ITSM is broken: establish a Centre of Excellence if you want to get it right

Today’s IT service management systems look worryingly similar to those created decades ago.

IT service management (ITSM) hasn’t lived up to expectations. The introduction of ITSM frameworks in the early 2000s was supposed to dramatically improve IT operations by ensuring that “the right processes, people and technology were in place to help organisations meet their business goals”.    

But today’s IT service management systems look worryingly similar to those created decades ago – poorly designed, with a reliance on forms, cluttered with unnecessary information, and still struggling to align effectively with the business.   

At the same time, technology has changed dramatically in the consumer world. Whether it’s searching for and choosing a product or service or tracking how a purchase is processed and delivered, consumers have become accustomed to a seamless user experience in their personal lives.    

It’s an experience they naturally now expect in a professional capacity too, but ITSM’s failure to keep pace with this consumerisation of IT means the reality is that these demands are far from being met in the workplace.

The workplace and consumer services gap

Recent research commissioned by ServiceNow shines light on the extent of the gap between the streamlined services delivered to consumers and those available at work, with popular consumer services ranking 103 per cent better than workplace services.    

Using outdated systems in the workplace is draining productivity at an unprecedented level, with the ServiceNow research revealing that 72 per cent of managers have less time to focus on strategic initiatives due to manual services.   There is no doubt that laborious, time-intensive processes are a major drag on the enterprise and nowhere is this more of an issue than in the IT department itself.    

Outdated tools and processes work nothing like Google or the apps we’ve got used to in the consumer world, so the result is that employees on both sides of the service desk still have too much work and too little assistance. It’s a situation that has only compounded the negative, outdated perception of IT within organisations. 

Rethinking the service desk

This can be witnessed most easily at the simplest level of ITSM - incident management. The frontline interface that employees use to engage with IT is largely still a clunky, old-fashioned ticketing function. Surely, the notion that the IT department should be sitting and waiting for tickets will be laughable in years to come – if it isn’t already?  

Just as service organisations widely use personalisation, predictive software and customer data to anticipate the next customer requirement, so too should the IT team be adopting autoremediation tools now to help identify and prioritise IT problems before users become affected.   

Another example is change management. The old model of ITSM change management cannot accommodate the pace of change in modern businesses, where at the extreme you’ve got Amazon Web Services reportedly making a change every 11.6 seconds to its estate.    

The ITSM method of change management was originally designed to protect the business, with a change advisory board (CAB) meeting face to face, once a week to prioritise and agree on proposed changes! But every business now needs ITSM to adapt to a more dynamic, real-time approach to managing change to the IT estate, if the business is to remain competitive and deliver exceptional customer service.   

Measuring the effectiveness of ITSM also needs to be refocused around the needs of the business. Tools and processes are all too often focused around service level metrics, yet meeting an SLA on the speed of ticket resolution can ignore all manner of issues around the quality of the service delivered or the business user’s overall satisfaction.

IT’s role in driving service transformation  

Service management is becoming a new hot topic in businesses and IT should be well-placed to help other departments “consumerise” their own services and improve how they offer these to the business. But before IT can do this, it needs to get its own house in order and transform from a legacy IT function to one that engages with the business to address real business issues.   

Globalisation, cost containment and specialisation are three of the most important drivers for building closer alignment between the business and IT, but none of this will happen without the vision and dedication of an enlightened CTO or CIO.    

And, once the ambition is there, then the best way to bring ITSM bang up to date is to establish an ITSM Centre of Excellence (CoE). This is a term that gets used a lot in different industries, but what exactly is it and how do you go about getting one?

Defining the ITSM Centre of Excellence

CoEs are being widely used in the market as organisations establish new, specialised infrastructure technologies. Most Fortune 500 organisations have some notion of a Centre of Excellence, and regulated industries such as Healthcare, Utilities, Financial Services and Public Sector are currently leading the way in terms of adoption of CoE structures.   

Put simply, a Centre of Excellence is a framework, or set of guidelines, which governs best practice in IT. By putting in place a proven strategy and process for “how you do things around here” businesses can begin to build a standard operating model or polished product set that has documented outlines for each IT discipline, from incident management to change management and beyond.    What a CoE actually looks like will vary from organisation to organisation, but as well as the overall common goal of business alignment, a Centre of Excellence has clear benefits:

  • Auditable – creating clear, repeatable processes that can be reviewed easily helps the audit process, but also business efficiency. It also reduces errors and protects the business from security risks that result from ill-defined processes
  • Governance – a documented strategy for IT and how it will support the business assists with the prioritisation of activity and avoids wasting precious resource on projects and activities that don’t support the overall strategy
  • Continuous improvement – a good ITSM Centre of Excellence is constantly evolving and looking for new ways to simplify, integrate, automate and refine the service it offers to better support the business
  • Measurable – a CoE helps define what ‘good’ actually looks like from both a business and stakeholder perspective and moves measurement away from traditional SLA-based KPIs
  • Credibility – a CoE provides a strategic approach to achieving ITSM maturity that creates consistency and reliability. This credibility will turn around the perception of IT in the organisation

However, all this requires significant change in terms of culture, politics, language and of course technology, and it can often take at least two years to really develop a CoE stronghold.  

The path to ITSM maturity

So how do you know when you’ve got there? Well there are five stages of ITSM maturity and an organisation can spend a lot of time and money trying to reach the ultimate level. But at ServiceNow, we believe that level three gives the IT team the best foundation from which to start looking outside of the IT function to help improve business efficiency on a broader level.   

At level three, if your process is well defined, understood and implemented, the following will be true: tasks, responsibilities, and authorisations will be well defined and communicated; targets and quality will be measured; comprehensive management reports will be produced, communicated and discussed; and formal planning is done.   

If you’re ticking all these boxes, then you’d like to think you can put your feet up, but instead you will soon find yourself with an entirely new set of challenges. Other business disciplines such as HR, finance and facilities will be looking at you admiringly, with a desire to replicate the automation and efficient service you’ve achieved in IT.    

The result? IT will start to experience an increase of incoming requests to support the wider business. While this creates the challenge of demand management, it’s a good problem to have. Ultimately, it’s a sign of your success - IT service management is working properly at last!  

Paul Hardy, Chief Strategy Office, EMEA at ServiceNow
Image source: Shutterstock/Tashatuvango