IT organizations have long used IT service management (ITSM) systems and the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) framework to improve service quality by streamlining, standardizing and automating processes. Some companies are looking to achieve similar gains by expanding their use of ITSM to other lines of business. Fortunately, ITSM vendors are making this easier to do by tweaking their software to make it more modular and configurable.
Dave Wright, chief strategy officer for ITSM provider ServiceNow, said he spends much of his time in departments other than IT when visiting clients and prospective clients. More than 70 percent of the company's customers have built custom applications on the ServiceNow ITSM platform, applications used by departments like human resources (HR), marketing, legal and facilities management.
John Prestridge, VP of Marketing and Products for ITSM provider Sunview Software, said he recently received a PowerPoint presentation that showed how a client had used its ITSM system to built eight different business processes to serve different areas of the company.
ITSM a System of Record
ITSM is especially useful for processes that span different business functions, such as employee onboarding, said Wright, noting that the addition of a new employee involves not just HR but IT (for providing a laptop and other technology tools) and facilities management (for filling other workspace needs). ITSM adds transparency and accountability to processes that would benefit from them – and that is almost any process that involves assigning work and following up on it, he said.
"It helps you determine who does what and how work is transferred if someone goes on leave. It creates a system of record for processes that may have taken place largely through email before," he said.
ITSM also helps business functions create a baseline for service performance and track improvements. "To be able to prove and demonstrate you are doing things more efficiently or just to better understand what people are doing is a big benefit," Wright said.
ServiceNow client Vitamix, an Ohio-based manufacturer of high-performance blending equipment, uses its ITSM system in several areas, including HR. Heather Brizzi, Vitamix's IT manager, said the company's HR system had not been connected to the rest of its systems, so it lacked a "true system of record." Previously it used Microsoft's InfoPath (which Microsoft announced it was discontinuing earlier this year) and "missed a lot of information," which made it difficult for IT and other areas to fulfill service requests associated with onboarding, offboarding and other HR processes.
Now that it is using IT service management, Vitamix's HR department has streamlined its routine processes, enabling it to "focus on the deeper dive stuff that it did not have time for before" without hiring additional staff or bringing in contractors, Brizzi said.
Speaking the Same Service Language
David Ratcliffe, president of Pink Elephant, a firm that provides ITSM training and consulting services, said using IT service management throughout a company, not just in IT, improves communication between departments by applying the same terminology to service principles.
"You gain efficiencies around better communication and eliminating miscommunication," he said. "IT has suffered from an elitist ivory tower reputation, one that was somewhat self-inflicted. We've been trying to break that down for years and get IT to think of themselves as business people like everyone else. They can relate better to coworkers in other departments if they all speak the same language."
"IT tends to look at things with an IT lens, but we can't do that anymore," Brizzi agreed. "Everything comes with technology and technology enables everything. We must start building partnerships so we are enabling something that is not an IT process but a business process that is enabled by technology."
Leveraging ITSM presents the IT organization with "a great opportunity to step outside of its comfort zone and partner with the business," Prestridge said. "IT must become much more of a facilitator of innovation rather than an owner or controller of innovation."
Every business is looking for ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs and "ITSM fits in well with that," he said, because it does not require heavyweight development. ITSM can also help align business functions, largely by synchronizing cross-functional business processes "so everybody knows what is needed and when."
"ITSM allows you to build and deliver process-based applications to different lines of business without having to think about how to build business process automation, SLAs and all that kind of stuff. They are already built into the platform," Prestridge said. "It's more of a configuration than a development effort."
When introducing ITSM, it is advisable not to overplay the IT connection and to present it in "terms people can understand," suggested Wright. "Some people may worry that because it is IT, it is going to be too rigorous, too locked down. It's important to explain you can build your processes as complex or as light as you need them to be."
It's smart to configure the system so business units can modify their processes without IT intervention, Wright added, though IT can use its expertise to help business units define their services, create the look and feel of their user experiences and determine appropriate service levels and metrics. If done successfully, he said, "IT becomes the orchestrator of how business communicates between all different departments."
Many ServiceNow clients experience a "cascade process," in which business units express interest in ITSM after seeing it used successfully elsewhere, Wright said.
This was the case at Vitamix, where IT first rolled out the tool to facilities management to automate workflows associated with such tasks as scheduling employee moves and managing orders for housekeeping and maintenance teams. It then worked with HR to create a self-service portal for onboarding and other processes and a knowledge base to quickly bring new employees up to speed on such tasks as reserving conference rooms and requesting time off.
IT extended the service catalog to Operations Maintenance to manage and automate maintenance incidents and requests across its manufacturing facilities and helped create analytics reports that track performance down to individual manufacturing lines, devices and stations. It also built an area within the service catalog to help Vitamix's contact center employees more easily access scripts, user manuals and other information and share customer feedback with the Digital Marketing department.
The latest improvement, Brizzi said, involved integrating the company's Cisco telephony systems with its ServiceNow ITSM system so IT employees can view information for internal customers when a call comes in to the service desk. "We are starting to look at the same technology for our contact center, so for example, an agent could pull up warranty information from the knowledge base if a user had selected warranty from a menu of options," she said.
One key to successfully using ITSM for non-IT functions is to "help people understand how to interpret ITIL and make it fit for purpose," Ratcliffe said. "What is documented in ITIL books is almost like a using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. You have to make it relevant and useful, not bureaucratic and over the top. You want to make sure you are not just hitting people over the head with a book and saying 'This is what we should all be doing.'"
Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.