ITSM research findings from Japan

Asian city street lit with numerous illuminated billboards

IAkshay Anand was recently in Tokyo to meet with CIOs of Japanese businesses prior to the annual itSMF Japan conference. I was interested in asking these CIOs about their business and IT challenges, the skills they believed would be important, and their thoughts about ITIL® and the upcoming update.

In all, I met with five CIOs, in industries including pharmaceuticals, automotive, insurance, and financial services. Since I don’t have permission to quote anyone, I thought I’d summarise and paraphrase our conversations in a blog post.

So, in no particular order of importance:

  • Most CIOs seemed reluctant to articulate “true” business challenges, but instead fell back on “digital transformation of the business” as a catch-all. Only one person I spoke to described the specific challenges he was facing - the threat of recession and the disruption of self-driving cars to the auto-insurance business.
  • A second generic concern was cyber security, felt particularly keenly in the pharmaceuticals and life-sciences industry in the context of smart devices and sensors (especially those embedded or implanted into the human body). Who would want their pacemaker or blood sugar monitor hacked?
  • One interviewee had an interesting definition of “digital transformation” – it was “digitization plus digitalization”. By digitization, he meant transforming analogue (paper based) activities and record keeping into digital equivalents. And by digitalization, he meant leveraging SMAC (social, mobile, analytics, and cloud) to drive business innovation.
  • Many interviewees spoke specifically about leveraging some sort of “Bimodal IT” model, but were concerned about creating an “us vs. them” wedge within their IT organizations.
  • Introducing Agile skills at speed was a major topic of discussion. One CIO went so far as to say he can’t afford to wait for existing employees to be trained and mentored, and was instead going down the “acquihire” route. I found that comment interesting, because while it might create the required conditions for successful transformation, it also misses the learning journey by which the IT organization creates, extends, and establishes an Agile approach that works for its context and constraints. I suppose time will tell if this approach succeeds!
  • ITIL is an important framework in the fabric of these IT organizations. The terminology, concepts, and value of service management (and the difference between that and technology management) is widely accepted. In fact, at the automotive company I visited, every new hire goes through an induction process where they learn about ITSM (using ITIL), project management (using PMI), and business analysis (using BABOK).
  • Japanese IT organizations are highly outsourced, and it isn’t uncommon to see a retained organization that’s less than 200 people. Surprisingly, they don’t count their outsourced resource pool in their descriptions of the size of their teams.

Some of the interesting wish list items for the ITIL update included:

  1. A maturity model that would allow companies to score and assess outsourced service providers.
  2. A maturity model that would allow IT organizations to understand where to invest to improve the quality, cost, and delivery (i.e. speed) of IT services.
  3. “Don’t change” – yes, there were a few people I met for whom the current iteration of ITIL was providing sufficient value to the IT organization, and who thus didn’t see a need to update the guidance. However, these organizations were only just beginning their Agile/ DevOps journeys, and I think they will find the need for updated guidance within the next 12-18 months.

Overall, it was an amazing visit, and I can’t wait to go back!

I’m interested in learning more about people’s impressions of Japanese IT management, and Japanese managers’ views on Western IT management. Please use the comments section below to share your thoughts, or drop me a line on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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