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Enterprise Service Management

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Enterprise Service Management (ESM) is seeing a surge of interest. Primarily driven by the penetration and increasing awareness of modem workflow platforms, ESM promises to improve transparency, collaboration, faster & smoother handoffs between tasks, and a better experience for end-users and departmental functions. 

Mark Smalley, the Lead Editor of ITIL 4: High Velocity IT, described digital transformation as “Doing things significantly differently (operating model) or doing significantly different things (business model); both because technology enables you to do it”. Done right, ESM can be a critical component of an organization’s digital transformation strategy.

But there is a dark side to the current interest in ESM. The reason is in the first paragraph of this post. Go back and read it. I’ll wait.

Did you see it?

It’s the “penetration of modern workflow platforms” that’s the trouble. ESM (as of 2021) is really just “tool adoption”. I’ve come to believe that a better phrase would be Enterprise Workflow Management because that’s exactly what it is – implementing new tools and platforms to do things like:

  • Create tickets or cases (be it incidents or requests)
  • Assign work to teams 
  • Build workflow to automate processes
  • Track time taken to complete steps of a process, or the entire process itself and compare real performance against targets 

Nothing wrong with that. These capabilities can help teams become more efficient, provide better updates, fulfill requests quicker, and generally provide better “service” to their broader organisations.  They improve their operating models, often spectacularly so.

So why don’t I think that these fit the definition of “enterprise service management”? To me, to be a “service” organisation (or department), a team needs to (a) have a principles-based approach to work, and (b) continually look for (and execute on) opportunities to improve. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Service Value System (SVS) model in ITIL 4 offers a mental model of how the different components of a service system (be that business service, enterprise service or IT service). This model includes the ITIL 4 Guiding Principles and Continual Improvement, alongside Governance, Service Value Chain, and Practices.Image

A principles-based approach can help ensure that an enterprise service department makes decisions in a consistent manner for the benefit of multiple stakeholders (ideally, all of them!). This might mean that they work collaboratively, create operational transparency, utilise automation where possible, and so on.

And how can a team know that they’re (co) sustainably creating value without an ongoing dialogue on ways to improve? When was the last time you heard a finance department ask another department “How was that last business case exercise? How can we make it easier for you?” (And not just ask the department heads, but also ask the people doing the hard work!). When was the last time you heard the HR department ask another department “What skills are you looking to grow in your team, and how can we partner with you to make that happen?”

And we’ve seen this before, with IT teams, and IT Service Management (ITSM) tools. Many functional teams rebranded themselves (or were rebranded by their management!) as “service teams” since they were using an ITSM ticketing tool, yet they never broke out of their functional/ departmental mindset. They were still a part of database team or network team; they rarely saw themselves as part of a business or commercial service, and the shared IT services unit was just a department name they saw on their HR records. They were rarely able to articulate how they created value for their organizations and often lacked incentives to improve (some of that can be laid at the feet of IT Governance, but that’s a whole other blog post). Ultimately, several of these teams ended up being seen as a commodity capability or a “necessary evil” and became prime targets during outsourcing initiatives. As a community and domain, ITSM is struggling to maintain its relevance in 2022.

I fear that the enterprise service management movement may suffer the same fate if they continue to focus on just the tools and processes. Unless these new ways (process automation) of working are augmented by new ways (attitudes, behavior, and culture) of working.

The question is: where is your ESM focus, and how can you help your teams succeed?

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