Nov. 30, 2019

If we were to chart global business demand for technology and IT’s ability to deliver it, we’d get something looking like an upward right curve. In this graphing, business is more aggressive at demanding technology than IT has been at delivering it. This leads us to question whether or not we’re doing things the right way and whether ITSM is failing our clients.

We think it has.

A Bit of History

We think ITSM is failing. But to be fair, we don’t think this is a new development. Rather, it’s been a long, steady decline. Over the last couple decades there have been paradigm shifting, watershed-type moments. Think of when PC became a big deal, the internet came along, big data, virtualization, etc.

Innovation has not been lacking, that’s for sure. It’s hard to imagine a period of 20-30 years or so at any time in our history that has seen such sudden and continuous development and innovation.

So why do we think ITSM failing? Because throughout it all, we didn’t necessarily do things the right way. It’s not the tech that is the problem. It’s us.

Where We Went Wrong

At some point along this journey, IT as a whole decided they were a service management organization and ITSM was born. This is where we started to go wrong.

“Okay,” you say, “So IT became ITSM and adopted a ‘service provider’ mentality. what’s wrong with that?”

The inherent problem with this approach is that in becoming a service provider, we’re saying two things.

  • “Yes, we can provide this service to you”
  • “…But we’re also going to expect you to know enough to know what you want, when you want it, and how you want it.”

The most glaring issue with this is that we offer the former and assume the latter. The larger problem? In assuming that businesses know what, how, and when they need something we miss out on the part where they often don’t.

So yes, the tech isn’t the problem. That’s been great. But through the innovation, the new practices, the shiny new toys, algorithms, programs, and tools; we lost sight of the fact that while business demand for tech is growing (soaring even), they’re less apt to know what they need or how it benefits them.

As ITSM has grown and become the standard, the divide between what businesses want and what teams are willing or able to deliver has grown. With it, the divide between business and tech widened and as a result the divide between teams and people also widened.

Here is where ITSM is failing our clients. But what’s to blame?

Is Cloud To Blame?

There has been a tendency by some in our industry to point at cloud as a watershed moment that took things in the wrong direction. And if we step back and look at this decline over time, we can probably point to a time and say “ah-ha! Here’s where cloud came along.”

However, Cloud isn’t the thing that caused this problem in our opinion. In this area, we think it actually might have helped.

The problem that cloud really solved from this perspective was how to bridge the gap between what businesses needed and what they could reasonably acquire.

If we look at the problem as being one where tech hasn’t been able to deliver to meet business’ expectations; or a problem with businesses being unable to comprehend their own needs as it related to tech; at the very least, Cloud didn’t make these things worse.

Cloud is many things but blame for a widening gap between business demand and tech’s ability to deliver isn’t one of the things.

So What Was It?

In our estimation, tech’s failure to deliver in this area is due to the unintended but apparent consequences of the ITSM movement growing and perhaps reinforcing the divide between tech and business such that technology was there to deliver the capability but business needed to go figure it out on their own.

ITSM is failing to deliver. Not Cloud. Not Big Data (though that has its own provlems). And not any shiny tool. Rather, the mentality of how we approach our industry has not yielded optimal results. Changing this mentality is key to reversing the trend.

Whereas in the past tech teams might spend a good amount of time figuring out what the business wanted to achieve, liaising with different departments, and taking a global view of the issue at hand, the desired results, and how to get there; we now see tech teams offer a service. Sometimes offering a single service, pre-packaged and pre-formed and pre-loaded with the expectation that the company knows how best to run with it.

We target CTOs and their budgets. Not business needs. CTO’s are great, don’t get us wrong. They’re often the decision makers. But they may not always be the right person to talk to. They might not, and often aren’t, in the position to identify the true need. Is it a tech problem? Is it a marketing problem? An operations problem?

The CTO might sign off on the contract but they may not, through no fault of their own, be in the best position to truly identify or articulate business objectives as a whole.

ITSM is failing because we forget that there’s a whole business attached to the IT department’s we serve and that achieving positive business outcomes aren’t necessarily just an IT implementation issue.

Not Breaking New Ground

This isn’t a drastically new idea or a drastically bold statement. This is not a Jerry Maguire-level manifesto aimed at upending the industry. In private conversations or breakout meetings at conferences, this topic is discussed at length. We all know it’s an issue that needs solving. And there have been attempts to do so.

Along the way we have this hodgepodge of attempts and techniques and ways of trying to better connect business and tech. This has led to some positive results but mostly has led to more project management departments, product managers, product marketing managers, etc. Specialized roles and divisions within IT or Engineering departments; or offshoots from marketing or operations departments meant to help keep things connected.

This can help, but what we’ve also created, again unintentionally, are roles filled with undoubtedly capable individuals who kind of “stand in” for “the business” at times; but who are frequently unable to bridge the gap at a capabilities level.

We Need To Shift Focus

IT Service Management has taken this stance and proclaimed: “we’re here to deliver a service…. but that’s about it.” In short, we’ve become the UPS, the FedEx, the Post Office of the tech world. Just get it there on time. Whatever happens next, well, that’s up to the recipient. Our work here is done. That’s how it is. But should it be?

It is perhaps ironic to draw that comparison in a time when these delivery companies are spending millions on understanding customer behavior; offering more services in more convenient ways, and prioritizing the customer experience.

This comes at a time when data is king and currency in today’s world. And there’s a lot of it out there waiting to be used. Who are these delivery companies coming to for help, by the way?

Us. Ironic, isn’t it?

What Can We Do?

ITSM is failing and our approach needs work. In much the same way in which parcel carriers are looking at their service as a complete offering; from the point of sale to the delivery, IT needs to follow suit. IT needs to manage outcomes. Not just logistics.

The answer isn’t quite so simply implemented because it requires a focus in our thinking as an industry. To get away from ITSM as the standard and instead recognize ITSM as, properly implemented, a facet of what we do.

It isn’t just about the tools or the tech. It’s not about cloud or DevOps or about whatever the shiny new toy we roll out next year will be. It’s really about restoring the faith and confidence of the businesses we serve from a 360 perspective.

Restoring The Partnership Mentality

It requires a partnership to achieve an outcome. We need to regain what we’ve lost and that is what it really meant to provide the service and what it takes to achieve the desired outcome, solve the problems, and do so in partnership with the businesses we service rather than in spite of them.

By re-establishing this approach, we can begin to measure success not by service level metrics or objectives that we set forth. Don’t get us wrong, service level metrics are great but how many service providers measure success against outcomes for the business rather than delivering their services?

There is a difference between what the business is trying to achieve; and what the service provider has determined is the measure of success. These are often not the same thing.

Again we see a widening disconnect between achieving these service level objectives and contributing to the success of the business the service provider is helping. One can certainly help the other but they’re not always the same thing.

Simply put: ITSM has failed. Basically, we’re going about this the wrong way and with the wrong mindset if we want to serve our clients better and move our industry forward. By not looking at our industry and the services we can provide through an integrated perspective, we fall short.

IT needs to see and identify outcomes as being impactful for the business rather than checking off boxes on service level objectives. If we don’t close the gap and start connecting the tangible needs of our clients with our ability to get there, we’ll keep playing the “we just provide the service” game. And that is the crux of how our mentality surrounding ITSM has failed not only us, but our clients as well.

In the end, we’ll just end up doing more of the same. Essentially failing the business and more importantly perpetuating this divide.