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ITSM is the Foundation for Enterprise Optimization

By Bill Brydges

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Successful IT service management (ITSM) builds a bridge between technology services and business leadership, resulting in an ongoing dialogue that promotes new thinking and drives continuous improvement. ITSM is a concept aimed at forging an efficient relationship between IT, its business customers, and its corporate sponsors. Its evolution was driven by the historical problems of inconsistent delivery, misaligned expectations, unmonitored service level agreements, and isolation of IT from the changing needs of the business.

ITSM formalizes the checks and balances that are required for IT to be a value-added business enabler and not just a one-way delivery pipeline by enforcing a disciplined relationship based on mutually agreed service levels. A central goal of ITSM is to create a proactive and integrated role for IT in the organization, engaging early on as business needs are defined and driving solutions aligned closely with key initiatives while also monitoring and reporting delivery progress throughout.

Viewing ITSM as a project is a way of capturing the scope and change management necessary to drive that transformation. But, the challenge many IT organizations face is they cannot escape the day-to-day minutiae of juggling ongoing projects and firefighting the ever-emerging crises to transform IT into a proactive vs. reactive entity. In many organizations, ITSM is a check box activity performed once by the CIO; often as he or she assumes the IT leadership position. It is used as a customer relations exercise and results are looked at quickly and often filed away before meaningful improvements are made. Over time, service levels revert to their prior settings and the organization absorbs the new leadership without material change to its approach to customer relations.

Effective ITSM is a culture shift, where all aspects of IT service delivery are reviewed on a continuing basis in an effort to raise the bar over time. In much the same way that forward-thinking business leaders look to reduce DSOs or turnover metrics through programs that change long-held beliefs and practices, IT leaders should strive for fundamental changes in service delivery that are sustainable and result in improved metrics and increased customer satisfaction.

Key to this exercise is measurement. ITSM levels must be surveyed and monitored on a periodic basis with results discussed openly with the business customers. It is critical to use objective metrics (average time to close a service ticket, project budget metrics, SLAs around uptime, etc.) as well as less quantitative measures around user perceptions and feedback loops. An IT organization that is running well by the numbers achieves nothing if business customers perceive inefficiency or lack confidence in delivery capabilities. In addition to its other challenges, ITSM must recognize that business cycles such as month-end close or seasonal upticks may mean multiple sets of criteria for performance. The ITSM framework must be designed accordingly.

Outside Influences

It is also important to consider views on IT service levels from various perspectives in the organization. While the business may be thrilled with IT delivery results, finance may be less than thrilled with excessive spending on new infrastructure, too much reliance on external resources to accomplish key goals, or lack of focus on evolving key risk and compliance objectives like SOX, disaster recovery, or business continuity planning. Additionally, the folks at corporate may have different views of ITSM than remote users who rely on different applications and technology to get their jobs done.

If continuous improvement is the goal, assessments need to be repeated over time and integrated into ongoing processes so that IT and business leaders can identify trends and, monitor the impact of changes to approach, project governance, and problem resolution that are implemented to drive improvements. If a new ticketing system is implemented, for example, it is imperative to determine whether it’s achieving the desired results—not just from the perspective of IT staff, but for business users who rely on it for solving real-world problems.

Similarly, adoption of improved processes or systems must be reviewed to determine whether change is effective. If support requests are always handled by shirt-grabbing the desktop engineer or blasting e-mails to one’s favorite technician, the organization will likely have limited ability to drive change in overall IT service levels by implementing complex and expensive tracking systems―without incorporating serious culture change as a key component of its efforts.

Check Up

A proven approach is to make ITSM part of a recurring CIO health check process. Using this approach, the CIO develops a multi-dimensional analysis of IT’s role in the business and how successful it is in achieving corporate goals. The CIO's organization reviews this assessment tool with the business to understand current and future priorities, better understand current capabilities, and identify areas for planned improvement and investment.

While the cards in the CIO health check deck may change over time to address Green IT, virtualization, or other new approaches and technologies, the health check also reviews more basic IT characteristics like infrastructure capabilities, IT governance, risk and compliance controls, and IT methodologies to ensure that IT is looking objectively at itself and its performance within the organization. Repeating the health check process on a periodic basis allows IT to review the performance of its overall relationship with the business, identify needed changes, and plan for the future.

Ultimately, the goal of ITSM should be to eliminate the perception of IT as a slow-moving, reactive, and bureaucratic hindrance the business is forced to navigate to meet its objectives. IT should be at the table and actively engaged early on; sharing in planning as well as implementation, and partnering with the business to drive optimization and growth. Trust is key and it’s created when ITSM defines the goals and objectives of IT’s relationship with the business and demonstrates continued commitment through ongoing measurement and reporting.

Bill Brydges, an accomplished IT executive with more than 20 years of leadership experience with ERP applications, infrastructure, IT managed services, and IT strategy projects, serves as managing director in MorganFranklin's commercial sector and is responsible for leading the company's technology consulting offerings. In this role, he is responsible for a wide variety of IT-related offerings including ERP, BI/DM, IT strategy, and IT transformation.