David Ratcliffe has been evangelizing the benefits of IT Service Management for nearly two decades. And so far, most IT administrators may have heard of the terminology, but they haven’t really grasped how it could benefit them and their companies.
Ratcliffe, the president of Pink Elephant Inc., an IT training, consulting and conference firm based in Toronto, has been involved with IT nearly 30 years — 12 years working in IT shops and 16 years espousing the benefits of a service management philosophy. He recently spoke at the 2nd Annual International IT Service Management Summit presented in Boston by the IT Service Management Forum, an international industry consortium dedicated to managing the cost and quality of IT service management.
IT service management is a sort of philosophy to Ratcliffe. He seems to regularly chant a mantra of customer service and rings a warning bell of IT administrators who only focus on keeping boxes and applications running. It’s not about the box, he says. It’s not about the application or the operating system or the database. It’s about serving the customer and using IT to do it.
That is the philosophy/business religion that Ratcliffe, and a growing number of other IT professionals, is preaching.
IT service management is all about changing IT’s role in the company. And changing the way IT departments function and what administrators focus on will change the way the companies take care of their customers and grow their business. IT shouldn’t just be about keeping the network running. As if that wasn’t enough, it should be about making information, products and services available to customers.
It’s a shift in thinking — or rather philosophy.
And in an exclusive interview with Datamation, Ratcliffe talks about the dangers of not adopting service management ways, what administrators need to do to make the shift and how it won’t simply make for more work at the end of the day.
Q: Do most IT administrators understand the concepts around IT service management and are they implementing different practices?
Gradually. Some people have been brought up to speed and appreciate what it is. They’re organizing their IT efforts according to a service management focus. Other people are just getting switched on today. They’re realizing there’s more to work than reacting to crises around them. But I’d say the majority of IT professionals out there aren’t up to speed with this. They might have heard the terms but they’re not really tuned in to it.
There are still a lot of people in IT who are more tech focused and they’re not thinking about the real business opportunity that IT can provide. Stop thinking systems. Manage systems but realize that the real reason you’re there is to provide services. Don’t just look at the lights flashing, making sure everything is switched on and connected. Look at the end of the line, which is serving the customer. Servers may be running but if the customer is not getting a service, then the system isn’t really working.
Q: What changes should IT administrators be making?
They have to begin to understand what impact they have on the overall service. What else is involved in the overall service which they don’t think about because it’s not part of their responsibility? Where are the weak points? What isn’t working for the customer? Think about the service from the customer’s point of view. This argument about systems versus service is what you have to get across to people. It’s not rocket science.
Q: IT workers are already busy. They are largely dealing with heightened security and keeping older applications and hardware running while their budgets and staff are being whittled away. Isn’t this simply going to make more work for them?
They’re doing the best they can, but they’re just thinking about fighting fires. It’s all reactive. It’s called chaos. They don’t have time to think of the big picture and it’s tough enough to get their little area into order. Service management lets them see how their area works with other areas to deliver the service. When you work back from service you can see what has the greatest impact and what’s the greatest risk, so you can see what you have to have the most control over. People tend to work on hardware or operating systems or applications. If they’re not talking to each other, it all breaks down. This gives them a focus.
Q: How could this benefit the company?
It promotes a service culture. They should save money or at least know where their money is going. They know it goes to IT but they don’t know which parts of IT are the most expensive. When you start from a service point of view and look back, you’ll see which parts of IT should be getting the most money. Email is now one of the most mission critical services. Do companies manage it that way? Are they continually improving email? Do they have methods of managing email? What’s the real impact of what we’re doing?
Q: How could it benefit an IT administrator personally?
It gives them a true way to measure their work. You get bickering and complaining when nobody knows what the frame of reference is. Now we have meaningful measurements of how work is getting done. We want to focus on the most important things. When people know what their boss really needs from them, it reduces stress and gives them greater satisfaction because they’ll be able to see the results. Right now, people are doing the best they can juggling all these balls. Service management lets them say, “I’m putting down these balls because they’re not as important.” They can focus better.
Q: What are the dangers of not thinking about IT service management?
Outsourcing. The boss will say he doesn’t know if we’re doing a good job but someone else has knocked on his door and says they can measure what’s getting done and what needs to be done. People who are just managing the chaos are told that another company is coming in and promising more quality and better cost.