ITIL® , the best practice framework for IT Service management-  by the time it has evolved into its third version or as it is called now into the 2007 edition –  came up with a comprehensive definition of “Service” (the same is retained in its 2011 edition as well):

“Means of delivering value to the customer by facilitating the outcomes customer want to achieve, without the ownership of specific costs and risks”

However, it seems to be still unclear (or missing the opportunity) in defining ‘IT service’ and  ‘IT Service Provider’ clearly.  As per the 2011 edition, the definitions are:

“IT service:  Services delivered by an IT Service Provider”

 “IT Service Provider: A service provider providing IT Services to internal or external customers”

Talk about Circular references!

 Can’t we have some better definition or at least better insights into understanding what an ‘IT Service’ is?

No, I don’t have a well thought out definition of ‘IT Service’ on offer here; not yet. However here are some thoughts that might lead us to defining ‘IT service’ better:

What is Information Technology (IT)?

Technology used to:  Process information, Store Information, Transfer information, or Present (visualize, for example) business information.

So the ‘outcome’ expected by customer or business from “IT” (as a provider of service) can be described through:

  • Process, Store, Transfer or Present business information as required by the business
  • While ensuring key aspects like Reliability, Security and Cost-effectiveness

Any systems/technology and/or activity which facilitate the above outcome described above,

  • Without the need of  business/customer to own, manage or worry about the specific risks and  costs of the underlying technology, assets, activities etc.

can be an “IT Service”.

With this context , one possible perspective of looking at IT Service can be as below: (more…)

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Some of the definitions of terms in ISO/IEC 20000 fall short of expectations from an international standard, to say the least.

Of course, Improvements are visible such as this:

ISO/IEC 20000: 2005 defined “Service Provider” as: “the organization aiming to achieve lSO/lEC 20000”!.

ISO/IEC 20000: 2011 has a better definition: “organization or part of an organization that manages and delivers a service or services to the customer”.

However, more concerning are definitions which can create conflict or misinterpretation such as that of Incident are still existing:

The ISO20k:2011 defines Incident as:  “Unplanned interruption to a service, a reduction in the quality of a service or an event that has not yet impacted the service to the customer Though there is no official acknowledgement, it is very clear that this is adopted from ITIL® V3. But in that case, it is a case of incorrect or incomplete adoption. Here is why:

The latter part of the definition, which I underlined above says “or an event that has not yet impacted the service to the customer” – Now this dangerously equates ALL events to Incidents! An event is something that affects the service (mostly exception events causing interruption or reduction in quality) or that doesn’t affect a service (warnings and regular operation events). With this loose definition,
all three types of events can now fall under the bracket of Incidents.

It may not be a major issue of compliance from ISO/IEC 20000 context – where there is no separate Event management process. However the following questions needs clarity:

  • Does ISO/IEC 20000 view entire event management process as a subset of Incident management? In such a case, the controls specified under Incident management don’t seem to be enough to take care of the requirements of an event management process.
  • So will every event trigger Incident management process? I hope this is not what is implied by the standard.
  • What is the meaning of the word event that is used by the standard in multiple places? Unfortunately there is no definition of the same.

Here are some other definitions in ISO/IEC 20000 that may create misinterpretations and confusions:

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In 2003-04, I have led a team of consultants in a Middle East based Bank for adoption of ITIL (at that time V2) practices into their IT organization. One of the deliverables was definition of a suitable Service Catalog framework for the IT Services. We found the guidance in ITIL documentation for Service Catalog to be not adequate enough to satisfy the needs of the Bank.

Through a series of brainstorming sessions and with significant inputs and involvement from the Bank’s IT management, we have zeroed in on a high-level categorization of IT Services into 3 groups:

  • Business Banking services – IT Services that are built into the Bank’s business services – like Core banking applications, Internet banking etc; for which the users are end-customers of the bank.
  • Business Support Services – IT Services that are supporting the bank’s business processes such as email, HR applications etc; for which the users are the Bank’s employees involved in Bank operations
  • IT Internal Services – Supporting services within IT such as System allocations, IP address management etc; for which the users were within IT.

We found the framework to be immensely useful for the Bank’s IT to manage the IT Services in an effective manner.  I have expected to see such guidelines for proper definition and categorization of services to be available in ITIL V3 – but was a bit disappointed (or, I could not find it, if it was defined in some corner of the vast documentation). I always thought that is a significant aspect in IT Service management framework which can have a direct impact on how other aspects/practices in ITSM are defined and governed.

Now, I am happy to see such a Service categorization has been documented in ITIL 2011.  The new revision of the ITIL gives details of Services to be categorized into:

  • External customer-facing services
  • Internal Customer facing Services
  • Support Services – for the interdependencies within IT

Especially the third category – Support Services, clarifies a long-pending confusion for IT outsourcing companies:

IT Outsourcing companies such as those into infrastructure Outsourcing provide services such as network administration/management, Service administration/management, Monitoring etc for which the customers are usually IT personnel in the customer organization. These services were often deemed confusing in the whole discussion of Business-IT Alignment and Integration context.

Now, with this categorization, the services provided by the outsourcing service providers can predominantly fit into the Category 3: Support Services.

SLA is nothing new to any service provider. Everybody (well, almost) has at least one, with their clients. Of course there are those who say we don’t have SLAs as our customers didn’t ask for it.

While drawing up an SLA, a service provider are exposed to, and very often falls into traps like:

  • Going with the “Standard” SLA (standard to whom?)
  • Agreeing to what customer asked. (Customer is the king!)
  • Taking over ‘existing’ SLA from current service provider (typically as part of transition in outsourced contracts)
  • Adopting ‘best practices’ from industry!!! (best practices on SLA targets?)

One cannot emphasize enough, how important it is to have a closer look of each SLA parameter that you are going to commit ( or in many case, have committed already!).

Each of the SLA parameters need to be assessed (BEFORE committing to or agreeing with customer) for aspects like:

  • Does the parameter really reflect what is important to the customer?
  • How important this parameter is, to the service and to the customer/users?
  • Does the service provide has capabilities in place to provide those levels at the current cost/pricing framework?
  • Can the parameter be quantified?  (Quantified parameters are measured on data, Qualitiative are measured through perceptions!)
  • Can this be measured? (feasibility, having the right tools, resources, time)

There could be many such aspects added into the assessment, but the above would give a good starting point.

Let me take a couple of examples (kind of funny, but actual scenarios that I came across) to illustrate the need of such an assessment: (more…)

It is a well established fact that ‘How’ a service is delivered is of utmost important to the customer – and influences the customer satisfaction to a great extent.

Now, talking about satisfaction, are there different attributes of the service that impact ‘customer satisfaction’ and ‘user satisfaction’?  Anyone who has been associated with the service industry will definitely know the answer : Yes!

While customer gives a bit higher priority to aspects like SLA parameters (such as availability), cost-effectiveness (and in a broader sense – ‘value’ of the service), user satisfaction is influenced more by soft aspects of the service delivery & support (behaviour, attitude, interpersonal skills, follow-up, empathy etc etc) and SLA parameters like response, performance etc.

In corporate environments (where the service is delivered to a ‘business’), the distinction is easier to manage, as there are distinguished roles of ‘customer’ and and ‘users’ – and generally, a corporate gives higher priority to the business value (or ‘customer’) aspects of the service

It could be easily observed that the overlapping of ‘customer’ and ‘user’ in the consumer industry making it difficult for the service provider to balance the two (often conflicting) priorities. Since the same individual often becomes both the ‘customer’ and ‘user’, even his/her priorities tend to shift to the ‘user’ side – the role he/she plays much more than the other.

I strongly feel that the issues faced by most of us as ‘bad service’ from service providers are because of this conflict.

The users tend to give more weightage to aspects like response, personalized service, behaviour, follow up etc – while the service providers treat them as customers and give priority to those factors on which a ‘customer’ would be satisfied!

A recent experience of a friend of mine reinforced this thought process in my mind:

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Rob England (ITSkeptic) said in one of his tweets:

“Back in 80’s , the highest bandwidth channel for data transfer over a range of <5 miles  was a boy on a bike with a basket full of tapes.”

A few minutes later, he also pointed to an article – which is “interesting” to say the least!:

A company in South Africa has done a drill to prove they could use pigeons to tranfer data faster than their telecom provider, Telkom!  Read the story here.

Well, not as a universal truth, but under some context – “* conditions apply!” 😉

The article says internet bandwidth is a growing problem in South Africa.

In the drill/experiment/demonstration/drill or what ever you want to call it, an IT company used an 11 month old pigeon to transfer data disc tied to its legs. The pigeon transferred the data across 80 Km (around 50 miles) in 1 hour and eight minutes; including the data download, the tranfer took a little over two hours – which, reportedly was the time taken to transfer around 4% of data over the telkom’s link!

Okay- enough of fun there . The points to ponder from the story, are these:

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ITIL talks about three types of Service providers:
a) Internal Service provider – This represents IT departments/service providers embedded within business units in organizations.
b) Shared service unit – which provides services to multiple business units within a corporate and
c) External service provider – which represents IT departments/Service providers external to the business organization.

Now, there is no ambiguity regarding these definitions.  But I used to get a bit doubtful when somebody asks a clarification on the same such as:

Look at a scenario of a service provider who provide services to internal as well as external customers. How do we fit them into this classification:
a) As a shared service unit? – I used to agree with this initially; but was not really convinced fully.
b) As a combination of internal and external? or shared and external? – May be. But that also didnt look convincing to me.

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