ITIL in the Support Center 2.0: Will It Thrive?


by Stephen Mann


ITIL, the best practice framework formerly known as the IT Infrastructure Library, has played a big role in the evolution of corporate IT. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to dispute the fact that ITIL has done much to improve the professionalism and performance of technical service and support organizations around the world.

Yes, you can argue that ITIL has been abused for financial gain (whether intentionally or through ignorance) by training firms, software vendors, consultants, and others. Yes, you can argue that many companies have wasted scarce financial and people resources on trying to deliver against an unrealistic expectation of ITIL, or on trying to attain a level of maturity beyond their operational capabilities. And, yes, you can argue that ITIL is outdated, even though it’s come a long way from its late-1980s UK government origins.

But how many companies function more efficiently these days because of ITIL, if only from a technical service and support perspective? Thousands, if not tens of thousands, I’m sure. ITIL is the ITSM best practice framework for much of the business world, and it’s worth considering what its future might look like as technical service and support organizations evolve.

AXELOS and the Future of ITIL

In the 1989 version of Batman, the Joker delivers a scathing critique of the status quo in Gotham City: “This town needs an enema.” ITIL, released the same year, has needed that same treatment for a while now (though not because of a growing criminal underclass), owing to the effects of a range of symptoms: the bloated tomes of ITIL v3 (The Return of the Jedi to ITIL v2’s The Empire Strikes Back); the lack of adoption of some two-thirds of ITIL’s best practices; the war and horror stories of ITIL adoptions that have been fraught with setbacks and challenges; and ITIL’s loss of relevancy as the IT and business landscapes have changed around it.

But ITIL is no longer languishing in the dimly-lit offices of government buildings in London. The AXELOS joint venture, announced in April 2013, has mapped out a new future for ITIL, taking a layered approach that defines different “classes” of ITIL content. Think of it like an onion: 

  • A center comprising very stable ITIL core content. 
  • Layers of modular content, such as role- or industry-specific information. 
  • Further layers with more practical content, such as templates, guides, and case studies. 
  • An outside layer that is community-owned and community-driven, curated and promoted by AXELOS and “the ITSM community.”

AXELOS is also very aware of the growing use of ITSM tools and best practices outside of IT, enterprise service management, and a new trend toward the consumerization of service.

The Consumerization of Service

Believe it or not, service management didn’t originate in IT, nor is it only applicable to IT. It applies to all service providers, internal and external. This point brings us around to another trend: the consumerization of service. Employees are bringing their personal-life and consumer-driven expectations into the workplace, and not just when it comes to their personal devices (the consumerization of IT—BYOD—grabs all the headlines, doesn’t it?). Technical service and support organizations need to step up their game when it comes to service delivery and service experience, focusing on ease of use, self-service, service catalogs, mobility (anytime, anywhere access), knowledge availability, social or collaborative capabilities, and customer-centric support.

But the consumerization of service isn’t only affecting technical service and support organizations; it applies to all corporate service providers. (The “consumerization of HR” exists—Google it.) Soon, other corporate service providers, such as facilities management and legal, will be facing the same challenges and expectations. This trend overlaps with the growth in enterprise service management. Not only are companies looking to extend ITSM tools and possibly ITIL best practices to other corporate service providers, enabling the company as a whole to benefit from economies of scale and associated cost savings, they’re looking to do it in a way that improves the customer experience and meets their consumer-driven expectations.

KPMG, a global network of professional firms that provides audit, tax, and advisory services, prefers the term “global business services” to enterprise service management, which applies to customers who have matured, or wish to mature, from:

  • Decentralized processes within corporate service provider functions, such as IT and HR, performed by business units on their own behalf, to 
  • Centralized processes, where processes and outcomes are consolidated and owned by centralized service provider functions, with business units as customers, to 
  • Shared services, where processes are consolidated into regional service entities and operated as business units with shared governance, to 
  • Global business services, a business services model with global scope and delivery (think global shared services), to 
  • Integrated multifunctional global business services, which extends the global business services model across multiple corporate service providers, with end-to-end global process ownership and accountability. (In essence, IT, HR, finance, etc., would operate as a single entity, with common tools, processes, and personnel—the nirvana of enterprise service management operations.)

Service Management Starts with Service Relationships

It seems every department in the enterprise is now a service provider. But, while shared services arrangements have grown in number over the past five years, many have overlooked the fact that it’s not just about shared services, it’s also about shared service relationships. These relationships, which are typically well defined in IT, are often inefficient, unstructured, or nonexistent in other enterprise service domains.
Such service relationships exist throughout the enterprise—between IT and lines of business, HR and sales, legal and marketing, facilities and operations, and even between internal and external service providers—connecting the requesters of a service with the providers of those services. These services can include requests for products, services, information, changes, or assistance with issues, and, ideally, they’re delivered via automated workflows.

Consider HR service management, using onboarding a new employee as an example of a complex service request. Traditionally, HR uses email, spreadsheets, or other personal productivity tools to manage a number of discrete activities across a number of discrete business functions: 

  • HR: Collecting and verifying employee personal data; signing contracts and other official forms; agreeing to a start date; providing HR policy information; arranging induction training. 
  • IT: Providing equipment (telephone, laptop, mobile, etc.), software, access to corporate IT services, instructional information, and corporate usage policy information.
  • Facilities: Providing suitable working accommodations, a security pass, and network access (in conjunction with IT).
  • Fleet: Arranging a company car or a parking space.

Surely our peers in HR deserve better than this manual, unstructured process? IT can help HR streamline and improve service relationships and service delivery by providing:

  • An employee self-service portal, to deliver a consistent end-user experience for employees by providing an HR storefront with 24x7 access to HR information and services, including a self-service request catalog supported by an automated request fulfillment process.
  • Automated case assignment, which directs requests to specific individuals or groups based on set rules.
  • Reporting and dashboards, which enable HR specialists and management to assess performance and identify areas for improvement or opportunities to drive operational efficiencies.

This doesn’t just apply to HR—it can apply to the enterprise, as well: enterprise portals, assignments, assistance, provisioning, and management.

The Support Center 2.0 and ITIL

How does this apply to the Support Center 2.0? Perhaps we should start by dropping the “Support Center 2.0” nomenclature; it reeks of IT and legacy software release versioning. The support center is evolving beyond IT, and it will require people (and enabling technology) to support people, rather than people supporting technology.

Yes, the support center of the future will be dealing with the added complexities of mobile, the cloud, BYOD, and countless as-yet undiscovered innovations. And, yes, there will be additional channels for communication and support that leverage social, knowledge management, collaborative, remote support, and automation capabilities.

But the real differences will be: 

  • Greater emphasis on the employee and their situations: From an IT perspective, this entails shifting the thought process away from the broken laptop and toward the employee who can’t fulfill his responsibilities. But understanding the business impact of IT failures is nothing new; it’s just not as common as it ought to be. Understanding the context of employee issues and requests is something that will apply to all corporate service providers.
  • Improvements in service delivery and service experience: On the one hand, this is about making improvements in service provider operations, through better processes and enabling technologies, which hopefully increases effectiveness and efficiency and enhances management and governance. On the other, it’s about ensuring the service experience meets employee or customer expectations.
  • Removing boundaries and inefficiencies: Why do employees need to contact the right corporate service provider rather than the corporate service provider? The proliferation of telephone numbers, email addresses, and even service provider portals was created with an emphasis on supply, not demand. Your employees just need service, regardless of where they might have directed that request in the past (IT, HR, facilities, legal, or any other corporate service provider). But why does an employee need to know, or even care about, which corporate service provider will fulfill their need? Isn’t it time to design employee services around employees, rather than service providers?

It’s time for service management to become an enterprise capability, both in terms of delivery and maturity.

The Evolution of ITIL

ITIL should be jockeying to be “the enterprise service management best practice framework” of choice, building on its history as “the ITSM best practice framework.” And I believe it will: first, because it will have to, lest it become outdated and irrelevant; second, because this is where AXELOS will see the greatest return on its investment.

In the hands of AXELOS, ITIL is here to stay. It will continue to be the de facto ITSM best practice framework, while simultaneously adding depth, catching up with changes in the IT landscape, and catering to the needs of a growing constituency: corporate service providers. I have no doubt that support centers and enterprises will be using ITIL for many, many years to come.

 

Stephen Mann is a keen blogger and ITSM industry commentator. In his career, he’s held positions in IT research and analysis (at the UK Post Office, Ovum, and Forrester), IT consultancy, IT service management, IT asset management, innovation/creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and now product marketing with ServiceNow, where he’s writing stuff that he hopes makes a difference. Follow him on Twitter @stephenmann.

Tag(s): ITIL, future of support, ITSM

Related:

More from Stephen Mann :


Comments: