The Top 10 IT Service Management Challenges For 2013 — But What Did You Achieve In 2012?

This time last year I wrote a blog entitled Top 10 IT Service Management Challenges For 2012: More Emphasis On The “Service” And The “Management,” which has racked up a healthy 10,000+ reads since. It spoke of three high-level challenges:

  1. Increased business scrutiny: the need for IT cost transparency and business-value demonstration.
  2. Increased business (and customer) expectations: around IT agility, availability, “personal hardware,” and support and customer service.
  3. Increased business and IT complexity: particularly cloud, mobility, and compliance.

We are another year older, but are we another year wiser?

What have you done to improve your IT service delivery and better meet business needs? I deliberately chose to use the phrase “IT service delivery” over “IT service management” (or “ITSM”), as one of my many epiphanies of 2012 is that ITSM seems to make many of us focus on the wrong things. A good example being that ITIL, the ITSM best practice framework, adoption continues to be overly focused on the mechanics of “best practice” processes such as incident and change management. Or when we talk of ITSM maturity, it’s about the number of ITIL-espoused processes that an organization operates. So an organization that is doing four processes really well is not as mature as one that is doing ten poorly. And stepping back further, does this ITSM-process-based view of maturity really help the parent business? I’m not so convinced. Surely looking at how we are able to support and adapt to changing business needs must be a better measure?

The analyst’s view of 2012

Forrester clients continued to ask me lots questions via our client inquiry process, but I’ve seen a few changes in what they are asking about:

  • ITSM tool inquiries are more popular than ever – people continue to blame their existing ITSM tools for a multitude of sins wherever possible. And you also can’t escape that these inquiries are virtually all related to SaaS (even if the client eventually chooses to go with an on-premise tool).
  • ITSM KPIs and benchmarks are still in high demand, but I continue to see a heavy bias towards operational performance (“what we do”) rather than “what we achieve” in IT.
  • IT asset management (particularly software asset management) has seen strong growth in the latter half of 2012 driven by a need to reduce costs. Interestingly there are now more questions about how to get started than about the differences between different ITAM or SAM tools.
  • Service catalog rose from the ashes of failed service catalog technology projects,  but I continued to see issues with organizations not knowing what their services are or what they actually wanted to accomplish with their service catalog initiative beyond buying a tool.

But there was also a new breed of inquiry, one that is slowly emerging from the large shadow cast by the enormity of an organization’s IT infrastructure. These are inquiries related to understanding what IT achieves rather than what it does, and they come in many forms:

  • “How can we better serve our customers?”
  • “How can we demonstrate the value we (in IT) deliver?”
  • “How do we evolve into an IT organization that’s fit for 2017 and the changing business needs and expectations?”
  • “How do we improve IT support based on actual business needs?”

So there is an emerging change in “IT people mindsets.” But don’t get me wrong; there are still many more minds to change (including those of the people that fund IT), and I can’t help but comment on the fact that I see geographical differences similar to what we have traditionally seen with ITIL adoption. Importantly though I am starting to speak with more people who see IT (and ITSM) as the means to an end rather than the end itself.

And so to the Top 10 ITSM challenges for 2013 …

… and yes I know I have continued to use “ITSM” here but it is a necessary evil if I want people to read this blog – phrases like “IT service delivery” just don’t sell virtual copy (yet).

  1. IT cost transparency. Something has still got to give in terms of what IT costs — IT is and will continue to be a sizable expense to the business. The IT organization is spending the business’ money, and so the business wants to know whether it is being spent wisely (and who can blame them). How many IT shops know if they are investing the business’ money wisely outside of projects?
  2. Value demonstration. Is IT still just a cost center or has your IT organization been able to translate IT investment into demonstrable business success? I still rather somewhat cheekily say that “if we could demonstrate the business value derived from IT, surely we would be being asked to spend more rather than having to respond to corporately mandated, quick fix, end-of-year budget cuts.”
  3. Agility. The speed of business change continues to dictate a rapid response from IT that many struggle with — as a simple example, yesterday my nephew told me of his five-week wait for a laptop at the bank he recently joined. Not only is it speed and flexibility, it is also “agility of mind.” A change in I&O mindset that asks “why not?” rather than “why?”
  4. Availability. Nothing new here (again). The business needs high quality, highly available IT (or business) services. The difference is in business expectations and available alternatives. For a number of reasons, the business continues to be less forgiving of IT failure and, again, who can blame them.
  5. “Personal hardware.”  End user devices will continue to be a big challenge for IT in 2013. Whether it is the fact that our “internal customers” are unhappy with their “outdated” corporate laptops or the fact that they can’t have corporate iPads or the whole “can of worms” that is BYOD (bring your own device), personal productivity hardware will again be a battleground of business discontent in 2013.
  6. Support and customer service. For me, support is one thing and customer service is another; ideally IT delivers both. That it is ultimately about supporting the consumption of IT services by people rather than just supporting the technology that delivers the IT services. And that service-centricity by frontline IT staff is not enough; it needs to be all IT staff. The same is true for customer-centricity.
  7. Cloud. As cloud adoption continues, are we looking at cloud as a technical or business solution, or both? Do we know enough about the status quo to make informed decisions about moving IT services to the cloud? Probably not; yet for many, cloud is the answer. But I still can’t help think that we haven’t really taken the time to fully understand the question.
  8. Mobility. BYOD comes into play here again, but I think that a bigger issue is at hand — that we are still technology-centric. We all hear talk about MDM (mobile device management) as “THE big issue.” IMO, however, this is old-skool-IT with the device a red herring and of little interest to the customer (unless IT is providing outdated devices). Your customers want (or at least we hope that they continue to want) to access your services any which way they can and need to. Mobility is about people.
  9. Compliance. Whether it’s internal or external regulatory compliance (or governance), most of the above will potentially have a negative knock on to compliance whether it be SOX, software compliance, or meeting internal requirements for “transparency and robustness.” With everything going on elsewhere, it is easy for me to imagine degradation in internal control, not reacting to new risks as a minimum.

The observant amongst you will have spotted that I’ve only mentioned nine challenges in the preamble and subsequent list (and that this is in part a poor cut-and-paste job from my 2012 blog), so what’s the tenth? Survival. All of the above challenges need to be addressed (as pieces in a larger jigsaw) and the failure to address the demands and issues across the full spectrum of challenges will put the internal IT organization at risk of extinction. I’m not talking about “the death of the internal IT organization” here, but rather that some parent organizations will decide that there are now better ways to source, manage, and deliver IT services having suffered for too long at the hands of a potentially less than business-focused internal IT organization.

Final thoughts

It pains me that I felt compelled to reuse last year’s ITSM challenges blog, but what else could I do? What have I seen that allows me to drop one or more of these challenges and replace them with new ones? Not enough unfortunately.

Last year I deliberately excluded “social” from my list. I’ve done the same for 2013, as I think trying to “do social” is like where we were in 2000 when we tried to “do knowledge management.” IMO social is important, but only in the context of everything else that we are doing to improve service delivery, such as improving collaboration within teams and across (or outside of) the organization, facilitating self-help and self-service (if helping to meet a corporate objective or customer needs), and adapting to our customers’ preferred interaction methods. I guess the cliché here would be “outcome-based social.”

And don’t start me on gamification. I love the principle, but how many service desks in particular will be gamified in 2013 without sight of the customer and improved business outcomes? Or will we allow the “wrong sort of person” to continue to fail at the customer interface, but at least they are earning badges while they do it. I await the IT scorecard that includes a “number of badges earned” metric.

Finally, my Christmas gift to you — sources of great ITSM (and IT) insight and information:

Have a happy holiday (he says in a politically correct manner), and please let me know what you hope will change in 2013. “Bah humbug” comments are also appreciated.

You might also be interested in:


ITSM and Two Level of IT Performance

Hi, Stephen, enjoy your series of ITSM, ITIL blogs, and "gift" link as well, as I also participate many IT leadership/management brainstorming, most of IT organizations seems still over focus on transaction-based IT to serve internal users, without enough focus on IT strategic value, how to improve business growth, or we may say, transformational IT is needed to cultivate business's digital capability and enforce organizational maturity:

Either service framework or best practice, IT need laser focus on business goal and manage result via an effective balanced scoreboard. thanks.

Your list really does go to 11 a la Spinal Tap!

Fully agree with your comment above that socialIT done right must be in context of outcome based objectives such as improving collaboration across teams to make more effective and accurate changes, more quickly triage incidents, work down the problem backlog, etc. and, ultimately, impact not just traditional IT metrics but business performance through improved agility and reduced business risk from IT service interruptions.

That said, I think one can make the compelling case that "doing social right" is going to be a significant challenge for many in 2013. With ITSM vendors adding twitter and RSS feeds to their products, there is a real risk of folks going for a "quick win" and not thinking through the implications of ungoverned social broadcasting. And these types of bolt-on social capabilities aren't really focused on in-context collaboration, which is where the BIG value in SocialIT comes from and what folks should be working toward.

Agility or Resilience?


Thanks for calling out my coreITSM blog, where I've also just posted my ITSM predictions for 2013.

I'm in broad agreement with your list, it chimes with what we are seeing as a supplier.

I have a slightly different take around agility. The issue is less about speed of business change and more about degree of business change. What I'm seeing is organisations getting increasingly nervous about their long term ability to match business need with patchwork solutions, and in particular to cope with significant business changes, such as a de-merger, disinvestment or entry to a new market.

If I could add an extra challenge it would be getting the best out of 3rd party suppliers in difficult economic times.

Hi Stephen, is is always good

Hi Stephen, is is always good to read your IT Service delivery logs. I certainly recognize many of your observations. I'd like to add a higher level take on some of this. Many CIOs I speak with recignize these and state that they NEED to undergo a Transformation in IT to realize this new position - this represents a significant organizational change and shift in culture for the IT organization. Secondly many IT management teams are struggling to cope with this type of transformation - Leadership skills are a MUST in 2013 if IT orgs are to survive. What I also see happening and miss slightly in your blog is Business Relationship management. Why should I name this? I see many IT organizations struggling also partly due to the maturity within the business to govern IT and to have effective decision making and investment mechanisms. I belive IT organizations also have a critical role to play in becoming a trusted advisor and partner to their own business. BRM is an instrument that can help. This is the year of IT developing credibility and trust within the business if they want to survive, and a year of transformation. cheers. Paul

If I promise to (or continue not to) blog....


Can I beg an addition given the emerging trends that smack of customer awareness - "How do I think and act more 'outside-in'?"

I'm stunned that the ITSM list of challenges does not start and end with the answering of the four key questions I table here at my blog (missing from your list!) as I gently introduce outside-in to folks.

At the risk of repeating myself IMHO 'ITSM' should be read as service management concepts and methods applied to the challenges of IT. If only folks would start there, there is a chance. Since the original service management conjured up by the product managers of old on the business side, was created to address the emergence of customers.... that was as far back as late 1970s!

The IT part should mean 'invisible technology' - implying ITSMers must learn how to help IT organizations become invisible as they innovate and enable customer success... or am I smoking something again...?

Lack of Vision is a Dangerous Thing

My biggest observation of this year is a somewhat universal "lack of vision" for service management. I see more and more organizations spending boatloads of money trying to implement bits and pieces of process (and/ technology for that matter" if we look at cloud, etc) without having a consistent vision or a realistic vision of where they want to be at the end of the day. Some of this comes from an inconsistent understanding of what service delivery truly means.

Present Company Excepted of Course.... :-)


So, so true... but there are visions out there - I have been having one for years (LOL) - now seriously - as I hope Stephen will support - I have a very clear vision for service management based upon its original intent when pioneered by product marketers and managers of the 1970s.

The problem here it seems is that ITSM did not know of that vision, or perhaps did not respect it enough, or decided to ignore it regardless in preference of their own.

I define the term ITSM as service management concepts and methods applied to the challenges of IT. I explain the origins of service management, its complete customer centricity - that was why it was first developed - to address the emerging influence and dominance of consumers in a service society - and how it can be universally applied across any service industry and any service business.

The essence of all this is in my mega book - its a doorstop at 600 pages - Guide to Universal Service Management Body of Knowledge (USMBOK) - that Stephen occasionally cites....

I never metaframework I didn't like

Perhaps we need a Periodic Table of Frameworks.

Need for "The Society"

Hi Ron - thats a good one. A periodic table of elements you need to make service management a reality? The key concepts and terms? Much of what I see today looks like the old alchemy game of trying to find a way to turn non-precious metals into gold.

If i recall correctly, way back in the 1400s the powers of be created 'societies' to review and control knowledge so they remained top of the decision tree. I know this has happened in part in the past within the ITSM community and might ask whomever is acting as the tree-topper today to help the community (re)define ITSM.

This time - thinking of its true intent, and of course the customer.

I was nmore thinking of...

Ian - I was thinking more along the lines of having a periodic table of the frameworks to show their specific "atomic weights" and whether, in combination with other frameworks, we should expect happy bonding or an exothermic reaction.

ITSM Wikipedia

Hi Stephen

I enjoyed the post. I was just wondering if you would consider editing the Wikipedia page for ITSM:

All the best

Stephen, The ultimate


The ultimate objective of implementing ITSM best practices is not only to improve the maturity of the IT organization but rather to position IT to derive business value-add information as a contributor to the business from a support and growth perspectives. We tend to lose sight of the primary objective of improving IT which ultimately is to close the geographical differences with management. IT leadership is paramount in bridging the gap with the business, using ITSM as one of the primary tools.

With respect - the ultimate objective of ITSM is...


With respect, ITSM best practices are better referenced, and adapted into existing practices, rather than ‘implemented’. The use of the term implement has become overused and is for the most part one of the reasons why ‘ITSM projects’ fail.

You don't need a project. ITSM is a reminder for those IT organizations performance managed as a service provider, they need to understand the basis for customer satisfaction and as you indicate delivering value. This is really simple. The business has to use IT in today's technologically driven business world, and they expect it to help accelerate the achievement of the results (outcomes) they desire.

A bonus, is if they can use IT as ‘invisible technology’, where there is no perceptible interference caused by technology. In fact it makes everything a whole lot easier!

It's the responsibility of IT management to ‘get with the program’ and understand who they serve, and how they should serve the, and the basis for IT being a valuable contributor to business success.

ITSM is drawn from the original product management thinking of the 1970s that we live in a service society. It should actually be read as service management concepts and methods applied to the challenges of an IT organization.

I urge everyone to rediscover the original service management as pioneered by product marketing/managers in the business, and how this has always spoken about outcomes, the customer experience using a service, and the delivery and support ‘best practices’ the help any service business, or service provider, including an IT organization, play a vital role in the service society.

We need to get off this loose lips talk that implies ITSM is some form of magic pixie dust, or tool, or set of complete best practices you can just drop in, implement. It's not. The IT definition of ITSM when compared with the business definition of service management, is incomplete.

Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to vent!