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The state of IT service management: 5 trends to watch

Linda Rosencrance Freelance writer/editor

Many IT service management (ITSM) tools are outdated, built before the advent of self-service, automation, and modern architectures. Remote work and other pressures have added to the problem.

But ITSM tools are rapidly catching up to these and other trends, experts say, and it's possible that some tools you already have may be incorporating the latest tech trends with more advanced features that could improve productivity and ROI.

Here are five ITSM trends your team should be watching.

1. New AI-based features will reduce the need for labor, cut costs

The big megatrend this year involves artificial intelligence (AI) tools and technology, specifically tools that engage in natural-language processing, clustering, business process optimization, automated problem incident response, knowledge management, and machine learning (ML), said Jeff Rumburg, co-founder and managing partner of MetricNet, a provider of IT service and support benchmarking.

The pandemic created a sense of urgency about the need to adopt tools that can reduce the amount of labor required in labor-intensive IT service and support, he said.

Ticket volumes in ITSM have grown about 35% over the last year, which is unprecedented. Historically, annual ticket volume has risen between 3% and 5%. The pandemic was at the root of that increase, but there wasn't a corresponding increase in personnel, Rumburg said.

The question is: How do companies manage a higher workload with a fixed head count? That's where technology and tools come in, specifically AI tools, he said.

"I started to see demos of AI about a year ago that really did exhibit true machine learning."
Jeff Rumburg

They got smarter over time, he said. They intelligently routed tickets. They engaged in automated problem management, meaning that they would find root causes of problems that were driving incident volume, which in turn reduced the incident volume over time.

Some saw reductions in total cost of ownership, sometimes by as much as 50%; reductions in ticket volumes, sometimes by as much as 50%; improvements in first-contact and first-level resolution rate; improvements in the employee experience; and improvements in the customer experience, Rumburg said.

These AIOps tools hold the key to managing workloads in the post-pandemic environment, he added. And as they get smarter, they'll increasingly displace the human resources that are working in IT service and support, and in ITSM more broadly.

Organizations will expand self-service offerings

In 2021, both private- and public-sector organizations are rapidly expanding their self-service offerings beyond traditional IT services, said Marcel Shaw, advisory solution consultant for federal healthcare at ServiceNow.

The growing demand in non-IT services suggests that ITSM self-service solutions will likely evolve over the next year, he said. Currently, federal government agencies are beginning to make active changes, using traditional ITSM self-service portals to enhance their human resource services, modernize their knowledge and training capabilities, and provide vaccine management services to employees and citizens.

To handle the larger self-service workloads while minimizing cost and improving customer satisfaction, many organizations, including government agencies, will implement AI in their ITSM solutions, Shaw said. For example, they will boost chatbots and virtual agents with enhanced natural-language features, he said.

"They will seek assistance from AI with ML to fine-tune knowledge databases so that relevant information is provided in real time, in addition to upgrading their fulfillment processes with intelligent routing capabilities on back-end workflows."
Marcel Shaw

The term 'ITSM' is on the way out

Roy Atkinson, CEO of Clifton Butterfield, a business advisory practice, said that we won’t be referring to ITSM for much longer. He said it's going to be referred to either as ESM (enterprise service management) or just "service management." The trend is for organizations to use a tool that taps into multiple sources of data and provides a better view into operations across the organization.

"Having a single source of truth for IT, facilities, HR, marketing, sales, customer service—in fact, for all lines of business—creates a better employee experience, and research has shown that it increases productivity. It is, after all, hard to be data-driven when the data is scattered across the organization in proprietary pools."
Roy Atkinson

Individuals and organizations will need to reimagine ITSM capabilities to better suit employee and business needs, rather than retaining their traditional focus on technology-enabled services and the processes/practices that deliver them, said Stephen Mann, principal analyst and content director at ITSM.tools, an independent content provider.

Expect more automation

David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer at Deloitte Consulting, said the key trend this year will be automation of ITSM.  This will likely be seen in a few major enhancements, he said, including knowledge bases that can not only store information on common issues and fixes, but also engage an ML system that will assist help desks to find issues even automate the interaction with the users.

According to a survey by ITSM.tools, automation in ITSM is the No. 3 hottest trend in 2021. Automation offers several benefits, including reducing human error and expediting workflows, which contribute to a better experience for IT support technicians and their customers. For example, automating complex tasks can mean that new service desk staff can be onboarded more quickly, said Mann.

Advanced analytics will permeate traditional ITSM

Advanced analytics will continue to infuse all aspects of traditional ITSM: incident, problem, change, release, and request, said Charles Betz, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

This is a priority for Forrester's evaluative research, which shows that, increasingly, only vendors with solid, applied analytics, such as using ML to score change risk, will achieve the highest rankings, he said.

The trends with ITSM tools, while not particularly novel, are business analytics and analysis of data from multiple sources, said Timothy Colwell, executive vice president of the Association of Telecom, Mobility, and IT Management Professionals (AOTMP). "And so adding overlays of visualization tools to be able to analyze data to predict and plan will be in full force."

Data mining and analytics across all IT and business systems improve overall delivery efficiency and empower IT practitioners to uncover opportunities to align with and support business objectives, he said.

"Organizations are maturing more in the analytics of being able to manage data from ITSM and other data systems. And that just helps improve the overall data management practices. So I anticipate that trend is certainly going to continue."
Timothy Colwell

In which trends should you invest? 

Several of these trends, including AI-based features, automation, advanced analytics, and expanded self-service capabilities, may have a potential ROI that's worth pursuing, depending on your organization's needs. And some of these capabilities may be included as features in tools your team already has. A good first step toward keeping up with the trends, experts say, is to make sure you're leveraging any new features in what you already have.

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