Early success, vital ammunition
RMIT’s Clark said that his experience showed getting over that first hurdle and receiving funding approval for a service management project created new headaches in the short term but vital ammunition for the future.
“In the case of RMIT, previously there was no communication to the business about the systems problems we were experiencing on a regular basis,” Clark said.
“So, initially, feedback suggested that we were having a lot more problems than in the past which forced me to reassure the senior executive that we’re not having a lot more problems, it was just that we’re telling you about them now.
“On the upside, from our established benchmark we were then able to demonstrate the improvements we were making. Those operational performance metrics are now allowing us to have the type of conversations we should be having about systems availability, which has a direct business-impact.
“Indeed, increasingly that conversation is coming back to me from the senior executives at the University. They now understand the opportunity for IT service management to support and drive core business objectives.”
Clark believes that the foundation of an IT leader’s role is to manage existing systems and applications really well before you can look at investing.
“We’ve done a lot of work around IT strategy and our strategic plan etc., but running the existing systems and infrastructure has to have our highest priority,” he said.
“For the first six months I was in the role we focused almost exclusively on operational stability and that is now embedded in the culture of the organisation.
“If something’s broken, fixing it is my highest priority regardless of how important Project Managers think what they are working on is.
“Accurately communicating the services we provide and the service levels that can be expected is also a priority for the CIO as that is how we can then match our performance to organisational objectives.
“So while I think maturity models and frameworks are just models and that all models are wrong, some aspects of them are useful. I think our team has responded in a very pragmatic way to the parts of ITIL we do use and I think we’re going to have a much better IT operation as a result.”
Tradesman-like IT services
Upstream’s Schembri said that an effective ITSM program provides the foundation for engaging in higher level discussions with the business.
“Delivering tradesman-like IT management services is the table stakes for those other higher level discussions,” Schembri said. “If you’re trying to have a discussion about something esoteric and the mail server is up and down all of the time, you’ve just lost all credibility.
“So one of the things I think good service management delivers is that surety around your basic services. It helps you manage expectations and deliver to those expectations which is foundational to your credibility with the business to have any sort of value-add discussion thereafter.
“You have to find and define acceptable SLAs. If you haven’t defined your SLA then it is whatever your customer thinks it is and that is not necessarily achievable with the resources and tools available. The business just expects five nines availability on email.
“In some cases that may be necessary but it also may not be. You have to have that conversation with the business first and be able to demonstrate the cost versus the benefit of different service levels. Identifying appropriate SLAs changes your cost profile and allows you to measure to it.”
Avoid the fundamentalism
There was full consensus from Clark, Schembri and Crompton that the most effective approach to ITSM is not to be obsessed by the frameworks that provide guidance. Rather it is to find the components that will assist IT organisations to meet the needs of the businesses they serve.
“We paid a lot of attention to implementing an effective change management process and took guidance from ITIL in doing so,” Clark said. “We now also have proper incident management in place so people know their roles and what’s expected of them.
“From these exercises we restore faster than we did in the past and we are a more effective IT organisation for doing it but it doesn’t mean the rest of the framework is our highest priority.”
Schembri said that blindly applying ITIL or any other “model” is clearly counterproductive. “It’s the equivalent of religious fundamentalism,” he said. “You can come up with all sorts of strange tangents that just don’t make sense in the big picture. Successful projects are the ones that have a more pragmatic approach that looks at both the business need and the process before finding a happy medium.”
Meanwhile, Crompton summed up by saying that; “You have to identify what is important to the business so you are choosing process implementations that are actually going to give you the best business benefit. “You can’t boil the ocean, but you can actually slowly boil a pot at a time. Find out which parts of a framework will actually address your business needs. The good news for CIOs is that people in IT organisations have analytic competency as an innate skill.
“That should be utilised to the maximum to identify where things are wrong. It’s those conversations with the people in your organisation that will identify where things are wrong and what should be addressed. So the CIO should listen to them.
“We have two ears and one mouth so spend as much time listening as you do speaking.”
Gerard Norsa is publications editor at itSMF Australia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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