The Future of ITSM – Survey Results 2019

As we progress through 2019, the future of IT service management (ITSM) and IT support seems to be approaching at an increasing rate of knots. In particular, thanks to the respective rates of change relative to business operations, technology, and consumer-world services and support. As to what our ITSM future will hold, it’s in many ways an unknown. However, in the words of “the founder of modern management” Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Hence, in Q4 2018, ITSM.tools and SysAid ran a global ITSM future-readiness survey to better understand what ITSM professionals are thinking and doing to “survive and thrive” in this rapidly changing IT service delivery and support world. We asked 13 questions related to the potential future challenges and opportunities that the survey-respondents and their organizations face. These questions were wide-ranging and deliberately spread across six distinct areas:

  1. Working in IT
  2. Recruitment and retention
  3. New technology
  4. Best practice
  5. Meeting service expectations
  6. Enterprise service management
Some of the 13 questions replicated those used in the mid-2017 version of the survey1 – from which the 2017 responses are referenced within this report – while others are new additions. With the former providing insight into how respective situations and opinions have changed over the last two years. The key 2019 survey findings, from a sample of 339 responses, include that:
  • 84% of respondents think that working in IT will get harder over the next three years.
  • Only one-quarter of respondents feel that their efforts and value are sufficiently recognized by management versus 72% of respondents who feel “undervalued” to some extent.
  • Just over half of respondents feel that working in IT is adversely affecting their personal wellbeing – with 75% of these reporting that their efforts are not being recognized.
  • Three-quarters of respondents state that it’s currently difficult to recruit for key IT roles versus the 12% that don’t see an issue.
  • 9% of respondents are already using chatbots and other bots in IT management use cases, plus another 29% are already experimenting with them. But 45% currently have no plans to use bots in the next 12 months.
  • Only 9% of respondents view artificial intelligence (AI) as a serious job killer in ITSM, this level is down from 16% in 2017.
  • In terms of new and updated ITSM best practice sources, 27% of respondents will still use what they’ve always used and another 23% think the variety of possible best-practice sources is becoming confusing.
  • Only 6% of respondents state that ITSM personnel have been fully involved in their company’s DevOps activities and ambitions, down from 13% in 2017. Partial involvement has also dropped to 27% (from 40%) between surveys.
  • 25% of respondents think that their IT organization meets employee expectations better than consumer-world companies, 28% think they’re at a similar level, and 40% think that they lag behind. There’s a strong correlation between IT staff receiving recognition and meeting employees’ service expectations.
  • Surprisingly, 75% of the non-best-practice-adopters think that they’re the same or better than general consumer-world companies in meeting service expectations – significantly exceeding the position of those who’ve adopted ITSM best practice.
  • Half of the respondents already think that employee experience is important to their IT organization and another quarter will do so by 2021. Just 18% think that employee experience will never be important.
  • Two-thirds of respondents state that their organization either has or is planning to develop an enterprise service management strategy.
  • Having an enterprise service management strategy and the extended use of ITSM tools are strongly correlated – meaning, a strategy clearly increases the use of ITSM tools in multiple business functions, whereas the single-use (of a tool) is more common where there’s no strategy.
Greater detail on each of these findings can be found in the main body of this report. Details on the survey’s promotion methods and respondents are included in the endnotes.2

1. Working in IT

Modern-day work life can be a challenge no matter your department and role. The days of 9-5 working are long gone, especially in management roles, and the mandate for IT departments to “do more with less” has been prevalent for at least a decade. Add to this:
  • The increasing technology and business complexity and rate of change
  • The potential need to reskill (because of this change)
  • IT skills shortages (please see a later related question)
  • Higher customer expectations
  • Information security issues
And the challenge of working in IT becomes apparent. So, is working in IT getting harder? And, if so, how is this affecting those who work in IT? To get answers to these questions, the first survey question asked:

“Do you think working in corporate IT will get harder over the next three years?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=12 /] A total of 84% of respondents believe that working in IT will get harder over the next three years. It’s up only 2% on the 2017 results but there has been a larger movement between “all IT roles” and “some IT roles,” in favor of the latter. Only 13% of survey respondents don’t think that their lives (and, one assumes, the lives of their colleagues) will get harder – a 2% drop from the previous survey. As to why there’s an increased response for “Yes, for some IT roles” (at 53%) over “Yes, for all IT roles” (at 31%) – this likely reflects that some IT roles are getting harder, while others could even be getting easier, due to the level of impact from the aforementioned changes. For example, service desk agents – who are usually under far greater scrutiny than most other, if not all, IT roles – are facing the triple pressures of increased technology usage, a wider spectrum of technology products and services, plus increased employee expectations of services and support. Whereas roles related to the management of legacy IT systems, say, might be viewed as being less likely to be impacted. Additionally, let’s not forget that there might also be the very-human assumption that “the grass is always greener” – with respondents assuming, especially since they have very little insight beyond their own remit, that their peers in other teams aren’t affected as much as themselves. The second question then asked:

“Do you feel that working in IT is adversely affecting your personal wellbeing?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=13 /] The survey responses show that a worrying 55% of people think that working in IT is adversely affecting their personal wellbeing – so that’s every other person in IT. Even more worrying is the one in ten people who think that the situation is significant by their selection of the “Yes, considerably” option. The topic of wellbeing is also discussed in the next section when the value (and recognition) of individuals is considered.

2. Recruitment and Retention

So, the survey respondents believe that working in IT can be difficult, with it likely to become even more so (and for half of the workforce it’s adversely affecting their wellbeing). The obvious question this brings up relates to the ability to retain staff (because unhappy staff might leave). However, this is only one side of the coin, and we shouldn’t overlook the potential impact it might have on recruiting new staff to either replace those who leave or to fill additional – or changed – roles that require different knowledge, skillsets, and experiences. To better understand the future ability of IT organizations to recruit and retain staff, the survey asked:

“Is it difficult to recruit for key IT roles right now?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=14 /] Three-quarters of survey respondents state that it’s currently difficult to recruit for key IT roles, versus the 12% that don’t see an issue. However, it’s open to interpretation as to which IT roles these are – for instance, we could assume that these are related to artificial intelligence, data science, and cloud exploitation where skill-scarcity is an issue. But given that the survey is aimed at ITSM professionals, we shouldn’t assume that this has no relation to ITSM roles – from service desk agents to business relationship managers. In light of the responses to the “Working in IT” questions, it would definitely be foolish not to factor in the growing difficulty of working in IT into the equation. For example, while some might consider IT service desk agents to be key IT roles, there’s no doubt that the combination of added pressures, of IT-support work and the changing personal capability/skill requirements, will make it harder to recruit suitably skilled service desk staff. The next recruitment and retention question then asked:

“Do you feel your personal efforts, and your value to the business, are sufficiently recognized by management?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=15 /] * The 2017 survey only offered a single “No” option Only one-quarter of respondents feel that their efforts and value are sufficiently recognized by management. Leaving 41% of people think that while they do get recognized it’s not enough, and 31% thinking that they don’t get recognized for their work – giving a total of 72% respondents who feel undervalued. When the 2019 figures are compared with the 2017 results, it again shows key people-related aspects of ITSM taking a turn for the worse – with the “no” response level up 8% from the last survey. It’s also worth noting that there’s a strong correlation between recognition and wellbeing. Because a large proportion of those who answered “no” to the wellbeing question state that management at least sometimes recognizes their efforts – such that recognition is linked to better wellbeing. However, and most worryingly, nearly 75% of those who feel that their work adversely affects their wellbeing report that their efforts are not being recognized.

3. New Technology

Corporate IT is experiencing a turbulent – but exciting – period of technology change, coupled with changing business expectations of IT services, service delivery, and support. All of this change is definitely for the better, but it does mean that there’s an associated impact across aspects of people and process, as well as the new technologies employed in the management and support of other new technologies. With the use of AI of particular importance and interest. To better understand the impact of AI, the survey asked:

“What’s your IT organization’s current position on chatbot and other bot adoption?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=16 /] The above results might cause surprise in two respects. Firstly, that 9% of respondents are already using chatbots and other bots in IT management use cases. And secondly, that 45% of respondents have no plans to use bots in the next 12 months. When the 29% of respondents that are already experimenting with bots, or planning to start with bots in the next 12 months, are added to the 9%, it still gives more organizations not dipping their toes into the bot waters in 2019 than those that are. The survey also asked:

“Do you believe the use of artificial intelligence will reduce IT staff numbers between now and 2021?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=17 /] Between 2019-2021, survey respondents don’t see AI as a major threat to IT jobs – with only 9% of them viewing the adoption of AI capabilities as a serious job killer. This is down from 16% in 2017. The flipside of this is that both “Yes, but not dramatically” and “No” responses have risen by a collective 11%. The ITSM world, therefore, continues to look positively on AI from a job security perspective. It’s also interesting to note that none of the survey takers didn’t know what AI is, unlike the 3% in 2017.

4. ITSM Best Practice

The last quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 was filled with a raft of new/updated ITSM best-practice source launches – ITIL 4, VeriSM, ISO/IEC 20000, and COBIT 2019. This is unsurprising given the pressures of both the changing IT and business landscapes, plus the increasingly popular IT approaches such as DevOps (including Lean and Agile), service integration and management (SIAM), business relationship management (BRM), and enterprise service management, among others. The survey asked:

“How has the recent influx of new versions of ITSM best practice sources - such as VeriSM, ITIL 4, the revised ISO 20000, and COBIT 2019 - affected you?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=18 /] The question opened up a wide spectrum of opinions/positions related to this influx of new/updated ITSM best practice, where the positive option of “It’s great to have more options” was definitely outweighed by other more-negative responses. Sadly, some of these are unsurprising. For instance, the 18% of respondents who don’t use any of the listed best practices (well, not knowingly) and the 7% who haven’t heard of most of them. The two highest scoring responses are probably the most interesting – the 27% of respondents who will still use what they’ve always used (which, of course, could still mean proactively adopting the changes in the updated versions of approaches) and the 23% who think the variety of possible best practice sources is becoming confusing. There’s definitely a battle ahead for the providers of such best practice sources – not only as they fight for their place in the market but also in ensuring that the market stays buoyant. A correlation between this question’s responses and those for a question related to meeting service expectations brings up an interesting and worrying viewpoint, which is shared in the “Meeting Service Expectations” section of this report. The survey then asked:

“To date, how involved have ITSM personnel been in your company’s DevOps activities and ambitions?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=19 /] * The 2017 survey didn’t include a “What’s DevOps?” option These results are probably best reviewed in the context of the 2017 responses where the relative percentages were worrying yet not unsurprising – especially given the view that the “mainstreaming” of DevOps adoption would necessitate, or at least entice, an improved level of ITSM personnel involvement. However, as we start 2019, it’s disappointing to see that only 6% of respondents state that ITSM personnel have been fully involved in their company’s DevOps activities and ambitions – with this actually down from 13% in 2017. The “partially involved, but it’s insufficient” option has also dropped to 27% from 40% between surveys. Some of this adverse change can be explained by a sizable increase in the “don’t knows,” which is most likely caused by a different survey-sample makeup (in terms of roles). But there are still more people stating that there’s little/no involvement (38%) than those involved (33%) despite the passing of nearly two years since the 2017 survey. If these results weren’t scary in 2017, then they are now. ITSM professionals can’t afford to continue to operate in isolation from corporate DevOps activities (when happening) from both a business-success and personal-preservation perspective. Something definitely has to give here. The above responses weren’t expected but an additional best-practice question thankfully still asked:

“What level of ITSM personnel involvement in DevOps activities do you foresee for 2021?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=20 /] The responses to this question definitely show hope, especially when compared to the results of the previous question – with both of the first two options garnering a much higher proportion of the vote. The “no, or close to no, involvement” option has also dropped dramatically from 38% to 18%, and only 1% of respondents see DevOps killing ITSM. But this, of course, could be the ITSM equivalent of “turkeys not voting for Thanksgiving.”

5. Meeting Service Expectations

There’s no doubt that IT organizations are becoming far more cognizant of the concept of customer experience (CX) in the context of employee experience and the need to provide better – maybe more consumer-like – services, support, and customer service. It makes sense because while employees continue to receive even better services and support in their personal lives, they’ll also expect more from corporate service providers such as IT, human resources (HR), and facilities. So how far have IT support organizations come since the 2017 survey in better meeting employee expectations? To better understand the answer to this, the survey asked:

“How do you think your IT department is meeting employee expectations – across services, support, and customer service – versus consumer-world companies?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=21 /] The 2019 survey results are very similar to those of 2017. One-quarter of respondents think that their IT department offers a similar level of services, support, and customer service to consumer-world companies, with the highest score (40%) attributed to IT departments being behind the consumer world. With the two main changes being:
  1. A drop in the respondents who think that their IT department is performing better than consumer-world companies – dropping from 29% to 25%.
  2. A 5% increase in the number of “don’t knows.”
It should also be appreciated that this is the IT-view of the status quo, and the same question asked to end users/customers might highlight a perception gap between how well the supplier and the consumers of service differ in opinion. The service supplier, while perhaps berating its performance, is still rating itself higher than its customers would. This is definitely a surprising result given the growing interest in employee experience, with a possible explanation being the rate of consumer-world advancement constantly moving the goalposts for IT departments. An interesting correlation to note here is that those (respondents) who don't use any of the aforementioned ITSM best practices think that their IT organizations are better at meeting employee service expectations than all the other respondents (including those who think that it’s great to have more best-practice options). Here over 75% of the non-best-practice-adopters think that they’re the same or better than general consumer-world companies in meeting service expectations. There’s also a strong correlation between IT staff receiving recognition and meeting employees’ service expectations, which is probably to be expected based on the modern management philosophy that happy employees make happy customers (even when those customers are colleagues). The survey then questioned the increased focus on employee expectations and experience, asking:

“Has your IT organization bought into the need for delivering a better customer experience for employees (the employee experience)?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=22 /] This is a valuable insight into how IT organizations, and IT support teams in particular, have been evolving in the last few years – with the power and importance of employees growing. It also has to affect the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are currently used to determine ITSM and IT service desk performance – with customer satisfaction alone insufficient to determine whether employee expectations are truly being met.

6. Enterprise Service Management

This is a new topic for the 2019 survey, even though enterprise service management has been around for well over a decade – initially in the form of ITSM tools being used to support the needs of other business functions such as HR and facilities. There’s no doubt that enterprise service management is now a mainstream IT, and potentially business, initiative but what isn’t so clear is how strategic it is. For example, the term enterprise service management can cover both a:
  • Tactical approach – the use of the ITSM tool by other business functions, for instance, “Let’s use the ITSM tool to help HR (or to save money).”
  • Strategic approach – a more proactive approach to systematically share ITSM best practice and technology across the organization. This might also be branded as back-office transformation under the “digital transformation” banner.
Plus, there’s another dimension to consider with enterprise service management – the level of “scope” from a capabilities perspective, with enterprise service management often just sharing IT service desk best practice and technology rather than more “advanced” ITSM capabilities. Therefore, to get a better insight into the current state of enterprise service management, we asked:

“Does your organization have an enterprise service management strategy or approach?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=23 /] The responses to this question show that enterprise service management has definitely become more of a strategic pursuit – with two-thirds of respondents stating that their organization either has, or is planning to develop, an enterprise service management strategy. The survey then asked:

“Is your ITSM tool used outside of IT, e.g. by HR, facilities, or customer service teams?”

This garnered the following responses: [table id=24 /] Surprisingly, this showed a lower level of tool exploitation than was expected, given that it’s likely easier to implement a single other-business-function tool use case rather than to create and deliver against a multi-departmental enterprise service management strategy. When the responses to these two enterprise service management questions are combined, we can see that having a strategy and the extended use of ITSM tools are strongly correlated – where having an enterprise service management strategy clearly increases the use of ITSM tools in multiple business functions. On the other hand, single-use (of the tool) is more common where there’s no strategy.

Conclusion

Hopefully this report, and the survey it’s built on, now have you thinking about many of the key challenges – plus, of course, the opportunities – that ITSM professionals, and the IT organizations they work for, are currently facing and will continue to face over the next three years. Whether these challenges relate to the difficulties of working in IT, recruitment, the impact of new technologies, using best practices (and other tools) to better meet growing service expectations, the opportunities of enterprise service management, or something else – we achieve more as an “ITSM community” when our concerns, issues, and solutions are shared. So, please use the helpful information provided by ITSM and IT support membership organizations, ITSM services and tool providers, or ITSM content distributors to not only stay informed but to also receive advice on how best to be ready for the future needs of ITSM and the wider service management opportunities. Change is hard but please don’t make it even harder by failing to tap into publicly available help and advice.

End Notes

  1. https://itsm.tools/2017/08/22/future-of-itsm-statistics/
  2. The 2019 ITSM Future Readiness Survey was shared via social media (Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn), the monthly ITSM.tools newsletter, and the survey sponsors – SysAid – emailed it to a selection of its customers. While the survey was anonymous, it’s assumed that most of the 339 respondents are ITSM professionals given the way in which it was promoted.

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