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A journey from Service Management to Service Management via IT

service management

One of the things about staying around an industry space long enough to get old is that you see things change so much they come back – sort of – to where they were before.

In 1982 I joined a team of enthusiastic folks in UK Government employ called ‘Services Group’ as their stores training officer. I had already worked with them as an internal consultant doing process improvement and work measurement. We knew what we did: we managed services for other parts of the department – warehousing, catering, transport, clothing and more. Then I got promoted just at the time they decided to computerise the stores operation and I found myself as the Computer manager. I saw that I was providing a service to folks who supplied a service. Oh, and the folks I supplied a service to also used that to help them, in turn, deliver services – including keeping convicted criminal locked up.

So, in summary, I had a pretty clear understanding of being in service management, and the hierarchy of services and without knowing the word, I did IT Service Management for 7 years. To me it was just like the service management I’d known for years plus the chance to play with some computers. The computers were new but delivering services that help others deliver their services in turn was really much the same as it had always been.

Then I got a chance of another promotion and found myself in CCTA helping to write ITIL V1 (although not knowing the longevity and success it would enjoy, we just called it ITIL then). ITIL became well known, the term IT Service Management was coined and the focus was on IT Service management while ordinary service management kept on as ever without the need for a fancy name and lots of new guidance.

Fouling things up

From outside, IT in the 80s seemed to be working hard on its reputation – working on making it as bad as possible. During the early days of widespread computerisation, no office was complete without a poster telling us something like ‘To err is human but, to really foul things up you need a computer”. And it was hard to argue in IT’s defence.

One good reason why IT maybe got so much attention, and the one thing significantly different about IT, was its speed. Almost every service has its faults, illogicalities, inadequacies and just plain silly bits that make things go wrong. But human beings expect that and they correct those things along the way. Most human work processes were like that – they had mistakes that you corrected. What was different about computerised systems was that they made those mistakes FAST! So fast that the issues kept coming, and quicker than human beings could fix them. That meant that, however good and clever the computerisation was, the end product was not. Customers saw it simply as IT messing things up.

This eventually became expensive, as well as embarrassing, and so some serious thought was put into building processes to help, and we got ITIL, COBIT and so on – applying processes that would prevent quite so many mistakes. Once that focus caught on, those processes evolved, were honed and improved and took on a life of their own. And that life got associated with IT, so we thought ITSM was somehow an IT thing when, of course, a moment’s thought shows it isn’t and never was. It is just that IT was where it was creaking most, so IT is where the emergency first-aid was applied, and then eventually where that first aid developed into sophisticated surgery and – eventually – some degree of patient remission and ongoing health.

So, now we trust IT- really: if you have ever turned down the offer of a printed receipt from an ATM machine then you now trust IT in a way you would not have done 30 years ago.

Processes are nothing new

The processes we think of as ITSM are, for the most part, traceable back through engineering and construction for thousands of years. Evidence of effective capacity management, for example, is clear in the Great Wall of China, The Pyramids (both Egyptian and South American) and Stonehenge[1]. In fact the more you think about it, the more so-called ITIL processes you realise were working well at that time.

What has happened though, is that IT took those processes, formalised them, speeded them up and made them work better together. And, maybe accidentally, created tools with much wider applicability. That breadth of applicability is increased of course by the fact that IT has now permeated everywhere.[2]

Because we have IT everywhere, that effectively means IT is nowhere. IT isn’t really the separate discipline it was. Rather, like the specialist writers and copiers that Shakespeare used to create the necessary copies of his plays, found themselves in a dwindling market when folks generally picked up writing. And while others service areas, like HR, facilities management and so on, carried on in their traditional and human being compatible ‘near enough and then fix it when it looks a bit wrong’ fashion, thanks to IT, those services have also speeded up.

The child can now teach the parent

Add in the greater expectation that folks are getting used to (thanks in no small part to reliable IT these days) and we see how those new service management sophistications, like comprehensive software tools, should be just as valuable across all kinds of service management, not least because they were never really IT processes or techniques in the first place.

Where does all that leave us? Old-fashioned service management spawned ITSM, IT had to make it work and built rules and processes and then ever more sophisticated tools to make it work. The child prodigy that was IT grew up[3] and now turns out to be in a position to teach its old parents a trick or two.

I’ve seen this described in some places as applying IT ideas to other services but, for me, that could not be more wrong. It is just some techniques and tools to do the old things faster, easier and more reliably. It isn’t the processes we are getting into other service areas, it is just new tools, just like banking practices were revolutionised by computers without ever stopping being banking!

Refine and adapt the tools

Getting back to my opening words about advancing age and passing fashions, I’m delighted to be able to find myself back where I was, in Service Management. But with some good lessons learned along my diversion via IT.

I know about the problems with old dogs and new tricks, but the newly grown up kid does have some seriously good lessons for its old parents in other services across the enterprise. It is not about bursting into HR and telling them to learn from IT, it is about using tools across their potential range, and not just restricting their value to one place. For many organisations the current situation is like one team having chainsaws while restricting the rest to cutting down trees with axes. We might need to refine and maybe even adapt the chainsaws a little, but they offer benefits across the whole forest.

[1] Recent research shows a whole range of different suppliers involved and coordinated, so maybe even some good SIAM lessons too – but SIAM is another blog – hopefully I’ll get to that one soon.

[2] I originally wrote ‘almost everywhere’ but actually …

[3] Well, some of them, a bit.

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