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ITIL chief architect: How to build an IT Service Management strategy

Choosing the right IT services to deliver is the foundation of a winning IT Service Management strategy. ITIL chief architect Sharon Taylor explains.

Services are the building blocks of an IT Service Management strategy, but how does an enterprise begin to pick...

and choose the "right" services to manage or develop? In this chapter excerpt from Service Intelligence: Improving Your Bottom Line with the Power of IT Service Management, author Sharon Taylor (the IT Infrastructure Library's chief examiner and its former chief architect) takes a prescriptive approach to identifying key service "ingredients," developing an IT service catalog and avoiding IT service-provider quality issues.

Sharon TaylorSharon Taylor

Businesses that excel and stand apart are ones that understand how they provide value to their customers. They have defined their core services and the entire focus of everything they do ultimately can be tied to delivering their core services with the quality, reliability and value that their customers remain loyal to them for. Competent service management is a prerequisite for success; for a business to be excellent, its service management must be as well.

At the heart of ITSM [IT Service Management] is the concept of service. Unless it is clearly understood what services are being provided and used, service management becomes impossible. In business and in ITSM, we have to understand what we intend to manage. In this chapter, we look at the basic ingredients of services and service practices. We also will learn the basics of ITSM terminology to help shape our understanding of the dialogue we need to have with IT service providers (ITSPs) to ensure service assets are exploited to the benefit of the business bottom line.

The anatomy of a service -- building the services you want

In the last chapter, we touched upon the concept of the service portfolio as an ingredient in service strategy with the intent of focusing on service investments. The service portfolio is the means to identify for the ITSP what you need now and will want in the future. There is a logical flow from here toward deeper detail and refined service needs that will shed light on what type(s) of ITSPs you should be engaging with for service provision and management.

You need to fill in the list of ingredients you must have to build on in order to bring the portfolio to life. We'll start with the basics and then develop an understanding that you can build effective service management on. Within the anatomy of a service, we'll examine how a service delivers value [and] the kinds of relationships to seek with ITSPs for particular circumstances.

Along the way, we'll be using some ITSM terminology that will be helpful in having a dialog with ITSPs and useful during negotiations.

Service ingredients

Every service has a basic list of ingredients:

  • Purpose: What the service exists for and the business processes it enables. This will be driven by the outcome statements you've created, which state what you need a service to do for you.
  • Functions: The things the service does for you that achieve its purpose. This is the service utility, or what we refer to as fit for purpose.
  • Performance: How well the service functions work to meet the purpose. This is the service warranty. This is measured in a variety of ways, which include availability, capacity, responsiveness, reliability and so on.
  • Quality: The overall perception of how valuable a service is to its users. Our sense of how well a service is designed and operating for our needs stems from how it is managed. This, of course, is an integral part of service management. Failure to properly manage a service will impact one or all of these ingredients. So, to complete the picture, we have to add the service management ingredients that ensure the service is designed and managed to suit our needs. These are factors that affect overall business operation and ultimately the bottom line, so understanding the basics of service management can maximize how well this is accomplished.

We'll have what they're having, please!

The companies that leave lasting impressions on us are those that offer the kind of service experience that stands out. The trick to getting it is to understand what makes it stand apart from the ordinary, and how you as the customer play a role in making that happen. Good service management should be relatively invisible to the business. Services should operate as expected, and no service disruptions should be experienced. When support is needed, it should be provided efficiently and effectively, and it should resolve issues the first time. This is typically what we think of as a good service experience.

It takes planning, capability, competence, resources and harmonious partnering to have good service. This, of course, takes place behind the scenes and thus is what makes good service invisible to the customer. In the previous chapters, you've learned how to define the services you need and what you need from them. The next step is to look at how those services need to be managed by the ITSP.

There are basic service expectations for service management, and specific characteristics within a service that define why it is perceived as good quality for investment. Generally, these are as follows:

  • The service does what you expect it to.
  • The service operates reliably and is dependable over its life span.
  • The service does not require many unplanned changes to keep its operations stable.
  • Changes the business does require are preplanned and do not require extensive redesign.
  • The service is cost-efficient to operate and support.
  • The service delivers the intended business outcomes.
  • During periods of heavy use, the service continues to perform optimally.
  • The service will scale to the evolving needs of the business.

When any of these expectations fails, we perceive the service to be of poor quality. In fact, there are mainly only two reasons why a service is perceived as having poor quality:

  • The service's design does not meet the business's needs.
  • The way the service is managed does not meet the business's needs.

These are two key areas that ITSM practices are intended to address. Setting achievable expectations depends on a common understanding of what the service is, what it should do, how it will be managed and how it will be measured. We now know what ITSM is, and what a service is. Next, we'll define the details that set and manage expectations for both the business and the ITSP.

Aha! moment

To get good service, we need to keep only this small list in the back of our minds. The details are for negotiation and discussion with the ITSP. The details support the basic quality service ingredients. It's easy to get lost in the noise of details, many of which are not useful in defining the basic service needs and quality of how it's delivered. Keep your focus on the high-level ingredients and tie the details to those.

Service catalog

The best way to avoid running into quality issues is to insist that your ITSP provide you a service catalog. This is an articulation of what the services offer and the terms and conditions that they are offered under. Your role is to help the ITSP define what should be in your catalog.

The first rule of service catalog design that all good ITSPs know is to talk to the business customer. Without a service catalog, it's difficult to know what services are available to you from the ITSP -- and very difficult to discuss, measure, judge or even complain about them! The table that follows includes the ITSM industry's best practices guidance about the basic information that should be in a service catalog. Further, it explains what [this information] means and the effect it has on your business bottom line. Caution: The side effect of studying this information will be [that you learn] some basic terms in the ITSP's vocabulary. That could prove to be extremely helpful in negotiating the best service!

Basic Information for a Service Catalog

What it means
Who provides it
How it impacts
 the bottom line
A uniformly understood descriptor to identify the service.
Establishes the understanding between the business and the ITSP about what a service is considered to be.
Describes (in business terms) what the purpose of the service is.
Developed jointly using the outcome statements provided by the business.
Accurately sets out what the service must do. Saves time and money if done at the design stage. Some experts say it can cost 100 times more if left until after the service is implemented.
This defines whether the service is part of a shared service, a core service or a specialty service.
Helps to exploit use of service assets in the most advantageous way, and drives possible service models to be considered.
Describes features and functions of the service available to any employee who receives the service.
ITSP -- This is derived from the outcome statements and service design package. Clarifies the costs associated with the generic service functions.
Clarifies the costs associated with the standard service.
Describes features and functions of the service available on special request and often with additional cost. This can also be optional features for specific business units.
ITSP -- This is derived from the outcome statements and service design package and further improvement activities.
Clarifies and segregates costs for additional options, and is useful as a planning tool for what is necessary and for whom.
Accountable business individual with whom the decisions rest for managing the service.
Requires accountability to be documented and ownership managed.
The business customers who can use this service.
Establishes access rights and ensures confidentiality of access to the data generated and used by the service.
Accountable ITSP individual with whom the decision rests for ensuring the service delivers value. This individual will meet with the business owner on a regular basis as part of the service-level agreement terms.
Enforces accountability from the ITSP for the management point of contact for the service.
When the service operates and can be used by the business.
Jointly agreed by the business and ITSP.
Directly impacts service costs and service availability.
The dependence level the business has on this service to carry on business.
Defines the cost to support, the level of support and support response levels needed.
Defines any specific times during a business cycle when the business criticality changes.
Drives support costs and ITSP windows of maintenance and change activities.
Defines who the accountable contacts are for queries.
Enforces accountable roles and responsibilities, and the costs involved.
Defines the contacts along the escalation path for the business and the ITSP in the event of serious service issues response.
Business and ITSP
Establishes reporting hierarchy in the event of service issues or failures, and identifies accountability within both organizations.
Defines the type, frequency and distribution of reports.
ITSP, as agreed with the business.
Contributes to the monitoring and measurement against expected norms and quality criteria. Identifies deviations and potential costs or savings.
Defines the structure for joint service reviews -- details will be part of the service-level agreement.
Business and ITSP
Post mortem of previous service cycle performance against agreed criterion. Can identify opportunities for further cost savings, improvements and risk mitigation for the business.
Indicates unit costs for standard and optional features.
Enables investment planning and costs analysis.
Defines the basic targets for availability, issue management, special requests, changes and recovery from disruptions.
Direct relationship to service cost, efforts, quality and performance expectations. This is reflected in overall cost of service ownership.

Source: Service Intelligence: Improving Your Bottom Line with the Power of IT Service Management, 2011.

The details within the service catalog are an extremely good snapshot of the areas for which the business must be able to negotiate the terms with the ITSP. A good practice for the business is to draft the terms of a service for itself in preparation for negotiation with ITSPs to help cover all relevant areas.

Sharon Taylor is president of Aspect Group Inc., former chief architect and current chief examiner for the IT Infrastructure Library, and former chairman of IT service management forum itSMF International.

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