ITSM principles boost service levels and free up IT resources

Far from bogging down your IT organization, ITSM principles free up IT resource capacity. Expert contributor Neil Nickolaisen explains.

Niel NickolaisenNiel Nickolaisen

I am not sure about you, but the CIOs in my network are under pressure to deliver new technology at a breakneck pace. Many organizations passed a tipping point a few years ago, and now every aspect of the organization needs and wants technology. In addition to supporting all the systems we have built and delivered over the years (ERP, CRM, e-commerce, collaboration, et cetera), we now also need to build and deploy mobile, social, self-service, self-provisioning, advanced analytics, automation, collaboration, mind-reading, et cetera. And to do this, we need more of the most constrained resources on the face of the earth -- skilled IT people.

But if we can find ways to reduce rework, get things right the first time, segment our systems and focus our support, we can create IT resource capacity. Let's suppose that 20% of our IT staff is doing rework or work that is not particularly meaningful. If we can eliminate such activities, we get a 20% increase in IT capacity without hiring a soul. That sounds nice, but how can we pull off such magic? IT service management (ITSM) is one approach I have used to good effect as a CIO. Here is a typical example of how using ITSM principles works:

If we can find ways to reduce rework, get things right the first time, segment our systems and focus our support, we can create IT resource capacity.

I recently received an email from the vice president of the Customer Support department. The email service in our CRM system was buggy and sometimes shut down, he informed me. When this happened, a large queue of customer email built up. While the queue was building, Customer Support was not serving customers. Then, when the IT support team broke through the email dam, the department was so swamped in responding to the sudden flood of issues that they underserved other customers. The VP begged for my help in resolving this.

I met with the IT team members that supported the CRM system and asked them about the problem. There was a known bug -- and fix -- to the problem, but the team, I discovered, had not yet deployed the fix. Rather, it spent a good portion of its day monitoring the email queue in order to keep things flowing. How much of their day did this require? It did not really matter. What did matter was that we were not providing a reliable, consistent service while also wasting the time and talents of the IT team.

ITSM principles free up IT resource capacity

Taking the ITSM approach, I asked the team if they had defined any service-level standards for the CRM system. They had not. So, we defined a service-level standard. We then measured our current performance against that standard. Based on the standard, we were failing. Based on ITSM principles, when IT organizations are not meeting a standard, they do a quick but targeted root cause analysis, fix the problem (so that it never comes back) and move on to the next opportunity.

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In this case, we identified two changes we could make to resolve the issue and then meet the service-level goal. First, we tested and deployed the known fix. Second, we put some monitoring tools around the email queue that included automated triggers and alerts. These two changes got the support team out of the business of babysitting the process. We not only improved customer satisfaction but also freed up skilled, scarce IT resources to do other work.

This is how we can use ITSM principles to transform our lives. At its core, ITSM is quite straightforward: define standards; implement best practices-based processes designed to meet the standards; measure performance against the standards; and, if we are not meeting the standards, get to and solve the root cause by changing the process. As we do this over time, we build an IT delivery juggernaut -- and free up so many IT resources that we can start working on that mind-reading technology the organization is screaming for.

Niel Nickolaisen is CTO at O.C. Tanner Co., a Salt Lake City-based human resources consulting company that designs and implements employee recognition programs. A frequent writer and speaker on transforming IT and IT leadership, Niel holds an M.S. degree in engineering from MIT, as well as an MBA degree and a B.S. degree in physics from Utah State University. You can contact Niel at nnick@octanner.com

This was first published in January 2014

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