Has Your ITSM Implementation Hit a Glass Ceiling?

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Wikipedia defines a “glass ceiling” as a metaphor used to represent an invisible barrier that keeps a given demographic from rising above a certain level in a hierarchy. With many IT service management (ITSM) implementations, there seems to be such an invisible barrier, not only between different parts of the IT organization, but between the IT organization and other parts of the business it serves.

The Symptoms of ITSM Hitting the Glass Ceiling

So, what are some of the symptoms of ITSM hitting a glass ceiling?

  • Executives think that ITSM is only a “service desk thing.” Often the dashboard reports provided to executives only consists of metrics such as call volumes, number of incidents and requests, and service level target breaches. There’s also often no mention of “business success” metrics. As a result, executives equate ITSM only to the service desk.
  • IT doesn’t talk in business-relevant terms. In many instances, IT hasn’t taken the time to really understand the business of the business. So, in communications between IT and the rest of the business (it serves), IT resorts to its comfort zone of “tech speak”… often alienating business colleagues.
  • No line-of-sight from the use of technology to business results. Neither IT nor business colleagues understand how IT activities and components work together to deliver business value. This makes IT look like an expense rather than a business asset or differentiating capability.
  • Solutions are handed to IT, rather than IT collaborating with business colleagues to determine the best technology solutions for the raised business challenges.

Is ITSM at a crossroads?

Unfortunately, many ITSM implementations have set themselves up to be left behind. Or worse, left out. Why?

As I discussed in an earlier blog “Is it because you’ve really not implemented ITIL?”, the typical ITSM implementation based on ITIL is focused only on IT operations. The implementation consists of an incident management process, a service desk, and some sort of (often over-engineered) change management process.

Some organizations have taken a stab at problem management. Many organizations implement a request fulfillment process based on a service catalog that really isn’t a service catalog as the service catalog describes technologies and activities and not IT’s contribution to business value chains. In other words, they’ve implemented enough processes to take care of the operational aspects, but never really asserted ITSM into business strategy and service design.

And while many of these ITSM implementations have had some initial success, the impact of an IT-operations-only implementation is starting to become visible. And, as such, many ITSM implementations are finding themselves at a crossroads, especially with the advent of methodologies like DevOps. As businesses have pivoted to cloud-based solutions or other parts of the IT organization are moving toward Agile methodologies, ITSM is being relegated to managing what may eventually become legacy systems.

What Good ITSM Should Be (But Often Isn’t)

A good ITSM implementation provides a comprehensive approach that develops, implements, monitors, and continually improves services and processes that make the IT value chain a reality. A good ITSM implementation breaks down siloes and ensures that processes seamlessly interface with each other, including clearly-defined roles and responsibilities. A good ITSM implementation cares for the entire lifecycle of each IT value chain, from ideation through design and delivery, and not just a single link in a chain.

ITSM isn’t about just tools, although having a good set of tools is important for automating and facilitating ITSM. ITSM isn’t just about this framework or that methodology, although frameworks and methodologies provide great guidance for how to make ITSM work for your company.

Most importantly, good ITSM is about the business. It’s the business and only the business that determines if what IT is doing provides value. ITSM gives IT a measurable way to demonstrate how business value can be achieved through the use of IT – all of IT.

Unfortunately, many ITSM implementations become stuck under a glass ceiling, never evolving beyond just the operational basics.

Four Ways to Break Through the Glass Ceiling

Don’t let your ITSM implementation get stuck under a glass ceiling. Here are four ways to break through and elevate ITSM beyond just IT operations:

  1. Become an expert in the business of the business – Understand what drives your company, beyond just revenue and profits. Who are the company’s customers? What are the business drivers for the company? How does (or can) ITSM contribute to the success of the business? Being an expert in the business of the business enables IT to talk – in business terms – about the business impact and value of technology.
  2. Stay up-to-date on emerging trends – Robotic process automation, machine learning, and internet of things (IoT) technologies can all have a positive impact on ITSM processes. Methodologies such as IT4IT, DevOps, and Agile describe alternative ways of managing the work of IT. These emerging technologies and methodologies can, and should, be leveraged in an ITSM implementation.
  3. Develop the service portfolio – Being an expert in the business of the business further enhances IT’s ability to articulate how technology, processes, and services provide business value. This is where having a formally-defined service portfolio helps. But the service portfolio is much more than a listing of services. A properly-defined service portfolio provides businesses with a decision support tool by documenting an IT organization’s core competencies, tracking IT investments, and providing a basis for evaluating how IT services meet business needs.
  4. Formalize business relationship management (BRM) – Formalizing BRM is a great way for IT to proactively take responsibility for nurturing good working relationship with business colleagues. BRM helps shape the demand for IT as well as ensuring that value is realized from investments in IT.

So, what do you think about there being an ITSM glass ceiling? And what have you done to break through it? Please let me, and others, know in the comments…

Principal Consultant at

Doug Tedder is the principal of Tedder Consulting LLC, and is an accomplished and recognized leader who is equally adept in interactions from senior leadership to day-to-day practitioners.

Doug holds numerous industry certifications in disciplines ranging from ITIL, COBIT, Lean IT, DevOps, and Organizational Change Management. An active volunteer within the IT Service Management community, Doug is a frequent speaker and contributor at local industry user group meetings, webinars, and national conventions. Doug is also a member, former president, and current board member for itSMF USA as well a member of HDI.

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