Business Intelligence: Take an Informed Approach to ITSM

If you aren’t using BI for ITSM in your organization, you’re losing out on better decision-making, business process optimization, and increased operational efficiency and effectiveness, among other things.

This whitepaper will help you:

Recognize how BI can help ITSM to improve both IT and business operations
Discover best practices for selecting, planning, and deploying a BI tool
Understand where the future of BI is heading

Receive a free copy of our white paper

Business  
Intelligence  
TAKE AN INFORMED APPROACH TO ITSM  
By Stephen Mann  
Why do so many companies, and their IT organizations, continue to waste the business  
intelligence (BI) opportunity that sits atop their wealth of ITSM data?  
IT organizations and IT service management (ITSM) professionals are not averse to data  
exploitation. They might look for incident trends, for problem management purposes, and often  
have a death-by-metrics approach to performance reporting – where it can take someone a  
week to pull together a monthly service desk reporting pack that gets very little attention or  
reads. But beyond the number of incidents handled and the level of first contact resolution  
(FCR), what could the wealth of ITSM data trapped in IT management and ITSM tools be telling  
the IT organization and business colleagues about the past and the future of IT service delivery?  
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Read this white paper to:  
Understand what BI is  
Recognize how BI can help  
ITSM to improve both IT and  
business operations  
Find out what to focus on when  
selecting a BI tool for ITSM  
Discover the best practice  
for selecting, planning, and  
deploying a BI tool  
Understand where the future  
of BI is heading  
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Using Business Intelligence  
for ITSM  
So why aren’t more IT organizations using BI to better understand their past and to influence  
their present and future?  
When you stop to think about it, ITSM tools house, and hide, a great deal of IT-related data  
whether it be in a configuration management database/system (CMDB/CMS), a service  
catalog, or within the more-transactional records for incidents, service requests, problems,  
and changes.  
Some of this data does surface as part of commonly-seen ITSM reporting activities, usually  
with a focus on understanding operational KPIs and trends such as:  
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Average incident resolution times, by incident type or category  
and similarly for service requests)  
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The number of incidents received, resolved, and still open  
and similarly for service requests)  
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Whether service level targets have been met  
It’s handy, and potentially important, information to know but it’s only skimming the surface  
of the data that’s hidden away in IT management and ITSM tools.  
So what’s stopping the ITSM data exploitation opportunity? And what should ITSM  
professionals be doing with BI?  
First, however, it’s best to be on the same page re what BI is and how it can help IT  
organizations to improve IT support and service delivery.  
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What Is BI?  
Business intelligence, commonly abbreviated to BI, is an overarching term for the process  
of capturing data electronically, analyzing that data, and presenting it in a form that decision-  
makers can use to help them to make better decisions, i.e. it provides the “evidence” to  
influence or to back up those decisions. There are also many subsidiary names for different BI  
activities such as data analysis, on-line analytical processing (OLAP), and data visualization.  
Gartner, a global information technology research and advisory company, describes BI as:  
“An umbrella term that includes the applications, infrastructure and tools, and best practices  
that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimize decisions and  
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performance.”  
So BI is supported by fit-for-purpose technology, with BI tools combining historical information  
with data ingested from other systems to provide a comprehensive picture for decision-  
makers. The best BI tools capture activity in real-time and present it almost immediately in  
readily-accessible visual forms such as dashboards. This enables the people who look at  
the data, and visualizations, to rapidly respond to emerging trends and activity (as needed).  
However BI, and BI tools, are not just focused on real-time decision making – it also provides  
a record of activity which can be utilized to plan future strategies, resourcing, and investment.  
In terms of the potential for the ITSM use of BI, it’s important to understand that BI is nothing  
new. With the available BI tools and techniques having matured since the term “business  
intelligence” was first proposed in 1989 – as the umbrella term for applying data analysis  
techniques to support business decision-making processes. The BI technologies initially  
evolved from older, mainframe-based analytical systems, such as decision support systems  
(DSS) and executive information systems (EIS).  
Plus, it’s important to recognize that BI is no longer limited to data analysts, and similarly titled  
roles, with self-service BI now empowering people in all types of roles to get insights into data,  
and potentially hidden relationships, that allow them to see new opportunities and to make  
faster, better-informed decisions.  
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Why Does ITSM Need BI?  
When an IT support function is a team of two people (and one of those is most likely “the  
manager”), reporting, resolution management statistics, and the identification of emerging  
trends is relatively simple. Or at least it seems to be, as IT support staff think that they can see  
what is happening in terms of IT service delivery and operational performance.  
However, when there are many IT support team members in a larger ITSM team – working  
across different shifts, in multiple locations, potentially across different geographies and time  
zones, and working in different languages – such analysis becomes far more complex.  
This is where BI tools, techniques, and methodologies can enable IT organizations to collect  
data from internal and external sources, to prepare the data for analysis, and then to develop  
and run queries against that data – with the BI tool using reports, dashboards, and data  
visualizations to present the results to different team members and stakeholders in the format  
that best suits their decision-making needs and their personal data-consumption preferences.  
Thus a centralized BI tool can be used to draw information from one or more IT management  
and ITSM systems, to automatically assemble and present that information into a single view/  
dashboard of the overall service delivery and support operation for the organization – with  
the range of ITSM BI use cases varied and only limited by the ability to access various data  
sources and the imagination of IT support staff.  
For example, and starting simply, the corporate IT service desk in India might be  
recording end-user issues with an application eleven hours before end users on the  
East Coast of the US start work. If that information just resides on the ITSM system  
in Mumbai, then end users in the US will waste time and resources trying to access  
that application, and then create a substantial volume of incidents for the US service  
desk, which should have already known about the issue.  
Centralized analysis and reporting would enable the Indian team to notify all end  
users worldwide, including those in later time zones, of the issue as it is recognized,  
thereby saving the end users time, and freeing up the US support staff to resolve the  
issue, rather than having to record multiple instances of a known problem.  
More example BI and ITSM opportunities are outlined in a later section.  
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The State of Native ITSM Tool  
Analytics Capabilities  
Many IT organizations are already leveraging ITSM data to some degree, such as incident  
trend analysis and performance reporting. They might even already have processes in place to  
deal with the above simple example. But so much more could be achieved through easier, and  
more insightful, access to the data “trapped” within an ITSM tool or multiple IT management  
systems. So before we look at what, and how, it can be done, it’s worth pausing to consider  
what’s stopping the more pervasive use of BI for ITSM.  
There are a number of possible causes, and the reluctance to use BI for ITSM could be due to  
more than one of them.  
Firstly, few would argue with the saying “good decisions are guided by good data” or the logic  
that great businesses are built on good decisions. So maybe all the hype surrounding “Big  
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Data” has made people think that the ITSM data set just isn’t big enough to pay attention to?  
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Or maybe the “cobbler’s children” principle applies to IT organizations, with them too busy  
dealing with other business-unit information needs to spend time delivering against their own?  
Both could be legitimate reasons for the corporate IT organization and ITSM professionals  
missing the opportunity that is BI.  
Or is it because IT organizations don’t see the need for planning and improvement? Probably  
not, as for most businesses, the IT and cloud-service infrastructure, and annual IT budget, are  
now so large (and potentially still growing) that the failure to plan and to continually seek out  
improvements in efficiency and quality of service is not an option. It happens, it has to happen,  
although one could question how much better it could be with access to more and better data  
or information, i.e. through BI, to fuel decision making.  
Or finally, is it because ITSM tools don’t give as much insight into the data they hold as they  
could? It’s definitely a strong possibility as native reporting, and similar capabilities, are a  
common area of discontent and complaint from ITSM tool customers – with the ITSM tool  
native reporting capabilities often seen as difficult to use, ineffective, or both.  
2. “Big data is a broad term for data sets so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate.  
Challenges include analysis, capture, data curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, querying and information  
3. “The shoemaker's children go barefoot.” Source: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/the_shoemaker%27s_children_go_barefoot  
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This is backed by research from industry bodies such as the Service Desk Institute (SDI) ,  
which consistently identifies ITSM tool “reporting” capabilities as one of the most wanted areas  
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of improvement. In its most recent research report , SDI reported three worrying ITSM tool  
reporting-related statistics:  
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Reporting was flagged as the second biggest customer frustration with ITSM tools –  
behind a generic “features” grouping but ahead of usability, customization, reliability, and  
price amongst others.  
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Reporting was second, again to a generic “features” grouping, in terms of the key  
innovations/improvements customers would like to see in ITSM tools.  
3.  
The “inability to easily produce metrics and reports” is the thing that causes the service  
desk the most pain (53% of respondents), ahead of other pain points such as outdated  
ITSM tools, struggling with knowledge management and self-service, and budget  
constraints. Sadly, it was also top in 2012.  
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. The Service Desk Institute is a professional body for everyone working in the IT service and support industry.  
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Reaping the Benefits  
of BI for ITSM  
It’s easy to look at BI technologies and to glibly state that they will give your IT organization  
greater insight into the wealth of data trapped inside disparate IT management and ITSM  
tools. But as with many of the things that can make a difference with IT service delivery and  
support, it’s not that you “do” them but rather that you do them with a very specific purpose or  
set of objectives.  
So what could you achieve with BI in ITSM?  
How the Benefits of BI for ITSM Stack Up  
The potential benefits of introducing a BI capability – the tools and techniques – are varied  
and, at a generic level, include:  
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Speeding up and improving the quality of decision making  
Optimizing business processes  
Increasing operational efficiency and effectiveness – from individuals through to teams and  
cross-team processes  
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Spotting business issues of various sizes and differing impacts  
Improving customer relationships  
Increasing asset use and technology return on investment (ROI)  
Reducing the risk of non-compliance with regulatory, legal, or contractual requirements  
Increasing revenues and identifying new market opportunities  
Assisting the business in gaining competitive advantage  
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Taking these generic BI benefits and applying them to the ITSM ecosystem, BI tools and  
techniques can provide:  
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Increased insight and proactivity. BI offers senior managers, and more importantly if  
shared, ITSM staff, near real-time visibility of the current “health” of the IT organization’s  
operations and service delivery. This enables staff, who can often be the “real decision  
makers” in a fast-moving ITSM environment, to be proactive rather than reactive to  
service-based issues and end-user issues, queries, or complaints. This can result in a  
number of improvement opportunities including improving services, upping efficiency and  
effectiveness, increasing customer satisfaction and/or customer experience, and better  
governance.  
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Access to all data through “a single pane of glass.” The current variety of ITSM and  
IT management tools utilized by a corporate IT organization might record data in various  
formats. And while these discrete systems will offer their own reporting tools and user  
interfaces, for the manager and ITSM staff, gaining a consolidated view of all the available  
data is not just difficult, it’s also time consuming (and maybe operationally impossible).  
A modern BI tool will offer automatic import and integration of standard file formats such  
as XLS, XML, CSV, and HTML, and most importantly provide a consolidated view via an  
accessible dashboard. Having such information, including trend data, immediately at hand  
offers up significant opportunities to improve services, up efficiency and effectiveness,  
increase customer satisfaction, and provide better governance.  
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Clarity of importance. The real “intelligence” of an IT support function is the staff dealing  
with the seemingly endless flow issues. They can spot patterns, identify solutions, and  
being sensible people, always seek to resolve the issues with the minimum effort for  
themselves. However, spotting patterns requires visibility of the information relating to  
issues, which can be difficult as data sets increase in size and complexity. It also requires  
consistent categorization of those issues. A BI tool can present a dashboard of activity  
reports in different categories such as funnel and pie charts, with color-coding for the level  
of severity. It can also identify “outliers” and assist in re-categorization where needed.  
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Alerting to prompt the required action. Dashboards can be configured to provide email  
(or even text) alerts to appropriate staff, based upon their roles and skills, in response to a  
particular set of scenarios. This means that the most appropriate use is made of available  
support and management resources, and pertinent information is readily and appropriately  
disseminated across the organization as needed.  
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Example ITSM BI Use Cases  
Looking a little deeper into IT operations, there are many potential ITSM BI use cases. These  
include, but are not limited to:  
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Understanding how the IT ecosystem works in reality – to identify which service level  
targets can’t be (consistently) met; or conversely, those that can never fail and are as such  
pretty useless as targets.  
Demonstrating (modeling) how upping or lowering service levels will increase or decrease  
IT costs versus the change in business performance. It could be an easy way to reduce IT  
costs with a minimal impact on business operations.  
Using “predictive analytics” to understand the likelihood of future outcomes based on  
historical data. Identifying similar systems or hardware that may be vulnerable to a  
known fault.  
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Using ITSM data from various tool modules to create a real-world service taxonomy. This  
could be as part of a larger service portfolio management initiative.  
Correlating service desk contact methods to issue type, in order to understand how best  
to encourage and increase self-service adoption.  
Improving service desk efficiency and effectiveness. It could be as simple as refining the  
incident classification hierarchy or as complex as understanding “flow” across a number of  
common service desk scenarios.  
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Improving the IT knowledge base and self-help facility, and consequently reducing service  
desk workload.  
Then there are opportunities around other ITSM needs and activities such as more accurate  
availability and capacity management decisions, reducing change risk, improving governance,  
reducing financial “wastage,” and improving customer satisfaction. And I’m only just  
scratching the surface in this white paper.  
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Starting Your BI for  
ITSM Journey  
So hopefully you can see the potential of using BI for ITSM, but how does your ITSM  
organization first dip its toe into the BI waters?  
Well firstly, it might not be as great a leap into the unknown as you think if your IT organization  
is already using BI for other, potentially business, purposes. If this is the case, then what  
follows is still useful but should be taken onboard in the context of the existing corporate BI  
capabilities available to you.  
If you must however “go it alone” then you’ll need to consider your BI requirements across:  
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What you wish to achieve with BI and how success will be measured  
The people and skills required  
A BI technology investment  
Access to BI best practices  
Baselining your existing information, i.e. what you have been reporting on for many years  
(albeit possibly in a convoluted and time-intensive way)  
Hopefully this paper has given you some ideas about the art of the possible with BI for ITSM.  
In terms of the people and skills required, it really does depend on your existing circumstance  
and experience. As outlined in the following section on high-level requirements for BI, it also  
depends on the level of intuitiveness of the BI tool, as the required skills might already sit within  
your ITSM organization – and not just with data analyst types.  
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The High-Level Technology  
Requirements for BI for ITSM  
BI tools have developed rapidly since the so-called Executive Information Systems (EIS) of  
the 1990s. The majority of BI tools now have web/mobile interfaces by default and can ingest  
multiple file formats in real-time, displaying reports, via a dashboard on a continuous basis,  
in near real-time. However, as with most technologies, not all BI tools are born equal and it’s  
important to understand what you actually need.  
So what should you look for in a BI tool for ITSM? It really will depend on your operational  
needs and use cases but the following eight requirements are a good place to start:  
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That it’s intuitive and easy to use. To gain maximum value and productivity from the  
BI tool the user interface (UI) should be intuitive and easy to use. Make sure it requires  
spreadsheet-level computing knowledge to configure the dashboard and to analyze  
reports, rather than the programming skills required for an old-school EIS.  
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Self-service for any authorized personnel. Along with the requirement for intuitiveness  
and ease of use, the BI tool should be suitable for different types of roles, not just data  
analyst types. Such self-service functionality will reduce the need for specialist support,  
and more importantly empower staff to become more proactive and even more motivated  
in their roles.  
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Any time, any place, any device access. With the increasing mobility of workers and  
managers, a mobile/web interface should be a base requirement for any modern BI tool.  
However, the BI tool’s mobile interface must be able to adjust to various screen sizes,  
operating systems (OS), and device requirements – whether they be corporate or  
BYOD devices.  
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The option of software-as-a-service (SaaS) or on-premise. The choice will ultimately  
depend on a number of variables including corporate IT strategy and policy, and industry  
regulation. The choice of both SaaS and on-premise allows for the flexibility to start with  
on-premise and to later move to SaaS, or vice versa. Plus, it provides the ability to move  
between the two, as IT strategies and business demands change.  
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5.  
If on-premise, use dedicated infrastructure. Unless the system is in a virtualized  
mainframe environment, the server(s) delivering the BI tool should be dedicated,  
albeit having the maximum bandwidth connectivity to the systems it is ingesting  
information from.  
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In-memory processing. The best BI tools use in-memory processing for rapid  
analysis of the data, avoiding the delays associated with retrieval of data from disk  
or other storage mechanisms.  
Ease of integration and data source agnosticism. In whichever environment/  
application it is used, any good BI tool should be agnostic of the underlying data  
sources, with documented and open application programming interfaces (API).  
Around the clock support. Where a BI solution is supporting near real-time alerts and  
analysis, rather than month or year-end reporting, the package must have up to third-level  
support available 24/7 x 365. Of course online, self-service support capabilities will help,  
as will access to context-sensitive help within the BI tool.  
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Best Practices for BI for ITSM  
There are several phases to selecting, deploying, and establishing a BI system in any business  
environment, irrespective of the described simplicity and functionality of the package by the  
vendor. Here I focus on selection and deployment.  
BI Tool Selection Best Practice  
Before deciding upon a BI tool for ITSM, ensure that you have considered the following  
best practices:  
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Audit data sources and BI tool capabilities. Before selecting a BI tool, there needs to  
be an audit of the systems that will be providing data to it, and whether the respective  
data sets can be integrated with/imported to the proposed solution. The audit also needs  
to consider connectivity, i.e. the network between systems, as to make decisions in near  
real-time, the BI tool user will need data to be delivered in near real-time.  
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Assess processing and storage requirements. In addition to direct connectivity, there  
also needs to be an assessment of the processing/storage capacity required and the  
obligations for back-up/archiving/encryption.  
Assess BI tool capabilities against new and existing reporting requirements. The  
proposed BI tool needs to address all the reporting requirements (both near real-time and  
historical)requiredbytheorganization.Alsoassesstheimmediacyandtrustworthinessofdata.  
Ensure that the BI tool’s mobile capabilities meet all known use case scenarios.  
The information/dashboard needs to be accessible over a variety of devices in multiple  
locations simultaneously, not only to reflect that issues don’t always arise when the ITSM  
professional is in the office, but to ensure consistent decision-making.  
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Be confident that the chosen BI tool can be used with limited training and  
experience. An ITSM team member or manager shouldn’t need to know the intricacies of  
data integration from multiple systems, or how to code in order to present the information  
they need in readily accessible interfaces. Ideally, if a user can use a spreadsheet, they  
should be able to use the BI tool. In particular, the BI tool should offer “drag and drop” for  
data sources, and preconfigured templates and displays for the dashboard.  
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Don’t attack your BI needs alone if there are other corporate BI opportunities. As  
already mentioned, yours might not be the first or only BI initiative in your company – so  
ask around to see if existing capabilities can be piggybacked. Or, if you are the first, then  
also consider if your “BI for ITSM” initiative can be run alongside that of another business  
unit adopting BI for the first time. There might be no economies of scale or the ability to  
learn from the successes and mistakes of others, but it’s worth inquiring. However, ensure  
that the BI for ITSM initiative’s scope is ring-fenced before deployment starts, otherwise  
scope creep could kill the BI project’s successful delivery.  
BI Tool Planning and Deployment Best Practice  
Once sufficient attention has been paid to BI tool selection, there are a number of BI best  
practices that can be applied to making the BI tool operational in your organization:  
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Create BI policies. These policies should encompass not only which roles have access  
to what data but also define how data is captured, stored, and processed. At a more  
granular level, the policies should talk about ensuring data security, integrity, and availability.  
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Plan to continuously check data accuracy. Good analysis, and good decisions,  
require good data. It’s inevitable that if not monitored and addressed, data entry by  
staff and acquisition from systems will become inconsistent and thus reporting will  
become inaccurate. However, to try to get all the systems that are feeding into the BI  
tool “accurate” before tool deployment can be a wasted effort and delay the delivery of  
the benefits of the tool. Instead, the best practice in BI is not just to view the dashboard,  
but to also monitor the outliers; identify things that are wrongly represented, and then  
feedback to the person/systems providing the data. This then becomes a “virtuous circle”  
of continuous improvement of the quality of the data represented in dashboards.  
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Ensure that the privacy and human behavior aspects of BI are addressed. The  
monitoring and insight is not just of the systems and processes, but most importantly  
also of ITSM staff. They need to be made aware of the impact of BI, and it must be  
implemented in a way that is as “constructive” and “supportive” of their work as possible.  
Otherwise the BI initiative might be seen as “Big Brother”-esque and viewed as draconian,  
resulting in dissatisfaction by staff. At worst, staff might avoid recording on the “formal”  
systems fearing that they are getting judged and instead work outside those systems,  
leaving a hole in the data the BI tool was intended to capture.  
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Don’t treat BI as a silver bullet for ITSM. A BI tool is not a panacea for all the woes  
of an ITSM manager. It should support better management and decision-making, and  
should help to reduce costs both for the ITSM function and the business overall. However,  
it shouldn’t be oversold to either business management or ITSM staff as the thing that will  
make everything right. Plus, if the data is inconsistent, or the staff avoid using the system,  
it will never deliver the proposed benefits.  
Start small and build on successes. Don’t just automatically unleash BI across the  
whole ITSM ecosystem. Instead, start with a finite number of ITSM roles and use cases to  
ensure that everything is as it should be – from ease of use through to the accuracy and  
timeliness of data – as any such issue might detrimentally affect BI adoption in a wider  
rollout. Once any initial wrinkles have been ironed out, the BI capability can be deployed  
more widely within the ITSM organization.  
Ensure that education and training are sufficient. While there is a reliance on the BI  
tool being intuitive and easy to use, there is still a need to educate users in what BI is and  
what can be done with it. Plus, training or coaching on some of the more complicated  
features of the tool might be necessary.  
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What Lies Ahead for BI?  
The near future of BI has been labeled advanced analytics, a term which covers the inclusion  
of a level of artificial intelligence into the tools. Thus, rather than being passive, and in a sense  
just reporting activity (albeit in near real-time and facilitating better decision-making), the tool  
would be proactive, undertaking root cause analysis and providing suggestions for decisions  
based upon a prediction of future issues. So whereas BI would answer the question “What  
happened?” – advanced analytics could answer questions such as “Why did the event  
happen?” and “Will the event happen again?”  
As a basic example of advanced analytics in ITSM, if a number of a particular make of PCs  
(or their users) start reporting similar faults in a short timescale, the BI tool could automatically  
provide a list of all similar machines in the organization, with a proposed resolution for the  
issue. Without human intervention it could also distribute notification of the issue, and perhaps  
the resolution, across the organization.  
Advanced analytics could also be used to predict issues before they happen – facilitating  
predictive maintenance rather than chasing the issues post impact via the traditional break-fix  
model employed by IT. Or, rather than just repeatedly reporting on the common issues each  
month, advanced analytics could offer automatically up service or process improvements to  
improve quality and thus reduce downtime.  
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Summary  
BI can bring a wealth of benefits to ITSM operations including better decision making, business  
process optimization, increased operational efficiency and effectiveness, higher IT service  
availability, increased end user and customer satisfaction, and reduced risk. So take a moment  
to understand why you aren’t using BI for ITSM in your organization, and to imagine the potential  
benefits if you did. The adage “work smarter not harder,” while eight decades old, is an obvious  
mantra for BI and the need to shepherd in a new era of greater insight and better ITSM results.  
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