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Be the transformer: ITSM in the era of digital transformation

For more than 50 years, our world has been transforming, digitally. Recently, the rate of transformation has seemingly increased and, with a large number of people believing that ‘software is eating the world’, IT capabilities are no longer confined to the IT department. This goes beyond ‘traditional’ concerns like Shadow IT – with technology an integral part of people’s lives, (rather than something accessed solely in the office for work-related tasks), habits and expectations have changed significantly. This poses challenges for some functions of more traditional IT setups, but, thankfully, it offers opportunities that are potentially even greater.

Digital transformation

Managing specific areas in IT, whether hardware or software, requires specialist skills. The more complex the environment, the more specialised the skills. While the complexity of components and systems has increased over time, exposure to that complexity has changed. ‘Rugged’ IT of the past left the specifics of running a company’s IT to the specialists within the IT department. The fragility of technology and its high cost meant firefighting was the default state for many IT departments. Add to that the ever-changing needs of the business itself and it’s not difficult to imagine the levels of stress involved – but also the pride, when things worked as planned.

In the past decade, the IT industry has seen a great step towards commoditisation – expensive and fragile sectors of the IT environment, traditionally managed in-house, can now be successfully outsourced without the need for hands-on involvement.

This change is illustrated by the recent debate around ‘serverless’, where the software development side has no visibility, and often no desire of visibility, to the server side. Provided the addition of capacity and the fixing of issues is automated and instantaneous, the hardware side of the complexity is trusted to a third party.

Similarly, with a microservices approach, teams are less dependent on each other with regards system architecture. This gives each team more freedom for decision-making, which significantly increases the tempo at which new features can be released to the customer.

Both of these examples are, of course, more complex in reality. Rather than disappear, the roles have become even more specialised. However, it illustrates the shift in mentality around what any given team within IT needs to worry about.

This less interdependent IT, which helps to increase resilience and flexibility, requires strong coordination. In software development, it needs the umbrella of the application itself, and the increasing day-to-day collaboration between teams (think DevOps), to ensure alignment. However, when it comes to value delivered, this is not enough. A continuous dialogue between IT – including security, development, testing, and operations – and the customer is needed to ensure that what is developed is indeed valuable and fulfils the requirements of both utility (what is provided) and warranty (how it is provided).

There is a difference between combining these two aspects when looking at IT functions within the world of apps, or attempting a similar thing within enterprise IT. The difference probably warrants a book on its own, but in the context of digital transformation – where IT is an integral part of the value chain, rather than sitting outside it – the role of IT is inextricably linked to trust.

Trusting IT

As a ‘user’ of an application, whether it is the mobile or desktop version, your participation in what is offered is mostly passive and, while your opinions would hopefully be heard should you make suggestions as to how the application could be improved, the level of influence on the future of the application is low. You also have limited options when the application is not performing as it should – while voting with your feet can be a powerful way to express dissatisfaction, sometimes it is the only option. As a ‘customer’ – traditionally defined as someone who pays – the expectations are different, and so is the level of influence. Business critical functions cannot be built on ‘we will do the best we can’ promises and, while it’s unrealistic to expect a 100 per cent availability for any service, a paying customer usually expects continuity planning that matches the criticality of the service.

It is important to remember that IT is not there to ‘do IT’ – the role of the IT service provider, whether providing services internally or as a specialised company providing services to external customers, is to combine technical components and skills to deliver value. This is not the same as simply delivering hardware or applications – it requires the ability to translate what technology can do into what the customer wants to achieve, in partnership with that customer. Without structure, it can be difficult for IT, regardless of the delivery model, to step outside the ‘IT only’ world and embrace the role of a true service provider. IT Service Management (ITSM) can provide that structure.

There are plenty of opportunities for IT service providers to support the organisation’s digital transformation. It often requires a transformation of sorts for the service provider itself, changing from what is perceived as a cost centre to becoming a trusted partner. For organisations who have already introduced the concepts of ITSM in their business, the organisation-wide drive for digital transformation provides a strategic initiative around which significant improvements can be structured.

For example, today’s technology allows effective automation of processes and procedures which once required manual involvement for best results. To identify improvement opportunities like this, it is helpful to remember why specific ways of working were originally put in place. If those objectives can be achieved with less work using current technology, the opportunity is worth investigating.

For organisations not yet familiar with ITSM, the best option for understanding how IT can become a trusted partner on the digital transformation journey is not to start with IT strategy meetings or by attempting to introduce new processes and procedures. It is more important to understand what their customers want to achieve, and then, in an iterative and collaborative manner, leverage IT to design fit-for-use and fit-for-purpose services which enable them to achieve those objectives.

Kaimar Karu, head of ITSM at AXELOS