Could You Explain ITSM To A Five-Year-Old?

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A good while back I was asked to contribute to two Computer Business Review (CBR) articles on how to explain software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) to a five-year-old. It wasn’t easy but was nonetheless good fun as you can see from my submissions:

  • SaaS: You know you get really happy when mummy and daddy buy you new toys, but then you are upset when the toys get old and dirty and you don’t want to play with them anymore? Well, imagine if the toyshop cleaned them, added in new fun things, or let you swap them for new toys when you wanted to play with something bigger or better.
  • PaaS: You know mummy and daddy love to buy you small Lego sets to build exciting things with? Well, imagine if mummy and daddy let you play with all the Lego in Legoland whenever you wanted to. And, if you want, the Lego construction workers can help you build things too.

Sadly, not all the other third-party submissions were so child-friendly. Either that or some people have very, very clever children. But the exercise in abstraction got me thinking about how on earth someone would explain IT service management (ITSM) to a five-year-old.

Trying to explain ITSM to a five-year-old isn’t easy

I’m not going to lie; this blog has been hanging around in my Dropbox “work in progress” folder for well over a year. I started it, and kept coming back to it, but trying to think of ways to describe not only ITSM as a whole but also:

  • Incident management
  • Problem management
  • Change management
  • Continual service improvement

And other ITSM activities to a five-year-old was just too hard. Especially without writing definitions the length of “War and Peace” – in case you are interested, Wikipedia states that the book is merely 1225 pages long.

Thankfully though, my lazy gene kicked in and I took a different route – instead asking the question on Twitter a good few months back.

Explaining ITSM to a five-year-old in 140 characters or less (with the help of smart people)

One of the many great things about Twitter is that it focuses one’s mind given that there’s only 140 characters to play with.

So how would some of my clever Twitter friends explain ITSM to a five-year-old?

Barclay Rae, ITSM and management consultant, and Interim CEO of itSMF UK:

I help the fat controller to pay more attention to the passengers, not the trains.

Robert Fedoruk, self-confessed ITSM technology freak:

“Here’s supper” vs. “What would you like, do we have the ingredients, which preparation, ok, now you go do it.”

Ivo van Haren, CEO of Van Haren Publishing:

Give them an iPad with an empty battery.

David Legrand, Community Leader:

A puzzle game (or Lego) with a missing piece (incident), regular missing pieces (problem)…

Barclay Rae again:

 A mixture of Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam… (DevOps)

A diverse mix, and it highlights what a complicated beast ITSM is once you get past phrases such as “IT support and service delivery.” Especially now that technology and business changes such as cloud, Shadow IT, and customer experience are moving the goal posts for those delivering and supporting corporate IT services.

So would a five-year-old be any more enlightened after these explanations?

Sadly, I think not. And it also goes to show how difficult it is to explain ITSM to business colleagues of all ages.

It reminds me of the great Albert Einstein quote:

If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.

It’s pretty scary when you stop to think about this particular Einstein quote. And in my opinion, it’s yet another reason why we shouldn’t try to explain, or to justify, ITSM to business colleagues outside of IT. Even if the audience cared what ITSM is, the explanation would probably do more to confuse than to educate.

Instead what we currently, and hope to, achieve via ITSM is better explained in terms that business colleagues understand and actually care about. Such as:

  • Increased service availability and fewer outages
  • Increased productivity, for IT and the business as a whole
  • Reduced operational costs
  • Speedier change and new service introduction
  • Technology used for competitive advantage

So it’s not an explanation of what gets done, but it does explain what gets achieved.

What do you think? How would you explain some of your ITSM activities to a five-year-old? Or even to a 35-year-old? Please share in the comment box.

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Principal Analyst & Content Director at ITSM.tools | Website

Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm ITSM.tools. Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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2 Responses

  1. I don’t know about ITSM but let me take a shot at explaining ITIL to 5 year olds.

    “Imagine if you can change football’s rules to whatever that makes it easy for you to score a goal. The referee will not call a foul as long as you’re moving towards the goal”

  2. I would explain as ” Every morning you wake up and use your toy to past time or get entertain and sometime the toy get break and you fix it,and everytime it gets break when you take it out from the house and fix it and be ready to use to tomorrow morning is ITSM “.

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