How Will COVID-19 Change the World of ITSM?


When asked me to contribute to a crowdsourced COVID-19 article (that’s here), my first question was “How many words am I limited to?” because this is a big question, with so many variables and outcomes to consider. First and foremost, COVID-19 is a global humanitarian crisis, and we’re still in the early stages. It’s an uncertain time to think about COVID-19 and ITSM.

Right now, as I write, we have 1.02m confirmed cases, 53,458 deaths, and 214,803 people have recovered. China accounts for over one-third of those recoveries, while in the US and across Europe cases continue to rise exponentially. In Italy, cases show early signs of a plateau, but at present, everything is about the delay, and flattening the peak, so that healthcare systems can cope with critical demand.

For the moment, the imperative for governments and their citizens is saving lives. Governments have intervened with unprecedented measures to prop up their economies, as they wait to see the impact of public health intervention measures. From an economic standpoint, the next big questions are:

  1. How long will these interventions last? and
  2. How long will it take for economies to bounce back when these measures are relaxed?

Although nobody can give definitive answers to either of these questions at present, modeling of different scenarios by McKinsey & Company suggests that Eurozone GDP will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until Q1 2021, and this reflects the best scenario, where the virus is effectively contained. So what does this mean for COVID-19 and ITSM?

In this blog @patb0512 shares his views on how #COVID19 will change the future of the #ITSM industry. #COVID19 Share on X

COVID-19 and ITSM: a new reality

Just a few weeks ago, I was planning my presentations for the SITS20 and Hornbill Insights20 events, and instantly, the world changed, and we woke up to a new reality. We face uncertainty at every level, as citizens, as family members, and as employees. When can we reasonably expect life to return to normal? Will this crisis redefine everything we once thought of as “normal”?

Pondering the possibilities raises an endless number of questions, few of which we can answer with any degree of certainty. In the interim, we can only manage as best we can, to adjust to a new constant of unprecedented change, and the head-on collision between our work and our home lives, as we explore new ways to support our families and work more effectively with our remote colleagues.

Across the globe, there’s newfound respect and support for frontline healthcare staff, and people working in transport, in stores, public services, and other critical roles. Behind them, an army of largely invisible IT professionals is working miracles to ensure that technology is keeping businesses and services running. Initial feedback from our customers, and messages of thanks from their customers on LinkedIn, praising herculean IT efforts are heartwarming to read.

So much has changed globally and not just in terms of COVID-19 and ITSM. What was important last week could be either vital or irrelevant today. The measures you reported on last month have all changed. The key question over just the last two weeks was ”How do we enable remote working effectively when overnight the entire workforce has changed from office-based to working from home?”  The hundreds of laptops that IT groups had recommended in their business continuity plans, seemed like a huge expense that many businesses struggled to justify for a “what if” scenario. Now, IT teams must pull in hardware budgets from next year, purchase a huge number of VPN licenses, and help colleagues to set up their personal equipment, so they can simply continue to work.

So much has changed already in the world of #ITSM in light of #COVID19. What was important last week could be either vital or irrelevant today – @patb0512 Share on X

Service desks and IT functions are dealing with unprecedented levels of demand to deliver and support services while maintaining the flow of information and knowledge to ensure that teams can cope with a huge spike in demand.

Now, IT is all about business continuity

As tempted as I am to make predictions about COVID-19 and ITSM, at this juncture, the survival of our livelihoods depends on the depth and length of the disruption and the shape of the economic recovery.  Right now, it’s all about business continuity, and enabling people to work safely from home. As the economic picture becomes clearer, the next business challenge is to protect cashflow and implement plans to ensure survival. Now that entire organizations have implemented working from home, many will question whether expensive premises, commuting, and even travel to meetings are necessary.

The ITSM impact of COVID-19

For IT groups, the immediate future is focused on enabling newer, faster, and more effective ways of working. One obvious prediction is an explosion of cloud technologies. Legacy on-premises IT solutions were already a dying breed, and this crisis has hammered the final nails into the coffin. The amount of heavy lifting required to deploy, administer, configure, and upgrade these solutions are costs that businesses will not be willing to bear. First-generation SaaS ITSM tools that place significant overheads on internal resources, where upgrades take 6-8 weeks, will be scrutinized according to cost vs. value.

One of obvious prediction for the future of #tech in light of #COVID19 is an explosion of #cloud technologies says @patb0512. #ITSM Share on X

Cloud-native SaaS solutions will have the edge, because of the levels of simplicity and innovation they deliver, both for the customer and the SaaS vendor. With all customers on the same software version, vendors can focus most of their development resources on adding new features, getting feedback, and updating software based on customer needs. It’s a “benefit” of COVID-19 and ITSM.

As organizations become more reliant on the cloud, and loosely coupled integrations, these tools provide scope for faster innovation with rapid implementation, low/no code configuration, seamless integration, elastic capacity, automatic upgrades, and increased business agility.

Digital transformation happened last month

You may have seen the meme on various social channels, which posed the question “Who drove digital transformation at your company?” alongside three choices: 1) CEO, 2) CIO, and 3) COVID-19.

The IT industry will now be pushed from slow inertia and lower levels of maturity, as business rushes to embrace technologies that are available TODAY to support a lightning transition. Full-on, no holds barred digital transformation is happening now… no excuses.

Full-on, no holds barred digital transformation is happening now…no excuses – @patb0512 #COVID19 #ITSM #Digitaltransformation Share on X

Automation – stop being swamped by work you shouldn’t be doing

Repetitive, manual, and labor-intensive tasks that traditionally swamped service desk teams must now be automated to create capacity for smaller teams to do more valuable work. Password resets, joiners, leavers, account updates, software deployments, standard changes, and a whole host of other low-value activities can be automated away. Saving thousands of hours on activities that the service desk no longer needs to touch – another potential “benefit” from COVID-19 and ITSM.

Automation not only removes repetitive tasks that IT staff shouldn’t be doing; it can also add business value that’s visible to employees. For example, if an employee needs software installed urgently, at home, it can be authorized and deployed with a single click. Adding value that’s visible to employees, suddenly makes IT look a whole lot better. It means that you’re not just delivering a service, you’re a partner that’s working with your colleagues and enabling them to work as effectively as they can. Technology is now front and center, and as your business reimagines the new normal, the perception of IT value will be determined by how effectively you managed this crisis, by working together… as one team.

#Tech is now front & center, & as your business reimagines the new normal, the perception of IT value will be determined by how effectively you managed this crisis, by working together…as one team – @patb0512 #COVID19 #ITSM Share on X

Cooperation no longer cuts it; we need full-scale collaboration

Often criticized for siloed mentality, IT teams now need to work together faster, and more effectively than ever before. Linearity for the moment is on pause. We can no longer tackle problems individually and sequentially resolve them. Now, more than ever, we need to be able to quickly draw on tribal resources and the knowledge locked within different teams, so we can help each other to tackle the challenges that are coming at us thick and fast.

We can no longer tackle problems individually and sequentially resolve them, says @patb0512 #ITSM #COVID19 Share on X

Hornbill has just published a new Smart Guide – Creating effective collaboration in the remote working organization. The advice is based on our experience of having embedded collaboration in Hornbill’s DNA over the last seven years. It outlines:

  • 5 key steps to deliver collaboration in a remote working environment
  • 5 best-practice ways to avoid the pitfalls
  • 5 recommended deep dive reads.

Hornbill’s COVID-19 story

Like many organizations, we chose to respond to COVID-19 by closing Hornbill’s head office and switching our entire workforce to remote working. We were fortunate to have a fully digital supply chain, our own collaborative platform, and management practices that have embedded collaboration in our DNA.

The Hornbill platform has automated most of our business processes, and our staff work out loud by posting their questions, and sharing their knowledge and ideas within workspaces, with notifications proactively keeping the right people informed. One of the lesser stated, but massive timesaving, aspects of collaboration is that when you’re collaborating you don’t need to search for information, because it finds you.

Although we’re no different from any other organization, it’s the bonds and the relationships, which collaboration has helped us embrace, that make us unique and keep us productive. We also use other tools, such as Zoom and WhatsApp, so the shift to fully remote working has had almost zero impact on our operational efficiency and the flow of information between teams.

However, moving from office-based to remote working has truly sharpened our focus on the importance of relationships. Within minutes of announcing that staff should work from home, we implemented collaborative workspaces to keep our staff connected and able to support each other. COVID-19 and ITSM worked well for many organizations.

Moving from office-based to remote working has truly sharpened our focus on the importance of relationships – @patb0512 #ITSM #COVID19 Share on X

Our “social distancing” workspace quickly became a popular area for people to post images of their home-working setup, with people voting for the best solutions. Given the nature of our work, it came as no surprise that many of our staff have rather impressive technology stacks at home, and yes, there was even one person who showcased their “server room” with equally impressive color-coded patch panel cabling.

In times of crisis, sharing humor is also lifting our spirits, and key learning resources have been posted to help parents keep their children engaged. As our usual staff hangouts are now closed, we have provided staff with access to a “virtual kitchen” where people can access a permanent Zoom meeting and hang out with their Hornbill colleagues at any time.

These simple solutions allow us to maintain and nurture our close working relationships. Our collaboration journey and the technology that supports it had already delivered huge benefits before the COVID-19 crisis. However, we could never have envisaged the enormous impact that collaboration would have in a time of crisis, and how easily it has allowed us to seamlessly transition the entire organization to remote working.

COVID-19 and ITSM – the path to the new normal

As this crisis continues, and as we notice the first shoots of recovery, other questions will emerge. What will happen to global supply chains? Is it wise to sustain just-in-time-delivery models? Will this crisis give rise to more outsourcing and shared servers? Are the old practices of recruiting staff by location redundant, and can businesses now pick from an expanded talent pool? That’s just for starters, and for now, the answer to any of these questions would be, at best, an educated guess.

One question to answer post #COVID19 is are the old practices of recruiting staff by location redundant, and can businesses now pick from an expanded talent pool? – @patb0512 #ITSM #COVID19 Share on X

However, what we do know, is that a one-team, working out loud, collaborative approach is the only sensible way forward.

Service desk technology has been highlighted as a key strategic investment for organizations. Effective ITSM tools will be needed to first, stabilize through the chaos. Second, to move past COVID-19 and address a market demand for collaboration, self-sufficiency, automation, and integration that has been amplified beyond recognition.

An #ITSM market that struggled to move through the levels of maturity models, has just leaped forward a decade thanks to #COVID19, says @patb0512 Share on X

An ITSM market that struggled to move through the levels of maturity models, has just leaped forward a decade, within the last two weeks. There is no going back. Collaboration, automation, efficiency, experience, and constant change are the new norms. I will leave you with three questions:

  1. Is this the end of on-premises solutions?
  2. Can your current technology and practices meet the new normal?
  3. Can you point me to the section in any ITSM framework that deals with this? ITIL 5 for COVID-19 and ITSM anyone?

If you have any comments or questions on COVID-19 and ITSM, please post them in the comments.

Patrick Bolger
Chief Evangelist at Hornbill

Patrick Bolger, Hornbill’s Chief Evangelist, is an active contributor to strategic groups and partnerships that influence the service management industry.  An industry veteran, with first-hand experience of the issues facing IT, Patrick is a recognised authority in the service management arena and a compelling and popular speaker at events worldwide.

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