What do Black BMWs have to do with ITSM?

I got upset twice whilst in my car last week. Both times because the car behind blew its horn and the driver ‘gesticulated’ to convey his annoyance.

The first time my daughter was driving, a new, inexperienced and cautious driver, especially in her father’s car. The guy behind just wanted her to go faster and got annoyed. Of course, she got nervous and slowed down more, serves him right I thought.

The second time, I was driving on the motorway — quite busy and I was naturally driving at the speed limit[1], in the outside lane overtaking slower traffic in the middle lane. Once it was clear, I signalled and move over and the guy behind beeps his horn at me because he feels I have not moved over fast enough for him to rush by.

In both cases the cars were black BMWs driven by white adult males. The mathematician inside me knows that this isn’t statistically meaningful enough but be sure that the next guy in a black Beamer who wants me to let them into a traffic queue ahead of me will get no help from me!

I guess I should set aside my wish that the BMW guys do it to an unmarked police car next time they are out driving. Actually no don’t set it aside, please let it happen, but back to my thoughts on the more ordinary IT implications of this.

Anyway, all this triggered some service management thoughts

First of all, these guys would most likely not have shouted at me in a queue but feel OK to do it from car to car. Much the same situation turns up on far too many service desks, where staff are way more likely to get unpleasant attitudes on phone than you ever would face to. Perhaps too many people feel they need to rant at people they don’t know because they can’t say what they want to the people they do know?

I do realise that my new prejudice against men in black BMWs is not the fault of most of them, and in fact almost certainly not the fault of the next one I see whilst out driving. That guy will never know why I refuse to let them in to a traffic queue or move over to let them pass. We can’t always see the resentment that our predecessors have stored up for us. If the sins of the father truly are visited upon the children then we can sure the fathers haven’t discussed the sins with their children and so those poor kids have no idea why they are having a tough time from people they have never offended.

Actually, I think this is a situation that all of us in IT have experienced, still experience and need to get used to, because it is not going away. Let me quote from an ex-colleague, Peter Tebby[2] — who told a room full of senior IT professionals — “IT has built up a dreadful reputation over the past 50 years, and my God they deserve it!” OK, so he said that 20 years ago, back in the days where the most common posters around offices were not exactly IT supportive, but maybe less has changed than we might think.

We may sit in our IT meetings and put our efforts into the right things, much of the time we assume that our customers, users etc will take our services at face value, accept our advice, do what we tell them and treat us fairly. Actually real life isn’t like that, because in far too many cases, we are being punished for many years of failure to deliver and arrogance towards those we are actually working for. Or we are suffering form not being aware of it, you can read it either way

We can complain about it, claim we aren’t like our predecessors, that IT now facilitates and empowers business rather than holding it back. But — to some degree at least — we need to recognise that we have a trust and image issue and understand how that effects the service we give, and crucially we need to try and factor that resistance into how we present our services. If we want people ot trust us now then we must understand their situation and their prejudices.

Take that trust word and look at this sign I saw on holiday. It is immediately counter-intuitive. If I am searching for the lower beach[3] I am suspicious of a sign directing me up a steep hill. If I am going to follow this sign it is because I believe the people who designed it, installed and maintain it are so good at their job that I will follow the instruction regardless. As a newcomer to Padstow I didn’t have the faith to follow it, but went off to the pasty shop instead.

In IT service terms we need to do a few things:

  • Firstly, accept that we are not automatically trusted.  Merely because we tell our customers and users to act in a particular way, or use a service in a specific fashion — that doesn’t mean they will, especially if it isn’t immediately obvious
  • We should always[4] strive to make things intuitive, but when we can’t we should expect our customers and users to disbelieve and not follow instructions. If you can make services seem logical they will be more likely to be used well (like if the beach sign just pointed left, no need to worry folks with that steep looking arrow right up front). And if things must be delivered non-intuitively, but effort (through explanation or education) into explaining and convincing
  • Put our pride aside, be brave and go out there and see what people actually think about our services. It might be hard at first but he more you understand the real operational environment, the better chance you have of delivering relevant services that can actually be used.

Perhaps the key message I want to try and get across is that telling ourselves how clever we are, assuming people will trust or even understand us is not a secure, nor a justified starting point. Instead, accept that you will always be blamed for others’ faults and work around it.


[1] Ok, a bit above, but I would deny it in court.

[2] You may not have heard of Peter, but he led the team that developed and delivered the first ITIL course in 1990!

[3] And I am not even going to start on the idea that surely all beaches are at sea level, so how can one be lower than another?

[4] Always is a word I rarely use, this time I mean it. Read Donald Norman’s ‘Design of Everyday Things’ where he makes the points way better than I could.



In 23 years working for the UK government, Ivor Macfarlane moved from forestry to ITSM via prison, stores and training. He has worked as a Service Management trainer, consultant and writer since going freelance in 1999 and then after a 7 year spell with IBM he is now independent again working through MacfPartners to deliver training and consultancy to customers. He was an author for ITIL (versions 1,2 & 3), ISO20000 and ITSM library and an ITIL examiner since 1991. He is well known at ITSM events having presented at many around the world (39 countries so far) and is an active contributor to social media.