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How to get started with enterprise service management: 8 key steps

Susan Salgy Contributing Editor

There has never been a better time to get started with enterprise service management (ESM). The vendor landscape has solidified, and TechBeacon's Buyer’s Guide to Enterprise Service Management Products reveals a market that's competing vigorously for your business.

Charles Betz, who wrote The Forrester Wave for Enterprise Service Management, said the products interoperate nicely and are easier to use than those of earlier generations.

"Any of these tools is a credible alternative—even the ones that come in last in the 'Wave.' There are around 400 tools to choose from—it's crazy—and they all offer value of some kind."
Charles Betz

Couple that abundance of choice with enhancements that add AI, automation, machine learning, and predictive capabilities, and you have a new ESM game where businesses can save money while supporting their customers and employees with new levels of responsiveness and efficiency.

A 2019 EMA study found that 87% of the organizations surveyed already had some level of ESM underway. So, many of your competitors are likely already reaping some of the benefits of ESM: increased customer satisfaction, scalable efficiency, and enhanced productivity. 

If you've been waiting for the right time to introduce ESM to your organization, there's no longer any reason to stall. As they say, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.

Having a lot of tools to choose from can be overwhelming, but don't worry about that quite yet. You don't start by looking for the right tools; you start by looking for the right project. First you need to be sure you know exactly what you need to accomplish, and why that's worth doing.

Many organizations have experience with IT service management (ITSM), but that's not quite the same thing. 

A key difference between ESM and ITSM is scope. ITSM refers to services delivered by IT—things such as provisioning laptops, managing cloud services, and patching and upgrading servers. ESM is a much larger idea, covering all kinds of non-IT services your enterprise delivers to customers and employees, such as hiring, catering, business travel, and sales call requests.

ESM is a long-term strategy for an organization and can add significant value to the business across many dimensions, over many years. But it will die after the first try in your organization if the first project is overly complex, takes too long, or delivers a mediocre result in an area that nobody really cares about.

Here are eight ways to set yourself up for success with a smart ESM project that will prove the value of service management and lay the foundation for your ESM road map—and your digital transformation—for years to come.

1. Choose a progressive department

The IT department is used to service management automation, but other departments might find it harder to embrace it. You'll be miles ahead if you can run your project in an area of the organization that welcomes experimentation.

Look for a department that is known for being progressive, with managers who are not afraid of the uncertainties that come with trying new technologies and practices.

Avoid spinning up your initial project in a department where teams are afraid to make mistakes. They will be slower to learn and will not have the proper support and confidence to move ESM forward, said Doug Tedder, principal of Tedder Consulting.

"Successful companies understand that progress often requires you to fail fast and learn fast. [Their attitude is], if we don’t succeed at first, what did we learn? Let’s make changes and try again."
Doug Tedder

There is practical value in letting one area of the business step up to be the pioneers for ESM projects. Their experience will pave the way for projects across the whole organization.

In a couple of years, that group will be prepared to tackle more difficult ESM challenges, such as how to make sure you handle privacy data properly, he said. Without that well-supported learning model, the organization as a whole may take much longer to reach the level of ESM maturity that will let it take advantage of emerging technologies and competitive opportunities.

2. Look at different request-fulfillment workflows

Straightforward service requests of every kind are "low-hanging-fruit targets for starting ESM," Tedder said. Human resources is a natural place to expand these principles beyond IT, because HR is usually "fairly well-defined regarding function and responsibilities and handles many requests from both within and external to the organization," he said.

Phyllis Drucker, a senior consultant at Linium, said HR tended to be forward-thinking about automation, considering chatbots, for example, for their portals "even out of the gate."

"[HR organizations are] far more focused on the employee experience than many IT groups, who are more focused on the technical aspects of support."
Phyllis Drucker

A fairly typical HR implementation will include setting up a portal to handle some of the more frequent HR requests. This involves importing existing knowledge into the tool's knowledge base, and then instrumenting a common chatbot script that looks for answers or submits simple requests, according to Drucker.

Other corporate areas to consider are facilities, internal catering services, or really any internal support organization that receives and processes requests from another area of an organization, Tedder said.

When you find situations where end users, employees, or customers are currently using email or phone calls to request information or services, "they are falling-off-the-tree ripe for ESM," according to a 2019 EMA report titled "Enterprise Service Management: It's Closer Than You Think." It's based on in-depth research with 400 global IT executives.

Even if you use ESM only to log and track a request, close the ticket when the work is done, and deliver regular reports, you will have delivered a winning ESM project with measurable value. You'll be replacing manual workflows where requests can get lost, forgotten, or misdirected with order, accountability, speed, and increased customer satisfaction.

3. Choose projects with limited risks

Make sure you start with smaller, internal processes before you jump into a workflow that customers see, Tedder said. Internal processes let you learn by doing, see results, and make adjustments, he said.

Customer-facing processes are less forgiving and can even damage your brand if something clumsy happens.

And remember that it’s very risky to work with regulated data and systems during your initial projects. Sales and financial departments are not the best places to experiment.

"Eventually they will benefit from what you learn on the other things."
—Doug Tedder

Always bear in mind that your entire organization will be learning to trust service management, and each successful project will build experience and credibility across the business. Limiting the exposure to risk, especially early on, will make everyone more comfortable.

4. Get to launch quickly

Limit the scope so you don't run out of oxygen before you can launch. Don't choose initial projects that will take six months or a year to complete, said Tedder. Think in terms of small, quick iterations of work.

Look at things that you can spin up in a month or two, and that will begin delivering measurable improvements within a quarter or two.

If your sponsor wants to tackle something big, break it up into phases, and make sure the first phase is meaningful and can be finished quickly.

5. Use existing tools when you can

People sometimes discover products already in use somewhere in the organization that could be used for ESM. Of course, not all tools can be leveraged for this purpose.

For example, it is very likely that someone is using some kind of ticket-tracking tool somewhere in your organization, but it might not turn out to be an ESM tool, said Tedder. You may even discover that some of those using a ticket-tracking tool are trying to use it to manage their ESM demands and are struggling, he said.

This kind of tool would not be a good fit for your ESM project.

As you look for tool capabilities that would support ESM, Tedder suggested you look for:

  • Workflow definition and automation
  • Queue management
  • Performance reporting
  • Service request catalog support
  • Service portfolio support
  • Escalation/alerting
  • Ability to pre-define models (for managing requests, incidents, etc.)

If you do find existing ITSM tools that you want to use for ESM, Tedder suggested you be very smart about how you use them.

"In my experience, many organizations are too concerned with the implementation of the tool and do not put any effort into the design of processes, measurement, and continual improvement—things that are critical for ESM success."
—Doug Tedder

Existing tools may not be free, so you may need to buy additional licenses when you expand the use of an existing tool. But if you can find a way to repurpose something already being used, you will benefit from having people in-house who already know how to use it, and you might be able to shave some days off of your timeline.

6. Do something that will have a measurable impact

ESM is supposed to make back-office operations better, faster, and cheaper across the organization, so select a project with the metrics to prove it. Choose something that can deliver business benefits, including reduced costs or improved speed and efficiency by implementing workflow automation, user self-service, or workload reductions.

This is likely to be where most of the financial savings will be identified that will clearly demonstrate the ROI, according to a recent ESM white paper, "Digital Transformation & ESM."

Be sure to capture all the relevant "before" metrics to show what the baseline was when using overly manual processes, delivering siloed responses to requests, and relying on shared email boxes to capture service requests.

Relevant metrics will demonstrate how ESM has made something better, faster, and/or cheaper. Track things such as average response time for incoming requests, employee satisfaction ratings, average completion time for service requests, average daily requests handled per staff member, service volumes, and even customer feedback and satisfaction scores.

Remember, ESM must earn the trust of the business. Data is the language you use for that.

7. Leverage existing knowledge bases

Having a good base of current, well-documented knowledge can set you up nicely for a chatbot implementation. With a good existing knowledge base, little else is needed to get started, said Linium's Drucker.

You need a service portal with an embedded chatbot and a couple of simple scripts that allow the bot to pull information from the existing knowledge base, or submit the right request for someone, she said. "I've seen organizations start at this level with a simple but robust script that searches for answers or submits a ticket," said Drucker.

If you have been doing ESM for a long time and have already developed good knowledge bases, the predictive tools that some ESM apps offer are the easiest place to start adding automation, Drucker said.

"In some cases, you can just turn these tools on and they will almost instantly start offering up information. The effort goes into setting up the processes to deal with that information."
—Phyllis Drucker

Be prepared for what it takes

Don't underestimate the level of effort this might require. You'll need to define exactly what should happen in every possible scenario, so your processes play by the rules of governance.

These examples from Drucker highlight the level of analysis that this requires:

  • If a tool displays five similar incidents and five possible fixes, does the service desk agent know how to proceed? Have results been tested enough to know how exact a match is needed to avoid doing more harm versus restoring service with a workaround?
  • If the tool says a particular change has a 75% chance of success as documented, does the organization understand the process and risk well enough to drive the right level of authorization for the change, based on that prediction?

8. Take a building-block approach

It’s a good idea to think about your ESM initiatives in terms of building blocks, Tedder said. Here are some tips.

  • Focus on the first business problem you want to solve; maybe you can do something small in that space first. It should take weeks, not years, to solve it to some degree of completeness. Get that block in place.
  • Be responsive to the needs of the business. Design an adaptive, flexible road map that can adjust to emerging opportunities. You want to make sure that you are working on things that really matter to the entire organization, not just the requirements of one or two departments.
  • Add block after block of new ESM projects or extended AI capabilities in a regular cadence.
  • Show incremental value, using meaningful metrics mapped to business objectives.
  • Continue to roll in that way, and in two years you will have everything in place that you dreamed of, and your organization will be prepared to adopt advanced technologies as they come to market.

You'll also have a lot more satisfied customers and employees by then. And you'll probably have a bigger ESM budget and staff as well.

    Get started

    Once you have defined a project that you can pilot in a safe place, that won't take too long to complete, and that will be meaningful to your business, you're ready to think about tools. If you didn't discover some tools already in place that are right for your project, you will need to add ESM to your toolkit.

    Get this first project right, and you will earn the trust of the business, build expertise in your team, and establish a foundation that can support the digital transformation of your business for years to come.

    TechBeacon's Buyers Guide to Enterprise Service Managment Products will help you find products that will fit your functional requirements, environment, and team expertise. The guide provides expert advice from consultants, analysts, and ESM practitioners that will help you home in on the products you should consider for your project. It also will help you prepare a strong request for proposal (RFP).

    Keep learning

    Read more articles about: Enterprise ITIT Ops