Best practice in IT, ITSM and the ITIL® update: solving business problems and delivering value
IT organizations operating anywhere in the world still remain too internally-focused. That isn’t me saying this. This is what we are discovering using our ABC cards (Attitude, Behaviour and Culture) in workshops as well as simulation game workshops with more than 4,000 organizations worldwide.
What the ABC revealed is a mismatch between what IT does currently and its understanding of business priorities.
IT departments are so busy looking at technology, processes and systems that they don’t understand enough about the business they operate within, the services used by the business and their relative importance.
Yet with the growing importance of IT for all organizations business managers want IT to take a more externally-facing role and help shape business value. This is a very exciting time for IT and IT service management (ITSM).
How has this situation come about?
Partly, it’s the way organizations hire their people: while organizations may need IT specialists, how much emphasis do they place on identifying the candidates who appreciate the way IT skills contribute to their business value and reduce operational risk?
Ask candidates “What do you know about our organization and how you think your skills would help?” This would be a good starting point to break out of such an internally-focused culture. We have to break out of the mind-set of business and IT – “I work in IT and they are the business”! You are an IT specialist within a business and must understand how your skills contribute to the overall business. This may sound utopian but it is what business leaders expect and need.
Simultaneously, it’s worthwhile revisiting the definition of service according to ITIL®: “A means of enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve, without the customer having to manage specific costs and risks.” Many attendees in ITIL training do not know “why” their organization is doing ITIL or what value they hope to achieve using ITIL. Rather, ITIL becomes the goal in itself.
This comes to life in the example of a major logistics company in which every new IT person sits in a delivery truck for one day. They learn which information system tells you about which bay the truck needs to be in, which packages to pick up and which delivery route to take. In essence, learning about all the critical information systems required to run the business. So, when an application goes down, IT immediately knows the business impact and can raise the priority to fix it.
The importance and priority of a service to its customers – and consequently the business providing the service – is something IT organizations cannot afford to ignore. In one real-life example, a business providing lights for a football stadium incurred a huge fine when the system failed and the IT team hadn’t prioritized fixing it; they didn’t understand the importance of the system and the potential impact to the business if it failed.
Taking another leaf out of ITIL, specifically from its Guiding Principles originated in ITIL Practitioner, IT should focus on value: ensure it understands value or – where IT falls over – what value is at risk. Another core value is “collaborate and promote visibility” as in the previous logistics company example; viewing how IT is used and how it contributes to business value.
Aligning business and IT
Though we might agree that an organization should understand what problem it’s trying to solve and value it wants to obtain before introducing any best practice, I often see blank stares because organizations haven’t defined it. They are hoping that ITIL will somehow deliver value.
This problem persists today and extends right up to the governance level: it’s been shown that most managers know only one out of five strategic company goals. If that’s the case, what chance does the IT organization have with business managers all insisting their IT needs are critical, placing scarce IT resources under enormous strain?
And because successful digital transformation requires end-to-end working between IT and the business at all levels, is it any wonder that 84% of digital transformation fails? In less mature companies, only 23% of business boards get involved in working with IT to make it happen. In more mature businesses it’s more than 44%. This ensures the CEO and business line managers work with IT to prioritize IT investment decisions and balance scarce resources between “innovation and new value” and “reducing risks and removing technical debt” – risks to business agility and value. There needs to be a stronger tie between IT frameworks such as ITIL and how they fit in with the needs for governance.
Balancing business protection and innovation
Most IT organizations are overwhelmed with work through the large demands companies are now placing on their technology teams to deliver new IT.
The ongoing challenge is how to prioritize scarce resources and achieve a balance between protecting the business by keeping existing systems operating and reliable and finding new solutions through innovation.
This has resulted in many IT departments being focused on keeping things going because of the threat posed by outages and errors. Those putting problem management in place are reducing the number of outages but are then faced with the vicious circle of issues arising from faster and more numerous IT roll-outs. Effective problem management can give feedback throughout the end-to-end delivery chain, identifying where these issues and outages come from and be prevented from happening next time.
Translating best practice theory into reality
Rolling out new applications or releases is dependent on an organization’s strategic goals and level of risk. Best practice suggests that where the risk is higher – in financial institutions for example – the actions taken should be more considered. Conversely, organizations that need to bring innovation to market more quickly demand faster roll-outs and may be prepared to accept some risks.
To know how to manage these decisions in line with business strategy, IT professionals need the necessary best practice knowledge and practical skills to work more effectively end-to-end. And this means often overcoming people’s resistance to changing the way they work.
Achieving this is based not on installing a best practice as a goal in itself but on actually trying to solve a genuine problem and to create, rather than lose, value. Again the issue here is end-to-end throughout the complete delivery chain of business, development, operations and suppliers; each often with their own set of “pet” best practice frameworks, approaches and culture.
Translating best practice into reality needs – at its core – Organizational Change Management to deal with people’s inherent resistance and to convince them of the value contained in best practices; indeed, it’s about engaging them in building their own best practices, creating understanding and gaining commitment to design processes and procedures. On one side answering the “why” question relating to value and, on the other side, the “what if we don’t?” question and the risks this poses to the business.
Getting buy-in to best practice approaches
Engaging teams across an organization in how they can all work together, end-to-end, is the key to getting benefit from best practices.
I see ITIL 4 – the latest evolution of the guidance – becoming a more strategic part of how IT service fits within the overall strategy of a business, along the lines of portfolio management and aligning ITSM with governance. While some might see ITIL as having a purely operational role, this perception is addressed in ITIL 4.
ITIL 4 will reflect other frameworks and integrate new ways of working including Agile, DevOps, Lean, IT governance and leadership. The guiding principles draw from proven ways of working and encourage a customer-centric culture of collaboration, working holistically and gathering continual feedback. ITIL 4 will provide the flexibility needed to adopt and adapt what is relevant to each business and organization while reinforcing the basics for delivering quality IT service.
All of this sets ITIL and service management in a strategic context, bringing together ITSM, Development, Operations, business relationships and governance in a holistic approach. In other words, a truly integrated model for digital service management.
For further information about ITIL 4, visit our ITIL Update page.
Read the next post in this series, The ITIL update in a world of digital and service transformation.
Read more AXELOS Blog Posts from Paul Wilkinson
Adopting a value-based, outside-in approach to ITIL
Cyber security simulation: a crucial learning curve for organizations
Making the Guiding Principles live! - Designing for User experience?
Developing outside-in capabilities