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How ITSM became an island in the IT ocean

It wasn’t that long ago that I conducted an IT Service Management (ITSM) maturity assessment for a large energy infrastructure company followed by the development of a Service Management roadmap as part of an ambitious IT Transformation program.


I remember sitting down with the CIO as part of many interviews and he brought with him an enlarged IT4IT Architecture diagram. After a brief introduction he asked me to show on that diagram which components were in scope of the ITSM assessment. The fact that he was familiar with IT4IT™ impressed me, and that he asked me about the scope of the ITSM assessment didn’t surprised me either. After all, in my experience most senior IT Managers still relate to ITSM as in Incident, Problem, Change, ServiceDesk etc. The stuff for Operations. You can imagine his pleasant surprise that the ITSM maturity assessment included all the 26 processes and 4 functions as described in the ITILv3 framework. The whole enchilada to run IT.


I also vividly remember a town hall with the CIO of a #5 ranking Fortune 500 company that I worked for. At some point he excitedly claimed; “I truly love ITIL!”. For him however that unfortunately also meant what many IT professionals probably still perceive being the case today. Best Practises for predominantly Operations, Infrastructure & ServiceDesk. Traditional ITSM tooling vendors unintendedly helped with that perception by enabling functionality solely around these areas driven by market demand. And of course, let’s not forget that as ITIL evolved, there were limited useful ‘best practises’ around for the relative new areas like Portfolio Management, Supplier Management, Business Management, Service Continuity or even Asset Management.


If there was any process ownership of those processes in an organisation, it probably wasn’t associated with ITSM and most likely entrenched in the tower responsible for its delivery. Organisations also often got confused between the roles of process ownership and process management, which didn't help. Multiple islands of governance surfaced with a lack of data and workflow integration. There simply was no recipe for how everything needed to be connected to really improve end-to-end IT performance, and consequently few CIO’s could provide decent transparency in provided services to assess their value much to the frustration of the Business.


Many IT organisations today still have ITSM ownership organised somewhere in one the Infrastructure and/or Operation towers. It has always amazed me that the same industry that nurtured ERP was so slow to recognise the same data and workflow integration opportunities to optimise the business of IT. The idea that ITSM encompasses all the processes and functions to run IT like a business is still hard to comprehend for some.


So many stories and explanations about why majority of 'ITSM implementations' at some point get stalled. Well, maybe it has something to do with how ITSM is generally perceived and it just being another island in the IT ocean. Often even competing with other 'islands'. No overall recipe for how everything needs to be connected.


The success of technology platforms like ServiceNow and the emerging guidance from IT4IT™ and VeriSM™ are slowly changing the landscape with a refreshed focus on Service Management and a better recognition of all the capabilities that effectively need to collaborate and integrate to provide good business value.


Will the legacy of ITSM prevent organisations from lifting governance (not to be confused with management!) up from the Operations/Infrastructure space and bringing it close to the CIO Office? Will better awareness of Service Management through improved education (e.g. models, standards, frameworks, methodologies) lead to a revival of ITSM as the overarching umbrella to run IT like a business?


Time will tell. Meanwhile Enterprise Service Management (ESM) is also slowly gaining ground. Organisations would do well to learn from the painful lessons learned by IT with ITSM and how it became an island in the ocean of IT. While ITSM and ESM are just labels, one can argue that organisations that have effective (IT) Service Management governance, principles and a flexible management mesh in place are better positioned to competitively deliver business value in our rapidly increasing digital society.


If you don’t have an (IT) Service Management Office in place yet to help establish a modern and flexibel IT Operating Model, perhaps worthwhile to consider this, but more about that in a future article, so stay tuned.

ITSM... an island in the IT ocean

My hope is that ITSM will see a re-birth to help IT Run Like a Business as it provides tangible business value to the enterprise, but I’m not holding my breath.


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