After a rollercoaster ride in IT investment over the past few years, many organisations are beginning to look at how they use information technology in a more strategic manner. Most critical business processes now depend on IT to some extent so it's no surprise that companies are recognising they must have effective control over technology. IT Service Management (ITSM) is increasingly being used as a framework for bringing IT in line with business strategy.
ITSM is typically used in large scale deployments to ensure that there are clearly defined and auditable processes in place. This is not only to aid deployment but also to ensure the service being delivered is the one the business needs. Jack Worsfold, senior consultant at consultancy iCore, explains: "ITSM allows the organisation to identify where the business need is not being addressed by IT, where there is any non -- compliance, or where there are problems with service delivery." Worsfold has worked on a number of projects focusing on service management best practice.
The ultimate goal of ITSM is to take technology away from the technologists and put it in the hands of the business. Michael Disabato, vice president of network and telecom strategies at analyst company the Burton Group, says: "ITSM relies on an understanding of the enterprise's business needs. ITSM then takes those requirements and translates them to a series of service level agreements (SLAs). Those SLAs form the foundation for the enterprise technical architecture and design. If the infrastructure must be upgraded to meet the SLA, there is a ready -- made business case tied to corporate business requirements."
It's clearly impossible to talk about service management without encountering ITIL. In fact, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) -- a cohesive set of best practices supported by training and implementation tools -- is completely bound up with the modern approach to service management. Although ITIL was an initiative created by the UK government more than a decade ago, it has spread far and wide -- both into the private sector and abroad. Authors for the current update of ITIL hail from all sectors worldwide.
Aidan Lawes, CEO of the IT Service Management Forum (ITSMF), says: "There is nothing else quite like ITIL. It is not a methodology per se -- it is just advice and guidance. ITIL is not based on scientific theory, it is documented best practice. ITIL is widely used because it is commonsense but it is not a bible that should be followed blindly." It is not necessary to adopt all of the ITIL best practices; organisations should only choose those parts of ITIL that are most relevant for their own situation.
For deployments to be successful, organisations need to have a clear vision of their service management strategy. iCore's Worsfield says: "The CIO or project sponsor needs to know what the benefit is. If it is a cost plan, then you need to know where the savings will be and what your existing costs are. If it is service improvement plan then you need to know what your current situation is and how to measure the improvement."
One thing is clear: ITSM is no straightforward project. The Burton Group's Disabato says: "ITIL/ITSM is a huge undertaking that will require a shift in corporate culture. Attempting to implement it all at once is a recipe for failure. The adoption plan should be broken into smaller steps. While some of these can be done in parallel, breaking the adoption plan into smaller chunks allows IT to declare victory at intervals and show that progress is being made."
Because each organisation is different, there is no clear roadmap to effective service management. But, as a general rule, each organisation should focus on their own pain points and choose projects where service management can deliver tangible benefits. Quick wins are important and the ITSMF's Lawes recommends three potential activities for initial investigation: change management; the service desk; and asset management. "These three areas can go a long way to demonstrating the real value of service management. They can offer real cost savings and can make the project an easier sell," he says.
Lawes adds: "Most organisations have some change control in place but not true change management. A significant amount of downtime is caused by bad changes -- therefore implementing change management can have a major impact on the bottom line." Although individual teams will have their own change management processes in place, many organisations do not have cross -- functional change management in place. Poor planning between teams can cause many problems when upgrades are rolled out, for example.
The service desk plays a crucial role in service management but has been overlooked by many organisations. If the service desk is to provide good quality service to its customers then it needs high quality people with service skills and the right knowledge and clear processes. Unfortunately many organisations struggle to find good -- quality staff for the service desk, as there is a perception that it is low -- quality work. The whole attitude to the service desk needs to change because the people on the service desk can make a massive difference to the perception of the service.
By applying service management best practices, a helpdesk could know the configuration of a caller's system -- and then choose to solve the same problem in all systems with the same configuration. They would also allow organisations to identify potential problems, such as a lack of training on a software package because it has generated a high number of calls.
The final fruitful area of work is in asset management. Many organisations have very little idea of the assets they own. Asset management can save organisations money in many areas such as by cutting down on the number of obsolete licences or reducing the number of applications the organisation has to support. Much of this groundwork was already carried out during Y2K projects but unfortunately most organisations threw this information away, according to Lawes.
Although these three examples all offer organisations cost savings for service management, these quick wins are only part of the story. In fact, says Lawes, most organisations' main motivation for ITSM is service improvement: "This is a little surprising because it is very hard to measure intangible items such as customer satisfaction."
These organisations have recognised that the intangibles are the important part. IT in its role of business support should be running smoothly. If processes are improved and the calls to the service desk drop off, then the organisation's energy can be directed away from firefighting to enabling the business in new ways and, ultimately, increasing profitability.