Understanding Service Management
Many of the concepts that are adopted in service management have their origins in other industries (for example, the building industry, emergency response, and others). Service management is not, in and of itself, a concept born in information technology (IT). All of us, in our daily lives, are surrounded by service management applications all the time. Understanding this perspective helps set the stage for what it means to be a service provider.
Through a play-on-words approach, you will understand what aspects make up the ingredients to construct and maintain a service management capability. We will explain why non-IT resources (for example, the director of marketing, administrative assistants, auditors, and others) can understand and be successful with service management education and certification, at least at a foundation level. Many, after attending education, have said “This just seems like common sense!”
In this chapter, we’re going to cover the following main topics:
- The origins of many service management aspects
- Common service management examples and wordplay for service management
- Service management can improve life personally and professionally
- Common sense aspects of service management
Delving into the origins of many service management aspects
Compared to other industries (such as manufacturing, building, healthcare, and so on), where the date of origin isn’t known, most believe that IT emerged in or around 1965. Common concepts such as capacity management and incident management did not originate in IT. For instance, capacity management has its origin in the building industry, while incident management is largely accepted to have originated in the field of emergency response (that is, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and so on). As you may be aware, the role of incident commander has proven useful in many IT organizations. The manufacturing industry has had a significant influence on IT, especially when you recognize the many quality improvement methodologies (for example, Six Sigma, Lean, and Kaizen), where those concepts that have proven useful on the manufacturing floor, such as value stream mapping and Gemba walks, have been brought into the IT field.
Many baby boomers, those born between 1946 to 1964, who sought careers in what we call IT today, started in the mainframe arena. The mainframe brought standards and structure to how IT was implemented and maintained. Information Systems Management Architecture (ISMA), which originated in the early ‘80s and was attributed to IBM (a highly recognizable name in the mainframe arena), largely spoke to those standards and structure. In fact, at the 2004 annual service management conference, sponsored by the US chapter of the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), held in Long Beach, CA, there was an informal gathering that included many of the original IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) authors. They spoke to the influence of ISMA on the development of the ITIL framework. Though the recognized term today is just service management, its origins date back to the mid-1980s. All these decades later, the concept of service management has evolved, and many organizations still depend on it to gain a broad perspective on how best to be a provider of IT services. Also, as the decades have passed, more generations have entered the workforce (for example, Gen-X, Millennials, Gen-Z, and soon, Gen-Alpha). The evolution of service management has had to reflect the makeup of the workforce as these generations want (need) to be able to see themselves in the framework.
It is important to recognize the concept of ITIL as a framework for managing services versus a standard, methodology, or movement. The very mention of a framework implies that there is more than one way to apply it and experience success, which also means there is more than one way to apply it and experience failure. This statement alone should give us all pause, presuming success is desired. The origins of formal service management for IT date back decades. The first formal standard for IT service management, BSi15000, was developed by the British Standards Institution in approximately 2000. The ISO/IEC 20000 standard for service management emerged in 2005. Many are familiar with a framework for IT service management, called ITIL, which emerged years before the release of BSI15000. The real point is that service management, and its many respected authors along the way, continued to evolve as the newly developed solutions and trends in IT emerged. It is fair to say that sometimes, these standards, frameworks, methods, and movements trail behind emerging technologies and trends.
Collating common service management examples and understanding wordplay
All service providers implement and manage services. Perhaps the most generally accepted service provider example is any restaurant. As educators and consultants in the service management discipline, it is common, with a bit of wordplay, to challenge customers to reverse the words service management to managing services, and then ask what is involved in doing that. It doesn’t take long to realize the emergence of the following words: customers, demand, specialized resources, suppliers, point of sale, menus, financial capital, success factors, methods, and organizational culture.
In truth, an IT service provider deals with the same scenarios, but the names may be slightly different (for example, service catalog instead of a menu, IT services instead of meals, and process instead of work methods) or the same (for example, customers, suppliers, demand, and so on). Besides restaurants and IT service providers, other examples of service providers include quick oil change providers, car washes, car dealership service departments, and more. Note that for any of these examples, whether the company itself is a service provider, the company has a service provider within it, or both, the challenge is the same – to be as efficient and effective as possible.
Given the many different types of service providers that are encountered across multiple industries and countries, what has been the perception of the quality of service received? It doesn’t take long to recognize the quality of a given service management experience. When asking any group what constitutes a quality experience from a service provider, expect the response to be varied. Take a restaurant, for example. Some may say it was the quality of the food, or that it was affordable, or timely, or it helped to foster a great conversation within the group. All of these different responses represent what the participant (that is, the stakeholder) valued in their respective experience with the service provider. It is important, as a service provider, to recognize that different stakeholders may have different perspectives on what they value in their interaction with the service. What these stakeholders valued with the service largely comes down to what they were intending to accomplish (that is, outcomes), which, in the case of the restaurant service provider, may have been as simple as a great meal experience.
Service providers must remember two very key aspects of providing services:
- Stakeholder preferences can change over time
- Different stakeholders have differing perspectives, even against the same service offerings (for example, two customers order the same meal, but for different reasons, such as cost, dietary restrictions, and so on)
In keeping with the restaurant service provider example, there could be multiple franchises with the same name, yet the same stakeholder going to two different franchises could have a different experience with the service, even though the same meal was ordered at both locations. For the same service, the experience can be different! There are varying reasons for this, including differing skills and competencies across the staff, differing suppliers for the meal ingredients, differing cultures based on the location, and more. Even in a so-called cookie-cutter arrangement with the service provider, there can be a distinct experience for the customer (one type of stakeholder). With differing experiences over time with service providers, it doesn’t take long to recognize what constitutes a great service management experience from one that is not so great, even from the same service provider.
When considering preferences, service providers should recognize that those customer preferences may change over time – that is, just because the service meets the needs of stakeholders today does not mean the same level of satisfaction will be in place tomorrow. As important as it is to continue to provide an expected level of service, it is also critical to consider how that same service experience might be improved. With this in mind, it is always important to maintain a stance that services can always be improved.
In that same restaurant service provider example, note the frequency at which a different representative of the provider (someone other than the server) checks in near the end of the meal experience to understand what the customer experience has been so far. These providers recognize the need to do a final check with that customer before they leave the meal experience. Why does this happen? It is an opportunity for the provider to identify what the customer enjoyed, what could be improved, or even present a last chance to fix something (if this is necessary). Most understand that there can be an unsatisfactory experience with the service, yet the customer is still willing to engage with the service provider going forward. This is especially true if that customer has had multiple prior satisfactory experiences with the service provider. Traits such as empathy and emotional intelligence help here, as well as knowledge of that customer and their preferences. So, skills such as relationship management help here. Though a negative experience with a first-time customer can have an impact on whether they return to that same restaurant service provider in the future, the best service providers still attempt to make things right, presenting a chance that the customer will return for a repeat visit. In these situations, that restaurant service provider might offer a discount on the service, a gift card for a return visit, or take a personal approach with a senior member of the service provider (for example, the owner, on-site manager, and so on).
Improving your personal and professional life with service management
For years, it has been maintained that an IT service provider with as few as 20 people can benefit from adopting a formal service management capability. With the availability of automation, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and deep learning, this statement suggests that how services are delivered and the interaction between the service provider and service consumer has become more significant to stakeholder satisfaction.
It was mentioned earlier that there are many generations in the workforce (whether Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials, or Gen-Z), making culture a key consideration for any initiative. Creating and maintaining a formal service management practice, when done well, brings long-term predictability and innovation to any organization, making it a key program. The combination of culture and the service management program creates the best opportunity for long-term viability while using our human resources optimally. For instance, no matter the generation, there needs to be integration across, and common alignment with, the organization’s mission, goals, objectives, and values. Gone should be the days of being awakened in the middle of the night by a database error, while still having to be onsite at the start of business. Gone are the days of the requirements changing because a new functionality went live, resulting in new necessities. Gone are the days of putting changes in over the weekend and having service outages on Monday morning. If these examples are, indeed, gone, then the human resources individuals that design, develop, transition, support, and improve services are more likely to thrive in their skills at work and their lives at home. Every generation has a home in this scenario as each can adopt and adapt to their differing needs. These needs include more time with family, improved work/life balance, diverse circumstances, skill specialization, and innovation.
Identifying common sense aspects of service management
In the delivery of service management education, which primarily focused on IT resources, it has long been obvious that the concepts discussed do not approach rocket science complexity. Many may come to the education event thinking that it will be an IT class. That’s a natural inference from the name ITSM.
In actuality, this education, at a foundational level, focuses on what it takes to be a valued service provider. Although the education event is largely attended by IT resources, it is not unusual to see participation by resources from human resources, sales, marketing, finance, administration, and even customer-vendor relationships. Many of these non-IT-specific resources refer to the phrase “This seems like common sense.” Presumably, effectively using analogies (for example, the restaurant as a service provider) helps in driving understanding of the concepts. While helping the resources visualize a scenario outside of their own lives with the help of analogies, it also makes sense to transition to a situation where the resource connects these analogies naturally to their work, such as an actual business process (for example, close a sales order, procure to pay, onboard a new employee, and so on).
A significant aspect of education on formal service management – that is, why participants attend – is the exposure to best practices. In years past, this education included a focus on the difference between best practice and good practice, with the real goal being the latter. A best practice represents leveraging what other service providers have done to drive efficiency and effectiveness in provisioning IT services. Good practice, on the other hand, represents tailoring those concepts to your organization’s culture and needs. This is where common sense must prevail. An example is a healthcare organization with multiple hospitals that has adopted service management concepts in the areas of service desk and incident management. The service desk is staffed with healthcare-related resources, who bring knowledge of healthcare-related disciplines (such as nursing, radiology, and others). The common-sense aspect of this is the service desk agent’s ability to speak the same language as the users most likely to contact them (for example, a hospital nursing station). At the same time, a manufacturing organization is not likely to staff its service desk with healthcare-related competencies. Common sense must prevail!
Once service management education has been attained, participants can judge their organization’s current service management capabilities against the learned criteria. Whether a formal practice or not, all service providers practice service management. It is a matter of what level of maturity they are at, contrasted and compared with where the business of the larger company is going. Is the IT organization (service provider) optimally positioned to support that vision? Is the IT organization exercising an improvement culture, demonstrating an ability to increase service delivery capabilities? Can IT map the services it delivers to business outcomes and values? These questions represent common sense aspects of being a valued service provider.
The real work begins once formal service management education has been completed. The current question then becomes “What should the participant do differently now?” Though not rocket science concepts, the sheer number of concepts is comprehensive and begs a practical (short-term set of actions – low-hanging fruit) and pragmatic (long-term character attribute – think program) approach.
Service management, no matter the level of formality, is in play at all times and is all around us in many different scenarios. It is incumbent upon service providers to maintain this capability, especially for those that have formalized their practice. That said, a service provider’s market consists of stakeholders that are key to the success of a formal service management capability. Formal service management is not specific to IT. In fact, and as mentioned, many of its included concepts originate from other industries. Culture also plays a key role in the success of managing services. Once human resources get entrenched in formal service management situations across an ecosystem of service providers, it becomes contagious, in that the quality of the service being delivered is judged. Applying common sense concepts from formal service management can have a significant impact on work/life balance.
In the coming chapters, we will build on these concepts of service management, including related frameworks/standards/methods, systems thinking, and design thinking. Now that your curiosity has been piqued by the general idea of service management, let’s explore what is meant by formalizing these concepts from an IT service management perspective, often referred to as ITSM.