Podcast #8: ITSM Platform, The Service Management Enabler

itsm service management platform


Jack: Thanks for joining us for another episode of Transformative IT Service Management. Once again, I'm joined with our Senior Vice President of Strategy and Portfolio, Brenda Lichtenberg.

Brenda, thanks for joining.

Brenda: Good morning, Jack. Glad to be here.

Jack: Today, we're going to talk about something a little bit different. We're going to take a little bit of a turn from really talking about our service management processes and kind of go a little bit more broadly to talk about how do we use those service management processes? A lot of companies really try to take service management and stick it into the box of a software package, so we're going to talk a little bit about ITSM platforms or IT service management platforms. I guess like we typically do, Brenda, can we start with a little bit of a definition of what is an ITSM platform?

Brenda: Really, an ITSM platform is an enabler to allow you to run your managed service business on that platform. It has, generally, a combination of incident, problem, change. It allows you to establish the workflow for a particular process and, of course, to meet some of your unique business needs, so it is very much different from development, if you would, per se, but rather more so focused on just the place where you would capture the information you need, a place where that you would log your processes and be able to get your analytics out of, get your data out of, and track your service management activities.

Jack: At a super high level, an ITSM platform is a software package that is an enabler of those service management functions, and then underneath that are all of the fields, the forms, the workflows, the analytics, the reporting, and all that fun stuff that we turn to on a day-to-day basis to make the guts of our IT departments work, right?

Brenda: That's correct.

Jack: It sounds really important to IT. Is it important to the business side as well?

Brenda: It's critical to the business. In order for you to run your business, you have to have a good ITSM platform that enables you to get that information that you need to provide to your customers to show that, hey, I'm tracking business, and I'm tracking business. I can show you the stats on where we're at and how it's working as well as the day-to-day activities, right? How do you know that a call came in for service or a major incident that came in for service? You have to have the capabilities of a good ITSM platform that will allow you to react to what is happening right now in your business and be able to understand what's going to happen next so you can plan accordingly.

Jack: That's a really, really important point. A thing that I would kind of add sort of as an aside is service management is becoming more broadly adopted than just IT. If you look at a lot of traditional IT service management platforms such as BMC and ServiceNow, you will see that they're starting to have other components to address service management for other divisions of the businesses, groups such as HR, groups such as facilities, and even things such as legal. They're using a service management approach to improve and optimize those functions as well, right? The concept of service management, you could really sort of dumb down from IT to say there's a need for something to happen. There's an assignment of that thing to be done. That thing is done. We track that it is done. Then, over time, we report on that entire process to see how we can make it better, right?

Brenda: Yes, that's correct. Kind of the funny thing about that is is that when you think about a service management platform and what you want in that platform, some companies, when they start looking at those platforms, they say, "You know what? I'm only doing this piece right now," and not really realizing that that maybe will jumpstart you into other areas, so I may only be doing incident management, but I may want to expand and do other areas, so it's important to really look at kind of the big picture of where you want to go when you're talking about ITSM platforms as well.

Jack: That kind of leads us to a question around when companies are looking to get started with a platform, how should they develop a roadmap, right? How should they figure out how they're going to implement which processes, which modules they're going to head for first?

Brenda: That is not a kind of a question you should take lightly. It's one that you really need to look at very seriously because when you're making a decision for an ITSM platform managed services there and where do you want go on your roadmap, you need to look at that closely because, generally speaking, when you sign up for a platform or an application package, you want to at least keep it for at least three years, but it's probably going to be a lot longer, three to seven years in actuality, and so you want to look at your roadmap. You want to look at your budget and what services and solutions you want to provide in the future. That's going to be critical because then you want to choose a platform or an application based on your solutions and your priorities, and you can really start off with a platform that maybe is not as robust but has the capability to expand to different areas, so it is a platform that will grow with your business.

Jack: We're kind of now talking about do I go after the 800-pound gorilla software solution that has every single bell and whistle and covers every single process, or do I go for that relatively low cost, or dare I even mention some of the freeware, open-source type things that are out there that are really just basic ticket databases, right?

Brenda: Exactly. You have to watch both areas very closely. If you're looking at a small area, a ticketing system that's quite some ... Quite honestly, sometimes they barely meet your needs, but they get the job done for today, and that may be the answer for a very small budget, but how long is that going to last? That may be a situation where you're honestly going to probably be switching very soon because if your roadmap says that you want to go to all of these different places, that means you're going to have another tech turn in the future very near, and those are costly as well.

Jack: Well, I think it also depends on where the company is from an IT maturity standpoint, right, and from a process maturity standpoint. One of the things that everybody talks about when you're looking at IT projects, or changes, or IT departments is that sort of that cross-section between the triangle of people, process, and technology, right? You could plug in a really sophisticated tool with a lot of capabilities, but if you don't have that process maturity, if your people aren't ready to adopt it, then while you may have a great future that you could grow into, there may be a period of time where you're not taking advantage of a big investment.

Brenda: Exactly. One of the advantages, now that you kind of lay it out like that, one of the advantages of going with a managed service provider is, generally speaking, they will have a tool set that is more robust, as well a staff that is experienced, and people, process, and technology that can help you to jumpstart your business, so when you're looking at your roadmap, you're trying to prioritize, you really also want to look at how can I get time to value? Time to value is once ... If you start of with a small platform, you have to do all the heavy lifting yourself. If you go with a managed-service partner or provider, they already have a platform that is normally an enabler for you to implement all your roadmap solutions on there in terms of incident, problem, change, asset, discovery, and that type of thing. They can give you different options in terms of a phased approach to implementation.

Jack: If I'm working with that managed services provider for my service management platform, that can also help augment my capabilities as a business from an experience perspective. Obviously, having some good experience, having some mentors, having that roadmap is critical to designing your go-forward strategy, but I think it also is great for figuring out how does that apply to my business? That experience needs to not only just be a part of that provider, but it needs to be kind of holistically ingrained into your organization.

Brenda: Exactly. It does, and those are the key elements when making these decisions because people, process, technology is so critical in the way that we want to do business because all of them need to be interconnected in order for that to be successful, and so you just can't really focus on one area or the other, but a lot of those have to run in parallel and really establish good relationships between them.

Jack: Let's say that I'm in an organization. We've made a decision to implement a platform. We've already picked one, so we're past that phase. We're getting ready to start the implementation of that platform. Obviously, we've talked during previous podcasts, and also you referenced just a little bit ago there's a lot of processes that you can attack. Is there a good way to prioritize what things you're going to focus on on the front end of the implementation? Are there specific processes or components that are maybe better to look at towards the beginning?

Brenda: Yeah. One of the things that's really important, again, going back to your roadmap and also where your pain points are at this time. I've had customers come in and say, "You know what? I have to have incident management first. I have to have asset management first," so in looking at your roadmap, what you want to look at is how do I establish this platform, and how and am I going to grow the platform? No matter what, you always have to have your foundation data, so that's always going to come first, so you want to make sure that is solid, but then you also have to look at ... so you can run that in parallel with your process and also your technology, for instance, workflows and that type of thing. What comes first? That's a great question. It's a tough one to answer. It really is business-dependent and what's critical in their business environment right now, but I will say what I've found is that you have to have a good combination of all of them in order for that to be successful.

Jack: Well, and one of the topics we've talked about on many of these podcasts is foundational data, right? When you're putting together a service management platform, almost ... I think one of the things I've seen in my experience, it's almost more important to figure out the data side than it is the process side.

Brenda: It is. The one important thing about the data is you have to look at every single aspect of it, and you cannot undermine its importance. When I say that is that, a lot of times, you think about a single field, or a department, or even the company name. How many different ways do you say that? Your data should be normalized. It should be accurate. It should be up to date. You have to think about constantly, even though I load it one time into the platform, now how do I keep it updated? That's going to be critical as you go forward to being able to log a call for a requester and having the accurate phone number, the location if you send somebody out to site to fix something. All of that information is critical, so data foundation is absolutely essential and critical that it's accurate, up to date, and normalized.

Jack: If we're going forward, right, and I've implemented my software package, and we are ready to roll it out, do I teach the process that the software is facilitating? Would I teach the service management side, or do I teach the buttons and the widgets inside the software platform?

Brenda: Great question. I'm not sure I have all of the answers to that, but what I would recommend is that when you're thinking about how you're doing a business, and that's really key is how do I want to conduct my business? What do I need? You ride the process out in terms of this is how you're going to collect the information from your end user, your entitlement, and then you have to talk about how that data flows through the system, so it is a combination of all three. When you're talking about experience of the agent, so to speak, what information I'm going to collect and how I'm going to collect it, that has to go hand in hand with your process and hand in hand with your tool set to make sure that it's an enabler to enable the process and enable the agent.

Jack: Well, that sort of brings us back full circle, right? If you're able to have a process that is empowering the IT professionals or the service management professionals to see their results in conjunction in connection with the business, then that gets them that buy-in, right?

Brenda: That's correct.

Jack: They understand the why of the process. They understand the how of the tool but, ultimately, they understand the big picture as it connects to the company's mission and where they want ... trying to go as an organization.

Brenda: That's exactly right. The one thing that's very challenging is when you're trying to write those priorities down and establish what should I do first, people, process, technology, I know I have to do a combination of each one of them, but it is critical that they all go hand in hand. A lot of times, when you're maybe thinking about switching to a new platform, and you don't really understand what this tool can do or how much of it should I get at this time, kind of a phased approach, that's where the challenges come in.

I've seen many times where somebody's made a decision to implement part of a solution at this time, do it on their own without the advice or support of a managed service provider. While they're excited about doing it themselves, the challenge then comes in is that now it doesn't meet all their needs because they've only focused on one piece of that is the tool. They haven't talked about all of the things we were just going through, how the process plays into it, what your business demands are, what your priorities in your roadmap are, and how that's really going to work in that platform all together.

Jack: I spent a lot of time over the years going to different conferences and seminars, and talking with service management experts, and talking with software vendors. One of the biggest complaints that vendors of software and service management platforms have is that their customers don't fully take advantage of their software. They use one component or they create customizations around baked-in processes that break other features and can make this shiny tool with a lot of function into something that is hard to use and can be frustrating.

Brenda: And difficult to maintain. How do you do your releases in the future if you do that? I'm a very big advocate of whatever service management platform you choose is that use it to its fullest extent. Understand what it can do, what it can't do, and understand what is the release schedule coming up because the next release coming up could have the features you're already looking for, so then you don't need to customize it.

We are always trying to stay away from customization because that really makes your platform challenging to upgrade in the future. However, we know there are certain conditions in order to meet your business demands and needs that there may be some need for what I would call smaller customizations, and those would be tracked, and you know what they are, but those changes can also be put into the tool as foundational if you work with your vendor to get those in, and then you can remove them in the future. Absolutely right, you want to really stay away from trying to work around what the tool can do, but rather use it to its fullest potential.
Jack: I really like the idea and the concept of letting this big software development giant do the R&D for me, right?

Brenda: Exactly.

Jack: Let them flush out the idea and bake it into their software.

Brenda: Less work for you, less maintenance in the future. It's definitely a win-win.

Jack: That's right. That's right. Well, Brenda, thank you very much for this discussion. This has been another episode of Transformative IT Service Management. Like I said, we did a little bit of a side journey against the service management processes. In our next episode, we'll get back to our service management processes and continue on our journey. Thank you.

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