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Six Essential Tips for Selecting an ITSM Tool

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As a former Gartner analyst, Jarod Greene spent ten years covering the IT service management (ITSM) tool landscape, helping clients select tools to meet their business goals. Here is Jarod’s free and unbiased advice on how to best approach the process of comparing and selecting a new ITSM tool.

What is ITSM?

First of all, for the purposes of this blog post, let’s make sure we are defining “ITSM” properly, as it can mean many different things to many different people. For a very thorough definition, read this. But in the simplest possible terms, ITSM refers to the manner in which IT services are delivered to (and optimized for) end users through the use of people, processes and technology. The term “ITSM” is often confused by laypeople with “technical support” which is a much narrower concept relating to the IT help desk function within a company (versus a broader set of IT services the IT is expected to deliver). The wide range of IT services delivered by the IT organization is perhaps most succinctly defined by the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL®). The ITIL framework also represents the most widely embraced definition of IT services among organizations globally, encompassing IT service design, service strategy, service transition, service operation and continual service improvement (CSI).

Warning: How NOT to Begin Your ITSM Tool Comparison Process

One thing you’ll hear me say often is that most organizations go about the ITSM tool comparison process in the wrong order. The first thing they do is look at the tool landscape and determine how much a new tool is going to cost and what licensing model they think they need. They’ll say, “We have $50,000 to spend, and we want SaaS.” They then create a ITSM tools list based on what cool technology and functionality they’ve seen. Finally, as the ITSM tool is selected and ultimately implemented, they might conduct a maturity assessment, so they can understand if the tool is providing value as intended.

You need to flip this process on its head. NEVER start with the ITSM tool list!

Tweet this: When looking for an ITSM solution, never start with the tool landscape.

Tip 1: Start With an ITSM Maturity Assessment

You may already have a fairly good idea of what kind of capabilities you need your ITSM software to provide. You want great IT service desk capabilities including a modern IT self-service catalog, a comprehensive CMDB, robust IT ticketing and issue tracking, and contract and SLA management, to name just a few.

Also, don’t forget about support for key ITIL v3 processes, such as:

ITIL White Paper

But before you start compiling your features check list in an attempt to lock on your specific ITSM requirements, I always encourage service desk decision makers to start with process maturity assessment. There are many self-assessment maturity models available, namely the Axelos® ITIL Maturity Model and Gartner’s ITScore for Infrastructure and Operations.

Such maturity models give you a snapshot of your current state of IT maturity and are designed to provide you with contextual advice (both tactical and strategic) on how to improve. Without an improvement road map you risk investing in an ITSM tool that’s not aligned to your future state.

Tip 2: Determine Your Key ITSM Tool Integrations

Once a maturity assessment is conducted, IT organizations should then gain an understanding of how the ITSM tool will fit into their broader portfolio of IT operations management tools. The majority of IT organizations have multiple, domain-specific, best-of-breed IT management tools, and in extremely “siloed” organizations, each IT domain (end user computing, server administration, network administrators, etc.) owns and manages its own tools. An ITSM tool is something that all domains will touch in some capacity, so understanding integration capabilities at the forefront of the buying cycle is critical. For years, IT organizations have falsely assumed that the only way to achieve this cross-portfolio integration is to purchase all their tools from the same vendor. However, this is not always the optimal approach from the standpoints of meeting functional requirements and cost objectives.

The good news is that with the evolution of application integration capabilities, joining ITSM tools together with other products is no longer as expensive or daunting a task as it once was. IT organizations need to take advantage of this opportunity by gathering an understanding of their existing portfolio of IT management tools, determining which integrations make sense, and researching which ITSM vendors are capable of meeting those requirements. While some vendors may advertise “code-free customization” or “code-less configuration,” be sure to investigate exactly what that means. Ideally product integrations can be added in a modular manner that doesn’t require costly development resources or professional services to implement.

In particular, the IT service desk can benefit significantly from data integration with IT asset management (specifically, network discovery and inventory, CMDB, and application dependency mapping), endpoint management, server monitoring, IT infrastructure management, and remote control. Organizations further up the maturity scale might also consider integrating with business intelligence, business relationship management (BRM) and business process management solutions.

Tip 3: Tap into ITSM Industry Analyst Expertise

It goes without saying that as part of your due diligence, it is wise to participate in demos, talk to vendor references, read product reviews and speak with your peers about what IT service management tools they use and what their own experiences have been. I would also encourage you to review analyst reports such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant® or the Forrester Wave for ITSM SaaS Delivery Capabilities to help you narrow down the playing field. The ITSM Review also has a lot of great resources for ITSM tool comparisons. It’s important, however, to note that these reports do not provide an exhaustive list of available solutions, nor does their research methodology necessarily represent the most appropriate approach for your own organizational profile and ITSM goals.

If you have relationship with an analyst that focuses on ITSM tools, reach out to them to enlist his or her help. Analysts can be invaluable in understanding which IT service management solutions make the most sense given your maturity level, requirements, and budget. They can also review your contract, pricing, the statement of work, and anything else the vendor puts on your table.

Tip 4: Evaluate the ITSM Vendor’s Value as a Business Partner

While it may seem somewhat cliché, I cannot understate the importance of this point. You aren’t just choosing an IT service management tool; you are choosing a partner to do business with—hopefully over a period of many years. Of key importance is making sure you have faith the vendor is going to follow through on its commitments.

One great way to evaluate this is to review a vendor’s ability to adhere to a product roadmap schedule. Unfortunately, a vendor’s commitment to you may vary on the size and scale of your organization. If you work for one of the Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000 companies, for example, your vendor may bend over backward to retain your business. However, a small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME) and/or organization that doesn’t carry a marquee brand often won’t command the same attention, especially among larger ITSM tool vendors that focus on the enterprise space. If you are a smaller organization, make sure you speak with references or peers with a similar organizational profile to your own. A government agency or educational institution will have much different needs, for example, than a healthcare company, manufacturing firm or financial services organization.

Tweet this: When shopping for an ITSM solution remember that you’re not only selecting a vendor, but also business partner.

Tip 5: Evaluate Your ITSM Licensing and Hosting Options

Be sure to obtain a solid understanding of short- and long-term licensing and hosting options. Do you need an on-premises or cloud-based solution? If you are leaning toward one model in particular, what assumptions are driving your preference? If you are looking for a cloud-based ITSM tool, do you plan to host it directly or through a third party, and what are the associated costs? One thing to consider when considering SaaS versus on-premises tools is that cloud-based solutions often appear very attractive from a cost perspective because you’re not spending as much money up front. But it’s possible that over time you’ll find yourself spending more than you would under a perpetual model.

It’s critical that you perform a financial analysis across various scenarios before you can effectively compare vendors on cost factors to develop and understand total cost of ownership.

Tip 6: Focus on Improved Customer Experience (Hint: It’s Not All About ITSM)

Lastly, do not neglect the business perception of IT when you make your ITSM tool selection. One of the primary goals of your ITSM tool implementation should be to increase end user self-sufficiency and improve the IT-business relationship. IT organizations must therefore understand how their service management tool facilitates such improvements. For example, does your potential solution provide an IT self-service portal that is easy to customize and configure? Does the solution provide a means of gathering information and context about users, so that support analysts have relevant and timely information that can improve the end user experience? Does it provide comprehensive, out-of-the-box reporting that shows IT’s impact to both IT and business stakeholders? These things matter, as the IT service desk drives the perception of the entire IT organization.

With this in mind, invest in a service management tool that allows your service desk staff to present a better face to the business, and you will see results!

For a comparison of key IT service management vendors within the marketplace, view the 2016 Gartner Magic Quadrant for ITSSM Tools. Tools reviewed in the Magic Quadrant include: Cherwell Software, HPE, EasyVista®, Axios® Systems, Heat Software™, IBM, CA Technologies®, LANDESK®, BMC Software® and ServiceNow®.

Gartner 2016 Magic Quadrant

  1. Kendall Everett

    Your suggestion to decide everything that you want the IT service desk to do was really helpful. Making a list of your needs helps in deciding which company you want to go with. Making a final list and comparing it to a few different companies would be a good way to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

    1. Alida Mooreston

      That’s a great point, Kendall. We’d recommend comparing your list to both vendors and the Gartner Magic Quadrant to help you get a full picture of the options available to you.

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