Virtually everyone managing IT today has heard of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), but not everyone knows how to use it. Very often the first question IT executives ask is "where do I start?" because IT service delivery bottlenecks are not always clear, and it's easy to get bogged down in ITIL's complex process descriptions and functional explanations.
Performing an IT gap analysis can help you evaluate your current state of service delivery and determine where and why you should start your ITIL journey.
A good ITIL service strategy should include methods for carrying out two primary activities: understanding what you do for whom and why, and effectively communicating your service capabilities. Without both components, you probably aren't meeting customer expectations. If, by chance, you are getting by without a sound strategy, then you owe your success to the hard work and dedication of your IT staff -- which is undoubtedly working long hours and putting out many unnecessary fires.
Fast and inexpensive, gap analysis helps you identify the gaps in your service strategy. Ignoring gaps can result in poorly allocated resources, misrepresented plans and an overall loss of time. Plus, gaps cascade -- failure of one gap leads to failure of the next gap, and so on -- so one problem can quickly snowball into multiple issues.
To begin your ITIL gap analysis, start with how well your IT organization understands customer needs. There are four key components to understanding what you do for whom, and why:
- Are you regularly researching customer requirements?
- Are you using the research to pinpoin specific requirements and working to fulfill them?
- Do you and your team interact with your customers and users?
- Do you and your team spend a sufficient amount of time with the employees and managers who work directly with customers and users?
If you can't answer a resounding yes to each of these questions then you should start your ITIL journey right here.
First, use complaint analysis and customer panels to determine what your customers are expecting regarding quality and service levels. ITIL continual service improvement methods, Six Sigma and other solution sets can help here, but don't overlook a good old-fashioned approach: paying attention to your customers. Spending more time with your users and customers can vastly improve your understanding of their needs and expectations.
- Identify top (large, critical, important or otherwise representative) customers and study their requirements.
- Work with customers to understand desired outcomes and focus on achieving them.
- Adapt service delivery plans to meet these new requirements.
- Include all service stakeholders (e.g., provider management and staff, customers and users) when gathering requirements.
- Work with your users to agree on specifications and then share them with your staff.
If you are researching internally, spending more time interacting with your customers and applying this knowledge to your service delivery, then you are doing the "inbound half" of service strategy. If you are still experiencing failure, you may not be effectively communicating your mission and services to the organization.
Perform a quick gap analysis on the "outbound half" of service strategy, by asking:
- Does the organization understand IT and the services it provides?
- Is there a common understanding between IT and its customers regarding service-level expectations?
- Are the policies and procedures related to IT services consistent, well understood and followed by all?
- Are there unofficial service-level promises being made or other situations where customer expectations are inflated?
If the answers to these questions are not easily discernible, then you are failing to effectively communicate service strategy.
Promise only what you can actually deliver, and ensure that you are accurately reflecting what customers actually receive.
Aside from resisting the temptation to say anything to please customers, the prescription for resolving this gap requires effective internal and external communication. And, if necessary, penalizing any member of staff caught overpromising. While service catalogs and service portfolio management efforts can help eliminate this gap, there are other steps you can take:
- Never overpromise and underdeliver. Promise only what you can actually deliver, and ensure that you are accurately reflecting what customers actually receive.
- Seek input from operations personnel when creating new advertising or service communications and allow the actual service providers (operational and contact staff) to preview all commitments before customers are exposed to them.
- Fully disclose service failures and the reasons why they occurred to customers.
- Educate provider staff across the four main service delivery areas (strategy, design, transition and operation) so each group is aware of the specific roles involved in the entire service delivery process.
- Create and enforce consistent customer-related policies and procedures across branches and departments.
- Ensure that every department knows how other departments operate and take steps to facilitate information sharing.
- Take steps to ensure that customers understand their role in service delivery, how to use services and how to request support for services.
If you follow this advice, you will be well on the way to improving customer satisfaction and your own organizational competence. Start with strategy, keep it simple and focus on the basics. Soon, you will notice real and tangible improvements in your service delivery.
Hank Marquis, Ph.D., is a Chartered IT Professional, certified IT Services manager and Fellow of the British Computer Society. Marquis leads the business service management practice area at Global Knowledge Training LLC, where he is responsible for developing and delivering business-aligned IT service management solutions for clients. Write to him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.