Some initial thoughts on the Service Management Congress

Having gone away on paternity leave for a few weeks (I’m writing this with a sleeping four-week-old stretched along my lap), I initially missed the fuss that came out of the Service Management Fusion13 conference. On returning, an acquaintance in the UK ITSM sector emailed me and suggested I take a look at the Service Management Congress website, and its bold rallying call:

SMCallAction

That’s quite a lot to take in between sleep-deprived nappy changes, so I’m grateful that he also pointed me to some useful and interesting context from prominent ITSM consultant, podcaster and blogger Barclay Rae:

What I didn’t expect was to be involved in a ‘revolution’, but that happened too…
Over the week – and with the support of the organisers – a number of meetings were held with a cross-section of ITSM people who wanted to see change happen and to do something about it – now. A few people were initially invited and others like me simply joined as part of the conversation . The sessions were originally set up with the intention of discussing how to improve or develop the role of the itSMF (especially in the US) – which (with the exception of some great chapters in northern Europe and elsewhere) is perceived to be flagging. The discussion moved on from that to a bigger and more fundamental view of how to fix the industry – perhaps idealistic but certainly with positive intent.

A post on the SM Congress website itself, entitled  “Background on the Group Formerly Known as RevNet“, detailed the terms of referene that had been given to the core, invited group who had drawn up this fledgeling manifesto:

* To challenge our community of service management professionals to look at things differently and to embrace the future
* To challenge us (itSMF USA, and to a lesser degree, the entire itSMF international community) to improve and stay relevant
* To challenge themselves and explore what should come out of this group – what should come next

This is interesting – a brief to look at things with “a fresh set of eyes”, equivalent in part to the spin-out group described in Clayton M. Chrisiansen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, assembled as an independent, fresh entity to avoid the challenge of responding to disruptive influences from an established, mature and successful market position.

Companies that have tried to develop new capabilities within established organizational units also have a spotty track record, unfortunately. Assembling a beefed-up set of resources as a means of challenging what an organization can do is relatively straightforward… Too often, however, resources such as these are then plugged into fundamentally unchanged processes, and little change results…

A separate organization is required when the mainstream organization’s values would render it incapable of focusing resources on the innovation project.

I’ve signed the pledge. I think the intentions seem very honourable, and the problems identified by the group are real, if somewhat loosely stated. Many of the principles seem spot-on: it’s certainly my view that too much of the information that should help us to drive our industry is hidden behind paywalls and accreditation schemes when it should really be a public resource.  My views aren’t fully formed, but nor by its own acknowledgement are those of the Service Management Congress itself.   It doesn’t seem self-evident to me that this structure will work, but it seems a good thing to explore and develop.  At this stage, I have a few key hopes:

I hope that a broad set of ITSM people are able to feel “ownership”: The initial signers and many of the follow-up pledgers are pretty familiar names within the industry: high-profile bloggers, tweeters, and presenters. It’s an impressive set of names, but we do need to bear in mind Rob England’s astute observation that “there are over two million people with an ITIL certificate. I guess quite a few of them are ITSM practitioners in one form or another – even if they wouldn’t call themselves that – let’s say a million. So a few thousand have read the SMcongress stuff and a few hundred have put their names on it“.  If this is perceived, even if very unfairly, as a talking shop for some “usual suspects”, it won’t get near any critical mass.

I hope we remember that ITSM doesn’t suck!:  There is plenty of room for improvement, but we have great people in this sector, and we’ve build something effective and successful. It needs to grow, and adapt, but that doesn’t mean everything thus far is a mistake.

I hope the approach is outside-in: This is not an “iPad” moment, where (to paraphrase Steve Jobs) we are creating something our customers didn’t even know they wanted. Great practice will come from real life, and there’s plenty of it out there. We can’t design it from scratch in a meeting room. Anyway, I’m a Product Manager, so I have to say this.

I hope that its ideas are genuinely transformative, but I don’t think it needs to create a revolution: ITSM is a mature framework in a rapidly shifting environment. Is ITIL adapting quickly enough to remain a dependent and definitive standard? There’s obviously doubts and concerns about that.

My own view is that our customers have become comfortable and familiar with a set of tools and practices and interactions provided by their consumer technology that has set the bar much higher in terms of their expectations for the workplace. Upstart providers like Uber, who I have written about previously, have taken century-old customer interactions and transformed them to the extent that traditional providers face disruption out of their markets.  Internet-enabled cloud services have taken aspects of technology that were completely within IT’s domain, and offered them to anyone with a credit card.  This presents both a danger of irrelevance, and a gulf in governance, and ITSM needs to address those issues urgently.

If our established frameworks can’t do that quickly enough, we need a rapid innovation.  But is it realistic to change everything? It feels more pragmatic, initially, to find some great ideas that can fold back into the broader ITSM discipline, bringing genuine improvements without trying to eat the whole elephant in one go.  Our stakeholders, to whom this transformation ultimately has to be sold, won’t accept a message that says “everything changes right now”

I hope that we don’t just do this:
XKCD cartoon -
(see also: camel/horse/committee)

I’m looking forward to engaging, and I’m looking forward to watching things develop. It’ll be interesting to revist this subject in a month or so.

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