Micro Focus is now part of OpenText. Learn more >

You are here

You are here

Next-gen ESM: The evolution of service management in the enterprise

Christopher Null Freelance writer

In the beginning, there was the help desk. The role of IT in the enterprise is so intertwined with the concept of the help desk that there have even been TV shows about it. Service and support is a big deal, so much so that it should come as no surprise that many rank-and-file workers believe that providing technical support to hapless end users is the only thing that IT does.

To be sure, providing service is important. The help desk has evolved over the years in most organizations, moving from a system that relied on informal requests for aid to one that is built around efficiency, prioritization, and analytics.

The IT service desk got a formal boost in 1989 with the advent of the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) guidelines. These in turn led to the rise of IT service management, or ITSM, which codified support and other service operations via a wide range of best practices.

Over time, ITSM has evolved, allowing the service desk to streamline operations and automate many requests, freeing up IT staff to work on issues more pressing than a stuck key on a user's keyboard.

Of course, the concept of service is not unique to IT. All manner of business departments offer service to internal customers. HR fields questions about vacation days. Finance has paychecks that occasionally go missing. Procurement and office management can be engaged when you decide to try out a standing desk.

Can all of these departments and others benefit from the structure that ITSM has provided to IT? Increasingly, the answer is yes: enterprise service management tools (ESM) offer a framework that applies the concepts and tools of ITSM to other parts of the business. After all, a service is a service, so why can't the HR department leverage tactics such as intelligent routing and automation?

The idea has caught on, and some 87% of organizations say they use ESM in some capacity, according to a 2019 Enterprise Management Associates study. Employees are happier because their requests are serviced more quickly, and management is happier because the business is saving time and money.

Conceptually, ESM is really just a first step on the road to unified service management in the enterprise. What's coming next is increasingly known as converged service management (CSM), which gives ESM a boost by leveraging emerging technologies to make the discipline even more capable, with a further reduction in the need for human intervention.

Infuse ESM with AI, machine learning, and robotic process automation features—and host the entire system on a responsive, scalable, cloud-based environment—and you're on your way to CSM. This enhanced service management concept will touch every part of the company.

In the sections that follow, you'll learn about the three-step evolution and status of service management, starting with ITSM, moving on to ESM, and culminating with a taste of the future: CSM.

In the final section, you'll get practical guidance from service management experts on how your enterprise can leverage and implement these technologies—regardless of the existing state of service management in your organization.

Phase 1: The evolution and state of ITSM

As long as there have been computers in the workplace, there has been the need to service them.

IT has been providing service to users in some fashion for decades, and it began long before the concept of the service desk was formalized. If a user was having trouble with his computer, he'd walk down the hall to the IT department and ask if someone could come take a look.

This setup was hardly sustainable, said Ian Aitchison, ITSM senior product director at Ivanti, a provider of asset management and other tools. "It simply didn’t scale. The typical IT department was chaos."

The service desk, or help desk, as many users first came to know it, got its start in the early 1980s. If something broke, staffers would use a ticketing system to create a support request, and a technician would be dispatched to fix it based on its severity or, more commonly, on the overall workload of the often-overworked tech support staff.

When ITIL was formalized, this set of practices laid out the basic processes and procedures required to allow ITSM. The ITIL glossary describes service management officially as "a set of specialized organizational capabilities for enabling value for customers in the form of services." 

In other words, ITSM, via ITIL, was designed to take the old IT service desk concept from a purely reactive function to one that provides real, forward-looking value to its customers, i.e., its internal users. 

ITIL didn’t see widespread adoption until well into the 1990s, at which point these concepts began to pick up steam. As two subsequent iterations of the ITIL standard were rolled out and Microsoft introduced its own operations framework, ITIL became the dominant framework for ITSM. The concepts of shared services and service providers were also starting to gain traction.

Today it is the de facto standard for ITSM, and while you can certainly adopt ITSM strategies without ITIL, as a practical matter the two are closely intertwined, to the point where they have become largely synonymous. (Other ITSM frameworks commonly cited include ISO/IEC 20000, COBIT, Six Sigma, and TOGAF; organizations may pick and choose from ITIL best practices and any number of these standards to create a personalized framework that works best for their business.)

In 2019, with ITIL at the ripe old age of 30, ITIL version 4 was released, adding specific guidance on working with agile practices, DevOps, and more. The goal, as with the previous versions of the standard: to give IT the tools it needs to provide real business value to the greater organization. By this point, said Aitchison, "It wasn't just about service but about operating and improving IT."

ITSM best practices and metrics

ITIL 4 is a vast framework that defines dozens of "practices" (replacing ITIL 3's "processes") that outline how best to attack a wide range of IT and business functions. These include:

  • Managing a service desk to triage incidents (such as device failures) and customer requests
  • Dealing with outages and security incidents
  • Handling requests for additional technology resources from the organization
  • Minimizing the likelihood of future incidents
  • Managing physical assets and their appropriate configuration
  • Leveraging technology to allow the sharing of ideas throughout the organization

Critically, each of these can be quantified through the appropriate use of metrics, not only to measure the performance of the IT organization in real time but to track it over time. There are dozens of these, and the average IT organization tracks more than 20 of them.

Some of the most important metrics that ITSM adopters should track include:

Source: Jeff Rumburg, MetricNet, from his TechBeacon story "The 8 IT service management metrics that matter most

Depending on the specifics of the organization, other key metrics to follow could include capacity utilization, service-level agreement (SLA) fulfillment, disaster plan implementation time, and more.

The ITSM tool landscape

The ITSM tool market is quite mature, and dozens of products are available to fit a wide range of organization types. Many of these tools have embraced the cloud and mobile technology to allow for simplified installation and an ultra-flexible implementation.

Regardless of the specific product in use, the goal of an ITSM tool is to streamline support and service operations and bring those operations into the technological present. "Calling someone and waiting a couple of hours to reset a password isn’t sustainable," said Gabby Nizry, CEO of Ayehu Software, an automated IT service desk developer. "The goal of the modern service desk is to move toward autonomous solutions, self-healing, and self-service."

Phase 2: The emergence of ESM 

Imagine a new employee is scheduled to begin working for your company, said Paul Hamilton, managing director of HaloITSM, an ITSM software developer. Currently, "there may be an admin-heavy process" used to ensure everything is in place for the person's first day of work. This involves long interdepartmental email chains, a long-winded procurement process for equipment, and miscommunication between siloed departments.

This is the cost-heavy and inefficient set of internal processes that is a daily reality for many businesses.

Now, imagine instead "a complete, end-to-end procedure in one all-encompassing system with slick communications between departments, an easy procurement process, and the perfect end result, on time, every time. "This is the power of an enterprise service management system implemented company-wide," Hamilton said.

From the viewpoint of ESM, a service is a service, and it doesn't necessarily have to be tied to IT. In fact, most of a business’s services aren't IT-related at all. It doesn't matter if the service needed is a keyboard repair, an ergonomic chair order, or a new employee's onboarding.

With ESM, all of these tasks—and many more—can be managed through a centralized portal that offers triage, workflow management, and intelligent automation. Perhaps you want to let your legal department automate sending nondisclosure agreements, said Ayehu Software's Nizry. Good news: There's a bot for that.

After nearly a decade of maturation, ESM really hit its stride in 2019, said Marilyn Nelson, global head of delivery success for DXC's ServiceNow ITSM practice. "We’ve seen a tremendous shift in what enterprises are trying to do," she said, "to get back to delivering better returns on investment. IT is still a part of this, but now we’re seeing HR, marketing, and other areas all coming together on a single platform."

Employees and customers are both "demanding the same experiences from the businesses they work with that they have in the other parts of their lives," said Michael Pott, senior product marketing manager at Micro Focus. "There's a real demand for this technology."

Benefits of ESM

By taking a broader view of services, ESM provides numerous benefits to the typical organization. These include:

Improved cost controls

DXC's Nelson noted that in the current economic climate, the savings provided by ESM can be a compelling enough reason on its own to adopt the tools.

Increased overall efficiency

In an organization that intelligently automates its operations across multiple lines of business, employees spend less time on repetitive, menial work and more on adding real value. "Any way you can save time, you save money," said Ivanti's Aitchison.

Better accuracy

ESM draws on a library of best practices and leverages self-service, decreasing the likelihood of mistakes being made, throughout the enterprise.

Happier internal customers

Employees who can do more for themselves, on their own timeline, and without having to wait for someone else to help them are more satisfied with their jobs. According to DXC's Nelson, "The bottom line is not just to reduce costs, but to improve overall employee engagement."

A simplified data structure

One of the tenets of ESM is that the entire system draws from a centralized data lake, allowing information to be freely shared among various departments while remaining secure. In this way, if a new hire is initiated by HR, an ESM system can automatically engage with facilities to prepare a workspace, with accounting to prepare payroll, with IT to set up login credentials, and with other departments as needed.

Implementing ESM

Moving to an ESM environment revolves around one core tenet, DXC's Nelson said: "How do we look at multiple transactions through a single pane of glass?" By building a consistent data model where all of a business's relevant information can be shared via a single data lake, data becomes more holistic. In Nelson's point of view, this aligns three parties: employees, customers, and management.

A solid ESM implementation, Nelson said, begins with reconsidering the organizational structure of the business. "How do you reduce management layers?" she asked. "How do you streamline your tactical resources?" 

The idea is to ensure that the users of the service—the employees—are as organizationally close to the provider of the service as possible. Only after your organization is aligned with the goals of ESM should you consider the technical platform.

And you may need more than one platform, at least at first. "I wish I could tell you this could all be resolved by one vendor," said Ayehu Software's Nizry. "For now, a combination of tools is usually needed" to make ESM a reality. As Nelson also suggested, the central point of ESM isn't necessarily that a single tool is used, but that all the organization's data is migrated to a single data store.

Tactically, those implementing ESM will need to do more legwork, according to Eveline Oehrlich, vice president and research director at Research in Action. This includes ranking their company's service priorities, understanding best practices for a wide variety of services, giving employees a voice in the implementation, and developing metrics that are valuable to the business and that can be used to measure the success of the ESM program over time. A significant testing period is also typically required.

All told, it's not an overnight proposition, depending on the size of the company, and a full-bore ESM migration can take years to become meaningfully complete in a large enterprise.

To get a handle on the top 15 ESM vendors, read Forrester Wave: Enterprise Service Management, Q4 2019, which uses 23 criteria to provide an executive-level look at the market.

Can IT lead an ESM implementation?

While ESM grew out of the ITSM discipline, there remains some debate over whether the IT organization is the most appropriate choice to lead an ESM implementation. The reason is simple: While an ITSM implementation is largely a matter of making changes to existing processes, ESM represents a much broader transformation, one in which the organizational chart may need to be revamped and where the highest levels of leadership will need to be involved.

The primary issue is really one of organizational change management, because ESM introduces a new way of thinking (internal shared services) and new management concepts (IT and business functions need to collaborate on processes and workflows, and then on the tools).

Does an overworked, underfunded IT function have the bandwidth and capabilities to lead a full-scale digital transformation that touches the entire enterprise? An ESM implementation requires strong project ownership and leadership—and generally a full-time commitment from at least one employee if it is to succeed, said Lou Hunnebeck, principal advisor at IT services provider DXC Technology.

"The big challenge is who really owns ESM," said Doug Tedder, principal of Tedder Consulting. "Outside of the CEO, there is no one role in the organization that has accountability for end-to-end work flowing through the organization, so this really takes a commitment from senior leadership. The technology part of ESM is easy. The processes are the hard part."

On the other hand, some believe that IT can be a potentially effective ESM partner—and even a leader—in a modern, progressive organization. "IT has generally been effective at driving these implementations," said Ivanti's Aitchison. "IT has previously been seen as very slow and standoffish, but IT is now increasingly the department that is introducing new ways of working."

The bottom line: If your CIO is a strong and visible leader in the organization, if you can devote a full-time employee to the migration, and if your rank-and-file workers are ready to pick up some extra work, it's at least worth considering whether IT can lead the way forward.

Phase 3: Converged service management 

Conceptually speaking, what comes next? While the term isn't in wide mainstream use, converged service management (CSM) is believed by many to be the next evolution of ESM.

CSM pushes further into the practice of centralizing business services under a single, holistic tent pole.

How does CSM differ from ESM? While both extend service management across the enterprise, CSM has been imagined with the cloud and emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning, and robotic process automation (RPA) all firmly in mind. According to Micro Focus' Pott, CSM will be built around not just managing services but also around making the provision of those services intelligent.

"The concept has been around since 2012," said Pott, but for the first time it's now achievable.

CSM-enabling technologies

While a complete definition of CSM has yet to fully coalesce, some of its key enablers include:

A single portal for multiple services

While ESM revolves around a centralized data lake, it's still commonplace to require the use of multiple tools to access ESM services—one for HR, one for IT, one for accounting, and so on. With CSM, the centralization concept is extended to the method by which internal customers engage with services, with one user-friendly portal experience offering tailored, relevant solutions to every employee, individualized based on their particular role in the company, said Vesna Soraic, product manager for service management automation at Micro Focus.

Virtual agents and RPA

Increasingly, service requests will be solved not by humans but by intelligent agents that learn to automate a workflow to solve the organization's most common problems. Virtual agents already exist in various ITSM and ESM implementations, but with CSM these agents take on a more prominent role, helping not just to route requests but to dynamically fulfill them.

AI/machine learning

Ivanti's Aitchison said machine learning will take a central role in CSM, helping to cut costs and improve service speed—and, critically, to improve on accuracy and quality of service over time. AI and analytics will also aid the system in learning additional skills by identifying patterns in user requests. However, a central data repository will continue to be a major part of this. Said DXC's Nelson, "An AI is only as smart as the data underlying it."

A consistent enterprise workflow

Not every business function can be defined by the same set of processes, but CSM will necessarily see more consistency spreading across the organization, according to Aitchison. This consistency will allow for easier coordination among disparate departments and job roles, helping to define a common language for the delivery of business services.

Additional benefits of CSM

In general, CSM offers a complement of benefits similar to what ESM offers, only more powerful. To drill down further, the CSM approach enables:

Service requests completed more quickly, with less effort

The power of automation allows for many services to be completed instantaneously, without human involvement. For those service requests that do require human intervention, intelligent routing gets requests to the right person more quickly. Also, since human technicians don't need to respond to numerous, menial requests, they are more quickly able to address the more urgent, complex, or novel issues that arise.

A simplified usage and training model

When processes are made consistent across the organization, it becomes easier to teach staff how to engage with other parts of the business and make self-service requests. Armed with a universal interface and an intuitive set of commands, workers face a learning curve that is less steep, no matter what they are trying to do. Customers "are looking for simplification," said Ivanti's Aitchison. "People have more important things to do."

A culture built around best practices

When the organization becomes aligned by processes, a culture of best practices and continuous improvement is able to develop, and may do so almost organically over time. Process owners—in conjunction with machine-learning algorithms—will naturally learn from one another about tactics and tools that resonate with internal customers, and in progressive enterprises a gradual evolution is likely to occur.

This cross-functional capability can also be encouraged more formally through workshops, discussion groups, and other official knowledge-sharing channels.

Challenges surrounding a CSM migration

Naturally, CSM is going to be hard; many organizations have found ESM challenging, and CSM will be an even more daunting proposition. Some of the key challenges will include:

A cultural overhaul is required

CSM requires entirely new ways of undertaking fundamental business processes. Ideally, CSM will integrate seamlessly with DevOps, agile, and other modern business approaches, but not without significant effort. As such, the organization will likely have to wrestle with a real transformation over the course of a CSM implementation.

Implementation will be complex

While significant headway has been made, technologies such as AI, machine learning, and RPA are hardly off-the-shelf, turnkey solutions today. Integrating these tools with an ESM backbone—which in itself can be complicated—presents a significant technical challenge.

Costs may be considerable

The fundamental technologies behind CSM may not in and of themselves be overwhelmingly expensive, especially if you leverage open-source solutions. But the organization will need the talent to develop, implement, and manage these tools, which will necessarily run up costs quite a bit.

Is CSM really something you have to deal with?

It's natural to wonder, given the complexity and cost of CSM, whether it's realistic that this convergence will really happen. While skeptics abound, Ivanti's Aitchison says that it’s already underway. "The convergence is real," he said. "We've been on this road for some time."

For DXC's Nelson, CSM is in fact already here, at least to some degree. "We're already realizing it," she said. "We're at the very beginning of a new way of working, with a new operating model unifying all lines of business." That said, CSM isn't really a destination but an ongoing process in the vein of continuous improvement, she said. "It's the journey that makes digital transformation come to life," she said.

How to create a CSM system

Whether your organization is moving from ITSM to ESM or you're considering a jump straight to CSM, it's critical to get your bearings early on in the process in order to set the business up for success. While it's impossible to distill all of this knowledge into a brief series of tips, service management experts do offer some clear guidance to maximize your chances of victory.

Address organizational and cultural change issues first

"You have to change the way the organization works," said Ayehu Software's Nizry, "breaking down walls to end working in silos. It's not easy. I've worked with banks that had to remove their entire executive team to shift the cultural mindset." 

Developing internal champions for the process is also key. Said Ivanti's Aitchison, "Ideally you need a visionary CIO who can say to the organization, 'We can help you do your jobs better.'"

Transform, don't piggyback on, an existing solution

"It is imperative that the new solution doesn’t feel like other service teams are being forced into another team's way of working," said HaloITSM's Hamilton. CSM projects "often stem from IT, but it needs to be clear that the solution is not an 'IT solution' but a solution designed for all departments." 

There is no harm in using an existing framework, but "the project must be approached objectively, with IT being just one of the stakeholders," he added.

Look for quick wins to build momentum

"Get the low-hanging fruit first, so you can show incremental return on investment," said DXC's Nelson.

"Figure out what tasks consume the most resources, then attack those issues first," said Ayehu Software's Nizry. Tasks with components that can be easily automated and reused in other environments make the best early targets.

Create a detailed road map

CSM must be done with intent, Nelson said. "You need to know exactly what you are trying to achieve." 

Address technology and infrastructure challenges early

"IT needs to be well connected to the business for this to succeed," said Ivanti's Aitchison.

Expect growing pains

Naturally, CSM isn’t an overnight proposition. "I think two years is realistic for an enterprise to see some self-service capabilities," said Ayehu Software's Nizry.

Also, in keeping with the ethos of agile, accept that things will be flawed at the start, and that's okay. "Processes do not have to be perfect from day one,” said HaloITSM's Hamilton. "There will inevitably be conflict when different departments look to combine their processes into a standardized way of working. This is to be expected, and compromises will need to be made. The key is to not let these differences stall the implementation and prevent the end goal" of delivering CSM.

CSM can be a game-changer for any organization, but it takes careful planning and tenacity to accomplish. Look for quick wins to help build momentum in order to set your organization up for the greatest chance of success.

Read more articles about: Enterprise ITIT Ops