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IT Service Management (ITSM): What businesses need to know

In the early days of business computing, the technology was seen as a supporting tool to help speed up processes like preparing accounts or controlling stock. But as information technology has found its way into more and more areas of business, it’s become increasingly important that IT should be aligned with the needs of the business and be able to deliver added value.

For this to be effective businesses need to have policies and procedures in place to plan, deliver, control and operate the IT services they offer either internally or to outside customers. All of these activities can be drawn together under the umbrella title of IT Service Management.

ITSM is about ensuring services meet the demands of the end user. It has its roots in best practice frameworks like the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (opens in new tab) (ITIL).  An international standard for service management is set out in the ISO/IEC 20000 standard and this has its roots in ITIL 2.

ITSM frameworks

While ISO/IEC 20000 (opens in new tab) is the best known standards framework for service management, it isn’t the only one. ISO/IEC 20000 sets out the minimum requirements for an effective service management system (SMS). Conformance of the SMS to the ISO/IEC standard can be audited and organisations are able to achieve an ISO/IEC 20000 certification to show they meet the appropriate standards.

Other commonly used frameworks include the Business Process Framework (opens in new tab) (eTOM) which is specifically designed for and aimed at telecommunications service providers. There’s also the

Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies (opens in new tab) (COBIT) which is an IT governance framework specifying control objectives, metrics and maturity models. Recent versions of COBIT have brought their naming of select control objectives into line with to established ITSM process names.

FitSM (opens in new tab) is a standard for smaller businesses aimed at producing lightweight service management. It originated as a European Commission-funded project and contains a number of parts, including  auditable requirements and document templates. FitSM standards are published under Creative Common licenses and its compatible with other process standards including ISO/IEC 20000.

The Microsoft Operations Framework (opens in new tab) (MOF) is designed to offer practical guidance for everyday IT activities and help businesses implement reliable, cost-effective IT services based on Microsoft technologies. The latest release of MOF covers service management practices for private cloud operations.

 ITSM tools 

It isn’t strictly necessary to use software in order to implement ITSM. However, many of the more workflow driven requirements can benefit from being controlled using software. There are many tools available to help businesses with the implementation and operation of ITSM. These usually have a workflow management system at their heart, focused on handling service requests, problems, incidents and changes. 

Software suppliers whose tools fulfil specific ITIL requirements can get official approval. This allows them to display a logo on their products under the Axelos (opens in new tab) accreditation scheme.

As with many other areas cloud-based solutions are gaining in popularity and the market for cloud ITSM systems is expected to be worth over $8 billion by 2021 according to research firm Markets and Markets (opens in new tab). This is being driven in part by an increasingly mobile workforce and by the demands of the IoT and big data.

Qualifications and training

There are a variety of qualifications available for practitioners of ITSM. These come from bodies like the British Computer Society (opens in new tab) and are modular in nature covering areas like, service desk management, change management, supplier management and more.

ITSM also has its own professional body, the IT Service Management Forum (opens in new tab) which has a membership of over 700 organisations. It organises events and provides its members with access to leading tools and frameworks.

Service levels 

At the core of ITSM are service level agreements that define levels of service expected between the IT supplier and the customer. In this context the customer can be other departments within the organisation, or external organisations.

By defining service levels it becomes possible to measure how effective the delivery of the IT service is. This in turn means that the IT service provider can be held to account and measures can be put in place for continuous improvement of the service.

This can tie in with a capability maturity model (CMM) in order for the service management process to evolve. The COBIT framework, for example, makes use of CMMs to assess the effectiveness of service management.

What next?

Businesses are becoming more and more reliant on technology and systems are becoming ever more interconnected. That means a failure in, for example, a point of sale system will have a knock on effect to inventory, logistics, accounts and more.

It’s therefore vitally important that systems work together and do so reliably ITSM has a major role to play here. It’s a role that is likely to expand too as the line between IT and non-IT services becomes increasingly blurred. It’s probable that in future we’ll see the emphasis move more towards ‘service’ and away from IT as the frameworks concentrate on a holistic view of the business rather than the technology.

There are a number of reasons for this. As more systems move to the cloud and to SaaS models, so ITSM needs to become more service focused. Similarly the shift towards greater mobility of systems has a profound effect on both the delivery and support of IT services, as does the adoption of Internet of Things devices and move towards exploiting the unstructured data that they provide. Coping with these developments will need more automation and already there are initiatives like Forrester’s Service Management and Automation Playbook (opens in new tab) which offer businesses a practical guide to coping with the challenges these changes will create.

Ultimately all of this means that ITSM teams will need to be able to adapt to more new technology and understand how it’s being used in the enterprise, but they’ll also need a deeper vision of the workings of the business itself. This is likely to lead to higher demand for service management skills and lead to more organisations turning to ITSM frameworks to improve the level of service they offer to their end users.

Ian Barker worked in information technology before discovering that writing about computers was easier than fixing them. He has worked for a staff writer on a range of computer magazines including PC Extreme, was editor of PC Utilities, and has written for TechRadar, BetaNews, IT Pro Portal, and LatestGadgets.