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The Growing pains of ITSM


ITSM is still seen by many as purely ITIL-focused or relevant only to internal IT operations. It is time for ITSM to stand up and be counted as a professional business discipline. Based on discussions with members across the country and the work of a thought leadership group led by the ITSMF UK CEO Mike Owen, Barclay Rae outlines a future path for ITSM.


A grown-up ITSM industry 


ITSM needs to grow up – we need to look at ourselves and professionalise our industry and approach. 


This means re-positioning as a more strategic and business-relevant function, with demonstrable business benefits, supporting organisational and customer expectations. In the past this has been too narrowly focussed on internal IT functions, projects and costs.  

ITIL has been the ‘de facto’ training and development approach for the last 10 to 15 years, yet those involved in delivering it know that ITIL is not enough – success requires much more than knowledge of a process framework. 

In reality ITIL currently offers little in terms of practical guidance around successful ‘implementation’. *

IT and ITSM also need to be viewed and appreciated more in a business broker role, more able to react quickly and be a solution provider rather than a ‘blocker’ - or the guys who always say ‘no’. 

Without a significant change in speed of delivery, quality and perception of service and demonstrable value, many IT internal departments and external IT companies will become more and more exposed as obsolete and, ultimately, redundant.

The ITSM industry itself also needs a make-over, with fresh and accessible content, some new and contemporary framing and messaging, in order to remain attractive and relevant.

In order to succeed with this we need first to take steps to improve the image of the industry, and the extent to which it can be shown to be professional, business-like and valued at the C-level.  


ITSM as a discipline?


One problem is that ITSM is not as a discipline. ITIL has a certification structure for individuals, but ITIL is a process framework and doesn’t - at this point in time* - include teaching and testing beyond process knowledge. 

There are several models for organisational certification (ISO/IEC 20000, based on ITIL, SDI/HDI for Service Desks, COBIT as a governance model). Yet there is no central point of convergence or clarity about how these relate to one another or how they are jointly relevant to support businesses. There is a growing but relatively low take-up of most of these models, which is disappointing since this would provide evidence that the ITSM programmes are working. 

There are several industry organisations in this space that have members and forums, produce content, run events and in some cases set standards – yet these tend to exist as stand-alone niche bodies. Memberships have declined from initial high levels as the market has become saturated and knowledge and content has become more freely available online.

There is a large gap in the body of knowledge around ITSM – ITIL is primarily focussed on process, whereas successful ITSM requires a much wider portfolio of skills and capabilities. ITIL does not define organisational change, human interaction or customer experience, all essential for success. 

Many organisations have expected ITIL to deliver results way beyond its capability or remit, seeing ITIL itself as the solution and ignoring these other factors. The result has been a lot of failed or incomplete ‘ITIL projects’ – these have burned cash and resources with few positive results, leaving the brand names associated with ITIL and ITSM damaged.

Without a central body to manage these issues, each area of the industry has continued unilaterally to deliver point solutions with limited success and restricted commercial penetration. ITSM is therefore not a properly codified discipline. In its current form it will not be sustainable, and the industry needs a new and wider definition, vision and structure. This should include, for example, a broader definition and portfolio of skills and capabilities, body of knowledge, and organisational standards, plus clear career development paths, higher education qualifications and a code of conduct. 

ITSM needs to be clearly positioned and presented as a business approach both within and beyond IT organisations. This is a growth area as many organisations are now using ITSM processes and tools to deliver wider collaboration and work management functions. C-level value propositions must be universally promoted around ITSM as an enabler, broker, orchestrator, rather than administrator. 

All stakeholders need to engage and play their part in the delivery of Service Management - it’s a team game. We need to move away from thinking that ITSM is ‘just what the Service Desk do.’  

In other words, in order to survive, the IT and ITSM industry has to move to the next level of maturity - we collectively need to grow up.   


What needs to happen? 


What do we need to do as an industry to improve and broaden our skills and reflect that in training and development?

The view of (IT)SM from an executive perspective must be that it is a unifying and enabling discipline that brings together a number of functions, people and processes – we need to work harder to get that clear message across in suitable language. 

From a messaging perspective ITSM has to be seen as the enabler of great customer experience as well as delivery of business outcomes/results. 

We also need to get the message to the (IT)SM industry that we can’t do this simply by ‘doing’ ITIL – we need to get the people part right, plus the right use of governance and other tools, automation and frameworks to be successful.

The industry needs leadership to draw these ideas together and to normalise the needs for integration – ITIL is only part of the solution and more skills need to be developed and promoted. 

Here are some key areas for development:

  • The ITSM industry needs a broader definition of itself and the roles within it – this needs to be supported with a wider range of education and training, plus ongoing professional development. The definition can also extend beyond IT – to include other ‘service’ areas, back office functions and departments such as HR, Finance, Marketing, Estates etc.
  • The industry must have a single, consistent approach that recognises people and organisations in competence and excellence. This should include organisational accreditation, career development in a number of areas and recognition of real experience as well as qualifications. 
  • The ITSM world should work together to unify its various groups and organisations - otherwise it looks like an amateur ‘cottage industry’. There should ideally be a singular body who see themselves as a common community which spans technical, functional and process areas and also levels of management (including executives). 
  • ITSM needs to promote, explain and market itself as a distinct discipline much better and bring the different parts of the sector more together, with success stories amongst target markets with the active support of senior people.
  • The business case for delivering value from ITSM must also be clear to other parts of IT organisations, not just the ‘Service Management guys’. This is essential in order to achieve the value from collaboration and to really deliver ‘end-to-end’ service delivery. 
  • The value of Service Management should be clearly articulated (1) to manage delivery expectations for customers and (2) to minimise risk for the service provider. It’s a win-win situation – or should be – for customer and provider. 


What skills are needed beyond ITIL? 


Two main areas of expertise and knowledge are required for this change to happen:

Market and industry-wide knowledge.
Awareness and skills are needed in a variety of other frameworks, beyond or alongside ITIL:

  • COBIT – this is a model for governance based around a wider set of processes than those in ITIL, although these are defined in a more systemised and integrated taxonomy. ITIL has more ‘stories and anecdotes’ for reference, whereas COBIT can be better measured and tracked.
  • DevOps/Agile – ITIL is often criticised as being too inflexible and slow. It is still philosophically based in the 1980s and 90s, and agile methodologies speak to a younger audience, many of whom would not recognise a mainframe. DevOps is a fusion of agile and a collaborative, controlled approach and is gaining significant traction as a useful set of values rather than a rigid framework. 
  • Lean/Kanban – these are additional alternative approaches to how to make change work – using principles for reducing waste and also for work management and prioritisation. These have been used for some time in ITSM projects and add significant value to the practical side of implementations.  
  • Prince2/PMP – ITSM requires change and this needs to be managed – there has always been a need for synergy with Prince2 and other Project Management models, although this has not been delivered with any formal structured integration. It’s essential however that anyone taking on an ITSM initiative must be able to manage a project and – ideally more than that – deliver organisational change. 
  • IT4IT – this is a new initiative developed by strategic thought leaders in ITSM and service architecture, as well as being sponsored by some major blue chip organisations.  Like DevOps it recognises the need for an integrated and collaborative approach and sets out to look at transformation from a holistic perspective, based around business collaboration.
  • SDI/HDI – The Service Desk and Helpdesk Institutes in the UK and USA provide a number of services and vocational standards for those involved in these teams. These organisations and their standards (individual and site based certification based on EFQM) have a defined audience (the wider ITSM world is more dispersed) and provide useful practical input to the industry. This could be further integrated.
  • SIAM – Service Integration and Management is a new concept, based on an old one – i.e. the need to co-ordinate and manage a number of IT suppliers in a single ‘supply chain’. The ‘new’ element is the idea that multiple outsourced suppliers need to be managed by one (SIAM) management layer, so that a single service view is managed and delivered across the supply chain. This uses ITSM concepts in a more commercially focussed way and is gaining credence and adoption.
  • ISO/IEC 20000 / 9000 / 38500 – these are certification standards for organisations. ISO/IEC 20000 is actually based on ITIL, with some additional areas of management and control. ITIL is often taken to be a standard which can be ‘implemented’ and ‘certified’, although this is not the case. ISO/IEC 20000 has not achieved the levels of adoption that were expected although it remains the nearest any organisation can come to being ITIL ‘certified’. The ISO 9000 series is centred on customer service and as such a useful starting point. ISO 38500 is a governance model for organisation around IT and is a useful model for the integration and fusion of business and technology goals, as well as being an executive blueprint for the management of an IT function.
  • Personal and management. Overall ITSM requires strong people skills in order to drive through change and make it sustainable – management, organisational skills, influencing skills, communications, project management, business understanding and focus. ITIL has tended to define roles in operational terms rather than those required for the transformation, and often the change roles were given to those better suited to operational/business as usual functions – often not enough to really affect change.

Other key skills include:

  • Presentation and promotion – organisational ITSM change requires a number of people to make small changes in the way they fill out forms, or communicate with customers. The best way to make this work is by presenting and motivating them to do it and not by bombarding them with directives, processes and documentation. ITSM projects also need to be well communicated across organisations with a good focus on message and target audience, not technical detail.
  • Sales and marketing – these key skills are needed to define benefits and ‘sell’ these to business leaders and users across organisations. Normally this is not a natural skill for IT people and many ITSM initiatives fail due to lack of clear focus on message and communication of expectations and results.
  • Business and financial management – there is a need to define business goals and build these into business plans and budgets.  This can also be an area where projects fail, often because need, risk, value etc. are poorly articulated. Good commercial skills are also needed for developing, negotiating and managing external suppliers and contracts to deliver a successful ‘joined up’ service, rather than a sum of parts.
  • Management, relationship and interpersonal skills – influence and motivation are essential elements in successful ITSM – this can’t simply be based on autocratic management. Managing and developing people to want to deliver better service is the goal and this needs keen skills in team building, personal motivation, influencing and collaborative working  
  • Project management – budgeting, planning and personal effectiveness skills are needed to make change happen. This also needs a strong sense of self-motivation, self-confidence, time management, leading by example, organisational skills etc.

Successful ITSM requires participants to have a good understanding and knowledge of their own organisation, key contacts, stakeholders and sponsors, as well as a reasonable amount of ‘clout’ and respect across the organisation. Ideally they should also be experienced in working in more than one area of the business, to be able to appreciate how to deliver ITSM effectively.  




Many organisations are using ITSM for work management beyond IT. In these cases the IT organisation is becoming the department that says ‘yes’ – a solution provider not a blocker. In this way IT can further transform itself and add value – if this is not grasped then ITSM will become another obsolete museum piece. ITSM should be a game changer for IT, not an albatross around its neck!

The challenge for individuals working in ITSM is to step up – develop their skills beyond ITIL and the ‘silo’-based department, stop seeing other teams, departments and industry areas as ‘them’ and start to engage and work together in positive collaboration as ‘us’.

The challenge for the industry is to unite and see the real potential for ITSM as a business enabler, not a best practice. We need more practical and enlightened collaboration across frameworks, training organisations and established communities to support this move. As an industry we also need to move away from ‘them and us’ – IT and ‘the Business’, Operations and Development, Service Desk and other support teams. 

If we must have ‘them and us’ – then let that involve natural selection. Let ‘them’ (competitors) have best practice, whilst ’we’ (our whole organisation) deliver business value.


*Axelos have recently announced a new ITIL practitioner qualification as a supplement to the existing programme, to provide more ‘non-ITIL’ skills


ITSMF UK is currently setting up a number of initiatives to take forward the ideas raised in this article, including a future-minded knowledge and skills framework for ITSM professionals, with a set of relevant profiles for key ITSM roles; and working with the sector to develop skills training, recognition and professional support in order to help promote and advance ITSM as a modern profession. Further information will be available shortly.

Barclay Rae is in an independent ITSM consultant and chairman of the ITSMF UK Service Level Management SIG.

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