Blending business strategy and ITSM for transformational value

Aligning organizational strategies with IT service management is a problem that needs solving, according to the latest research. The task relies on the C-suite, the CIO and the IT organization to collaborate and adopt the best practices that will deliver real value from digital transformation.

team working on a project

Where does IT service management (ITSM) fit into an organization’s overall objectives and why should CIOs care about how well it’s integrated into the IT organization and C-suite strategy?

Today, we are seeing more business-type targets for IT, i.e. objectives tied to the success of organizations as a whole. For example, the IT goals for an ambulance service are likely to coincide with its organizational goals – so its IT department’s targets relate to getting ambulances quickly to accidents. In other words, IT and the organization should be working towards the same thing.

In turn, the goal for the ITSM function is to find out what’s important to the business and focus on how it can contribute to that bigger picture. Unfortunately, IT and ITSM often haven’t figured this out, frustrating the business and sometimes leading to poor, though predictable, outsourcing decisions.

The latest ITSM benchmarking study from AXELOS suggests there is a problem; I would contest the problem might be worse even than the research suggests. The findings point to only 41% of ITSM professionals seeing a “clear alignment” between their current goals and overall business strategy.

While the senior leadership in the business should be setting strategy, ITSM clearly needs to be more aligned and translating what it does into meaningful business outcomes.

Service Management objectives will relate to the operational aspects of how to achieve these outcomes. IT and ITSM people need to get out and see for themselves how this happens in their customers’ daily work.

The above figure of 41% alignment can be turned around into activity that supports the goals of the organization. And this is something not to ignore, as 60% of professionals in the study acknowledge ITSM as “instrumental to business objectives in the next five years”.

This is even more critical in the context of the new devops world, which promises the end of service desks and service management without knowing how it will run IT services after deployment. Any attempt to do this cheaply will inevitably end up costing the organization more. 

And how does this sit with digital transformation?

The move in organizations towards mobile, cloud and big data needs both excellent development and service management practices and support. For example, the winners of last year’s itSMF UK digital transformation project achieved a complete redefinition of IT services based on a top-down strategy for how to engage with a local community using new technologies.

Alignment between ITSM and senior leadership – who and how?

How to align the C-suite and ITSM is neither a new question nor one that has been properly answered yet.

However, now IT is pervasive in organizations it should be taken more seriously by senior leadership in a way it wasn’t previously. This needs a re-positioning of the IT organization, such as having representation in the C-suite. In turn, the board should be looking at the organization through a technology lens, which means understanding enough about IT to appreciate its value. It’s no longer acceptable to say “I don’t get it”. In fact, there’s a standard – ISO/IEC 38500 – written for business people to give them an insight into effective and efficient use of IT in their businesses.

In addition, the CIO – the de facto owner of the IT organization – has to be a modern thinker; customer and digitally-focused and willing to challenge their own IT organization to be more business-focussed and aligned. While any number of people associated with IT and ITSM can drive better alignment, they need support at the top of the division from the person – the CIO – who is listened to at board level.

Devops, ITIL and delivering services

While we want to see better alignment between IT, ITSM and the businesses they support, there is also the growing array of best practices to contend with. How do practitioners respond to the pressure of the new while retaining the best of what’s already established?

ITSM professionals in the AXELOS ITSM benchmarking study highlighted their reasons for interest in emerging practices:

  • the identification and elimination of wasteful work
  • the value they can bring to the organization
  • the adoption of practices such as continuous testing, integration and deployment.

Clearly, that places devops highly among their areas of interest, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of technology built with the intention of reducing support needed later. However, it’s the running of a technology product rather than the design and build that tends to cost the most – often up to 75% of investment. That’s why ITSM using frameworks such as ITIL should be involved to manage set up, understand business objectives and service ownership.  

Good service management should be part of the design, build and test process to create a better product that is easier and cheaper to support and to ensure the service and warranties are well-defined.

That said, the challenge remains to address the “them and us” attitude between ITSM and devops, for example. Devops is not just a “cool, new” thing though I think it has been appropriated as such and focussed too much on development. It is, in fact, a way of collaborating in service management and moving closer to customers and their requirements.

Setting up service management for the future

So, what should happen with ITSM in the next five years?

It’s about making sure things are done well and in line with what organizations are trying to achieve. That needs joined-up, collaborative working with attention paid to customer experience and business outcomes.

It’s about ensuring that business targets are universally understood and worked towards. This means using business intelligence and metrics to seek continuous improvement.

However, maybe more important, the concept needs to be recognized as service management rather than just IT service management, which is about the business, governance, consistency and, above all else, value (VOCR – value, outcomes, costs, risks…).

Service management needs recognition higher up in organizations for what it delivers. Any decent CIO knows that their primary challenge is people and how well they work together. Therefore, service management – which requires collaboration and interactions between people – should be well-resourced and supported. It simply can’t be done “on the cheap”.

Digital transformation thrives on new technology and the opportunities it offers. However this still requires people to make it happen, working together to achieve real success and value.

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