IT Service: a badly shared notion (Part 1)

By Laurent Duenas, January 12th 2013 


 Why is it so badly shared?

It is quite astonishing to find out that a whole organization does not share a harmonious vision of the service it delivers to its customers. 

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IT has specificities you do not see elsewhere. Considering this type of « shifts », sometimes IT can be seen as an industry lacking maturity. Just ask several people around you what they understand by IT Service, and you will be surprised to see how their responses vary from one to the other. Everyone has his own perception of what an IT Service is, depending on his own business.

When you finally understand that what we talk about is the deliverable given to IT customers to which all stakeholders contribute, it is quite amazing to find out that a whole organization (some of them gathering thousands of people) does not live in harmony on such a crucial point. You rarely meet this kind of situation in other industries.

The big difficulty for IT organizations, whether private or public, is to share a more or less common definition of the notion of « service ». First of all because this term has several meanings. Then, because, depending on the type of service Supplier, the very notion of « service » varies.

 

When the same word names so many different things, it is not surprising that organizations have difficulty finding their way!

For many people, it means “service operations”. These “service operations” refer to operations such as Service-Desk call management, workstation installation by local support teams, or even operations linked to changes. The list is far from limited. For fewer people, “service” is the final deliverable used by stakeholders, such as sales information or billing systems. This notion of service takes shape through an « end to end » vision of the IT components supporting a business process; which is the notion closest to the definition given in a framework like ITIL V3.

To increase confusion, this word is part of daily expressions such as “service quality” or “service levels”, which specify a customer requirement or the capacity of an organization to keep a commitment. These expressions refer to “services operations” as well as IT systems (quoted above). Finally, in some languages,  (examples: French, Spanish, Italian), the word “service” is used to name an organizational entity, gathering human resources, whose mission is to offer “services operations” such as those mentioned before.

For example: the “office automation service” (understand “entity”) taking care of the installation of workstations. When a single word can name resources, tasks as well as the deliverable, no wonder that organizations have difficulty finding their way!

To prevent any potential confusion, when I speak about the final deliverable, a definition given in ITIL, I write it with a capital letter to differentiate it from other uses (ex: IT Service).

 

According to the type of Service supplier, the notion of Service is not identical. Through these examples, it is clear that the scope of the ones is not comparable to that of the others.

In the world of IT professionals, everybody talks about Services but everyone sees them with different eyes. For a telecom operator, Service is the supply of telecom connections with commitments about availability and support. For a service company specialized in call centers, Service is the supply of Service-desk support with call handling quality. For an engineering company, Service is the delivery of projects meeting deadline and budget requirements. For a company IT Department, Service means providing business functionalities precisely when stakeholders want them, making them available at their workplace, and restoring them within a reasonable time (and other guarantees as well).

Through these examples, you understand that the scope of the first ones is not comparable to that of the others. You can easily conclude that Services « offered » by the first ones (various external suppliers) are only “operational services” delivered by the latter (IT service). The real common point is that the notion of Service depends on the final customer. Contributions to the common final deliverable are only intermediate parts or deliveries. So we can add that for each one of them, the notion of SLA only refers to Service, the final deliverable, depending on scope. Consequently, the SLAs of the first ones are the OLAs* of the others.
* OLAs: Operational Level Agreements

 

A major precision, indispensable to align stakeholders behaviors on common objectives  

Service Management is an operational discipline aimed at aligning all the means necessary for the supply of a Service, on commitments towards the customer(s) of this Service. For an IT department, means include the complete information system delivering functionalities used by stakeholders in their business, i.e. all application and infrastructure components involved. It also includes all human services brought for their design, development, integration, operations and support.

And, last but not least, all operating modes (such as processes), rules and policies, standards, service commitments, tooling and frameworks IT Department implements, in order to maintain a steady service level in line with expectations, within the expected cost.

Service Management organizes and manages all operating modes guaranteeing the alignment of IT Service on business targets. So, Service Management can be nowhere else but at the heart of IT strategies. Without a clear vision of the final deliverable given to customers, it is not possible to align all stakeholder’s behaviors on common objectives (which precisely consist in contributing to compliance with SLAs, each one in his field). Companies daily life shows us that in many cases, the means guaranteeing alignment are not homogeneous, and even sometimes only partly exist.

 

 

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