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The corporate IT department is just a service function for the business, ensuring those bright minds and red hot sales folk – using an increasing number of personal technology devices in the workplace – make the products and rake in the cash that keeps the corporation going. Corralling all these devices and applications is a never-ending task that only grabs headline attention when something goes wrong.
IT service management (ITSM) must address a broad range of data and application responsibilities, both on-premise and in the cloud (private, public and hybrid). This typically includes patch management, vulnerability management, maintenance contracts, quality assurance and control, project management and so on. Service management requires forward thinking to support DevOps, address developments in business areas – such as the enterprise internet of things (IoT) and intelligent building management – and support human resources (HR) functions.
For example, BMC's Remedy 9 service management platform offers native support for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) schemes. With better overview and control, the IT department can engage critical business operations.
The IoT is another area service management tools are starting to support. Axios Systems' Assyst ITSM platform, for instance, handles “smart objects” by centralising service management and drawing all of the service domains (and smart assets) together under one service desk, one helpline number and one self-service portal. Smart objects provide self-diagnosis, automated alerting, self-healing/run-book automation and remote control without expanding the service desk or field engineer workforce.
Another area of current interest lies in linking building and facilities management to IT service management such as IBM's ITSM platform, which interfaces with the supplier’s Tririga intelligent buildings management application.
This software combines real-time monitoring with event management and analytics to help building managers optimise their energy consumption, and enhance operations and reliability. It integrates with the ITSM platform and monitoring equipment to capture data, which can be used for improved energy analytics and performance.
An example of HR support is in ServiceNow’s ITSM platform, which comes with additional HR capabilities. The human resources management application uses the same format as the incident management application to allow users to create HR requests, which can then be handled by an HR management team using the same tools as the IT infrastructure library (ITIL) best-practice processes.
Checklist of considerations before buying ITSM software
When choosing the ITSM software for your organisation, there are a number of issues to consider at the outset:
- Is the software scalable?
- Is the software user interface role-based and easily configured to support different user groups?
- Is the software extensible to integrate with other core third-party applications?
- If so, does this include the use of public cloud platforms – software as a service, infrastructure as a service etc?
- Can the software be customised, or must the suppliers come in every time a small tweak is required?
- Does the software include business process automation that has drag-and-drop tools, wizards, debugging tools and re-usable process libraries?
- Does the supplier have a robust portfolio of ITIL-compliant modules and include systems that extend beyond core helpdesk functions – such as software asset management, client lifecycle management and web self-service?
The supplier landscape
ITSM applications are today available from over 400 suppliers – most of them focused on specific functions, while ITSM platforms are available for on-premise implementation typically for the larger enterprise, or as cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) for the SME market.
Modern ITSM platforms enable process automation at a high level. They come with intuitive user interfaces based on a flexible web design and provide access to a common database. There are also predefined, customisable ITIL processes allowing users to build to their own specifications using integrated workflow editors with self-service portals, such as the one provided by the RES Software Service Desk. Ideally, ITSM tools should operate with the user-friendliness of modern web applications and social media platforms. In this way, ITSM is an important technological step for the internal IT operation, which allows the IT department to keep tabs on the current operating environment, while concurrently supporting business initiatives.
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What are you looking for?
Buyers risk paying a lot of money for functionality they won’t use in the lifespan of the tool. A rational buying decision must be based on detailed requirement studies.
There has been little progress toward maturity in infrastructure and operations organisations in the ITSM market, so buyers must structure and codify their needs. Suppliers such as Splunk Enterprise offer a platform for real-time operational intelligence to search, analyse and visualise the large streams of machine data generated by corporate IT systems and the corresponding technology infrastructure – physical, virtual and cloud.
One commonly used structuring tool is the IT infrastructure library (ITIL) touched on earlier, a set of practices for ITSM that focuses on aligning IT services with the business. Companies with limited in-house ITIL expertise, or that lack the resources to develop best-practice processes, should find a supplier that will become a business partner and help customers design and build best-practice processes based on ITIL.
To develop a consistent view of service management the ITIL framework can be applied to cloud computing to identify gaps. But ITIL and cloud are not a direct fit. ITIL must be reframed in the context of cloud, not simply extended. Service vision, design, migration under a set of defined processes, efficiently operating and managing those services and continuously improving them in a DevOps environment, are all useful and applicable to cloud computing. ITIL and ISO/IEC 20000 compliance is relevant for organisations that face governance, regulatory and legal requirements.
Define the business goals (for example, a strong service culture and management of business-critical apps) before embarking on ITSM; identify the sought-after effects; identify the right processes and assess the company’s competence and maturity levels. Finally, buyers need to assess the system providers and their ability to provide ongoing development support.
ITSM in the longer term
The future of ITSM is shifting focus from the static reviews of machine data to dynamic, big-data operational intelligence analytics, and the ability to create completely new product capabilities based on data insight that can respond in real time. A leading-edge company such as Volkswagen in Germany is using its ITSM platform with Splunk to help manage its connected and self-driving cars programme together with Vodafone SIM cards and Apple Car-Play. Data is fed into iPhone and smartwatch apps, and then passed on to Volkswagen datacentres and ITSM platforms for real-time data analytics.
The next step in the world of the IoT could be collecting and analysing data from “smart dust” – tiny microelectromechanical systems including sensors, robots and other devices used to detect light, temperature, vibration or chemicals. Other long-range areas that will influence the future of ITSM include software-defined security, the connected home and quantum computing – which are all approaching the innovation trigger stage.
What to look for in IT service management tools
- Make sure your IT service management (ITSM) tools include these core components:
- Real-time dashboards providing information on configuration and services availability.
- Change management for standards, procedures and supporting customers.
- Cloud platform management to ensure integration, with internal IT support. This will often require a third-party tool such as RightScale’s multi-cloud management platform, which integrates with ServiceNow’s ITSM.
- Configuration management to identify requests for change with the status of IT assets and their relationship to incidents updated in real time.
- Incident management addresses helpdesk best practice to categorise issues and automate workflow. A real-time, customisable dashboard capability is very useful here.
- Knowledge management provides support staff with systems to solve issues and allows users to search for systems over the web to reduce the pressure on the service desk.
- Problem management able to analyse root causes.
- Release management to design and implement procedures to distribute releases and communicate changes to IT staff and customers.
- Service level management to maintain and improve IT services through service level agreements with service providers and line-of-business customers. This is also important when defining and managing service catalogues.
- Self-service management allows users to view the status of their issues and submit issues over the web.
- IT service support management tools manage how services are used, the infrastructure that supports them and the organisation’s responsibility in supporting them.
Bernt Ostergaard is service director at analyst company Quocirca.