Around 500BC, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “Everything flows, nothing remains the same”: which we paraphrase today as ‘the only constant is change.’ For those covering IT service management (ITSM), this is especially true of the processes they follow to run their enterprises. The constant change and evolution of business requirements and the pace of change in the IT world in general, means that a process that works today may not be suitable in six months’ time.
Gartner recognises this too, with their research showing that most organisations turn over their service desk solutions about every five years. There can be many drivers for this from the requirement to deliver results faster to the need for more management information and reporting or stricter audit and compliance controls. Other drivers can include new staff appointments or company mergers resulting in multiple systems being in place.
All these changes will ultimately have an impact on how the organisation approaches ITSM, and being able to respond to those changes quickly requires process and service agility. As many enterprise IT systems are complex, having built up over time, ripping and replacing applications can be too expensive to consider. Instead, looking at the business process around ITSM and how existing tools can be integrated into a more efficient workflow can offer a more effective route.
Are you talking to me?
When considering the business process around something like IT service management, the important consideration should be what strengths the individual parts of the solution can offer. For example, humans are great at problem solving and dealing with exceptional circumstances, while on the other hand, computers are great at repetitive tasks and moving big chunks of data around. Automating tasks that are repetitive or don’t require human interaction is therefore an essential step in looking to improve business process performance and effectiveness.
For human to human interactions, the issue is all about the interface. It needs to be personalised for each user so that the information they need is available in a form they can use immediately. This means user interfaces designed for each role in the organisation: one size does not fit all. In addition, the user should be able to create their own alerts as well as subscribe to published ones. This will help them manage their work and time by having the system alert them to bottlenecks or tasks coming due to become, essentially, each user’s own personal assistant.
The ITSM system should also be able to make decisions when humans cannot (or will not). Examples here include letting the user know there is a task needing completion; also letting the user know that, if they don’t respond, default actions will occur. These can include to approve or disapprove requests, or to escalate to a higher level.
For IT systems to talk to one another, they have to be integrated. Too frequently these integrations become the weakest link in the automation as they can be quite brittle. Future IT Integrations have to be based on web services and anyone buying an automation technology should mandate this support as one of their top priorities in the selection of a solution.
Modern technologies also need to be process centric in their design: it is no longer acceptable for a vendor to dictate the process. Tools which adopt a common open standard and which allow the integration to evolve over time are ideal. This ensures that organisations avoid the problem of having to rip out solutions that no longer meet their requirements and cannot be coerced to support the new ones.
When the ITSM system communicates with a human and needs a response, it should focus on delivering the information necessary packaged in a form that can be easily comprehended. There tends to be too much focus on the infrastructure that delivers the information and not enough on the information itself.
To solve this, do not organise the information based on where it comes from, or the format it’s stored in. Instead, think about how the data can become information with the addition of charts, maps, scales and any number of visual clues that make comprehension easier; and you must ensure that the data is actionable. Of course all of this needs to be done so it complies with any relevant compliance and auditing requirements as well.
When humans have to direct their IT systems, they need to be able to do it from wherever they are: we all live a highly mobile lifestyle now so we each need to be able to use our mobile devices to interact with our corporate systems and processes. Modern automation tools must provide the same full experience on a mobile device as on a standard PC or laptop.
Bridging the gaps
Being able to bridge the gaps that exist between different business functions and sections of the enterprise is an important requirement for establishing these new business processes. For ITSM implementations, supporting this involves understanding where these gaps exist and how they can be overcome through automation.
This is achieved through having a completely configurable platform that allows for the integration of many disparate systems. This requires complete and transparent access to information irrespective of where the data source exists, in turn allowing different parts of the organisation to see value from the process. By linking together these applications and services at the workflow level, the organisation can derive greater value from its ITSM processes.
At its heart, ITSM is all about delivering better levels of service back to the organisation and helping the business to function more efficiently. By looking at integrating and orchestrating the business process around ITSM, organisations can see a faster return on their investment without having to go through full-scale replacement of their systems. Just as Heraclitus thought about change being constant, so ITSM and business processes have to re-evaluated on a regular basis. This ability to look deeper into the processes and workflows involved in supporting the organisation, and evolving with them, will be crucial for ITSM to continue delivering business value.
This article first appeared in VitAL Magazine on September 28th, 2011.