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The state of ITSM: Top trends and challenges for 2018

Information Technology Services Management (ITSM) has been in flux this year, shaped by trends that include the growth of DevOps, an expansion of self-service offerings, and business' embrace of digital transformation.

One of the prominent trends this year has been the collision of DevOps with traditional ITSM methodologies, said Doug Tedder, principal at Tedder Consulting.

"DevOps has brought innovation to some of the more critical ITSM practices, such as change management and release management."
Doug Tedder

Here are the top trends and challenges for ITSM in 2018.

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DevOps is changing everything

Organizations adopting DevOps are experiencing pushback about entrenched change management approaches, according to Charles Betz, an analyst with Forrester Research. As a result, change management is becoming more automated, and more power for change is being delegated to development teams. Teams are owning their own risks because change management has improved. 

With better change management, the need to share risk with others in the development chain, such as change review panels, becomes necessary. This is so development teams can assume all the risk of making changes, secure in the knowledge that those changes can be swiftly corrected or reversed once their impact becomes apparent.

"We're getting a more resilient infrastructure. It's easier to roll back changes. DevOps has pioneered that."
Charles Betz

Those developments have reduced bureaucracy in the change process, too. For example, the role of the corporate change advisory board can be greatly reduced. "If teams own their own risk, then why do changes need to go to the change advisory board?" Betz asked.

However, advisory boards are still important for some things, such as changes that impact large parts of an organization, he added.

With DevOps, the need for those kinds of mammoth changes has been reduced, said Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies, a service and help desk software maker. "DevOps does small changes in a short amount of time and lets you pull back those changes quickly if necessary," she said.

Less DevOps lip service, more actual engagement

While DevOps is a driving trend in ITSM, there may be more heat there than fire. DevOps needs the right conditions to work. Among these are a rapid and robust infrastructure and a skilled workforce with knowledge of both programming and management. Many businesses can't meet those conditions. For them, DevOps will be out of reach—at least in the near term.

Earlier this year, ITSM.tools completed its first survey of ITSM pros on the future of the practice. It found that 70% of respondents believed there has been insufficient involvement of ITSM personnel in their companies' DevOps activities and ambitions.

Stephen Mann, principal analyst and content director at ITSM.tools, said it's time to get hands-on.

"There are many ITSM people talking about DevOps but not enough involved—properly involved, that is. So big Dev, little ops." 
Stephen Mann

DevOps also requires a change in mindset for many ITSM pros. "They can't have a year of development," SysAid's Lahav said. They can't check with the user once a year. They have to see a lot of improvement and a lot of change in small segments of time."

Nevertheless, DevOps will continue to be an important trend in 2018, and its use will expand beyond developers. In the past two or three years, many IT organizations have started DevOps projects "dominated by development," said Stephen Elliot, program vice president at IDC. "What we will see next year are infrastructure teams getting much more involved."

"DevOps is going to drive two business themes: Speed and quality—speed in terms of time to market from the business, quality in terms of customer experience, satisfaction, and renewal rates."
Stephen Elliot

Self-service will expand

ITSM-based self-service models have been around for some time, but they continued to expand in 2017 and will continue to do so in 2018. According to vendor BMC, 83% of IT organizations now enable or support self-service tools for end users. When properly deployed, self-service software can allow users to control their IT experience as well as help themselves. What's more, you can use self-service products to crowdsource problems and find solutions.

Organizations want to accelerate the "left-shifting" of IT support from Tier 3 on the far right to Tier 0, or self-service, on the far left. "Now people have started talking about Tier -1, where even self-service isn't needed because your product and service are so good," Forrester's Betz said.

Every operations vendor would like to have an early-warning system to address problems before they impact a customer's experience, added IDC's Elliot. And ITSM vendors are making progress in that realm. "It's getting easier," Elliot said, "through analytics, automation, and intelligent thresholding, but it's still incredibly difficult to execute."

While self-service continues to be a trend in ITSM—largely because it's seen as a solution for many organizations' support woes—it continues to have problems. "Even after many years of trying, IT departments struggle to get self-service capabilities right," said Mann of ITSM.tools.

Only 12% of organizations surveyed say they received the ROI they expected on self-service investments, he said. Usually that's because they still see self-service as a technology, rather than as something that requires employee change. "So money is still being spent on self-service technology, and employees still want to avoid using it," Mann said.

"Employees are a challenge to self-service," Elliot added. "They won't want to use self-service unless they feel they're getting more value from it, in a quicker fashion than they could by shooting off a trouble ticket or calling someone up."

Digital transformation will become bigger

Digital transformation is another major trend that will affect ITSM in the coming year. The idea has garnered a lot of buzz, largely because it's seen as crucial to any business wanting to lead in its market. For IT, it means more than just aligning technology with the mission of the business. It involves integrating technology into the business so IT becomes a key element in operations, not just a provider of services.

"Digital transformation isn't about better technology. It's about better business," said Mann. It's also as much about people transformation as technology transformation, he added. It's not just about new products and services and better customer engagement, either, but also about better back-office operations.

"[Without better back-office operations], new products and services and better customer engagement are tantamount to putting go-faster stripes on a horse and cart."
—Stephen Mann

Enterprise service management will gain traction

Much of what's needed to cultivate digital transformation is embodied in another trend: enterprise service management. ESM calls for the use of ITSM principles, processes, and technology in other lines of business. Doing this can deliver automation, self-help, performance insights, and better service delivery and support.

ESM is catching on among businesses. A recent HDI survey found that more than half organizations it surveyed (56%) said ITSM tools were being used outside of IT.

For example, the expansion of ESM is being driven by line-of-business "pull"—HR wants service automation, Mann said. Other factors behind the growth include better and more flexible ITSM tools, more ITSM tool vendors marketing ESM, and users' expectations for a more consumer-like experience when interacting with applications and services.

"ESM is getting a lot of attention because it speaks to the themes of speed and quality," IDC's Elliot added. "If you're not thinking like that as a technology executive, that's a bad place to be."

While ESM may be trending this year, it still has a long way to go before fulfilling its promise. "I’m not sure that it’s had much uptake in 2017," consultant Tedder said.He noted that some ITSM tool vendors have positioned themselves as ESM platforms, so the underpinning technology is available in the market.

However, some big questions remain unanswered. Has ITSM significantly transformed the use of technology such that business can see the value in extending it into the enterprise? Does the IT organization understand the value chains within the business to help lead ESM?

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The business-IT relationship will integrate more tightly

Business relationship management goes hand in hand with the digital transformation trend. It's the idea that IT isn't an island citadel within an organization, but an integral part of the business, just like marketing, sales, and other lines of business. 

Organizations have already made some progress in this area.

"IT has pulled out of its Dark Ages, where it was the Department of No. With agile and DevOps, the business is realizing that they can ask for a prototype and IT will deliver it in a few weeks."
—Charles Betz

To get that kind of performance from IT, though, the business must put a qualified person in the room with IT during the development process. "What doesn't work is 'write me 50 pages of requirements and I'll give you an application back,'" Betz said.

"What we're seeing on both the business and IT side is a realization that tight collaboration requires fast feedback. That's why business needs to be in the room with IT."
—Betz

Business relationship management may be the ITSM trend that encompasses all other trends. It will define both IT and the business of the future. "Savvy business leadership teams recognize that the technology architecture has to be the business architecture," IDC's Elliot said.

That requires a different way of thinking about how the technology architecture drives the business, and new considerations about the relationship between the delivery team and the business units themselves.

Companies that embrace these new ideas have already begun accelerating their investments in analytics, management, orchestration, and new organizational models for IT, and they can expect a big payoff down the road.

"Companies that execute faster on the new IT-business relationship, fund it properly, and bring the product mentality to their delivery organization are going to create sustainable competitive advantages through speed and quality."
—Elliott
Topics: IT Ops