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IT Service Management Isn't Happyland

At the recent Fusion conference, plenty of folks were challenging the IT status quo, and that's a good thing.

After spending some time at the Fusion 2013 conference last week, I came away surprised but pleased that there are so many agitators in the IT service management (ITSM) community. These pros could be powerful allies in a CIO's quest to transform IT.

When you hear the term "IT service management," you may think: "Oh, the help desk." Or you may think: "Dear Lord, it's those 'change advisory board' people who won't let me reboot a router without filling out a folder of paperwork." The truth is that IT service management falls somewhere in the middle. It's most often associated with the ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) framework, which on the plus side has brought structure and a common language to IT service, but on the negative side has introduced bureaucracy.

I heard the standard leadership and project advice that you always hear at these events, from the inane to the insightful. But it was the conversation at the edges -- in the Twitterstream and during some of the small sessions -- that convinced me that the ITSM world isn't Happyland, which is a good thing.

[ Hey, you met budget! But, did you deliver value? See How To Budget Your Way To Irrelevance. ]

On the practitioner side, Isabelle Baird with PricewaterhouseCoopers led a workshop on how to pull off large IT projects. One of the themes discussed in that workshop was organizational change management, including the benefits of adopting the ADKAR model and taking a balanced approach with project naysayers. ("Don't work around them, involve them, because you want them to find the real problems.")

The session prompted a discussion about politics and basic human motivation. "This may be your biggest project and priority, but recognize that it may not be someone else's," Baird said.

Keys to leading successful large projects include making sure that so-called decision makers not only have that authority, but are also confident enough in their roles to make hard calls (like reallocating resources) and stick to them. And don't forget to have fun, Baird suggested, as it's not only good for project team members, but it sometimes attracts senior management affinity.

Yet keynote speaker Larry Winget, author of Grow A Pair, offered some, er, contrarian views as he made fun of the over-popularization of passion for work. "I know people who are passionate, but they are passionately incompetent," Winget said. "They are really good at doing something that didn't need to be done at all."

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Similarly, he thinks happiness at work is overrated. "Nobody cares if you're happy," Winget said. "We've become confused that we need to be happy all the time." He related a story from his book about a waiter who once told him to not expect good service because he was having a bad day. "Now, what can I get you?" the waiter asked. Winget responded: "A new waiter."

"Nobody cares about what kind of a day you're having," he told the audience. "They want you to do your job!" Winget also poked fun at the CEOs who put employees before customers. "The problem with that is that you can't make employees happy," he said. "Nothing against employees, but you can't make another human being happy."

If only I could get HCL Technologies CEO Vineet Nayar, whose credo is to put employees first, customers second, into the same room with Winget, if just for 10 minutes. It might get ugly, but it would be fantastically entertaining.

But it was during the town hall meeting about ITIL that I started to see some of the discontent that's brewing in the service management community. The U.K. government was the original holder of the ITIL intellectually property, but a new venture between the U.K. government and a company called Axelos now owns the IP, and folks who have skin in the ITIL game are a bit nervous about that transition.

After a discussion of IP licensing and community building, some grumpy tweets emerged, such as "If you love your IP, set it free: best way to stay relevant and authentically community focused." The implication: ITIL is important to the IT service community, and it won't adapt to changing market conditions unless it's in the public domain. One man's view, at least.

Then the elephant in the room came up: How successful have IT service management implementations really been, and where might they fix future problems? At the conference's final session, a new group called the Service Management Inaugural Congress issued this statement. "We as individuals within the service management community do declare that our industry has become stagnated by a systemic and fundamentally broken set of attitudes and behaviors."

All righty then!

I dug into this discontent a little more with group member Roy Atkinson, a long-time member of the IT support management community and analyst for the trade group HDI. He, among others, thinks it's long past time for us to stop separating "IT" from "the business" and start being the business. "We're the only people who say 'the business.' Finance doesn't. HR doesn't. It's time for us to stop it," he said.

Atkinson went a step further. As IT organizations shrink because of BYOD, outsourcing, cloud computing and managed services, he said, the IT role will become more of a liaison between a company and its technology service providers.

I think IT will go even further, becoming a technology advocate. IT will go beyond service management to become a business partner.

But not if we keep approaching IT service management the way we have been.

Yes, we must continue to have a service-oriented mindset. Nobody wants a partner who doesn't add value. But we must recognize that other, probably better providers of commodity services are out there, and we must focus on the activities best performed by tech-savvy business partners. Atkinson envisions a "service network operations center" of the future, whereby IT keeps tabs on externally provided services.

The actual transformation into business partner will be difficult. The ITSM community brings tremendous value in a mature set of process mapping and management tools, but too much process is toxic.

Every organization's balance of process and outcomes will be different. My advice: Understand that process is a means to obtain outcomes. Value the outcome more than the process. Service management pros who understand that concept will be the CIO's new best friend.

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