Using ITIL to move to a service culture

Colleagues in an office having a discussion

Developing a service culture is an essential part of business and IT services today – and ITIL 4’s principles can help organizations on the journey.

First, it’s worth noting what is not a service culture.

This tends to be supplying IT services under the mask of service level agreements defined by IT, but often not delivering customer benefits. We could call this a transactional governance culture based on commercial arrangements designed to suit the supplier.

For example, take the KPI of service availability: providing “99 per cent uptime” is more focused on the numbers than customer service. And, in today’s world – where we’re much less reliant on on-site servers and network devices and also not confined to a “9 to 5” timetable – there should be no excuse for IT services being unavailable.

This means organizations needing a better understanding of the outcomes and value a customer wants and redefining what IT service culture is.

Service culture and ITIL 4 

When organizations were writing IT agreements focused on IT for IT’s sake rather than IT for the business and customer, ITIL might have been misapplied as a way of keeping IT organizations out of trouble.

However, the advent of ITIL 4 at a time of cloud services, increased flexible working and a more digitally savvy consumer is supporting culture change in services.

So, businesses with a vision for finding and retaining customers need a business strategy that aligns with digital and service strategy. ITIL 4 Digital and IT Strategy talks a lot about this, with digital leaders taking their people on a cultural journey. It looks at your organization first from the outside-in (using an analysis tool such as PESTLE) and then from the inside-out by using ITIL 4’s four dimensions of service management. Ultimately, this approach enables you to focus on value whereas, before, you were probably more focused on governance and processes.

Generationally, there’s a greater imperative to understand the services and the value people want as we’ve all become avid consumers of digital IT services, from desktop computer to the phones we carry in our pockets.

The risks of not cultivating a service culture

If your organization continues to offer a managed IT service based on “availability” rather than “experience and innovation”, you risk losing customers and not attracting new ones.

With companies today needing to scale their operations and services at speed, the IT service offering has to scale with them – which is why it’s critical to understand value as well as governance.

Make no mistake, applying governance is still important, especially if your business has to operate within regulations. However, it needs to be balanced with other elements of service management and seen through the lens of value. If not, governance and process-led IT can hamper the ability to go to market or maintain market share.

Focusing on out-of-date service level agreements which don’t allow for responsiveness and agility means putting your customer relationships at risk.

Key steps to a service culture – with ITIL 4 as a guide 

What are the most important steps for the journey to developing a service culture?

  1. Decide on your vision – i.e. where do you want to go on your journey?
  1. Design a business strategy and a digital strategy that overlap. 
  1. Get people to focus on what value means for the customer.
  1. Adopt ITIL 4’s guiding principles: for example, start where you are to retain what’s already good while progressing iteratively with feedback to move forward by gathering feedback from all stakeholders; collaborate and promote visibility of what you’re doing and ensure it’s affecting the customer journey positively. Also, keep it simple and practical by not over-engineering your services.

Maintaining your newly-developed service culture requires continual service improvement –embracing feedback, making things better and moving towards your vision.

Finally, don’t forget to ask your customer if you’re doing the right things: if you don’t, they might not tell you if you’re doing the wrong things.

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