The Specialization of Technology
In the beginning of IT there were men in white lab coats. And the men in white lab coats were masters of everything: hardware and software, development and operations, demand and supply. But after a while things started to specialize and different departments were created for the various disciplines. There’s nothing wrong with this: it’s the natural way to deal with technological progress. Ever-increasing standardization and commoditization has taken this to the next stage: there’s now also more specialization in the marketplace, with a growing number of external providers who offer products and services.
Specialization in multiple disciplines has brought on the need for multidisciplinary collaboration. We’ve seen this reflected in movements such as Agile and, more recently, DevOps. The interfaces between the various disciplines are crucial. Although you can usually treat the party that you’re dealing with as a black box, you’ll collaborate more effectively if each party has a basic understanding of not only what the other party does but also their kind of perspectives and cultural norms that drive their behaviour.
Vertical knowledge is not enough
Professionals who not only have in-depth vertical knowledge of their own domain but also horizontal knowledge of adjacent domains have a T-shaped knowledge profile. They are much more valuable than I-shaped professionals that come with a ‘collaboration user manual’.
Suppose that you’re an IT service management practitioner. On the one hand you interact with application development / application management, possible in a DevOps way. Close collaboration is only possible when you have a basic understand of how applications are developed, maintained and supported, and how applications practitioners think. Many application developers have a strong short-term project-orientation, whereas you as an ITSM practitioner often think in terms of processes that will be active for as long as the business that they support.
Understand your purpose
In your ITSM interactions with business managers and users, business people are generally pragmatic, willing to compromise and take well-considered risks, whereas you – like most IT people – tend to think in terms of architecturally perfect solutions. When each parties understands not only the mind-set but the reasoning behind the mind-set, then there’s a better chance of resolving seemingly conflicting perspectives and making well-informed decisions that are also well-understood. Clarity of purpose motivates people.
Of course in time you’ll pick up much of this kind of knowledge on the job but you would be more effective and more credible if you had some kind of formal qualification foundation in the other domains. So consider stretching your horizontal reach and investing in a better understanding of neighbouring domains.
Getting business insight
From a practical point of view, ITSM practitioners who want some insight into the business-side processes that deal with information and related technology, should take a look at the non-profit ASL BiSL Foundation’s Business Information Services Library. BiSL® was created about ten years ago as a response to ITIL®. Where ITIL offers guidance from an IT service provider’s point of view, BiSL takes the perspective of the customer of the IT service provider. BiSL describes both how business units manage their information as a business asset and also how they deal with IT from the ‘other side of the fence’ than the IT function. BiSL’s emphasis on formulating the demand for IT and ensuring good use of IT is complementary to the IT function’s IT supply orientation. ITSM practitioners – particularly those in the ‘front line’ – who understand their counterparts’ processes, collaborate much more effectively with the business.
Similarly, ITSM practitioners who want to improve their collaboration with their application colleagues, will benefit from insight into what they actually do to applications and the kind of perspectives that they use. The ASL BiSL Foundation’s Application Services Library describes how applications are supported from an operational perspective (including the interaction with ITSM for joint management of availability, capacity etc.), how they are maintained and renewed, and how application lifecycle management (ALM) and application portfolio management (APM) are executed. ASL was significant input for the Dutch NEN3434 standard and the international ISO/IEC 16350 standard for application management. Whether ITSM interacts with application development / application management in a DevOps way or as more traditionally connected silos, this insight will speed things up, reduce miscommunication, and generate a bit of goodwill as a result of the investment in T-shared knowledge.
Full disclosure: I am affiliated with the ASL BiSL Foundation and possibly biased, but to the best of my knowledge, BiSL is unique in its lifecycle scope and positioning in the business, facing the IT supply function. IIBA’s BABOK gives insight into the specific business analysis area, and is also worth considering.
COBIT® overarches demand and supply, and gives valuable insight into the governance perspective.
On the IT supply side, ASL is less differentiating in orientation and scope than BiSL, partly overlapping the ITIL® AD/AM guidance. ASL dives into the actual maintenance activities in more detail than ITIL, and gives more insight into the general mindset of application practitioners.
A simplistic mapping of these frameworks gives a high-level impression of their orientation and scope.
White Papers at www.aslbislfoundation.org (-> ASL or BiSL, -> Publications, -> Whitepapers)
- ASL 2, An Introduction, Machteld Meijer and Louk Peters
- An Introduction to BiSL, Machteld Meijer and Louk Peters
- Comparison ISO 20000 – ASL – BiSL, Machteld Meijer and Mark Smalley
- ITIL® and ASL®, Machteld Meijer, Mark Smalley and Sharon Taylor
- ITIL® and BiSL®, Machteld Meijer, Mark Smalley, Sharon Taylor and Candace Dunwoodie (also available at AXELOS)
- BABOK® Guide Online edition
- COBIT®5 Online
ASL® and BiSL® are registered trademarks of the ASL BiSL Foundation.
COBIT® is a registered trademark of ISACA.
ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited.