With roughly 200 vendors selling service desk tools, and around 70 vendors active in the mid-market and enterprise space, selecting the right ITSM tool for your organization is no easy task. The pace of development has been relentless in recent years and many tools now offer 100% codeless customization, loose coupling with open APIs for seamless integration, and continual deployment that removes the pain of software upgrades. From basic ticketing systems to full ITSM suites, with multiple deployment models and licensing options, the choice is staggering.

There is a plethora of online resources that can help with your initial review of the ITSM tools market. Analyst reports can provide some decent insights, but they usually cover just a handful of vendors, and you may be missing out on new and innovative solutions. When used correctly, these can be valuable resources, but limiting your selection criteria to vendors that appear in the top right of a quadrant is a huge mistake. Software review sites can give you a sense of what customers say about different ITSM tools. However, these sites typically rely upon vendors encouraging their customers to leave reviews, or pay-per-click vendor bidding wars, so don’t expect the ‘warts and all’ TripAdvisor experience.

If you’re looking to purchase a new ITSM tool, remember that the tool is only one part of the equation. What you are really investing in is a relationship, and meeting vendors face-to-face is the best possible way to make an initial assessment of both the tool and the vendor. Although vendors will quite happily visit you to provide demos, it makes sense to save this phase until you have bottomed out your requirements and can provide vendors with some scenarios to run through with your selection team.

Fortunately, in the UK, there are numerous opportunities to get exposure to several vendors over the course of one day. The itSMF UK SMtech Forums (https://www.itsmf.co.uk/events) are an ideal opportunity to save endless hours of online research and get valuable insight into innovation within the ITSM tools market. If you want exposure to over 75 ITSM tool vendors, visit the Service Desk and IT Support (SITS) show in May at Excel in London (https://servicedeskshow.com/).

Before embarking on your selection process, it is important to be clear about what outcomes you are looking to achieve with the new tool:

  • What are your greatest areas of pain?
  • What business challenges are you trying to solve?
  • What is the impact of not solving those challenges?

Once you have answers to the above questions, you will be able to set objectives and scope initial requirements before exploring the market. It takes effort and persistence to gather the right information to adequately scope your requirements, so it can be tempting to shortcut this stage, but it’s a big mistake, and one that you may have to live with for three to six years.

Avoid the most common tool selection mistakes

Over the last twenty years, I have personally seen hundreds of ITSM tool selection processes. On at least a dozen occasions, I’ve seen the same tender document from different organizations, where the name has been changed but the content is the same. On the one hand, it’s a relief to know that the response won’t be hard work, but on the other, there’s a sense of real disappointment, because vendors want to understand the challenges that organizations are facing and whether our solutions can make a difference.

If that information is missing from your requirements document, vendors must go through the motions and reply to the document, in the hope that we can tease out the information we need, should we get through to the next phase in the selection process.

Responding to tenders is a resource-intensive, time-consuming and expensive exercise, so if the document looks like it’s been written with a specific vendor in mind (which happens frequently), it may make commercial sense for other vendors to withdraw early. Although few vendors will complain about the quantity of RFPs they receive, they will justifiably moan about the quality. Ask any vendor about their biggest gripes with requirements documents and tenders, and they’ll list the same recurring issues.

Framework fascination

In my experience, the most common mistake is that most tender documents focus extensively on ITIL® process adoption. They describe the IT infrastructure, the support organization structure, and page after page of process requirements. However, they fail to explain the challenges the IT organization is facing, or the outcomes that are needed to deliver value to customers.

Although tools vary in the ways they deliver functionality to support ITIL I would go as far as to say that modern ITSM tools deliver more ITIL capabilities than the average IT organization will deploy in a lifetime. A tool’s ability to support ITIL, or any other framework, provides no guarantee that it will improve service quality or deliver value to customers. In fact, it frequently has the opposite effect. Too much emphasis on IT process adoption draws attention away from the customer experience and the issues that are truly impacting the business. This isn’t good for the service management organization, its customers, or the vendor.

Overstating your initial objectives

Successfully implementing a tool does not signal the end of your journey – it is the start. That’s one reason why it’s important to avoid overstating your initial objectives and to be realistic about what you can achieve within reasonable timeframes.

Buying for the future is not a sensible justification for specifying the need to support 15 ITIL processes if your organization is struggling to cope with 5. A tool will not change the culture of your organization, and unless you set realistic expectations about what can be achieved, you will end up with a tool that is overly-complex and expensive to maintain, and with lots of functionality that never gets used.

Not understanding the customer’s perspective

Customers form a perception of service quality based on what’s visible to them. If the front office provides a good service experience and meets expectations, the customer isn’t concerned about what happens behind the scenes. Because the service desk is the area of IT that is most visible to the customer, an effective service desk will enhance the business’s perception of the quality and value of IT services. Conversely, the reputation of the entire IT organization can be damaged by an ineffective service desk. It’s vital we get this right by understanding the customer’s experience.

The consumerization of IT has had a significant impact on user expectations. Customers and service desk analysts alike want the applications they use at work to be as intuitive as the tools they use in their personal lives. Appreciate the knowledge and self-sufficiency of your customers and provide them with a platform that easily facilitates self-help, self-service, collaboration and peer-to-peer support. Get this right, and users can help themselves to an improved service experience and higher levels of satisfaction with IT services.

Not understanding the vendor’s perspective

Vendors want to sell you software, but it’s not just about making the sale, because bad business is expensive. If your requirements document has not helped the vendor to understand real challenges, they will struggle to deliver. The customer won’t be happy, and the reputations of both the IT organization and the vendor will suffer. If the vendor can identify, early on, that they can’t provide a good match for your requirements, they will walk away. A well-crafted requirements document allows both parties to recognize this, and part company, before everyone wastes time and money.

Getting IT right

Occasionally, a requirements document sticks out like a sore thumb, because it fully describes the current state of service management within the organization and provides real clarity about the business challenges that need to be addressed, and the outcomes desired from implementing a new tool. They reek of a service management team that understands their customers and the improvements that must be made to deliver value. These documents are rare, but when you find them, they’re a pleasure to respond to.

Put the effort in up-front

Crafting an effective requirements document takes significant work, but it’s worth the effort. If you use a template created by someone else, you will fail to communicate the challenges you need to solve and will end up choosing a tool based on features. When the new tool is implemented, the initial focus on service improvement will make things better, but only for a short time. Once the tool has bedded in, the focus on improvement usually stops. Mediocrity takes over, the tool gets blamed, and the whole cycle is repeated, without any attention paid to the lessons learned from the previous experience.

Trial the tool, with your data and processes

Regardless of the sources you use to do your research, or which vendors make your shortlist, there is no better way to mitigate risk than by trialling the tool in your environment, with your data and processes.  This approach works because you get to use the tool – for real – while developing an understanding of what the vendor will be like as a partner. It works for the vendor too, as your requirements become crystal clear (in a way that cannot be specified within a requirements document) when the tool is being evaluated.

Some time ago, I wrote a Smart Guide, “Essential considerations before selecting your next service desk tool”, which delves into the topics discussed here and provides additional guidance about tool and vendor selection. It has been downloaded more times than any other Smart Guide on our website, so hopefully the message is getting through. You can download the Smart Guide from https://bit.ly/2F63UV3

Consider the advice in the Smart Guide, put the effort in up front to explain the business challenges you need to solve, and trial the tool. It’s the best way to ensure that you’ll get a tool that’s right for your organization, and a vendor that you’ll be happy with as a long-term partner.

Patrick Bolger is Chief Evangelist at Hornbill Service Management, and works closely with customers, industry organizations, and IT luminaries to identify and promote IT best practices.

Patrick Bolger
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