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An ITSM program evolves from subpar to superb

How do you go from 'lousy' systems and subpar services to an ITSM program that is driving a service approach across the enterprise? CIO Link Alander gives us the details.

Enterprise service management -- the emerging practice of applying IT service management practices to other areas of the business -- is new territory for many CIOs.  Link Alander, CIO and vice chancellor for college services at the Lone Star College System, has seven enterprise service management projects in the works as the new school year kicks off. The IT service management program he and his team have honed over the years is being enthusiastically adopted -- and adapted -- by departments across the system, from legal and finance to HR.

Departmental processes traditionally negotiated through email -- legal contracts, for example -- are now systematically being redefined using a cloud-based platform from ServiceNow, the IT organization's longtime IT service management (ITSM) provider. In the legal department, attorney workloads are analyzed in real time and readjusted to meet service-level targets; clients can now view their requests through an online portal.

So how did an ITSM program  become the driver of business process transformation at Lone Star, the Houston area's largest institution of higher education and one of the nation's fastest-growing community college systems?  

"What happened was the IT team was being recognized for customer service by our chancellor, our presidents -- they were all highlighting this," Alander said. "It seems really weird that you'd have a day when IT was looked at as the premier provider of customer service."

In fact, as Alander recounted in a recent interview with SearchCIO, IT's anointment was a long time coming, requiring a major infrastructure overhaul, a focus on people and processes, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Here are some of the milestones from that journey.

Rough start

When Alander became the executive director of campus and technical services in 2008, the ITSM program at Lone Star was scattershot and muddled. There was a push to master ITIL, the widely used framework for ITSM, he recalled, but confusion about how to apply it. "The problem with ITIL is that it gives you a billion best practices, but it doesn't tell you what to do," Alander said. Each of the school's six campuses, which collectively serve more than 100,000 students,  had a "little help desk" that was open intermittently. "We were not being a service provider to the colleges, and our systems were lousy. Things were always breaking."

Link Alander, CIO, vice chancellor, Lone Star College Link Alander

The decision was made to centralize IT systems and use an outsourcing provider to implement a service desk. One of Alander's requirements was that the software solution chosen would follow ITIL principles. "We needed better incident and request management first; we also needed better change management, because that was what was breaking stuff constantly and because we knew we were going to be gutting everything out on the infrastructure," he said.

Things got off to a rocky start. After an eight-month effort to implement an ITIL-compliant product from FrontRange went bust -- "We really had an extremely bad experience to say the least. It never rolled out," Alander said -- the outsourcing provider switched to ServiceNow. The much-needed request, incident and change management applications were deployed. "That was our fundamental start, and now we needed to see the workloads and what was happening out there," he said.

Service desk moved in-house

It became increasingly clear to Alander, however, that the outsourcer's shared instance of ServiceNow was holding his team back. "We wanted to get moving on problem [management] and mature out our workflows and get to a better service catalog," he said. The provider was busy moving other customers onto the ServiceNow platform. "It was a stall point for us, and it was driving us crazy."

In 2011, after analyzing the cost of outsourcing the service desk, Alander made a proposal to the President's Cabinet to bring the service desk back in-house and for IT to have its own ServiceNow instance. The contract was cancelled in 2012.

"I still run 24/7/365. I am completely set up and configured so that in a disaster my teams can either work from home or work from a remote location without interruption of service. And considering the disasters I've been through here, we have never had an issue. We've always had our service desk running, taking calls and supporting our customers."

Indeed, the decision to bring the service desk in-house marked a turning point for Lone Star's ITSM program. "That's when we started on enterprise service management," he said.

Editor's note: In part 2 of this case study on Lone Star's ITSM program, "Texas college CIO pushes into enterprise service management," Alander describes how ServiceNow's project management module helps him spell out IT's value to the business -- and explains why other college departments are clamoring to learn more about enterprise service management.

This was last published in August 2018

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