HDI’s SPOCcast is your single point of contact podcast for service management and support insights. For Episode 20, I interviewed Barclay Rae, one of HDI’s Top 25 Thought Leaders as well as a lead architect for ITIL 4, about the evolving role of IT and related topics. Although I’m sure you will find these excerpts enlightening, do listen to the entire podcast when you can.
RA: One of the subjects that you’re keen to talk about, including at Service Management World, is the evolving role of IT. So, could you tell us a little about how you think the role is changing and where it’s going?
BR: Well, I mean it’s been changing and evolving—I’ve been in IT for a long time—and it’s always been, I suppose, been evolving and changing, and we’ve always been looking ahead and saying “What happens in 5 years, 10 years?” and then none of us will have jobs, and then that doesn’t happen…. Although a lot of things haven’t evolved maybe as much as we thought they would, and that’s because we keep getting hit with new technologies every so often, and new ways of working.
But I think, finally, at last, we’re seeing more of a confluence of people and capabilities in the sense that the role is being better understood, the value is being better understood by people outside of IT. It’s still not perfect—long way to go—but it’s much more visible and it’s much more understood and understandable than it was in the past, despite it being very complex. And the requirements of it are, I think, more easily understood.
The younger generation coming through in management as well has a completely different way of thinking about what technology is compared to the older generations who, I guess, have tended to shy away from it and not really want to get involved, and see it as being something that goes on in the basement of the organization.
So, I think at last we’re coming to that point where it is just being accepted as being a function of business, a function of organizations—a really important one—in many cases utterly central and utterly vital. And that realization is also at last coming through to people who work in IT. Some of us who’ve been around in IT service management for a long time, we’d probably say that we’ve been buying in on that jump for a long time—you know, we’re part of the business, we add value, it’s not just all about technical stuff—all those good things, I think, are coming together. And some of that’s been facilitated by the way technology has gone. Also the kind of commercial models have changed that, so people buying complete services, cloud, not really need to get into the nuts and bolts on the infrastructure side.
Join Barclay for a breakfast briefing on the human side of digital transformation at Service Management World!
It occurred to me while you were saying that, that perhaps that’s the real “digital transformation.” That’s kind of a fuzzy term and people don’t know what it means or find it hard to define, but you said that the new management, they’re versed in the technology, it’s part of the way they do things…. Could that be the real digital transformation?
BR: I think so. The consumerization we’ve had over the past 10 years, 15 years, iPhone being the big catalyst there…that has opened it up and blown away some of the cobwebs around what we actually do. People expect it to work. People expect it to be a good experience. People expect it to be something that supports them. And I think there’s no business function that anybody does, whether they’re in a startup, whether they’re in an established organization…you know, if you’re trying to do something, or trying to create something, or build something—a new service, a new product, a new offering, a new way of working—the technology is just part of that. It’s not something separate. It’s not something that…we work out what we’re going to do, and then we go and knock down at the end of the corridor where there’s the guys in IT, and we bring them in and tell them what we’re going to do, or we ask them if we can do it. They are part of the discussion, because they are part of us and we are with them. That’s the real change, and—as I say—it’s nowhere near complete, but that’s the path we’re on. I see it in more and more organizations where there’s much more blurring of the lines between business and IT as we have known it for a long time.
And I think the real difference I notice with people coming through who are—and I hate the term but it’s easier to use it—digital natives, people who have just grown up with the stuff from an early age…. They don’t see it as a problem, they don’t see it as a barrier, they don’t see it as something different or something really challeng[ing]; it’s just part of the furniture. It’s something that has to be used and is used and is there to deliver value.
My view is that digital transformation is human transformation as well. The success of it is how we manage to transform ourselves as well as being able to use technology. I’ll give you an example. I’ve been judging some awards at the moment, and you have several different projects and they all do impressive things…. There’s one entrant where they’re talking about how they’ve achieved a lot by digitizing what they currently do, and you’ve got other applicants who’ve sat back and looked at what it is they do and just changed the way they work. And to me, the latter is digital transformation as real transformation, because it’s saying, “We don’t just computerize, digitize everything or turn everything into mobile just for the sake of it; we’ve got an opportunity to do something new and better and more ingrained in what we do. So, let’s do that. Let’s work together to achieve that end.”
RA: There were some analyst predictions from well-known analyst firms…that something like 90% of these modernization projects using emerging technology [like AI] were going to fail because the data simply wasn’t there, the knowledge simply wasn’t structured enough, and it would end up impeding the advanced emerging technology rather than helping that.
BR: Just from the point of view of the statistical side: You actually need quite a lot of data if you’re going to use intelligent systems…to make decisions, intelligent knowledge management, intelligent response systems…and very often particularly internal organizations just don’t have that level of data, but the volume is required to help [the technology] understand how to interpret [the data]. And that’s where you may need to go and be part of some external or pooled resources of knowledge.
RA: And while we’re talking about emerging technologies and so forth, in their book Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI, two authors, Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson, talk about “the missing middle,” which is kind of the melding of things that robots, AI, and machine learning are good at, and those things humans are good at, so that they complement each other. You talk about focusing on the areas where humans can add value. Can you talk about what some of those areas are from your point of view?
BR: If we’re trying to look forward, particularly if you project more than 10, 15, 20 years where the capability of the technology will be vastly more than it is at present, and many of the functions that we currently do will be done better by machines. So, we have to really decide and understand what it is that we do well, where we add the value, where we make a difference and do things that machines can’t do or can’t do very well. And for me that is all about…human interaction…how we engage with other people, how we understand people, how we empathize with people, a lot of the things that were traditionally were perhaps seen as being “soft skills” and for many people in IT have always been quite challenging. People that work in technology like technology, and I wouldn’t say hide behind it, but for many…if they’d been good at marketing and communications, they would have done that. Or sales. They would have done those kinds of things. But no, they’re in technology because they like technology.
What we don’t want to do is…automate everything to the point where there’s no human contact.
We don’t want to automate everything to the point where there’s no human contact.
RA: Where does service management fit in? What’s the key value that service management brings to the organization from your perspective?
BR: I think one of the biggest challenges in the last few years has just been holding on and reinforcing and reminding people of the value of service management. And it’s not just there as a kind of window dressing—something where we’ve got people who are good at talking to each other. That’s one part of it. But true service management is about good collaboration across the organization and understanding the businesses and organizations that are being supported, being able to develop and demonstrate the value that’s being achieved when providing technology, being able to understand the complexity of different organizations and where the technology fits in with that; there’s that kind of warranty part of it. What, where, when, why, who does what, where’s the value in what we’re doing from a business point of view. And then there’s all the assurance side things, the governance side of things, security.
When I started in IT, the first few days it was hammered into me: We’re there to protect the knowledge assets of the organization. Protect has always been a slightly challenging word because it sounds a bit controlling. But protect is the right word. Security—the whole cyber-resilience—is absolutely massive at the moment. We must ensure that we are looking after the assets of the organization that we support and the people that work there; they have mortgages and families and kids and so on…so that things are being properly managed and properly protected.
And we’ve had these kinds of challenges in the past few years because all the cool Agile and DevOps stuff that’s come along—which is all great. But what it’s tended to do is let people think, “Well, we just need to be fast. We just need to be cool. We just need to do things in different ways.” Great. But that doesn’t mean to say we forget about some of the important but absolutely vital assurance, governance, and business support that we provide. And no organization can do without those.
About Barclay Rae
Barclay Rae is an experienced ITSM consultant, analyst, and writer. He has worked on approximately 700 ITSM projects over the past 25 years, and writes blogs, research, and white papers on ITSM topics for a variety of industry organizations and vendors. Barclay is also a regular speaker at industry conferences and events, in the UK and globally, including, SITS, SDI, itSMF, Pink Elephant, UCISA and others. Barclay was named an HDI Top 25 Thought Leader in Technical Support and Service Management and ITSM Contributor of the Year in 2014 at the SITS show.
Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as senior writer/analyst, he acts as HDI's in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @RoyAtkinson.