Forging an ITSM strategy that's about business impact, not IT metrics

ITSM strategy is not just about closing help desk tickets or managing change requests. It's about solving business problems and generating revenue.

Coming up on the three-year mark as CIO of Wellesley College, Ganesan "Ravi" Ravishankar is making steady progress on IT service management. His team is about halfway through developing an IT service catalog, a notable achievement considering the starting point -- virtually no documentation of the IT services provisioned. He is getting a handle on the school's widely distributed IT systems by driving new governance structures, including CIO sign-off for any technology capital purchases. He's also building redundancy into the delivery of IT services by requiring that his staff learn skills outside their specialties. But the action that perhaps best encapsulates his IT service management (ITSM) strategy? That would be a real estate decision made early on in his tenure.

"I gave up a beautiful big office and moved to one of the smallest offices in the library," his new home base, Ravishankar said. "I wanted to make a statement that my job is not sitting back in my office but to be out there, talking to people." With limited resources, it's critical that IT understand its constituents' technology imperatives and prioritize services accordingly, he said. "It's also important they understand why IT is doing what we are doing."

Ganesan Ganesan "Ravi" Ravishankar

For a small New England college unaccustomed to formal centralized IT processes, forging an ITSM strategy that really serves the school's needs has required a "huge cultural shift that you need to be patient about," Ravishankar said. But the IT department at Wellesley is hardly alone in figuring out how best to integrate and deliver IT services. IT organizations of all stripes are struggling with ITSM.

"With all the changes going on right now -- cloud, mobile, BYOD [bring your own device], social networking, bring your own infrastructure, business analytics -- I don't know many people that have integrated all of that into their IT service management," said Jerry Luftman, professor emeritus of the Stevens Institute of Technology and now managing director of the Global Institute for IT Management, which offers online and face-to-face IT training.

Jeery LuftmanJeery Luftman

"Each of these technologies individually is complex enough; integrating across them is monumental -- and now you have pressure from business people to get this stuff done faster," said Luftman, who conducts the annual survey of CIO priorities for the Society for Information Management. Moreover, as technology has become critical to success at many businesses, IT is expected to not just support business initiatives but also drive business revenue. "I really believe we are babes in the woods on this."

Adapting ITSM strategies to a mobile workforce

With all the changes going on right now -- cloud, mobile, BYOD, social networking, bring our own infrastructure, business analytics -- I don't know many people that have integrated all of that into their IT service management.
Jerry Luftmanmanaging director, Global Institute for IT Management

The difficulty of devising an ITSM strategy for today's enterprise comes as no surprise to Gartner Inc. On the consultancy's five-point IT maturity model, Infrastructure and Operations leaders -- the IT professionals most closely aligned with IT service management -- score their organizations an average 2.29. "Three is the minimum level of maturity we're looking for," said Jeffrey Brooks, a Gartner research director who focuses on ITSM. Level 3 means services are aligned with business needs, are cost-effective and are proactive in support -- in other words, table stakes for effective ITSM.

Brooks agreed that cloud, mobile and social computing -- or what Gartner refers to as the nexus of forces -- complicate matters for IT organizations. The application that works just fine in the data center, of course, must now work just as well in Starbucks. Mobile workforces not only expect to be able to work from anywhere, their anywhere-anytime access to mobile devices also means they're generating more data than ever before -- data that IT must manage. On the plus side, today's technology-savvy workforces can now troubleshoot many of the technical issues they used to depend on IT to solve. But that technical sophistication only raises the bar for ITSM, Brooks said. "When they do reach out to the IT organization, they really have a problem with some sort of service you provide. And they need you to fix it, to be flexible and realize that it's IT's job to make them as productive as possible."

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Brooks gets no argument from Tom Schroeck, vice president of data center operations at Ameritas Life Insurance Corp. The Lincoln, Neb.-based mutual holding company, with $32 million in assets under management and 430,000 policyholders and members, employs 2,300 employees nationwide. New mobile technologies, social media and cloud computing offer competitive advantages for companies that can use them effectively, Schroeck said, and Ameritas' new ITSM initiative -- launched to bring more maturity to IT's service delivery model -- accounts for that shift. "As we build out our configuration management database, we will have a single repository for information that can be shared across a host of technologies," he said. The new approach, which follows the ITIL framework and is helped along by BMC's Remedyforce software, will also soon offer self-service and articles so users can access IT regardless of their work location. "While we pride ourselves on personal touch service, we also recognize that the mobile workforce prefers to find their own solutions, and these tools give them that autonomy while controlling the content."

Continue to part two, "Three bad IT practices that sabotage your ITSM program."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, executive editor.

This was first published in August 2013
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