Out of service: when yesterday’s IT service management meets today’s world

Once upon a time IT Service Management (ITSM) was a simple beast to tame. The IT department had the help of a hallowed creed called the IT Service Library (ITIL)- a set of government-developed best practise guidelines for delivering IT services that by the 1990s was the most widely accepted and used framework for both government agencies and companies around the world.

But the concept was first developed way back in the dark age of the 1980s to help the government provide a consistent level of service quality within its own walls, and over the years it has had to undergo a lot of tweaking to adapt to current technology and the way modern businesses work.

As Andrew Brabban, director of application services, emerging technologies & solutions at Fujitsu explains, ITSM processes have changed significantly, and the primary engine of this change is the ramp up in cloud adoption and the need to manage third party cloud service providers within the overall IT service.

‘The introduction of cloud has meant that support processes need to be reviewed and amended to reflect the way each service provider delivers their support,’ says Brabban.

‘While in the past support could often be tailored to meet a client’s particular needs, with cloud the support a cloud provider delivers is standardised for all clients. And the support offered will vary across cloud services. Hence, cloud demands that ITSM processes are much more federated, supporting the service desk as an aggregator of service delivery.’

> See also: Why the IT service desk is the key to digital transformation 

And as ITSM begins to understand its new role as an aggregator of high speed, flexible services based on business demand, the mood among many is that ITIL is in dire need of a refresh to address the forces that have taken the enterprise by storm since its last version in 2007. While many companies still use ITIL religiously and consider it a framework that has stood the test of time, many more organisations either fail to make it work or fail to see its relevance altogether.

‘Eight years can be a long time in enterprise IT, and since 2007 the world has changed dramatically,’ says senior Forrester analyst John Rakowski. ‘We can now talk not just about the cloud but mobility, self-service, automation and DevOps. The reality is this is where ITIL falls down.’

Back to the drawing board

In 2013 the government sold ITIL to a privately-owned startup called Axelos, which has been tasked with revamping ITIL to make it more relevant to the needs of service management today.

Axelos head of ITSM Kaimar Karu assures us that he and colleagues are ‘working closely with practitioners around the world to develop ITIL in the light of these developments and others. We are also working with academia on ITSM-related research, and on advancing the IT service management skills of the students.’

Under Axelos, the future is looking a lot more positive for ITIL. The developments planned by the company are very healthy ones, such as an ethos of collaboration with the practioners themselves and the wider ITSM community to understand their needs before producing the next update in the next two years or so.

However the perception of the framework as a comprehensive doctrine for IT service management no longer holds true for most, as Rakowski explains, and the approach to ITIL is never going to be the same.

> See also: Service management revisited

‘ITIL can still be relevant to organisations today, but they will struggle if they treat it as a bible,’ he says.

Rakowski argues that there is no such thing as ‘best practice’ to everyone or every organisation- it’s actually a lot closer to ‘good practise.’ Strict adherance to the methodology in ITIL as a tick box exercise without taking into consideration for the particular business circumstances is where many organisations go wrong.

‘There’s no one size fits all approach- it’s all about how you take the concepts and materials in the ITIL libraries and adapt them to your organisation,’ he argues. ‘You really need to understand what your business does, what your customers and business users want, and what your pain points are before looking at IT service management. It’s about adoption and adaption, not implementation- there’s where you get success.’

Many companies are abandoning the traditional, on-premise approach to ITSM altogether in favour of outsourcing some or all of these functions, such as incident and application management, to their cloud service providers. In this case, argues Rakowski, what’s important is not whether they have read the ITIL libraries and have the correct certifications, but whether they have a proper understanding of your business’s needs, users and customers.

The sky’s the limit

A traditional or on premise approach to ITSM involves the sourcing, installation and then optimisation of the tool itself. It also then requires a dedicated team to the ongoing management and care of the tool. All of the burden of integrating other tools, adding new features and making adjustments falls on the shoulders of the business. But by moving to the cloud and delegating these things to the cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS), many are finding they can now focus more on using the capabilities instead of building them, as Simon Rogers, enterprise executive, edge service management at Unisys enthuses.

> See also: Forgotten and unloved: does business continuity planning need a make-over?

‘The cloud also enables us to provide a standardised approach to service management that can be implemented quickly, managed consistently and expanded easily to address crucial business challenges,’says Rogers. ‘For example, we’ve been working with BYTES in South Africa to help them move to an on-demand, subscription-based ITSM solution that has streamlined their services delivery and reduced costs associated with maintaining disparate service desks.’

Under this model, says Rogers, customers can be up and running in 45-60 days, as opposed to the six months, or even a year it could take to do it themselves – ‘a huge benefit to any IT organisations facing the pressure to increase efficiencies and reduce costs of IT in the business.’

Risky business

But there are major risks involved whenever you throw third party service providers into the mix, as the big push towards outsourcing in the late 1990s and early 2000s has shown.

‘A lot of this push was because of cost reduction,’ explains Rakowski, ‘but that’s the wrong kind of mentality. You can’t outsource process like it’s a product- they’re very different. The risk is that this person doesn’t understand your business, and there’s a chance they’re going to damage your organisation and brand.’

As technology today becomes increasingly crucial to business success, Brabban argues that this will need to be underpinned by a solid foundation of good ITSM within organisations.

‘I believe what we will see in the near future is actually a revamp of focus on ITSM,’ he says. ‘It will have to encompass disruptive technologies, things like automation solutions, as part of the IT service strategy. There’s a need for it to move faster without losing any of the quality delivery a business needs.’

Now it’s personal

According to Brabban, an increased focus on self-service is likely to continue, and will grow to encompass far more than just password resets and other simple functions of the service desk.

‘This is all because of mobile, and as a result IT service management will need to embrace mobile in a greater remit than it is doing,’ he says. ‘By embracing mobile and sensors you can understand your business and customers in greater details than before, and if you can do this can you deliver better quality IT services.’

Brabban predicts that as ITSM evolves it’s likely organisations will see a huge increase in the channels through which users can seek help.

> See also: Help yourself: how banks are leading the way in mobile self-service

‘This will help ITSM to be continually seen as a proactive element of the organisation,’ he argues. ‘Employees will increasingly expect this proactivity to spot potential issues before they impact them, and this will drive a need for increased analytics.’

And organisations have never had better opportunities to be proactive and dynamic in their service delivery. As Rogers is keen to point out, analytics can be used in greater detail than ever before to address ITSM through the lense of ‘quality of service’ to identify potential impacts on customer perception- a far cry from just looking at key performance indicators such as time to answer and mean time to repair.

‘We can now analyse service across ‘personas’ to better support individual roles and to ensure dynamic Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that are based on the role, instead of one standard applied across the board,’ says Rogers.

Persona based analytics and more detailed service analytics can also provide insight into service engagement and usage, to better identify the major anomalies which, while potentially few in number, create the greatest loss in productivity or revenue, even down to the particular piece of hardware that seems to constantly fail and need repair.

Service comes full circle

Despite the increasing dependance on cloud and SaaS providers for everything including ITSM processes, many including Brabban argue that actually, ITSM has become even more relevant to CIOs as cloud has become part of the standard delivery model for IT service.

‘While CIOs remain drivers of their organisations’ IT strategies, equally they have recognised that the rest of the business needs greater freedom to decide which systems to buy or use,’ says Brabban. ‘In supporting this shift, many are reinveting themselves as brokers or advisors, which in turn might shift to something closer to the federated model.’

> See also: Transforming IT into a cloud service broker

In this approach the CIO remains at the centre, owning a governance structure that helps guide the business, while becoming more closely aligned to business needs through a brokering model that delivers a portfolio of cloud and non-cloud services.

‘Within this model,’ he says, ‘the CIO still retains responsibility for service quality and end to end service management – and ITSM is fundamental to having the insight and operational control to deliver this.’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...