For decades, IT service management (ITSM) best practice frameworks such as ITIL have shaped how IT support departments go about their daily tasks. But why are organizations struggling to translate excellence in IT management into equally good service? And how can ITSM best practices help remedy this? Ah, the ageless questions that might otherwise defy explanation, but not quite. 

The power of ITIL 

There’s no doubt the various versions of the ITIL framework have transformed ITSM. They’ve helped countless IT departments to improve their performance, while saving a massive amount of work, by providing clear guidelines on how best to go about their most important tasks. And, perhaps the most important thing they’ve done is to help everyone speak the same language. Additionally, ITIL has brought ITSM staff to a higher level of professionalism 

So why are many organizations still struggling so get their IT services in order – especially considering ITIL v3, and then v2011, shifted towards an even more service-oriented approach? 

To find the answer, let’s travel back in time, briefly, to the 1980s. 

From tools to processes to – more processes? 

ITIL v1 was introduced in the late 1980s to help companies manage their IT infrastructure. Inevitably, this made way for the 1990s version, the more process-oriented ITIL v2. This version was meant to help IT departments set up processes for streamlining their work. Finally, with ITIL v3, and the 2011 refresh, the focus truly shifted towards managing services, reflecting the ultimate goal of an IT department as not maintaining IT assets but providing quality services to customers. 

This is the theory, yes, but practically – not so much. The main reason is that ITIL’s perceived solution to working in a more service-oriented way was to introduce more ITSM processes. ITIL 2011 counts 26 processes and four functions, compared to the ten in ITIL v2. 

As an ITSM best practice framework, ITIL is now complex and extensive to the point that many organizations struggle to put ITIL 2011 into practice. No disrespect to ITIL, but the fact is that it was initially developed to manage IT infrastructure, not to help IT managers keep their customers happy. 

Keeping customers happy is now harder than ever 

Expectations of what technology can do for employees have increased significantly over the past few years. While the information technology we use at home might not be as complex or extensive as the vast application suites and networks we use at work, we do see them in much the same light.  

For example, if you can update an app on your smartphone within 30 seconds, why does a software upgrade at work take months to plan and implement? For IT departments, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to meet their customers’ expectations. 

Building a bridge 

So, what to do about the potential chasm between great process management and great service?  

The solution is not to try to turn great management into great services. Instead, ask yourself: What do we need to do to provide better services? You can’t provide great services without having your management in order. You need ITIL for process management – no bridges can be built without a solid foundation. 

Best practice service management 

In best practice service management (rather than ITSM), the services you offer to your clients are at the center of everything your IT department does.  

Start working with fewer processes, and a stronger focus on the customers’ needs. Does that mean you should do everything your customer asks? On the contrary, customer-focused service often means choosing not to provide some services, so you’re better able to deliver the services your customers really need. 

What is best practice service management? 

Best practice service management (BPSM) is based on a few principles: services as starting point, not too many different services, and using the customers needs as guiding principle. 

BPSM is based on the services you offer your customers. This is driven by a desire to be truly customer-focused. To do so, you must focus on your services, of course. After all, the customers don’t care which internal processes are followed. They just want their expectations met and their issues solved. The question for an IT organization isn’t how to best implement processes, it’s this: which services do you offer your customers? 

Standardize the services you offer and record them in a service catalog. Standardizing your services is an easier way to control your work. If you don’t know which services you offer, how do you stay in control of your team’s workload? For each question or request the operator should ask themselves: what should I do with this? Do I need to help the customer? Or is this not something we offer?  

We have seen many organizations where incoming requests demand a lot of time and energy from the team, making it difficult to move away from firefighting to focus on implementing long-term improvements. By standardizing your services, you improve the efficiency of your support. 

Limited number of supporting processes 

What do you need to support these services? This is where your processes come in. One goal of BPSM is to keep the number of processes to a minimum. The ITIL processes are all useful, but because there are so many it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. The large number of processes can cause unnecessary barriers and delays while addressing customer needs. 

This doesn’t help to put the customer first. So how do you limit the number of processes you use? There are two main processes for handling calls: one process for questions about services you support and one process for questions about services you don’t support. The main principle with these two processes is that they start and end with the customer’s question.  

Of course, your services won’t be the same forever, so you need a process for changes to your services.  

BPSM in practice 

How does it work? Your customer has a request, if the request is about one of your standard services, you can process it according to current agreements (reactive management). You’ll need to maintain these services periodically to ensure you can keep offering them (proactive management). If the request concerns a service that isn’t available, you can explain to the customer why you can’t (or can’t yet) provide the service and offer them a different solution. Requests you can’t solve through standard services can be a reason to adjust your current services (changes). If the customer reports a recurring problem that you really want fixed, for example. But you can also improve your services on your own (improvement), based on frequent disruptions, new technology, or changed legislation. 

So, what do you think of this BPSM approach? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.  

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Nancy is the president of TOPdesk US, currently responsible for leading the division’s business development, client acquisition, and customer services efforts. Prior to launching TOPdesk’s North American division in 2015, she led the organization’s expansion efforts in Belgium for eight years and was responsible for the startup and expansion of TOPdesk’s operations there. TOPdesk develops, markets, implements and supports standard user-friendly service management software for IT, facilities management, HR, maintenance, complaints registration and the service desk for all sized organizations.

  • Ivo

    Thank you Nancy, a very good read!