IT Service: a badly shared notion (Part 2)

By Laurent Duenas, January 12th 2013 


 Difficulty in identifying IT Services


The notion of Service is badly shared in IT organizations, because it is not as easily identifiable as technical objects 

The first difficulty in identifying a Service comes from the fact that it does not exist as a physical or logical object. Service is immaterial. It cannot be seen or detected as such, like the objects composing it, but only partially through them. No wonder that in organizations operating in silos, it is so difficult to share such a transverse notion as IT Service. Only a man-made description makes it possible to completely reconstitute the various contributions of components in an IT Service. This is the main objective of CMDB, which greatly helps materializing relations between components and IT Service.

What is the right approach to identify IT Service? Reminder of the definition of Service in ITIL V3:

"A Service is a way of bringing value to customers, by helping them getting the results they wish, but without incurring certain costs and risks"

This sole definition does not allow to identify them. By extending this definition to other V3 vocabulary, the notion of Service is the sum of resources and aptitudes a Service supplier deploys towards a customer to bring an added value contributing to the supply of his business deliverables. To be clear, Service is the set of all IT resources supporting the supply of a customer business outcome. It is part of a customer Production tool, just like a machine tool.


Applications are only the result of Software design and maintenance teams visions of applicative objects. They do not systematically correspond to IT Service

Even if applications reflect a certain truth, they are only representations specific to Software design teams and do not automatically represent the customer's vision. Above all, an application gathers several applicative objects whose goal is to supply functionalities. Of course, this is close to a business truth, but also the result of technological and architectural choices. So, it is not rare for an application to cover several IT services (example: a portal) or only contribute to them besides other applications (example: an « order taking » Service can rely on several applications, each one taking care of the “order entry”, the “order valuation”, the “shipping cost”, etc.)


Moreover, an application only includes applicative components whereas IT Service includes all infrastructure components which can host the application, access to it, store applicative data, etc… This is called « end to end » vision. Clearly, applicative borders are not the same as those of the IT Service.


You also have to make a difference between Technical Service and IT Service, the one describing the components of the other, in a structured way

IT stakeholders who manage databases, networks, datacenters, also have the feeling of managing services, which is the case. They are tempted to list their offers concerning hosting, security, database management, connections, etc. What they offer is called Technical Services and they have their place in a Technical Service Catalog. Must it be shown to IT customers? In principle no, because it is not what the customer buys. The latter buys an end-to-end IT Service. We actually have 2 different catalog levels, one describing the components of the other, in a structured way. In ITIL they are called Service Catalog (IT or business) and Technical Service Catalog.


Beware of the temptation of using the expression « Business Services » to refer to Services and Technical Services to refer to « IT Service », both expressions I have heard on many occasions. It is important to remove any doubt from this vocabulary. Historically, ITIL has always stressed that IT Services (the final deliverable) were close to business objectives, to the point that IT Services were sometimes called Business Services. In ITIL V2, we find this notion in the book « Business Perspective» (2003), and then in the first version of ITIL 3 (2007). But let's make it clear, an IT Service Provider does not produce Business Services. Only Business Units do. An IT Department (and generally any IT Service Provider as its external IT suppliers) only delivers IT Services. That's its job. Beyond a purely technical management of resources (to which IT Department customers were used to), you may still consider IT Services as deliverables with a business purpose.


In order to get further reassured about the coherence between the IT Service vision presented here and Service Management objectives, you just need to read process names to understand to which point the IT Service is the final deliverable delivered to the customer and gets everybody's attention: Service Continuity Management, Service Financial Management, Service Capacity Management, Service Availability Management, Service Assets and Configurations Management, etc. Indeed, this is Service we talk about from end-to-end!


To be accurate, let's note that applications are “Applicative Technical Services” (to differentiate them from “Infrastructure Technical Services”). Seen from Service Management, Applications are actually at the same level as Hosting or Storage Services.


The ambiguity is that some Technical Services are directly introduced to users as IT Services

Some Technical Services are directly introduced to users because they complement IT Services. You find there all Technical Services that can be used independently from business applications or that are not specifically attached to one of them. For example, you find Mobility Services enabling mobile users to access IT Services, Business Intelligence Services to analyze applicative data. You find individual Services such as personal data storage. These Technical Services are basically presented in the IT Service Catalog to make the presentation of the offer easier. Just as it would be the case for a Core offer with options.


The workstation is a specific case: originally considered as an infrastructure component allowing to access the IT system, and therefore a Technical Service. But why is it systematically presented in IT Departments Service Catalog? Actually, this is essential. Even in a mature organization which would distinguish the IT Service Catalog from the Request Fulfillment portal, which lists the equipment available. IT Department must provide its customers with a user segmentation policy. Should it use criteria based on practical use, fairly independently from users business (standard administrative users, mobile users, users requiring capacity, users in industrial setting, etc.)? Should it use criteria specific to jobs (traveling sales representative, sales manager, financial advisor, etc.)? It should at least present the Data processing Service, as the latter is often presented in the « workstation » section.


But in spite of all these reasons, we should not lose sight of the main objective of the Service Catalog, i.e. the presentation of the IT Department offer. IT Services, also called “Core offer”, remain the main purpose of the IT Service Provider. In ITIL V3, these Technical Services, or options, which complement the Core offer, are identified under the terms “Supporting”, “Enabling”, or “Enhancing Services”.


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