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How an ITSM implementation can help in a recession

Some expert guidelines to use ITSM to increase IT efficiency and align with the business -- all with little investment.

IT Service Management (ITSM ) can often be a hard sell even in a solid economy. Frameworks such as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), COBIT and Six Sigma have often been described as "nice to haves" and not IT necessities. But there are ways that midmarket IT executives can embrace ITSM's focus on organizing processes and workflow to reduce costs and increase customer service, even during a recession.

Consider this advice for making the most of what an ITSM implementation has to offer to achieve a quick return on investment without dedicating too many resources:

To ensure you go down the right path, identify up front what problem you are trying to solve with your ITSM implementation. That might be the need to improve IT performance, the need to educate users in what services you can provide, or the need to increase efficiency and process.

"You don't want to implement ITIL if you don't understand the problem that needs to be solved," said David Pultorak, IT consultant and founder of Pultorak & Associates Ltd. in Seattle.

Lee Root, IT division manager for Tulare County in California, created a new ITSM implementation when he worked to merge two county IT departments.

"We had to merge two separate workflows, two separate IT systems, two separate policies and we had to find a new way to manage IT services. We knew what we wanted, we just had to find a less antiquated way to make it happen," Root said.

Rather than creating a hybrid of the two former ITSM practices, Root took the opportunity to start fresh and outline what the IT department had to offer.

"We didn't want to be selling blue sky. If no one knows what you have to offer, they want everything. When you go into McDonald's you know you can get a cheeseburger or a Big Mac, but no taco. We wanted to create a set ITSM menu for our customers so they knew what they could order," Root said.

By focusing on creating a standard offering, the development of which was guided by the service catalogue, Root was able to ensure that IT delivered what users wanted with clear expectations on all sides.

If your objective is cost reduction, look at processes over tools and technology. ITSM implementations do not require a huge investment in time or resources if you pick and choose which aspects will bring about the most efficient return without overextending lean resources, said Ryan Ballmer, principal consultant at Cadence ITSM LLC.

"There is a tremendous opportunity to cut costs and improve operating efficiencies by investing in their ITSM processes and maximizing the ROI for tool and technology purchases they've already made," said Ballmer, who works with midmarket IT executives. "These improvements can position them optimally for larger projects once the capital starts to flow again."

From his own experience, Root agrees. "Tools are almost useless without a process in place first. There are many tool vendors that promote the product as the 'process in a box,'" Root said. "I have never seen a tool develop a process."

As part of his implementation process, Root and his team spent six months examining processes and best practices to develop a cohesive strategic philosophy. Once they had a process in place, Root was able to incorporate an ITSM tool, Service-Now, as a complementary aspect to 'wrap around' his newly established processes. offers an ITSM Software as a Service package combining ITIL v3 with on-demand technology.

Do it cheap, but keep it smart. If you must "do it on the cheap" when implementing ITSM, Pultorak said, let your staff and consultants know there is a limited budget and do as much as you can internally.

Tools are almost useless without a process in place first. There are many tool vendors that promote the product as the 'process in a box.' I have never seen a tool develop a process.

Lee Root, IT division manager, Tulare County

"Focus on the 20% of initiatives that can save you money without being stupidly cheap," Pultorak said. "What I mean is, don't just do it internally if you don't have the skills in-house."

The three main areas of ITSM budget that cost money are publications, consulting and training. Pultorak recommends investigating each area and finding ways to minimize costs. For example, rather than buying the complete ITIL v3 book set, look at smaller publications that will provide more prescriptive feedback, like inexpensive posters and other job aids. Press vendors to do things more innovatively and focus on assessments and surveys, rather than putting a heavy emphasis on consulting.

Pultorak also recommends virtual instructor training, as opposed to larger, conference-style training sessions. Virtual instructor training is live, but all sessions are recorded, increasing flexibility. And no travel is required.

Choose your partners carefully. Make sure your vendors and/or consultants are genuinely willing to understand your goals and constraints and will work with you to develop meaningful, focused and cost-effective projects and implementations. This will meet your short-term goals while also allowing for future expansion. "Don't paint yourself into a corner that limits your options down the road," Ballmer said.

Remember, it's your ITSM implementation. Don't do a project just because an expert says you should. Focus on the areas that present opportunities for improvement and align with strategic business objectives. Fine-tuning an organization doesn't have to be expensive -- some areas will require very little investment for a meaningful change.

"Those who fear ITSM misunderstand the frameworks and find them overly rigorous and dogmatic, and they're not intended to be that at all. It doesn't have to be a huge investment, it's just a way of improving what they're already doing," Ballmer said.

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