Past, present, future of IT service management

By Sean Young, business development manager at ITR Technology

Johannesburg, 09 May 2022

ITSM and ITIL came to life for me in the 2000s. Concepts such as availability management, service continuity management, change management and problem management appealed to me because they focused on activities I had encountered during my career. With ITIL’s framework of ideas, we could have more consistency and structure in our work and be better at communicating with our peers and customers. So, I completed my ITIL V3 Foundation certification back in 2009

I'm told that in the 90s, ITIL primarily focused on processes and providing a framework for creating them. In companies that used ITIL back then, a common thread seemed to be IT support teams responding less to incidents and more to the people who shouted the loudest rather than those who needed help the most.

In 2007, however, for the first time, ITIL was organised in a sequential order to specify what services are for and how to improve business through continual service improvement. Important changes included the creation of a timeline that provides priority and focus on strategy and improvement.

While meeting an SLA is important, it's not the most important thing. Many of the companies I engaged with back then were consistently delivering against their SLAs for customers at the same time as disappointing them, which is strangely contradictory.

Luckily, they figured out that they had to start thinking about their service as a whole and make sure it delivered value to the business. So, when circumstances called for it, they understood that they sometimes needed to make compromises and change to support what the business wanted. The important thing was to make sure the business was getting real value and that they had a good experience.

To do this, an IT organisation needs mature processes in general as well as experienced staff who are agile and confident to sometimes work without relying totally on routine, repeatable processes.

However, when a process focus is changed to service, many people find the change difficult. Many ITSM workers still want to meet SLAs as their only focus, even if it causes issues or is a hinderance for business. It is often hard to persuade people to change their ways; therefore, they sometimes continue the same purely process-focused approach, and that can cause unnecessary problems.

So, what’s next for ITSM then?

Ideally, the industry will start adopting new methodologies, like software development has done with agile and DevOps, to allow businesses to keep up with customer demands. However, for this to happen, IT service management must recognise the need to align with these kinds of ideas as well.

Agile, for example, is an approach to software development that emphasises the importance of:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation;
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

With this flexibility, software quality has improved and the ability to respond rapidly to changing business needs has become possible.

With agile principles, ideas relating to implementing and improving ITSM are also transforming. Instead of long-term ITSM projects, focus is on high quality implementations that can be achieved in months, supporting the business best rather than just the processes and tools.

Another example is 'lean' – a management approach that emphasises customer value with minimal waste.

So how could 'lean' principles contribute to the future of ITSM?

Well, by identifying and defining the end-to-end value chain you're in, cutting out any waste in activities and reducing process to the bare minimum required in order to deliver the optimal value.

Then with automation, nearly any task can be automated and made more efficient. Aside from the decision-making process and using human judgment, of course. Everything else as far as possible should be automated provided we understand the activity well that we're automating, and we can improve constantly by refining it.

DevOps also typically automates many tasks that used to be done by people, but also includes operational aspects. ITSM needs to evolve in order to keep up with this new trend. We need to help ensure that the increase in automation of routine operational tasks still retains human judgment across the process from end to end.

You can apply ITSM to the services you offer, be it in IT or not. Enterprise service management (ESM) is the use of these approaches across an organisation, which includes facilities management and just about any other department that offers a service. We all need to manage incidents and problems, fulfil service requests and engage with our customers.

The more the IT department can get involved in a business project at different levels, the better.

I have yet to acquire my ITIL Practitioner certification, but reading up on it has made it clear that there are some fundamental guiding principles that talk to this, such as:

  • Focus on value;
  • Design for experience;
  • Start where you are;
  • Work holistically;
  • Progress iteratively;
  • Observe directly;
  • Be transparent;
  • Collaborate; and
  • Keep it simple.

It also discusses three core competencies, being: metrics and measurement; communication; and organisational change management. All of these are described in the context of continual improvement of IT services.

In conclusion, I believe you need to make these shifts happen if you want to stay relevant in today’s IT environment.

Everyone who delivers or supports IT services should understand how to incorporate these new models and thinking into their work.

Feel free to get in touch and share your thoughts on other practices that could be assimilated into or considered in relation to the evolution of ESM? 

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