Many organizations experiencing chaos in their operational teams have a potential solution staring them in the face. That solution is service management.
IT Service Management (ITSM) works well in managing IT, and its principles can also be extremely valuable when used across all business processes.
As more and more organizations recognize that IT is, in fact, just one link in the chain that delivers a business service, it makes sense to have consistent processes that unify all areas; for example, a change management process that addresses both business and IT elements of a change simultaneously.
Why do organizations have good practice in some areas, but not others? A lot of the answer to this question relates to culture and the way departments operate in silos. Some company departments work in very different ways. For example, if we compare the sales department with the IT department, the management of inbound customer contacts might be very different. In the sales team, the management of communication is often much more personal, based on a relationship with a key contact or individual. Contacts and relationships are closely guarded, and may not be managed consistently. This can work well until someone’s not in the office or leaves the company altogether. Then chaos ensues for customers. This might be very different to the IT department, where the service desk manages all inbound contacts consistently, and the level of service should be the same no matter who takes the call.
Without a recognized system and processes for managing departmental operations, a business can end up with:
- Errors and items getting lost
- Staff “burn out” – people expected to answer the phone when a customer calls and the obligation to be perpetually available
- A “Hero” mentality – people take on extra work and do their best rather than it being handled in a standardized way
- A “Hero” culture – people taking on extra work becomes the norm, and staff don’t even recognize there is an issue any more
Why and how does ITSM apply?
ITSM is not necessarily the obvious solution for businesses to improve company-wide operations; you can hear people saying: “what can we take from a load of IT processes?”
But with a framework like ITIL® in place, service management approaches such as business relationship management, service level management, change management and a strong service desk can deliver a lot more beyond what is IT-related.
It often takes an outsider to recognize the value of ITSM to solve other business issues. For example, an external consultant might recognize good practice in one area of the business that could be replicated elsewhere, or a strong manager joining the organization who can get people to recognize where good practice is happening and solving problems.
Alternatively, you might get a CIO discussing problems and knowledge-sharing with the head of operations, working together to improve the customer experience and break down silos in the organization.
At worst, it takes a crisis to effect a change: so, something bad has to happen for there to be a company-wide review.
How do you deploy service management across the business?
- You can turn the service desk into a general contact centre to help with customer queries
- Encourage staff in the business to understanding the flow of information and find where the flow is getting blocked. Introduce processes and resources to remove the bottleneck
- Use tools from the Continual Service Improvement approach: talk to staff about what’s making their life difficult and involving stakeholders; the more ownership they have, they more they will get excited and feel accountable
- Define people’s levels of accountability – making sure decisions can be made and removing single points of failure, in other words not relying on one person to make a decision.
The principles in practice
I’ve seen service management transform a company’s operational performance.
In this case, the organization supplies technical products to business customers. The company had a standard IT set-up including a service desk and change management capability, but less well-defined business support for customers.
The solution was to apply a service management ethos across the organization from the first time a customer made contact. This meant from the first customer interaction details were recorded and service level agreements (SLAs) established.
Where the product building approach, traditionally, treated each product as unique, the company moved to a service catalogue approach which simplified the support customers needed. In turn, the scheduling of engineers used to test and monitor products was made through the service desk, complete with SLAs.
Overall, service management principles brought consistency, professionalism, some standard processes plus significant opportunities to save money, for example reducing the number of engineer revisits through designing a standard spares kit to respond to typical faults.
Where to start?
Implementing service management beyond IT means getting staff involved and getting them excited about change. We need to talk about customers and quality of service, not IT and process.
Starting with small incremental changes, such as staff training, designing up-to-date role profiles and metrics will help. This should be complemented by managers visibly adopting the new ways of working and creating a culture that encourages others to do so.
There should be a focus on end-to-end business processes from initial customer contact to completion, with everyone working together to fulfil customer requirements.
This approach should resonate with any organization that has inbound contact from customers and currently has a distinct split between customer service and IT – this could include local authorities or any other service providers.
This is not to say that ITSM is a silver bullet. Some organizations have better customer services processes in their business departments than they do in IT. However, when ITSM professionals look beyond the scope of what they do in IT, it’s good for the company to see how ITSM can be applied to support wider business objectives.
Does your organization use ITSM processes throughout its business or does each department operate under its own management policies? Do you think ITSM can add value across an organization's operations? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.