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The digital roadmap demands a new kind of ITSM support

Traditional ITSM support doesn't cut it in a digitally enabled and digitally disrupted marketplace. In part one, Harvey Koeppel describes the problem. Go to part two for the remedy.

Customers -- the ones outside and inside the enterprise -- expect IT to be faster and less expensive. Perpetually. What's newsworthy about that? To achieve these goals, many aspects of IT design, development, implementation and operations are moving to the cloud. What's newsworthy about that? Well, as many of us know, the move to the cloud is easier said than done.

Now add to this evolution --- or is it revolution? -- the additional transformative forces of social media, mobile technologies, Internet of Things (IoT), big data and analytics.

Newsflash: CIOs and the departments they run need to transform themselves simultaneously from the top down and from the bottom up, all while continuing to provide uninterrupted service at the same or better levels than today. The challenges we are facing can be compared to changing the wheels on a racecar while it is moving at 190 mph around the track.

A fresh approach to IT service management (ITSM) support is not only required to remain competitive -- it is essential to the survival of the IT department and perhaps even of the enterprise.

"Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning."  -- Benjamin Franklin

ITSM in a batch world

Life used to be, or appeared to be, so much simpler when all we needed to worry about was organizing operating models into business processes and enabling business processes via applications. The processes and programs that we designed, implemented and supported, for the most part, dictated what data was needed where and when. We succeeded, sustained and competed upon our ability to drive process efficiencies and enhance applications that generally resulted in improved productivity and reduced cost.

Historically, our world went from batch to online -- aka interactive -- processing. Much online processing was really still batch under the covers, initiated via front-end terminals. The online version of batch processing simply ran more frequently and created efficiencies by returning reports in minutes or a few hours, compared with the quaint batch world that often required users to wait for results that became available the next day. When true real-time computing arrived on the scene, however, life got considerably more interesting. Finally, technology had created the ultimate Pavlovian business tool -- I submit a request for information or to initiate an action (the stimulus) and get an almost immediate result (the response).

The advent of real-time processing did much more than just turbocharge the effective speed of business processes -- it provided enterprises with the means to share and act upon common data across disparate platforms throughout and across industries in an organized and controlled manner.

SABRE technology redefines ITSM support

A great example of the business value created by real-time processing is SABRE (Semi-automated Business Research Environment). The technology was developed by American Airlines during the 1950s to manage the growing deluge of flight reservation requests more quickly, at lower cost and, in particular, to ensure the same seat was not sold more than once. It was then syndicated by Sabre Holdings across the airline and travel services industry.

At one point in its multidecade development history, under the visionary leadership of CIO Max Hopper, American Airlines made more money from SABRE licensing fees than it did from selling seats on airplanes.

ITSM support in this context largely focused on:

  • Supporting applications that automated and streamlined business processes.
  • Supporting the infrastructure -- LANs, WANs, data centers, databases and desktops -- that enabled the applications and business processes.
  • Supporting the staff -- managed types and finite numbers of users with well-defined roles -- that enabled the applications and business processes.
  • Ensuring that system performance -- availability, response time, reliability and security -- met, in most cases, well-defined service-level objectives.

"My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that." -- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, Queen of Hearts

D stands for digital and disruption

Now, let's factor in the "D-word," digital, and take a look at what is happening to our previously well-defined world of ITSM support:

The confluence of digital technologies has caused major disruptions within and across major industries. Uber (proper noun) started out as the name of a company and is now a verb. When a company has been "Ubered," it has essentially been disintermediated by some combination of digital silicon life forms.

Managing through disintermediation means changing your business model, which ripples through changing your operating model, organization, business processes, applications, data requirements and so on.

The impact of big data goes far beyond the need for more storage or better analytics. Spawned by the explosion of social media, for example, enterprises know much more about their customers and their competitors' customers, and customers know much more about enterprises and their products and their competitors' products. It is no longer only internal management and users demanding more and faster, it is also customers making the same demands.  Enterprises need to step up or step aside.

The impact of IoT goes far beyond building smart utility grids or better traffic management in congested cities. These are examples of a nascent technology that will have dramatic effects on future businesses that we can only begin to imagine. To cite an example, there is already a fairly well-established consensus that driverless vehicles will routinely populate our roads within the next few years.  Presumably, this will mean fewer accidents, and safety is surely a good thing.  What will all this good safety mean to the economics of the auto insurance industry? Or for that matter, on the automobile industry, which makes more money on repairs than it does on sales? Uh-oh.

The impact of mobile technologies goes far beyond phones, tablets and smart watches that can tell you when you have walked enough steps to declare yourself physically fit. Nanoscale devices, which are routinely being worn or directly implanted into our bloodstreams and major organs, can detect and either report or repair, in real-time, defects that will make us significantly healthier and more likely to live longer lives. Living longer and stronger is surely a good thing. We can only hope that some yet-to-be-conceived technology will allow these healthy "old" people to remain active and productive in their ever-increasing number of golden -- maybe platinum -- years.  And what will all this vitality and longevity mean to the economics of the health insurance industry? And what about pension plans and retirement benefits?  Uh-oh, again.

Needless to say this exposition could likely fill a book or at least voluminous content well beyond the resources devoted to creating this humble post.  Hopefully, I have at least provided enough color and real-world examples to stimulate some new thinking about ITSM support in the digital world.

Part two: Harvey offers CIOs advice on adapting IT Service Management to digital business. Read his seven tips for providing world-class ITSM support for the digital enterprise.

Next Steps

Recent columns from Harvey Koeppel:

Great user experience or huge data risks? You be the judge

AI: The genius is out of the bottle

This was last published in November 2015

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