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Fifty Shades of ITSM


The term ITSM is misleading. Depending on who is managing IT services, and from which perspective, ITSM takes on various guises. If you’re a tool vendor, a process consultant or a framework owner, you should have different pitches for the various markets. There is no one-size-fits-all. If you just have one generic sales pitch, you’re probably missing half the opportunities in the market that your product or service is most suited to, and most of the potential in other markets. And if you’re an ITSM practitioner, this might be a time to think about which shade of ITSM is best suited to your talents.

Fifty shades is also misleading. That was just to grab your attention. I’m thinking more in terms of three ITSM markets. I distinguish between external service providers and internal IT organizations, and within internal IT organizations I make the distinction between centralized IT departments and decentralized I&T functions within the various business divisions. ‘I&T’ is not a typo. It refers to information and related technology: two intimately intertwined entities that should be managed in their own right. Where centralized IT departments are often large and formally structured along distinct disciplines, I&T functions are usually small and amorphous. They are functions rather than departments. It’s where demand, supply and use of I&T merge together in a relatively informal mix of techies and business people, the latter executing I&T tasks as an integral part their day job.

So we have three markets for ITSM:

  • External service providers who provide components of the total information systems that their customers use, varying for instance from internet connectivity to complete applications based on software as a service
  • Internal centralized IT departments that
    • Integrate and manage the externally acquired components
    • Build and manage the few remaining components that the market can’t provide as well, as fast and as cheaply as the IT department can do
    • Manage the relationships with both user organizations and the external service providers
  • Internal decentralized I&T functions that
    • Determine the business need for I&T
    • Acquire information systems and services either from the centralized IT department or directly from external service providers
    • Manage the relationships with the IT department and external service providers
    • Ensure that I&T is used well and that the value of investments is actually realized!

External service providers execute full-blown ITSM to help them provide high-quality IT services, but that’s not the case for the IT department and the I&T function.

Centralized IT departments are under pressure from two sides. The first threat comes from external service providers who, as a natural consequence of standardization of technology, provide solutions better, faster and cheaper than IT departments can do. They are eroding the IT departments’ traditional ITSM activities. And the second threat is from the business itself. Business people are more tech-savvy than ever and there are so many solutions and components readily available from external services providers that, unless the centralized IT has a strong proposition that is perceived to add value, business people will be sorely tempted to bypass the ‘No Department’ and deal directly with external service providers. A plausible future scenario for centralized IT departments is to transform themselves into brokers. Brokers also execute ITSM, although not all of it. Their core processes include service portfolio management, business relationship management, supplier management, and information security management.

Decentralized I&T functions perform part of ITSM as part of their activities but the major part is the application of I&T. They are innovative and create much value from their investments in I&T but often struggle with predictability and manageability. ITSM basics, e.g. incident/problem/change, help them get a better grip on their services. It’s a great opportunity for experienced ITSM practitioners in centralized IT departments who are thinking about their next career move. Why not ‘jump the fence’ and work from the business perspective (demand and use) rather than supply?

To summarize, there are three ITSM markets that have distinct characteristics. External service providers are doing more and more things ITSM better, faster and cheaper than IT departments, and need full blown ITSM to support this. Traditional centralized IT departments are under pressure and are transforming themselves into value adding brokers, focussing on service portfolio management, business relationship management, supplier management etc. Decentralized I&T functions within the business are on the rise, and could benefit from some ITSM basics to improve their maturity. Whether you’re a tool vendor, a process consultant, a framework owner, or an ITSM practitioner, you’ll be more successful when you address each market’s specific needs.

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