These days, every business is a technology business. This refrain should serve as a reminder that no matter what you do, IT isn't just for keeping back-office functions running smoothly anymore. It's something that's integral to everything a company does - particularly when it comes to dealing with customers.
But delivering services to meet the ever-changing - and increasingly demanding - needs of customers can prove a challenging task. Businesses may often find themselves trying to balance the demands of multiple applications where development is proceeding at different rates and towards different goals. Getting all of these under control so they function effectively and cost-effectively can be a major headache.
Therefore, a solution is required. And for many businesses, this comes in the form of IT Service Management (ITSM). But what is this, and why should your company be considering it? Here's our quick primer on the discipline.
What is IT Service Management?
ITSM essentially refers to any strategy that governs activities an organization undertakes to plan, implement, manage, support and improve customer-facing IT projects within an enterprise. It doesn't refer to any one particular process or technology, but rather it's an all-inclusive term that can encompass a wide range of management frameworks.
What separates it from other commonly undertaken practices such as network management is that ITSM ensures that any efforts to develop and improve IT systems remain aligned with an enterprise's overall business goals.
Why it matters to your business
A clear, detailed framework for managing every aspect of your IT ecosystem can transform a complex sprawl of disconnected and siloed systems into a single, effective environment that works together to further your business goals.
Under many legacy IT systems, for example, much development may have been reactive - with IT managers waiting until any problems or emerging needs are identified before making changes. But an ITSM strategy advocates a more preventative, proactive focus that emphasizes continuous development, so companies can get ahead of any issues and always be ready to take advantage of an ever-changing environment.
ITSM also takes development focus away from creating solutions that are tailored to the needs of users within the business, and asks instead how IT services can be oriented to be more customer-centric.
ITSM and ITIL - what's the difference?
You may often hear ITSM talked about in the same breath as IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) tools, and the two terms are sometimes treated interchangeably, and so many assume they are one and the same. But this isn't entirely accurate.
ITIL is actually a best practices framework that sets out how ITSM activities will be delivered. It's not the only way to go about ITSM processes, but it is one of the most common, so for many businesses, when they refer to ITIL it is effectively their ITSM strategy.
Originally developed for use by British government agencies to standardize the level of service quality they provided, the framework was quickly adopted by other governments and enterprises. Its main benefits include its flexibility, which enables it to be applied to a variety of business goals and allows companies to select processes that are most relevant to their operations.
What other frameworks are available?
However, you don't have to use ITIL if you feel it's not the most appropriate option for your business. There are numerous other frameworks available that can help enterprises take control of their IT services, which may be more suitable. For example, some businesses will have technologies that are unique to their industry, in which case they may require a more specialized framework that would not be relevant for other companies. Sectors such as telecommunications, healthcare and government are among those that may be able to benefit from frameworks that are targeted specifically at them.
Among some of the other popular frameworks are:
- COBIT - This framework, published by the IT Governance Institute and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), is an IT governance framework for developing, implementing, monitoring and improving governance and management practices.
- Six Sigma - This Motorola-developed process focuses on the use of data analysis to meet business objectives and identify and correct flaws within product or service delivery processes.
- MOF - The Microsoft Operations Framework consists of a series of 23 documents that help guide IT professionals through the process of creating, implementing and managing efficient and cost-effective services through the entire lifecycle, from initial idea to final retirement and replacement.
What processes are involved?
Within any ITSM framework will be several processes that businesses will be expected to follow in order to improve their services. These cover a wide range of activities and may differ between frameworks, but generally, they will include steps that set out how to ensure IT initiatives are aligned with business objectives and are working as intended.
The ITIL framework, for example, is based around a five-phase service lifestyle that covers the following stages:
- Service strategy - This involves understanding customer needs and how to develop successful IT services to meet them.
- Service design - This ensures that services are designed efficiently and cost-effectively.
- Service transition - This stage details how designs should be built and tested.
- Service operation - This covers how services are delivered and managed.
- Continual service improvement - Finally, this sets out a mechanism for improving services and the technology and processes used in in their management.
Other frameworks may vary in the details, but the general principles are usually broadly similar. One frequent aspect to note is the use of business-related and non-IT specific language throughout. This helps reinforce the idea that IT activities should now be treated as a key part of any organization, not fenced off within its own domain - one of the key principles of ITSM.