What's Your IT Service Management Strategy (If You Actually Have One)?

Unfortunately I don’t often hear “strategy” and “IT service management (ITSM)” in the same sentence, unless of course someone is maligning the ITIL 2011 Service Strategy book or if an organization is justifying a significant investment in a new ITSM tool (to me this is too often the breeding ground for failed aspirations). Alternatively we often talk about (and are consumed by) tactical ITSM issues and our tactical responses. So where and what is your ITSM strategy? And where is your ITSM strategic plan?

If you have answers to these questions you probably don’t need to read this blog so feel free to choose another. If you don’t, don’t you think you should? I’ve stolen some written-word from my colleague Jean-Pierre Garbani to get you thinking.

What’s your strategy for ITSM strategy?

I’m not going to answer this – I just thought it a funny question. Better starter questions are probably: “What do I mean by strategy?” and “What is strategic planning?”

I can’t help but use the ever-useful Wikipedia for the first:

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal. Strategy is all about gaining (or being prepared to gain) a position of advantage over adversaries or best exploiting emerging possibilities. As there is always an element of uncertainty about future, strategy is more about a set of options ("strategic choices") than a fixed plan. It derives from the Greek "στρατηγία" (strategia), "office of general, command, generalship".

J.P. quotes renowned human relations consultant and author J. William Pfeiffer on the latter: "Strategic planning is the process of self-examination, the confrontation of difficult choices and the establishment of priorities." It sounds scary and difficult, which is probably why it’s so easy to avoid or neglect it.

So what should ITSM professionals do? I’ve used extracts of J.P.’s writing to answer what I believe to be some of the key strategic planning questions below.

“Why should I have a strategic plan?”

Infrastructure and operations (I&O) organizations can receive a variety of benefits from a well-constructed ITSM (or service management and automation (SMA)) strategic plan. It can help them to:

  • Improve decision-making and stability.
  • Measure progress toward the enterprise's long-term vision.
  • Transition from IT to BT (business technology) and from a utility to a trusted business partner.
  • Evaluate resources and budgets in the future objectively.
  • Analyze the cost versus value of projects objectively.
  • Deliver more value at less cost by tightening up the execution model.
  • Reduce costs from redundancies in tools and their uncontrolled proliferation.

“Where should I position my ITSM strategic plan?”

It’s probably easiest to articulate this with a picture:

“How do I develop my strategic plan?”

Please remember that this is only a blog – I can’t just cut and paste the whole of J.P.’s report (well I could but it probably wouldn’t help my long term employment prospects). Instead I steal some of the report’s headings as areas you need to consider:

  • What To Include In Your Service Management Automation Strategic Plan. The strategic plan is ideally based on upstream planning exercises and documents such as the enterprise strategic plan, the BT strategic plan, and your I&O strategic plan. The goals and subsequent actions defined in these upstream plans are the major inputs that define the mission of your SMA program and strategic plan.
  • How To Build Your Service Management And Automation Strategic Plan. In the words of Lou Gerstner, "It doesn't matter what your strategy is, as long as you have one." The process of creating a strategic plan is often more important than the plan itself. This is based on the reality that enterprise plans, and consequently IT plans, are fluid and subject to changes. As many IT organizations fight constant changes and fires, it's difficult to find the time and energy to look at the future. And the fact that the day-to-day situation is overwhelming is a strong signal that a strategic plan is needed.
  • How To Measure The Progress Of Your Service Management And Strategic Plan. As the saying goes, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." Leading I&O departments have started using Norton and Kaplan's Balanced Scorecard (BSC) method of measuring performance as a framework to select the right set of metrics and keep them organized to demonstrate business value, become more proactive, and align I&O priorities and incentives.
  • Keeping Your SMA Strategic Plan Alive. The development of the strategic plan is not a grandiose innovation but a deep dive into how SMA can help the enterprise reach its growth objectives. Self-examination and a capability of analyzing the root cause of issues as well as successes are critical. Moreover, the SMA strategic plan can't be drafted in a vacuum by SMA specialists. It needs inputs from multiple sources as well as a consensus on which issues should be addressed.

Then we have J.P.’s recommendations for success …

  1. Don’t rush blindly into improvement programs that can't be realistically implemented, are not aligned with the enterprise business evolution, or need a complete revamping every couple of years.
  2. Gain management commitment by "selling" the SMA strategic plan concept.
  3. Assemble a “committee” to work on the plan.
  4. Identify, with the help of the committee, the credible sources of information.
  5. Tailor the strategic planning process to your environment.
  6. Adjust as needed. A strategic plan must reflect reality.

I would personally add in that that there is a lot of free support and advice for those willing to look. Two great examples are:

Finally, credit where credit is due

The majority of this content is a small extract from J.P.’s “Avoid Tactical, Narrow Service Management And Automation Strategies” report which is the “Strategic Plan” report in the Forrester Service Management And Automation Playbook.

The above two links require access to Forrester content, if you are not a client you can still access extracts of SMA Playbook content in blog form:


Are your strategies fit for growth?


This is a great post. As I mentioned on Twitter, if you don't have a long-term ITSM strategy, you are destined to "shampoo, rinse, repeat" every three years. Even the new kids on the block are seeing their customers from 3-5 years ago move away and onto something different - because those customers never took the time to develop a strategy for growth and maturity. They just wanted different. Even if different wasn't any better, just different.

There is an interesting article in Booz's strategy+business magazine this month that identifies three key questions to help determine if your company (and, in this day and age, your IT department) is fit for growth:

Do you have clear priorities, focused on strategic growth, that drive your investments?
Do your costs line up with those priorities? In other words, do you deploy your resources toward them efficiently and effectively?
Is your organization set up to enable you to achieve those priorities?
(source: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/12205?gko=ebe6b)

So, IT leaders.... Are you fit for growth? Do you have priorities and strategies in place, with actionable mechanisms for moving to greater maturity and business value? If you're not, I think you should keep that resume up-to-date... Just in case. ;)


Excellent post on how to

Excellent post on how to build an (ITSM) strategy. Good comment from Katie too.

Unfortunately, the problem normally comes when executing the strategy, checking it and react accordingly. The BSC is good. Let me add also the PDCA (Deming's circle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PDCA ) which are required also when executing the strategy.

A strategy is nothing by itself, but a long path to our success! :-)


An ITSM Strategy for the IT - not only I&O

First of all I think ITSM is not an issue for an I&O organisation - but the whole IT organisation. ITSM as defined maybe in ITIL V1 was focused on infrastructure management, but already V2 and very obviously V3 positions ITSM as a core IT issue. And regardless if an IT organisation is an outsourcing company or an internal IT service provider -it's the old questions we have to ask:
Who is our customer?
What services he requires?
I now, there is a heavy book written (ITIL Service Strategy) with hundreds of pages. But the initial questions are: WHO and WHAT?
And if I'm now thinking about answers, I'm on my way to write my ITSM strategy:
- I'm an internal service provider:
--- Are we responsible for all IT services in our enterprise? Are there other IT organisations (in-/external) I need to cooperate?
--- Who is responsible for the IT services in the business departments? Who is responsible in IT for service design and delivery? Or in short: What is our ITSM governance model?
--- ...
- I'm an IT outsourcing service provider:
--- Where do I operate: local, national, regional, international?
--- Which industries are in focus: manufacturing, retail, health, ...?
--- ...
As mentioned above: Ask the "old questions", WHO and WHAT, go into the details, and - most important - write down the answers. The result you get is the core of your ITSM strategy.


Deliberately being different


I was at an event recently, where the speaker asked, "How many of you have a plan for your service desk over the next 12 months ?"; let's just say not everyone stuck their hand up.

The issue to my mind is that we’re all doing the same thing i.e. aligning all of our activity on a common set of ITIL practices. This is the antithesis of strategy. Strategy is fundamentally about “deliberately being different” (Michael Porter), creating differentiation between external providers and other 'competitors' , deciding between a cost driven or quality driven approach and understanding if you are committing to any high cost or difficult to reverse decisions.

The core question for me is "what am I going to do differently that creates a competitive advantage for my organisation?"



Stephen hi, another great

Stephen hi, another great thought provoking piece. I am always amazed at the amount of IT organizations that are still 'so internally focused' and 'detached from business value'. To support this.
Global ABC (Attitude, Beghavior, Culture) Surveys still reveal 'ITIL/ITSM best practices are the goal....not what you should achieve with them', 'IT thinks it doesn't need to understand the business to make a business case', 'Unable to sepecify and demonstrate the value the business NEEDs from ITSM'.
We have a long way to go.