How to Design an ITSM Process
IT service management (ITSM) refers to all steps taken by an organization to design, plan, deliver, operate and control the IT services they offer to their customers. IT service management takes on a "process-oriented" approach towards management, focusing on IT services and requirements for customers rather than IT systems. Also, unlike processes that are used for technology-oriented IT management, like network management and IT systems management, ITSM stresses on continuous improvement.
To properly implement any management system, a set of guidelines that can act as a sort of scaffold is required, around which the management process can be set up. For ITSM, the most widely accepted standard for defining processes is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). ITIL is owned by AXELOS, which accredits licensed examination institutes to certify ITIL experts. However, since ITIL is essentially just a set of guidelines, they are by their very nature, not specific to any organization, culture or technology. Hence, it’s quite possible to be a certified expert on ITIL and still not know how to set up an efficient ITSM for a company.
So how should you go about creating the best ITSM process for your organization? Well, there’s no easy answer to that because we’re talking about creating something that needs to be a custom fit for your organization, and therefore is heavily dependent on specific aspects of your organization, but here are some tips that can keep you on the right track.
Understand the existing system - Study the existing processes in the organization and find out where the gaps are. Also keep an eye out for parts of the process that may be working against its efficient functioning rather than for it. Identify inconsistencies in execution and check if the users are happy with the results.
Once you familiarize yourself with the existing process, you should be able to see what’s working well and what’s holding things back. This understanding is crucial, so do whatever it takes to form a clear picture. Ask questions, perform observations and base-line process activities against known standards. You can either do this yourself or hire a consultant to do it for you. The important thing is to be thorough with what you have before you go about redesigning the process.
- Don’t start from square one - Remember, you're not trying to do a system-wide overhaul, you want to take all the things that are already working well for the organization and modify the system around them to improve efficiency. Talk to the teams involved, and ask them what changes they normally make, and how they currently work, or get some outside consulting help if you have to. Then, look through your objectives and figure out how you can make small changes that would enable them to meet the governance requirements without slowing down their work. Refer to the ITIL, as it does a pretty good job of identifying the things you should have in your process, but use whatever you know about your company to translate that into the specifics required for implementation.
Collaborate with all the stakeholders - It takes a lot of people to deliver IT, and IT teams tend to have too narrow a focus without due regard for the bigger picture. IT that runs in silos is often the cause of a lot of problems, and collaboration across teams is exactly what is needed to get the job done better. You may have heard that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself, but this doesn’t mean that you have to do everything all by yourself. ITSM processes are fundamentally about people and the information exchanged between people, and if all the stakeholders support your process, implementation will be a breeze! You should start garnering support back when you start assessing gaps in the existing process and continue it through the design phase of the new one.
However, make sure you don’t go overboard with collaboration or you will lose out on efficiency. Your core design team should be as small as possible, and you can bring in expertise as and when required. Communicate to everyone outside the core design team using only personalized updates and status reports. This way, you won’t get bogged down with too many suggestions and feedback.
Keep It Simple - As far as possible, use very simple flow diagrams to illustrate your thoughts, and keep documentation to a minimum. Using simple descriptions for each step and straightforward explanations instead of long, detailed process documents that nobody looks forward to reading, will help convey your point to a broad audience. You don’t have to cover every possible alternative and option in any flowchart. It’s much better to create a simple flow illustration that works for 90% of the cases, and then rely on people to exercise their judgement if adjustments have to be made.
This way, you can also make sure that people understand that they are expected to get actively involved in the process, and not just blindly follow predetermined steps. Making it easy for everyone to understand the process is also a great way to get teams thinking about what would be in the best interest of the organization, rather than what would make things easy for a small section of people within it.
- Document the technical requirements - Yes, I did say that ITSM processes are fundamentally about people, but at the end of the day, those people will still need to interact effectively with technology. So, make sure you Identify those mandatory fields, figure out the start and stop triggers and capture the right data for producing metrics. If you are using an ITSM tool or intend to do so, see to it that you have a tool specialist onboard right from the design phase, or you could end up designing a utopian process that your tool cannot implement.
Use iterative prototyping - Combine your design sessions with iterative prototyping of the designs using your chosen ITSM tool. You can use these prototypes as a way to communicate progress to the stakeholders and to get them to rally for your new process. Some of the newer ITSM tools fare better in this regard compared to legacy software, as they are more flexible and don’t require you to rely too much on developers. Make use of
Iterative process design so you don’t spend weeks designing a process only to find out that a few stakeholders have issues with it.
- Train your team - This tip follows up on tip 4, but refers to a stage of completion, where you have a finished solution and need to train everybody to use it efficiently. If you’ve followed all the suggestions above, then your team should already be quite familiar with the new process. Just make sure that you continue to keep it simple, yet thorough with documentation. Use plenty of screenshots, document the different procedures and, most importantly, mention all the ways in which your new process will make lives easier for everybody.
Establish accountability - It doesn’t matter how many hours you spent designing a process, or how much you spent on tools, if people do not adhere to the process, it will all be for nought.
The value of an ITSM process is directly proportional to the degree to which your team sticks to it. You need to establish accountability for the process by assigning tasks to the appropriate people and having a way to measure that they are actually getting done. This is something that you will have to keep tweaking for better efficiency, but if done right, can result in a highly efficient and reliable process.
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