turn businesses still view IT as an enabler not a strategic force.”
Directly gaining influence at boardroom level can be difficult but according to Simon Kent, improvements further down the business hierarchy could lead to the kind of massive improvements that will eventually catch the eye of even the least technically-minded board member. “I met an organisation which has a manager for each of the ITIL manuals, reporting into the CIO with updates regarding service design, operation, transition, strategy etc. I estimate conservatively that 70 per cent of organisations don’t have people with direct responsibility for IT strategy planning.”
Kent’s analysis of the structure of IT shows clearly that the problem isn’t ITIL, or lack of documented guidance. The reason IT sometimes struggles to tackle technology challenges is that it is too focused on the operational side of IT, and as Kent argues, there are far more elements involved that define the service lifecycle.
More importantly, Rudderless ITSM needs captains. It needs strong leaders, regardless of their position or status, who are passionate about pushing through change by looking at the wider engagement and service delivery picture. If Kent is even close to be correct in his estimate that 70 per cent of businesses lack an IT service strategy leader, then it is not surprising to see an industry somewhat muddling through, rather than rising to the challenge of providing smart, effective and exciting business technology.
By James West, Service Desk 360