“It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life. For me. And I’m feeling good.” Said no one in IT service management (ITSM) on January 2nd. Okay, some of you might have, but many are just stepping back onto the same old treadmill – with the new year the start of 12 months of new challenges along with much of the same-old, same-old. So, what should you do to start off 2019 the right way – or at least in the best possible way?
Or, put differently, what can you do to deliver better IT service delivery and support, and at the same time make ITSM roles more rewarding? It’s why I’ve crafted this blog – my 19 ITSM tips for 2019. Let’s see how many you’d agree with.
Start with the Right Direction
My first group of 2019 tips relates to creating the right foundation for future improvement and change.
- Understand that ITSM “as we know it” is changing (as will your ITSM capabilities). Every which way one looks, there has been a lot of change of late: In the technology we manage and employ to help us manage. The business demand for, and reliance on, this technology (well, the services it contributes to). And the rising expectations of employees and external customers who are being treated to the better outcomes of customer experience (CX) strategies. All of this, and other drivers (including the next bullet) will dramatically change ITSM in the next 12 months and beyond. It’s time to change or to be changed.
- Appreciate that the sudden influx of new ITSM best practice will also drive change. If you’ve read my “2018 in review” blog, then you’ll know about the new versions of VeriSM, ISO/IEC 20000, COBIT (I’ve blogged on this too), and ITIL. With the first wave of ITIL 4 coming in Q1 2019. On the one hand this is great – as per my first bullet, this best practice guidance is finally catching up with the rapidly-changing world we work in. On the other, however, these “new versions” will potentially drive kneejerk improvement-based activities by the people that are exposed to them. Resulting in lots of small, potentially disparate, change activities. This might be considered “better than nothing” but it won’t deliver the same level of benefits as taking a more holistic approach to improvement.
- Get ready to start thinking, and communicating, in terms of business – not IT – value. That’s if you aren’t already. It’s the way that the ITSM industry is heading, and many will state that it should have already been in this state of “focusing on value” years ago. One such voice would be that of Paul Wilkinson, whose workshops commonly expose that the biggest gripe that senior business personnel have of their IT colleagues is that they've “No understanding of business priority and impact.”
- Realize that real ITSM improvement will only come if you proactively plan for it. You probably already know what often happens with our best-laid ITSM-improvement ambitions – the “real work” gets in the way. The hustle and bustle of day-to-day ITSM, and especially IT support, makes it hard for people to take time away from “keeping the lights on.” This not only includes justifying extra resource and costs but also ensuring that opportunities are prioritized based on business need and successes can be measured and communicated in business terms.
- Don’t be fooled into thinking that ITSM improvement equates to business improvement. Instead, you’ll need to truly understand the effects that potential ITSM-improvement ideas will ultimately have on business outcomes. And appreciate that, rather perversely, it’s not impossible for ITSM improvements to have an adverse effect on business outcomes. Why? Consider this very simple example – the IT organization has been successful in driving up IT self-service adoption (a big tick for IT), and sales personnel are now somewhat-inefficiently helping themselves in terms of solving their IT issues. However, the operational savings realized by the IT service desk are far outweighed by the drop in monthly sales. It’s a simple example I know, but worth considering when seeking improvement.
- Identify, and prioritize, ITSM improvements through customer, not IT, conversations. You might already have a long list of things that you’d like to improve upon. But you need to be careful that these are the “right things” from a business perspective. Especially where what seem to be very valid ITSM improvements make little positive impact on business operations (as per the previous bullet). So, rather than taking an inside-out view of improvement, start from the outside and work inwards, i.e. take an outside-in approach.
- Analyze past ITSM improvement activities. This review activity is easily neglected – with the forward-looking focus preventing a look back at what has gone before. As with anything we do in ITSM, there are likely to be opportunities to learn from the past (plus from others) – not only what didn’t go well but also what did go well. These learnings can then be factored into 2019 improvement activities.
Focus on the Right Things
My second group of 2019 tips relates to ITSM trends and innovations that will affect your traditional thinking and operations.
- Appreciate the importance of customer and employee experience to modern ITSM. ITSM best practice has, for as long as I can remember, not wanted to recognize end users as customers – because they don’t personally pay for their IT (with the customers instead being senior business personnel, who still might not pay the IT bills). However, all this is now irrelevant, with what was CX now applicable to employees in the guise of: employee experience. And – the important bit is that – ignoring employee experience will likely adversely affect IT’s future success, value, and ongoing relevance.
- Get prepared for the impending artificial intelligence (AI) revolution of ITSM. There’s no way that your organization, IT organization, and ITSM activities will not start to be affected by the opportunities of AI during 2019. And, during the next year, more and more ITSM tool vendors will introduce task-based AI capabilities – for IT support in particular. From chatbots to the automated categorization, prioritization, and routing of tickets. It will make much of the AI hype of 2018 a reality, and will be key to improving ITSM across all three of “better, faster, cheaper.” So, are you, or will you be, ready for AI?
- …And try to prevent AI “sprawl.” In IT, we sometimes get to a point where people flag up the need to deal with “sprawl” – where technology instances and costs are uncontrolled. A high-profile, early “sprawl” use case was virtualization and virtual machine (VM) sprawl, where organizations would be paying for greater “capacity”, i.e. more VMs, than they actually needed (and used). Then there was cloud sprawl – again caused by the lack of control over the cloud capabilities being paid for (including some that were no longer needed). Now, as IT and other business functions seek to exploit AI, who’s to say that organizations don’t end up in a similar place. Not so much related to redundant capacity but more that a number of disparate AI initiatives, rather than a central push, will cause duplication of effort and higher purchase and running costs (and likely interoperability issues).
- Stop talking to your business peers about the value of enterprise service management. Wait!? What!? Don’t worry, this is one of those “The king is dead, long live the king”-type situations. Enterprise service management is still as beneficial to your company as it ever was. However, it’s important to make a distinction between what it is and what it’s called. Most people in your organization (including many in IT) won’t know, or care, what enterprise service management is. Most, however, will know that “digital transformation is a business imperative” (whatever this means). And the elements of enterprise service management that we know and love can play an effective part in digital transformation, in particular in back-office transformation – replacing often slow, manual procedures with improved automation, insight, and – looking forward – the benefits of AI.
- Start to revisit your people strategies and policies. I’ve already written about some of the significant changes impacting ITSM in my points above. But senior ITSM leaders also need to consider, and react to, the impacts of these that relate to people. This is probably worth more than just one bullet, and tip, here but I’ll try to be succinct. To start, working in IT is getting harder – I cover this in my “A – Z of ITSM in 2019” blog under W for wellbeing. This affects recruitment, through workplace stress, to difficulties with staff retention. Then, the dial is moving on the types of skills and capabilities required of staff. From the aptitude and attitude of IT service desk staff to the ability to successfully work, in an augmented way, with new AI-enabled capabilities. With this not only resulting in new ways of working, there’s also likely going to be new roles that deal with more-complex tasks and problems given that self-service, automation, and AI have removed the simpler tasks.
- Reconsider how to best understand and manage customer perceptions of IT. The trusty customer satisfaction questionnaire has long been the tool of choice for understanding what customers, i.e. business colleagues, think of the IT organization and IT support in particular. However, the ITSM industry is slowing waking up to the fact that this metric – or at least the questions that are asked, and how they’re asked – is hiding the true state of customer feelings (re IT). And if customer perceptions aren’t being accurately understood, then any activities undertaken to improve them are probably misplaced. To quote the legendary Ivor Macfarlane: “If we measure the wrong things, then we’ll probably get better at the wrong things."
- Take a long hard look at your level of knowledge management and self-service success. Why? Because these are both areas that should positively influence your AI successes, but only if you’re “doing” both capabilities well. And, unfortunately, many IT organizations are still struggling with the translation of related technologies into capabilities that employees actively use. For your sake, and the best use of your attention span, I’ll not cover this here. Instead, I suggest that you look at the letters K and S in my “A – Z of ITSM in 2019” (for knowledge management and self-service respectively) when you've the time. I've also written various pieces offering both knowledge management and self-service tips.
- Also take a long hard look at how well you're playing with your Dev colleagues. I’ll also not dwell on this, because my blog is already long and I’d like to think that things are getting better (versus the “70% of respondents who think that there has been insufficient involvement of ITSM personnel in their company’s DevOps activities and ambitions” in a mid-2017 ITSM survey). So, take the time to question how well ITSM and DevOps communities are currently working together in your organization. If they aren’t, and should be, then please do something positive about it (finally).
- Invest in better change capabilities. No, I’m not talking about the ITIL-espoused change management process here. Instead I’m referring to organizational change management (OCM) and the need to recognize that most technology and business changes are ultimately people-related changes. The ITIL Practitioner Guidance publication describes OCM as: “An approach for managing the effect of change on people, which could be because of new business processes, changes in organizational structure or cultural changes within an enterprise. Simply put, OCM addresses the people side of change management.” And it’s very much about understanding how we, as humans, respond to change and then using proven tools and techniques to help people to buy into any given change. I’ve also written a whole blog on OCM if you’re interested.
Look Beyond Your Discrete Changes
My final group of 2019 tips relates to sustainability of improvement activities.
- Get a measure of your ITSM measurements. How long have you had the same ITSM metrics, particularly your IT service desk key performance indicators (KPIs), for? I’ve already mentioned the need to better understand customer perceptions of IT, beyond the traditional customer satisfaction questionnaire. But there are also many other reasons to invest time and resource in revisiting your metrics. For example, once you've a better understanding of what influences, or drives, customer “happiness,” you can then identify which current metrics drive the wrong behaviors and actions from IT staff, and then outcomes, relative to the now-known customer needs and expectations. Or another is how traditional efficiency metrics will be affected by self-service, automation, and AI success. Will it be okay to just alter the targets or is it more applicable to just put some metrics out to pasture, e.g. first contact resolution (FCR)?
- Don’t forget to communicate your successes. It’s easily done – everyone is just so busy with the day-to-day stuff that any improvement successes are quickly “nodded to” and then passed by. If you fought long and hard to get extra resource and funds to achieve what you've, then not effectively communicating your successes is probably the proverbial “shooting yourself in the foot.” And, importantly, as a result, getting improvement funds in 2020 will probably be even harder.
- Try to help others, and in turn help yourself. You can consider it a karma thing if you like. But the future success of ITSM is, and probably always has been, reliant on those who've succeeded then helping those that haven’t. Traditionally this might have been via the many global ITSM conferences or, for a select few, contributing to formal sources of ITSM best practice. However now, and as demonstrated by the rapid evolution and success of DevOps, our increasingly social and connected lives offer up greater scope for sharing and collaboration between peers – in iterative improvement – for emergent good practices that might well supersede quickly-dated best practices.
So, that’s my 19 ITSM tips for 2019. What would you add, or disagree with? Please let me know in the comments.