Recently I was giving a class on ISO/IEC 20000 for a group of internal quality auditors.

Half -way into explaining the Service management, ITSM-  its need, benefits etc etc, a student raised the hand and said: “Can you give a simple definition of ‘Service’?”

My first reaction was to go back to the slide which had the definition of Service (from my ITIL training mind-set). And I realized there, my slides didn’t have that – and a little later,  that ISO/IEC 20000 conveniently omitted a definition of the important word – ‘Service’.

(And what is the definition of ‘Service provider’ as per the standard? ‘the organization aiming to achieve ISO/IEC 20000’!  Uh oh.. so if I am not looking at ISO/IEC 20000, are you saying I am not a Service provider?? 🙂  I do understand the context of that definition within the standard itself – but a better definition with a clarification of the context within the standard would have been more useful.)

Frankly, I like the latest definition of Service from ITIL V3:  ““A service is a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific cost and risks.”

After all these years, finally ITIL has given a more than decent definition for service – and I am sure a great deal of experience, analysis and effort has gone into such a definition.

Agreed, the sentence is not that simple – but a careful inspection of the statement gives you a real meaning and image of what is a services.

More importantly, it help differentiating ‘Service’ from ‘product’ through the phrase : ‘without the ownership of specific cost and risks’

I also like the phrase ‘facilitating outcomes customer want to achieve’ – which underlines the fact that the value is delivered to customer only when the service helps (or facilitates) his achievement of desired outcomes.

The whole definition gives a feel of ‘customer being in the center point or the driving factor for the service’ – bingo!

Compare this with the definition in ITIL V2 which had multiple statements like :  ” One or more IT systems which enable a business process. ”  “Deliverables of IT Service provider as perceived by the customer”  ” The service doesn’t merely consisting of just making computer resources available to customer”  Hmm – fair, but not quite clear. This definition had clear overlap to products (if you miss the last statement) .

I could not find many interesting generic definition of the word ‘Service’ in a limited search I did on net except these:

  • An event in which an entity takes the responsibility that something desirable happens on the behalf of another entity (Wiktionary)

So, considering the amount of confusion and lack of clarity regarding the term and its definition, it is a great achievement from ITIL authors in defining the term Service in a single sentence in a near-perfect way!  – At least till some thing better comes up. Best (sorry, good) practices always evolve!

If any body out there has come across any better or interesting definition of ‘Service’ please post here…