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High-Performing Organizations Lean into ITSM

Allen Bernard Freelance writer
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Many factors contribute to an organization’s status as a high performer, but, increasingly, how it manages its technology stack is one of the most important. Over the past two decades, IT service management (ITSM) has become a dependable and codified framework that high-performing organizations use to excel at this essential task, according to Forrester's report, the State of IT Service Management, 2022.

"The fundamentals don't change: In many aspects, technology remains a shared service," reads the report. "It is often general purpose (e.g., end-user productivity, application hosting) and doesn’t ‘align’ to any specific business function, such as sales or marketing. High-performing organizations show the best results for their shared technology services."

Here, Forrester defines a high-performing organization—or leader—as one that outperforms its peers on certain measurable business KPIs. And according to Charles Betz, vice president and research director at Forrester, there is indeed a direct correlation between ITSM and what is arguably one of the best measures of an organization's overall performancerevenues.

"High-performing organizations were . . . more likely to have revenue increases and more likely to report better overall business results," said Betz, "including intangibles like customer satisfaction."

CMDB Comes into Its Own

Forrester reports that 67% of survey respondents said that they use a configuration-management database (CMDB). Of those, almost all (91%) reported that CMDB was an essential component of their operations management.

Betz, who co-authored the report, characterized this finding as a "fascinating" surprise.

"CMDB, for all of its terrible reputation and years of failure, all of a sudden is showing up as this really important factor," said Betz. "That was a huge surprise. We saw that CMDB success was correlated with better business outcomes."

Over the years, said Betz, CMDBs have gotten a bad reputation for being too hard to populate with meaningful data—and, with the data in them so often subpar, being of little use when mapping dependencies. Even with automation, the datasets in a CMDB could be ambiguous, with few consistencies around seemingly simple metadata, such as a vendor's name.

"People want the CMDB for a wide variety of data management problems," he said. "What happens is a CIO or a CTO, they will come in and say, 'What's the status of technical debt? What's the status of software?' These things do not necessarily involve dependencies."

According to Betz, one of the reasons for CMDB's success today may be a narrowing of its use cases. He also pointed to improved data that can be used to accurately map an application portfolio to its technical resourcesincluding containers, Kubernetes clusters, and virtual machines.

"You can get a lot of value just out of having a CMDB with a well-managed application portfolio that everybody agrees on," he said.

ITSM Differentiates Leaders and Laggards

In its report, Forrester identifies a number of largely common differentiators surrounding ITSM practices between high-performing organizations and "laggard" organizations.

Incident Management

According to the report, high-performing organizations are more likely (78%) to have formalized incident-response procedures in place that define responders, severity, levels, process, and tooling. Even though only 12% do not have these processes in place, this number is still too high for Betz—who calls the lack of these processes "very disturbing."

"If you're a company of any size, you should have a formalized incident-management process," he said. "This is just basic common sense, basic organizational hygiene."

Beyond this, according to the report, laggard organizations often use more traditional three-tiered support models for incident management and resolution. High performers, on the other hand, are more experimental, relying on a non-tiered approach to incident resolution called swarming—a decentralized, collaboration-based model that focuses on distributing help where and when help is needed. The Tier 1, 2, and 3 model of support is falling out of favor as product-centric approaches put the onus of problem solving on the teams that develop and run the product or service.

Compared to laggards, high performers also are more likely to do post-incident reviews, use AI and text analysis for incident resolution, and adopt the National Incident Management System's terminology, the report said. Still, the percentage of high performers that actually engage in these activities is not that much greater than laggardsfalling, on average, within 8% of laggards. For example, 35% of high performers compared to 27% of laggards conduct incident post-mortems.

Service Portals and Catalogs

Leading organizations also seem to prioritize service portals. Whereas 88% of high performers have a service catalog or portal that employees can use to find the IT services they needed, only 27% of laggards have one. This number may be changing soon, however, as 49% of laggards reported that they are exploring the idea.


Another metric where high performers excel and laggards do not is mean time to recover (MTTR), said Betz.

"Low performers are much less likely to say that MTTR has improved," he said. "They're suffering declines in availability, they're suffering more incidents, IT systems stability is not supporting business outcomes. This correlates with worse business results."

Change Management

The report casts some doubt on the impact of formal change-management processes. Still, 92% of high performersversus 35% of laggardshave them in place.

"It's not clear from the data whether formal change management helps with overall coordination," the report said. "We've seen similar ambiguity in other research on the value and impact of change management, but we aren’t ready to suggest that organizations abandon the practice."

Site Reliability Engineering

Pioneered by Google in the early 2000s, site reliability engineering (SRE), applies the principles and practices of software engineering to solve infrastructure and operations problems. According to the report, 70% of high performers are adopting SRE, compared to just 31% of laggards.

"It began with Google trying to figure out how to operate those massive systems that they had and realizing that the traditional approach to IT operations was not what they needed," said Betz. "It . . . was kind of inevitable, as we automate operations, that operations would have to raise its game. It's next-generation operations."

4 Recommendations for Upping Your Service Management Game

For those organizations that want to use ITSM best practices to improve IT operations and the business processes they support, Forrester recommends the following:

  • Put together a service portal to help employees find the IT services needed. This will not only facilitate self-service butif done wellit will improve IT's reputation within the organization.
  • Implement formal incident-management processes so that everyone knows what to do, whom to call, and what to expect when things go wrong. "The wider, more severe threat landscape and lower customer tolerance for outages means that you can't afford to ignore this," said the report.
  • Formalize change-management processes so people are not taken by surprise by changes to the systems, services, and software they rely on to do their jobs. This includes keeping detailed documentation of any changes. "It's a truism that most systems outages originate from changes, but your systems will need to evolve in our fast-moving digital world," the report said.
  • Invest in a CMDB to better understand the complexities of your IT environment. "While CMDBs are challenging, our data shows that they are coming into their own and essential to the highest levels of digital performance," reads the report.

"ITIL and IT service management get a lot of grief," said Betz. "But give me an organization that is religious about ITIL compared to an organization that has no framework . . . give me the ITIL shop any day. They are going to have better results without question."

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