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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 solutions to meet their business goals. Here is Jarod’s expert, unbiased advice on the best way to 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 IT service management (ITSM) properly, as it can mean many different things to many different people. 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. Laypeople often confuse ITSM with “technical support,” which is a narrower concept relating to the IT help desk function within a company (versus the broader set of IT services the department delivers).
IT service management likely originated out of large mainframe environment systems management. The IT services matured in order to meet business innovation needs and user demands, eventually requiring a management discipline of their own. 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). (Read more about the difference between ITSM and ITIL.)
ITSM Standards and Frameworks
IT service management is most often associated with the ITIL framework, but a variety of frameworks and standards exist and are used by organizations worldwide. Let’s take look at the most popular ITSM frameworks:
- ITIL – The first version of ITIL, named Government Information Technology Infrastructure Management, was released by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency in the early 1980s. It was developed as a set of standards for improving IT performance. The standards were adopted during subsequent years by both government and non-government entities. As the standards grew in popularity, they went through several versions (ITIL V2, ITIL V3) with the most recent version released in 2011: ITIL 2011. In 2014, the ITIL’s ownership was transferred to Axelos, a UK-based professional services organization. The ITIL processes according to ITIL 2011 are encompassed in 5 separate publications: service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation, and continual service improvement.
- COBIT – This governance framework was created by the IT Governance Institute and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) and complements ITIL for IT governance. The focus of COBIT is on the quality, control, and reliability of information systems.
- Six Sigma – Introduced in 1986 by Motorola, six sigma focuses on process improvement. Statistics are used to measure the quality and capabilities of processes and eliminate defects.
- ISO/IEC 20000 – This internationally recognized standard has two parts. ISO/IEC 20000-1 provides best practices for developing and implementing an ITSM solution and ISO/IEC 20000-2 provides best practices for integrating people, process, and technology. ISO/IEC 20000 works in conjunction with ITIL and other ITSM frameworks
- Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) – A series of 23 documents that provide guidance across the IT lifecycle with the goal of helping IT establish consistent and cost-effective services.
- TOGAF – The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) provides methods and solutions, which include the Architecture Development Method for managing the lifecycle of architecture using repeatable processes.
- FitSM – A free and lightweight ITSM standard with the goal of creating a clear standard for effective ITSM. FitSM is not managed by an established standards organization.
- eTOM – Business operations framework specifically for telecommunications service providers.
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 list of vendors based on what cool technology and functionality they’ve seen. Finally, as the ITSM software 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 vendor list!
6 Tips to Help You Choose an ITSM Solution
Several steps, and a solid understanding of what your organization requires from an ITSM solution, are necessary before considering vendors. Here are my six recommendations:
Tip 1: Start with an ITSM Maturity Assessment
You may already have a fairly good idea of the 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.
Be sure to determine which ITIL 2011 processes you need to support. Only the most mature organizations have implemented all of the ITIL processes, but it’s important to think ahead to where you want to be, say, three years from now. This is important because some tools are sell processes as modules that you must purchase separately. The ITIL processes include:
- Access management
- Availability management
- Business relationship management
- Capacity management
- Change Management
- Continual service improvement
- Demand Management
- Design coordination
- Event management
- Financial Management
- Incident Management
- IT service continuity management
- Information security management
- Knowledge Management
- Problem Management
- Release and deployment management
- Request fulfillment
- Service asset and configuration management
- Service catalog management
- Service level management
- Service portfolio management
- Strategy management for IT services
- Supplier management
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 IT service management 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 service management 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 solution is something that all domains will touch in some capacity, so understanding third-party 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 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, configuration management database (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 to your peers about their experiences with IT service management tools. I 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) 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.
Tip 5: Evaluate Your Licensing and Hosting Options
Be sure to obtain a solid understanding of short- and long-term licensing and hosting options. Do you need a separate production, staging, training, or development environment? 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 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
Lastly, do not neglect the business perception of IT when you select your ITSM solution. One of the primary goals of your ITSM 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.
What to Look for in an ITSM Solution
Now that you’ve considered your IT maturity, the tools you have in your portfolio, spoken with industry experts, and so on, it’s time to think about features and functionality. Each solution will offer a variety of features and capabilities. By understanding your specific needs, as discussed in the six steps above, you are better able to find the most suitable solution for your business. Features to consider include:
- Support for the processes and best practice framework your organization will implement, such as ITIL’s Incident, Problem, and Change Management.
- The ability to automatically assign tickets based on specialization or skillsets.
- Integration or support for asset management in order to track, manage, and maintain IT assets, including software and software licenses.
- Ability to switch deployment model (on-premise to cloud or vice versa) if your business needs change.
- Support for integrations with third-party solutions that your business relies on, such as asset management, remote management, mobile device management, and authentication.
- The ease with which you can configure and change without the need for expensive programmers (rapid configuration with minimal overhead).
- Real-time and dynamic dashboards, metrics, and reporting capabilities.
- Support the migration of data from existing tools and solutions into new ITSM solution.
The 10 Keys to ITSM Implementation Success
Implementing a new ITSM solution is about more than just the technology, it’s about instilling cultural and organizational change, establishing accountability, improving the way you deliver services, and continual service improvement. Once you’ve chosen your ITSM solution, implementation planning can begin. Following a solid plan will help ensure the success of your new solution.
Engage and listen to your users – Incorporate user feedback into the tool that you roll-out.
Assemble the right team – Identify the right people and the right positions to ensure you are effectively using people resources.
Define and organize your structure of services based on business outcomes – Ensure your ITSM services are clear in order to avoid impacting productivity.
Invest in the service desk – Your IT service desk analysts require a full understanding of the services IT delivers. Invest in training, techniques, documentation of processes, and Knowledge Management in order to reap benefits down the road.
Focus on the most important processes – Putting processes in place as needed can reduce implementation time and allow you to improve each process before burying yourself in what may seem like an unmanageable number of processes.
Reporting and measurements – Gain an understanding of what you will need to measure and focus on defining the data you will need to capture in order to support these measurements.
Focus on configurations rather than customizations – Most solutions allow you to configure capabilities to suit your business needs. Choose a low-code solution, and you’ll be able to avoid hiring programmers to edit code, which can increase your costs and may impact upgradability.
Get IT working together – Gain buy-in from everyone responsible for the delivery of IT services, including management and team leaders. Momentum from leadership will help secure adequate time and resource commitments, and also to encourage support from peers and other stakeholders. Without buy-in at all levels, an ITSM tool may not prosper.
Sell the value of ITSM – Know your audience and sell the notion that ITSM can solve business problems.
Implement continual service improvement – Measure success and failures and use the information to identify trends in order to continually improve processes.
Each and every member of the organization is a potential stakeholder in your purchase decision. End users of IT service management include executives, senior managers, staff members, and customers. The team who utilize IT service management solutions from a service delivery perspective range from IT technicians to ITIL process owners, such as change managers and problem managers, tool administrators, project managers, and the project management team.
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 benefits that include:
- Gain competitive advantage with the ability to remain agile and scale for future growth.
- Improve visibility by interconnecting IT and not-IT services across the organization.
- Simplify and standardize processes to mitigate the stress on IT personnel.
- Save time and money by automating manual processes.
- Increase productivity by reducing the number and severity of incidents and problems.
- Reduce risk with accurate and consistent tracking and management.
For a comparison of key IT service and support management vendors within the marketplace, view the 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for IT Service Management Tools. Tools reviewed in the Magic Quadrant include: Cherwell Software, HPE, EasyVista®, Axios® Systems, IBM, CA Technologies®, Ivanti®, BMC Software® and ServiceNow®.